Every Piece Has a Story


Our Gracious Hosts

Several weeks ago we had the opportunity to visit the home of a friend. I had understood  that he had a significant collection of period furniture, but we were unprepared for what we saw.  After his wife treated us to a cup of coffee, fresh fruit and a delicious piece of sweet bread we started to explore. The walnut drop leaf table in the dining room had rails and legs very similar to tables attributed to the Anthony Hay shop in Williamsburg.


A Williamsburg Table?

“And those side chairs next to it. Aren’t they from the ‘Walker school’”.


Walker Side Chair

We weren’t out of the dining room yet and there were still more Virginia pieces. On the other side of the dining table stood a Thomas Miller side chair from Fredericksburg, Virginia. I replicated a more ornate version of the same chair more than twenty years ago. I was really starting to feel at home.


Miller Side Chair

We moved into the living room.  More surprises to come. Two  beautiful Philadelphia side chairs with shell carved crest rails and trifid feet. The tilt top table between the chairs looked familiar; our host confirmed that it was Norfolk, Virginia.


Norfolk Tilt Top and Philadelphia Chair


On the other side of the room stood another very familiar piece. If you have ever been by our shop in Colonial Williamsburg you’ve seen it just inside the door, a John Seldon chest of drawers. The original that we replicated seventeen years ago has been at Shirley Plantation since the 1770′s, and here was another almost identical to it. This case piece has the same pull out under the top with scratched cock bead, the same progression of drawer heights with applied cock bead, the same drawer construction, etc., etc.. I felt like I was back in Colonial Williamsburg.


John Seldon Chest of Drawers

We all enjoyed the exploration.  Here, Brian is looking at a nineteenth century New York sewing table, and Bill and Ted are inspecting an early stretcher base table.



Bill and Ted


New York Sewing Table

You might have recognized the corner cupboard at the beginning of the blog.  That was the first of several eastern shore pieces that we had the opportunity to see.


Inside the Eastern Shore Corner Cupboard


The Paint History of Another Eastern Shore Piece


Paneled Six Board Chest

After a delicious lunch served by our gracious hostess, there was more to come. Being in the business of replicating eighteenth century work, we were especially interested in period tools.


There were examples of just about every category of woodworking tool,

Claw Hammer

Claw Hammer

Wedge arm Plough

Wedge arm Plough





Wooden Brace

Wooden Brace

and some that completely stumped us. Any ideas?


What is it?

There was much more, but I’ve got to stop somewhere. Museum collections are just a big tip of the iceberg. Get out there and explore period homes, private collections, auctions. You never know what you will find.  For me, it’s the story behind the pieces that I find so interesting. Material culture is not dead. Every piece has a story!



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Symposium Aftermath

Hay Shop in Winter Clothes

Now that the 2014 edition of the Working Wood in the Eighteenth Century Symposium is over and all of our attendees are (hopefully) back home safe, sound, and ready for another year of period furniture making, we thought we should probably get to work finishing up those pieces we demonstrated on stage. Before we do that though, we wanted to offer up a sincere expression of our gratitude to all who attended.  It’s great to see so many familiar faces along with some new ones as well.  A lot of work goes into preparing these conferences, but the period furniture makers family reunion atmosphere you all help create makes the effort more than worth our while.  We thank you and hope to see you all again next year – that includes you too, readers who could not make it.  We’ll let you know when we have a theme for next year worked out.


Cabinetmaker Brian Weldy is just moments away from final assembly on the gate leg table.

I mentioned to folks that the end of the Symposium effectively marks the beginning of the new year for us in the Hay shop.  Here’s our collective resolution: to be more active bloggers.  That means we’ll keep you up to date on our progress with the early gate leg table, the Buckland and Sears sideboard, all the other shop projects underway, and any random musings about eighteenth century cabinetmaking we might have.


Bill Pavlak and Kaare Loftheim are progressing with work on the Buckland and Sears Sideboard. Here’s where we are on the front rail There is still a lot to do!

We would like to extend our congratulations to W. Patrick Edwards, the recipient of Society of American Period Furniture Maker’s 2014 Cartouche Award for lifetime achievement.  Patrick has spent the last 45 years studying and building pre-industrial furniture with period appropriate tools and techniques – a man after our own hearts.  Whether or not you are familiar with his work and writing, I encourage you to look him up: his blog, his website, and The American School of French Marquetry, which he runs.  For what it’s worth, his example was a real inspiration in my own decision to head down a path of historically informed cabinetmaking about a decade ago.  It was real pleasure for all of us here to meet Patrick and his wife and “talk shop.”

The Symposium also gave us the opportunity to work closely with MESDA and its gracious staff, especially Robert Leath and Daniel Ackermann.   We were also pleased to have Steve Latta back at the conference this year, as any opportunity to watch him present and teach is always welcome indeed.  Steve’s willingness to expand his presentations to accommodate a last minute schedule change was more than kind and we’re so grateful.  Our own Colonial Williamsburg joiner Ted Boscana also deserves a mountain of thanks for expanding his program at the last moment.

