Saturday, January 24, 2015

More Data on Cope's Patent Castors

Mr. Cope's Patent Bed Wheels

Six months ago I posted information about some nice antique hardware,  specifically wheels marked "COPE'S PATENT".  You can find this post using the search tool; it was July 5, 2014.

Well, yesterday I finally found another example of this type of wheel, from an email sent to me by an English antique dealer.  It is amazing and wonderful how internet searches can bring people together.
He had been searching the internet to find out information and discovered my post searching for help.

Thomas Franklin wrote to me stating that he has been in the antique business for 50 years in England and had seen numerous examples of Cope's castors over his career.  He indicated that many of these pieces were from the Regency period, which makes sense, since the rosewood table I restored was exactly from that period.

As Mr. Franklin now lives in France he is finding a good supply of English furniture which the aristocracy brought over from England some 150 years ago.

He sent me photos, which I post here, of wheels which were original to a Hepplewhite bed he purchased in France.  He said the bed could not be later than 1830, and that the Cope's wheels are "definitely English."

I have seen similar wheels (not marked Cope however) on bed frames from Lannuier (Empire period) to Herter Brothers (Late Victorian period).  Most of the high end beds during the 19th century had wheels, either brass or porcelain, mounted under the frame inside the rails or foot/head boards.  These wheels allowed the rather heavy beds to be more easily moved away from the walls or around the room if necessary.

Height Adjustment Possible

Mr. Franklin notes that the wheels he has on his bed were the first he had seen with a method to adjust the height.

I am curious as to what exactly did Mr. Cope do to wheel design to gain the advantage of a patent?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Sometimes "Made in America" Just Doesn't Work

European Kraft Paper Now Available Here
I live in Southern California, so everything I see in stores must come in from China through Los Angeles.  In truth I don't ever go shopping for anything except food, but I can easily imagine a continuous line of cargo ships crossing the ocean from LA to China.  There must be enough of them that it might be possible to just walk there from ship to ship?

All my life I have preferred local and domestic production to imported.  Except cheese...

However, in my chosen profession, I have found items in France which I cannot find here.  Veneer nails for example.  Sawn veneer is another.  And, for some unknown reason, Kraft paper.

In Pierre's book there is no mention of Kraft paper or making and using an Assembly Board to make marquetry.  When I arrived at ecole Boulle for the first time and observed students working on projects building face down on stretched paper, I saw the "light bulb" over my head.

Like most marquetry workers in countries outside France, I thought you worked from the front and used either glue or veneer tape to hold everything together.  Just like others who have discovered the problems this causes, I had several projects ruined since the press put uneven pressure on the different layers of tape and allowed the thin veneer to buckle under areas where there was no pressure.  The other problems in working from the front with tape is that the work is covered up and you can't see what you are making.

Pierre did not include any information on Kraft paper since it is such a basic component of the French process.  It is simply assumed that everyone knows about it.

I have posted before on building Assembly Boards, so use the search function to research this.

The first day of class here at the American School of French Marquetry I spend time introducing students to the glue and materials used, including Kraft paper.  I can see in their expressions the doubt and surprise when I show them a piece of paper and say, "You cannot find this paper in America."

This is the minimum Order!

In Europe Kraft paper is everywhere.  If you buy fish, bread or flowers, the store merchant wraps it in Kraft paper.  If you buy a kilo of shellac or pumice stone or sandarac, it is wrapped in Kraft paper.

Kraft paper is made the old fashioned way: by layering paper pulp in solution.  I remember once in 8th grade I decided to make paper for a term paper.  I filled up my mother's washing machine with water, glue and paper pulp and made paper, including my own watermark.  I got an "A" and a good beating.

Kraft paper is shiny on one side and dull on the other.  That's one of the secrets.  The shiny side resists water and glue and the dull side absorbs water.  By wetting the shiny side it expands in all dimensions.  Gluing it to a flat board around the edges and letting it dry makes it shrink and pull tight.  All elements of the marquetry are then glued to the paper with hot hide glue, face down.  You cannot imagine the advantage this provides for working with small pieces until you try it.

The mastic is easily applied after all the pieces are in place and any unevenness of veneer thickness is sanded down flush from the back (glue side).  Finally the picture is cut away from the Assembly Board and glued to the project, with the Kraft paper on top.  After the glue is dry the Kraft paper is wetted and dissolves easily so you can remove all the paper and glue from the front.

