I this is probably a dumb question but is it possible or even practical to make ones own furniture from pieces of oak?? VH, to chicken to even sign my name.

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Furniture was customarily made from birch or maple, easier to work and less likely to split.

Doesn’t furniture have to be super square, and unlikely to warp or swell? Is genuine letterpress furniture specially milled somehow? Is it treated in any way?

I don’t think this is a dumb question at all.


Reglet and furniture was originally made with saws made specifically for the purpose. There is no reason that it couldn’t be made with today’s woodworking equipment, as long as a great deal of care was made with the set up. I think the wood was soaked in some kind of finishing oil after cutting (if you leave a newish piece of furniture on a surface it will stain). I have purchased many bundles of reglet and furniture and found a small percentage to be warped and twisted. I assure you that even properly milled furniture will shrink or swell depending on the weather (as will wood type). That is why a lot of printers consider it unreliable and prefer metal furniture.


i’m a rubber stamp maker, when i bought the rubber stamp business there was lots of mounting strips, i cut some down on my printers saw to fill in some of my furniture racks,still use it after 30 years, i think the wood is cherry buy not sure. good luck dick g.

In the hardware store there is a section of wooden dowels. I buy the square dowels that are 3/4” and cut to my preference.

Well, I guess as my old teacher once said
“no question is a dumb question” I mow feel much enlightened, Thanks for the input. Vern

Old, dry, well-seasoned Birch, Maple or Ash - It all depended upon what wood was available according conversations on this subject that I’ve had with Ed Thompson of Thompson Cabinet Company in Luddington, MI. Paraffin oil is used to treat the wood.

White oak is better (tighter grain & harder) than red oak, and how it’s sawn at the mill makes a difference as well.
- Rich Polinski (Front Room Press) can give you the details on that…

If you saw your own, use a new carbide blade, and make sure - make absolutely sure - that the cuts are exactly 90 degrees - no variation is alllowed there. Furniture must be absolutely square. Otherwise, you will have ‘ride-up’ where the furniture - and the form - literally raises up when the form is locked.

Ed may be willing to sell some parafin oil to you - see: http://thompsoncabinet.com/

I have a LOT of old furniture, much of it quite long (120 picas) and perhaps as much as 100 years old - and have only found 5-10 pieces of warped furniture in the mix over the forty-five years I have used it. These guys at Hamilton and Thompson did a great job for many years. Their furniture is still in use all over the country.

Yes, as Paul says, metal is dimensionally stable, which can be important on large form makeup, and also important for doing multi-page or multi-color forms, but for general lock up on a small press, it’s not a big issue. I use both.

I generally lock up forms for my Windmill using metal, but on the hand presses or proof presses, wood is good.

American Printing Equipment still sells new furniture. I sell some of my old furniture in small ‘starter kits’ - cut down from that monster cabinet of long pieces I rescued from an old letterpress shop years ago - and will soon be adding more from Ed’s old stock from Thompson Cabinet Co. He was making new furniture up until just a few years ago, and I will be adding his left-overs to my inventory soon.

- Alan

Alan’s absolutely correct that furniture must be square to lock up properly. Most any hardwood will do though as Alan wrote, birch and maple are perhaps the most common. But cherry, mahogany, and white oak also work. Red oak is too “splintery” in my opinion.

On one level making furniture is not rocket science, it’s basic woodworking and can be done with basic tools though realistically a table saw, jointer, and planer would be the normal minimum. With those machines you could make clean, square and accurate furniture or reglet without much difficulty. Not to mention cutting sticks for the paper cutter.

Wood is a dynamic material and as such shrinks and swells depending on the moisture content of its surrounding environment. It does this proportionate to the size of the piece so that small pieces exhibit less movement than larger ones. Also, it shrinks and swells with the grain and not along the grain. So the width of the piece will change but not the length. However, it is not a monster that will swell up like the Blob or shrink down to the size of a toothpick. Just keep in mind the nature of wood when using it. For example, in a large chase with a small form you will need to be more careful about the wood’s movement because the doubled-up furniture required represents a wider area that will shrink or swell proportionately more than a small chase with few pieces of furniture. But again, unless the locked up form has been standing idle for a while through several day’s change in humidity the movement of the wood should be a problem. In those cases just check the quoins before placeing the chase in the press.

To make the most stable furniture possible use wood with the straightest grain you can find and make sure it is quarter-sawed. I don’t know if many or even any regular manufacturers did this but if you’re making your own there’s no reason not to. Wood with these characteristics is extremely stable in terms of cupping, twisting, etc.

Personally and even as a cabinetmaker I would only make my own furniture to fill out a few gaps I might have in a font. To make a full font in all the different sizes required to a reasonable standard of accuracy, while not difficult, would be time-consuming and fussy. Good, used wooden furniture is readily available and pretty inexpensive. I know Alan has a lot!


Front Room Press
Milford, NJ

I needed some large pieces for a 29” Miller horizontal. I used 3/4” Rock Maple, planed to .625” thick, and cut to size on a Hammond Glider. Apply vegetable or mineral oil liberally to all edges ASAP after cutting to size, to minimize warp, shrink and twist. It was $80 for a planed piece, 10” by 6’, which will net quite a bit of normal sized furniture. Half the cost was planing @ &80/hr half hour minimum.

I have also recycled 12ply AA - from old cutting dies - for smaller furniture. No planing required! But I still coat the pieces with mineral oil.