Art. Craft. Potato, Potahto.

I read Jarrod’s post,

and then Robin’s.

It’s weird stuff. I have no idea where I fall in the discussion. I usually stay out of it. When asked what I am, (that is, what is my job…) I describe myself as a joiner – and here in America most folks don’t know what that means. At the museum where I work, I and others who make things with our hands are called “artisans”. Because of all the carving on my furniture, people often say, “You’re an artist:” – and my response is usually that I consider myself a craftsman.


chair carvings

I had a visitor from Germany one day this year. She was looking at some carved panels I had on the bench. In her hesitant English, which was very good although she had little confidence in it, she said “It is very artificial.”

I thanked her greatly, and stressed that she had just used the term right out of the 17th century; and there weren’t many places where she would be understood using that old meaning of the word. I pictured people being upset or hurt that someone thought their stuff artificial.

But its roots are in artifice – someone who makes such things is an artificer. I dug out the OED & got these snippets:

artificer 1. A person who makes things by art or skill; an artisan, a craftsman.

▸a1393   Gower Confessio Amantis (Fairf.) vii. l. 1691   Artificers, Whiche usen craftes and mestiers, Whos Art is cleped Mechanique.

1445   Petition in Rolls of Parl. (2005) Parl. Feb. 1445 §44. m. 6   Þe wages of..a maister tyler or sclatter, rough mason and meen carpenter, and other the day .iij. d. with mete and drynk.

a1475   J. Russell Bk. Nurture (Harl. 4011) in Babees Bk. (2002) i. 187   Worshipfulle merchaundes and riche artyficeris.

c1517   King Henry VIII Let. 3 May in Camden Misc. (1992) XXXI. 32   A great number of..malicious jorneymen of theire..rancorous disposition against aliens and strangers, artificers and others..soddenly assembled themselves withein our..citty.

1592   T. Nashe Pierce Penilesse (Brit. Libr. copy) sig. C4v,   A base Artificer, that hath no reuenues to bost on.

1659   Milton Considerations touching Hirelings 147   From the magistrate himself to the meanest artificer.

1671   Milton Paradise Regain’d iv. 59   Carv’d work, the hand of fam’d Artificers In Cedar, Marble, Ivory or Gold.

artifice †1. The action of an artificer; the making of something by art or skill; craftsmanship, workmanship. Also: the work of an artificer; manual or mechanical work. Obs.

1526   Grete Herball sig. Qiii/1,   Hony is made by artyfyce, and craft of bees.

1646   Sir T. Browne Pseudodoxia Epidemica (1686) v. v. 195   Adam immediately issued from the Artifice of God.

1667   Milton Paradise Lost ix. 39   The skill of Artifice or Office mean, Not that which justly gives Heroic name To Person or to Poem.

a1682   Sir T. Browne Certain Misc. Tracts (1683) i. 4   The early artifice in Brass and Iron under Tubal-Cain.

2. Human skill or workmanship as opposed to nature or a natural phenomenon.

1526   Grete Herball sig. sig. Pvv/2,   There be yt are naturall without artyfyce or craft & they be ye best & whan ye fynde perles in receptes it is them ytbe naturall perles.

a1533   Ld. Berners tr. A. de Guevara Golden Bk. M. Aurelius (1537) f. 79,   As ye se a thynge made by artyfice peryshe, and a naturall thynge laste.

1593   J. Eliot Ortho-epia Gallica 153   No artifice of man can tell how to counterfait her note.

1774   G. Marriott Estimate of Human Life 355   Nature..infinitely excelled human Artifice.



a. Of a thing: made or constructed by human skill, esp. in imitation of, or as a substitute for, something which is made or occurs naturally; man-made.

c1425   Lydgate Troyyes Bk. (Augustus A.iv) iii. l. 5678 (MED),   Bawme natural, Þat ran þoruȝ pipes artificial.

c1475   tr. H. de Mondeville Surgery (Wellcome) f. 157,   Close þe lippis of þe wounde &..binde hem & hele hem wiþ wiyn and stupis & pressuris & plagellis & artificial byndynge.

1547   C. Langton Very Brefe Treat. Phisick ii. vi. sig. Gviv,   Artificiall bathes, be made by mannes witte.

1588   T. Hariot Breife Rep. Virginia sig. E2,   Their houses most townes couered with barkes, and in some with artificiall mattes made of long rushes.

