So, you have broken hardware?

What now?  We get this question a lot.  You have a broken pull on an older dresser, typically something dating from the 1950’s to the 1970’s.  The first thing to understand is that the furniture you have is not an antique.  An antique is technically 100 years old, or older.  You will not be devaluing your furniture by changing the hardware, refinishing it, or putting new holes in it.  The Antiques Roadshow has really spread a lot of misinformation about refinishing furniture-unfortunately most of it is wrong.  Yes, if you have an 18th century Townshend original-you should not modify it in any way-and anything you do should be under the supervision of an experienced conservator.  But for factory made furniture from the 20th century-you will be doing a world of good to get it usable again.

How to proceed?  First you have to decide what you want done.  Do you want to refinish the whole piece and make it new again?  If so, check your local yellow pages for a furniture refinisher.  These folks will get your piece looking great again.  Is it just the hardware?  That is where we come in.

What do you want?  Do you want to update the look with completely new hardware in a new finish or style?  Or do you just want to replace the one or two broken pieces?  Either way, the first thing you need to know is the boring size.  The boring is the distance from the middle of one hole to the middle of the other hole-on the furniture itself.  Different types of hardware fit in different ways, but boring is consistent-as long as the new hardware fits the same boring, you should be all set.  The easiest way to measure the boring is to measure from the outside of one hole to the inside of the other.

Now that we have established the boring, its time to determine what fits.  At Horton Brasses, we manufacture hardware in a variety of styles and sizes.  You can use our handy dandy boring chart to see all of the hardware arranged by size.  Just click on the part number, under the size you have, to see what fits.

Sometimes you can get away with just replacing a broken part, typically the bail (handle).  We do sell parts, though we are one of a small number of companies that does.  Bails are sized by boring-not the dimensions of the bail itself.  So a 3″ bail, PRT-10, for example, will fit a piece of furniture with a 3″ boring.  You can see parts here to get an idea.  Generally, if you are replacing parts you just want to get something that fits and looks reasonably similar to the original.  What we suggest you do is place the replacement part on one pull and then move it to the bottom drawer so it is out of the way.

Lastly, we produce traditional American reproduction furniture hardware.  Much of the hardware made for post war furniture is considerably larger than the items we make.  There isn’t much we can help you with there, but if the borings on your furniture are more than 4″ we would suggest seeking out replacement hardware at Ansaldi & Sons.  Ansaldi carries a lot of hardware from that era and has larger items to fit.

Good luck.

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Video Blog

Come join us for Horton Brasses second video blog post.  In this video we are going to take you into our tool room and show you the original tooling we use to make our reproduction furniture hardware.

Suggestions for Restoring Antique Furniture: Hardware and Refinishing

A piece of antique furniture comes into your possessions, either through a yard sale or, perhaps, an inheritance. The wood patina and intricate, elaborate design has promise, but tarnished, dented hardware and slightly dirty, unfinished surface is in dire need of restoration. But, in order to keep up the authentic appearance, what should you consider?

Assess the antique first. Do you know the name of the craftsman? An antique could end up being a run-of-the-mill piece or one from a well-known architect or furniture maker. Knowing the difference is particularly crucial, as making too many changes can reduce the value.

Additionally, while restoration could involve creativity, aiming to reproduce the original look, as opposed to adding your own interpretation, is recommended for maintaining period integrity. The result, if you stray from period sensibilities, may be an awkward amalgamation of modern and past facets.

Refinishing makes a drastic difference, but it can also completely change the character of the furniture. Before deciding on a finish, however, clean the wood first. In general, avoid oil-based cleaners, as these can cause oxidation years down the line. For a finish, first, determine if the original is shellac, lacquer, or varnish.

Once the overall exterior is cleaned and restored, consider hardware. Unfortunately, finding true reproduction, or antique-style, hardware is a challenge. Horton Brasses, in our Cromwell, Conn. location, produces antique-style hardware that replicates the original look, down to the smallest details. As we strive for the most accurate look, period techniques used by early American craftsman and tools are employed.

While Horton Brasses has a wide selection of hardware, representing 17th through 20th century architecture, staying true to an area and style is crucial. Otherwise, selecting knobs or pulls from a different period or style creates a jarring appearance with the rest of the furniture’s design. In this case, research the furniture and architectural style beforehand in order to make an educated and accurate decision.

