till closed

Fitting the till parts inside a joined chest is one of the most time-consuming aspects of making these things. It takes a good deal of test fitting and fussing to get it right. there is a tendency to rush this part, many times I have made tills that I wasn’t happy with in the end. All in the name of impatience.

The sequence I use is to do the bottom first, then the side, then the lid last. I often make the bottoms and sides from white pine, and always make the till lid from oak. Almost always.

Here is a view of the till bottom fitted into notches in the front and rear stiles, and scribed and fitted against the beveled panels and muntin on the chest side. I made a two-part template from matboard, one part scribed to fit the front stile, and one for the rear. Then I overlaid them on the pine board using the muntin notch as a benchmark.

till bottom scribed & cut

The till side is easiest, and I didn’t scribe it to perfectly match the contours of the chest interior, close enough is OK.

For this till lid, I decided to notch the inner corner of the front stile so that the end of the till lid is a square cut, other than the pintle. I sawed and chiseled the notch, and bored the hole for the pintle. This hole is above and tangent to a line struck from the top edge of the till side.

front stile notched for square-ended till lid

For more about cutting tills, here’s an earlier take on the subject. http://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2011/04/07/tills/

Now, this chest has its rear finished face inside the chest.

inside the chest, rear framing


I really like this format, it makes a nice surface in the chest when you’re rooting around in there. And it leaves all the scruffy bits against the wall, where no one sees them. But one challenge in this arrangement is that the rear stiles bump out beyond the back face of the upper rear rail.

rear stile thicker than rear rail

When it comes time to hinge the lid, you need to deal with these stiles. One way around this problem is to make rear stiles that are the same thickness as the rear rails. I have seen English chests do this, but not New England examples. Another way around this is to cut a notch in the top end of each rear stile. Like this: 


We’ll see this again when I install the hinges on this one. This chest is going to get a paneled lid. When I first started reading about 17th-century joined chests, paneled lids in New England work were perceived as being indications of “first-generation” workmen, those trained in old England. That might be so, but it’s a difficult notion to prove. What I can say for certain is that paneled lids take up a great deal of labor. A single-board pine lid is the quickest thing on earth. Plane it, cut it to length and width, and run a thumbnail molding along its perimeter. A multi-board oak lid is a lot of work too, riving and planing usually three long narrow oak boards, edge-jointing them & gluing it up. Then planing it as a whole. 

But the paneled lid is the most labor of all three versions. 

This one requires riving and preparing all those framing parts, cutting the joinery, test-fitting it, drawboring, and then cutting the panels, beveling them, and so on. Maybe those old guys were faster than me…it still takes me more than a day to make this lid I bet.

I saw this announcement from Lie-Nielsen the other day in their newsletter. I almost forgot I shot it!  There’s no carving how-to in this one, it’s how to open the log, rive the stock, plane it, do the joinery, etc…

I guess when you concentrate on 17th-century stuff, that means you go first. So although others shot their discs before me, mine’s out soon. This is the beginning of project-based DVDs for LN. There’s more in their pipeline. Here’s their picture and text.


new video coming

Over the past nine years, we’ve produced woodworking DVDs focused mainly on hand tool set-up and techniques. In our next release, we turn the focus to applying these skills to a specific furniture project.. “17th Century Joined Chest,” featuring Peter Follansbee, is the first DVD in our new Master Workshops series, which are hand tool based furniture projects with master craftsmen. With only a few hand tools, Peter shows you how to get your stock from an oak log and build a frame-and-panel chest using 17th century joinery methods. Available on our website at the end of October.

I just found out this was posted at Lie-Nielsen’s YouTube channel…we shot it in May while I was up in Maine. I first heard of this teaching technique when Roy Underhill collaborated with Frank Klauz at an early Woodworking in America. I wasn’t there, but maybe had seen some video of it. Roy then showed me how to do it the first time I taught at his school. I  did it as a slide-show on this blog I don’t-know-when, so now you get to see it as Conor & crew shot it.

