Using a Power Hammer

While most of the forge work in the shop is done by hand using a hammer and anvil, we do at times use a power hammer. Ours is used to rough out forgings, the work done in traditional shops by the apprentice, where brute force is more important than precise blows.

Image of Diderot Hammer
Diderot Hammer

Power hammers aren’t new; hammers powered by a water wheel were used in the eighteenth century and earlier. This is part of a plate from Denis Diderot’s Encyclopedie. The hammer is raised by a cog on a shaft and drops when the cog rotates away. The smith has no control of the hammer or the force of the blow.

In the nineteenth century different types and styles of hammers were invented ranging from treadle foot-powered to hammers driven by overhead line shafts. In the twentieth century hammers powered by air compressors were developed. Ours is like that. A smith with this type of hammer has precise control of the number and power of blows according to how they press on a foot control.

In this video Molly is using the power hammer to rough out forgings for the tails of latch thumbers. In an earlier post we described the shaping of completed thumber forgings.

A Special Commission: Campaign Furniture Hardware

One thing I love about this very odd job blogging about furniture hardware is the opportunity to expand my knowledge base. I cannot tell you how many times I watched Jewel in the Crown, The English Patient and other films with a strong colonial British showing without knowing the proper term for all that striking military luggage-like furniture.

Despite a history of vast travels throughout the British Empire, the majority of Campaign furniture has settled in England and is available through reputable antique dealers such as Christopher Clarke. Additionally, reproductions also seem to be an English specialty. In the United States, retailers seem to carry only metal frame pieces vaguely inspired by these wooden works of exceptional craftsmanship.

image courtesy of Christopher Clarke

Furniture With History

Campaign furniture’s design caters to the refined taste of high ranking military officers and government officials of late 18th and early 19th century England. These men traveled the world with pomp and privilege. Campaign furniture made the comforts of home portable, with specialized compartments for equipment, maps, uniforms, etc. The pieces were well made, practical and designed to withstand the rough travels over sea and land. Chest-like desks and other pieces would sit atop metal stands to avoid the wet ground when out in the field.

Time To Bring In The Special Forces

Because of fluctuating exchange rates and the expense (and hassle) associated with shipping from abroad, bringing one of these Campaign furniture pieces over from England is not easy. Today, the majority of reproduction pieces are built in England.

In the U.S., however, campaign furniture pieces commissioned by antique dealers and high-end retailers often go to one man esteemed for his unsurpassed craftsmanship, Douglas P. Dimes of famed D.R. Dimes.

This cherry wood table is a recent example of the fine work done by, D.R. Dimes and their ability to create historically accurate reproductions down to the smallest details. One distinguishing detail of Campaign furniture is the intricate hardware, designed to embellish the piece, keeping functionality in mind. The recessed hardware design kept the metalwork from catching.

Campaign furniture’s flush mounted hardware, a unique style that later permeated other applications of colonial furniture, could not be approached as an afterthought. The flush-mounted hardware is intrinsic to actual construction of the table. Therefore, Doug turned to Horton Brasses for specially commissioned brass.

Horton Brasses had the unique ability to make the custom hardware for me and understand what it should actually look like and work.  There are any number of companies that could do the work but Orion and his people have an institutional knowledge that can only come from a multi generational family owned business.  I know what I needed but I am in the furniture business.  To have a vendor that gives me the answers as opposed to asking questions is very important.   The fact that I have a very good relationship with Orion both professionally and to a degree personally makes working with Horton Brasses both valuable and a pleasure.  I wish I had more vendors like them.

–Douglas P. Dimes

Blacksmith’s Riveting, Brazing and Welding, part 2

In our previous post we talked about how we use mechanical joints, brazing and electrical welding to fasten metal parts together for tools and jigs in the shop. In the work we do for Horton, we use only riveted fastening: we head pins for hinges much like we’d head a rivet, and in making Suffolk latches we rivet the thumber into its slot.