Of course all the veneer is even and flat since it was built face down on a flat board surface.


I have imported rolls of Kraft paper from Raja in France, but there is a minimum order and the shipping costs exceed the paper costs.  That is why I sell it for $3/yard to students.

Now one of my students, Wes Highfill has spend the money to bring in several rolls.  Since he is located in the Middle States area, shipping is probably cheaper to the East Coast.  In any event he is now selling Kraft paper for $3/yard as well.  Both of us use and sell the 90gm/square meter weight.  This is best for our purpose.

Here is his blog: Kraft Paper For Sale Here

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Is Your Glue Reversible?

King Tut "Before"

I often wonder about furniture makers, both in the studio and in the factory, who choose to use glues which are "permanent".  I guess that is because in my career I have seen every possible type of damage that can occur with "normal" use of furniture.

I have also seen "unusual" damage in my time.  One case in particular was when a rather embarassed man showed up with a spindle back rocking chair.  The crest and the entire tops of all the spindles were shattered and broken in one hand and the topless rocker was in the other.  When I asked him how this had happened, he quietly replied, "I was practicing my batting swing in the living room."

I didin't believe him.

Another time there arrived at my door a wonderful curly maple Chippendale chest of drawers.  However it was neatly severed completely across the middle, leaving broken drawers and backboards in splinters.  I was told it was a "moving accident".   It was a lot of fun putting it back together.

That story I believed.  Movers can do a lot of damage.  For example, there was the triple pedestal mahogany dining table the movers put on the truck and then loaded boxes of heavy stuff on top until all the legs broke off at the same time.  What fun it is to reattach every cabriole leg on the table so it looks undamaged.

Some 30 years ago I was doing a lot of insurance claim damage and thought I should help solve the problem.  I went to several different moving companies and offered my services.  I thought if I could be paid a reasonable fee for a short course of instruction, I could teach them how not to damage antiques.  Things like knowing about card tables opening when you lift them,  removing the pendulum and weights when transporting long case clocks,  not loosing keys or finials, how to move corner cabinets, etc.  I assumed that by reducing their damage claims they would be happy to pay me for basic information.

The uniform response I got from all of them was "no".  They actually considered damage claims as a basic "cost of business" and something that was expected to happen.  It was very discouraging.

Dining tables seem to attract a lot of attention from stupid people.  Once I got a frantic call from Newport Beach and drove up there to see for myself what had happened.  This client had paid a moving company to deliver their Cuban mahogany double pedestal Georgian dining table and set it up.  The driver carefully laid out blankets on the cement and put the top of the table face down on the clean blankets.  Then he proceeded to set the pedestals in place and attach them with screws.  Each pedestal took 6 screws.  Unfortunately, the sheetrock screws he used were not only modern but 1 inch too long.  As he turned over the table in front of the client, you can imagine her response.

I managed to solve that problem with a bit of experience, a good protein glue and magic.

Another table I was asked to repair had shattered glass imbedded into the top where the chandelier had fallen on it from the ceiling.  At first the owner had assumed that the hook holding the chandelier had failed, but my investigation focused on the housekeeper.  She informed me (in confidence) that her method of cleaning the chandelier was to stand on the table and turn the fixture while wiping the glass crystals.  Eventually she unscrewed the fixture and gravity took over.

I kept her secret, she kept her job and learned a valuable lesson.

I guess my point here is that all furniture suffers damage in its lifetime.  Unless it is repaired with a glue which is reversible, there is a chance that it will not be repaired properly and could be lost.  This is one of the biggest problems I have with modern work.  Using glues and finishes which cannot easily be repaired is a death sentence.

King Tut's Beard

Today I found a news article which is not related to furniture but in fact demonstrates how important it is to use reversible glues.  Workers in Egypt were cleaning the death mask of King Tut, certainly one of the most important artifacts in history.  Imagine their surprise when the beard snapped off in their hands.  I'm sure their response was similar to the client in Newport Beach.

Instead of stopping work and researching the solution properly, one of the ladies cleaning the mask called her husband who picked up some epoxy and repaired the beard.  To make it worse, in cleaning off the epoxy residue from the joint, the surface of the gold was scratched in many places.
What Glue Would The Pharaoh Use?

