I’ve been working….prepping stock for some chests, a chair or two and some stools.

Ooh, look at the shavings

Ooh, look at the shavings


here’s a panel for an upcoming joined chest. I usually think of this as a vase or pot full of flowers & foliage. Nowadays some see faces in it. A similar panel was in the wainscot chair I posted a few days ago.

rorschach test in oak

rorschach test in oak

Here’s the beginning of one that I copied just from a poor photograph. So I made a lot of the detail up. Used gouges & chisels to outline, instead of a V-tool. It requires several consecutive thoughts to establish the pattern in the middle. You can make your mistakes out where the leaves are…

interlace beginning

interwoven design

interwoven design

Here’s the finished panel. Mostly, might add some details around the edges.

interlaced design finished

interlaced design finished

Probably you saw the update from Jogge about the Wille film. Thanks to all who chimed in… http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/761142325/the-spoon-the-bowl-and-the-knife-craftsman-wille-s/posts/500426?ref=email&show_token=b2ed6e52d7f7db05



By now, you know I am a big fan of this style of carved oak furniture. This chest is being offered at an auction in North Carolina, http://www.brunkauctions.com/lot-detail/?id=94982

It’s in pretty beat-up shape, lost its feet, top is trimmed and patched here & there, etc. But so what? The carving is all there. What fun. This is listed as attributed to the Mason/Messenger shops in Boston, but that’s a mistake. It’s Thomas Dennis from Ipswich, Massachusetts; 1660s-1700. It has never been published before in any of the numerous treatments on Dennis’ work…this one literally came out of the woodwork.


carved chest

carved chest

dennis fragment


I noticed they have added a few more pictures from when I first saw it two weeks ago. These two show each end of the chest. Clearly one set is oak, with the ray-fleck pattern from the riven quartered stock. The first pair here seem very plain for riven, quartered oak. Now it’s really difficult to judge a piece by the photos; and these are snapshots rather than the good quality shots above..but if I had a chance to see this chest, I’d look at these end panels to try to understand why they are different from one set to the other. It almost looks like the figured set are sycamore/plane tree.

side panels side panels b

Someone will get a nice chunk of New England joinery history at a discount price. The condition will keep it from getting into the stratosphere. Me, I’ll have to carve my own – after the wainscot chair I have underway now.


rear view joined chest

rear view joined chest

Got some photography done the other day…this one’s a joined chest that I have had around a while. I was waiting to hinge it until I could photograph the process. This is the one with the wooden hinges. Here’s the front view

joined chest

joined chest

You can see this chest in process during the Lie-Nielsen video I did on making a joined chest.  http://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2012/11/26/new-dvd-is-back-again-make-an-oak-joined-chest/

First the wooden hinge; then the interior view, with the till.

chest open hinge

wooden hinge

chest open till


Finishing up a couple of customer’s boxes at the same time…

box 2013 finished

box 2013 open

box 2013 B open

box b detail carving


Back to some carving. The riven oak panels I made a month-plus back are in perfect condition now for carving. This pattern is a panel for the chest with drawers I am building. http://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2012/11/29/a-joiners-life-is-tough/

panel finished
This style of carving uses no V-tool for outlines. The shapes are all derived from the gouges & chisels. For me, that means it’s slower than using the V-tool. But a distinctive look to it… There is for some the inclination to make a template for a design like this, but clearly the period ones were not done that way; the approximate symmetry indicates that this stuff is freehanded. 

Folks who have seen me work, or worse, have taken a class from me, know that I won’t use a pencil on a carving. But I will use chalk to rough out a pattern like this one.

chalk yes pencil no

starting to incise pattern, following chalk outline

There is no layout that I could discern on the original this is based on. I strike a centerline and margins. Then go in with some chalk, and block out three sections. These aren’t really thirds; the top tier is quite a bit shorter than the middle and bottom section. I just eyeballed this off the photo of the original. Then I use the gouges to start defining the curves and shapes, aiming generally for the chalked-in outline. But the gouges rule, the chalk is just a sketch.


