early August update

My newest thing is being treated for Lyme disease. Found it not by a bulls-eye tick bite, but from swollen knees and ankles. I’ve been pretty badly hobbled for a week or more and am now on the mend. 

I had been moving along all right. I was planing up stuff for cupboard #2 and finishing up the joined carved chest and its videos. So if you’re wondering where the next video is, right now it’s only in my head. It’s going to take a bit of time before I am up to tackling that level of work. The chest sits there, with its drawer opening mocking me. 

I hate when the furniture mocks me

I did finish up a Windsor chair before my legs went south on me. One of Curtis Buchanan’s democratic arm chairs. I still substitute a different tenon on the crest, and yes, Curtis, it takes two extra tools to do so. My arms were a slightly different shape than his, mostly because when I first made one of these chairs, I made a mistake and ended up with a leftover arm. So just matched that arm this time. 

pine seat, red oak arms, hickory for the rest

Curtis started this democratic chair years ago when he was working on a project with Green Wood in central America. Then shelved it and brought it back out a few years back. Since that time, it has taken off and become a favorite chair for many makers. https://www.curtisbuchananchairmaker.com/store/p40/Full-Scale_Drawings%3A_How_to_Make_a_democratic_Arm_Chair.html

I first saw a shaved windsor-style chair in the late 1980s done by Daniel O’Hagan. I then copied that notion of shaving instead of turning and grafted it onto a sackback chair, dated 1989. 

1989 sack back

Having concentrated on Curtis’ versions of the side chair & arm chair for the past couple of years, I keep thinking back to Daniel’s versions. Here’s a sketch of one of his chairs from 1983. 

Daniel O’Hagan’s rustic windsor 1983

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Last week we held Plymouth CRAFT’s first workshop since January 2020. JoJo and Sean came over from the UK for two 2-day classes sandwiched around a small gathering we called “Spoon Day”.

JoJo Wood

It was all great, except for the heat. People were thrilled to be together in person. During one of our dessert-breaks they gave us a nice presentation about their work with/as Pathcarvers – https://www.pathcarvers.co.uk/ Very inspiring. 

Re: Plymouth CRAFT – before you ask – no, we don’t know what or when next classes will be. And that goes double for “Will there be a Greenwood Fest?” The best way to get that news is to be on Plymouth CRAFT’s email list. You’ll only hear from us when we have something to say. https://www.plymouthcraft.org/contact

knife grips in the shade

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I have 2 boxes and a ladderback chair for sale. They’ve been here a while so I reduced the prices by $200. The butternut box was called for back in June, but there was a mis-communication. So it’s still here.

butternut box

And the birds. For weeks and weeks there’s been Carolina wrens (Thryothorus ludovicianus) in & out of the shop. I saw them hauling in nesting material, then I could never tell if they actually nested. Well, they did. This was yesterday

My hero

[I wrote the piece below last week, right after hearing about the death of Bill Russell. It took all week to find the archival stuff to include for illustrations. Still reading about Russell and still learning about his impact in American life in the 2nd half of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st. An amazing man…]

My hero

My brother is 8 years older than me. When we were growing up in the suburbs of Boston, our family had no car. But we did have a garage and driveway. On the front of the garage my father had built a regulation-sized backboard for my brother’s basketball hoop. I was too small to play with him and his friends, but they put a lower hoop on a tree beside the driveway so I could be out there shooting hoops like my big brother. 

And I was 6 years old in the 1963/64 school year when I drew a picture of my hero – Bill Russell -playing basketball.

Bill Russell & Wilt Chamberlain

I won first prize in the Archdiocese Art Fair. (many people won first prizes, I see from the program…) The award ceremony was at Boston College and I remember sitting next to a girl named Casey Jones. And not understanding why she wasn’t K.C. Jones, like Russell’s teammate. 

May 1964
May 1964

One more from that event –

PF at Boston College, May 1964. Before the beard…

[the drawing of Russell above is not the one from that event, but same timeframe.]

I knew the Celtics scene backwards and forwards when I was young – and it’s due to my brother and father. We got two or sometimes three newspapers a day at home. My brother used to cut out every article about the Celtics’ games, including the box score and paste them into scrapbooks. I remember the Boston Globe then used to run cartoons or caricatures about the players and I used to copy them whenever it was a Celtic player. I think at some point I used to help with the clippings. 

from the web

[the photo above I got from the web, didn’t see a credit for the photographer, which is a shame. It’s an amazing shot.]