1611   S. Rowlands Four Knaves 22   An artificiall flie of silk.

1663   Marquis of Worcester Cent. Names & Scantlings Inventions xlvi,   How to make an artificial Bird to fly.

In sixteenth-century England rules concerning the trades’ management were created. These were called  the Statute of Artificers.  

I remember Jogge Sundqvist using the term “handycraftsman” – but like the German visitor, this is a case of having  Jogge’s idea being translated into English…

Jogge Sundqvist at Country Workshops, 2010

Jogge Sundqvist at Country Workshops, 2010

But “handycraftsman” is an old term, think of Moxon’s book’s title, Mechanick Exercises or the Doctrine of Handy-works. I ran into this phrase when Trent & I studied Boston joiners too.  Here is an excerpt from the Bulletin of the Boston Public Library, vol. 4, #4, Jan. 1894, pp. 305-6:

 Fac-Simile of a Petition of the Handycraftsmen of Boston in 1677, Against the Intrusion of Strangers

On page 426 of his “History and Antiquities of Boston” the late Samuel G. Drake gives an account of the accompanying Petition. The original document, of which a fac-simile is now presented, was once owned by Drake, who thus describes it:

 “May 29, 1677. At the may session of the General Court, the Handycraftsmen, a very considerable part of the Town of Boston,’ to the number of one hundred and twenty-nine, put in a petition, praying for protection in their several callings, `whose outward subsistence,’ they say, `doth depend upon God’s blessing, and many of us not having estates any other way to advantage ourselves; that by the frequent intruding of strangers from all parts, especially of such as are not desirably qualified, find ourselves under great disadvantages, and prejudicial to the Towne; and many times the stranger drawes away much of the custome from his neighbor, which hath been long settled, and in reality is much more the deserving man; whereby it has already come to pass with many, that severall inhabitants that have lived comfortably upon their trades, and been able to bear publick charges in a considerable degree, now cannot subsist, which is very pernicious and prejudiciall to the Towne; and some that never served any time, or not considerably for the learning of a Trade, yet finding wayes to force themselves into the Towne, and then sometimes by hireing or buying a servant, they doe set up a Trade, and thus draw away the custom of the Petitioners belonging to the Town, as above has been set forth. They, therefore, `conceiving that the foresaid disadvantages do arise, either for the want of power to make orders, or due execution of orders, ask that power might be granted to the Selectmen,’ or others, `for a regular and effectual execution of all such orders as are, or may be made, referring to the admission of inhabitants; that Tradesmen shall fulfill a sufficient apprenticeship, and be (proficients?) before they set up Trades, etc.

For “artist” I think of Heather –


the good thing about starting too many projects at once is that when you finally get around to dealing with them, it looks like you build stuff in record time, knocking off projects on a two-a-week basis.

Here’s what’s coming down the pike:

This chest – it falls in the House of the Rising Sun category – I started it in April or May, left it alone until July or August, then picked it back up in Oct. Only to leave it til now. So it’s all over the map. But it will work out. I have to panel the other end, then fit the till. That’s tomorrow.


I have a bunch of book stands underway. And this is the last joint stool to come out of this shop in its present configuration.

stand & stool

Here’s one that will fall by the wayside – it’s aiming to be a box; but it will have to wait. there’s priorities you know.

box on hold

This one should be do-able. Just some funny paint left to finish up.

box wants paint

Those are all I could get near with a camera today. there’s more in there, I think. Two more chests, the chest of drawers will wait – it’s a long-term project. And lots of stuff rattling around in my head.

image for this event

I’ll be at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston this Wednesday afternoon/eveing, doing a demonstration much like my usual day job. Just a snappier venue…

Here’s the text from the website for the Four Centuries project

Be sure to look around at that website = there’s lots going on in Massachusetts if you like furniture…

If you’re in town (maybe early for Game 6 of the World Series around the corner at Fenway) come by the MFA