Not the best solution, to say the least.  Remember the basic rule: "Do No Harm."

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


I have been thinking about posting my thoughts on endangered species materials for years now, and every time I sit down to start writing, I stop and reflect on the impact it may have.  I have personal and professional friends who are on both sides of this issue.  I also argue with myself from time to time, trying to decide how I feel.  It is a very difficult problem to resolve.

First of all, there is a jewel cabinet which sits at the top of this blog which contains ivory feet and knobs.  It is one of my best creations and has been exhibited in museum shows on both sides of this country, as well as published in several magazines.  When I made it I took particular concern that the ivory be from legal stock, harvested in Kenya before 1963, and I have legal papers which confirm that fact.  It wasn't until 10 years later that the creation of an international convention to protect endangered species was signed ( C.I.T.I.E.S.) forcing nations to control and restrict the sale of such materials.  The purpose of this treaty was to prevent the continued depletion of certain precious materials but at the same time allow for the continued consumption of existing stock.  Thus, each legitimate business which had inventory of a protected substance would register the amount of stock and provide certificates with each sale showing the amount sold and the origin of that stock.

When I purchased the Brazilian rosewood (dalbergia negra) for my Louis Philippe tables from Patrick George, I got papers which certified it was harvested in Brazil in 1952.  Mr. George indicated on my papers the actual amount of wood and, at the same time, reduced that amount from his list of legal stock.  In theory, each dealer who maintained stock of these endangered materials would reduce their inventory lists until they were depleted, at which time there would no longer be any stock.

The same process was used with the ivory material I consumed for the jewel cabinet.  I purchased the blanks from David Warther, and was given a certificate authenticating the ivory as pre-C.I.T.I.E.S.  I included this certificate with the sale of the cabinet for the protection of the owner in the future.

I watch in dismay as each day brings news of the elimination of rhinos and elephants from the face of the earth due to illegal poaching.  Obviously the efforts to legislate the control of horns and tusks has had little effect on their activities, unless it is to raise the value of their horrible trade in other markets.  I cannot express the feelings I have when I see tons of illegal ivory being destroyed by countries to make a point.  I feel the same way when I see antique pianos being crushed by tractors in the dump, with no effort to salvage the ivory, ebony or rosewood materials they contain.

Let me make a simple observation about efforts to control endangered species by contrasting two materials: tortoise shell and rosewood.  People harvest sea turtles because the meat is a food and they taste great (so I read; I have no desire to sample sea turtle).  Thus, if the shell is no longer valuable, people continue to harvest the turtles, eat the meat, and then throw the shell back in the ocean.  On the other hand, in Brazil where the rubber tree is a valuable item, natives make every effort to protect the rubber tree from destruction.  By making the rosewood tree illegal to harvest, and therefore not valuable, there is no protection for the trees that have survived,  and acres of ancient forest are systematically burned to open up land for farming, with no regard to the species of trees destroyed.

What if the rosewood tree was worth thousands of dollars?  What would change?  Would the forests be saved and managed or would the tree just be cut down and sold and then the rest of the forest would be burned as before? Does international legislation have any effect on a farmer with a match?

I do understand that C.I.T.I.E.S. has had a profund and positive effect on managing the international trade of certain materials, but only among those nations who fully support its mission.  For example, in the past year America has proposed and adopted more specific legislation regarding the control of ivory, and this year similar bills have been proposed in California (AB96).  More information can be found here:Ivory Education Institute

As a professional conservator in private practice for the past 45 years, I have collected a good supply of ivory, tortoiseshell, Cuban mahogany, Brazilian rosewood, and many other materials which are currently listed on the C.I.T.I.E.S. list.  All of this material was purchased years before there was any concern with their ownership, and I have no records to prove that I purchased them legally.  Only the materials purchased since the passage of restrictive legislation have certificates.  My business is restoration of objects of art which contain similar materials and that is how I use them.

More and more the decision to use these materials is causing a serious dilemma for me.  It is not clear to me what the future holds for collectors of antiques which often contain precious materials.  Do I use a piece of tortoise shell to restore a missing element in a Boulle clock?  Should I use a scrap of an ivory piano key to make a missing key plate?  How about a scrap of Cuban mahogany veneer being recycled to restore a Georgian card table?  I cannot bring myself to substitute plastic filler or paint and putty to make such repairs, as is more and more the case these days.