We went to the games from time to time at the old Boston Garden. I remember once when I was really small, we sat down near the front row. And the next time we went, we were up higher, with a better vantage point. I don’t remember this except from the telling of it – but someone tried to trade seats with my father by telling him “wouldn’t the kid like to sit down close to the players?” And I apparently said that no, we could see better up here. Something I’m sure I was parroting from my brother and father. My uncle Bob might have been with us then too. 

Russell was my absolute hero, 6 was my favorite number. I even remember wanting a goatee because of him. (never had one once it was within my reach). I watched the games all through the 1960s – he retired after the 1969 season, the year I turned 12. 

Russell & Wilt

It was easy for a young kid to be taken with those Celtics teams. They just about always won – 11 championships in 13 years. The only common theme through that whole time was Russell. Back then I read everything I could find about him, but couldn’t digest it all. 

So I guess if a kid’s going to have a hero, Russell would be a good choice. I wish I could say it was because of his stance on civil rights. He marched with King, sat down front for the “I have a dream” speech. He went to Mississippi right after Medgar Evers’ death to run a basketball camp for black & white kids, – these are just snippets of his overall defiance in the face of American racism. A symbol of his position is that he was a pallbearer for Jackie Robinson. But I was too young then to know that scene. All I knew was his basketball playing and the fact that even at my young age, I could see that Russ was “cool.” He was indeed bigger than life. A remarkable man in many respects. 

Over the past few years I’ve read the news about one after another of these players  having died. And they were household names for us. K.C. Jones, Sam Jones, Tommy Heinsohn, John Havlicek – all died in the past few years. Now Russell. These names and youtube clips bring a flood of memories that all sorta slide around each other.

Through it all, I think every time of my brother. So if Russell is/was my larger-than-life hero, my brother is another kind of hero. He and I are both much older than our father ever got to be, but he reminds me of our father, Moe. The best father and husband you can be. First person I thought of when I heard about Russell. SRF, thanks for pointing the way. 

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PS: I have no photos of him and me playing basketball, we rarely did together. Baseball though was something different. And halfball still something else. This photo below is from 1968, I was not yet 11 years old. The only family vacation I ever went on – all the way to Plymouth from Weymouth (about 30 miles). Me at bat, Steve catching. Shortly after this photo, I misjudged a fly ball and famously got knocked unconscious.

PF at bat, SRF catching

When I got married in 2003 my sister threw a big party for us the day after the wedding. I don’t dance, don’t drink and I hate cake. So wedding parties are not my bag. Ours was different. Steve & I got a halfball game going out in the front yard while other people did whatever it is that people do at weddings.

PF pitching

A broomstick and these days tennis balls cut in half. What more do you need?

SRF at bat

UPDATE: I meant to post this youtube video, the best one I’ve seen on Russell this week. It’s worth your ten minutes.

next video available: Carving the Drawer Front

I finished work on the next video in the Joined Carved Chest series. This one I’ve been looking forward to – Carving the Drawer Front.

detail of the drawer front carving

Some simple geometry and only about 5 or 6 carving tools combine to create a very full pattern across the drawer front. I’ve always liked this design and have used it as box fronts a number of times. I put together a lengthy sample (5 minutes) of what’s in the full 90-minute video. The video series is at vimeo.com/ondemand/follansbeejoinedchest

When Jennie Alexander and I studied these chests in preparation for our article about them, we sorted them into two main groups attributed to John Savell (1642-1687) and his brother William Savell (1652-1700). Our findings were that John used a different pattern than William – but only slightly different. This drawer, from the chest at Wadsworth Atheneum is, we believed (& I still believe), the work of William –

drawer attributed to William Savell

But the drawers from chests we felt were John Savell’s skipped the pinwheels around the middle of the drawer. A very small distinction, but one that requires some extra thought in the layout.

drawer attributed to John Savell

The video shows how to carve the one with fewer pinwheels, but it would be easy enough to adjust the geometry to do the other instead. Here’s one I did years ago for a chest I restored.

replacement drawer front on period chest

Interlocking joints; post & rung chairs

David Douyard https://www.daviddouyardchairmaker.com/ & I live within about a 2 1/2 hour drive from each other, yet we’ve only ever met in Australia. But we’ve traded notes & phone calls here & there. About chairs. Yesterday he wrote with a question about the interlocking joints on Jennie Alexander’s chairs. Not something I’ve gone into detail on before, so a chance to think some more about chairmaking and JA, now four years since her death in July 2018.

side rung locking a front or rear rung in place

Back in the 1978 edition of Make a Chair from a Tree, Alexander built the front and rear sections of the chair first, then bored for the sides. She used the interlocking joints (photo above) to pin the front (or rear) rungs in place with the side rungs. This photo is from those days – the mortise is bored with a forstner bit and the tenons have shoulders – it might even be turned. Looks like all hickory.

