For years, one of the great mysteries to me was, how did artisans of the past make those spectacular decorative twist finials often found on the most elaborate grandfather clocks, highboys, and other high-grade period furniture? In this video, we meet Irion Company staffer Brad Ramsay, an accomplished cabinetmaker and highly skilled carver who shows us the fundamental approach used to carve these flamboyant furniture elements. It’s a technique that can be used to carve spirals in any wood project, be it a finial or even a twisted table leg.
Learn the core skills used including how to secure the workpiece to the workbench, how to start the carving, and how to rough-carve to the layout lines. But most importantly, in my view, Jeff explains how carvers — and all woodworkers — need to read the grain of the wood for feedback. The take-away lesson: let the wood speak to you whether you are carving the twist of a finial or tuning the fit of a dovetail. — Keith (10 Minute Woodworking Video) For more in this series go to: The Big Payoff: Finish Carve a Decorative Spiral (Part 3 of 3)
The Irion Company specializes in the restoration, conservation, and hand-made reproduction of American antique furniture from the 18th and 19th century. Brad Ramsay is a cabinetmaker and he specializes in period correct carvings.
In this video, we join proprietor Todd Felpel as he takes his ritual end-of-day tour through the highly acclaimed, 60-year old, Irion Company cabinet shop. During our tour, Todd hints at how cabinetshops of the past were run and how custom furniture was ordered and created. And it all starts with the patterns.
Irion’s pattern room is reminiscent of many early American cabinet shops that dotted the east coast of the United States 200 years ago. In this room, countless sample-parts dangle from the rafters, each group memorializing a specific antique masterpiece. Irion has relationships with some of America’s most prestigious museums (the Yale, the Metropolitan, and Winterthur) allowing them “back door” access to measure and document some of the most significant examples of Early American decorative arts. Based on these visits, where photographs and copious notes are taken, Todd describes how sample patterns are then carefully made. Each documented piece must include key reference points, i.e. the sweep of a table leg ankle, key carving points, the subtle dimensions of the foot’s ball & claw, and precise molding details. All are carefully defined and then detailed in measured drawings. In the end, the entire collection of drawings, sample patterns, and photos, are stored for future reference — guideposts for the next the generation of cabinetmakers.
This nightly walk is how Todd monitors the hand-crafted work of Irion’s skilled artisans. As we tour with him, Todd reflects on 250 years of furniture making tradition. It’s a calling he clearly relishes as he says, “it’s better than diamonds”. I can’t tell you how much fun I had on this trek. Come join me. (4.5 Minute Woodworking Video)
The Irion Company specializes in the restoration, conservation, and hand-made reproduction of American antique furniture from the 18th and 19th century. Irion is based in Christiana, Pennsylvania.