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Field test

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Like many woodworkers, I delight in re-creating furniture and other objects using only a photograph of the original piece as a guide. I’ve discovered a valuable second step to the process.

I recently completed a book of projects based on Civil War items. One project in the book is an officer’s high-backed folding camp chair, and I was lucky enough to find three Library of Congress photos of the chair taken during the same session in 1863. Each photo was from a slightly different angle, allowing me to examine the chair in detail.

The chair turned out very nice, but this past weekend I got a chance to test it out in the field: I took it to a Civil War reenactment and showed it off at the camp of the artillery unit I belong to, and got rave reviews from my fellows. More importantly, I was able to set it up and photograph it in a very similar setting to the original photos, using a reenactor buddy as a model. Comparing those shots with the original photos once I got back home, I was very pleased with the results. With a few slight differences, it looked like the same chair.

My version came out a bit taller – maybe 3” or so higher than the original – and the curve at the top of the headrest on my version is a bit softer than the original, but it looks like I got every other dimension, including those of the materials and stock I used, right on the money. The original chair was missing an armrest, but extrapolating from a partial view of the remaining armrest I was able to re-create the missing one.

I know many of you also enjoy making reproductions from photos. While you may not have the ability as I did, being a Civil War reenactor, to set the finished piece up in the same setting as an original, I suggest you try to get close with your own work. Use that original photo or photos to get the angles as close as possible, get out your camera, and start snapping away.

I learned a lot from the photos I took on Saturday. And although I’m very satisfied with the finished chair, the entire process will allow me to do a better job the next time I try to bring a photo to life in my shop.

Till next time,


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