Daniel & I worked out editing the first video of panel carving to accompany the sets of drawings. This panel is one I have never carved on video before, nor have I covered it in print.
When I shoot these, I’m the camera-person as well as the carver. That means I get to ruin things two different ways. I shot these in late July, and here two-plus months later, I found out that for one section the camera was not in focus. So when I get to the free-hand stuff outside the diamond, there’s not much detail about what I’m doing. But I think you can see it pretty well. I was very happy with raking light across this one. So much so that we only used the views from one camera. It’s long, like most of my videos so far. If you make it to the end, or scoot through to the end, there’s a gallery of about 4 variations on the pattern.
I just today turned the page on my calendar in the shop. That’s how ignorant I am of time this year. And I’m just getting to my first spoons of the year. I wrote about some of these the other day, the walnut ones in particular were carved from dry wood. The birch and rhododendron were carved in the more typical green wood. Not that it matters in the finished product. These are for sale, if you’d like one, leave a comment and I’ll set up a paypal invoice for you. Prices include shipping in the US. Flax oil finish.
UPDATE: THESE SOLD OUT, THERE WILL BE MORE TO COME. THANKS FOR THE INTEREST AND SUPPORT OF MY WORK. PF
Spoon # 1 – black walnut – SOLD L: 11″ W: 2 3/4″ $100
This & the other two walnut spoons here were leftover furniture stock, radially-riven black walnut hanging around in a corner of the shop.
Spoon # 2, black walnut SOLD L: 11″ W: 2 3/4″ $100
Spoon #3, black birch – SOLD L: 10 5/8″ W: 2″ $90
I found this black birch while I was sorting next year’s firewood. It was still sound, and when I split it open, still fairly green. Some nice radially-split spoon stock came out of it instead of firewood.
Spoon # 4, SOLD L: 9 5/8″ W: 2″ $90
As soon as I started carving this recent batch of spoons, my wife brought home some rhododendron branches a gardener friend of hers had just cut…my favorite wood for spoons. And this is my favorite spoon of this batch.
Most every batch of spoons I carve has one (or more) of these – a weirdly impractical spoon shape. From the side view, this could pass as a normal spoon. But it had both a crook and a bend. I just followed it.
For my first Windsor-style chair in decades, I was happy enough with that one. Which is different from “I was happy with it.” One problem I had was the legs splitting at the joints.
I suspected my tenons were too large. I talked to Curtis about it, and if I remember right, he said because of the steep angle (say where the side stretcher meets the leg) you can get splitting. Suggested yes, make the tenons a bit smaller than I might in a ladderback chair. I was using white ash. I think another factor was the auger bit I used. It has a thick lead screw that might have contributed to the splitting.
For me, one of the most glaring problems was boring the mortises directly in the tangential plane of the legs. And the orientation of the leg is dictated by the orientation of the seat. In this case:
the long fibers (the “grain”) of the seat run front-to-back.
The growth rings in the legs’ tenons (the whole leg actually) are therefore oriented so they run perpendicular to the fibers in the seat.
The leg is split so the wedge is also perpendicular to the fibers of the seat.
This makes the front view of the front legs (and back legs) the tangential plane. And it means when boring the mortises for the side stretchers you’re boring directly into the growth ring plane. Where ring porous woods split very easily.
BUT – I hate looking at the tangential plane of ring porous hardwoods like oak, ash, etc. And on my first democratic chair, the front of the front legs (and back of the back legs) is this plane.
I thought about switching the leg orientation 90 degrees to the “usual” format. Then you wedge it just the same. This puts the leg’s radial plane, which changes less than the tangential plane, running in the direction in which the seat moves the most from one season to the next. So in a worst-case scenario the seat could split I guess, if it shrank a lot versus the leg tenon which wouldn’t shrink much. I think if you use a softwood seat like white pine, and hardwood legs, the seat will compress before it will split from the legs. I bet any problem would be at assembly, not afterwards. I could, of course, be wrong. It’s been a long time since I was really a chairmaker of this sort.
In the usual orientation, the leg’s radial plane lines up with the long fibers of the seat. The seat does not shrink in this direction at all; maybe the tiniest fraction of an inch. If you were to make the change I was thinking about, the radial face would now be the front view of the legs. Better visually for me, but now you’d still be boring into the radial face./growth ring plane, where ring porous hardwoods also split very easily.
