Issue Four T.O.C. – Jim McConnell on the Swisegood Steam-bent Drawers


Every weekday until the February 1st opening of Issue Four pre-orders, we will be announcing one article from the table of contents here on the blog. If you have yet to sign up for a yearly subscription, you can do so here.

From time to time, wonderful anomalies turn up in the furniture record and the corner cupboards from the Swisegood School of cabinetmaking (early 19th c. North Carolina) are no exception. These cabinets are renowned for their peculiar drawer construction, each employing a single board steam bent at oblique angles to form both the sides and back.

While kerfed steam bending was ubiquitous among coffin makers of that time, it seems to be unparalleled in cabinetmaking which left me scratching my head a bit. Where did this technique come from? Why don’t any other cabinetmakers employ this solution? How hard would it be to replicate?

These were the questions swirling around in my head as I trekked out to the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts in Winston-Salem, NC to see this furniture first hand and later as I stood at my workbench trying to replicate the process. It wasn't all smooth sailing, but each "failure" along the way taught me something valuable about the process, and I feel as if I ended up re-discovering something unique and potentially worthwhile. This article is a chronicle of my journey into the world of the Swisegood School of cabinetmaking, and an open invitation to try this distinctive technique in your own workshop. 

- Jim McConnell 

You can reserve your copy of Issue Four here.