Rare Victorian - Graining Machines Simulate Hardwood Grains

Graining Machines Simulate Hardwood Grains

quartersawn graining machine Graining Machines Simulate Hardwood Grains

dresser grain 172x300 Graining Machines Simulate Hardwood GrainsYes, something was awry with the dresser that I provided the image of in the last post and kudos to those commentators who spotted it.  It was made ca. 1910 by the Arcadia Furniture Co. of Arcadia, Michigan using cheaper softwoods and grained with a graining machine.  Flat surfaces could be grained with a printing-press-like drum.  Any curved elements that could not be mechanically done were done by hand with a roller such as the one below being wielded by the graining machine inventor, A. Harry Sherwood.

Sherwood established the Grand Rapids Panel Co. in 1885 and designed a system by which cheaper softwood such as pine could be stained and then mechanically grained to look like any other wood.  In the case of the dresser, it was grained to appear as Quartersawn Oak, a more expensive hardwood that was becoming rarer (and more expensive) at the time.

You can read more about Grand Rapids, “America’s Furniture City”, in the book “Grand Rapids Furniture” by Christian Carron.

If you’ll excuse me, I have a few ca. 1900 Oak pieces to inspect …

quartersawn graining machine Graining Machines Simulate Hardwood Grains

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  • james conrad - December 6, 2008

    Neat, paint decorated with machines & rollers. Paint decorated furniture has been around forever and some of it like the Pennsylvania German culture raised this form to folk art status.

  • woodwright - December 7, 2008

    Above it states that Quartersawn Oak was becoming rarer. If so – it was because it is more time consuming w/ a lesser yeild per log (thus more expensive), it also yeilds narrower boards than “normal” flat or plain sawing (sometimes called tangential sawing) – which is why it is not commonly done today. It’s still available and any and every log could be quartersawn – even today, but it’s expensive because of the added time and lower yeild. Quartersawing produces a very straight grain w/ the grain lines parallel w/ each other – rather than “normal” grain w/ “cathedral” lines. Quartersawn lumber is always more stable than plainsawn. It is less likely to warp or cup, and expands and contracts less w/ humidity changes.
    The oaks have medullary rays that when quatersawn splits the rays to produce the “fleck, flake” or “ray” pattern that everyone loves and recognizes in quartersawn oak – other species do not have these, and will not have the flake pattern that quartersawn oak has – just a very straight grain (i.e. Quartesawn Cherry, Walnut, Maple, etc.). The orientation of the annual rings of the tree is what determines the final appearance or grain pattern of every board.
    This website shows the difference fairly well between the 2 types of sawing and how it is done (although typically with plainsawing – the logs are generally rotated as they are sawn, so you are sawing more or less parallel with the annual rings – not straight through as pictured here. The center (4) boards in the plainsawn picture will also produce a quartersawn grain because the anual rings are more or less perpendicular to the face of the boards). http://www.showplacewood.com/ProdGuide1/PGqso/PG.qso.html.
    This 3 1/2 minute video explains fairly well the difference between the grain patterns (click the play button on the far left). http://www.taunton.com/finewoodworking/Materials/MaterialsArticle.aspx?id=28324
    I went to college for Forestry, worked in a sawmill for 4 years, and have been a proffesional cabinetmaker for 24 yrs. so yes, you can trust this information. woodwright.

  • james conrad - December 8, 2008

    Hey Woodwright, if one really wants the best figure “rays” in oak, riving is the way to go.

    Back in the days when men were men and women sat on stools (lol, sorry ladies, i couldn’t resist), furniture was made by joiners, primarily out of riven oak. Riven oak = green/tree wet oak that is split, not sawn into boards.

    For a more detailed explanation of how furniture was made prior to the 18th century, check out this blog and scroll down to Aug. 1st 2008, “start at the beginning”.


  • woodwright - December 9, 2008

    Riving wood follows the trees natural grain, sawing does not – it just picks a straight line through the log, more or less following the grain.
    I looked at the website. It looks like he does nice work, but is probably a starving artist. I respect and appreciate handwork (handwork requires a higher level of skill than most machine work). I use hand planes and hand tools too, when they are the best tool for the job. But, woodworking is my livelihood, and to be even close to competitive today, you have to use machines and electricity. I dare say there is not a single person on this planet that can flatten and plane a board smooth and to thickness by hand anywhere near as quickly as it can be done with machines – a jointer and planer, and with a much higher level of accuracy too (not to mention the amount of effort saved). Same for sawing and most other woodworking processes. Hand carving however is one process that is worth the added time, admittedly it produces nicer and crisper details than machine carved work. There is a very small group of people today that understand the difference, appreciate it, can afford and are willing to pay for the huge difference in time to produce an item by hand.
    Our forefathers didn’t use hand tools because of tradition or to be romantic, it was all they had – plain and simple. Production increased dramatically after the industrial revolution when machines came to be. It’s also why Victorian furniture is so ornate (compared to previous centuries) – with machines it became so much easier to make and embellish furniture, so cabinetmakers went nuts embellishing everything with their new tools. woodwright

  • james conrad - December 10, 2008

    Well no, furniture that peter makes will never beat a machine in terms of production, ditto jeffery greene who does colonial furniture in the newport style.

    There is a certain beauty in a hand planed table top, it has a “wavy” surface that no machine can match. You are correct though that few people will pay for this type of work, the good news is, they only need a few.

    In Peter’s case, he is the resident joiner at Plimoth Plantation, sort of a new england version of colonial williamsburg, with the focus on pilgrim life. http://www.plimoth.org/

    Though they may never become rich, money wise, i would argue that their lives are very rich indeed as these guys are granted access to priceless american furniture, travel the world doing research and publishing their findings, doing lectures, workshops, etc.

    DANG, i wish i was 30 years younger, i am talking myself into a situation here.

  • RareVictorian - December 10, 2008


    The new issue of Men’s Journal has an article titled, “A Tactical Guide To Changing Your Life” AKA “Reboot Your Life” as they call it on the cover. It centers around four guys who threw “it all” away and started over doing what they love.

    One of the stories talks about how one guy realized that if his own life were a story, he wouldn’t read it. Or if he did, it would bore him to tears.

    It’s a read that gets you thinking.

  • james conrad - December 12, 2008

    John, yeah, one should make a career out of something one really enjoys doing, otherwise one loses out all the way around the corner.

    This brings up something i have wondered about, are there any artisans of the 1st rank that build victorian style furniture today?

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