While riveting is perhaps the most common type of fastening in period hardware, other types of connection were also used. We’ll be looking at a lever latch with lock, much like the one mentioned in our post on books. It’s much like the one illustrated in the Sonn and Streeter examples in that post.

This is the back of a German-style lever latch that also included a simple lock. The back plate to this latch is held in place with four nuts.

Each nut has filed decoration, even though this part of the latch would not be seen. The nuts and threaded posts are each individually sized. No nut will fit all the posts.

On the other side of the back plate a spring that holds the bar in place has been riveted.

This is the latch and lock with the back plate removed. There are only a couple of moving parts: the lever and its spring, the tumbler which holds the bar in place (the tumbler spring has broken), and the bar (note the filed decoration at the end, again this was hidden from view). The broken spring for the tumbler would be easy to replace; it is held by a rivet. Studs for the latch spring and tumbler were riveted to the front of the case, as were the two guides for the bar.

The latch handle, as you can see in the above photo, consists of a forging with a handle at one end and, after a ninety-degree bend, a bar that rises in and out of a catch in the doorjamb. The handle’s pivot (where the pencil rests) is a round piece with a square hole (to hold the handle for the other side of the door). The pivot rides in holes cut into the front and back plates of the latch. This pivot is brazed to the handle, in this case using copper instead of brass.

Brazed joints are also found in tools. The vise shown in the post about artifacts has a bit of brazing. In this case, rather than try to tap a thread for the vise screw box (or nut), what they did was wrap a piece of square wire around the vise screw and insert it in the box or nut. The vise screw was carefully removed leaving the wire in place. Brass filings were sprinkled inside and the whole was heated in the fire to braze the wire to the box.

Gustav Stickley @ the Dallas Museum of Art

Running until May 8th, the Dallas Museum of Art is holding a comprehensive retrospective examining the life and work of Gustav Stickley, a name synonymously tied to the American Arts & Crafts movement. According to the museum’s website, “This exhibition will include over 100 works produced by Stickley’s designers and workshops, including furniture, metalwork, lighting and textiles, along with drawings and related designs.” 

Ring pulls of the Arts & Crafts movement feature a strong backplate, angular design and heavy brass construction.

Stickley’s signature look took off in the summer of 1900 when he created a furniture line he dubbed New Furniture, later to be widely known as Arts & Crafts. Using quartersawn white oak and other locally grown woods, more than just furniture emerged from Stickley’s Binghamton, NY workshop–a philosophy was also born. Simple. Organic. An emphasis on craftsmanship and construction, the furniture of the Arts & Crafts movement  relied on the beauty of the wood’s grain as the dominant decorative element. The idea of “truth to materials” informed the woodworking, eschewing superfluous ornamentation in favor of traditional skills. Furniture’s construction itself was highlighted as a thing of beauty. For example, exposed joinery is a trademark look. In general, the movement was born out of a backlash against industrialization and machine-made production. Although originally rooted in England, Gustav Stickley’s designs transplanted these principles to America and spread them through his furniture and magazine, The Craftsman.

These hammered knobs in a dark finish are best sellers, replicating the the hardware produced during the Arts & Crafts period.

Hardware was an important element to Arts & Crafts furniture, adding a signature look to the simple aesthetic. Hand forged hardware in hammered metals such as iron or aged copper were mounted on an otherwise unadorned design. Horton Brasses offers an extensive line of Arts & Crafts style hardware to complete the look of your furniture or kitchen. The manufacturing of the hardware is authentic to the name. Just check out some of the blog posts by smiths Molly and George to get an idea of true made in America manufacturing.

Are you in the Dallas area? Will you make it over to the exhibit? If you are unable to get there but still a Stickley fan, check out the museums DIY challenge and don’t forget your Horton Brasses hardware to finish off your project. Pictures? Yes, we’d love to see them!

Hardware Comparison

Recently I received my December issue of Popular Woodworking magazine.  While looking at it during lunch, one of my woodworking co-workers stopped to look at Glen Huey’s Line & Berry Chest of Drawers that graced the cover.