One Heat

Small stock heated in the forge cools quickly. This short video shows the shaping of an HF-19 ring grip. The cusps have been forged on each end of the stock and the screw holes punched.

The shaping of a grip is quickly done with the proper heat and tools. We start out with two batches of six grips in the fire. One batch is heating as we work on the other batch.

After the grip is formed it is reheated to pull apart the legs and again to flatten the ends. The final leveling of the grip is done cold before the grips are heated a final time and finish is applied.

Horton Brasses: Ahead Of The Small Trend!

In The News

Liberty Hardware, a major knob and pull producer, made it into the New York Times a few days ago. Short, to the point, and with a good hook, the story was most likely just a reprint of its own press release. But that’s the way the news machine works.

The gist of the piece was this: Despite being big, Liberty supports small artisans with the limited edition HomeGrown Hardware line.  Citing Etsy and the buy local movement as inspiration, Liberty’s go-small line is available, ironically, at select big box Home Depots.

I just kind of shook my head at that one knowing Horton Brasses has an ongoing history supporting skilled artisans. For Horton Brasses, it’s not a marketing gimmick. Rather, a commitment to quality, personalization, and tradition forges the relationship between small business and independent blacksmiths. (Sorry, I could not avoid the chance to make an iron smithing pun.)

If you’ve skimmed the Horton Brasses blog, surely you’ve come across Molly and George’s posts on blacksmithing.  Darryl Chernikovich is another metal worker hammering it out for Horton Brasses. He even has an Etsy shop! I doubt Orion would even think to send out a press release advertising any of this. After all, it’s not news. It’s just how Horton Brasses does business.

Horton Brasses Oval Ring Pull (OP-1) in dark antique.

Handmade. Local. Small.

For Horton Brasses, those words mean more than trying to capitalize off of the latest and hottest trends. Instead, they are synonymous with ironwork. How else can you make hand forged knobs and pulls? There really is no other way. Horton Brasses blacksmiths are real people! And they’ve been working for Horton Brasses long before it was cool to quit your day job and start a chicken farm in Brooklyn. These folks are the real McCoy and they know their craft inside and out.

It’s funny that the big guys are trying to re-brand themselves alongside the smaller fries. But you know what they say: imitation is the greatest form of flattery.

2012 Up & Coming Kitchen Trends

Be on trend and check out the complete line of handmade iron hardware by Horton Brasses artisans!  Let’s face it–people’s desire to reconnect with small businesses and receive personalized customer service is not on the wane in 2012. Know that when you buy from Horton Brasses, you are not an order number associated with an email address. They really do keep tabs on each and every order. From the manufacturing side of things all the way down to the shipping, real people are making it happen.

Looking for ring pulls similar to the ones shown in the New York Times article? Horton Brasses has the regular kind and even ovals!

Interview: Orion Henderson, The Head + The Heart of Horton Brasses

Orion, you bought the company from your mother.  What were you doing before taking over your family’s hardware manufacturing business?

I joined the company in 2001 and purchased the company at then end of 2006.  Prior to joining the business I was in sales.

If you weren’t running Horton Brasses, what other career path would you have taken?

My professional passion is sales without a doubt.  If I was not involved with Horton Brasses I would be in commercial sales in some capacity.

What’s stayed the same throughout the years, what’s changed under your guard?

There is always a desire to change a company when you take over; to put your stamp on it so to speak.  In our case though I think that is a mistake.  We have a 70+ year legacy of making reproduction early American hardware and that continues to be essential to our business and our identity.  My aim is to keep making traditional hardware and expand into related areas.  Before my time, in the mid to late 90’s, we expanded into kitchen cabinet hardware and hand forged iron.  Our path forward is simple really. We want to do three things.  To expand our selection through production of new items in house and with carefully selected vendors.  To become ever more efficient in our own factory to control cost and to stay ahead of foreign competitors.  And to grow the business by filling hardware needs of existing customers and finding new customers.

How do you keep a period hardware company current?

