Did somebody sign something in Philadelphia?

Drawing, Studying, Thinking...

Drawing, Studying, Thinking…

I have spent a good portion of this Independence Day thinking about something signed in Philadelphia in the eighteenth century.  No, it’s not what you think.  It’s Edward Evans, not John Hancock et al.  It’s 1707, not 1776. It is a walnut escritoire, the earliest documented signed and dated piece of Philadelphia furniture. (Note: if you click on that last link search 1958-468 to get our curator’s write up and photos of the piece.)

An escritoire made in Philadelphia by Edward Evans in 1707.  Here it is on display at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum at Colonial Williamsburg.

An escritoire made in Philadelphia by Edward Evans in 1707. Here it is on display at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum at Colonial Williamsburg (accession number 1958-468).

Here's the name stamp and date on the bottom of an interior drawer.

Here’s the name stamp and date on the bottom of an interior drawer.

I will be building and presenting this piece at the next Working Wood in the Eighteenth Century Symposium.  It looks like this coming year’s theme will be desks.  We are pretty excited about this really early piece of American cabinet work and another impressive example from our collection that we’ll reveal in the coming weeks.  Outside speakers and additional pieces are still being worked out, so look out for more information soon.

I look forward to sharing many interesting details about the escritoire with you online and at the symposium.  The construction techniques, workmanship, multitude of secret compartments, and design are all pretty fascinating and a bit different from the “normal” ways of working we like to imagine existed.  For now, I need to figure this thing out and start making some sawdust and shavings.  Really, I need to figure this out – I confess, I spent two full days with this behind the scenes and still managed to miss a secret compartment!

Here is my version of the piece so far:

You gotta start somewhere...

You gotta start somewhere…

Best wishes to all of you on this day of celebration and reflection.

Bill Pavlak.

Posted in Casework, Desks, Shop Happenings, Symposium | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

I love wood! (I mean that with sincerity and sarcasm)

You know those people who wear t-shirts with “I Love Wood” printed across the chest?  Perhaps you are one of those people – it’s okay, I’m not making fun.  Even if it is not a part of my wardrobe, I, and hopefully all woodworkers, share the sentiment.  Wood is great for a lot of reasons – of course.  The thing is, and this rarely gets expressed in t-shirt form, wood is also one of the most obstinate, frustrating, temperamental, and, well, horrible materials to work with.  Everybody knows that too.  Here is my little story about wood’s dual nature.

Back on Election Day of 2008 I began work on a pair of mahogany cradles for the 2009 Working Wood in the 18th Century Symposium (bedroom furniture was that year’s topic).  The idea was to take this beautiful piece of mahogany, 8′ x 20″ x 1 1/2″, and break it down into two 4′ lengths and then resaw each of those sections for the sides and ends of each cradle.

Here's the rough sawn mahogany board that was supposed to yield head, foot, and side boards for two cradles.  This board was well seasoned and had been in our inventory for about twenty years at this point.  Though rough in texture, it was remarkably free of cup, bow, and twist.

Here’s the rough-sawn mahogany board that was supposed to yield head, foot, and side boards for two cradles. This board was well seasoned and had been in our inventory for about twenty years at this point. Though rough in texture, it was remarkably free of cup, bow, and twist.

It took about two hours to resaw each of these four foot lengths – or roughly one half hour per foot.  We thought that was a pretty good speed – twenty inches is a lot of width to move the frame saw through and such wood is best not treated cavalierly.  This is marathon sawing, not sprinting.

Here former journeyman cabinetmaker and current joiner, David Salisbury and I resaw the first of two four foot lengths.

Here, former journeyman cabinetmaker and current joiner, David Salisbury and I resaw the first of two four foot lengths.  Notice the wedges to open up the kerf a little bit.

Almost there!  After making our way through a little over half of the board's length we flipped it end for end in the vise and started sawing from the other direction.  Things seemed to be going very well...

Almost there! After making our way through a little over half of the board’s length we flipped it end for end in the vise and started sawing from the other direction. Things seemed to be going very well…

Sometimes with resawing, as with all sawing, things start to bind as tensions in the wood reveal themselves.  We noticed a little of this with the first board and placed wedges in the kerf to open things up (as is visible in the second photo above).  The second board seemed to have a good deal more tension.  When things really start binding and the saw seems to be fighting with me, I normally assume I am doing something wrong, or, with this saw, that the other person is doing something wrong (sorry other person, but you probably blame me too).  In truth this is one of the greatest difficulties with a two-person frame saw: if the two sawyers are not completely in synch, things start binding.  When this happens we troubleshoot the problem, make corrections, and saw forth.  If no corrective measures work then we start to worry about the board being ill tempered.  We drove our wedges deeper and kept cutting.