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After thumbing through the article he smiled & said it must be nice!  Puzzled I took the bait & asked, “What do you mean?”

That sparked a discussion about why one should use/buy quality lumber & hardware on projects & then suddenly his point finally surfaced.  “Did you see the price of that hardware?” he blurted out.

However, I didn’t need to look because I had spoken to Glen while he was building the piece & knew that might be a sticking point to a lot of woodworkers.

But this got me thinking that there has to be another option that didn’t involve hardware being purchased at a big box store.  So I decided to contact Horton Brasses & had them send me their hardware so I could do a little comparison.

Once I received the package of hardware, I gave Glen a call.  I told him I wanted to do a comparison of both sets of hardware & asked if I could stop by the shop that Saturday to take a closer look at the hardware he used.

That Saturday, when I arrived at the shop, Glen was all smiles.  He suggested that we pull his hardware from one drawer & install what I brought so we can compare them side by side on the finished piece.


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Well, the first thing we did was put both versions of the hardware down side by side.  (Horton Brasses hardware on the left, Ball & Ball on the right.)

The first thing I noticed off the bat was that the hardware used in the article looked beefier where the Horton Brasses hardware looked more dainty or delicate.

Next, we measured them.   I was surprised that the difference in thickness was only .01” So we started handling the hardware.  I noticed that the Horton hardware was stamped where the other was cast.

It was then that we noticed that the chasing on article hardware was done by hand.  It looked different from piece to piece.  However, the Horton’s chasing looked very uniform.

From here we installed the hardware on the top two drawers & stacked them for a better look.


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My first thought after we took a step back to look was that the hardware used in the article made the piece look like it was made for a guy where the Horton Brasses hardware looked like the piece was commissioned for a woman.

The last part of this comparison came down to price.  Comparing the two we see the following.

Article Hardware


Horton Brasses  Hardware











Escutcheon w/ pull





Escutcheon w/ pull




Keyhole Escutcheon





Keyhole Escutcheon




Grand Total:




Grand Total:


Armed with the price difference of $177.62 & my crude but viewable photos to show a comparison, I went back in to work to show my troubled co-worker that not only was I able to find him an alternative hardware source that was attractive visually, but it would also fit his budget.

He was shocked at what I found & I broke into another discussion of how you don’t always have to use the same hardware & wood used in books & magazines, but that’s another article for another day…

Quality, Value, and Price

Snow is falling and holiday lights are up on Main Streets across the country. Christmas is approaching and, despite Americans’ heightened consciousness regarding the economy, spending will still go on. But as I’ve seen with my own family’s spending, Americans are changing their attitude toward consumption.

With a national debt in the trillions, freezes on pay increases becoming increasingly common, graduates of elite universities facing no guarrantees of jobs upon graduation and employed Americans feeling grateful just to have a job, everyone is feeling the uncertainty of today’s economic climate. While some may see media reports as hyping the financial catastrophe to unrealistic levels, it is clear that average Americans are reassessing their spending habits. Gone are the 0% credit card offers flooding our mail boxes; gone are the days of spending like there is no tomorrow.

Prior to the current recession, American’s saved virtually nothing. In 2005, American savings was at a low of just over 1%. Today, despite skyrocketing college tuitions and rock bottom interest rates, Americans are saving at a rate of more than 5%.


Economists posit that this newly rediscovered habit of saving money, albeit good for the American citizen, is not good for the U.S. economy. Americans won’t save the economy by getting themselves further into debt. Somehow, this actually sounds like a good thing. Americans are relearning the value of their dollar. That how we spend our money and where we spend our money can be as meaningful as what we spend our money on.

Despite the rise of big box stores, the internet and discounted convenience, we are returning to our traditional American values: hard work, family, frugality and craftsmanship.



“I think everything right now is about value and values,”said John Gerzema, president of Young & Rubicam’s Brand Asset Consulting unit and author of “Spend Shift.”

