Historical Information

2000-2001  Stephen A. Shepherd

All Rights Reserved

May not be reproduced in any form, written or electronic, without permission.

Index of Historical information

Gums& Resins  

Historic Pigments & Dyes  

Glues, Adhesives and Cements  

Patent Dates  

Nineteenth Century Pioneer Cabinet Shop

 For more information see Alburnam's Archive.


  Historic Gums & Resins

The following is a list of gums and resins traditionally used in furniture finishes. They are all natural exudation from either trees, the fruits of trees or from parasitic insects that feed on trees. It seems appropriate that they also produce the best finishes for wood. The color, density, hardness, brittleness and durability range greatly. Some are soluble with single solvents while others can be solved with several solvents. The dates in parentheses are earliest recorded date of first use.

Amber (14c) Fossilized tree pitch, usually from evergreens, does not yellow. Baltic amber is the most common. The hardest natural resin known. Can be solved with turpentine and some can be solved in alcohol. Un-dissolved collections in the bottom of the mixing containers should be remove, dried out and solved with another solvent. An ingredient in the finest varnishes. From dark, to red, to orange, to pale, to white or clear. Lumps and powder.

Ammoniacum (14c) Gum Ammoniac, a gum resin from an Umbellifera, Dorema ammoniacum. Yellow to white brittle gum. Soluble in alcohol or water, should be warmed. Porcelain cement.

Arabic (15c) Gum Senegal, Gum Acacia is a water soluble from the Acacia trees. Excellent for gold leaf application, can be mixed with rabbit skin, parchment or other glues. Good base for water colors.

Balsam (12c) Canadian, this hard resin is from evergreen trees and vary from clear to yellow. Known for its optical properties, very clear. Medicinal properties, good incense. Solvents: Turpentine and Alcohol. Tears, powdered or liquid.

Benjamin (1571) Gum Benzoin, generally yellowish balsamic resin occurs from pink to light blue is hard and alcohol soluble. Excellent resin for fine varnish, Siam gum (pink) is a valued incense. Has properties. Should be mixed with other resins. Lumps, powdered and tears.

Burgundy Pitch Obscure varnish ingredients used in the nineteenth century from the pitch of the Norway spruce. White Burgundy pitch was used in a paint recipe ca.1815.

Catechu (1683) Resinous extract from Acacia catechu: leaves and twigs. Lacquer and varnish ingredient. Soluble in water and alcohol. Japonica, Terra Japonica, Gambir.

Colophony (14c) Rosin is a byproduct of turpentine distillation or pitch evaporation. Used in varnish manufacture. Too brittle to be used alone but will catalyze to the hardest resin in the mixture, weathers well. Soluble in alcohol or turpentine. Broken chunks to powder. This is the material with which you rosin up your bow.

Copal (1577) Resins, new or fossil from various tropical trees. Hard, dense resin, clear to light yellow. Excellent optical qualities and is durable in the weather. Soluble in turpentine and linseed oil and alcohol. Hard copals are called Kaurie and soft copals are grouped and called Anime (animi). Excellent for cements. Kauries are difficult to solve. Available in all forms: tears lumps, powder, liquid, etc.

Dammar (15c) Damar is a clear to yellow, hard resin from various conifer trees. Excellent for fine art varnish, not very durable. Soluble in alcohol or turpentine, solves with turpentine even after drying. Granules or powder. Yellows on exposure to UV, and will eventually yellow anyway.

Dragons Blood (14c) A deep red resinous gum exudation of the fruits of a rattan palm. Soluble with alcohol or water. Makes an excellent varnish, can be extended with less expensive gums and resins. Prized incense and smells delightful when being applied as a varnish. Available in reeds, cakes or pieces. Decant the lees.

Elemi (1837) Gum elemi, resin elemi, from tropical trees of the Burseraceae family, used for ink, cement, varnish and lacquer. Very pleasant odor, repels insects. Quickly soluble in (warm) alcohol and soluble in turpentine, insoluble in water. Soft and must be mixed with harder gums and resins. Available in sticky lumps. Gumbo limbo.

Gamboge (1712) A gum colored from orange to brown from the Asian tree (Garcinia spp.) Transparent, used for aging and coloring gilding and watercolors. Considered a premium gum, usually commands a high price. Soluble in water or alcohol.

Lac (1688) Japan Wax (1859), Japanese Lacquer, Chinese Lacquer (1592) is the fat sap or milky juice of the berries of Rhus vernicifera or R. succedanea, Asian sumacs, Varnish Tree (1758). This is how the beautiful Oriental Lacquer is accomplished. Authorities say that this is the only true ""lacquer"" Soluble in warm alcohol. Urushi.

