Saturday, October 16, 2010

English Breakfast Table

I compare my work to that of the custom tailor. It may sound different, but we both are concerned that the "client" looks good in the "fabric" that we fit to his body. Obviously, a fat client should not have large horizontal stripes in his suit. Also, it is nice to dress a redhead in green. There are simple rules which make the job easy.

In my case, the "fabric" is the wood veneer I purchase, generally in Paris. I need to mention that the business of veneer supply has changed dramatically since 1995. You may refer to my earlier post on sawn veneers vrs. sliced veneers. Suffice it to say, the veneer which is being produced these days is not material which I would purchase or use, as it is too thin.

That said, I anticipated the problem many years ago, and I spent lots of money I didn't have at the time to buy more veneer than I needed. My veneer cave is stocked with the most amazing flitches of wood veneers, and I call it my "bank account." By that I mean that, for the rest of my career, I can only rely on what I have already purchased. The only exception is the rare occasion where I discover some old pieces of veneer in some back room which are available since the owner will never use them. That said, if you know of any good veneer which was cut before 1995, CALL ME!

I have mentioned Patrick George, in Paris, before. He is my primary supplier, as his business has been selling exotic wood for 4 generations. He treats me right, and I give him all the money I can. When I walk through his warehouse, I don't even ask about price. I just say, "Give me that, some of this, and everything over there!" Somehow I always end up short when the total is presented, but he understands. By leaving me in debt, he knows I must return to settle up next time. I am always in his debt.

One of these visits, I purchased some wonderful burl flitches, including highly figured ash. That flitch sat in my cave for years, until a delightful small English Pembroke table walked into the shop for a restorative face lift. Not too much. Just a slight adjustment so she could stand in the corner of the room without people staring.

As I was working on cleaning her smooth surface, gluing some loose elements, and protecting her patina, I fell under her charm. She was so simple, yet elegant. Just the right amount of marquetry trim. Nice figure. You know, she had chemistry.

While she recovered in the work shop, I paid homage by making two exact copies. I figured, since she was so beautiful, that should anything happen to her in the future, these honest copies would continue the gene pool. I selected the ash veneer I had purchased years before, and applied an appropriate brown water stain to create the same effect. The clothes fit perfectly.

When I finally returned the original to her home, I came back to work and was delighted to find her sisters standing proudly in my showroom, consoling me in my loss. We had breakfast together.


Anonymous said...

Patrick, beautiful tables!

For the table top, what did you use for the veneer substrate?

I know you have a hand tool only shop, but have you ever considered sawing your own veneers?. Or have it sawn by one who as a bandsaw.


W. Patrick Edwards said...

I appreciate your compliment.

I am traditional in the sense that, when I make a piece I follow the accepted practice of that period. I do not "improve" the process, which can, and does, lead my pieces over time to sometimes split and crack like the originals.

For example, on my clocks, where the wood molding is cross grain or short grain, the wood will eventually shrink across the grain which will lead to cracks in the molding. Just like the period clocks.

Thus, when making these tables, I followed the same methods as used in 1800. I laid the veneer down on solid wood, which in this case was beech. I did not use a counter face veneer, since that was not done. I laid the veneer on the heart side of the wood, as was normal.

I used to use solid mahogany as a substrate, but that is now impossible since it is no longer available. I often use tulip poplar, beech, oak and pine.

I have had a fellow cabinetmaker saw some of my veneers. You can also saw your own veneers. However, the veneer quality produced by the French "scie a bois montant" is unsurpassed.


Anonymous said...


For thicker shop sawn veneer (3/32") do you think it is important to match the grain orientation of the veneer and the substrate So that the two wood "move together"? In other words QS veneer with QS boards and flat sawn veneer with flat sawn boards.

That topic made me fetch my J.Krenov book and looked how he did veveering over solid wood. He would use a laminated substrate of narrow QS boards, then cross banded with sapelle veneer, then add his veneer to both sides.

Surely a very different approach


W. Patrick Edwards said...

3/32 is much thicker than I use, even for sawn veneer. When I purchase sawn veneer, it is usually 1.5mm thick. After gluing down and removing all the saw marks on the face, I am left with a solid 1mm veneer surface. On sliced veneer I only use 1/28" which is about 0.9mm.

The "old guys" who worked in the pre industrial shops knew the source of their wood. All the wood was properly air dried and stable. The wood supply was their bank account, and most wood was dried over 10 years before it came into the shop. Modern, kiln dried wood is severely damaged by the process. Faster, quicker and cheaper is not my idea of success.

Krenov was reacting to the standard practice of the 20th century, where the sliced veneers were quite thin, and it was really necessary to glue a cross grain thicker layer under the veneer and on top of the solid core. That also required a similar treatment on the back of the core, so, in effect, you have a 5 layer lamination. Most of the industrial veneered furniture made in the 20th century was treated this way.

I prefer running the face veneer the same direction as the core material, and only veneering one side, unless it is a stand alone cabinet door which needs to be more stable. In that case the inside of the door is also veneered in the same grain direction.

Good question.