first section chopped in

I tend to tackle one side of the bottom section first, then work that same design on the other side of the center line. Then I move up a bit to define the large flower head at the top of the panel.


matching right & left, mostly


blocked out

defining major elements of the design

The scrolled volutes that flank the flower are another area that deserve concentration to get them “right”. Then you fill in the spaces between with leaves, etc.

next scrolls

defining the upper volutes/scrolls

Once the whole thing is outlined,

finished outline

finished outline



then I remove the background with a shallow gouge (a #5 in the Pfiel measuring system, for those of you who want specifics). This background need not be dead flat – in fact it shouldn’t be if you want your work to look like 17th-century carvings.

removing background

removing background

The nice thing about chalk versus the pencil is that removing the chalk lines just requires a slightly damp cloth to wipe them away. A few gouge-cut details decorate the main surface, usually I texture the background with a punch. Or you can paint the background too.

gouge-cut details

gouge-cut details

I think this one used 5 gouges for 99% of the design, then I picked up a very small gouge to finish some detail here & there. And a broad chisel for the outline, and chopping along the center stalk of the design. 





Tool-selling is making me crazy. If you hi-hosied a tool, you will hear more from me early this week. I packed 20+ boxes today, with about that many more tomorrow. so hang in there. 

Meanwhile, here I am, back to actual woodworking. I have made wooden hinges on many of my boxes over the years. I over-represent them based on 17th-century surviving examples, but people nowadays are drawn to the idea of a wooden hinge.


I have rarely used them on joined chests, but shot the process this week for the book I’m writing about chests. I might have mentioned them in the DVD but didn’t show one. So here goes.

First, here it is all done. The turned bit goes loosely through a hole bored in the enlarged end of the cleat. Then it fits tightly in a corresponding hole bored in the rear stile.

wooden hinge

They require a bit of fussing. First, you need to plane or shave a rounded edge on the top rear rail’s outside arris. This is to allow the lid to slide by when it’s opening & closing. You can use a plane, or a spokeshave. I worked with both tools the other day. I start with a bevel then continue to round it over by eye. There will be some adjustments made when you test-fit the lid. I just tilted the chest up on its front feet, and jammed it against the bench to get at it. 

planing bevel

spokeshave bevel

I have made cleats to fit the lid, with an enlarged end at the back. This will have room for the hole bored in it, in this case I made the hole 9/16”. To bore pilot holes in the cleat, I clamp it in the double screw, to lessen the risk of splitting the cleat.

boring the cleat

Then, I set the whole shebang upside down on the bench. Set the chest on the lid, check the amount of overhang this way & that, then set the cleats in place & mark the lid for the nails that fasten the cleats.

locating cleat holes on lid

Then I nail the cleats to the lid, but don’t clinch them yet. Set the lid in place, mark where the holes go in the stiles. bore these.


I turned the pintles, and tested the fit in the hole in the cleat. I want the end of the pintle a very tight fit in the stile, but the part near the pintle’s head loose in the cleat…so more fussing this way & that. 

turning pintle overall

turning pintle

Here, I am testing the pintle end in the hole. It burnishes a mark that shows me where to shave with a knife to get the fit I need. I don’t want it so tight it splits the stile or the cleat. 



Then a test-fit with the turned pintles in place. Try the lid. Watch for any rubbing of the lid on the rear rail. Fine-tune this, making clearance for the lid to swing by. On & off with the lid. It’s annoying, but if the lid binds anywhere on the rear rail, it will get ruined in time. It’s tempting to say “good enough” – but anything less than totally cleared is not good enough…it has to be right. 

it opens


Once I was satisfied, I took the lid back off, clinched the nails, then put it back & glued the pintles into the rear stiles. 

final assembly w pintle


carved chest, paneled lid, 2012

carved chest, paneled lid, 2012

Now that the Joined Chest DVD is out & among us, http://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2012/11/26/new-dvd-is-back-again-make-an-oak-joined-chest/ In the video we included a photo gallery that has a paneled lidded chest, but I don’t go into detail about how to make one…Now I am shifting back to work on the accompanying book. In the book, I plan on having variations that were beyond the scope of the video. One variation will be detailed discussion and illustration of paneled lids. I wrote a bit about them a while ago http://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2012/10/15/joined-chest-till-parts-paneled-lid/ but I finished this chest a couple of weeks ago & got some final photos of it yesterday. 

