Gazette Archive 2/18/01
A Book Review by Bob Hamilton
Title: Making Classic English Furniture
This book turned out to be considerably different from what I expected from the title. It contains a lot of good information on hand veneering, crossbanding, and string inlays, as well as an innovative combination of hand and power tools for drawer dovetailing. There are also detailed descriptions of five different projects which include parts diagrams and enough information to build them. The projects are each unique and convey the feel of a classic antique, without being a reproduction.
As much as the finished piece may look like an antique, however, the materials and construction techniques used to build them are thoroughly modern. The author relies heavily on the biscuit joiner and router throughout, and MDF as a groundwork for the veneers. His adhesive of choice for the veneering is hide glue, heated in a glue pot. With this technique there is no need for a veneer press or vacuum bag, since the hide glue works almost like a slow-acting contact adhesive, requiring no clamping.
1) Oak Mule Chest: While retaining the appearance of a chest, this piece is actually a cabinet, allowing the top surface to be used as a display area. If it were actually a chest everything on top would have to be removed in order to access the contents of the chest. It has two drawers at the bottom and doors above them allow access to the interior.
2) Dressing Table: This is a delicate appearing piece which serves as a canvas for the application of some spectacular burl veneer, crossbanding and some restrained accent stringing. Period hardware complements the veneers and finishes the look.
3) Sofa Table: This spectacular piece features a drop leaf at each end, end standards which resemble an inverted "Y", and a semi-circular stretcher which arches from the mid-point of one standard up to the bottom of the table and back down to the other standard. The entire piece is veneered and accented with crossbanding and string inlays.
4) Extending Table: This unique table is designed to be small enough for four, but can extend to seat ten diners. The unusual layout of the pedestal base makes it stable even when fully extended. The massive shop built runner pack for the extending top makes use of dovetail keys running in dovetail slots to maintain the integrity of the top when open.
5) Breakfront Bookcase: This massive piece features a drawer unit at the bottom and heavy cornice mouldings and pediment at the top, without being overly ornate. It is built as three distinct sections which are assembled in place.
In general the construction of these pieces is very solid. Biscuit joinery is used extensively, but critical joints rely on more traditional joinery such as mortise and tenon, dovetail, or sliding dovetail. There is good information on laying out such things as a broken arch panel door and a rule joint. Where solid wood is used provision is made for wood movement in almost all cases.
One rather glaring exception is in the Mule Chest project. The author points out that the solid wood top is attached in such a way that any movement of the top will be toward the rear, keeping the front overhang constant. He completely ignores the fact that the panel which makes up the floor of the cabinet section, above the drawers, is also solid wood and will also move. The directions call for this panel to be joined using biscuits and glue to the bottom rail of the end panels, which constitutes a cross grain joint almost sixteen inches long. Even using quartersawn oak I would expect that to cause a problem.
Overall I would say this book would be very useful to someone wanting to try hand veneering. The instructions for stock, veneer and glue preparation and application are clear and concise. The projects included in the book provide a good sampling of the techniques described.
Editor's Note: Sterling Publishing has graciously donated several books for review which are passed on to our members free of charge in exchange for thoughtful, honest reviews. Thank You! And you can usually find their titles at a discount from Barnes And Noble