Mastic (14c) European tree (Pistacia spp.) of the sumac family producing a thick flexible gum. High quality varnish suitable for fine art and photographic touch up. Soluble in alcohol or turpentine. Cement ingredient. (Cyprian turpentine).

Sandarac (14c) From Callitris spp. From a conifer is a translucent hard but brittle resin for incense and varnish. Alcohol or turpentine soluble. Produces a high shine and comes in light yellow to clear, few inclusions. Excellent for cements and available in tears, must be strained or decanted.

Shellac (1713) Known since the 15th century. Excrement from Lacca lucifera (or Lucifera lacca), a parasitic bug living on an Asian fig tree. Collected, cleaned and sold in stick lac, seed lac, buttons, flakes or ground and solves with alcohol that should be strained. A finish that has not been duplicated synthetically. Introduced to Europe in the early 1700’s and was quickly the vogue. The chief and some say only ingredient in French Polish.

Tragacanth (1573) From Astragalus gummier, a yellowish, expensive gum water soluble (swells to a gel with water). Because of its pharmaceutical use, this is currently the most expensive gum together with amber are currently the most expensive gum on the market. Available in granular and ribbon form.


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  Glues, Adhesives and Cements

This is a description of materials that were traditionally used to attach various materials together. Important distinctions need to be made in order to clarify different properties of the materials.

ADHESIVE - to attach together with another substance, usually introduced between materials and physically attach each different material together.

COHESIVE - to attach together without another substance, usually molecular bonding of materials. This is done with materials that melt or bond materials by slightly dissolving each surface.

GLUE - the substance to attach materials together (adhesive), this material is the physical bond that in its strength holds divergent materials together.

CEMENT - the substance used to attach materials together, this bonding material can act as both a physical bond as well as a chemical bond.

All of these sticking materials are organic in nature and largely unaltered from their original states in nature. These are the materials that have been used for centuries, are still available today and should be used in restoration work to replace exactly the original materials. Other benefits include health considerations, most are a proteinaceous base and quite safe.


OX HIDE Generally considered the finest and strongest of organic glues. This material from rendered down hides of old oxen or cattle, provides the darkest, most durable and possesses the greatest strength. Water soluble, it by itself is not waterproof. Other natural materials can be added to many of the hide glues to make them waterproof. The materials (hide glues) have a shear strength slightly less than that of modern epoxies.

HORSE HIDE Made of horse hides usually provided by slaughter houses. An excellent quality glue, however if younger hides are used the glue will not be as strong as if made from older animals. Does not possess the strength and toughness of ox hide glue. Hooves are sometimes added to hide glue mixtures, although hooves make good glue they are not as strong as straight hide glue.


RABBIT - Made from rendered down rabbit skins, this glue as well as sheep shin or parchment glue could be listed as hide glues but the thinner more delicate nature of the material makes the distinction important. While rabbit skin glue has many applications in fine art and especially gilding, its structural strength is very weak and should not be used for gluing any material under stress.

SHEEP - Sheep skin or parchment glue is also rendered down by boiling the skins in water as with all hide and skin glues. The animal hides or skins are cleaned of their interior membranes and all hair. The hides are allowed to dry, cut into pieces and boiled in water. After a thick accumulation form on the top of the boiling solution, it is collected, dried and broken into usable pieces. Any impurities should be strained before drying.

FISH - in certain applications the skins of fish are rendered down to produce serviceable glues. North American Indians used these glues as well as glues from skins, hooves, horns, sinews and tendons for glue. Generally mixed with pigments and used for painting and decoration of artifacts.


STARCH - many fine glues and adhesive pastes can be made from a variety of natural starches from vegetables. wheat starch is used for wallpaper paste, Rice starch can be used to attach fine papers to other materials, Potato starch is another inexpensive adhesive materials.

GUMS & RESINS - See Gums and Resins


BLOOD - straight fresh blood or dried blood meal can be used by themselves as a glue however they are usually added to other glues as a good protein extender. Many applications including mixing with linseed oil and dirt to form hard dirt floors in cabins, the glue also adding a deep red color to the floor.

FISH FLOAT BLADDERS - especially the float or sound bladders from sturgeon fish. Can be added to hide glues and other glues to provide waterproofing properties. Excellent for gold leaf work as well as structural applications. Russian is the best.

HOOVES - the hooves (feet) of various animals, including horses, cattle, sheep and goats provide an excellent protein based glue. Not considered as strong as hide glue it is frequently used in mucilage and lighter duty glues.