New finishes are the single best way to stay current.  Until 1998 or so we had three finishes–antique brass, semi-bright brass (matt gold), and polished brass.  Now we have 7 plus an entirely separate line of hand forged iron hardware.  We added satin and polished nickel to kitchen hardware in 1998 and about the same time we added “dark antique” (oil rubbed) to a line of arts and crafts styled hardware.  In 2004 we made dark antique a standard finish choice on every piece of brass hardware we make.  In 2009 we added a light antique to every piece of hardware.  In 2010 we added custom finishes to the line.  They include satin nickel, polished nickel, silver plated, and gold plated finishes.  Towards the original question-one way we keep traditional hardware relevant is to make modern finishes available.  Our traditional Hepplewhite and Chippendale pulls are simply spectacular in satin and polished nickel.

How do you define “period?” I mean, isn’t every style of a certain period? What periods would you say are the focus of Horton Brasses hardware?

In my grandparents day, period meant pre-1900.  Or more generally hardware for furniture that specifically pre dated mass production of furniture.  Essentially, up to the time of the industrial revolution.  Times change. Today period can mean the mid century modern furniture and cabinetry of the 1950’s.  My grandfather rather famously, at least famously with us, told a long time customer once that he would never, ever, make that lousy arts and craft style hardware because it was junk.  My great grandfather thought Victorian era furniture and hardware was just awful.  He thought of Victorian style in much the same way we think of the home furnishings from the 1980’s today.  Now?  We make lots of Victorian hardware, have our own line of arts and crafts hardware, and some of our hardware is even appropriate for that mid century modern aesthetic.  Satin and polished nickel finishes date to the 1920’s-just after the arts and crafts movement but pre-world war II.

Is there really a difference between a satin nickel plated brass knob bought in a pack from Target and a brass knob with nickel plating bought from Horton Brasses?

The difference is in the details.  The big box stores sometimes have solid brass knobs, but not usually.  They are usually either brass plated or hollow brass with a nickel plating.  The finishing work is usually sloppy with lots of drips, lousy threading, and no durability.  The plating needs to have a sufficient thickness to last.  Cheap plating flakes off over time, ours doesn’t.  The texture and luster of our finishes are simply better.

Horton Brasses’ classic kitchen bin pull in satin nickel.

If I were to set 20 different 4” satin nickel bin pulls in front of you, would you be able to pick out the Horton Brasses design?

Yes.  But I don’t think I can explain why beyond the answer from the previous question.

Recently you’ve introduced a suite of high end luxury hardware. Considering the housing market and the U.S. economy in general, from a business point of view, what’s the strategy there?

Good question, and one I have asked myself repeatedly.  There are three aspects to our new lux line.  One-there simply aren’t very many good appliance handles on the market and even fewer suited sets of handles that cover all the sizes needed in a modern, yet period, kitchen.  Most appliance handles are either ultra modern, chintzy, or much too expensive.  There are very nice handles like ours out there that cost 3X what ours do.  Secondly, I feel as though the economy is improving and we had been seeing increased demand for good cabinet hardware.  Lastly, Our existing appliance handles are wonderful handles, but stylistically they are limited.  They simply did not work for a lot of our customers.  If we are going to provide our line of hardware we had to be able to meet the demand for appliance handles.  I visited SBD kitchens about a year ago and spoke with 3 of their designers, including Sarah Blank.  She told me that the first thing she does when looking for hardware for a kitchen is look for the appliance handles.  If the company didn’t have a good handle, she moved on to the next.  Simple as that.

New hardware, straight from England. The newly introduced Queslett has already become a favorite amongst customers and designers, proving that Orion has the eye for style.

I know you visited England to check out the manufacturing facility and review the design of the new hardware before it was launched. That seems really hands on to me. How typical is that in your industry?

Well, I am not sure it is typical at all.  Certainly, no one has ever visited us to see if we are who we say we are.  But I had a longstanding relationship with Armac and this hardware is very different than what we buy from them now.  I needed to see how it was made and meet with the principals to be sure it would be consistently excellent and to cement the relationship regarding a significant expansion of our product line.  Armac has been extremely helpful with the rollout of our new hardware and it has been essential to our early success.  We have never had a new line of hardware sell as quickly as the Bakes and Queslett pulls. 

There are lots of companies that make hardware, want to make hardware, or think they make hardware.  There are very few that actually can actually deliver what they say they can.  We have had some recent bad experiences with different vendors who simply couldn’t do what they said they could.