detail paneled lid

detail paneled lid

This one I made with the front and rear “rails” full-width of the chest. Sometimes the left & right “stiles” run the full depth of the chest, so the long rails fit between them. There is no right or wrong on the formatting of a paneled lid like this. I recall one which has the rear rail full-width and the front rail fits between the stiles. That’s complicated when it comes time for layout. 

I used chamfers around the panels, moldings on the framing parts. Then a thumbnail all around the lid. 

another view

another view

It wasn’t’ until I was viewing these photos that I noticed some carving details that I guess are mistakes….but I can live just fine with them. Notes on this photo:

carving details picked out

carving details picked out

(Agghh – WordPress switched gears on me & now I have to go re-figure how to make photos able to click & enlarge…I like the pictures to go BIG. My apologies) – THANKS TO ERIC IT’S FIXED. YOU CAN NOW SEE THESE PHOTOS LARGER IF INCLINED. JUST CLICK ‘EM. THANKS, ERIC. 

I get regular updates from some auction and antique sites, and this one is one I always look it. http://www.marhamchurchantiques.com/current-stock/all/

Paul Fitzsimmons specializes in oak 17th-century furniture… if you like oak stuff, don’t miss his website. 

You might recognize some of my carvings being based on patterns I have seen on his website. Here’s a joined & carved chest he had the other day. Looks great, right?

Devon chest, front view

Devon chest, front view

Well, let’s look around the corner before we jump to conclusions…

rear stile - wood movement

rear stile – wood movement


Note the wriggled shape of the rear stile! How’s this for green woodworking? Or as a testament to the power of drawbored mortise & tenon joinery? Imagine, they pinned those joints, then the thing took off…but didn’t bust the joints.Imagine working stock of this quality…it’s enough of a challenge when I use good timber…

Here’s a panel’s carving:

carved panel

carved panel

I have seen some related pieces in the flesh, and noted they were made of poor quality flatsawn wood. This one has oak and elm in it. Elm is notorious for not staying flat. Yet they have held up & held together. A rather extreme example, but worth seeing because the lesson is, if you don’t have perfect, rive-able green oak – don’t hold back. Dive in, no glue, no clamps. Mortise & tenon, and drawboring. It will make a believer of you. Have no fear….

Chris Schwarz has it easy writing about how to make six-board chests. Cut four joints and get out a bunch of nails. Simple enough to make several for a book and video. http://blog.lostartpress.com/2012/11/04/help-build-the-furniture-of-necessity/

But a joined oak chest is another matter. 

carved chest fall 2011

When I went to Maine last spring to shoot the DVD on making a joined chest, (here: http://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2012/11/26/new-dvd-is-back-again-make-an-oak-joined-chest/ )  I had a finished chest, two partially-built ones and then as part of the shoot, I split out some parts for another. Even the smallest one has about 35 pieces of wood in it! Not counting the till, so make that 38. Oh, brackets on this one, make it 40. 

And now I’m in the midst of shooting more stuff for a follow-up book on the subject…which means another batch of joined chests. Hewing and riving all those pieces, planing it…trying to remember which stock is for which chest. It’s a tough life.

stacked riven & planed oak

I just finished one, and am wrapping up the smallest one from the video shoot. But I just started one with two drawers like this one I built a few years ago. It’s based on one from the Connecticut River area, around 1650-1680 or so.

chest w drawers

This one is going in the book to show the framing and construction of basic drawers. Another key feature of this chest is that the carving is wrapped around the framing parts, continuing from one piece to the next. Most carved chests are like that in the top photo, where the carved elements are stand-alone designs.