Here it is:


Sorry to drag out this discussion about selling JA’s tools, but here is one (last) sermon on the subject. First of all, thanks to all regarding the comments, I read every one of them, Alexander did too. we are grateful for your interest in our joinery undertakings. We never could have envisioned twenty+ years ago that it would turn into this.

I never felt that anyone was whining. I read it as a few folks felt they missed a chance, & were offering alternative ideas on how to proceed. I greatly appreciated everyone’s ideas & comments. The general consensus is that the way it has worked is fine. Some feel otherwise, but to my ears, no one came on strong complaining. Mostly I got that people are hip to the idea that we are trying to get these tools out from boxes collecting dust & back into use in woodshops.

I just want to remind everyone to be nice in your comments. I have only deleted one or two comments over 4 years of this blog – but I won’t have folks sniping at each other. There’s plenty of that on the web – we don’t need it here. Green wood, hand tools, furniture history, a few birds & some kid drawings – that’s most of what this blog is about. let’s keep it that way.

Friday June 22 I will post about 8 rabbet planes. All useful, working planes. I’ll probably get the post out in the mid-morning, east-coast-of-America time.

Meanwhile, here is the latest joined chest I just finished last month. Not a copy of an existing chest, but I took my usual liberties with the Devon, England/Ipswich, Massachusetts stuff. Oak & pine.





I have been working with an excellent red oak log. It’s dead-straight, even, clear. Everything I want. The boards I have been riving and planing are around 8” wide, some 10” wide panels came earlier from it as well.

This week, I have been working a short section that I crosscut for panels and other 2-foot stuff. I got to the last quarter of it yesterday. From the outside, it looks great.

I split it with wedges and a sledgehammer, and it busted right open. 

….Then, I pulled it apart & looked inside

Yikes. what a mess.

Turns out rather than 10” wide panels, I got a bunch of 2” square stuff for some joined stools.

From two of  these sections, I managed to plane 7 stiles. (one’s leaning upright) Something happened to number 8. Oh well. 

Meanwhile, there is another log I have also been working. This is narrower stuff, maybe 6 1/2” wide pieces on average. There was a weird growth pattern, lots of straight-grained wood in the first half of the tree’s growth, then some strange wiggle to the grain. It’s throughout a lot of what I have seen in this log. It might be hard to see in this photo, but the bottom half of the shot has a very rippled grain to it…


Found part of the problem this week. No hardware that I have found, but some localized injury to the tree.


I have used some of this stock in a joined chest I just finished; but these pieces are junk. Here’s the chest, I am planning on shooting some details of it soon. 

Now, some birds. First up, some downy woodpeckers. One feeding another, but I couldn’t decide if it’s a male/female pair feeding, or an adult feeding a juvenile.  

Then, tonight I saw a certain juvenile scooting into a roosting hole, or is it the nest? 

Actually, he/she looked into this hole, then moved up one flight, into a hole just above this one. The tree is a locust. (can’t decide if the bird is a hairy woodpecker, not a downy. The bill looks a bit long for downy…but I’d need better views)

 Is this goodnight? 

Meanwhile, there was a trio of white-breasted nuthatches scooting all around…I saw them being fed too, but didn’t get a shot. Here’s one of them:

I have not had much action here on the blog in recent weeks – but I have been woodworking. Just haven’t got photos shot, and most of my posts stem from photos. Slowly I’ll get back in the swing of things; but it is May, that means birding gets much attention…

I have been carving a bunch of oak for some joined chests I am building – here’s a detail of the outline for one panel.


carving underway

This chest is pretty small – about 40″ wide across the front. Here’s the frame, test-fitted, with one panel to go.

frame test fitted

This chest has been here in process – http://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2012/01/10/scratch-stock-moldings-2/

At the same time I am making an all-carved chest; here is its front frame cut & fitted, with a side frame begun -

carved chest

This chest has also made an earlier appearance:



