Reproduction of Ebony Drawer Pulls from Culbertson Cabinet Restoration

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By: Jack Ipekjian

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Original Drawer Pull

The large breakfront cabinet that ICW restored for the Culbertson House has nine drawers in its center section. The turned drawer pulls are made of ebony with oak inlay and are nicely carved with a wrapped ribbon motif. Of those nine, four pulls were missing and had been replaced with pulls made of pine, painted black, and lacked the carving or inlay.

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Non-original pine pulls

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I gladly accepted the task of reproducing the four missing pulls. Despite growing up seeing the reproductions that my dad has made, this was my first experience trying to replicate something. Interestingly, it requires a set of skills that go beyond successful execution of woodworking technique. The best analogy I can use to describe the experience is that it is like trying to copy a painter's brushstrokes. In addition to making sure that dimensions and profiles matched, I also tried to capture the subtle details of the carving. In the end, I know my pulls are not carbon copies, but I hope they meet the standard and capture the spirit of Charles' design. If nothing else, I know they will function at opening and closing the drawers.

The Process

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My dad has what I have come to learn is an unusually large collection of ebony lumber. The pulls came out of material that started about 1" thick. 

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I probably should have taken more photos throughout the process, but anyone who understands the basics of turning will get the gist of the steps involved.

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Ebony turns very nicely. Of course tools must be sharp and if there are any little fractures in the wood, the turning is prone to cracking apart. One turning did break on me but these blanks are large (by ebony's standards) and will surely find another use.

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The original pulls are affixed to the drawers with a machine screw which is hidden from the front by the inlay. This made it pretty easy to attach the blanks to the faceplate and also for when it came time to do the carving. 

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I tried several different ways of laying out the wrapped ribbon design. Ultimately, I found it easiest to draw on the design by eye rather than trying to transfer lines from the original. Interestingly, ebony is so dense that pencil lines rub off really easily. After I laid out my points, I incised them with a skew chisel so that they didn't rub off while handling the piece. 

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I began the carving by creating the negative space between the ribbon. 

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I know some carving purists believe that all carving should be done with chisels. However, I performed much of the shaping of the ribbon with small riffler files (some of which actually belonged to Charles). 

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After completing the carving, I glued in the oak for the inlay screw cap. Of course it was 7/16" in diameter. Not 3/8" or 1/2", but 7/16". Had to buy a new plug cutter for that one. My dad suggested I make the projection of the oak plugs equidistant before starting the carving. Fortunately he has an old machine lathe, so I used that. 

Next I carved the oak plugs.

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After the carving, I mounted the pulls back in the wood lathe, gave them a polish with steel wool, and then put some finish on them.

Here is the original with my four reproductions

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And here they are installed and back home.

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