Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Philadelphia Card Table in the Shadow of Thomas Affleck

 The Woodworking Workshops of the Shenandoah Valley, located just outside of Winchester, Virginia, is a great way to learn period furniture construction. Jeff Headley and Steve Hamilton guided four students through a week long session with our goal being to reproduce a card table attributed to (or at least in the style of) the renowned cabinetmaker, Thomas Affleck. It seemed like a daunting task with a bowfront drawer as well as curved and carved elements.   I have only been seriously into woodworking for just over 2 years. This course is not for the novice, but you need not be advanced, either. You'll probably need to feel comfortable with all the basic joinery techniques. Jeff provided us with a cut list so that we would prepare all the pieces roughly sized before we arrived. Back in the 1700's, old growth trees provided plenty of 18" wide stock. But, I had a tough time tracking down this wide stock for the table top, so I glued two boards together. The original piece used mahogany for the primary wood. I went with cherry.

My biggest concern heading into the class was that I am not a big power tool user. I do not have a table saw. But, they help you understand how to set up the tools and give you options on how to approach a specific task. Plans are provided when you arrive, and you go through all the steps. There were a couple of power tool setups where your hand might be close to the blade. I saw and understood the setup, then had Jeff run the piece through for me on a couple of occasions. At home, I would have used my hand tools for these tight operations. I did manage to use my trusty Stanley 55 plane to fashion the flutes on the legs, while the others used the router.

At the Headley Workshop

 I also went with my hand router to make a recess on the rear legs and often went with my Stanley No. 8 jointer plane for jointing edges instead of the power jointer. What's nice is they let you work as you feel comfortable, but show you alternatives. I got a few chuckles when I brought in my unusual shoot board plane (see prior post). If this was my profession, I would need to ditch a few of the hand tools to speed things up. But, stress did set in when Jeff discovered that my poplar dovetailed rear inner rail had some significant twist. He offered a couple of options, but I ended up redoing that piece...and using up 2 hours. As a tails first dovetailer, I had to awkwardly revert to being a pins first guy to recreate this rear rail piece. We also went through options for fixing a check in my table top and eventually went with resawing through the crack then butt gluing the pieces together. I think we all had some sort of unexpected challenge along the way, but we all managed to figure out a solution.

I still needed about 40 more hours after I got home to complete the piece. Jeff provides you with an incredible CD of hundreds of photos in a step by step fashion making a great review. You will learn all the details of construction during the class.

The finish consisted of several coats of pure tung oil, waiting two weeks,  followed by multiple thin layers of Zinsser's clear shellac diluted with denatured alcohol using a french polisher made from an old T-shirt.

I stayed at the George Washington Hotel in downtown Winchester for the class. Coincidentally, Thomas Affleck happened to have stayed nearby for several months from 1777-1778 just two blocks south at the Golden Buck Inn (no longer existing, but located just south of Boscawen Street on the west side of Cameron St). How did a Philadelphia cabinetmaker wind up in Winchester, Virginia?

Affleck, a Scottish immigrant, arrived in Philadelphia in 1763, and shortly thereafter opened up his shop for business. He had major commissions from the Penn and Cadwalader families that kept him and his competitors in town quite busy. He and Benjamin Randolph, among others, became well known for their ornate Philadelphia style. Thomas Affleck was born of devout Quaker parents. Thomas did not completely hold to the tenets of his religion having married outside of his denomination, which almost had him removed. Also interesting is that many early Quakers avoided fanciness of material possessions, yet the Philadelphia style of furniture had no equal in terms of embellishment. Notwithstanding these facts, Affleck still held to many Quaker ideals. A year after the Declaration of Independence, there was a general uneasiness for those that did not fully support the Revolution. Affleck took no side as he was a pacifist.  Through a convoluted order, about 40 prominent Philadelphia Quakers, including Affleck, were ordered to meet at a local Masonic hall where they were not even questioned, but banished from living in Philadelphia.



They would be released if they confided in their loyalty to the Patriots. Affleck and 19 others refused to have loyalty to any side and were ordered to be imprisoned in Staunton, Virginia. After arriving in Winchester, Virginia, they sojourned at the Golden Buck Inn on Cameron Street and eventually were able to stay in Winchester for their "sentence" rather than moving onward to Staunton.  The "captives" were able to wander within 6 miles of town. After much petitioning, they were all released and Affleck returned to Philadelphia. There must not have been too much ill will as Congress (while in Philadelphia) seemed to have commissioned him for several pieces of furniture after his return.


An original card table attributed to Thomas Affleck from the Kaufman Collection at the National Gallery of Art made of mahogany.

The reproduction card table using cherry
The type of ambient lighting seems to change the color and grain visibility significantly 

Original

For the table top profile, I started out using a carriage makers plane to make the fillet and planned on using a scratch stock  for the roundover. The corners proved too challenging, so I went with one of those newfangled electric routers.


The gadrooning, rope twist and carved brackets on the museum piece may have been fashioned by one of several master carvers (Hercules Courtenay, John Pollard, Nicholas Bernard, or Martin Jugiez) that Affleck employed.

As you might notice, no master carvers hired for this one.






video

A Zamboni Bros. Production