Hand Tools Archive

American vs British Cockbeading Smack Down *PIC*

Bill Tindall, E.Tn.
American vs British Cock Bead Smack Down

PIC drawer with cock beading

The picture shows a cock beaded drawer. The cock bead is the more or less half round molding that frames the drawer face. It has an engineering purpose. It covers and protects the fragile edge of the drawer face veneer. Without this protection the veneer edges will eventually chip as evidenced in old drawers that failed to include a cock bead edge. It serves a secondary purpose of providing visual framing for the drawer front. A drawer set into a table skirt or chest of drawers looks markedly different when cock beaded, usually for the better to my eye.

PIC top cock bead

Pic partial bottom cock bead

The cock bead on the top edge of the drawer covers this edge entirely to provide a uniform appearance to this surface. The side cock beading is more narrow so as to not cover, and/or weaken, the dovetails. Sometime in the Mesozoic era drifting tectonic plates split America from Britton and with it split the approach as to what to do with the bottom drawer edge cock bead.

PIC 4 top and bottom full bead

In America the bottom is treated as the top with a full cock bead .While my experience is limited, every English antique I have ever seen in the Shelbyville gallery has a partial cock bead on the bottom the same width as the sides. A partial cock bead on the bottom is shown in Picture 3. This mistake has been repeated for two centuries according to the geological record of the gallery pieces.

The recent discussion (8/25/2013, I don’t know how to link) of these differences that occurred here on WoodCentral failed to reveal any practical reason to choose one approach vs the other. I have always cock beaded the way I was taught in the Headley shop- a full cock bead on the bottom.

However, on a recent shallow drawer where I was trying to squeeze every bit of useful drawer height I could from the design I discovered an engineering consideration that could lead one to consider the British approach. The partial bottom cock bead does not remove material below the groove for the drawer bottom. One could argue that gluing the cock bead refills the drawer front material removed so it doesn’t matter. For now let us accept that the British approach has this engineering advantage in certain situations. How about ease of execution?

Ease of execution could depend on how the material is removed from the drawer to create that space for the cock bead, and the style of drawer. For a straight drawer front it is a matter of whether it is easier to remove the material from the entire thickness of the drawer or easier to create a rabbet for the partial cock bead. If removing with a power saw the answer seems obvious. Being already set up to do the top edge the bottom edge is effortlessly done the same.

In the case of a drawer with some shape- arced, serpentine, etc.- the difference becomes substantial. Instead of simply mowing off the cock bead thickness from all the drawer bottom thickness by plane or saw, the profile of the cock bead must be scribed to the drawer’s bottom edge and the mating profile scribed on the cock bead stock. Then the rabbet must be excavated by some means that seems to be assured of being more tedious than removing material from the entire edge. But that is not the end of the greater inconvenience. The narrow cock bead that will fit this rabbet becomes frail. Scratching the half round profile on this partially cross grained piece becomes worrisome.

PIC cock bead rabbet

I summary, if a full cock bead is used top and bottom the set up to do the top cock bead is simply replicated for the bottom. The simplicity of this American approach seems compelling. In a normal sized drawer, the potential weakening of the drawer groove is easily compensated by locating it 1/16” higher.

However, I have come to believe that woodworkers do what they do for good reason. The British approach to cock beading used for centuries must have some advantage I have failed to discover. So let’s hear it from across the Atlantic rift, or down under. Why does your way make sense?

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