See – that’s the trick about the blog. I tell the whole story eventually, but not in sequence. I’ll save doing it in order for a book…

I’ve been reading some blogs lately too – Rick McKee keeps making the carpenters’ blog from Plimoth better & better http://blogs.plimoth.org/rivenword/

and I don’t miss a post from Louise either http://louiselangsner.wordpress.com/

Education is a big issue in our house these days too – so I try to keep up with Doug Stowe – but he writes a lot, and it’s all  very good stuff. http://wisdomofhands.blogspot.com/

this past winter, Doug included a great clip of a lecture by Roy Underhill – pardon me for swiping it – but here goes. It’s long, 18 minutes, but you have 18 minutes. watch it. Roy is teaching many disciplines in this clip – some you don’t even notice.

This tool chest business is pretty much making me unbearable at home. Thanks, Chris….just what I needed.

tool chest finished I guess


I spend my days fooling around in the workshop, essentially playing. My wife is home, chasing the two six-year olds around; trying to keep the hearth & home intact. And I come in, telling the kids to get their crayons organized, “you should put them back in the box when you’re done…” “then you’ll have more room..” so on.

Then I turn on the kitchen – “these measuring cups should be sorted & organized…” or “how can you find anything in here?”  “Why do you keep this in here???”

a big hit.  Right.

Mark Twain said “Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits”

carving tools in trays within trays

I made removable trays for my carving tools, so I can bring the small trays to the workbench. they sit in the sliding trays inside the chest, then can easily come out to carve with.  It’s taking some getting used to, but it seems like it might be a smooth move…

removable trays

at the bench:

tray at the workbench

In theory, I can then shift different tools into the sliding trays if & when I need to work from a different set of tools…but I don’t see me w/o carving tools as my primary gig.

Here’s a few carvings I worked on today.

today's carvings


One is a box front.

box front

and some stiles for a joined chest.

detail stile's carving

The other day, I did the center panel for this joined chest I have underway.

chest front detail

If you want to tackle some of these carvings, get up to Lie-Nielsen later this month; the weekend of May 19/20 I’ll be teaching a class in carving a number of this sort of design… here’s the link. http://www.lie-nielsen.com/?pg=35  _ 
there’ll be good birds in Maine by then…but I promise to make it to the shop on time… If you can’t make it, the DVDs cover similar material http://www.lie-nielsen.com/catalog.php?grp=1320

While waiting for the warblers to get up here to New England, I shot a couple of swallows the other day – 
a tree swallow

tree swallow

 and a barn swallow

these guys rarely sit still, so I was lucky to find them.


Over the years I have been very fortunate to have access to lots of original examples of 17th-century furniture to study & learn from. Museums & collectors have been very gracious with their time & collections so I could get an education.

Last week I revisited for the umpteenth time the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, CT. Among other things, this museum is home to the furniture collection assembled in the early 20th century by Wallace Nutting. Nutting worked a lot of his furniture over; and had a mentality and approach that is easy to criticize from 90 years’ perspective. Regardless of where one stands on the Wallace Nutting situation, the collection has some great stuff in it.

One piece is this long joined table – it’s the piece I went to see. Here is a lousy overall of it.

Salisbury table, Wadsworth Atheneum

The top is by some thought to be new; Nutting’s book says it’s the old top, removed, replaned and now screwed onto the frame…I couldn’t decide one way or the other – but didn’t spend too much time worrying about it either.  All the framing is riven; and the top  is two flatsawn oak boards joined together. It might be that we expect the top boards to also be riven, quartered stock; but at 7 feet long, it’s just beyond the limits of practical working lengths for riving boards.  Some square tables from the period have riven boards making up the tops, but these are less than 4′ long usually. One’s at Wadsworth. 