I have an early JA chair here, made about 1973 or 1974 before she used interlocking rungs. It’s turned, all hickory. Shouldered tenons bored on centerlines, not on tangents. A beastly uncomfortable thing, but an important (to me, anyway) chair.

early JA chair

JA did not cook up the interlocking joints She learned the technique from studying old chairs in museum collections, disassembled ones were the best. Before she learned photography, she’d commission black & white shots from museums she’d visited with Charles Hummel. You can see in the photo below that both mortises are shifted above & below the tangent layout line.

disassembled post & rung chair joints

This next one is a great photo showing the relationship to all these parts. The post with the mortises in it has been turned around to show us the mortises. Note the notch on top of the tenon at the bottom right in the photo. And you can clearly see the layout struck on the post, Great stuff.

interlocked mortise & tenon joints

Alexander drew the joint a million times to better understand the mechanics and to tell whoever would listen. And Alexander was a tinker-er. Locking the front and rear rungs in place was not good enough for her. She decided, very early on, that the main stress on a chair was fore & aft. So why not assemble the sides first and lock those in place? This sketch has the chamfer at the end of the tenon, flats on the sides and even the circumferential notch (later dumped by JA, Drew, etc). But clearly labels the side rung as the “subservient” tenon in this case.

That’s where she was when she & Drew Langsner met in the late 1970s. Drew helped figure out how to go about assembling the sides first. From then on all the JA chairs were built sides-first. Not at all intuitive. But it works.

And one of JA’s favorite parts was making test joints and cutting them open. Both to see the result and to capture the perfect photo of it. We shot hundreds of this sort of thing, both for these joints and the drawbored mortise and tenons we used in joinery. This one you can tell is a later-period example from the top of the blog post. All oak now, white oak at that (maybe it’s a red oak post). No shoulder on the tenon – all shaved. I’m not sure how that mortise was bored – there’s no lead screw of any kind.

later JA cross section

I imagine eventually this one would be rejected – the mortise isn’t deep enough in the post. She preferred a very thin post, 1 1/4″ or so. Less sometimes. And a 1″ deep mortise. That’s pushing the limits of the material. It can get pretty frightening at times. Note the split in the post where the top tenon reaches the bottom of the mortise.

detail of above

Is this technique necessary? No, not at all. Millions of post & rung chairs have been made without interlocking rungs. I still do it – I like the history of it and it’s fun. But it means nothing. I still flatten the sides of the tenons too, and Drew told me he stopped doing that over 30 years ago!

But I did dump the circumferential notch.

the circumferential notch

It’s simple to do if you’re turning a chair, but if you’re shaving it the notch is a pain. When the first book came out, there I was with a Stanley utility knife carving this stupid notch around the top & bottom of each tenon. Eventually JA decided that the most important surfaces on the tenons were the top and bottom and the notch removed material from them. So out it went. Some makers of turned chairs still use it. I bet it’s fun. JA’s note in the 1978 text says “some chairmakers used more than one notch” – how about three??

three notches

The interlocking joints made it into the new edition of the book. The notch did not…

Starting the next one before this one’s done

tip of the iceberg

As usual. An hour or two here & there, a half-day yesterday and I’ve begun the next project. These perfect oak boards I rived, hewed and planed from some bolts leftover from the joined chest I’m building. These are the beginnings of another joined press cupboard/wainscot cupboard – whatever you call it. The same as last time, but now I’m all warmed up. Plus I don’t have to photograph every blessed step of the way. So later this summer into the fall (& probably early winter) the blog will look a lot like it did last year. If you’re new here, this is what I’m talking about. I made that one during 2021, finished in early 2022.

joined cupboard

For those who want to see the shop as it really is – not tidied up for photographs – here’s the shot right before cleanup yesterday after working about 3 hours on planing boards.

mayhem

While I was working, the chest sat where the camera is for this photo. Things got shifted into the chest and onto one bench while I worked at the other. Then it all got shuffled again so I could clean up. Seems the shavings pile is always bigger than the board-pile.

The chest got its first coat of linseed oil today. I always like the way the carvings get better definition from the finish.

oiled carvings

I spent a full day last week shooting video of carving the drawer front. So that will be the next installment in the chest-video-series. Probably a week away. https://vimeo.com/ondemand/follansbeejoinedchest

drawer front detail

While all that is happening Jeff Lefkowitz and I are plugging away at the drawings and plans for the chest.

