Mark Atchison, blacksmith

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 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.

7 thoughts on “Mark Atchison, blacksmith

  1. Peter-
    A wonderful post, such a nice opportunity to give the blacksmith the spotlight.

    A question on bench hooks: Do have more historical references that you could post on the blog?

    You have two very different looking hooks. I have one that is completely different, from CW. The indentations left in the wood indicates a variety of shapes to the bench hooks. I guess I am just curious…what are your thoughts on the shapes… and I want the record to show that I miss the one Mark made.

  2. Locks; The beauty of a simple machine.

    Getting them to function just right must be an art in itself…

    thanks for the post!


  3. Peter:
    On another subject…
    The surface of the box’s back shown in the gemmel illustration is an excellent example of what happens when ray plane surfaces are smooth planed when too wet. The ripped up ray flecks are quite obvious, particularly under magnification. I really appreciate your Blog’s ability to magnify so powerfully.

  4. You really should push MESDA to install a lock on the door of their early Southern cupboard. The present toggle thing is annoying as hell. Second, the Dedham chest in a private Milwaukee collection was tested by Richard Wolbers and has substantial remains of an original red wash. Third, those things in English churches have been subjected to rising damp, which has promoted perishing of the binder on the pigments, hence the weird off-white patination. Fourth I will send pictures of my 1993? joint stool with 17 years worth of being beat up as my shop stool. It was finished with a pale walnut shellac finish, I presume with colors bound in the shellac. Fifth how’s about Cromwellian chairs. A very good chance they were washed over with a red stain and then a brownish varnish to look like walnut. A 1730s leather chair at Newport Historical Society preserves this finish, and they have a similar Cromwellian.

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