In the ladderbacks I learned from John Alexander and Drew Langsner, we positioned the posts’ growth rings at an angle to the rungs…they coined the phrase “post and rung compromise.” They didn’t make up the concept, it came from studying old chairs. The reason for it is to reduce the chance of splitting the legs when driving the rungs in – the mortises are bored between the growth ring plane and the radial plane. Below is one of Chester Cornett’s chairs, showing the front post oriented with this post & rung compromise. The radial crack bisects the angle between the front & side rungs. But you see how neither of those mortises are in the radial or growth ring plane. Some of Chester’s chairs that I saw used sassafrass posts, this one was white oak, very slowly grown.
I decided to try something this on my democratic chair #2. I was moderately successful. The legs & stretchers on this chair are also white ash, and had grown a bit too slow for this application. Too many growth rings make them a bit weak. I oriented the stretchers in the usual way – their hardwood-to-hardwood mortise & tenon joints seemed more critical to me than the hardwood/softwood leg-to-seat joints. So the growth rings on the side stretchers are parallel to the floor – those on the center stretcher are perpendicular to the floor. This means the mortises for the center stretcher are bored into the radial face, directly in the growth ring plane.
One side stretcher cracked slightly like on the first chair. I keep learning.
But it was the legs that I moved around. I re-positioned them just a bit, turning them in their tapered mortises so the growth rings were angled to the fibers in the seat. The wedge, and the wedging action, are still perpendicular to the long fibers in the seat.
This way I was boring the mortises for the side stretchers one facet off from the growth ring or radial plane.
It worked pretty well, one leg has a small split, but that might be more due to the slow growth rings than anything else. Next time, I’d choose a faster-growing log, and I might turn the tenons rather than spoke-shaving them. It’s better than first time out, almost to where I’m happy with it.
Quite some time ago, my friend Rick DeWolf posted a window he’d made for his barn. I was astounded, wondering “How did he do that?” So I wrote to him & asked “How did you do that?” and he told me he watched Roy Underhill make one.
I have several windows that have seen better days, long ago. I wanted to tackle making new ones, but never thought I could do it. I have a vague memory of working on some with Michael Burrey – way back in 1994. My tools, and my skills, were not sharp enough for softwood. I dropped it for decades. It seemed so complicated. Roy offered to show me how, but we never found the time…
But 2020 seems to offer me lots of time with nothing to do. So I decided this is it – time to learn how to make these things. I watched Roy’s episode, read Lost Art Press’ reprint of Doormaking & Windowmaking. I even browsed some on the web – there I found a nice video of Ted Ingraham making sash. I used to run into Ted here & there in the tool/museum world.
So here goes. Lots of pictures again. I can chop mortises – that’s easy. These are 3/8″ wide – the longest is under 2″. For these, a typical mortise chisel seemed like overkill, so I just used a bench chisel. I have a “sash mortise” chisel that I dislike for my oak joinery. Too light. They’d be great here. I don’t have a 3/8″ one…
One thing that Roy did is to intentionally overcut the front cheek of the tenons. This helps when you cope it to meet the molded edge.
I added one step to Roy’s sequence. I scribed a line on the end grain of that front shoulder, that’s where the coping cuts begins. Or ends, depends on how you look at it. But I keep that narrow shoulder square. Roy didn’t need that step because he used a coping plane, I used a gouge. The block on our left is to keep the stock from blasting apart as I pare across it.
And here is the gouge, starting to cut that coped shoulder. It’s more forgiving than I thought…
After coping the shoulders, I ran the molding & rabbet – but didn’t shoot any photos of it. Here is the plane cutting both edges – in this case, after mortising the stiles.
The plane is by J & L Denison, brothers who worked in Saybrook, Connecticut circa 1830s.
After chopping mortises, cutting tenons, running moldings, it’s time for some test-fitting. Once I had the stiles and horizontal rails tested together, I scribed the length of the vertical muntins. Or are they mullions? Whichever they are, I made them more stout than many – decided I didn’t need the extra challenge of thin muntins on my first go-round.
Knocking it together here & there. Some test-fit, some adjustments. Nothing major.
