has been making Chippendale furniture, following the
guidelines in the Gentleman and Cabinetmaker’s
Director since 1968, though he’d been restoring it
for years before. Last year the Society of
American Period Furniture Makers noticed a photo of
his ribbonback chair (left) on a Canadian website.
They called him and asked if he’d like to become a
member, and start their first international chapter,
which is now called The English Cabinetmakers.
The SAPFM was
particularly interested because period makers in the
USA sometimes use the term "ribbonback" for what we
call a ladderback. Apparently the confusion
began because a maker of Chippendale furniture 100
years ago started calling his ladderback chairs
ribbonbacks, and one of them ended up in a museum.
The society has an impressive website (sapfm.org)
and produces a journal, in which this article by
Joseph Hemingway was first published.
In the millennia that man has
been harvesting timber, the use of mechanical power to shape
wood is a relatively recent occurrence. Before the advent
of the electric router, the shaper, or even the moulding plane,
how were mouldings produced? One of the earliest devices
is also the simplest.
The scratchstock, with wide
crossgrain housing that lines up with the box sides.
Known as the scratchbox, this
four-sided fixture holds the workpiece in place while a worker
repeatedly passes a scraper profile, indexed to the sides of the
box, over the workpiece to produce the desired shape.
Due to its simple design, it
is possible that the scratchbox first gained use in the ancient
world and over time was finely tuned and improved by later
cabinetmakers. The scratchbox, capable of holding any
workpiece, from a chair leg to a handrail, made possible a
consistent method for reproducing any length of mould. In
time, dedicated moulding planes, initially cost-prohibitive and
time-consuming to make, supplanted the need to scrape lengths of
moulding, especially for architectural applications. Today
of course, routers, shapers and moulders can quickly and
efficiently produce miles of moulding in relatively little time.
The drawbacks to these
contemporary solutions however are many. First, the costs
associated with outfitting already expensive equipment, with
custom-ground tooling can be staggering. Secondly, the
space required of obtrusive stationary equipment can be
limiting. Third, the noise produced by a hand-held or
stationary power tool as well as the dust collection required
may not be conducive in a home
environment. To reinforce the importance of this last
point, one needs only look at the resurgence of interest in
custom-made hand planes, both bench and moulders.
Electricity has not forced the extinction of the moulding plane.
Similarly, the use of a
scratchbox still has its place in the contemporary shop. Unlike
architecture, furniture requires a relatively inconsequential
amount of moulding. The moulding that is required can usually be
worked as quickly and more efficiently by hand as by machine.
Anyone seeking to reproduce period mouldings in an authentic
manner should consider a scratchbox.
The vertical slot
on both the end and the central divider
is to adjust the moulding upwards to make deeper cuts.
In its more
particular form, a scratchbox consists of a long, narrow wooden
box without a lid. At one end is a vertical slot to take a
pointed bolt. The purpose of the slot is to adjust the height of
the point to accommodate workpieces of different sizes. At the
other end, an adjustable divider is added to extend or reduce
the working length inside the box. The slot in the
adjustable divider is shaped like an inverted ‘T’.
The central divider is
adjustable, fitting in notches cut into
the sides of the box. The horizontal part of the T-slot is
adjusting the moulding side to side for tapering.
the workpiece can be moved from side to side for tapering.
An 8in-long bolt or threaded rod with a brad point is fitted
through it. Both bolts have washes and two nuts to lock
them in place. The central "T" is used to offset the point
to the left or right, or up or down, just as is the one at the
other end of the box.