Jeff’s work

That translates to I find stuff I missed and write to Jeff to tell him we (he, really) has to redraw this or that detail. And he does it without complaint. I don’t know how much you know about Jeff’s work, but it’s outstanding. He really puts a huge effort into these drawings, wanting them to be the best they can be. If you’re not familial with his work, he’s done plans for Curtis Buchanan, Pete Galbert, Tim Manney, Jarrod Dahl, Dawson Moore, Bern Chandley and others I’ve missed. And two series of carving patterns with me. He makes us all look good. He does this in addition to his own chair work and teaching. See Jeff’s sites here – http://www.jefflefkowitzchairmaker.com/ and https://www.instagram.com/jefflefkowitz/?hl=en

There’s no timetable for the plans. They’ll be ready when we’re done. But we’re getting closer. You’ll hear about it.

done

I finished the chair yesterday. Somewhere along the way I drew up this template showing the sightlines I use to bore the leg mortises. I tape it right to the battens, stick a block of scrap wood under it so the adjustable bevel will sit on it and set the bevel & bore away.

sightlines

It works pretty well. The auger bit chews up the oak battens some because it’s canted over pretty far – 25 degrees. Having the back’s uprights in place helps keep the legs from hitting those through tenons coming down from above. The back edge of the template is 4 3/4″ from the seat’s back edge. It worked perfectly, the legs miss the tenons by about 1/4″ or more.

boring leg mortises

Usually on the old chairs, the leg tenons come through both the battens and the seat. This cross-grain construction – the battens run perpendicular to the seat – almost guarantees that the seat will crack. Except sometimes it doesn’t. In all of my previous versions of this sort of chair I did the joinery so the leg tenons only penetrated the battens. This time I made the leg tenons long enough to come all the way through. So I threw the switch in my head that told me not to do it – and bored the mortises through the battens and seat. And glued and wedged the legs in place.

in for a penny

I didn’t think I’d like the tenons poking through the seat board, but I do. It’ll show up better when I put a finish on the chair. Then decades from now it will be harder to see again. Ash legs, butternut seat and back.

July 2022 brettstuhl

I’m going to tinker some more with these 3-piece backs, but I do have some wide walnut waiting to be brettstuhls. And one more ash bolt to rive. Better get to it.

a little more brettstuhl work

trimming battens’ ends

Here and there I take some time to work on the “board chair” I’m making. I struggle with what to call it. This version has a 3-board back. But for now, I’ll stick with the German “brettstuhl” but recognize that it’s not a very good term for it.

Once I got the uprights fitting into the mortises, I then trimmed the extra length at the back end of the battens/cleats. Maybe you can see in that photo above that the upper tenons have already been drawbored – turns out this is not ideal. Small discrepancies in how those two uprights relate to each other means I need to adjust their shoulders for the crest to come down tight on both at once. So I made a note for next time – leave that drawboring til after fitting the upright’s lower wedges. (for now, I plugged the holes in the tenons and will re-bore them after adjusting the fit. Another learning-experience-chair.)

Once I had those uprights fitting in their seat mortises the way I liked them, I marked the baseline of the wedge-mortises. This wedged-tenon is one place where I do things differently from other brettstuhls I know about.

marking the baseline for the wedge mortises

I first heard of these chairs from a Drew Langsner article in Fine Woodworking in the early 1980s. That chair, made by Drew’s mentor Ruedi Kohler in Switzerland, used wedges driven across the through tenons.

wedges across the through tenons

Most of the antique chairs I’ve seen pictures of use tapered pins instead of wedges. And they run from the back toward the front. I decided I like the wedges vs the pins but I like the fore-and-aft direction better. It does have a drawback – you have to miss the legs. (the picture below is from Chris Schwarz – he’s been to places where these chairs come from. I haven’t.)

C Schwarz sent me photos

I bore a couple of holes, then clean out between them to make these mortises. They’re too short to chop in the usual way. Laying them out looks weird because of the angle where the uprights meet the seat. And you have to be sure the mortise extends above the baseline so the wedge will bear on the cleat.

wedge mortise

Now I’ll trim the length of these wedges, adjust the way the crest sits. Then bore for the legs.

wedged tight

I made the tapered legs from riven ash. Turned the tenons oversized, then air-dried them for a while. Last week, I moved them to my 4-wheeled kiln to dry the tenons further before turning them to final dimensions. These days I try not to go anywhere, but at least I get some use out of this car.