As you mentioned, Armac is in Birmingham (England) and manufactures the new line of hardware. They have a huge online catalog. How did you end up choosing the pieces you’ve introduced to the Horton Brasses line?

The Bakes and Queslett pulls are both new for Armac and they were presented to me along with the knobs.  I fell in love with the whole line on sight.  It filled a need and is simply spectacular hardware.  I have gotten calls for years from homeowners who wanted hardware in the style of a rather well known English cabinetmaker living in America.  While that person uses custom hardware that is not available elsewhere, this hardware gives you that look.

Although you sell directly to the public, I know most of your business is to cabinetmakers. Some of the most prestigious custom cabinets are outfitted with Horton Brasses, but often the homeowner has no idea that you are the brand behind the gorgeous knobs. Talk about keeping a low profile! Seriously. Don’t you want the credit for your hardware?

Of course we want credit for the hardware!  It is up to the individual furniture maker and cabinet shops whether they wish to share our name with their customers.  Some find it better to keep their vendors private to remain more competitive.  For example-the cabinetmaker mentioned above.

Who thought anyone could be sentimental over a knob! Orion’s favorite is still made with the same tooling designed by his grandfather.

What’s your favorite knob + pull?

My favorite part is not a typical kitchen knob, it is the H-30 1-1/2″.  The H-30 1-1/2″ is, according to family history, the first punch and die that my grandfather Frank made.  That tooling, which we use today, dates to the 1920’s sometime.  In the 1920’s my great grandmother sold antiques and my great grandfather Frank was a diesinker for the silver industry.  He made the tooling to produce the Disney decorative silver spoons at the time.  Anyway, she would have a piece of furniture that needed a matching piece of hardware, typically American Federal period (Hepplewhite and Sheraton style), and she would give Frank the hardware and he would make it.  He would punch out the pattern of the hardware into the punch.  Then he would do the negative onto the die, all by hand, and account for the thickness of the metal that would be punched between the two pieces.  Diesinking is a lost art.  Today, you can do some of what he did with CAD, but really, even CAD won’t give you the detail.  The patterns and originals were all perfectly imperfect.  Computer design really requires symmetry and perfect radii.

As far as business goes, you seem to me a bit of a maverick. You like being small. You eschew the advertorial. What philosophy guides your business style?

Well, I don’t necessarily choose to be small.  Our product is a niche product and likely always will be.  Our customers produce cabinetry and furniture that is the best of the best and is, to be frank, expensive.  With that in mind, we choose quality over price every time.

Advertising is a different story, on the one hand we simply don’t have the budget for glossy magazine hands.  On the other hand, I don’t believe they are productive anyway.  So we choose to create online “content” to give people a chance to see for themselves if our products fit into their lives.

Okay. The Horton Brasses latches have gone through a few revisions. How does one improve hardware. I mean, how complicated does this stuff get?

We have no in house engineers, just my shop foreman and myself.  Neither of us have professional training.  We knew what we wanted it to look and work like, but it took a while to actually get the components just right.  It took us 9 months to develop the current latch.  Sometimes I think Ford could design a new car faster than we can make a pretty simple latch.  But in the end, you can make it right or you can make it fast.  You can guess our choice.

Finally, what trends have you seen reflected in your sales in the past five years and where do you see your business going in the coming five?

The last 3 or 4 years have seen a bit of return to traditional styles.  Maybe in the boom years people bought the newest latest trends, it seemed like they could always just throw it away when it went out of style.  Recent events have changed in that we see people making purchase decisions related to their homes on a longer time frame.  Our hardware is not “trendy”.  We think it is timeless and we know it is durable.  Everything we produce should last, essentially, forever.  Finish choices have evolved, “oil rubbed” and polished nickel finished hardware continues to become more popular.  The next trend, which we are seeing more and more interest in, is “unlaquered brass”.  The concept varies from person to person but generally is some variation of polished or lightly antiqued brass left without a lacquer coating to develop a natural patina over time.  This is a rather nice trend from our point of view; we don’t lacquer any of our brass hardware and we never have.  We offer lacquering as a custom finish option only.

Blacksmith’s Riveting, Brazing and Welding, part 1

There is a great book by Jeannette Lasansky titled “To Draw, Upset and Weld: The Work of the Pennsylania Rural Blacksmith, 1742-1935” that was published 30 years ago.  We’re taking a bit from the title in the next two posts in order to begin to describe how blacksmiths fasten two pieces of metal together.