Artist Demonstration

Peter Follansbee will be demonstrating some of the techniques he uses in making reproductions of 17th-century joiner’s work. Usually done in oak split or riven from the log, this furniture most often includes carved decoration. The carvings combine geometric, floral and architectural patterns, often in combination. Mr. Follansbee has studied New England furniture in the MFA collections for almost 20 years, and will show how these designs are laid out and carved with a compass, several carving gouges and a wooden mallet. He will have examples of his reproduction furniture for visitors to examine up close, as well as resource materials to explain the complete process.
Peter Follansbee began his woodworking career in 1978, learning traditional methods to build ladder back chairs. His study of 17th-century joiner’s work has led to numerous articles in the scholarly journal American Furniture, Popular Woodworking Magazine, as well as several instructional videos with Lie-Nielsen Toolworks. In 2011, Lost Art Press published a book, co-authored by Mr. Follansbee, called Make a Joint Stool from a Tree: An Introduction to Seventeenth-Century Joinery. Since 1994, Mr. Follansbee has worked as the joiner at Plimoth Plantation, a living history museum in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Presented by Peter Follansbee, Master joiner from the Plimoth Plantation
Made Possible by The Lowell Institute


October 30, 2013
5:30 PM – 8:00 PM

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Druker Classroom
465 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115


Free with Museum admission



Remember the Dutch planes I showed you a while back?

skewed mouth smooth plane

skewed mouth smooth plane

I deliberately omitted their whereabouts, but it turns out I was just being skittish. They are part of the collection at the Yale University Furniture Study.

A week or two ago, I spent a day with Ned Cooke, professor of American Decorative Arts at Yale University. Ned & I met back when I first stalked the halls of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts studying 17th-century furniture. Ned was a curator there along with Jonathan Fairbanks, both of whom gave me quite an education by letting me study the artifacts in detail. So we flash forward a couple of decades, and Ned invited me down to show his first-year students some of my ideas about joinery tools, techniques, decoration, etc.

It was quick – 75 minutes, but many of them got to split some oak, try their hand at planing and we did some assembly of a joined chest front that I brought along.

All of this took place at the Furniture Study. Their collection is excellent; and the study itself is a great place to see first-hand numerous examples of period American furniture; not just “my” period but all those others too…

For the bench fiends, take a look at this one – belonged to the cabinetmaker who worked on the Garvan collection when it was  Mr. Garvan’s.


Here are some detail shots I took there several years back – students who have taken carving classes with me will recognize some of these…first is the basic S-scroll from Guilford/New Haven – the Furniture Study has 2 large cupboards sitting side-by-side for a crash course in furniture of the New Haven Colony…

S scroll

One drawer has a mistake in the layout & cutting of the scrolls across the front. still holds linen…


a nice example of a cupboard door lock. Hardly ever find these surviving on 17th-century work.


On the top rail of this cupboard door is a compass-marked circle – was it intended to be carved, then that idea ditched?

cupboard door

Here you can see inside the cupboard, showing the front-to-back floorboards in oak.

cupboard inside


Nice simple drawer back. Essentially a riven clapboard.


drawer back

The front of one of the drawers.

drawer fronts

So if you are going to be down in the wilds of New Haven, CT try to make arrangements to see what they have in the furniture study. Here”s their website, scroll to the bottom of the page for details on their weekly free tours and information about making appointments. Take the tour, then you can see what you’d like to study in detail…



Well, last week you saw what one student did with my carving lessons, ( ) and now I have taught two more classes of carving in the past 2 months; I thought it might be helpful to show some period work here. All oak of course.

There’s a lot of new readers showing up, so I might do some review of stuff that’s gone before. I started by looking at photos that are already loaded into the blog’s till…it’s always nice to review, you might see something you missed before.

This one’s England, marked out with compasses to outline the framing; the panel is most likely freehand around a vertical centerline.



cupboard door, oak

cupboard door, oak

Some basic geometry behind this design, also England, probably the Lakes District, dated 1691.

carved panel nail holes lakes 2


Another carving from the same piece of furniture.

torn-up moldings on cupboard door panel, 1691

Some of my favorite English stuff, this is a pew carving from Totnes, Devon. Early 17th-c.


carved panel, Totnes pews


An old favorite from Braintree, Massachusetts – a panel from a cupboard. About 9″ x 12″.

door panel, attributed to William Savell, Sr.

door panel, attributed to William Savell, Sr.

This one a chest panel from the son of above; this time John Savell, c. 1660-1689.


panel, joined chest, c. 1660-1680s

panel, joined chest, c. 1660-1680s

Now, some of my own favorites – might help the new carvers with ideas.

crossed S-scroll pattern

crossed S-scroll pattern

box front, red oak

box front, red oak

carving detail

carving detail

PF carving strapwork

reproduction 17th-century furniture

carving “sunflower” chest panel

box b detail carving


The DVDs on carving are available from Lie-Nielsen…for more info on them and the joint stool book, see this page:






Well. I opened my email tonight & found one from Geoff Chapman, one of last year’s students in the carved box class I did at Roy’s place. This sort of thing makes all that driving worth while.  

