The Society of American Period Furniture Makers

Tools and Techniques => Period design and construction => Topic started by: awleonard on August 28, 2009, 09:18:17 AM

Title: Nails in furniture
Post by: awleonard on August 28, 2009, 09:18:17 AM
I posted a question in the tables section about attaching molding to a tray topped tea table.  That got me to thinking about nails in furniture.  I try to avoid nails and screws, but I realize they are historically accurate.  So, what bout using nails to attach small moldings?  What kind of nails?  Do you fill the holes?  If so, with what? 


Title: Re: Nails in furniture
Post by: HSteier on August 28, 2009, 03:25:27 PM
If you look at meuseum pieces you will see plenty of nail holes in moldings, especially where the molding is cross grain to the underlying substrate. Usually the molding is glued at the miter so the joint stays closed and nailed futher down. As for filling the holes I have been told ( but can't verify the source) that either hide glue mixed with sawdust was used prior to the finish, or colored hard wax was used after the finish was applied. The hide glue/sawdust filler is always darker than the wood, so if you want an invisible fill use hard wax after the finish.
On another tack, does anyone use shellac sticks as filler? Was this a "period" (18th century) technique?

Howard Steier
Title: Re: Nails in furniture
Post by: frangallo on August 28, 2009, 09:23:20 PM
good question, howard. I use shellac stick for filling and colored wax as well. It has been my sense, though baseless in fact, that shellac came on the scene later than the period I am concerned with. Then I thought about stamp seals. That wasn't wax, it's far too brittle. was it shellac? All I remember is that that it was heated and dripped on the paper before the seal was pressed into it. This sealing method predates the American colonies.
Title: Re: Nails in furniture
Post by: frangallo on August 28, 2009, 11:15:20 PM
Back to the nails. The methods used by the old masters are pretty much considered butchery by today's standards. Imagine, for example, building a beautiful QA Highboy and nailing a bunch of nasty unplaned wood to the back and bottom, or using small cut nails instead of dovetails to put drawers together. Keep in mind nails were quite valuable in a time when they were made by hand. Often they were foraged out of a burned building due to their value.
Title: Re: Nails in furniture
Post by: Antiquity Period Designs, Ltd. on August 29, 2009, 07:34:11 AM
I remember at the CW Woodworking conference on case goods, Mack applied a molding to the front of a bureau with hide glue and held it in place with sprigs (small brads).  After the glue dried he removed the sprigs.

Dennis Bork
Title: Re: Nails in furniture
Post by: msiemsen on August 29, 2009, 08:12:24 AM
I've seen many pieces where the moldings are held on with wooden pegs carved flush to the molding.
Title: Re: Nails in furniture
Post by: dkeller_nc on August 29, 2009, 01:48:51 PM
Tony - Much of the antique furniture I've seen uses small brads to attach the molding to the case.  It is what I use as well, though I use cut brads instead of the historically correct hand-forged brads (working on that).

I don't fill the holes.  In my experience there is just no material that you can fill the holes with that will match the wood, either immediately or as the piece ages.  For that reason I use a small square nail set to flush the head of the brad to the wood's surface.  After a few years as the wood darkens, these brad heads will become almost invisible.