Monthly Archives: August 2015

Gladstone’s Library: a cabinetmaker’s perspective

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Gladstone's Library, Hawarden, Flintshire, Wales.

Gladstone’s Library, Hawarden, Flintshire, Wales.

William Gladstone (1809–1898), was a British Liberal statesman and politician and served as Prime Minister four times. He funded the building of this library in 1895, and his family completed construction in 1906. Originally named St. Deiniol’s Library, it is Britain’s largest residential library and is located in Hawarden, Flintshire, Wales. I have the good fortune to spend a week here. The library is in the wing on the left, while the rest of the building contains offices, guest rooms, a lounge, dinning room and kitchen.

Main entrance to the library.

Main entrance to the library.

“Adiuvet Deus Misericors.” This is the inscription carved in stone over the entrance of Gladstone’s Library: “Merciful God, help us”. This massive door is made from English oak and features iron fasteners, latches, locks and strap hinges.  On the left hand side, you can see the vertically mounted letter slot.

A partial view of the mezzanine which wraps around the ground floor and of the roof support framing.

A partial view of the mezzanine which wraps around the ground floor and of the roof support framing.

The library’s interior is constructed largely of English oak, and much of it is quarter sawn. This provides greater dimensional stability than flat sawn lumber. Quarter sawn oak reveals a grain pattern unique to oak and was popularized by the Arts and Crafts movement furniture which flourished between between 1880 – 1910.

The roof is supported by post and beam framing. Here's is a view of the collar ties (the engraved horizontal frame members) and the arched braces, which are joined and bolted together.

The roof is supported by post and beam framing. Here’s is a view of the collar ties (the engraved horizontal frame members) and the arched braces, which are joined and bolted together.

The library has two levels: a full first floor and a second floor mezzanine built around the four sides with the center open to below. Today, the post and beam framing remains a popular construction option for houses as well as barns.

In this view, you can see the post, arched braces, collar and purlin, the longitudinal, horizontal member which supports the roof.

In this view, you can see the post, arched braces, collar and purlin, the longitudinal, horizontal member which supports the roof.

The construction relies on liberal use of mortise and tenon joinery to connect frame members. The arches shown feature a simple scarf joint and gain additional strength from the iron bolts fastened thru and thru. Constructing the arch from two pieces rather than one means there is more straight grain wood in the area of greatest weakness.

A view of the stairs from the ground floor to the mezzanine.

A view of the stairs from the ground floor to the mezzanine.

The wrap-around stairs are built into the corners and save space.  The only metal fasteners used in construction tie the treads and risers together and are visible on the underside of the staircase. The rope railing adds a nautical touch.

A closer look at the stair framing.

A closer look at the stair framing.

Each of these arch supports was cut by hand, then cleaned up with a spokeshave and a plane to achieve the correct angles.

One of the many library fireplaces.

One of the many library fireplaces.

For safety reasons, the fireplaces are no longer used, though they provide a decorative touch. This one features an oak mantle, marble insert , firebrick facing and cast iron open firebox.

A close-up view of a cabinet door above the fireplace mantle. The star pattern in the thru relief carving shows up in many places in the library.

A close-up view of a cabinet door above the fireplace mantle. The star pattern in the thru relief carving shows up in many places in the library.

The relief carving of the scrolls contains tool marks which provide ample evidence of  the  considerable amount handwork which went into it.

A door to one of the reading rooms. This one leads to the library's collection of books about Islam.

A door to one of the reading rooms. This one leads to the library’s collection of books about Islam.

The doors feature frame and panel construction and the frame members all feature a grooving pattern repeated throughout the library. The doors frames are integrated with the wainscoting. This door swings open and closed without a sound.

A view of a service entrance door next to a stairwell featuring framed paneling.

A view of a service entrance door next to a stairwell featuring framed paneling.

In the door panels, you can see the characteristic highlights revealed in quarter sawn oak. The spring closer is a modern touch.

An interior view of another entry door fitted in a stone frame.

An interior view of another entry door fitted in a stone frame.

This is another oak door with a large and ornate locking mechanism.

Gladstone's Library has a large Shakespeare collection. Here's the title page of an interesting book published in 1838.

Gladstone’s Library has a large Shakespeare collection. Here’s the title page of an interesting book published in 1838.

I am pretty sure this one is out of print, and to tell you the truth, until I chanced upon this slender volume, I had never considered Shakespeare’s use of insects in his plays. Quite a fascinating perspective!

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