Do you sign your work? If you don’t, you should consider it, and I’m not just speaking to those selling their work. Signing your working serves many valuable purposes, arguably more so for the amateur or hobbyist furnituremaker. Signing your work establishes a record. Affix a paper label, brand, or a decal with your name, location and year of construction to begin your record. Adding the furniture’s destination allow you to record family history, ownership and/or family lineages.
As a seller of custom, one-of-a-kind furniture, I affix a shopmark to every piece I make for reasons other than those listed above. Consistent with historical shopmarks, which have been around much longer than Arts & Crafts furniture, my shopmark is intended to establish the pride I take in my work, convey the quality I produce, and to distinguish my work from other makers of Arts & Crafts furniture. When practical or requested I will also incorporate information regarding the furniture’s ownership and lineage.
To learn more about Arts & Crafts Shopmarks, including non-furniture shopmarks, a great place to start is Bruce Johnson’s book Arts & Crafts Shopmarks 1895 – 1940 (2012; Knock on Wood Publications; Fletcher, NC). Bruce’s book also serves as an excellent inspirational starting point when designing your shopmark. The furniture chapter lists over 240 shopmarks — nearly half of them paper labels. He also maintains an online archive of shopmarks on his Arts & Crafts Collector website.
My shopmark has always been a paper label. I first learned how to make paper labels from an online article written by Tom Meiller, author of the recently published “Inspiration – Gene Landon and Seven Hearths” and an active member of The Rochester Woodworkers Society. Here’s a reprint of Tom’s article on paper labels:
Paper Labels for Furniture by Tom Meiller
“After seeing several paper labels on Period Furniture in various museum catalogues (e.g. American Furniture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art), I decided I wanted to make my own. I wasn’t sure what the best approach would be. I didn’t want to use my inkjet printer because it just didn’t seem appropriate, and I was concerned about the longevity of the ink. I figured the labels will still need to be there in 2204! I thought about making a wood cut by carving the background on maple end grain, and rolling ink on it. This seemed like a rather long process, and I wasn’t sure how well the small letters would come out.
During a break at Don William’s Shellac workshop, I talked to Don about my dilemma and asked if he had ever done restoration work on 18th century furniture with labels – he had. When I asked how he would go about it today, he suggested using 100% cotton paper, and printing them on a laser printer. The laser printer fuses the carbon black into the paper. He suggested using Elmer’s kid’s gel glue, and then shellacking over it.
After some experimenting, I’ve finalized my label making method. Here are the details:
- Print the labels on a laser printer (I suppose a copier would do the same thing). I used Southworth Exceptional Resume Paper (32 lb., 100% cotton) available at Office Depot.
- Coat the face of the labels with garnet shellac.
- Apply glue to the back of the label. (I used hot hide glue because it seemed most appropriate for me, but I imagine the gel glue would work fine if Don suggested it.)
- Set the label in position and put a piece of clean wax paper over it.
- Use a flat piece of wood and flow the glue out from the center of the label to the edges. The hot hide glue gels quickly. I think this simulates “hammer” veneering.
- Peel off the wax paper.
- Let the glue dry until it is no longer tacky.
- Brush several light coats of garnet shellac over the label.
Since I’m trying to reproduce Period Furniture, I leave the un-exposed sides of surfaces (e.g. underside of table tops) unfinished. The hot hide glue works well. I’m not sure how well it would work on a varnished or oiled surface. I would probably scuff those surfaces first. I based my label on one by John Townsend, as shown in “American Furniture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art”, page 366, item 100.”