Updating a China Cabinet

My wife bought this china cabinet at the Springfield Antique Show in Springfield, OH in September. It originally came with two glass paneled doors but she wanted to take them off and open up the top part of the cabinet for easy storage. We have a similar china cabinet in our dining room now and opening and closing the doors every time I want to unload my wallet and keys is kind of a pain in the ass, so taking the doors off permanently make sense to me.

You’ll see a lot of china cabinets with their doors removed in antique stores but most of them simply take the doors off and paint the piece leaving the sides of the case 3/4″ thin with the hinge mortises exposed and all. I knew I didn’t want to have that look, so I decided to add stiles to front to complete the case.

I started by milling two pieces of poplar 1″ x 1 3/4″ x 36″ and laid out where I wanted to rout fluting down each piece.

I then clamped the pieces in my modern Moxon vise and used a 1/4″ fluting bit to rout a flute about 1/4″ deep down the front of the stile. I opted to have three flutes 1/4″ apart down each stile.

The scrap portion of the stiles is key. Here I gauged where the fluting should go and then tested the layout. As you can tell, I had to move over the middle flute just a tad in order for it to line up evenly with the other two flutes on the side.

After the fluting was routed, I sanded the stiles and glued them onto the cabinet.

The reason I decided to use 1″ thick poplar 1 3/4″ wide is because I wanted to match the stiles to the top rail as it was 1″ x 1 3/4″. Had I used wood that was only 3/4″ thick it wouldn’t have looked as nice appearing like the stiles were an add on which I did not want.

The fluting on the china cabinet’s leg started up 2″ from the bottom so I mirrored the detail starting and stopping the fluting on the stiles 2″ from the top and bottom.

This is how the cabinet turned out. The fluted stiles gives the piece a nice added touch and finishes it off. It will be sold in my wife’s booth at a vintage designer’s market called “Over the Moon” in Lawrenceburg, IN near the end of the month. I think my wife secretly doesn’t want it to sell because she wants to keep it. I can’t blame her.

Using a Vacuum Press

Every once in a while I pull out a tool that I haven’t used in long time. I bought this vacuum press about ten years ago figuring I would use it all the time making custom plywoods out of exotic veneer but that’s never been the case. I think originally I saw David Marks use one on Woodworks and thought to myself that I had to have one. Even though I’ve only used this vacuum press about four times since I bought it, I’m still glad I did because now I need it.

I make thick wooden letters for my wife Anita. She paints them different colors and sells them in her booth. I usually make EAT which women display on their kitchen tables. The letters are made from 1 1/4″ MDF however, I can’t find a local supplier for 1 1/4″ thick MDF so I buy 1/2″ and 3/4″ MDF and laminated them together. Next month Anita is going to have a booth at a local Shabby Chic design show called Over The Moon in Lawrenceburg, IN. I figured I’d help her out and make more EATs and a few NOELs for Christmas. She sells them for $5 – $6 a letter which isn’t much but they are super easy and quick to make. Plus everyone she sells will help pay for the cost of the booth.

In order to laminate the two boards of MDF, I need the ability to properly clamp the boards together so that they press against each other equally. That’s where my vacuum press comes in handy. In order to maximize the torque of my vacuum press I built a clamping box for it. The box is nothing more than two 3/4″ MDF boards with grids cut on one side and glossy laminate on the other with the bottom board wrapped in a frame. The grids on the top help with air flow as the vacuum is working, and the laminate helps any glue squeeze out from sticking to the inside of the box.

Using the press is quite simple. I spread glue all over ope of the pieces I want to laminate making sure I get a 100% coverage. I get better results only spreading glue over one of the pieces and not both. When both pieces have glue on them, they tend to slide around when I put them in the box.  Once both pieces are stuck together, I place the top half of the box on top of them to act as the press when the air is removed.

I slide the entire box into the an industrial plastic bag with a nozzle on top and use a couple of wooden cauls to close the end of the bag. I then use as many clamps as needed to seal the bag so that it’s air tight.

I then hook up my vacuum press and turn it on for a few minutes to suck out all the air like a gigantic Food Saver machine.


You can see how tight the bag becomes once the vacuum starts working. After I’m satisfied with the pressure, I leave the boards to cook for a couple of hours. It’s important to turn off the vacuum and listen carefully for any air leaks that may be present. Notice the orange Jorgensen clamp at the bottom where I had to fold the plastic on top of itself in order to stop a leak. 

After a couple of hours, the boards come out perfectly laminated together. If you’re interested in learning more about vacuum presses, go to www.joewoodworker.com. It’s where I bought my vacuum and all the necessary accessories.

Empire Dresser

The Empire dresser is officially done. My wife Anita found some nice oil rubbed bronze drawer pulls on the internet after looking locally for some with no luck. It originally had glass knobs on it, but a few of them were in rough shape and not all of them matched. I think the drawer pulls she picked out look really nice and add to the character of the piece. She applied four to five coats of hemp oil to the dresser. It gives it a warm aged look without making it look too glossy.

I put a few hours in this as well. I had to strip all the old stain off, patch a veneer job, re-band all the drawer fronts with sapele, replace a brass key escutcheon, and reinforce some of the drawer bottoms with pieces of poplar.

She plans on selling this in her booth with her painted furniture and antiques this Saturday at a local street fair in Milford, OH called the Longstone Festival. She was lucky enough to get a booth as there is usually a waiting list every year. Hopefully it will sell there. I will let you know if it does. http://www.longstonestreetfestival.com/

The Furniture Makers of Cincinnati 1790 to 1849

While shopping around a couple of antique stores in Lebanon, OH this weekend, I ran across this book placed on the bottom shelf of a bookcase in the back corner of the store. The book was “The Furniture Makers of Cincinnati 1790 to 1849” and it intrigued me since it was something that I was looking for a while. I have always known that back in the earlier 1800’s Cincinnati was the epicenter of the furniture industry, but I knew very little about any of the makers or furniture from that time.

