Brown desk door hinges


Well-known member
Since we have Al Breed"s ear here, I have always wondered about how the three doors on the bookcase of the Brown Newport Desk were hinged. I have not looked at any pix of the desk in quite a while(okay, it been a few years), but I remember being concerned about how the hinges were mounted. I would assume that the hinges that are mounted on each bookcase side are set with the barrel of the hinge located in a mortise cut through the door edge molding.  I believe that leaves a small rabbet along the hinge side of the door, perhaps an 1/8 inch or so. That is my guess, but only a guess.
The hinges that are located between the pair of hinged doors, I have no clue, there.
Is this pair of edges rabbeted(I would guess not)?
Is the barrel to the face or interior of the desk?
Will this pair of doors then fold flat on themselves?
What size were the hinges?
Do the pair of door open second, or first?
What sort of catch secures the pair of doors?
Are the other edges(top, bottom overlay) of the doors rabbeted, and to a different dimension(that would be my guess)?
There are many tricks to mounting hinges, and I must admit that I often find that I am rather dense when it comes to understanding them.
This is just an issue that has been nagging at my brain. Perhaps there are many folks here who could put my mind at ease.
Thanks to all.
I built a Newport sec. desk several years ago; and I had a real blind spot about the hinges and latches on the 3 doors of the upper unit.  I got some good help from several sources and I would be glad to take some digital shots of mine and email them to you.  I'm not certain at all that mine are hinged the "right"  way, though they seem to look OK.  Email me off forum if you're interested
I might suggest that you wait to see what Al Breed says. He is a much more knowledgable source of traditional methods than I'll ever be.
The hinge problem. Nothing as compared to the lock problem. I use the Spanish hinge from Whitechapel Item #: 216HV12 Size: 3" (not including tips) and bent it to make it work. Looks good and fits the original intent. I would love to hear peoples input on how the locks and latches secure the upper case. I missed something here.

Mike- I'll double check the details tomorrow, because it's been a while since I've done one, but very briefly I think it goes like this:
The stiles between the doors are false- they're actually part of the door stiles- one piece rabbeted to look like they are two. (so if you make them, don't center the mortises in the stiles like Goddard did. He exposed them when he rabbeted the stiles- oops!)
The right door closes against the inside vertical right hand divider which also has a " tennis raquet" type brass catch attached to its left side.
The left and center doors are hinged together on the inside by hinges, one flap of which is recessed below the surface of the center door and one that is flush mounted to the left door because the center door is thicker than the left one.
To close the two doors they are flattened out until a brass pin mounted on the back of the center door engages the catch mentioned. This can require a little guidance.......It's actually a good idea to construct the doors so that they rest on the bottom edge of the lower rail. There's an overlaying  thumbnail molding on the center door that holds down the right door.
The left and center doors are then flattened out and the only lock, which is mounted on the left inside of the center door, then engages a similar catch mounted on the right side of the left hand vertical divider when the key is turned. There's some excavating of wood somewhere to allow the lock catch and the bolt to meet, but I forget exactly how I did it. I know I left the back off the case until it was done because I spent a lot of time marking and fitting from the back.

