Q My mother bought two of these chairs at a European flea market in the early 1970s. They’re beautiful, delicate, yet sturdy, and I want to reproduce them.
Can you tell me anything about them? Thanks for your time.
— Name withheld
A The chairs are 20th century reproductions based loosely on a Louis XVI style of dining chair from
the late 18th century, but they incorporate elements from several periods. Duncan Phyfe made some chairs circa 1807 that are identical from the seat down. The legs are typical of the turned and fluted Sheraton style popular in American Federal furniture of the early 19th century. The pierced splat is a vague interpretation of Prince of Wales feathers from the English Regency period.
The chairs appear to be either mahogany or satinwood veneer over a hardwood base. The legs are probably birch. The splat may be tulipwood, pear or some other light colored wood. The brass decorations are called “mounts” and are generally referred to as “ormolu.” The chairs will be fairly hard to reproduce accurately unless you are an accomplished woodworker with a very good shop. Good luck and thanks for writing.
Q I recently acquired an old dressing table (vanity?) at a garage sale and didn’t really check it out thoroughly before I threw it in the truck. Now that I am ready to clean it up and use it, I have a real problem. I can’t get one of the drawers open. I know it isn’t locked because it doesn’t have a lock that I can see.
I have tried pulling on it as hard as I dare, but I feel like I am going to break the hardware. I can get it to budge just a little but not much.
Since I read your columns, I know about silicone spray. I have sprayed it into the crevices around the drawer as much as possible but that still didn’t work.
There is no drawer above or below it to gain access and it is sealed from below. Any ideas from here? Thanks.
A Is this a test? Some of the reasons why drawers don’t open:
a) the wood has swelled either on the drawer or in the case
b) there is something wedged between the drawer side and the case
c) there is something in the drawer that is keeping the drawer from moving
d) there is a broken structural member in the frame blocking the exit
e) the drawer side has come loose from the drawer front and has dropped slightly below the level of the case member.
There are other causes, of course, but these are the major and most likely events; and the most
likely event of all is reason “a”. However, that is a self-solving problem with a change in environment. If the piece is outside in the heat and humidity, take it into the house in the drier air conditioning and give it a few days to a week to re-size. If it is currently in a dry environment, then that’s probably not the cause of the sticking.
The next most likely cause is something in the drawer, a hairbrush, a ruler, even a pencil that has gotten lodged inside in such a manner as to jam the drawer against the frame. Put down a good pad such as a packing blanket and then recruit some help. Turn the piece on end and gently bump it against the ground to dislodge whatever is inside. Then try the drawer while the piece is in this position.
If no luck lay the piece on its back and try again. Then try it upside down if necessary with the piece lying on its top. If something is jammed it will turn loose sooner or later.
If that doesn’t work, then its time to get serious. Check out the back panel of the piece. If it is nailed or screwed in place, just carefully remove the back panel to gain access to the interior. From there you should be able to see what the problem is. You should be able to either solve the problem or remove the drawer out the rear of the case once you have gained access.
If the removal of the back presents a major problem, such as in the case of an inset panel installed in a dado in the frame, you might consider drilling a 3/8-inch hole in the back panel where the back of the drawer should be. Then insert a strong wooden dowel into the hole and carefully drive the drawer out the front of the case. This may result in some damage to the drawer or the frame, but at least you will probably get the drawer out.
If that doesn’t work, then you have to start disassembling the case. Your first reaction to that may be that the case doesn’t come apart but just remember that it didn’t grow there. Somebody put it together, and if it was put together it can be disassembled. You may have further damage to repair in the long run, but it can be done.
Once you are all done be sure to lube all the drawers before you put it all back together. Good luck.