While browsing the 'net for general info on American Federal style of
furniture (design characteristics, time period, materials, finishes,
Big Names In, etc.) I came upon this piece:
which, in its description, includes this text:
"The one piece top features regular spaced inserts into the wood on the
underside that were added to prevent warping."
Interesting, and new to me (note my moniker). Thought I'd see what the
collective knowledge of the wRECk is on this topic. How does the
technique achieve its claimed benefit? (or DOES it!?) The inserts seem
to run long-grain, why?
That's well over-priced for such an ugly clunker. American Federal is
(IMHO) the best proportioned furniture ever made, but that one's plain
And for that money, they could learn how to focus the camera.
New to me too. Presumably they're long strips in sliding dovetails,
tenoned into the sides ?
There are two problems here - warping and expansion. Now you can
largely reduce warping by picking primo timber for the top, but you
always have to deal with expansion. Now strips like this might control
warping (possibly), but they're going to be even more trouble if there's
crosswise movement going on.
Newport work did often use battens across a frame, with the top screwed
on from beneath. They're usually used to span a narow frame under a wide
I'm not even sure that top's original. It's plug ugly and it's held on
by pocketed screws, at least one of which is surprisingly shiny. It
might even be a replacement.
Cats have nine lives, which is why they rarely post to Usenet.
I agree Andy - there are details that just appear wrong to me:
* The drawer face (photo 2) appears to be veneered which might be
appropriate, but it's not, as would be expected, a fancy piece of
veneer. If the drawer face is cherry (which I'm not certain it is), they
wouldn't have applied a veneer unless it was highly figured and unusual
- cherry was not a rare wood in those days. If it's not cherry then it
doesn't match the rest of the piece and I've not seen other pieces with
the drawer face being different than the body of the piece. Speaking of
not matching, just the tone of the drawer wood doesn't match the rest.
* Harping more on the drawer, the dovetails look too large to me. I've
got several pieces in my family that are of the Federal era and the
dovetails are all much smaller. In place of this drawer's two tails, I'd
expect to see 3 or 4. The drawer bottom looks OK but the side looks too
clean - one would have to personally examine it for the appropriate saw
and plane marks.
* Inserts... I'm not certain I see what inserts they're talking about.
If it's the horizontal lines in the underside shown in pic #4, then they
wouldn't do anything for warping anyway as they're parallel to the
grain. ...and someone has used "plastic wood" to fill in the side rail
and drawer rail joints...
* Check out the design proportions of the last picture - man that side
rail is really tall but the drawer doesn't match it. Again, thinking of
the Federal pieces I've seen, the drawer rails are too chunky.
* The round cornered top... I don't think they did much round cornering
back then. (Someone please provide a link to other Federal tables with
* Cherry... ehhhh, I'm not sure the body IS cherry - that top surely is,
but the body? I'm wondering if it could be mahogany... look at the
closeup pic of the drawer rail and leg. (I've got a tall-case clock and
dresser of this era, both of mahogany and mahogany veneers and without
looking really closely it could certainly be mistaken for cherry or even
black walnut given the grain.) It's difficult to tell the grain in this
pic from the brush marks.
Nope they're talking about the underside: "The one piece top features
regular spaced inserts into the wood on the underside..." AND, I don't
think it's a one-piece top. At least to my eye there appear to be two
flatsawn grain areas separated by riftsawn grain at the center. Not sure
how a tree would be shaped to attain that characteristic and to my eye
there appears a defined tone change and join from the center toward the
right. I'm suspecting the lines on the underside are trying to explain
away a pieced top.
I've spent enough time on this one. Who's up for a little baseball -
On Sat, 07 May 2005 00:02:07 -0700, Fly-by-Night CC
I don't think it's necessarily veneered, but certainly the timber
doesn't match. Maybe it's a cherry top and drawer face in a mahogany
A good dealer would also have photographed the inside of the drawer
It's only a shallow drawer. They're not so few that they're out of
possibility. The drawer construction looks reasonable for the period,
chamfered bottom in grooves, with a square back.
I can only see these things working if they're expected to be stiff and
strong, and "tie" the top down to the frame. I can imagine someone
trying to make this work, but can't imagine it succeeding.
Wouldn't be the first time.
There were round corners, but not such tall lumpy ones.
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