I decided to sit down and post these thoughts today since the possibility that all objects which contain ivory will loose their value is a serious concern.  A good example of this is the work of Aaron Radelow.  Aaron is a young furniture maker who I have known for some time.  I first met him when I was the Superintendent of the Design in Wood Show at the Del Mar Fair.  His work was always large, massive and complicated to assemble.  I suggested that he focus more on smaller designs with more detail and "finesse".  He subsequently attended classes at my school where he discovered French marquetry.  During one of these classes I mentioned that the ivory table in the J. Paul Getty collection was perhaps the finest example of work I had seen, and that it had never been copied.  His response was that he would make a copy, and I was quick to dampen his spirits.  I pointed out that it was "iconic" and a "masterpiece" like the Mona Lisa, and that it was "sacred" or some other crap.

Well, he did it.  He spent several years in research, consulted with Brian Considine at the Getty, purchased thousands of dollars of legal ivory and horn and figured out how to do it.  Not only did he succeed in making and exact copy of the original table, he also produced the counter part, which has never existed.  Both of his tables were here in my shop for several weeks as my partner, Patrice Lejeune applied the French polish, so I had a good chance to examine the work.  In my opinion these tables are equal to the original in every respect, and even Dr. Pierre Ramond wrote that they were unique in his experience.

More information on how he was able to produce these pieces is here: Making The King's Furniture

Now the problem:  After thousands of hours of work by a very talented craftsman, using legal materials, what is their value?  How do you recognize this achievement and where will they end up?  When he started work on this project he had every expectation that they would be worth a lot of money, and in my opinion, they are nearly priceless.  However, due to subsequent legislation they may end up as illegal or certainly difficult to sell.

Here is a photo of his tables on either side of the original in the J. Paul Getty Museum:

Radelow, Gole, Radelow

What does the future hold for these and other great works of Art?

Friday, December 19, 2014

Happy Haiku!

Today I reach exactly 2/3 of a life in good health and content with my life.  I have a productive routine and have been recognized both for my professional work and public contributions.  It is comforting to reflect on past events and contemplate future potentials.

I just finished breakfast and, as I was washing the dishes, looking out the kitchen window,  and drinking the last of the coffee, my attention was focused on the old apple tree that Kristen and I planted so many years ago, with the help of our sons.  Now our sons are grown men and the apple tree is hanging on, each year struggling to survive.

We had to amputate a large portion of the tree this year as it just died unexpectedly.  One of the remaining branches then started leaking a clear fluid which ran down the trunk for months.  Each day the finches would fly by and drink this fluid, right in front of the kitchen window.  One day, as we watched them feast, Kristen asked me, "what do you think that fluid is?"

"Apple juice" was my instant reply, without really thinking.

Now the fluid has stopped, and the branch has seemed to heal itself.  The leaves are nearly gone and the tree is resting, waiting, and probably thinking to itself, "what season is this?"  After all, next week is predicted to be nearly 80 degrees and clear.  Perfect beach weather.

Then it hit me.  Today I expect a lot of "happy birthday" comments (thanks to Facebook).  Instead, I came up with this "happy haiku" which expresses more perfectly my emotions.  I hope you find some meaning in it, too.

Apple tree in snow:
waiting for Spring to reveal
its fruit of knowledge.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Treasure Box Series II Progress Report

Patrice Lejeune shows the inside of the top

As I work my way to the end of each year, I tend to reflect on the past.  I started my business in June of 1969 so each summer I pass that milestone, marking another year of self employment.  However, the end of each year means I am another year older, and that is a more sobering thought.

At this stage in my life, many of my friends have retired.  They often ask me "if" and "when" I expect to do the same.  That thought never crosses my mind.  My usual response is something like "When they pry the chisel from my cold dead hands." or something equally dramatic.

Why should I retire?  I have a 5000 square foot "playground" which contains all the materials and tools I need to create anything I can dream up.  All I need to do is find a photo or see an object and I can have it.  I used to lecture a lot on antiques and fakes and one of points I would always make about fakes is that "if someone made it in the past, then it is possible for someone to make it again."  Kind of like counterfeit money.  No matter how clever they try to be, someone will be able to copy it.