The writer of the book Jane E. Sikes, who I can only imagine was Richard Gere’s mom, was a native Cincinnatian who held degrees from Bennett College and the University of Cincinnati. She researched and documented hundreds of cabinet makers, chair makers and turners during the earlier part of the 19th century and included their name, location, and year or years in which they operated in alphabetical order. She also wrote about the furniture industry in Cincinnati and the artisans who helped carve its future. If you’re from Cincinnati and would like to read the book yourself, you can buy a used copy on Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/Furniture-Makers-Cincinnati-1790-1849/dp/B002H2TIDE/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1376267859&sr=8-1&keywords=the+furniture+makers+of+cincinnati

During the earlier 1800’s, Cincinnati was the fifth largest city in the US and the largest in the West. Steamboats carried goods from the East and to New Orleans. Being a major port for travelers on the their way out west, Cincinnati flourished economically and by 1815, Cincinnati was exporting chairs and furniture out west, selling to the steamboat trade. Because of the expanding growth and the lush local forests, artisans from all over the world came to Cincinnati to help build the furniture that was in such heavy demand.

The book has a few pages of color plates showing furniture made in Cincinnati which is what I was really after.  Being a furniture maker from Cincinnati, I’d like to pay homage to the furniture makers before me by incorporating some of their shared styles into my own designs. Anytime I watch the Antiques Roadshow on PBS, I hear the Keno brothers talk about the Philadelphia style or New York style of furniture, but never hear them speak of a Cincinnati style of furniture. Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be any singular design that stands out as a Cincinnatian form as Sikes wrote, “It is difficult to attribute particular characteristics to Ohio furniture in general and Cincinnati in particular. However, there are certain pieces which have descended lineally in certain families and we know that these shapes are definitely the kind of furniture made here in 1820 and 1830.” However, she doesn’t go into detail what those shapes or pieces were.

As far as the furniture industry in Cincinnati is concerned, unfortunately, the Great Flood of 1832 wiped out a lot of the furniture makers who worked and lived downtown. The river was so high that year that it was reported by William Henry Harrison that steamboats were travelling down city streets. Seven of the major chair makers were decimated as all of their tools and paint were washed away down stream. After the flood in 1834, the sudden outbreak of Asian Cholera only added to their woes when as many as 100 people died a day from the illness. Steamboats weary of traveling to Cincinnati in fears of spreading the disease bypassed the city thwarting once again the chair makers who depended on the steamboat trade. Most of them closed up shop and went onto other trades.

While examining the pictures, I think there are some similarities in the curves of the pieces that I can incorporate in my own designs in the future. Since I have lived in Cincinnati for nearly thirty years, it only makes sense to continue the proud history of furniture makers who came before me.

Page 20 has a picture of the Book of Prices of the United Society of Journeymen Cabinet Makers of Cincinnati for the Manufacture of Cabinet Ware in 1836. Books like these were legal contracts for helping unionize furniture making. Whether or not they were adhered to is anyones guess.

One of the neatest furniture makers Sikes researched was an African-American man named Henry Boyd who was born into slavery in Kentucky on May 14, 1802 and then bought his freedom at the age of eighteen. He set up shop in Cincinnati and sold his furniture to people all over the South and Southwest. He began working in 1830 and by 1850 he employed 20 cabinet makers making beds for hotels. Some of his furniture can still be seen today at the Golden Lamb Inn, the oldest hotel and restaurant in Ohio in the city of Lebanon, just two doors down from where I bought the book. I have never eaten at the Golden Lamb but I’ve heard good things about the place. Looks like I’ll have to take my wife there soon and check out some of his furniture if possible. The Cincinnati Enquirer wrote an article about Henry Boyd a few years back. http://www.enquirer.com/editions/1997/02/21/loc_blackhistory.html

Somebody who owned the book before me was doing some research as there were still a couple of hand written notes tucked inside. This is definitely a great book that I will own for a long time. Maybe I’ll add my own notes to the book someday doing research on some Cincinnati furniture makers.

My Wife’s First Tool

My wife Anita has been repurposing old furniture and selling it in an antique store the past few months and often the repurposing requires upholstery work. A few days ago I was out-of-town and the upholstery stapler she was using kept failing. She called me on the phone and told me the driver would not retract when she shot a staple out of it. The stapler was a twenty-five year old Senco J tool that I bought for $5.00 when I worked for Senco so the fact that the driver gave out was no surprise. I told her that they probably don’t make parts for it anymore and she would be better off just buying a new gun. So she ends up going to a local Senco dealer and buying a SFW09 for $110 and she was back in business.

She uses the gun to upholster chairs with new fabric. This cloth is nothing more than a 10′ x 12′ painters drop cloth she bought a Lowe’s for $5.00. She washes the fabric then paints words on it with stencils. The result is quite impressive with the seat looking like it was upholstered with expensive $35/yard fabric.

The chair is for her sewing desk she’s been working on the past few weeks. The desk is the same desk I wrote about a few months ago about having to remake the feet.


The desk was painted with chalk paint and the top was painted with enamel. She originally stained the top which I thought looked nice but she didn’t so she redid it. Regardless it still came out really nice with the total cost of the desk and chair under $100.

This how the feet finally turned out. As you can see, you can’t even tell they’ve been remade.

As far as the J tool goes. It was connected to the compressor but the compressor wasn’t on. So as she kept firing staples, the compressor gradually ran out of air and it prevented the driver from going back up into the piston. Oh well, at least now she has a gun that will last longer and give her more power than the old J tool. Oh I forgot to mention, I’m not allowed to touch her new stapler. : (