So to layout the design on this one, I had to test-fit the chest’s front frame, then use two compasses to mark the undulating vine that winds its way around the chest front.

test-fit & carving layout

compass layout

Here’s a sample of some of the carving. Each flower/leaf shape is free-hand, determined by the gouges used to outline it. No two are alike, and there’s no symmetry to the design. You can’t go wrong. 

sample carving

I’ll be starting the carving this weekend at the Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event at Phil Lowe’s Furniture Institute of Massachusetts. If you’re in the area, come by…. http://www.lie-nielsen.com/?pg=98

New DVD from Lie-Nielsen

The Joined Chest DVD I did with Lie-Nielsen is back from being reprinted after a glitch was found in the first batch. I’ll send out replacements to those who jumped on it earlier…

So, if you have a few hours to watch me thrash an oak log apart and build a joined chest, you can do so from the comfort of your own home – otherwise, you have to stand at the railing in my shop at the museum.

We shot the DVD last spring in Maine, it includes splitting and riving the stock apart, hewing and planing, then layout, joinery and assembly. I cut notches for the till, and show how to install that, and make a tongue-and-groove white pine floor. The lid is also white pine, a single-width board. For the finale, I attach the lid with iron “snipebill” hinges, (what I call “gimmals” – the 17th-century term for them.)

The disc runs over 200 minutes and is broken into 18 chapters so you can get around to the segment you nodded off at. There is additional content accessed through your computer; some measurements, photos and other bits and pieces.

I have some of these discs for sale, you can order from me by emailing me with your mailing info. Price is $42, shipped media mail in the US.

17th-century New England Carving: Carving the S-scroll

I also have some of the 2nd DVD I shot on carving patterns. This is called “17th-Century New England Carving: Carving the S-scroll”.  A long-winded title about a disc that shows several different ways to lay out and cut a design that is combined many different ways to different effect. This one’s about 100 minutes. Price from me is $27 shipped in the US by media mail. 

If you’d like to order both of them from me, the price will be $62 shipped in the US by media mail. 

My email is peter.follansbee@verizon.net. I can send a paypal invoice, or you can mail a check to me at this address:

Peter Follansbee

3 Landing Rd

Kingston MA 02364

Let me know if you’re sending a check so I can hold a copy for you. 

Of course, as always you can buy these DVDs directly from Lie-Nielsen too, while you are there buying tools and other goodies. They have my first DVD on carving, too and they also sell the joint stool book.  http://www.lie-nielsen.com/catalog.php?grp=1320

Trent sent a note tonight about a joined chest with 2 drawers coming up for sale soon in New York. 

It’s an old favorite of mine, made in Braintree, Massachusetts between 1650-1700. Look:

braintree chest w drawers

Here’s the link to the auction - http://www.doylenewyork.com/asp/fullCatalogue.asp?salelot=12AM02+++313+&refno=++907166


In an article of agreement in connection with William Savell, Sr.’s 1669 will, the sons of William Savell, Sr. agree that the widow, Sarah (Mullins Gannett) Savell shall have “…her whole estate returned to her that she brought to Our ffather for her own use & to dispose of forever with a chest with drawers & a Cubbert…”  

the distinction here is “chest with drawers” – plural. Most of this group had a single drawer below the chest compartment. 

Back when I was doing the legwork research chasing these chests down, I saw two examples that had 2 drawers instead of the more typical single drawer. One of those is now in the Chipstone collection in Milwaukee, WI. This might be the other one, or now a third. I did see a piece of 20th-century homemade furniture that incorporated two drawers from one of these. That piece descended in the Hayward family from old Braintree. 

The article from years ago is:

Peter Follansbee and John Alexander, “Seventeenth-Century Joinery from Braintree, Massachusetts: the Savell Shop Tradition” in American Furniture, ed., Luke Beckerdite, (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England for the Chipstone Foundation, 1996) pp. 81-104

You can look it up on Chipstone’s website, but often you don’t get all the pictures there - http://www.chipstone.org/framesetAFintro.html

Fun stuff. 

[i].) for the will and inventory for William Savell Sr. see Suffolk County Registry of Probate (SCRP) #501, Massachusetts State Archives, Boston. 


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