We’ll start with an earlier note from Geoff, about some boxes he finished after taking the class.

“I  took the carved box class from you last year at Roy’s, and loved it.  I am the guy who wanted to get your help doing a strap work panel instead of finishing my box.  By the time Christmas came I’d made a bunch of them for my kids, and threw in some designs from a celtic cross, from an ancient icon of an angel, and a couple panels from designs from the Book of Kells (photo enclosed).  I have studied the Book of Kells a good bit, and also wanted to try a panel from the famous “8 Circle Cross” illustration (another photo enclosed) which I framed with draw bored joinery – you taught me how in the carved chest dvd..    I lurk around your blog often, and love the work you do.  I am about to try my hand at a carved chest, and have watched your dvd twice.  A friend took down an oak this winter that was 42″ wide in the lower trunk, 150 years old, straight trunk for the first 30 feet.  He gave me the trunk, so I split it accd to your instructions, got it down into 16ths, hauled it home in 2.5′ and 4′ ft lengths, did some preliminary milling to get the pieces ready for the chest and the rest of it – a lot! – is stacked, drying, and awaiting another run of boxes or maybe another chest.  


All of that is to say, Peter, that you have opened a wonderful door for me in carving and especially in 17th century green woodworking, and I am grateful.  I don’t do this for a living (I would starve!); I am a pastor of a very busy church here in Pittsburgh, and a full time dad and grampa.  Woodworking has been a 20 year hobby for me, a great balance to my life, and one that has taken a new and wonderful direction since I started carving and working with green oak early last year.  


Thanks again.  What you do matters to people like me!”



geoff's panel & frame


geoff's boxes

Then tonight’s really knocked me out – here’s his note & photos. 


 Well, I went after a three-panel carved chest using your DVD.  I took a couple vacation weeks in July to get it moving, then managed to get it completed this week.  It’s 20″ deep, 30″ high, 40″ wide (or close to that), all Q’sawn or rived oak from the tree trunk I got in January, except a pine floor and till parts.  No glue (never done anything close to that before!), but drawbored.  I copied the wainscot chest you have copied, and added a paneled top.  I love the design, and the way it came out.  Will finish it w linseed oil and turpentine in a couple of weeks.

 I was full of questions along the way, like ‘How dry does the wood need to be?” and “Why don’t you have to worry about wood movement in a pine floor if you drive the final board in?” and at least 30 others – but I muddled my way through.   Today I received a copy of your “Joint Stool” book and flipped through it.  I would have been wise to have read it before taking on the chest!  But most things seemed to work out well enough and I learned a ton from the DVD, the joiner’s notes that came with it, and from going back repeatedly to your posts on your blog – and then when I still had worries – just thinking it through and doing what seemed to make sense.  

 One of my other constant questions was “How exact do I need to be?”  Your repeated encouragement to pay attention to the things that matter and relax about a lot of the other stuff gave me permission to do the same.  I remember when I first heard you say, “The eye is very forgiving.”  So is this style of woodworking!  Drawboring is forgiving, for example.  I know where all the mistakes are on the chest, but no one else has noticed them yet and no one has pulled it out to look at the back or turned it over to look at the bottom.  Yet the result of the whole effort has a real beauty and strength that will last.  So, thanks for your attitude.  I will almost certainly do another one, and my kids are all eager to have me do one for them…

 I also had a thought on the small chest you did and took to Roy’s to film for a show (I look forward to seeing that!).  I was astounded at the amount of work that went into making my own first chest, and I thought over and again, “There’s no way I could do this in a week long class, even without the carving or the paneled top…”  Depending, perhaps on the readiness of the stock – and the pins (shaving 71 of them for my chest took a long time!! – don’t ask why it is an odd number ;-)  ).  But a small chest in a week!  Would be quite a challenge for me, especially if we were planing every piece to finished size.  I will look forward to seeing the episode w. Roy and whether you offer a class.

Anyway, the project was a genuine joy, and a further step along a wonderful path in woodworking.  I want to thank you again for what you are doing and what you put within reach of people like me. “



geoff's chest 1


geoff's chest 2


geoff's chest lid


Geoff – nice going. I can’t thank you enough for your kind words, and for your outstanding work. Thanks for sending it along & letting me post it here. 