TENDONS & SINEWS - these materials have a substance that hold the long fibers together. This substance is water soluble and can be used for gluing arrow heads and feathers on arrow shafts. Also used as a binder in painting and decorating.

EGGS - the entire egg both white and yoke can be used for light duty gluing. The whites of eggs (albumin) is called "glair" and is insoluble in water after it dries. Many applications including use by the Indians.

CHEESE / MILK - These glues are based upon the substance casein that can be removed from milk or cheese. This is an excellent light duty glue, used especially in fine art applications, although if properly used this glue has great strength.


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  Historic Pigments & Dyes

This is a list of various materials that were traditionally used in furniture and fine art to provide the different colors used in the original manufacture of valued antiques and artifacts. Dyes are indicated with an "*". The dates given in parentheses are the first known used of the particular words for the materials, although the materials may have been used earlier. Fugitive colors fade on exposure. Reactive pigments may or may not change or react to a variety of outside or inside influences.


Spanish Brown (c1800) Red Iron Oxide imported from Spain. The deposits of pigment occur nest to the Iron Mines. Excellent opacity an chromatic intensity this traditional ‘barn red’ pigment can be manipulated. Red Earth.

Venetian Red (1753) A hematite mineral pigment, lighter red pigment mentioned in many early recipes for paints and advertisements for pigments.

Indian Red (1750) Yellowish red earth pigments varies to reddish brown, from India and Persia.

Turkey Red (1789) Iron oxide pigment, similar to Venetian red, darker and more intense.

Cochineal* (1583) This red dyes comes from a cactus feeding beetle, usually from Mexico. It takes 7000 bodies (abdomens) per pound.

Alkanet Root* (14c) Purple red dye and stain from Alkanna tinctoria, of the borage family. Used exclusively with linseed oil and especially suited for mahogany. Both stains and chemically changes mahogany. Fugitive and reactive with certain woods.

Terra de Sienna (1787) This material becomes reddish brown when cooked (burnt, calcined) and yellowish brown when in a raw or uncooked (unprocessed) state.

Red Lead (1732) Called Minium, heated or burnt white lead turns to red lead (lead oxide), base for mahogany graining with excellent opacity. POISON

Vermilion 14c) Called Cinnabar this material is an orange red mercury sulfate, used for base coat for mahogany graining and as a base under tortoise shell. POISON

Rose Pink (1825) This is a moderate pink colored earth pigment.

Pernambuco* (1559) Derived from Brazil wood and produces a red purple wood dye. The shavings from the wood are of equal value to the wood itself, which is used for violin bows.

Dragons Blood see Gums & Resins

Red Vitriol* (14c) Iron Sulfate, reactive. POISON


Burnt Umber (1568) Is a manganese and iron oxide, lighter when in raw form and darker when burnt (calcined). One of the most common early pigments.

Van Dyke Brown (1850) This pigment comes from bog earth, peat or lignite base, does not mix well with water or alcohol bases, good for oils and reactive.


Ocher (14c) Ochre is a naturally occurring impure iron earth pigment comes in yellows and less often in red. Yellow ocher can be turned red by calcining.

Chrome Yellow (1819) Lead chromate is a brilliant yellow pigment. POISON

Annatto Seeds* (1629) Yellow to red dyestuff, fugitive.

Litharge (14c) This material is a fused lead monoxide, light yellowish white. POISON

Naples Yellow (17c) Yellow oxide of lead. POISON

Montpelier Yellow (18c) Yellow oxide of lead. POISON

Gamboge see Gums and Resins

Brimstone (12c) Sulfur, Yellow Stone.


Black Iron Oxide (14c) Black, black and does not turn blue when lightened from natural deposits.

Ivory Black (1634) Bone Black from bone or ivory burned (calcined) in the absence of oxygen and is a blue black.

Lamp Black (1598) Is from collections of soot from various carbon producing (based) fuels.

Smalts Black (1558) This pigment is produced from fused sand and coloring agents to produce a brilliant black pigment with optical properties.

Frankfort Black (1815) Imported German black pigment.


Lead Oxide (11c) White lead is made with sheets of pure lead that are exposed to a contained atmosphere of acid vapors, usually acetic acid. Deposits form on the surfaces of the sheets, is scraped off and ready to use. Excellent opacity and adds drying properties to paint and varnishes. Also called Flake White. POISON

Zinc Oxide (1849) When zinc plates are exposed to acid vapors, the residues removed and are ready for use, much safer than white lead it has good opacity.

