My Lufkin Scale

Today I’d like to write about my scale. What is a scale you ask?  A machinists scale is a ruler.  A very precise steel ruler, typically with increments down to the 64th place.  I picked up my scale at an open house for the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking.  I don’t think Lufkin makes scales like mine anymore.  Why in the world would I write about a scale?  Because this Lufkin scale is a beautiful tool.  The marks are beautifully formed, the metal is thick, it doesn’t bend or twist.  Why does that matter?  Well, at some level, I guess, it doesn’t.  But this scale is a pleasure to hold, use, and touch.  The scale is so solid that it stands up on the long edge. I could get by with a wooden ruler poached from grade school-but why?  Why do that when I can use this beautifully formed too?  I grab it every chance I get.  I find myself sitting at my desk holding onto it for no reason at all.

Lufkin Scale

Now, you may be wondering, “what the heck does this have to do with hardware?  Everything.

The way an item feels to the touch is everything.  Whether your medium is tools, hardware, furniture, clothing, cars, and even computers.   If you are building cabinetry or furniture you know how long you spent getting the wood to the perfect finish.  You know how important the texture of the wood is.  Hardware is no different.  It has to feel good.  Horton Brasses makes hardware that feels good.  Our handles, pulls, and knobs feel good every time you open a drawer or door.  Our hardware, like this little Lufkin scale, exemplifies the details that make the difference.

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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.

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.

Interview With a Furnituremaker: Glen Huey

Glen Huey is known not only as an exceptional craftsman, but also a thorough teacher. Amongst woodworkers, his plans are famously meticulous, demonstrating extreme care and attention to detail. As the former editor of Popular Woodworking Magazine, Glen’s experience with various hardware lines is extensive.

Here, Glen answers some questions about selecting hardware for your furniture piece, as well as how to seer clear of blunders that will surely detract from your project.

1. At what point in the design process do you begin thinking about hardware selection? What factors influence your hardware selection?

Due to the fact that most of my work is reproduction or maybe it’s better said that they are adaptations, hardware selections are generally made as I pick the piece to build. If a chest has Chippendale drawer pulls, that’s what I would use on my chest as well. If the chest has Hepplewhite ….

Where a call has to be made is if there are no exact reproduction pieces available. In that case, I select hardware that is as close a match as possible.

2. As a builder of reproduction furniture, you obviously strive to achieve historically accurate results. When choosing reproduction hardware, are you concerned with the method in which the hardware is made or are you solely focused on the final appearance of the hardware?

I look at the quality of the hardware. I’m not interested in hardware that does not display characteristics of period designs – I seldom find hardware at home center stores, but do occasionally find selections at woodworking stores. A second major consideration I have deals with availability. I know what hardware I plan to use because of the piece I am working from, but I seldom order hardware before I begin working on the piece. I am not interested in ordering from a company that takes weeks and sometimes months to produce and send my selections. This, along with the quality and shear number of products, is one of the major reasons that Horton Brass has become my go-to hardware supplier when building pieces based on period designs.

3. As a transplant to the South, I enjoyed reading your 2007 article in Popular Woodworking that accompanied the picture and plans for the Southern Sugar Chest. I love that you place the chest in its historical context, thus making the detail of the keyhole noteworthy and significant. The back-story highlights the importance of getting the hardware right for historical accuracy. Have you come across folks out there who spend large amounts of time creating beautiful works of furniture only to blow it by messing up the details of the hardware?

Thank you for your nice comments. Sugar chests and cellarets – predominately pieces found in the south – are a particular favorite of mine. Choices made while building period-designed pieces are an area that constantly amazes me. It’s not just hardware selections where some woodworkers drop the ball. It’s lumber, too. If you are to invest a substantial amount of your time building a piece of furniture that should be around for multiple generations, why would one choose to skimp on the two most important aspects of that piece. Invest in top-quality hardware and buy the best lumber you can afford, period.


SOUTHERN SUGAR CHEST

4. A little more than a year ago, Dave Griessmann did a post for this blog comparing Horton Brasses hardware with the hardware you used on a gorgeous Line & Berry Chest of Drawers that appeared on the cover of Popular Woodworking’s December 2010 issue. The comparison photos showed that a similar look was attainable at almost a  $200 savings simply by using the Horton Brasses hardware. That kind of blew my mind. What did you think of the side-by-side comparison?

I had the opportunity to see the comparison up close, and I must say that upon close inspection you could see a difference. Was that difference enough to pull the trigger on the more expensive hardware? Not in my opinion. Horton’s pulls provided the same look and I achieved the same results while saving the excess for future projects.

However, I would make that call if my customer were after an exact replica of the chest. Also, because many of my projects are built for publication, I find it necessary to select quality hardware without breaking the bank to do so.

5. Do you have a formula to help you decide how much money to budget/allow for hardware? Does the scale of the project or the style of the piece inform that decision?

I will refer to my answer to question #2. I do not budget hardware – I pick the proper hardware and never worry about costs (unless it is excessive). I more interested in getting the look correct.

6. Knobs and pulls are thought of as mainly decorative while hinges are identified more for functionality. How do you identify a hinge that’s going to perform?

I’m not sure I agree that knobs and pulls are decorative or that hinges are simply functional – h-hinges function and can add to the overall look of your project. I buy hinges just as I do other hardware: match the look of the original piece, but I also make sure the hinge works with my project. And yes, I do make bad choices once in a while.

