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Building Antique Furniture Print  |  Back

From: Woodcraft

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I recently ran into an old friend who I had not seen or talked to in years. He told me that he used to build antiques for a living. I didn't think that you could build antiques.

He explained that he had started an antiques refinishing and restoration shop several years ago. An elderly gentleman brought in a drawer out of a cherry corner cupboard and asked my friend, who I will call Lee, if he could build a cherry corner cupboard that looked reasonably authentic. Lee told the gentleman that he would try.

Lee was fortunate because he had access to rough-sawn poplar boards that averaged 14" wide, several old panes of 8" X 10" glass, an assortment of old hinges and furniture hardware, and a walnut corner cupboard from which he could get measurements for the cherry cupboard.

He found tongue and groove poplar boards that had once been interior walls in a cabin. He stripped the wallpaper off of them and used them for the cupboard back. He bought reproduction cut nails and used them to nail on the backboards.

He built the two piece cupboard with raised panel doors on the bottom and six-pane glass doors on the top section. He used 5/16" cherry dowel rod to make pins that he inserted in the doors and cupboard fronts to imitate pegged mortises.

When the cupboard was finished, the gentleman who ordered it decided that he really didn't want it. Lee was stuck with it.

Lee found out that there was an antique auction the following Saturday, so he called the auctioneer and consigned his "old cherry corner cupboard" into the auction. The cupboard brought $1,800.00 and Lee found a new career.

Lee decided to build turn-of-the-century oak furniture because this furniture was built with power driven woodworking tools, there were parts and pieces of this furniture available at reasonable prices, and there was a strong market for "authentic old pieces".

Lee told me that some of his best antiques were a hall seat that he built from a mirror and bed rails, a shaving stand that started life as the pedestal on an oak office chair, a secretary-bookcase that for years was disguised as an oak dresser with two of its drawers missing, and an oak roll top desk that had once belonged to the Pennsylvania Railroad. (At least the brass tag on the inside of one of the drawers said Property of Pennsylvania Railroad)

Lee is no longer building antiques. I am writing this story not only to caution buyers of antique furniture to carefully inspect the furniture before buying, but also to encourage woodworkers to try their hands at building authentic looking reproductions.