Titanium Dioxide (1796) Although this pigment was in existence during this early time it was not readily available until the twentieth century, an excellent white pigment.

Talc (1610) Talc is made of powdered soapstone, fibrous magnesium silicate with flat platelets similar to mica.

Whiting (14c) Calcium carbonate or chalk it is used as a filler, flattening agent and paper filler. Mixed with linseed oil to produce putty.

Spanish White (1824) A very fine white grade of whiting, used for gilding base and for marbleizing base coat.

Marble Dust (13c) Powdered white stone marble, used for gilding and scagliola (marbleizing using real stone materials).

Mica (1777) Flat thin leaves of crystallized mineral silicates and has iridescent properties.


Chrome Green (1824) A chromium compound of copper is an excellent green pigment. Not as fugitive as other period green pigments. POISON

Verdigris (14c) Produced from a reaction of copper and acetic acid (copper acetate) and is fugitive. POISON

Green Vitriol* (14c) Sulfate of copper created by a reaction between copper and nitric acid. reactive. POISON

Copperas* (14c) Iron Sulfate, reactive. POISON


Prussian Blue (1724) Ferric ferrocyanide is the bluest blue. Very intense absolutely brilliant blue. Traditionally used to paint the mantles of the Madonna by the masters. Used to paint the interiors of antique furniture especially china cupboards. Also used for architectural coloring, interior and exterior. Can be mixed with yellow ocher to produce a durable green color. Not poison.

Ultra Marine Blue (1598) Is powdered lapis lazuli, semi precious and expensive.

Smalts Blue (1558) Ground fused sand and finely ground cobalt colored glass. Brilliant durable pigment, refractive qualities.

Blue Vitriol* (14c) Sulfate of iron, reactive. POISON

Leads, chromes, cobalts and mercury compounds are deadly poisonous heavy metals. Always use caution when handling, especially their fine dust. Other copper, sulfate and acetate mixtures can also be deadly. Use precaution when handling these hazardous materials. These compounds should be used with binders that are durable and should have varnish or shellac protection over them to prevent them from rubbing off.

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  Patent Dates - Patents were issued prior to 1836, however when the patent office burned down that year and all records lost, numbering was started over at Number 1. British "Light Patent" means that they stole it from the colonies.


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Nineteenth Century Pioneer Cabinet Shop by Stephen A. Shepherd

Nineteenth Century Pioneer Cabinet & Chair Shop

This is an exact twelfth scale model of a mid-nineteenth century pioneer cabinet and chair shop. The Scale is one inch equals one foot (1"=1'). It is based on historical record and everything in the shop has a historic precedence and have been documented. There may be some license in exactly what is included but everything in the model could have been in an original pioneer workshop. The information is obtained from extant buildings, historical architectural records and probate inventories of the period. I wish to thank those people who helped with architectural and technological aspects of this project.

Dave Winburn, a Salt Lake Architect, whose Ph.D. dissertation on Utah Pioneer Adobe structures is a treatise studied by all serious students of history. Dave is also familiar with traditional construction techniques.

Dr. Tom Carter for his advice on building commercial structures in the pioneer era, although it required I redo the foundation and rafters.

Don Enders of the LDS Church Museum of History and Art. Don has done excellent restoration on historic buildings and sites and his work and words were encouraging.

Dan Hartley, Architectural Historian of the Utah State Historical Society gave references to historic buildings and construction details.

S. P. Romney for his input on details and presentation.

Scott Sylvester owner of High Country Cabinets and Woodworking in Park City who helped underwrite the completion of this project.


The plot of ground for this model is 27 1/2 feet wide and 37 1/2 feet deep situated on a small stream at a convenient seasonal water source. The stream is dammed up and the water is diverted from the mill pond to the mill. The water is restricted overnight to fill the pond and the following day the retained water is allowed to flow. Metered at the weir (the head gate) to a constant rate down the wooden flume to the power the mill wheel at a uniform speed to provide continuous power for the powered tools in the shop. The metal grate keeps floating debris from damaging the millworks. The property has a natural slope from the highest point to the lowest of approximately three feet. By damming up the stream an additional three feet of elevation for the water is artificially achieved. This gives the water additional force applied to the mill wheel to provide more power. The potential energy of the water is stored in the mill pond overnight or in a few hours during the increased spring run off. This small mill does not require that much flow in the stream to power the shop. Normal run off would probably power the shop during a typical days use. This provides sufficient 'head' to power the mill. The energy is released (kinetic energy) to power the mill wheel which in turn transfers force to the shop through a series of gears, pulleys, bearings, shafts and belts to deliver this energy to the power tools within the shop. Any excess water in the pond, not used for power is diverted over the spillway, which can be regulated. A drain gate in the bottom of the pond can also be regulated to control the pond level and is used to clean out the silt and deposits as required.