Here is the carving that runs along one long apron.

carved guilloche Salisbury table, Wadsworth Atheneum

and some of the details of the turned work -

turning Salisbury table, Wadsworth Atheneum

I noted the scribed line struck across the squared section – at first I thought it marked the location for the mortise the brackets fit into – 

scribed line, Salisbury table, Wadsworth Atheneum

but then I found similar marks on the lower end of the stiles. I think this scribe line marks the spot where the craftsman started turning the square-to-round transition. So this becomes one of those tiny details that always help with my work in the shop. I won’t scribe every turning this way now, but sometimes I will, knowing that it’s “period-correct” in at least one case.

I have a mental & somewhat photographic collection of these small technique/habit tidbits from period joiners. This is the kind of detail that’s hard to get without access to the original artifacts. That’s why I always try to include these sort of shots on the blog – because I know it’s not really feasible for the curators to let all of the woodworkers traipse around these collections, wreaking havoc wherever we go…

Most of the American furniture collection is in storage these days, as the museum works on a huge expansion project. I got to stroll the aisles and saw some old favorites while I was there.

This Thomas Dennis chest is Nutting’s books, but it was not part of the Nutting collection. It belonged to one of the Hartford collectors – Goodwin, I think. The lid is new, early 20th-c.

Dennis chest, Wadsworth Atheneum

First thing I noticed this time with this chest is the very slight set-back for the panel grooves – the panels are only recessed a minimal amount; it seems the stock is riven quite thin, so Dennis adjusted how much he set the groove back from the face of the framing.

carved panel, Dennis chest, Wadsworth Atheneum


We opened the chest up & the inside face of the chest’s rear section has moldings decorating it, a nice touch. Doesn’t take much time to add this sort of stuff, and it makes things look snappy…

interior moldings, Wadsworth Atheneum


The rear outside is barely worked at all with a plane. Many riven surfaces; virtually nothing flat back there at all.

And then the Thurston/Houghton stuff from Dedham & Medfield, Massachusetts. To me, these chests are always charming in their simplicity.

Dedham chest detail, Wadsworth Atheneum

A little bit of carving, basic framing & some scratch moldings. This one has been painted in the last few decades to mimic an old painted surface – a related one in a private collection had backgrounds painted w lampblack pigment, and the surfaces worked with either logwood or brazil wood dyes. ..so bright red with black behind. Another thing to try at some point.

As in most of the Dedham chests, this one has scribed lines to mark out the joinery right across the framing…

A great many thanks to Alyce Englund for her time & attention.

This chest was in my shop this week for some repairs. All white oak; two panels in front. traces of red & black paint.

chest front view

Here is the rear view, showing the floor boards dropping out the bottom. Simple enough repair.

rear view

Here are details; pitsawn surfaces, riven ditto. Some hatchet work.

rear detail

Even an earlier repair done in softwood. Note the rotten feet from sitting in damp conditions.

earlier repair

So this is a chest that shows signs of years of hard living.


are you curious yet?







Of course the kicker is that I’ve seen this chest before. Here it is when I made it in 1998 (from a slide) :

1998 new chest

These things sit on dirt floors in the living history museum; and get a new coat of boiled linseed oil/turpentine every year or so. Lots of patina from frequent handling; both from staff & visitors to the museum… eventually the dirt rots the feet, and/or admits termites. these things are doomed from the start. But they have given me sort of an insight into an accelerated view of period chest’s condition/history of use. This sort of setting shows you pretty clearly how things wear & tear. Similar to the post the carpenters did the other day about the house with the falling chimney. Here it is again in case you missed it:  http://blogs.plimoth.org/rivenword/?p=341


joined chest, Massachusetts mid-17th-century

Two things to look at on this one; then it’s off to work with me. The stile-to-rail is 90-degrees at the bottom edge of the rail.

side top rail

Here is the front top rail. I’ll say no more. Trent & I shot this chest back in the late 1990s…and we came up with a plausible scenario – let’s see what you folks think.  Or read American Furniture 2002…it’s in there. that’s where the B&W photo came from…

top front rail to muntin




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