The value of an antique is not just about its monetary worth. It has value in its function, in its beauty and in the history that it has captured not just at the time it was built, but over the years of use, acquiring the inevitable blemishes and damage while serving its function as a chair or table. Because most antique furniture is in use in the home and not in a museum, repairs often are a compromise between preserving original material and making a repair strong enough to fulfill its function. Yet, always there is an attempt to preserve, not just original material, but the marks that testify to its history and age.
When commissioned to make furniture, John uses traditional 18th Century cabinetmaking techniques: hand-cut dovetails, mortise-and-tenon construction, and French polish for the finishing. He uses mostly domestic woods or woods harvested from sustainable forestries. He builds for those who know the difference between factory reproductions and traditional craft—and desire for something with value beyond today, but value to be enjoyed by future generations. The process usually begins with the owner's need for a particular form and sometimes the period from which to draw inspiration. Once those decisions have been made, John researches the period and form for examples which are well proportioned or have interesting elements which might be incorporated into an original design. From this research John will work up some sketches for approval. At this time a deposit is taken, a fully-fleshed out drawing is made and wood is selected. Traditional joinery insures that the wood is worked slowly so as to acclimate to the new shop environment so that when finally assembled, all the components are stable. Since wood selection is an important part of the design, rarely is the wood stained, rather, it is finished with a slightly amber shellac, applied in the traditional manner of French polish, giving the wood a luster and clarity unrivaled by other finishes.
Though I have been working with wood since I first started repairing small wooden sailboats, it wasn't until I worked in an upholstery shop that I knew that I wanted to work with my hands—in craft. I had a brief desire to build guitars but after bouncing around in a number of trades—tent-making, piano repair—I found what would become my life-long pursuit. The process of repairing antique furniture not only provided me with the opportunity to learn 18th century cabinetmaking skills but has also put me in contact with countless examples of some of the finest wrought objects in the world. I also see countless examples of poor repairs—lessons on what not to do!
I have taken conservation classes at the Smithsonian Institute and at Dakota County Technical College (MN) with senior conservator at the Smithsonian, Donald C. Williams among others. I have assisted with the "Ten Thousand Springs Pavilion" exhibit for the Smithsonian Institute in both Washington, D.C. and when it was in Flushing, Queens, N.Y. I am a long-standing member of the Professional Refinisher's Group (commonly called GROOP!) and past email moderator. Currently, I am teaching French polishing at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking. Fine Woodworking online has a six-part series on my technique for French polishing. https://www.finewoodworking.com/videoworkshop/2019/11/a-perfect-french-polish-finish . I hold a Bachelor of Science degree from Hobart College (NY).
John's next class on French polishing is on the weekend of February 3-4, 2024. This will be taught at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking in Manchester, CT. Open to all, you may sign up for the class by contacting the director, Bob Van Dyke, at 860-647-0303 or email Bob at firstname.lastname@example.org.
While samples are provided for putting a finish on, students are encouraged to bring in examples to work on or, at least, examine and discuss. Class size is limited to 15 students.
For more info, click on the link below.
John also belongs to the Professional Refinisher's Group, lovingly called GROOP. This had primarily been a moderated email exchange for professional refinishers, restorers, woodwoorkers, and conservators. It has now moved to Facebook as a private group open by invitation to professionals in finishing, restoration and the allied trades. GROOP members daily share concerns and observations covering all aspects of our businesses and craft. Yearly, GROOP gets together for GroopShop where even more sharing goes on!
For more information, email me using the contact page and I'll get you in touch with our director.