I checked it. Flat & square & 1/8″ oversized. I got right out of there before I messed anything up.
A week or two ago I got to a project that has lingered here for ages. The small panel in this door was made by my friend Heather Neill, way back when. The Mark Twain quote she incorporated in this panel is from the Autobiography, “My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it.” When Heather & I met in 1982, I had just given up the notion of being a painter, and was concentrating on learning woodworking. She took up chairmaking after I showed her some of the steps involved. She probably made more chairs than me before she gave up chairmaking to concentrate on painting! https://heatherneill.com/
Hanging in my shop is a drawing Heather made for me in 1997; showing her chairmaking space when it was active. In this detail, note the cupboard door with the pipe door handle. (my camera was tilted, Heather’s chair is not squished…)
So for a long time, I’ve been thinking of how to incorporate her Twain-quote-panel in a new door. I have two cupboards near the back of the shop – one for axes, and the other for turning tools. I made the axe one first, and it got doors.
When I made the next one across the shop, I had run out of “extra” pine boards. So left it door-less til now. But now that I was going to all the trouble of making the door – I couldn’t leave it plain. In for a penny…
I made it with flush-fitting panels – because the Twain quote had no margin to speak of. Then decorated it.
I haven’t carved pine since I carved the timber frame of the shop. I decided to use something simple & quick. This braid is featured in the book I did with Lost Art Press – this time there’s no V-tool involved, just incised marks with different-sized gouges. The layout is done w two compasses.
In this example, the large circle is 2 1/2″ wide, the smaller one 3/4″ – I used a 1″ wide #5 Swiss-made gouge, and a 3/8″ wide #7 Stubai gouge. Then a nearly-flat tool to remove some chips.
This is the dramatic view down the line.
This sort of design is common all over the place. My photos from Sweden a few years ago include a few different versions of it. Notice on this arch the way the effect changes according to the relationship between the large & small circles.
One more – again in an arch, but this time with its columns also.
But in the end, I decided to hollow the circles – the scribed design was as prominent as the carved one – and I didn’t like it. I took a large gouge and worked along each band of the circles. This gives the whole thing more shadow.
My version is simpler, too much blank space between the elements. But it will do, although I can’t wait to try it again.
Oh, I forgot about the pipe – why is that there? Heather swears it was one of my father’s, that my mother & I gave to her, no doubt as painting & drawing props. I swear I don’t recognize it. But my father had lots of pipes…so I might as well believe it.
I’ve been carving spoons again lately, after a long hiatus. It came about mostly from shop-cleaning. I found some riven walnut; but not enough to make a joined stool. These are years old, as dry as a bone. Riven radially. To make spoons from them, I took a couple different steps than I do when using green wood. It’s a lot of pictures…
First thing I want to know with the walnut is about sapwood. As these blanks have aged, they’ve discolored and I don’t want to find out when the spoon is shaped that the sapwood is still there. So I hew a few stokes to expose some fresh color. This first one has a wide band of dull-grey/white sapwood. Reject.
This one’s better. Now I begin hewing a new surface and then tapering the width where the spoon’s handle will be.
Now I want to make the area where I’ll work the bowl of the spoon concave. I start with the hatchet coming into the blank at an angle.
Then I pitch the hatchet’s poll toward the spoon, sort of a “flick of the wrist” action. This helps me hew a concavity here. I repeat these two steps until I get the shape I’m after.
Then I hew under the tip of the spoon’s bowl – just a bevel really.
Then under the handle, so far nothing terribly different from when I carve a similar spoon from green wood.
Now it does change, however. Here’s the blank’s general shape.
I sketch the shape I think I want, then put the piece in the vise to hollow the bowl.
I use a #8 bent gouge about 1 1/4″ wide, and a mallet to hollow across the bowl. I’ve left the edges of the blank pretty square at this point, so I can grab it in the vise. To begin, the gouge’s handle is upright…
Then as I come across the bowl, I lower the handle to bring the edge out of the cut at the other side.
Then what I have referred to as the “chicken” maneuver – sawing the shoulders. Hewing this material away in dry wood is a chore, so I skip it.
Back to the chopping block. The sawcuts allow pretty easy work of chopping out that reversing fiber-area – toward the bowl first.