Just look at the success of burgeoning farmers markets across the country and of the e-commerce site Etsy, built on handmade crafts. People want to reconnect not just with their bank accounts but with the growers and artisans responsible for getting food on their table and beautiful things in their homes. By personalizing the buying process, consumers add layers of meaning to the objects in their lives.

I propose that we are moving away from a disposable culture and choosing to buy things that matter–items of quality, longevity and durability. Authenticity, craftsmanship and enduring style. The utter opposite of this:

That is why at Horton Brasses we are committed to crafting our hardware from solid brass–never second rate materials like zinc. We manufacture period hardware. Our hardware style embodies the a classic, uniquely American aesthetic with enduring appeal. We leave the trendy pieces for the throwaway companies. Hardware this well made is going to last forever without looking dated. Longevity. Quality. Craftsmanship. Authenticity. This is what you are buying when you buy Horton Brasses hardware.

Our focus as a business is extremely specialized. We are not trying to sell you cabinets, flooring, wall tile or lighting. We are simply hardware. Hinges, knobs, pulls, latches, locks–we know our product with the intensity of an artisan because we are that artisan. As a small, family owned business, we at Horton Brasses have the luxury of taking the time to personally interact with our customers, answer all your questions and provide you with honest answers–because we are not removed from the manufacturing process.



We work closely with cabinet builders and carpenters on projects big and small. Providing quality brass and iron hardware for furniture, cabinetry, post and beam structures, kitchens, bathrooms and restoration projects is the passion that drives us at Horton Brasses. Based in New England, where we do a lot of business, we understand the importance of serving our customers with the best product we can offer.

I feel pride working for the company that has been in my family for generations. I know that the small details of our hardware–the simple pleasures in life–improves the experience of their day to day living by adding not only functionality but quiet beauty. What we offer at Horton Brasses transcends monetary value. By adding our hardware to your home, you reconnect with our American culture by contributing to the continuity of a small family business tradition, keeping authentic craftsmanship alive, revisiting a time when things lasted and by showing your own home the respect it deserves by outfitting it with timeless, durable hardware.

How I Install Drawer Hardware

Recently I was talking projects with a couple of my woodworking buddies.  One was working on a chest of drawers & was complaining about having to measure, mark & drill each pull for every drawer.  I kind of smiled & told him I have a simple solution shortcut for that.  Below is a step by step procedure on how I install drawer pulls on all of my projects.

After I have built & finished my project I get the smallest drawer & lay out the hardware I’ve selected.

Once I’m happy with the location of the escutcheons, I measure the location from one edge of the drawer to the center of the nearest hole for the pull & then measure the distance between holes on center.  My last dimension is the diameter of the hole itself.

antique dresser drawer with chippendale pulls

Armed with that, I grab a piece from the scrap pile & cut it to the height of the drawer.  I mark the top & side locations on the board & lay out the location of both holes.  (In this case the holes are located in the middle of the escutcheon.  This works the same if it it’s off center.)   From here I chuck the correct size bit in my drill press & drill the two lines.


Once that is complete I flip the piece over & mark the top & side.  This becomes my drilling jig for this project.  From here I take the jig & clamp it to one side of the drawer & using the same bit from the drill press I drill my two holes for the post of the pull.


Once I’ve test fit my hardware I flip the jig over & clamp for the opposite side & drill.  Once this drawer is complete, I would do the same process on every remaining drawer.  The only measurement I need is to make sure the jig is centered (top to bottom) on the drawer.


With all of the post pull holes drilled I chuck a ¾” forstner bit into my drill & create shallow counter sink cups on the back side of my drawer front.  This allows me to get my fingers & socket in to tighten the nut when the time comes.


That’s it for the drilling.  Now I turn my attention to the drawer posts of the pull.  They come longer then I need them (which is better than being shorter) so I cut them to size.  Then, using my orbital sander I round the cut edges off.  This ensures the posts won’t snag on any clothes in the years to come.

solid brass posts

Once I have that complete I install the hardware & put the drawers to use.


NOTE:  In this example I used the jig on beaded drawers.   I use this method on lipped drawers & even single pull drawers.