Fake-it-yourself antique furniture

George Buchanan shows you how to do make an instant Jacobean box- stool
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Indy Lifestyle Online
You've had your fair share of fun and games on this page: now for something grown-up and useful. The photograph shows a small oak box stool, probably Jacobean, with crudely carved decorations and arched ends, strapped in iron. I made it last week, and I thought some of you with a few tools, a little cash, a few hours and a restless desire to do something, might like to make a copy. So these are the instructions - it won't take long. All components, including ready-sawn oak, can be bought from the suppliers listed below.

1 Saw all the pieces to the right size and plane them flat. Even if your wood is as smooth as marble, plane it. This is no place for a machined finish.

Mark the grooves in the ends, and scribe the depth of the groove with a marking gauge.

2 Saw down the edges of the grooves, in the order shown in the drawings, and chisel out the waste.

3 Draw the arches freehand, and cut them out with a coping saw, bow saw - or jig saw if you have one (see top of next column).

To see if everything fits, hold all the bits together with a big rubber band. If the bottom is too long, deepen the grooves; if it is too narrow, trim the ends with a plane. If it is too short, plane off the excess from the ends after the box is assembled.

4 The sides are glued, and held with six screws hidden beneath wooden pegs.

On each side plank, pencil in the screw holes. Start with a 10mm hole, 9mm deep at each spot, then follow right through with a 3mm drill.

Woodworker's glue is slippery, which makes it hard to hold bits without their slipping. So collect some nails and a light hammer and keep them handy. Run glue on to the side of one end, and on to the end and one side of the bottom. Slip the bottom into the groove (that arrangement is quite stable - what a relief!), and lift the side into place. Push a nail through each hole, and tack the side to the end. Press the bottom hard into the groove, and hold it with another nail.

5 Take the 3mm drill and bore a hole through the remaining screw hole into the bottom plank, going the full depth of the screw. Lodge a screw in the hole and wind it tight. Remove the nails one at a time and replace them with screws. Wash off excess glue with warm water and a stiff brush, and dry with a rag.

Your crude construction hardly resembles the little treasure captured in the photograph. Don't worry, just take one step at a time; it is nearly there.

6 Use the offcuts from the arches for the pegs. Split them oversize with an axe or chisel, and trim them to a tight fit with the gouge. Squirt glue in each hole and hammer in the pegs.

When the glue is dry, cut off the pegs with a hacksaw blade. If you slip a card over the peg before you saw it, the blade won't score the sides of the box. Plane the ends and sides smooth.

Now, let's give the box shape and charm. Before starting, consider the carved mouldings. The precision of the carving is nothing like as important as their boldness. If you haven't done much woodwork I bet that you will carve the mouldings too timidly. Don't be diffident!

7 The tools to use are the screw-cutter, chisel and 1/21, no 6 gouge. With a file, sharpen the screw-cutter to the point as illustrated, set it (by turning the screw), and draw it along the lines round the top and front until you have a deep groove.

8 Take the chisel, hold it with both hands, and slice off a 9mm chamfer round the outsides of the front and top. Work along the grain before cutting the ends.

Arm yourself with the gouge. Powering with the right hand, and controlling with the left, sink it into the chamfer, and scoop it along. If the gouge digs in too deep, lower the handle. If that doesn't work, try in the opposite direction, or take smaller bites.

9 Cut across the grain first, then along it, angling the blade at each corner to give a mitre. If you have difficulty holding the top, screw a block underneath it, and clamp that in the vice.

10 Next, gouge a chamfer round the arches, and finish by removing sharp edges with a penknife or fine sandpaper. Now stand back and admire it; your box-stool is going to look a lot worse before it looks better!

Before it is waxed the oak is tinted the mottled greenish grey of neglected church coffers. Colouring is achieved with ammonia gas (easy to obtain dissolved in water from a chemist, or the cabinet maker's suppliers listed below), and mottling with tomato ketchup. Take care how you handle the former: read the label, and don't breathe the fumes!

Take a kitchen rag loaded with ketchup, and dab it thickly and unevenly over the box. Mottling on old furniture is quite subtle and fairly random. Copy an old piece of furniture if you need some ideas. Your poor sticky box! Take it outside and seal it in a clear plastic bag. Cut a slit in the plastic, slip in a dish of ammonia, and close the slit with masking tape. Puff the bag about a bit to circulate the gas.

Leave the box in the foul fumes for an hour or two. Nothing seems to happen at first, then suddenly it changes. When it is ready (don't leave it too long; it always finishes darker than you expect), don rubber gloves, draw a deep breath, squint your eyes, and remove the box by Caesarean section. Wash the ketchup off with meths and a scrubbing brush, and dry it.

11 Nail on the hinges and hook (pre-drill 2/3 of the way through the box before nailing), and fit the eye in the lid. This is made from a length of iron wire, bent like a staple. It is pushed through two holes in the lip of the box, and the ends are bent down and tapped back into two shallow holes. The loop on the underside is then twisted 90 degrees, which locks it in place. Take a fine brush and trickle a little dilute black Indian ink onto the oak near the nails and straps, to simulate corrosion. Stir up a mixture of brown paint pigment (Brown Turkey Umber and Venetian Red) white woodworker's glue and a little water, and paint the metalwork a rusty brown. Paint a few additional marks on to the box, using the leftover paint with Mineral Black added to it. When the paint is dry, wax the box with a top quality brown wax, applied with a brush. Wax it every day for the next week.

12. And that's the box. I hope you like it, and I hope other people who weren't in on the struggle will be thrilled and impressed. Above all, I hope you enjoyed making it.

Tools: Two planes (a shoulder plane and a smoothing plane), a tenon saw, coping saw and hacksaw blade. Marking gauge, set square, chisel, gouge, screwdriver and hammer (and pincers to pull out the nails). Drills: 10mm, 3mm. Screws: 12 M5 x 4O countersunk steel. PVA woodworker's glue. Three odd nails. Ammonia.

Essential addresses:

English oak: Interesting Timbers, Hazel Farm, Compton Martin, Somerset. BS18 6LH (01761 463 356)

Hinges, nails, hooks etc: MSV, Gigg Mill, Old Bristol Road, Nailsworth, Glos. GL6 OJP (01453 832707)

Burnt Umber, Venetian Red, Mineral Black paint pigment, Supreme Antique Wax: Fiddes and Son, Cabinet Maker's Suppliers, Florence Works, Brindley Road, Cardiff, CF1 71X (01222 340323). Chisels and gouges: Henry Taylor (Tools) Ltd, 6 Lowther Road, Sheffield, Yorkshire (0114 2340282)

Cutting list for seasoned English Oak:

Metric: top (1) 330mm x 190mm x 18mm; sides (2) 210mm x 145mm x 25mm; front & back (2) 318 x 140 x 18mm; bottom (1) 285mm x 145mm x 18mm.

Imperial: (1) 13" x 7.5" x 75"; (2) 8.25" x 5.75" x 1"; (2) 12.5" x 5.5" x 75" (1) 11.25" x 5.75" x 75".

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