Away from it second.
None of this is revolutionary or anything – all this is perfectly valid regardless of the moisture content. One more departure from my “normal” technique though is the shaving horse. It’s a step that’s now inserted between the hatchet work and the knife work. I think Tim Manney was the first person I saw using a shaving horse & drawknife to make spoons – he & Curtis Buchanan use them with steam-bent blanks. Curtis just did a co-teaching gig on it with Elia Bizzarri http://handtoolwoodworking.com/spoon-carving-videos-with-curtis-buchanan/
I start with the bevel down, hollowing the curve in the back of the handle. Holding the blank gently in the shaving horse…
Now bevel up to fair out the shape on the underside of the bowl.
Using it as a push-knife to work the rounded back of the bowl.
After all this, I just proceed as usual with slojd knives and hollowing knives to finish the spoon.
This is the third video in the series; fourth if you count the intro to the drawings. I have several more to go, some of which have already been shot and just need editing. The floral panel I plan on shooting in the next week or so. Then it’s on to finishing the next set of drawings. I post all of the videos here on the blog as well as on youtube.
This one I shot the steps and discussed them as I went along, then carved the whole pattern a second time with little commentary, trying to just carve it in “real” time. (I hate that expression). So the back 12 minutes or so is a bit redundant. You’re warned, repetition is the mother of retention.
I don’t need the calendar to tell me the season is changing – the light in the shop is distinctly different now, a bit lower, coming around a bit earlier. A nice time of year…
Our neighbors put out some stuff for sale by the side of the road from time to time. I wouldn’t let Maureen bring home a small table last week, so I couldn’t bring home these chairs this week. But I could photograph them…some fun stuff to see. One with four slats, but still a small chair.
A hideous knot in the rear post – ugh. But it’s lasted quite a few years.
This was my favorite of the pile. Worn down on the feet, probably was about 4″ higher I’d say.
I like the top slat of this one.
They were $20 apiece – nobody bought them. Not enough traffic these days, I guess.
I’ve had chairs on my mind lately. I told you I pay attention to Curtis Buchanan’s work. Recently I bought a set of his new drawings for the democratic arm chair.
I finished this example of the side chair earlier this year – and started another. Now I hope to finish that one and then make the arm chair.
I shaved parts for the arm chair in red oak, but mine are a bit heavy. I’ll wait a little to see how much they shrink, then will go over them just a little more to slender-them-up a bit. Or down, I guess.
Curtis’ shaved chairs really hit me right at the right time. I made Windsors many years ago, learning from Curtis and Drew Langsner. Quite some time ago, my friend Michael Burrey took me into his house to show me some things he’d bought at someone’s estate sale – including this continuous arm settee I made back in the late 1980s/early 1990s. I took one look at it, and immediately thought “I couldn’t make that today.”
and that got me to thinking about how I’d like to recover some of those techniques/skills. Then along came Curtis’ democratic chair. It reminded me of some shaved chairs I made way back when, inspired by my friend Daniel O’Hagan. Here’s a settee my brother and his wife still have, I must have made it around the same time as the one above.
This one I still use, I’m sitting in it right now – it’s my version of Curtis’ sackback chair, just with shaved bits instead of turned bits. Tulip poplar seat, cherry legs/stretchers/arm stumps. White oak, ash & hickory above the seat.
In case you’ve not got to Curtis’ chairs & plans yet – here’s his links:
The first one is made from butternut (Juglans cinerea) – a relative of walnut. This was a wide board that I cut apart to make quartersawn stock. I chose a strapwork pattern for the front and sides – I wanted to make the most of this fabulous wood for carving. Wooden hinges (the back board and the cleats under the lid are oak), a till inside. Pine bottom as usual.
H: 9 1/2″ W: 24 1/4″ D: 14 1/2″
$1,200 including shipping in US.
CARVED OAK BOX
white & red oak, white pine bottom.
H: 8 1/2″ W: 23 3/8″ D: 13″
$1,000 includes shipping in US.
This pattern is often found on 17th-century work – a surprising amount of detail in small spaces. (the bottom photo shows the detail well…)
Glued & pegged at the corners, bottom nailed on w handmade nails. Handmade hinges as well. A lidded till inside.