The joint stool book has been out a while now, so once you’ve digested  your copy go get at some oak & let us see what you came up with. Hopefully summer will let go soon, so the heavy work of busting open a log won’t seem so daunting. I know I have cut back on what I have tackled during the heat & humidity…

Here is a stool sent in a while ago by Larry Barrett:

Larry Barrett joined stool


side view

Here’s what Larry had to say:

“Hello Peter and Jennie
Attached are a few photos of joint stools, carved boxes and chairs – all made thanks to things I have learned from you both, either via your new book, Peter’s blog, or classes with Jennie.  I have a good sized black (or maybe red) oak and a chestnut oak on the ground so there may be more to come.  Thanks again,
Larry Barrett”

We’re thrilled to see this sort of work = so keep them coming. If you are working your way through the joint stool book, send me some stuff. we’d love to see it.


If you don’t want to carve your stool like Larry did, and you need to liven it up, get out the brushes. I had an ash stool frame hanging around the shop for quite a while, and last week I put a sawn white oak seat on it, and then set about painting it. Here’s the initial result



The first step was the black squiggles and dots, then a thin coat of iron oxide mixed in linseed oil went over that once the black was dry to the touch.

Here’s one example of the inspiration for this, a painting by Judith Leyster, early 17th-c in Netherlands:

Judith Leyster painting


Another is this painting by Nicholas Maes:

Old woman saying grace



Boy am I glad I’m a carver, not a painter. This takes forever.


I can't believe how long this takes


but it’s getting closer. I decided to leave the ends of the chest plain. I mixed a thin yellow ochre paint for them; and have been adding more & more detail to the front & lid. I hoped it would be one more session – but I bet it’s two. Some more details in black coming up next, as well as some painted turnings between the drawer fronts.

yellow ochre on the ends

But there’s been good ducks around Plymouth this week. It took a few tries, but my friend Marie & I found the ruddy ducks today, sleepy as all get-out…

Ruddy ducks

I have only seen them in captivity before, at Buckingham Palace’s gardens…so these were my first wild ones. Well, to call them wild is an exaggeration. They barely moved their heads…at one point they sorta bumped into each other, then a two-second kerfuffle, and it was right back to tucking their heads in.

Ruddys awake


here is the male’s summer self, but as I said essentially in a zoo – so only here to show what this duck becomes in spring/summer. But not in the east…

Ruddy duck breeding male

I’m glad to see the interest in the painted decoration I am using on my tool chest. While the construction of that chest is not based on any 17th-century piece; the painted work is pretty close to period work. If you’ve just arrived, here’s what we’re talking about: and

for studying painted work of the 17th century, the trick is there are few surviving examples. Paint was often used as interior decoration. One good source for inspiration in James Ayers, Domestic Interiors: the British Tradition 1500-1850 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003). Ayers’ book goes well past the time period I am interested in, but he has a whole chapter on paint, and painted stuff shows up in other sections too; like doors, windows, walls, etc.


wall painting early 17th c

A sample from Ayers’ book shows a painted plaster wall, done in black & white. Imagine a room like this – you’d be hard-pressed to see any carved furniture sitting in it.


For sources of patterns like this, there’s great stuff done in the early 1600s by Thomas Trevelyon. He made 2 books of patterns, adaptable for gardeners, painters, joiners, embroiderers, etc. But, his were not printed books, but just 2 manuscript copies. So his work didn’t circulate enough to be an original source for much. But it’s based in things he’d presumably seen in various forms; drawings, patterns in gardens, needlework, ceramics, architecture, paintings on cloth, plaster, and more.


Thomas Trevelyon's Miscellany 1608

Here’s one more of his drawings/paintings:


For more of his work, see

There are only snippets of painted architectural work surviving in New England, but here & there in old England there are numerous examples. Nothing like there once was… Here’s a room painted to look as if it’s paneled , late 17th-century,  from Oakwell Hall inYorkshire.


Oakwell Hall, Yorkshire


For comparison, here’s an actual paneled wall, from the same trip my wife & I made in 2005. So the painting is not to fool you into thinking it’s a paneled wall, but just to give the impression. I think this is from Haddon Hall in Derbyshire. I can’t swear to it, but I’m close…

wall paneling Haddon Hall

How about pinstripes? This is from the Merchant’s House in Marlborough, Wiltshire. Note that the door doesn’t interrupt the scheme.


original 1650/60s paint scheme w re-done section

Painted furniture from the period is not unusual; it’s again hard to find surviving examples, but they are out there. Here’s a simple one. English again. What we don’t know for certain is the finish for the non-painted parts.

