when I first made a joined chest in 1990, I went to a blacksmith I knew and showed him photos of the “gimmal” hinges I needed (now often called “snipebill hinges”) – he certainly was capable, but had little knowledge of period ironwork; and made me hinges large enough for a cowpen…I paid him & then threw them away…

Since 1994 I have been very fortunate to work with Mark Atchison, a blacksmith who knows more about what I want and need in ironwork than I do…people often ask me where they can get hinges, holdfasts, etc…and I tell them to find a good blacksmith. Some folks like to do their own ironwork, but I figure to leave well enough alone. I have my hands full learning joinery. So I get Mark to do it.

Early on in this blog I showed some bench hooks I use…not the wooden kind, the period term for the iron “toothed critter” as Alexander always called it, used as a planing stop. Not usually a tool you find in auctions or antique stores…here is the best period image of one, and a shot of two Mark made for my shop:

Randle Holme, bench hook, 1688

bench hooks

When faced with making something like this, Atchison often turns to archeological evidence. His stuff shows up there, mine rots in the ground. The holdfasts I use are his work; based in part on the one in the Stent panel, floating in space under the bench:


detail, joiner's bench, showing holdfast below bench

These are flatter than many you see from later periods. Mark made them from mild steel. They work just fine; I really like the low profile. I used some high, swoopy 18th-century ones at Williamsburg once and have never lived down the shame of criticizing them from the stage (that’s another story…)


holdfast w stile for joined stool

Back when I did the copies of the Salem cabinet I mentioned the other night, Mark & I went to the Peabody Essex Museum to study the original so he could measure & take notes on the hinges and other fittings. The lock was gone on that object, but he had to make some for the copies…so for those he drew on his back catlog of notes. Here’s the inside of the cabinet door lock, I don’t have a good detail of the escutcheon or key right now… the key throws the bolt into a notch cut in the inside of the cabinet’s side panel.

cabinet lock by Mark Atchison

Hinges are something I need regularly; usually just the gimmals for chests & boxes; but sometimes “dovetails” for cabinets or cupboard doors. Here’s a couple of views.

dovetail hinge

driving gimmals in box

So that’s bench hooks, holdfasts, locks & hinges…that gives you some idea of the sort of work I turn to Mark for. There’s lots more, but for another time. For the next week & a half I am full-tilt with a few things; after that I will try to get some shots of Mark in his forge, and show some plane irons and other tools…

In the meantime, if you’d like some blacksmith work, Mark can do it – for now, he has no website, etc; but you can write him at  mmatchison@gmail.com and discuss your needs…he knows the 17th-century stuff quite well… his work makes my furniture much better than it would be without him. Blacksmiths, you gotta have ‘em.

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