In our shop we use mechanical connections like nuts and bolts, riveting (such as the thumber riveted into the Suffolk latch), brazing, and welding. We’ve not had a need to forge weld for years in what we make. If we need to weld a part in a tool or jig, we use a MIG welder.

At the top is a Lancashire pattern die plate from the early nineteenth century. Each hole in the plate cuts threads for bolt-like fasteners. We use modern die holders with interchangeable dies for each size thread, like the half-inch dies in the center. At the bottom is a modern tap for cutting threads in a hole for nut-like fasteners. The die plate at one time also had its taps.

This is the back of the spring latch that was shown in a previous post along with a knob. The parts of the spring latch were attached to the back plate by riveting — peening, lightly hammering, the metal protruding from the hole until it no longer fits through the hole and forms a secure fastening. The lever itself is held to the back plate by peening over the edges of the boss; where the pencil is pointing. The brass knob was made of three pieces: thin front and back ovals soldered together and soldered to a turned brass shaft. The knob is held to the long iron shaft by a pin.

An important tool in our shop is the blacksmith helper — a jig holding moveable dies, one of which is struck by a hammer.  We made this helper using nuts and bolts to hold the vertical parts together. These were then brazed to the base in the fire. Brazing is done by heating the iron or steel hot enough so that brass will melt when it comes in contact. Brazing makes a strong joint, much stronger than soldering, almost as strong as welding. This blacksmith helper has been in constant use for over 15 years. We’ll do a post soon on how the blacksmith helper works and the dies we use.

Forge welding was a frequently used way to fasten two pieces of iron or steel together. Forge welding is done by heating the pieces at the same time in the fire to just below melting temperature — about 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The pieces are taken from the fire and, on the anvil, hammer forged lightly to join them. Low carbon wrought iron welded easily without burning, unlike higher carbon steels today. This is the bottom of the large pintle shown in a previous post. The pintle and the wrapped joint are easily visible after the weld.

In the eighteenth century and on into the nineteenth, forge welding was used to attach pieces of high carbon steel to low carbon supports. This had several advantages — high carbon steel was very expensive and the lower carbon support was cheap and provided shock resistance. Plane irons and chisels, for instance, would have a small piece of high carbon steel as the cutting edge while the bulk of the iron or chisel was wrought iron. It’s sometimes possible to see in old tools the line where the two metals are welded. The high carbon steel is also more likely to become pitted with rust.

As an aside, steel around 1800 came in three grades: blister, shear, and cast. Blister steel was the cheapest and was produced as bars with a high carbon blistered outside and soft, wrought iron cores. Shear steel was used for agricultural tools and was refined blister steel. Cast steel was made by melting shear steel chunks in a crucible, making the steel uniform. Tools made using cast steel were not cast in molds as some would think. They were forged using the high quality crucible steel.

Using H Hinges

Today while at lunch I was busy trying to sketch a project that I was designing as a tall laundry room cupboard for my house when a fellow co-worker/woodworker stopped to take a look.

While we were talking about the piece, why I was designing it and what it would be used for, he made a comment that my project had a flush mounted door.  He then went on to tell me how he hated flush mounted doors because you have to chisel out the wood while installing the hinges.  He finished by telling me that the time wasn’t worth the effort in his eyes.

At that point I just kind of smiled and said I don’t do any of that.

 

At first he gave a quizitive look of “huh?” and then after a few seconds of letting what I said sink in, he said “please don’t tell me you just flush mount the butt hinges?”

That’s when I opened up my web browser and introduced him to “H” hinges.

 

His eyes lit up like a Christmas tree.  The look on his face was priceless.

So from there I went on to explain to him that I was introduced to the use of “H” hinges several years ago by a fellow woodworker as a way to do 2 things on a project:

  • To be able to install door hinges quickly and easily.
  • Also to add a little decoration to what might seem like a plain or dull looking project.

Ever since then I’ve always used “H” hinges on all of my flush door projects. I like the looks and ease of installation that I use them even if the piece is a reproduction or a commissioned piece.


As for installing them; well it couldn’t be easier!