It’s been a while since I did the “lights aren’t on yet, I’ll take pictures in the raking morning light” routine…the easiest target is the carving samples I keep out for display. 

raking on carving


raking on carving 2


I built about 5 of these white oak benches last week…we use them around the museum for folks to take a breather…but they eventually rot or get worn out, so every so often I make more. Last time was about 6 or 7 years ago.  I usually make them with white pine tops and oak legs, but we just had a bunch of oak sawn up for a building project, so were left with a bunch of flitch cuts – the benches are around 5 feet long. 

bench view raking light

I split & shaved the legs back in April or May. Then left them around to dry a bit. Bored 1 1/4″  holes with an auger, then reamed them from below. Shaved the legs, and wedged from above. 

bench end

My favorite legs for a bench or stool like this are “swept” or crooked/crook’d. These come from the butt swell of an oak log, something I reject for all else. But here you can use it to a slight advantage. The sweep or curve of the leg exaggerates your boring angle to add some extra stability. I bet it amounts to nothing, but visually it’s great. 

crook'd leg

Don’t forget the carving class at Bob Van Dyke’s place, Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking – Sept 14 & 15.


A while back i showed some snapshots of these wainscot chairs. Before I left town for trip # 2 to North Carolina and then came back & made a trip to Maine, (over 4,000 miles in 3 trips)  I got a chance to shoot them without the shop in the background. The first one is a copy of a Thomas Dennis chair, generally. I changed a few things here & there; but the proportions, carving style, construction, etc all stem from the originals at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA and the Bowdoin College Art Museum in Brunswick, ME. Here goes:

TD chair three quarters

TD chair overall

TD chair detail crest


The next one I made for the museum last month. Its proportions and dimensions are based on one I copied some time ago, made in Hngham, MA in the mid-17th century. The original had simple V-tool carvings and checkered inlay. I opted to just make up some carvings based on the Thomas Dennis material…so the resulting chair is a mish-mash of period work. All oak as usual for these chairs. 

PF design three quarters


PF design overall rear

PF design detail

I have a lot of catching up to do with the blog. I got back from a fabulous week at Country Workshops on Sunday…and have written several posts in my head. Which does you no good now.


today’s very quick post is to tell you that we have some spaces still in the 2-day carving class, Saturday & Sunday, September 14 & 15 at Bob Van Dyke’s place, the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking.


here’s some shots from last time -

leslie diggin the posture

I thought I had a lot of carving tools

dedham panel

The middle part of the box class at Country Workshops is the 2-day section on carving – those students aced it.  Here’s a few of theirs:

aug braid student

rebecca's scrolls detail




chris' lunettes



A few very quick things. I do make furniture, believe it or not. Too much lately in fact, the shop is jammed. I see daylight at the end of August. Here is a small joined chest that I am making as a test-case for a few upcoming gigs. More on that later…it’s about 20″ high, x 30″ wide. It is a mixture of riven & sawn oak, and I’ll use some sawn pine for the bottom and rear panel.  Just like the full-blown joined chests,  all the same steps, just smaller scale. Like for a workshop sometime?


tiny joined chest


tiny joined chest B


The other day I was out walking in the park (like Muddy Waters, I guess) and saw an uprooted tree cluster. The trees were gone, and the roots hauled up, soon to be chipped. I grabbed some real curved pieces. I thought it was maple, but it seems closer to ring-porous. but not quite…

anyway, the next spoon is brought to us by the letter J. Boy, are roots wet!

The letter J

The letter J

Here are two views as I worked this one up. I can’t shoot spoon work like I can joinery. The setup is trickier. I had Daniel shoot some last week, I have to load those and sort them.

rough root spoon

hewn root spoon

carved root spoon

initial carving root spoon

While on the subject of unknown spoon woods, I thought I’d take the easy way out & ask you folks what wood this is. It ended up in my pile, and it’s excellent for spoons. Tough, but not as hard as the cherry I often use. very white, no heartwood. I never saw the leaves, so only have this stuff to look at. I’ll take it to the shop and cut the end grain cleanly to see its structure.

spoon wood mystery

spoon wood question

spoon & wood


Just finished this version of the dragon box, or is it a serpent box? red oak, white pine. It’s about 23 1/2″ x 14 1/2″ x 7″.

dragon 2013 front view

M box end view


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