Remember, these folks were not afraid of patterns and colors. Here is a very high-style chair of the 2nd half of the 17th century, now displayed against a pale, plain wall in a museum – but in a period house? Could be totally lost against some of these walls.

turkey work chair

and a detail

turkey work detail

On my toolbox, I am not following any particular scheme; just sort of making it up as I go. To make matters more confounding, I have also looked at several examples of late 18th/early 19th-century Pennsylvania chests, seen in Wendy Cooper’s & Lisa Minardi’s book Paint, Pattern and People: Furniture of Southeastern Pennsylvania, 1725–1850 , I never did make it to see the exhibition, I had seen bits of it when it was being researched. But Kari Hultman went for us::

Those chests and boxes really stuck me, and if I had room here at the house, I’d make some copies. In my spare time…

A favorite random piece of English  decoration is this embellishment I found in the Carpenters’ Company Records in London – 1573.

Carpenters' Company Records


As far as how I prepare the paint, several people wrote & asked. Yes, it’d dry pigments mixed in linseed oil. And I doubt I’ll put a finish over that. When it’s painted, it’s done. The stool book has a section about making & using this sort of paint. Any day now…

There’s stuff in a few books on paint in New England work. Abbott Lowell Cummings’ Framed Houses of Massachusetts Bay has some architectural interiors with paint. And Jonathan Fairbanks has a whole essay about portrait painting, but it has great details about materials, etc. “Portrait Painting in Seventeenth-Century Boston: Its History, Methods and Materials” in Fairbanks & Trent, New England Begins: The Seventeenth Century (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1982)



well now I’ve done it. I have to get this tool chest painted so I can get on with the rest of my life. But today I painted for about 4 hours or more. And was it tiring! Standing in one position all day. And there’s more to go.  but here’s what I got today.

I marked out some artificial spacing – created “stiles” on the ends of the chest front, and a center muntin. this way it mimics the lid above it.  Then I started outlining the designs for the resulting two panels. I chose to use stuff I know well, that reduced how much head-scratching I had to do…then I outlined the pattern in bone black pigment.

beginning the outline

The pine chest is not primed in any way, so it’s quite absorbent. Helps the paint dry quickly.

well on its way

Then came some yellow ochre, just like I did yesterday.

details & backgrounds


As before, I am figuring this out as I go.  Getting some paint on there helps to see where I have to go next.  There’s a lot of area to cover. Can’t leave anything blank.

the drawers

I knew I wanted fake drawer fronts on the skirt around the bottom of the chest; but I didn’t outline them in black, just scribed them with marking gauge & awl. So I will go back when this dries, and add outlines.

half done

This is the front, about half-done. Gotta figure out the “muntin” for this section; and add some details.  Next week I hope to finish the painting. Then I can start using the chest.

One nice part was standing at the window all day. Saw a red fox scoot by; but the camera was up on the tripod, so no shot of him. He’s a regular – I’ll get him at some point.


first color

So I started painting the lid to my tool chest. It’s part 17th-century English, part 19th-century Pennsylvania. The lid has two flush panels in a frame, so it was easy to break it up into components. Here I have outlined some of the patterns in bone black pigment mixed in linseed oil.

yellow ochre

Next came yellow ochre, to do some of the backgrounds, and some small details on a long rail.

iron oxide

When I started these flower-shapes in red, at first the red ran all the way out to the black background. Then I quickly realized I like a white-ish outline. So I will go over this when the colors dry & outline these in white.

compass work in muntin

This is as far as I got; I hadn’t figured out the patterns for the rest of it yet…




I haven’t forgotten the blog; it’s just that usually I write around the photographs, and with the rather excessive heat & humidity – just woodworking has been enough of a task. I haven’t really shot much in the past month or so.

Some folks recently have written asking about this & that, two of whom mentioned/asked about using power tools for one thing or another. I can’t even remember the specifics about the requests right now, so here is a general comment for this blog about power tools. First, you don’t need my permission to use power tools – go ahead if that’s what you want to do. Secondly, and most importantly,  I can’t give you advice about using them one way or another. I really know nothing about them, nor do I want to… so for those of you looking for that sort of information, it ain’t here. There is lots of stuff here about hand tools, furniture history (of a very narrow scope) and some other random bits… so feel free to take what you can from here, and add to it whatever way suits your interests. some of my best friends use power tools…as they say. I decided long ago that I did not want to spend my time working that way. I have not regretted that at all, and I continue to derive great pleasure working wood with old tools and methods. Recently, a visitor to my shop, watching me work asked if I also did “traditional” woodworking.  I lo0ked around at the pole lathe, hand planes, hatchets, saws, etc and the carved oak – and I asked him what he meant. He said, “you know, do you go home & use power tools?” – that was his definition of “traditional” woodwork. Oh, well.

I’m slowly getting back in the swing of things, and in the meantime, I was browsing my folders here and ran across a couple of things.