Most professional woodworkers struggle to create original designs.  I find that goal very difficult.  I really don't think I have an original idea in my head about design.  The problem with me is that I have worked on tens of thousands of antiques, visited hundreds of museums and read countless books, and my mind is packed with images.  No matter how hard I try to create something, there is always an element of historical precedent which begins to appear.

I have the same problem trying to imagine creating an original piece of music.  I mean, after all, there are only so many notes, chords and key signatures that exist.  How in the world can you sit down and write something completely new without including some rhythm or sound that you heard before?  I have the deepest respect for those who can do this.  I spent many years of my life playing chamber music and sitting in orchestras, performing classical music.  The best I could do was to play the notes well, and try to make some kind of music.

That is the same for me with my woodworking.  The best I can do is to perform the piece well, and pay respect to the masters of the craft from the past centuries.  I must admit that, after 45 years of practice, I have been able to achieve a modicum of success in that goal.

One aspect of my professional life which has been very helpful has been my relationship with ecole Boulle and Dr. Pierre Ramond, among others in Europe.  Leaving San Diego and spending time and money in Paris really paid off, giving me the experience and confidence to take my work to the next level.

It also provided me with an opportunity to partner with Patrice Lejeune, who has worked with me for over 7 years now.  We have a good working relationship, and each day we share the load, dividing up the activities according to each person's schedule.  I am fortunate to have a business partner who completely understands both the operation of the business and the school and can contribute in areas which I am not as strong.  Not to mention giving me a hand when the furniture needs to be put on the bench or in the truck.

The success of the Treasure Box series is a direct result of this partnership.  The work we put into these boxes is as good as it gets and I am sure they will be regarded with deep appreciation and respect for many years to come.

As I have rather busy lately with other projects and not able to post on my blog much, I would like to direct you to visit the recent post by Patrice on his blog.  His posts, which detail the actual work on the boxes, is more complete and includes photos of each stage of the work.

You can see that post here:    Patrice Lejeune's Blog

Note, in particular, the photo of the tulip veneer with the words "This veneer has been saw cut at the end of the 19th century."  How wonderful it is to be able to use historic materials as well as historic methods!  Thank you Patrick George.

We expect to be able to finish and deliver all 4 of these boxes early next year.  At that time our cat, Gigi, will need to find another place to rest.  She always seems to appreciate our work as well.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014


This year has been a good year for me, personally.  In January I attended the SAPFM Conference in Williamsburg where I received the Cartouche Award, with as much humility as I could muster.

Then I was invited to speak at the Woodworking in America Show in Winston Salem and had a great time with all those woodworking professionals and enthusiasts.  I am always excited to spend any time with Roy Underhill, who is a hero to all of us.

Business has picked up quite a bit here and some really nice pieces are showing up in the shop for work.  I look back on my career and realize that I have been fortunate indeed to have touched so many great objects and satisfied the needs and expectations of so many clients.  Work is rewarding when it is so satisfying.

I look forward to my birthday next week, and turning 66.  It seems like such a nice round number.  I wonder what next year will bring?  Always the optimist.  I am excited to return to Marc Adam's School next year, and look forward to making another clock among other things.

In any event, last night I received the pdf files for the 2014 SAPFM Journal, which is now in the mail, and I would like to thank Carl Voss and others for their professional assistance.  I realize not all the people who read this blog are members of SAPFM or perhaps even know about the group.  It is a fantastic group of dedicated and highly skillful woodworkers, which was created in 2000.  I joined immediately and have participated in past events with pleasure, contributing articles to the first three Journals.  If you want more information or wish to join or purchase a copy of the Journal, here is the link: Society of American Period Furniture Makers

In the past decade the Journal has become one of the most important publications in the field of American furniture.  However, there have also been some articles which included European furniture influences and these are important.  That is why I wrote an article for this issue focusing on the diversity and importance of European furniture designs, "European Influences on American and Colonial Designs."

My goal with this article was to encourage more research into the wonderful ethnic contributions to style and construction which evolved into the American form of furniture.  With all the news today about immigration we tend to forget that we are all immigrants and that is what is great about this country.

I am deeply honored to be recognized by this group and want to thank them for their tribute.