Newsletter 10: Spring 2016

Meeting on 9th May

Eight members came to a Tools and Chat evening at The Admiral Hornblower Oakham.

A weekend excursion to Chedham’s Yard was still a popular favourite.

There was discussion about the future of the Society; ageing and declining numbers posed a threat to its financial viability.  The dearth of material for the Newsletter and Journal also suggested a passive membership.  Jane Rees, the President, considered that the failure to publish a Journal would undermine the academic and educational credibility of the Society.  However, the Executive Committee has decided to reduce the Number of Newsletters to three each year and not to publish a Journal until sufficient material is available.    The views of the membership are needed, also on content and quality.  Brian Read felt that other publications, including catalogues, would help to achieve value for money and were popular.  This controversy did not cause a riot in Oakham.

Rupert Stevens reported a medieval chest in situ in the Church at Saffron Walden Essex, made of oak but with ash dowels.

Richard Arnold speculated about the use to which the first metal planes, always known as mitre planes, were put.  The use of mitres in Georgian cabinet work was probably limited to cornice work, other corner mouldings, bracket feet, veneer bandings and picture frames.  I have a feeling that most of these joints would have been assembled off the saw, perhaps cut using a long back saw with a 5” depth of cut (the so-called sash saw). Having completed a rosewood chess table, he thought trimming veneers and other edgings would require finer cuts than those produced by a wooden plane.  A very fine mouth, not achievable in a wooden plane, would also help in surfacing heavily figured hardwoods.

Rupert Stevens told us about the thesis he was preparing on the work of Ince & Mayhew, Cabinetmakers (1759-1803).  Work undertaken on examples of their furniture from the hundred or so pieces supplied to Burghley House, Stamford had sparked his interest.  William Mayhew had subscribed to Chippendale’s ‘Cabinet makers’ Director’ 1754.  The ‘Universal System of Household Furniture’, published in parts between 1759 and 1763 was a less imposing, imitative work.  The partners married sisters from the same family in a double wedding at St Georges, Hanover Square in 1762.  The firm had many illustrious clients and produced furniture designed by Robert Adam but is now largely unknown.  The early neoclassical work is interesting, combining new and unusual forms and distinctive detail for carcase furniture such as writing tables and desks.  The firm is said to have made the first oval backed chairs in Europe and was among the first to use marquetry in ‘antique’ taste.

Rupert had noted fine craftmanship - cedar linings, quadrant mouldings to retain drawer bottoms (standard practice after 1830), and high quality fittings.  A tiny detail – gilded nails to ensure that the handles did not dent the timber – shows a concern to maintain the appearance of the pieces over a long life.     

Richard wondered how other examples could be identified.  At this time it was not normal to mark or label cabinet work.  Close study of the authenticated furniture should expose features unique to this partnership and might allow an attribution to other furniture elsewhere, such as at Welbeck Abbey.

Richard reported a plane marked ‘WOODING’ but including a full stop, apparently a fraudulent addition to an old plane.  He also produced a rare plough plane by William Cogdell.  Later on, there was an early toothing plane, stamped ‘W C’, with an iron by Robert Moore set at an angle of 75-80 degrees.                

Brian Read produced some unusual items: boxed tweezers with platinum tips, probably used in blowing glass; tweezers used in cotton mills to remove snagged knots, stainless steel surgical tools, and boxed spatulas, some in pure nickel, employed in material analysis.

Richard had looked at a number of panelled oak chests, made from the C17 onwards.  He found that joiners had ploughed a continuous groove on the inner face of the end stiles - up to the mortice for the rails under the lid.  This technique left a concealed, open groove in the ‘feet’.  It seemed to suggest that a plane of some kind had been used to simplify the construction.

Rupert showed us some of his favourite chisels: a Japanese tool of laminated steel, reminiscent of c18 English work, a paring chisel by Nurse of Walworth and a long, cranked patternmaker’s chisel with an unferruled, beech handle.  I showed a distinctive scribing gouge by Howarth.  The octagonal handle extending down the back of the blade, was used with a sash template to cut reverse profiles so that the window bar fitted neatly over the bar it was to meet at right angles.  The stop was intended to limit the depth of cut, preventing damage to the fragile, central tenon.  This method was probably adopted in the mid to late c19.

Michael Woods                                                    Tel: 01572 722448

11th October 2016                                       * Please keep in touch