  • First start off by laying your project on its back
  • Next place the door in the opening. (you may need to add some temporary supports)
  • Then using a rule, locate from the top and bottom of the door the location you want to place each hinge.
  • From here you want to pre-drill all of your pilot holes.
  • Dip the tips of your screws into a can of paste wax (used as a lubricant) and then install by hand.  (Make sure to just snug them lightly.  Anything else might cause the screw heads to snap off.)

In my eyes the ease of installation of the hardware, and look it gives a project, far outweigh not using them.

Strap hinges with style

Strap It On!

My mother-in-law just left after a weekend visit, returning to her DC home. While staying with us, she and her husband admitted to feeling some kitchen envy for our new remodel. That being said, she is hesitant to tear out her 40 year old kitchen and trade up to something more contemporary. One of the things she doesn’t want to part with: the copper functional strap hinges adorning her cabinets. They have definitely retained their classic beauty, despite the years.

Now, I know most people are not running to the hardware store and clearing out the bins of strap hinges when it comes to updating their kitchen hardware. The majority of strap hinges tend to end up on barn doors and hope chests, bought by men who wear their Wrangler dungarees and plaid flannel shirts in a not so ironic way.

But does that mean you shouldn’t consider these bands of hand forged stylishness for your remodel? Of course not! You are not a kitchen trend follower but rather a style setter. How many European bar pulls must be tolerated to spite the expression of individual personality in the kitchen?

Sure, not every application may suit the strap hinge. You may feel that a complete kitchen outfitted in strap hinges….or even the strap hinge’s less lean cousin, the butterfly hinge….may be a bit too period for you. Still, you can use these traditionally styled, hand forged iron hinges to quirk up the joint–adding some visual interest to an otherwise standard and un-noteworthy space.

This vintage Kohler sink photo should be added to the inspiration file of anyone contemplating a period kitchen remodel for an American farmhouse kitchen. The cast iron apron front sink is just one aspect of perfecting that early American look. Iron strap hinges decorate the cabinets and add beauty to the pared down decor of this functional kitchen.

An updated take on that same traditional style can be seen in this photo from Morgan Creek Cabinetry. All modern conveniences are on hand with a high end range and new fireclay apron front sink while keeping period inspired details like a beadboard ceiling and functional strap hinges mounted on the custom cabinetry.

The clean and modest kitchen of this British cottage rental has a neutral palette and limited cabinets. However, the pantry door adds charm to this otherwise staid space. The large strap hinges and iron knob elevates this cottage kitchen to the expectations of patrons by infusing it with a shot of authenticity amidst the contemporary utilitarian design. 

This kitchen by Karin Blake, as it appeared in Architectural Digest, is a  tableau of simplicity, classic Americana and modern design. A mix of inset slab front drawers and wainscot doors, the vintage style lab stools, farm table and windsor chairs all add to the smooth, seamless allure of a style indicating New England old money when, in fact, this home is Malibu new construction. One of the key details that makes this look work are the barn-style cabinet doors finished with forged iron strap hinges.

While a Karin Blake kitchen may not be in your budget, such a look is definitely attainable with stock cabinetry and the right hinges, of course! Whether your cabinets are inset, overlay or frameless, you can rock this designer look by either using real functional strap hinges or dummy hinges. And don’t forget the other hardware to compliment your look. There are a variety of handles sized to create the perfect drama in your kitchen. At Horton Brasses, there are the oversized Suffolk Grips as well as the modestly sized Iron Grips.

And check out these matching knobs from Horton Brasses. Honestly, this stuff is not just for period kitchens! Imagine how appropriate these would look in some kind of industrial modern space. Like I said at the start of this post, ditch the European bar pulls, people! Nothing screams modern more than industrial. Just think lab coats and beakers and all that mad science that went on, marking a new era. Forged iron is not just barn. Below is a pic of a  kitchen from 1966 that merges the suburban colonial look with modern stylings. This should definitely get you thinking outside of your forged iron box!

The above picture is a great find for anyone with an older home and a budget. There are many ways to update a kitchen, but if you cabinets are in good shape, the most cost effective way involves soap and water and maybe a fresh coat of paint. Strap hinges were definitely more popular in decades past, but hopefully this post will have you embracing your older hardware with a style savvy gaze. Or, even better, taking on that full remodel with courage to add some spark to your kitchen with some well chosen accent pieces. Karin Blake would be impressed!