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Laburnum source (now resolved thanks).

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AJB Temple

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As a (very rare) paid job I have been asked if I will make a chair out of Laburnum. There is no rush. It is to replace one of a pair of 17th century laburnum chairs, one of which was very badly damaged in a fire (and which will be given to me as a template in due course).

For reference it is a Gothic arch back chair that looks a bit like this but quite a bit simpler and somewhat earlier. (This pic borrowed from Pegs & Tails excellent site as I was hunting around for examples in the hope of finding a construction plan).

Laburnum chair.jpg

I have had a scoot around on-line to find a source of Laburnum in suitable dimensions (I can laminate to make the legs) but have drawn a blank on stock, even though some of my usual places list it. We don't know whether the original is common or alpine and so don't really mind which of the two variants. If anyone knows a source who has or may have stock over the next 3 months, please let me know.

PS: I am not doing the finishing, that will be done by an antique restorer. The chair was quite an important piece in its setting and the owner (a historical trust that I am peripherally associated with) was quoted a sum of several thousand pounds to replicate the original. I am not an expert chair maker but I have made a number of ornate chairs over the years. Finding wood is the first hurdle. I will be making a trial run out of oak for myself and to template.

Thanks, Adrian
 
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Cabinetman

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Hi Adrian, A nice project to get your teeth into. I would just caution you though that I think they will be expecting the curved parts to be bent rather than laminated.
Not often you see a chair with three splats, and I’ve never seen one with splats up to the chair arms before. A very nice piece indeed, the only bit that would really make me scratch my head are the cabriole legs.
I did a Windsor chair making course once and learnt a great deal, my thought is that you ought to be finding a laburnum tree and splitting it down to make the various parts of, rough them out with a large tolerance and then as I mentioned in another post on steam bending, put the parts in a polythene cabinet with a dehumidifier, some parts you could dry overnight, other parts I would go a bit more slowly. You could very easily steam bend the green timber and hold it in place with a length of string and into the cabinet with the rest of it. Ian. Please PM me if you want any details
 

Phil Pascoe

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I think if I were to have a trial run I'd find something more similar to laburnum than oak - beech, maybe? Oak is much coarser than laburnum and might give you headaches you wouldn't have come across with a wood more like it. (I know you have oak in plenty :). )
 

custard

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Hello Adrian. Laburnum isn't a commercial timber, in other words it's not listed by the big wholesalers and importers, so the only sources tend to be small, traditional timber yards that source wood from local tree surgeons, and who may have removed an ornamental Laburnum.

I was about to direct you to Capital Crispin, the veneer merchant, as I'm sure I've bought Laburnum veneer from them in the past. However, when I checked just now they had none listed, but a phone call might turn up some residual stock they've got tucked away.

Another possibility is a request on a tree surgeons/small woodlands owners forum. For the life of me I can't remember the name but search and you may find it. The forum I'm thinking off has a regular section where you can post for specialist timbers you're looking for. i've used it several times and although it can take a few months I've managed to find some real rarities, the only problem is that it's often a case of "all geese are swans", and these guys can somewhat overstate the quality of what they've got! Also, be aware that there's a small restorer's market for Laburnum veneer oysters, but these are cut from branch wood which is no good for your purposes, so check that's not what's on offer.

Finally I do have a small stock of Laburnum. I make a few Arts & Crafts pieces, and Laburnum and Holly is a traditional A&C banding combination (apart from Bog Oak they're the lightest and darkest British timbers, so were often used by the A&C movement for stringing etc). I won't have enough for an entire chair, but if you need a few small samples to see if you can copy the effect using other timbers then I'll be happy to give you some.

Finally Laburnum is very interesting in another respect. It darkens with exposure to UV light, fruitwoods often darken in a similar manner, but Laburnum takes this to quite extreme levels. Here's a test I ran on some of my own Laburnum, I deep ripped a board and kept one side in the dark. But the other side was placed in a south facing window. After just a few weeks here's the difference!

Laburnum-UV-darkens.jpg
 
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Cabinetman

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As Custard says, ring around all the local tree surgeons, it’s quite a common garden tree and if you put a bounty on its head I’m sure they will come up with some for you, probably lucky that you have a few months!
If you are steam bending it’s better to have the wood split rather than milled as then the grain will follow through the wood. Ian
 

AJB Temple

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As ever on this forum, everyone has been super helpful. I have never even seen planks of laburnum before. It must have been commonly used at one time as it was fairly frequently seen on high quality antique furniture.

I am doing this as a favour, so I will set one of the trustees to work on ringing round the tree surgeons in Kent. I only really notice laburnum when it is in flower and although it was quite common in Warwickshire where I come from, I can only think of one tree in my area.

Thanks for the comment about bending. They have not provided me with the damaged chair yet. I had just assumed that they probably carved the legs from a larger piece or laminated. Oak is my preferred stuff for trial runs as I have stacks of it, but I also have a bit of ash lying about somewhere so I can try bending that, or just buy some beech.