With the sawing complete and the boards given a few days to adjust to their new thickness, I commenced to plane them flat and smooth.  Head, foot, and side boards were all coming along nicely until I learned that it wasn’t bad sawing that caused all of that binding.  It was something in the wood.  Of the four boards produced by the resawing, three were beautiful and well behaved while one was decidedly difficult.  That 4′ x 20″ x 5/8″ board developed a horrible bow, cup and twist.  I planed as best I could, but there was no way to remove these defects and keep my thickness.  Before rejecting this piece – it was pretty enough for more effort – we decided to wet and over-clamp it in an effort to bring it back in line.  (N.B., this technique deserves a full explanation in a separate post.) This worked, but after a few days the board sprung back to its deformed state.  Perhaps more water and more clamping would do the trick.  Nope.  By this point we had decided extraordinary measures were needed to make this board flat.  If damp rags and over-clamping worked on occasion, perhaps it was time to make use of that stream that runs under the shop.  In early 2009 I pulled out a nonpartisan and timely pun to make this thing conform: water boarding.

Water boarding

We saturated this board by submerging it in the stream outside the shop for a day. Surely we could make it give up the bow, cup and twist.

After a week of aggressive over-clamping we had a much flatter board.  Over another week of waiting we watched some irregularity creep back in.  At this point, I decided to make a go of it and cut out two cradle sides.  They nested together in the board in this way:

The two cradle sides nested together in the board like this.

The two cradle sides nested together in the board like this.

Most of our trouble was in the middle of this board.  Some of it got cut out, but most of it came right back after the sides were sawn apart. For reasons other than this piece of wood, I decided that one cradle was enough and went back to worrying about cutting compound angled dovetails (more on that in a future post).  These two cradle sides have kicked around the shop for the past five years and in a flurry of spring cleaning I came across them again.  Here is the cradle that I made from this beautiful piece of mahogany:

Mahogany cradle constructed by the author (2009).

Mahogany cradle constructed by the author (2009).

Here’s the cradle I didn’t make out of that same beautiful piece of mahogany:

It was not supposed to be a Bombay cradle.

It was not supposed to be a Bombay cradle.

I bet someone can explain this scientifically, but for most of us this is the nature of our chosen material, indescribably beautiful and infuriatingly difficult.  The sides of the good cradle were cut from the same section of the original board as the bad sides: they were essentially book-matched.  How could one half of that thickness stay so flat while the other went so wonky?

I don’t know, but I do know to account for surprise.  It is part of the job.

I love wood!


Yeh, I #@$!%& love wood.

This board has problems!

Maybe something like that last sentiment should be added to the back of those t-shirts…

Bill Pavlak.

Posted in Casework, Miscellaneous Forms, Shop Happenings, Symposium, Wood | 7 Comments

Inaugural Meeting of the Tidewater SAPFM chapter

The Society of American Period Furniture Makers has a new chapter catering to eastern Virginia and North Carolina.

First of all, a special thanks to Bill Caillet and the folks at the Norfolk Woodcraft for their hospitality and letting SAPFM use their classroom space. Also, getting woodworkers out of the shop can be a Herculean task, but thanks to Roger Hall, we had over 30 people.

Roger Hall opens the meeting.

Kaare Loftheim answers questions about the Benjamin Seaton Tool Chest. In the background to the left you can see the full chest with saw till. The chest is on permanent display in the Hay shop and if you’re interested, Jane Rees’ book on the Seaton tool chest can be purchased through The Tools and Trades History Society, www.taths.org.uk.


Ben Hobbs of Hertford, North Carolina and the 2011 Cartouche Award winner brought 2 chairs. He discussed the process of measuring a chair and important measurements used to build templates.  Mr. Hobbs has a bespoke furniture business and conducts workshops at his shop in North Carolina on building these chairs, hobbsfurniture.com 


Mr. Hobbs’ Reproduction of an Edenton, North Carolina Armchair, 1745-1765 MESDA and Colonial Williamsburg both have versions of the 18th century chair.


Kaare and I brought a van full of furniture made by the Hay shop over the years. I’m showing a drawer pulled from the Gentlemen’s writing Desk from the Hay shop wareroom.


Ray Journigan demonstrates the layout for a flame finial that sits atop a tall case clock he’s built. Ray also discussed the process of carving a swan neck pediment and matching it to the side molding. Ray teaches classes on these subjects at the Woodcraft in Norfolk.


Ray’s Clock.


Shawn Nystrom brought in his 19th century cabinetmaker’s tool chest complete with tools. It proved these things were not lightweight and portable. Forgive the comparison, but it was like a circus clown car. Tools kept coming out of this box. In the photo to the left, there are 4 trays packed with drill bits, chisels and small hand tools.

The mission of SAPFM is to pursue the following goals:

  • To create a forum for the understanding, education, and appreciation of American period furniture.
  • To develop and encourage the use of standards and ethical practices in the reproduction and conservation of period furniture
  • To offer membership to all with an interest in period furniture
  • To assist members with the identification and location of resources including people or organizations having specialized expertise
  • To conduct public exhibitions for the recognition of members’ work.

If you’re interested in information on SAPFM, goto their webpage: www.SAPFM.org 



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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!



Posted in Shop Happenings | 1 Comment

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 | 9 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

Posted in Carving, Workbenches | 6 Comments

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

Posted in Shop Happenings, Sundry Historical Matters, Tools, Turning | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

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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