I always get this part wrong

There is an element used on some joined chests that I often get “wrong” and I’m down the road to doing it again. Some chests feature “brackets” – small decorative pieces fitted underneath the bottom front rail. (I’ve seen them called spandrels, but that’s not what they are. My copy of Harris’ Illustrated Dictionary of Historic Architecture is somewhere…but I can’t find it right now.  Alexander suggests keeping this book in the bathroom, but with the kids around now, some of the reading material there has changed…)

Here’s one of mine on our kitchen table. I made it flush with the rail and stile, which it sometimes is in period work, and I pinned its tenon – which most often is not the case. For some reason, these things are usually un-pinned. There is a nail driven up through the tip of the bracket into the bottom edge of the rail. I guess they just rely on that to keep it in place.

bracket, PF table

 

I have a chest I’m making for the museum that I want to put brackets on, and I already bored pin holes in the bracket mortises. I hadn’t double-checked my bracket notes – so that is what this blog post sort of serves as for the future. Many brackets are recessed from the face of the rail & stile. some are flush. Most are not pinned. all are nailed near the tip.  There are many used on the stuff from Ipswich, attributed to Thomas Dennis and his apprentices. Here is probably the best example, and note that it’s not pinned.

bracket, Thomas Dennis chest

 

Here’s another, not far from Dennis in space or time, but a different shape. But also flush, not pinned.

bracket, Capen chest of drawers, 1685

 

The project I am working on is a copy of a chest by John Savell. I have made these chests many times, but this time I decided to add the brackets. When Alexander & I (with Trent’s help)  studied this group of  chests back in the early 1990s, we only found one with brackets. Since our 1996 article, there have been three more chests found, and still no more brackets. And it’s a good thing, because the ones on this chest are pretty sorry examples.
joined chest, Jn Savell 1660-1687
Here is a detail shot by Alexander of one of the brackets. A little hard to see in this view, but it’s recessed back from the rail & stile. I think there was a knob near the tip of the profile that has split off.
bracekt, Savell chest

 

And here is another detail, same chest. No pin. recessed from face of stile & rail. barefaced tenon. Don’t know if there is a rear shoulder, but there certainly isn’t a front one. And the tenon is “stepped” i.e. there’s a cut at the bottom of the tenon – the mortise is not as high as the bracket is.  I have stepped bracket tenons, but in the opposite direction. I have made them fit mortises that are chopped just below the rail – with a chunk of wood left in the stile between the bottom of the rail mortise and the top of the bracket mortise. BUT I was making it up as I went along. I really haven’t looked at period brackets in enough detail.

detail recessed bracket

 

The carved design on the Savell brackets really left us feeling pretty disappointed. At the time we used to say that the Savells couldn’t do anything different from their standard joined chest. But the desk box we had in the article used a side panel that is carved in a successful design, using stock motifs from the group. But all its edges are straight…

desk box, William Savell, 1675-1700

 

Enough. I have one more, then it’s quits. I found a Thomas Dennis bracket with pins. So I’m not totally off the mark, just mostly off…

chest bracket, Thomas Dennis, 1676
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2 thoughts on “I always get this part wrong

  1. Peter: Been awhile since I looked at the Savell chest with brackets. The chest panels were most likely competently carved by John Savell of the second generation. It is interesting that both his brackets and spandrels are formless. Oh well the brackets are out of sight down by the floor with Baby Jerome. If and when we find brackets by William Savill Sr. all will be well! In studying the Savill pieces do you recall a chest that had stile mortises for brackets but the brackets were missing?
    Jennie

  2. Peter, this post reminded of a Communion table I saw recently, the brackets on the long rails applied – tennoned and pegged and sort of flush to the rail, those on the side cut out from a single deeper rail – so flush to the face. Will send you some pics. You will love the timber – great example of the ropey stuff joiners in parts of England were using. The table is in Oxfordshire – good arable country and long way from the sea – so pressure on timber was probably heavy.

    Chris

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