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

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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?

Some introductions

I am lucky in this business to get to know a whole lot of exceptionally talented craftspeople. Lately I have run into a bunch of them and would like to introduce you to two of them. Artisans of the Valley
and Peter Michelinie
.

Artisans of the Valley is a shop in New Jersey that does an amazing number of different things. Eric Saperstein and his fiancee Terri are the operation with some help from Eric’s Dad and an army of local craftspeople. The number of skills and talents they have, or are able to offer, is tremendous. They include, but are by no means limited to, fine reproductions, antique restorations and repairs, and wood carvings. I won’t even discuss the paintwork on a WWII tank. In addition to all this, their website may be the most innovative woodworking website I have ever seen. Check it out and be prepared to spend some time there. Eric’s essay, for a lack of a better word (manifesto maybe) on being “green” was brilliant. It was one of the few I have ever seen that is not hype, just an honest assessment and statement of fact documented with clear cut rationales. Their quarterly newsletters are a pleasure, along with their travelogues, and their mini portfolio.

Peter Michelinie is a Boston based cabinetmaker and graduate of the North Bennet Street School’s very fine Cabinet and Furniture Making program. His styles seem diverse, his kneehole desk is about as fine of an example as you will find, while his Mission cases stand out among many. There are not too many furnituremakers who can create in as many styles as Pete. If you are in the area-check him out.

I decided to introduce you to two craftspeople today for a reason: To show that quality work is still being done in America. Many people doubt that things are being done here, and I am here to say that it just isn’t so. There is a new generation of artists coming up in this great country of ours-I urge you, my reader (note-not readers) to seek them out. You are in for a surprise.