This section is from the book "Spons' Mechanics' Own Book: A Manual For Handicraftsmen And Amateurs", by Edward Spon. Also available from Amazon: Spons' Mechanics' Own Book.
The art of "cabinet-making" is usually divided into two classes - "carcase work," embracing the production of articles of chest-like form, such as book-cases, etc., and "chair work," comprising not only chairs and their substitutes but also tables. In point of fact, it is merely joinery of a superior description, working with finer tools on more costly woods, and producing more sightly effects. The subject may be conveniently discussed under the several heads of woods, tools, and veneering, concluding with a few examples in both carcase and chair work.
Most woods have already been described more or less fully under Carpentry, especially concerning their sources and qualities; repetition will be avoided by making cross-references to particular pages, and only points specially interesting to the cabinet-maker will be noted here. The woods in ordinary use are named below in alphabetic order.
Amboyna: the beautifully mottled wood of Pterospermum indicum, a native of India.
Apple: inferior in all respects to pear.
Ash : see p. 127.
Beefwood: a common name for the woods of the Casuarinas, described on p. 141.
Birch : see p. 128. The black or cherry kind is most esteemed, and is largely used for plain furniture. It is harder than mahogany, and often occurs beautifully figured (then called "mahogany birch"; such figured pieces are cut into veneers, but only adapted for the caul and hand-screw process, on account of the tendency to swell and shrink on wetting.
Box: see p. 129. Twists and splits in working, if not well seasoned.
Camphor : has an excellent effect when worked into small articles.
Canary: the wood of an Indian tree, Persea indica
Cedar : see p. 130.
Cherry : much used by cabinet-makers and musical instrument makers, especially in France.
Ebony: seep. 132. Has a tendency to split and exfoliate. Very expensive.
Kingwood.' a scarce wood imported in sticks 5 ft. long from Brazil; apparently related to rosewood.
Lime : has a butter-like hue, and is easy to work.
Locust-wood: see p. 136.
Mahogany: see p. 136. Cabinet-makers distinguish 3 kinds - Spanish, Cuban, and Honduras, esteemed in the order quoted. Spanish is known by its hard, close grain, and variously mottled figure. The rarest mottle is "peacock," something like birds'-eye maple. Of ordinary kinds, "stop" mottle is most admired, a light and dark figure being produced by waves of grain breaking up and running into each other. In " fiddle " mottle, the waves run across in nearly regular lines. In the figure called "breek," "curl," or "curb," the light and dark shades slope away from the centre; veneers of this are liable to contract a number of little cracks in time. The Cuban wood is less handsome in figure, lustre, and colour, and therefore employed in large veneers as a cheaper substitute for Spanish, also in solid work. Honduras (called Bay) wood has little artistic value, but is esteemed for the solid parts of work intended to carry veneer, being straight-grained and free from warping and shrinking. These qualities render mahogany a favourite wood in cabinet-making, another great advantage being its immunity from decay and worms.
Maple: see p. 138. The best figured birds'-eye maple is cut into veneers.
Oak : see p. 140. Oak has little beauty for furniture-making unless it is judiciously cut so as to exhibit the " champ " or silver grain to the best advantage (see p. 178) This champ is better marked in Riga than in English oak, and the former is also a more easily worked wood, consequently it is preferred for this particular purpose, though somewhat less strong and durable.
Partridgewood: a name applied to the wood of several South American trees.
Pear : see p. 141. Takes a black stain well, and often replaces ebony.
Pine: see p. 144. The American pine, commonly called Weymouth or white pine in this country, is best 'suited for cabinet-making purposes, and forms the ground for nearly all veneered and hidden work.
Plane: see p. 145.
Rose: see p. 147. The best comes from Rio de Janeiro, and emits an agreeable odour. It is hard, heavy, and dark-coloured.
Sandal: chiefly esteemed for its fragrance.
Satin : see p. 147. Used infancy articles. Has a peculiar lustre and fragrant odour.
Teal: see p. 149.
Tulip : see p. 150. Used for inlaying and marqueterie work.
Walnut: see p. 150. This wood is very popular both for solid work and veneering. The species common to Europe and Asia affords the best wood; that native of America gives a "black" kind used as a cheaper substitute. Walnut contrasts well with lighter woods, as birds'-eye maple, ash, and satinwood, and lends itself to most delicate ornamental work.
Zebrawood: a name given to a beautiful furniture wood obtained in British Guiana from the hyawabolly (Omphalobium Lamberti).
In addition there are many excellent cabinet-making woods produced in our tropical colonies about which little or nothing is known in this country.