The degree of detail to which we woodworkers pay attention varies
greatly from person to person and can change quite drastically over the course
of a career, be it amateur or professional. At first you may not consider
addressing some details, like proportion; at last you have likely stopped
paying attention to others, like waxing the inside of bracket ogee feet. The
pieces of our puzzle change.
The degree to which one copies period furniture also varies. Some
simply use period design elements to make a piece that is new and fantastic.
Others will copy the general piece while making it look brand new. Finally,
there are those that copy everything, down to the acquired wear and patina from
centuries of use and admiration.
In Fine Woodworking's issue #262, Mario Rodriguez wrote an
intricate build article entitled "Hudson Valley Chest of Drawers."
Being from Hyde Park, home to Val-Kill, which is home to that chest, my
interest was piqued. Not only have I been there on several occasions, I wrote an uninspired senior
thesis in college that addressed the work occurring at Val-Kill, among other
happenings in the Roosevelts’ Hyde Park.
Mr. Rodriguez detailed and copied the chest of drawers to
seemingly high perfection. He did, however, take liberties that we as
woodworkers/puzzle-piece makers have afforded ourselves. The original piece was
made with local pine and labeled “country”. Rodriguez chose to make his
primarily out of a likely more appealing wood, walnut.
Rodriguez copied “everything” else about that piece. Except, he
(Illustrated quirked ogee with fillet that went along with the cut list.)
In this article and in regard to the base moulding Rodriguez
wrote: “I was unable to match the profile of the chest’s base molding with
anything in my collection of router bits, but it turned out I had a molding
plane I’d made some years ago that enabled me to produce something very close.”
(Grecian that ultimately had a fillet added)
Rodriguez did not contradict himself with these two statements. His
eye is such that he knows that the moulding he added around the base, the substituted decoration,
was a copy. To him, it did not need to be exact. The proportions,
casting of shadows and general adornment were wholly appropriate. The choice
was unnoticeable to everyone except those to whom he chose to illustrate the
original moulding instead of what he actually made.
There is a difference between the two profiles and I, with my
blog, book and video, will continue to illustrate and demonstrate a series of
tools that will allow you to make any moulding that happens along a straight
The profile discrepancies may not matter to you. However, maybe
those small differences do affect you and preclude you from ever making pieces
such as a tall case clock that has several short lengths of potentially highly
complex and complementing moulding profiles, among others.
With the correct series of tools, hollows and rounds, coupled with an
understanding of the process of how to steer them and create predictable,
desirable results, you will have the ability to make the profile you want to
make. You will not have to settle with one that is “very close” if that highly
specific detail matters to you.
Let us continue to learn how steer a series of planes that have no
fences and are seemingly difficult to steer. Let us learn how to gauge progress
with tools with no depth stop. Let us learn to make the pieces of the puzzle we
want instead of what we have.
(This is when my battery died)
Exactness means different things to different people. The irony of this article is that Rodriguez likely did the same thing those craftsmen at Val-Kill did 75+ years ago: he used a perfectly suitable profile that he had on hand and, as a result, was exact in nature. If, however, you are interested in another form of exactness, the literal, maybe hollows and rounds have a place in your shop.
(Note: and yes, my A/C was on while making this.)