Finally, my drawings for details of the Buckland and Sears sideboard table came out quite poorly in the Symposium handout.  I apologize for that and have included them here for everyone.  I would also like to direct you to Tim Killen’s SketchUp blog for Fine Woodworking where he has included a digital version of the egg and dart molding.  Tim has been a steadfast supporter of the Symposium through his blog for the past several years and we’re quite grateful for that.

Here’s to a great 2014!

Bill Pavlak.

Egg and Dart

Buckland and Sears Egg and Tongue/Dart Pattern


Foot Design for Buckland and Sears Sideboard Table.

Posted in Shop Happenings, Symposium, Tables | 8 Comments

A Carver’s Platform


In the natural course of things here at the Hay shop we only carve occasionally, but over the last few weeks it’s been the daily activity for Bill and I. That much bending over is fatiguing on the neck and back when working at normal bench height. After participating in a two week carving class working 12 – 13 hours a day, we were sold on the advantage of having the carving at elbow height. So before we started carving the side board for the up coming symposium, we joined together a pair of carving platforms.


The general form is based on a design by Steve Latta.  We modified materials and construction to be more period appropriate. The overall height of the platform is simply the difference between an individual’s working bench height and elbow height. The rails are tenoned through the stiles, glued and wedged.  Thick tenons on the top of the stiles are fit tight dry into the underside of the 1 1/2″ thick top so that it can be taken apart and stored more conveniently. The front stiles run 3″ below the bottom stretcher so that they can be held in the vise or with a hold fast. A line of holes run down the center of the top for the use of small holdfasts.


More about this at the symposium, but right now it’s time to get back to work.

Merry Christmas!   Kaare

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Mending Cap Veneers

Hello everyone…

Well, it’s been one of those autumns….

We recently had some atmospheric “issues” here in the shop and below you can see the results on the cap veneers on the spinet case.

Loosened Cap Veneer

Loosened Cap Veneer

Loosened Cap Veneer on Spinet Front Rail.

Loosened Cap Veneer on Spinet Front Rail. 

The front rail took the brunt of the damage, with four splits there, and one on the top edge of the bentside.  Tapping on the veneers revealed the precise locations where veneer had lifted. After waiting a couple of days for conditions to stabilize, I began with re-laying the lifted veneer sections.  Here is where hide glue earns its keep.

First, a warm palette knife was inserted between veneer and ground, to lightly melt any residual glue that might prevent surfaces coming back together.  Then fresh, warm, thin glue was worked into the space.  I pressed it all down with my fingers, rubbing with a veneer hammer action.  I lightly moistening of the top of the veneer to prevent warping across the grain, but but not so much as to soak and swell the veneer, which might lead to further splits as it cooled and dried.  Linen rags go on top to keep the veneer stable once the glue has grabbed it.

Cap Veneer Relaid

Cap Veneer Relaid


Of course, the open splits did not close up.  That was not my intention.

Remaining Open Joint in Cap Veneer on Front Rail.

Remaining Open Joint in Cap Veneer on Front Rail.

Next was to saw and chisel out the open section.  Here it is on the bentside cap veneer:

Cleaned Cap Veneer Joint on Bentside.

Cleaned Cap Veneer Joint on Bentside.

Fortunately, I had spare cap veneer banding, thick stuff.  I shot the edge of the strip with the try plane on the small shooting board.  After breaking off a small section, I braced the veneer against a nail driven into the shooting board so that I could shoot it and also pivot the veneer around to adjust the angle of the veneer’s edge.  Here’s the set up (yes, dangerous having metal near the plane edge, but I didn’t want to waste time, so caution thrown away):

Shooting the edge of a veneer banding piece.  Note that the piece is free and can be pivoted against the nail to adjust the angle.

Shooting the edge of a veneer banding piece. Note that the piece is free and can be pivoted against the nail to adjust the angle.

I kept up planing until the piece was just beginning to fit the gap, trial and error testing.  Then I resorted to a small bastard file and carefully filed one edge, tested, filed more until the piece fit into place.

Filing the shim edge.

Filing the shim edge.

Shim fitted into gap.

Shim fitted into gap.

Finally everything was trimmed back with chisels and a sharp spokeshave.  Since the veneers are not finished yet, blending everything out was much easier.  See the result.

Flushed and Blended Shim.

Flushed and Blended Shim.

Here’s the big replacement shim for the major split on the front rail.

Fitting the Gap Piece for the Front Rail Cap Veneer.

Fitting the Gap Piece for the Front Rail Cap Veneer.

Gap piece fully trimmed and fitted.

Gap piece fully trimmed and fitted.

This one was large enough that when I glued it in, I put a damp linen rag piece to keep the  piece stable .

I haven’t yet cleaned up this one.  Tomorrow.  Plus a couple of more joints to repair.  But it seems to work.

As the surgeon’s mate said in Master and Commander, “Aye, sir.  She’ll patch up nicely.”