 Editors note:  In our opinion good hinges are critical to a piece of furniture or cabinetry.

7. What is the most common error you see in choosing or mounting furniture hardware?

In choosing hardware, it’s easy to get sizes wrong. It’s easy to select drawer hardware that is too large for your project – one of my faults is that I picture furniture in my mind much larger than it is when built. This is another reason that I do not order hardware until I get into the project. You can get by if your selection is a bit smaller than the original, but if a plate hangs over the edge of a drawer it is not going to work.

Mounting hardware is a science in itself. I get general placement ideas from pieces that I copy, but I find it best to place hardware onto the project to see if the look is right. The most common error I see is pulls set too far toward the middle of a chest of drawers. The trick is to set your pulls to help your eye travel toward the center then upward. Too much toward the center causes your eye to jump.

8. Horton Brasses offers customers the option of ordering custom iron forged hardware as well as custom brass casting. What was the last project you completed where you needed custom hardware?

I cannot recall a project where I had custom hardware made from scratch. I am more apt to have knobs transformed into cupboard turns, or get larger fingers made for smaller knobs used as turns.

9. Finally, what is your favorite piece of hardware from Horton Brasses?

Let me first state that I am impressed that Horton includes screws with its hardware. One thing that displeases me greatly is to search around for, or have to remember to order, the appropriate screws. As for favorite hardware, I have to say there are two pieces that I particularly like.

One I use frequently, h-hinges. The other, escutcheon pull, is something I have used on a couple chests I’ve built along the way. The hinges are very clean and crisp with beveled edges for great detail, and the knuckles are tight to eliminate slop but still operate smoothly. I like the escutcheon pulls primarily due to the fact that they are seldom seen in use. They are eye-catching.

 Editors note:  An escutcheon pull is a complete drawer pull with a keyhole in it.  Available on request.

Thank you, Glen, for giving us your time and sharing your wisdom.

Keep up with Glen Huey at his blog, Woodworker’s Edge

Going Modern With Macintosh

Okay.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.

The Macintosh style pulls from Horton Brasses are one of my favorites.

Sure. Charles Rennie Macintosh was a turn of the century architect who died in 1928 at the too-young age of 60, but the organic, minimalist lines of his designs beckoned an era of modernist design.

Which is why I think these pulls (also available in coordinating appliance handles) go so well with the MCM design aesthetic.

But don’t just take my word for it. This morning, while doing my daily rounds on the internet, I spotted this photo from Clayhaus Ceramics, a super cool independently operated handmade tile studio out of Portland.

Now, this is not Horton Brasses’ pull pictured here, but obviously, the styling is similar. Not sure if those are bamboo cabinets or some type of veneer but the slab doors, Macintosh style hardware, and muted retro colors definitely build a look.  All of the lines are clean. There is nothing extraneous. Yet the details—vessel sink, wall mounted faucets, multi-colored offset tile, exotic looking cabinet wood, and gently curved cabinet hardware—all add layers of richness.

When considering a modern design in your kitchen or bath, don’t feel that your only option is the European bar pull. Yes, it is tried and true. But other, less obvious, designs also work. The hardware used in the above picture stopped me in my web crawling tracks.

What, in this bathroom, grabs your attention?

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.

Object Impermanence

Did you see the October 3rd issue of The New Yorker? It includes an essay by Laura Collins on the undrar (wonder) of Ikea. House Perfect—Is the IKEA ethos comfy or creepy? is a balanced, conflicted look at the home furnishing mega-box that has revolutionized the flat packed design of how we live.

IKEA leads with a minimalist-universalist brand of style that translates across cultures, is broken down into 4 sub-sets by affordability, and almost always requires an allen wrench. The stores are mapped out in an exacting science, the designs are whittled down to include as little air as possible in the flat-boxed packaging, and there is no guarantee that your purchase will last. Strike that. It is guaranteed not to last. In fact, that is all a part of IKEA’s branding.

So when people ask if there really is a difference between this IKEA knob or pull and this cabinet hardware—at double the price—the answer is a resolute yes. The majority of cabinet hardware sold by IKEA is aluminum or zinc plated. These are soft metals. Horton Brasses casts its hardware from ultra-durable brass. Because it is made to last. Because you are not buying a throw away item. You are making an investment in something that will probably outlast your mortgage payments.

I understand that IKEA is a great choice if you move a lot or want to keep reinventing yourself. IKEA understands that too. And the IKEA designers have a lot of ingenious ideas that are totally on trend—even if transcending trend is IKEA’s goal.  Peek inside the well-designed homes of the rich in magazines like Architectural Digest or House Beautiful and surely you will spot an IKEA kitchen, IKEA bookshelves, or some other storage solutions.

Collins writes that “choosing a piece of furniture was once a serious decision, because of the expectation that it was permanent. IKEA has made interiors ephemeral.”

Without much thought, this statement evokes a strong reaction in me. The environmental issues that arise with throw-away furniture, the lowered expectation of quality that we acculturate ourselves into, and furthering the distance between the finished product and the maker of that product.

What about you? Anyone read the full article? IKEA is a serious business and cultural force worldwide. How do you feel about the ease and affordability of big business vs. the craftsmanship and craftsmanship of manufacturers like Horton Brasses and the bevy of fine woodworkers that the Horton Brasses name is associated with?