There is no great hurry as the chair is a display piece in a house open to the public sometimes, and it will not really matter if it takes a year. I will make the trial piece over the Christmas break probably and that can go on display until we source the correct materials. It is possible that I might be able to salvage some parts of the fire damaged piece.

Custard - that is a super kind offer and I will take you up on it please. a tiny sample would be helpful and I can discuss it with the trustees. Do you still have my address? It has not changed since the last time you kindly sent me some stuff.

Thanks everyone, Adrian
 

AndyT

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I've got one little chunk of laburnum, big enough to make a tiny box from one day. No use unless you wanted a doll's house chair. But it came from MAC Timbers, who are the sort of yard who deal in one-offs and unusual timbers. So there's a chance that they might have some. Worth a phone call to Mike - it's not the sort of place where everything is on a faceless database.

 

Blackswanwood

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Adrian, you may have already tried them but if not Exotic Hardwoods in Staffordshire may be worth a call. I would wager a shilling that when I was there at the start of the year they were selling some rather large laburnum turning blanks.
 

custard

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Adrian, the web site I mentioned is WoodLots on the WoodNet site, anyone can post a "timber wanted" request,


I had a think about what timber might be a possible substitute, reading from left to right this is flat sawn Laburnum, quarter sawn Laburnum, and quarter sawn Sonokoling Rosewood.

Laburnum-flatLaburnum-quarterSonokeling-quarter.jpg


Sonokoling is different from the original Indian Rosewood, in that even though it's the same genetic source it's plantation grown, mainly in Indonesia, in different soil, at lower altitudes, and in a different climate. It's less dense, less oily, and lighter than the original, but it's not a million miles away from Laburnum! Warmer in tone (Laburnum has a very slight green tinge), but that's easily fixed. More importantly it has similar grain pores, grain structure, and chatoyance.

Anyhow, drop me a PM with your address and I'll put all of these and some other samples in an envelope.
 

Droogs

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I know it is a bit far (but they will courier) I would suggest you try Lanarkshire Hardwoods.


They specialize in getting timbers from private estates etc and I know for a fact that they had laburnum in stock towrds the end of last year
 

AJB Temple

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Thanks Custard, PM sent. Super helpful of you.

Thanks for supply suggestions gentlemen. I have got one firm getting back to me. Turning blanks seem readily available, some veneers in small pieces, but not suitable boards so far.
 

AJB Temple

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How do you actually know it is laburnum, Adrian?
Hmmm. Good question Mike. The trustees have told me it is Laburnum. I am not familiar enough to identify it myself, and it is a year since I last saw these chairs and never paid them that much close attention. The furniture collection is professionally catalogued though and for many items they have the original bill of sale as not much furniture has ever left the house apparently. I doubt that they would just assume it is Laburnum - more likely to assume it is a much more common wood like walnut or elm. I know they have a set of elm dining chairs for example.

Adrian
 

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Adrian, I followed up your link to Pegs an Tails and found a listing at Bonhams for chairs similar to the picture you have posted, if its of relevance, link: Bonhams
 

AJB Temple

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Thanks HOJ. That is a very interesting link. Those chairs are quite ornate and the use of multiple wood species is interesting (and not surprising. I am aware that there is debate in antiques circles about how the top of the arch should be made. I will obviously have to follow the original as exactly as I can. Sold price of £22,500 plus premiums for the pair is very interesting. This may explain the quote the trust received for making a reproduction.

I have had a think this afternoon, and I am inclined to suggest to the trustees that if any of the original chair is salvageable, then I should retain it and make a repair out of newly made pieces, possibly with different wood (per Custard's ideas) such that the repair can be differentiated from the original.

I may well go and inspect it before I embark on purchasing wood.

I have also decided that if I can get enough Laburnum or similar, I will make the prototype out of that as well as the "client" piece. I will keep the prototype.

I've been asked not to specify the location or post pictures on here for copyright and security reasons, which is a shame as I was hoping it would make a nice restoration thread and show that I can actually make stuff that does not involve huge lumps of oak! I have made clear the thread is about timber sourcing primarily.

Adrian
 

AJB Temple

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OK, the plot thickens. I've now been sent a scan of the original bill of sale and what it actually says is "4 armchairs in modern style of laburnum & other woodstock". Dated 8 January 1740. So IF these are the same chairs, two are missing. On the same bill of sale are 8 stools in elm, 2 benches in oak, and 12 "strait" (whatever that means) dining chairs in elm and yew.

My guess is that when I get to inspect these in detail, the seats will be elm and the leg braces may well be Yew. That seems quite usual for construction at the time. If they are all Laburnum then they will be very rare indeed.

This picture is as close as I dare post to the actual remaining chairs.

chairs.png
 
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marcros

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wide boards of elm could be a challenge to source too, although Scotland may have some.
 
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