Posted in Harpsichords and Spinets, Veneer | 1 Comment

The Finished Finials – finally

We’ve had a project in the shop I’d like to tell you all about.

Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Trades Department is working with The Museum of the American Revolution to construct a copy of George Washington’s wartime Headquarters- “The First Oval Office”.

For the Cabinetmaking shop, we were asked to turn 6 finials to go on top of iron rods made by the Blacksmiths, which were attached to mahogany poles fabricated by the Joiners.

Here’s a photo of the completed finials:

Tent Finials


The large ones are 4 1/2″ in diameter and the small ones are 2 1/2″. We  used the treadle lathe borrowed from the Joiner’s shop. It made more sense than setting up our Great Wheel Lathe and drafting someone to turn the wheel. The wood is beech and will be painted red as in this painting by Charles Willson Peale:


Yale University Art Gallery

I do enjoy these kinds of collaborations. However, I don’t envy David Salisbury who also had a turning project. When you go to the facebook page, check out all the buttons he had to make.

People often ask us, “What’s the biggest piece you can turn?”, or “How fast can the lathe go?”

I can say that for our treadle lathe, 5″ diameter was about as much as I would want to handle. When the crank shaft was at the apex of the rotation, it was like pedaling a bicycle uphill in the highest gear.

If you’d like some background about the project, go to http://www.Firstovaloffice.org. That’s the Museum of the American Revolution’s site.

To see the tent in progress, http://www.facebook.com/Firstovaloffice will show the various historic trades and their contributions.

Brian Weldy

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Time to Stir the Pot!

Introducing our volunteer, Oscar Wells, a longtime woodworker who helps us here in the shop two days a week.  Of late, he has been working to complete the dressing bureau featured at the Mount Vernon Symposium in 2012.  Here, he has contributed a brief post on the decisions about color and varnish on the piece.  Thanks, Oscar, for all your help and knowledge and comradeship!  


Oscar Wells and the Mount Vernon bureau reproduction.

The topic of finishing always stirs up a good discussion, so I might as well stir the pot.  I have been in the process of preparing and applying a finish to a replica of one of two bureau dressing tables that Peter Scott originally completed in lieu of a year’s rent for his Williamsburg shop space, which was owned by Daniel Park Custis. After Custis’s death the pieces followed his widow, Martha, into her new marriage to George Washington.  The original Bureau Dressing Table is the property of George Washington’s Mount Vernon and the curators there were gracious enough to allow us to study it and fabricate a replica for our conference on Working Wood in the 18th Century – The Furniture of George and Martha Washington in 2012.  Since then, the piece has been waiting at the shop for someone to have the time to start finishing it.  Once completed, the desk will become part of our ware room here at the Anthony Hay Cabinet Shop and will be available for those of you who visit and wish to examine it in detail.  An excellent article on the furniture of Peter Scott, which discusses this piece specifically is found in the article by Ronald L. Hurst, “Peter Scott, Cabinetmaker of Williamsburg: A Reappraisal”  in the 2006 issue of American Furniture published by the Chipstone Foundation.

With the dressing table sanded and ready for finishing, guidance was provided by our conservation staff.  The preference of that time was to have the mahogany stained with a reddish organic dye stain using  either logwood or brazilwood coloring. This would be followed by a minimal application of orange shellac or a light kusmi seedlac of one or two coats.  I prepared a strike-off sample of logwood and brazilwood on the same mahogany used in the dressing table. Single and double coats of each of the stains were followed by an application of alum as a mordant to make the stain more permanent.   Seedlac was then applied after drying.  The two coat sample of stain resulted in a dark red color, while the one coat sample of brazilwood displayed a bright red and was chosen as most representative of the period.  The logwood produced a very light red color and was discarded from consideration.  The seedlac toned down the color to a rich reddish-brown color typical of the period.

Brazilwood-stained door beside unstained case side.

Brazilwood-stained door beside unstained case side.


Stained case with initial seedlac application

A single coat of brazilwood stain was then applied to the primary wood of the replica dressing table and allowed to completely dry.  A stain was also applied to the secondary wood of the bracket feet in accordance with Peter Scott’s practice.  Alum was applied and allowed to dry.

A 1 ½  pound cut of light kusmi seedlac was then prepared and one coat was initially applied with a brush for a faster build on the base.  Following this, several additional coats were padded on to the dressing table and drawers.  A future post will cover the completion of the finishing process.


Stained case with initial coat of seedlac

Oscar Wells.

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Carving Class 2013, Part 6 (The End)

Work has wrapped for Bill and Ted in Massachusetts.  Last jobs…

Bill has flowers carved by Dimitrios to use as examples when he completes the piece back here in Williamsburg.  The ones on the left…




And Ted has posed his work for a cool glamour shot… 140 hours total work over the class time.  




Gentlemen… kudos to you both.  Come home safe.  And all the best to all of you for following us so patiently.


The Hay Shop.

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