Fine Custom Furniture & Reproductions
As the owner of Whispering Woodworks, I am responsible for hand making and hand finishing each piece of furniture on a one-at-a-time basis. This individual attention allows me to provide my customers with outstanding handcrafted furniture. My joinery and construction techniques represent the very best work of yesterday's master cabinetmakers. I do not take short cuts in the production of any piece - if it isn't my best work, it doesn't leave my shop.
I believe that I can offer furniture and reproductions which are unmatched in quality, finish and beauty by the furniture of today's stores. By marketing and selling my products directly to my customers and maintaining a low overhead cost, I am able to offer exceptional, handmade furniture at a fair price.
Research and Planning
The furniture I build usually begins with a customer's photograph or drawing from a book or actual antique. I have an extensive library of woodworking and furniture books from which to draw ideas and compare various styles and construction - some of the more popular books are listed below for reference:
American Antiques - Vol 1 to 10 - Israel Sack Collection
The New Fine Points of Furniture: Early American - Albert Sack
Furniture Treasury - Vol 1 to 3 - Wallace Nutting
The Hennage Collection - Elizabeth Stillinger
Honor's Blue Book: Philadelphia Furniture - William Honor Jr.
Charleston Furniture, 1700 - 1825 - E. Burton
Southern Furniture 1680 - 1830: The Colonial Williamsburg Collection - Ronald Hurst
New England Furniture at Williamsburg - Barry Greenlaw
The Book of Shaker Furniture - John Kassay
After the customer and I have discussed the basic dimensions and features of the piece, I will often do extensive research on the furniture and its original construction. From this research I will create a set of drawings, which is where my engineering background plays an important role. I thrive on challenges and love it when my customers present me with a particularly challenging project and I exceed their expectations.
After determining what types of wood will be used, I personally travel to the lumber yard and hand pick the wood to be used for each piece. Oftentimes I will go to western Maryland or Pennsylvania to get the premium hardwoods I use for many of my pieces. Unlike many of my competitors who use a lumber delivery service, I feel that personal selection of the wood is critical to creating beautiful furniture.
Solid Wood Construction
I use a number of modern machines to rough dimension the stock. Then the stock is scraped or planed by hand to remove any machine tooling marks. I use only solid wood construction unless the customer has a specific requirement which prohibits this. Frequently I build my furniture from cherry, walnut, maple, and mahogany, but other woods are also available. The large wood pieces such as legs and feet are cut out from a single thick piece of wood - not glued up from many smaller pieces as is often the practice today. The back boards are solid wood with a ship lap construction, and I will add a decorative bead to the edges of the back boards if they are to be visible in the finished product. My drawer bottoms and dust boards are solid wood.
Since I do utilize solid wood construction, it is important to realize that this reproduction furniture will behave much differently than the mass produced furniture of this century. I often use large solid wood panels and very wide boards during my construction to maintain authenticity. Solid wood changes dimensions with temperature and humidity. All of my construction methods are centered around these dimensional changes and behavior to allow for natural expansion and shrinkage of the wood. It is important to understand that this movement is one of the characteristics which add to the beauty and uniqueness of each reproduction.
Handwork and Traditional Joinery
All of my furniture involves extensive handwork - from chopping and trimming mortises to cutting dovetails and tenons. This handwork is easily recognized when compared to the mass produced furniture of the past 100 years and the computer built furniture of today. Much of this handwork will be hidden or covered with molding and trim as the work is assembled, however, the true value of this joinery will be realized for years as the piece of furniture is passed through generations of ownership. One of the reasons that so many high quality antiques are available today is that the makers used these sound construction practices. My joinery typically consists of through or half-blind dovetails, sliding dovetails, mortise and tenon, and wedged or pegged mortise and tenon - depending on the joint requirements.
Many of my pieces also require carving for decoration or design including ball and claw feet, Newport shells, and lettering or initials.
One of my favorite additions to any piece of furniture is a secret compartment. Traditionally, cabinetmakers were called upon to incorporate secret compartments into furniture to provide a secure place for the storage of valuables and documents. Burglary and petty theft were very common in colonial America and the colonists would take measures to prevent loss of their property. The addition of secret compartments makes the furniture so much more personal and intimate - truly unique. In the photos below, I have added two shallow document drawers in the empty space to each side of the main drawer in one of my Shaker Blanket Chests. The main drawer hides the secret compartments which are difficult to see - even with the main drawer removed. There are an endless variety of possibilities for these compartments - from false bottoms to hollowed turnings. Please inquire if you would like to incorporate one or more of these into the furniture I build for you.
The final step in creating a piece of reproduction or custom furniture is the application and execution of a hand finish. Many people feel that the finish is something that is quickly applied in a couple of hours at the end of a project. This may be true for today's mass produced furniture, but I often spend almost as much time finishing a piece as I do building it - and it shows. The furniture will be planed, scraped or sanded to achieve an even, uniform surface. If coloring is desired, I will use natural dyes which highlight the wood grain and increase depth and clarity.
I use natural oils, shellacs, and varnish for all of my reproductions. Each coat of finish is applied by me, by hand and smoothed between coats. Typically I will build the finish in five to eight thin layers which provides excellent protection and retains the feel of an authentic reproduction. Once I have built up the desired finish, I will hand rub the finish to achieve the level of gloss desired by the customer - from satin to mirrored gloss. I apply 2 coats of a high quality paste wax and buff or rub out again to the desired finish.
The last step prior to delivery is to label, sign and date the piece in an inconspicuous location. This is my guarantee that the furniture has met my high standards of quality, durability and beauty.
Please visit my gallery. If you have a photograph of a reproduction that you would like to have built, or have an idea for a piece of furniture, please contact me.