Here is a painted box, done as practice when I worked on the MFA cupboard. This one I decided was worth finishing, so I put a bottome & molding on it the other day, and cleats on the lid. All it needs now is the new wood painted.

painted box

One project I did this summer is another three-footed chair. This one is ash & cherry. I think it too will be painted; but not till the humidity is gone. I wrote a piece about its joinery for Popular Woodworking Magazine, that’s why it got bumped from the blog…

board-seated turned chair

When I was up in Maine at the Lie-Nielsen open house, a father & son duo shot a photo of this white rat in one of my boxes. I did not get their names, but they had previously visited my shop at Plimoth. Apparently they photograph the rat wherever they go, or many places at least…

rat in till

Most of my photos this summer have looked something like this, early morning at the beach, when time allows…

Daniel as T-rex


low tide


august fog

Went out in the yard the other evening to pick up some stuff, and saw this heron across the river; catching the low light as the sun set… around the yard lately have been herons most days (heard more than seen) and red-tailed hawks nearly constant. One morning two screech owls, also heard not seen…

sunset heron

cupboard old base, new top


Until a better one comes along, here is a photo of my cupboard work from this past year & a half - I was at the Museum on some business recently; and surreptiously shot this while no one was looking… so this is what folks will see when the wing opens the end of this year. Yikes.

with a few exceptions, much of the story is at this search result:

all there is to go by...

This photo from the early 20th century is all there is to go by for the decoration on the side rails of the cornice. (click on it to enlarge) – I copied it from Frances Gruber Safford’s catalog of the early furniture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This cupboard now has been over-restored twice, rendering it useless for these details today. So the photo is critically important.
here is a sketch of what I think I see…it ain’t much. It relates a bit to the pattern carved on the front rail; but it’s not an exact quote of that rail.

sketch of the side cornice rail

That the two possible leaf/flower shapes “read” dark in the old photo doesn’t mean much. That could mean we’re looking at something that was painted black, or even white!  See the side of the MFA lower case, that center oval was white with black squiggles; but the quarter-round corner pieces were black. Today it all “reads” black, so what we see now just with a visual exam is not really enough… except in the case of the photo, it’s all there is.
MFA cupboard base w paint
I can’t decide if there was a molding attached under the painted decoration; nor above. If there were applied moldings, I have to decide how they were cut at the front ends, where the dentils and the applied molding from the front meet… seems dicey.
Then the whole issue of what colors to use, and where. The whole cupboard thus far has just red, black & white.
So I wil send this to the curators; and hopefully we will pull something out of our hat…
here is the Met cupboard as it looks today…on this side rail I see no nail hole, the opposite one has one nail hole plugged. Hardly enough to fix a molding with, given that the front molding seems to have at least 4 nails in it in the old photo of that view.

uppder case side rail modern view

dentil course evidence for MFA project


It’s getting down to the tricky details now for this project; and the game is trying to see what isn’t there…or in this case, the few remaining dentil appliques from 1906 or so. This is the related cupboard to the one for the MFA. I have been trying to figure out the dentils; and they seem to be single “teeth” that are about 1″ square, and fasted with (glue, it’s assumed) and sprigs (headless iron nails). On my cupboard, these will be machine-made sprigs; you have to draw the line somewhere..

the test pieces I just did for the dentils are a little too chunky, I will make a section of molding a bit flatter than this, then chop it up. Then we have to figure out, with divine revelation, what color the dentils should be…or might be…same gig for the bottom applied molding here on the cornice. We will use the test results for the applied moldings on the cupboard base, so it’s got some rationale behind it.

mock=up for dentils


The other thing to see in the early 20th-century shot is the ghost of the oval applied turning just under the lower molding on this cornice rail…I glued up some stock to make these for tomorrow. While I am turning I will do the door pull at the same time.

It’s fun that it’s getting closer to being done, the cupboard looks a little funny to me now, but as I keep adding more junk it starts to make sense. Tomorrow some turning, some red paint and if there’s time, some squiggles.

what are these?


Like many woodworkers, I end up with a random batch of odds and ends of wood…today was the rare day when I got to use up some otherwise useless, small bits of oak. Here’s the shapes – what on earth are these things you ask?

 Soffit boards for the MFA cupboard. There are several ways to seal up the space between the trapezoidal cupboard and its rectangular overhanging cornice. I chose to run the soffit boards front-to-back in this case…it strengthens the carcass better than any alternative. This case is going to hang on a wall I believe, not actually sit on its lower case like a normal cupboard would. So it can use all the bracing it can get.   

soffit boards mostly installed


The soffit boards fit in grooves in the inside faces of the cornice rails, and are nailed down to the upper edges of the trapezoidal framing. I used a couple of practice carving boards, and the aforementioned off-cuts of riven oak.

 After the soffit was fitted it was time to tinker with more paint. I still took it slowly, too easy to ruin things at this stage…so I wimped out and just did some more black – the pillars, some molded framing parts on the side sections, the applied pilasters (not in photos yet…) and ran out of steam. The paint was thickening up by then, so I added some more hot hide glue, thinned it quite a bit, and added a few polka dots…  

further painting


The zig-zag on the door came out too opaque, I am going to re-do it in black paint & red varnish…maybe as chevrons instead of zig-zag. All the bare oak here on the framing parts will get a thin red varnish, over black squiggles in many places. There are applied turnings to go on, a few moldings on the cornice, and painted pattern on the upper side rails. So it’s starting to look busy; but it’s only half as busy as it will look in the end.

door and cornice rail detail


upper case MFA cupboard in progress


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