The shop building itself is 15 feet wide, 20 feet deep and 16 feet high to the ridge. It is typical board and batten construction over simple column or post and beam timber framing with knee braces at the corners. The sill is set on cut local stone foundation with simple lime mortar masonry. The length of the sill and rafter plate required end joinery, in this case a pegged scarf joint. Round log rafters, lapped and pegged at the top, held with pegged tie braces and joined to the rafter plate with a birds mouth (birds beak) joint and secured with wooden pegs (trunnels-tree nails). Additional reinforcements of rawhide or rope lashing were used where needed. The roof is of split and shaved cedar shingles (18 inches long) nailed to the lumber sheathing underlayment. Laid in a typical pattern with a 15 inch exposure, the bottom course is doubled and the cap is finished with board battens at the ridge. A four panel man door is typical of the period as are the 6 over 6 light sash windows. A transom window over the man door is to provide extra illumination and ventilation to the shops interior. Double barn doors allow large pieces of furniture and lumber to move through with ease.

The exterior lumber storage shed is constructed to allow air flow around the lumber while the roof keeps direct sunlight from drying the wood too fast, causing checking and other seasoning problems. This outbuilding is made using less sophisticated construction of the main building and demonstrates other techniques. A simple pole building, the posts are placed directly into the ground. Wind braces are added to the corners to strengthen the structure. Pegs, notches and lashing are used join the members. The roof is of typical pioneer construction using boards and battens. The wide boards are placed on the supporting structure and nailed in place. Thin strips of wood called battens are then nailed over the spaces between the boards, causing the water to shed from the roof without leaking through.

Only two sides of the building and half of the roof were finished to show the complete construction details. The other two walls and half of the roof were left unfinished to allow viewing the interior of this shop. This allows access to observations unavailable in any other form.

The exact layout has been altered to include all details within the given size. Traditionally the arrangement of shop, outbuildings, water source may have been further apart than they are depicted here. Everything was moved closer together to economize the space available.

The power to the shop is provided by water. The water diverted by the mill is fed through the sluice to the downspout, that concentrates the force of the water. This is referred to as the head-race. Upon entering the mill box the water strikes the paddles of the mill wheel. Based upon the Poncelette wheel, this mill is a rather typical tub mill or turbine mill. The force and weight of the water hits the blades of the mill and turns the main power shaft. Typically a tub mill is propelled by water flowing over the blades, turning the shaft, it is the weight of the water that turns the tub mill. A turbine mill required water to be forced through a nozzle, striking the blades and that force turns the wheel. This particular wheel uses both turbine and tub principles, not only the force of the water directed through the nozzle striking the blades or paddles which turns the shaft, the weight of the water inside the confined turbine housing also adds to the great power of the water wheel. The tailrace (the outlet of the mill) is on the up stream side of the tub mill to retain and maximize as much force of the water as possible.

The main power shaft has a lantern or pinion gear fashioned from a harder wooden log located on the top of the main shaft. This drives a crown gear that converts the vertical turning to a horizontal motion that will eventually power the shop. There are an odd number of gears in either the lantern or crown gear. This is called a 'hunter' gear or cog that advances one notch every revolution preventing uneven wear due to constant contact of the same tooth to the same gear. The power is transferred into the shop to a large wheel, jack shaft pulley and hand operated idler which acts as a clutch to engage or disengage the external water power to the shop. The power is transferred via belts to operate the turning lathe and the up-down sash saw.

Notice that all of the pulleys have convex surfaces. This is done to make the leather belts track properly. Leather belts tend to climb to the highest part of the pulley. If the highest part in the center then the belts ride in the middle of the pulley. If one of the parts of the millworks malfunctions or a tool jambs, the belts will jump the pulleys acting as a safety feature to prevent further damage or injury. With the moving gears, pulleys, belts and tools powered shops and mills were dangerous and many injuries and fatalities were documented.

In the winter time when the water in the rivers and streams is frozen, an alternative source of energy was the grand wheel. Turned by an apprentice, this can provide internal power to the shops power tools when no external water power is available. A simple jam clutch above the grand wheel engages or disengages the jack shaft as necessary.

The hand tools and other shop accessories are typical of the period and have historical precedence derived from probate inventories and other period sources.

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