I guess that wasn't so brief.......Al    ( Davis has 2 in his house- ask him to go have a look and double check me-AB)
I'll have to really think about this for a while. By tennis raquet catch do you mean the tilt-table top type catches by Ball, or did you have him make something special to match? I can't really picture the pin for engagement, but maybe able to if I think for a few days.
I believe, then, you are implying that there is not a catch to hold either of the door assemblies to the upper case, just to each other.
I will admit that I am sometimes very slow to grasp everything.
I am fairly certain certain I am correct about the case side hinges being cut through the door lip. I had never considered that the middle door would need to be thicker, that adds another layer of stickiness to the mental picture.
Thanks for your kind reply and patience.
Hello Al. It's been a pleasure reading your comments an this forum. I have my secretary sitting in my living room where it can haunt me daily. I would like to ask if you could please try to make it clear how the doors are able to be locked securely, particularly the two that are hinged together. I confess to my laziness in that I never made the inquiry into how to accomplish this before I mounted the doors. It was a detail I put off as a laughingly simple one compared to the task I had before me when I started the project. The left door is the single on my piece. It has no lock, it has no escutcheon! I just received two more escutcheons from Whitechapel and am about to put them on with an additional lock on the single door but am eager to hear what you have to say before whacking away. The result will be 4 escutcheons, a pair on either side of the false stile and a pair on either side of the lock stile. I could take a stab at posting photo's here if it would be of any use.
I did email you off forum as suggested, because I am also interested in how you solved this problem. I would not presume that it would be possible to improve upon the original, I just like to have all the information possible.
Mike and Fran- The knuckle hinges on the outside (left and right) doors do cut into the thumbnail on the doors.
Regarding the actual locking of the doors: The only lock is on the left edge of the center door. The right edge of the center door has a cast brass squarish pin hat is let into the back of the door and sticks out to the right about an inch. This goes into a catch that looks like a brass rectangle with a handle coming off the middle of the long side. The center of the rectangle is shaped to recieve the brass pin. This catch is actually mounted with the leg in one of the dadoes that holds the adjustable shelves in he interior. When the pin slides into the catch this secures the right hand edge of the center door, and the thumbnail holds the left side of the right hand door (which is closed ) down. Flattening out the hinged center and left hand doors pushes the lock mounted in the center door down to the other catch and when this is locked you can't pull the left and center doors out any more.
This is complicated for sure. Hope this helps-Al
Locks. That's what I remember when I probed a couple of these pieces. I can't visually recall the mechanism you talk about but it is clearly visible in photos I have seen. If it is no trouble I wonder if you might post some photos of the mechanics of the thing. It would be very generous of you.
Complicated for sure, but it does sound like it give a door system with sort of a nice action. I think it implies you  can catch the center door without having the two left halves in the locked position, then flatten that the pair, then close and lock the right door into this pair. To open, then you would open the right door, and the two left doors open in the "locked together" position, then you can fold those by tripping the catch on the back of that pair.
This may be incorrect, but thats how I am picturing your description in my mind.
I wonder Al, if you might comment on the actual lumber used for the Brown desk. The photos I have seen were very dark. It was san dominigan, I assume, but was it highly figured, or do you think that with so many carved elements, the lumber was not the focal point. Some Boston blockfronts I have seen have such highly figured mahogany that I think the lumber was the real area of emphasis. I just wonder what you "felt" about the lumber. Thanks again for all your help.
Mike Mcgrail
Mike and Fran- You could actually lock the two left doors flat without closing the right. The only thing that holds the right door down is the lap of the center door over it, so you need to close it first if you want it closed at all and locked.
The Brown secretary only had two escutcheons originally and they were on the center door. The other two were added later, and you might want to leave them off. The original escutcheons were bent into the hollow of the center door. I had Bob Ball cast all this stuff from my patterns, and he should still have them.
The wood on the original, lucky for me, was pretty plain south or central American stuff. I was able to get wood nearly identical from my dealer at he time. I even got quartered stock for the door that just happened to have a defect in exactly the same place as the original, which was a little twilight zone. The Goddard corner chairs we just made were another story- really heavy Cuban style stuff. As you know, a lot of their stuff was figured and dense, but I'm glad the secretary wasn't.
If I can figure out how to post photos I'll see if I can find the ones of the details on the original. John Davis may also have a set of photos from our class, or if you're out there, John, maybe you could take some pics of yours and post them. The doors are definitely a project to get right.
Another interesting thing a bout them is that the panels on the flanking doors were just glued to the frame with some molding acting as glue blocks on the inside, and no evidence of them ever having come loose. The center door on the original must have warped, because there was a sliding dovetailed batten across the inside at the top that I believe was put in by Goddard soon after the piece was made.
Fascinating. I appreciate your time. I have wondered about these things for at least 16 years, maybe longer. Sorry it took me so long to grasp that the single door closed first, I had assumed in my mind it closed last.
I appreciate the comments about the lumber. I have also always assumed that this desk was the so-called cuban, just not very highly figured to ease carving. From  the photographs I have seen, it is pretty well impossible for me to tell about the lumber, so your comments are very welcome to me. It just helps to get a feel for the piece. I also appreciate the comments about the center door lumber moving. I would be tempted to consider using  lumber closer to rift-flat sawn to ease carving that center door, and maybe that's a mistake.
Thanks again. Any photos are appreciated. I don't plan to make something like this bookcase for some time anyway, but I have thought for a very long time about these questions.
I am aware of the power of a glue block, but I would bet you captured those panels in a groove, also, when reproducing the original.
Mike Mcgrail

Mike- No, I glued them on just like the old ones- they hung on for over 200 years! What a lot of people don't realize is that even though some panels and table tops move, they can bend the rails they're attached to. So even though he panels were glued, they just bent the door stiles in and out except at the top and bottom rails, and even if they let go there, they'd still be attached in the middle. Same with the tea tables: the glue blocks let go that were on the end rails near the corners but the ones in the middle and at the center of the long rails stayed put. I'm not saying that you can't improve the tech stuff on old designs- they did basically ignore wood movement most of the time.-Al
As I think about it, if it were trapped in a groove and held by glue blocks, the glue blocks might just crack the edge of stile, rather than bend it.
Thanks again for sharing the incredible experience of being asked to reproduce that piece.
I will try to attach photos.  I get a headache thinking about doing this and doubt this text will describe it clearly. In the photos, The left door is almost closed so you can see how the center door thumbnail would lock over the left door front at the edge, and the pin on the center door back gets secured to the bolt behind the left door, attached to the bookcase. Note the two bolts in the picture. As the center and left doors close together, the pin engages the left bolt. Once closed, the lock engages the right bolt.


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Looks like I might need a clarification already after rereading Al's earlier reply. My center door is mounted on the right door. The left is all alone and closes first.

We had some discussion about which way the original was done. There were conflicting photos of the same original Brown secretary in different books where the negative had been reversed in one. So even the books didnt get it right. Decide which way you want the two doors to swing and thats the right way.
Thanks, John. I'd forgotten about that. It doesn't really matter which doors are attached to each other. The hardware is all reversible. -Al
Ahh, that's what a tennis racquet catch looks like. I am sorry if my oriignal question has caused anyone here to have unhappy flashbacks. I really am not sure I have it all in my head quite right yet. Maybe a few more weeks of thinking will help me. The photos are very helpful, thanks Jdavis, and thanks to all.
yours truly,
Mike Mcgrail
Mike, when you get around to putting the hardware on, install the tennis racquets last but before you put the back boards on the case. Then you can reach through the back and tinker with their placement, snug up the doors etc, mark position and then attach.

The other wierd thing is the lock on the top drawer...a normal lock would bolt up but if the chest has the drawer slide, the bolt would go into the drawer slide....

Maybe you can get Al all excited about making one of these again and get him to teach another class. Working with Al for over a year was clearly the best experience of my woodworking hobby. 
Good luck, John