Popular Woodworking 2009-11 № 179, страница 45

Popular Woodworking 2009-11 № 179, страница 45

mutual appreciation of wood, but he was still cantankerous. As my skills developed I began to make him a few pieces of furniture. He did, after all, appreciate wood and good craftsmanship. One day I showed him a picture of a Chester County spice chest on frame that I was going to build for a customer. He took the bait and signed on for one himself.

This was my chance to pay him back for all those years of being somewhat less than affable, in a good-natured way of course. Spice chests are known for their secret compartments. These wouldn't be the first secret drawers I'd ever made, but this was my chance to show off how far my skills had progressed. I planned the complex series of locking mechanisms that eventually led to an entire bank of hidden drawers. The best part of the scheme was that he didn't even know spice chests were well-known for their secret compartments.

It's Not Wasted Space If You Use It

Most furniture forms will accommodate a hidden compartment or secret drawer somewhere. A few forms have had them with fair regularity such as spice chests, fall-front desks and blanket chests. Throughout the ages, craftsmen have tried to take advantage of the "wasted" space occupied by structural elements and mouldings by including a hidden compartment or secret drawer.

If you've ever actually opened a secret compartment on a period piece of furniture, you probably noticed they generally aren't meant to hold very large secrets. In fact, most secret drawers are so small as to seem fairly useless. So why, then, did all those period furniture makers invest so much time in creating them? Why do they still fascinate us today? The answer is simple: They're just plain fun.

As a cabinetmaker, they're fun to plan and execute. Having seen my clients poke and prod their furniture in search of the locking mechanism that would reveal the secret, I can tell you they're even more fun after they're complete.

Historical Perspective

For thousands of years people have been making secret compartments. We've all seen the movie where the hero dusts off a decorative element then carefully twists that element to engage some sort of mechanical

Payback is fun. Spice boxes and chests, especially those from Chester County, Pa., are renowned for secret drawers and compartments. This chest, a good-natured payback to a crotchety lumber dealer, is loaded with secrets.

lock that allows the hidden compartment to spring open. The thing that fascinates us about hidden compartments is the ingenuity of the creator. It's the little bit of mystery, the puzzle to be solved to achieve the goal.

From the viewpoint of the maker there's the challenge of creating a compartment that's so carefully hidden, with a locking mechanism that is so creative, that the secrets contained within are secure from all but those who know how the lock works.

It's that cleverness that has kept the popularity of the secret compartment alive amongst the builders and users of furniture for all these years. When we look at secret compartments historically, we discover that they were never more popular than during the 18th century - the Age of Enlightenment. People then, as now, had a fascination with

the latest technology. For them, it wasn't electronics, it was things mechanical. This interest in mechanical, mathematical and scientific thought permeated many aspects of their lives. Tall case, or grandfather, clocks were an example of that interest. They were mechanical in that they were a machine and scientific in that they precisely kept the time.

Know Where To Look

And people carried this mechanical interest into their furniture. When we examine period pieces we find hidden compartments in every imaginable type of furniture and in some of the most imaginative places in those pieces. There are examples of the decorative valances of the pigeonholes of a fall-front desk being made into small drawers.

You find panels on the front of tills in blanket chests that slide open to reveal hidden drawers; backboards that drop down or pivot out to reveal compartments; hollow dividers that create small spaces for drawers; table and chair aprons that hide drawers. Removable dividers and spring-loaded push buttons - these are just some of the different secrets that have been incorporated into furniture over the years.

When one looks at the locking mechanisms used in these early pieces you find that cabinetmakers primarily used their cleverness in combining simple locks rather than inventing new, complex systems for keeping their compartments closed. In an early 18th-century highboy I copied, the crown moulding conceals a hidden lace drawer. Part of the crown is actually the drawer front. This is a fairly typical place for a hidden drawer in an early highboy.

If this secret drawer design had a locking mechanism, it would have most likely been

Inside the spice chest. Ingenuity positioned these secret compartments at the rear of a sliding divider. Not many would think to remove a portion of the interior to make such a discovery.

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