hot as blazes in there

a little more chair work, then back to the chest

Recently I did a little more chair work on the next brettstuhl. Laid out & chopped the housings for the dovetailed cleats (or battens) that fit under the seat. I foolishly let months go by between versions of this chair so have to re-learn the layout. These battens have dovetailed edges, so I fumbled around figuring out the layout. Once I got it though – then it’s just cutting it. Below I’m sawing the shoulders of the housings & using a beveled guide for the saw. I’ve removed the holdfasts/clamps so you can see the way the saw banks against that angled edge to cut the shoulder.

cutting the shoulders

Then two steps of chisel work. One to chop out the edges –

bevel down chisel work

The next to use a large 2″ framing chisel to break out the bulk of the waste.

shaving butternut with a framing chisel

I do the final cleanup and flattening of that housing with a router plane. I’m getting there, it’s a new tool for me. I used to do this step with a couple of chisels. But once you’re past where the handle bumps against the back edge of the board, you have to flip the chisel over & pare with the bevel down. Works, but gets tricky. This tool makes easy work of flattening this housing.

router

Then some trial & error in fitting the tapered battens. I got them both done, but didn’t shoot the results. Here’s one most of the way in place. It always surprises me how loose they are until the last few inches, then I really have to drive them in. The power of a wedge I guess.

almost home

The tapered ash legs have been drying on the dashboard of my parked car. Hot as blazes in there lately, they should be ready for the final sizing of the tenons next chance I get to work on the chair. Today was back to the chest – fit the rear panel & drove the last pins. A trim here & there, then the drawer & lid to go.

next is the drawer, then the lid

Plymouth CRAFT spoon classes with JoJo Wood

Twain didn’t really say “reports of my death are greatly exaggerated” but it’s a good line. In a similar vein, if you’ve heard that Plymouth CRAFT is defunct – it ain’t so. We just sat out the pandemic and then some. There was no need for us to dive in earlier, so we just waited. But one thing or another has happened lately and we’re pleased as punch to have JoJo Wood coming back to teach our first next workshop. I’m late in getting this notice out so I’ll just shut up & put the links in.

JoJo

There’s two classes, 2 days each. One is the pocket spoon – https://www.plymouthcraft.org/pocket-spoon-with-jojo-wood

The other is an eating spoon intensive – https://www.plymouthcraft.org/jojo-wood-forms-and-motifs

Dates are Aug 1 & 2 and 4 & 5. At the Wildlands Trust building in Plymouth Massachusetts.

JoJo hewing a spoon

I see on the events page that Paula has posted that I’m teaching the JA chair this fall. That’s true, but I think the dates listed there are speculation. I guess she & I need to get our shit together. We’re out of practice. Come take a class with JoJo – I’ll see you there.

Sneaking a chair into the mix

In between long sessions trying to get video of the heron striking chipmunks and even longer sessions working on the videos for the joined chest series, I’ve begun another Alpine chair/brettstuhl/stabelle/what-do-you-call-’em chairs. I found a couple more boards of butternut for the seat and back(s) and have some ash legs I roughed out a while ago.

The shape of these uprights & crest pieces is derived from a photo Chris Schwarz and his Chair-Chat friends Rudy & Klaus sent me. The carvings I made up – and it’s weird to have chip carving mixed with gouge-cut carvings. But I wanted to fill the spaces as quickly as I could. So that’s what I ended up with.

back assembly

This time the battens are dovetailed with a plane. My notebook tells me it was 7 months ago when I last did one this way. So some head-scratching coming up to cut the housings accurately. I guess the problem is laying them out accurately. Once that’s done cutting them shouldn’t be that big a deal.

using the Ulmia dovetail plane

I bore the waste out of these mortises for the back. First in the seat itself. Then once I’ve cut the housings, I’ll insert the battens and finish boring & cutting those mortises. Clunky approach but it helps me get cleaner results.

13/16″ auger bit & Spofford brace

Today I posted the next video in the chest series. Making the floor boards. 5/8″ white pine, tongue & grooved edges. It’s always a fun part of making the chest.

test-fitting the floor

The tongue & groove is a funny one. Not made with matched planes. Nor is it just a rabbet on the top & bottom face – for some reason they rabbeted the top and beveled the bottom to make the tongue. So that’s what I did.

tongue & groove

I didn’t bother with a trailer, I was tired of computer work & wanted to go work on the chair. There’s plenty of trailers for other episodes if you would like to see what the videos look like. You can find the trailers here https://www.youtube.com/user/MrFollansbee/featured

And the full series – now at 11 episodes and 13 1/2 hours. With lots more to come. vimeo.com/ondemand/follansbeejoinedchest

I went to the end of the shop for a tool & spooked the heron the other day. A relief for the chipmunks. Got a couple of flight shots, which I rarely get in focus.

gone for now but back before you know it

Gotta go see if he’s out there now.