carved panels

 
carved panel with layout
carved panel with layout

Here is a sample panel, patterned from one in the chest I finished a week or two ago. The right hand half of this one shows the layout for this pattern; with the left-hand side completed. This is a piece of red oak, about 12″ wide x 14″ high. This design is established with a compass, awl, and the curves of the gouges. There is no V-tool outlining at all. I’ve only carved a few of these, so they go slowly – it took me about 2 hours to carve a panel like this. There’s a lot of fussy detail to it; so I am not sure I could carve it much faster than that.

Outlining panel with V-tool & mallet
Outlining pattern with V-tool & mallet

Another pattern I have carved numerous times is this from a chest made in Braintree, Massachusetts, c. 1640-1700. This pattern relies on the V-tool to outline much of the design, then the curved gouges to accent and shape the forms.

 

 

 

 

This is the finished pattern, on another chest just completed. All of these carvings are done in oak, often red oak (Quercus rubra) as seen here, sometimes white oak (Quercus alba).  Like all the joinery I do, much of the work is executed with timber containing a relatively high moisture content.

finished panel in reproduction Braintree chest

another joined chest

Braintree chest restored
Braintree chest restored
PF repro of Braintree chest

Here are two joined chests, one an original I have  been restoring, the other is a reproduction I made, just about to leave the shop…this one is about 52″w x 26 1/2″ h x 19 3/4″ d. Oak with a pine lid and floor. It’s patterned after a group I have studied extensively, having published an article on them in the 1996 issue of American Furniture. The originals date from the second half of the seventeenth century, made in Braintree, Massachusetts, probably by William Savell, and his sons John & William.  

A few years ago I was fortunate enough to buy one of the original chests, attributed to the son William Savell. It was at an auction, and I got it for an affordable price because it needed restoration. I have essentially finished restoring the woodwork, a few minor things, like removing the castors, installing the hinges, are left. Also, I have yet to have the coloring work done to match the drawer front and chest lid to the surface of the chest itself. In due time…I figure it’s been around for at least 308 years, it should last a bit longer.

 To see the article, follow the link to Chipstone’s website, and then go to “publications-American Furniture-1996” 

carved design

chest with drawers, side panel
chest with drawers, side panel

Here is the side panel from the joined chest with drawers. This is a good example of what you can get away with while doing this style of carving. This pattern repeats from left to right, but it is not strictly speaking symmetrical. “The eye is very forgiving” Alexander used to tell anyone who would listen. I look for this type of variation when studying original artifacts from the period – this is how they should look, more or less.

The background is textured with a toothed punch, after having carved the design with the gouges and a mallet. If I remember correctly, this panel is about 10″x 13″ or so.

new joined chest

 

chest with drawers
chest with drawers

This is a new joined chest with two drawers, just finished recently. Oak, with white pine for the chest lid and floor, drawer bottoms and rear panels. I based it loosely on an example at Historic Deerfield. The original was made in the Connecticut River Valley c. 1680.

This pattern is unlike most from the period, in that it meanders across the framing members. I laid out the scrolling vine motif with a compass; the leaves that fill in the spaces are free-handed with various curves of the gouges.

The central panel also uses a compass for some of its layout; the balance is again freehand. The shapes of the carving gouges determine the shapes of the leaves. 

detail center panel chest with drawers
detail center panel chest with drawers

Like all of my joined work, the oak was riven, or split, from the log, and hewn with a hatchet and then planed at the bench. This work is best done while the oak has a high moisture content. This comes as a surprise to many people who think that green woodworking is confined to chairmaking. I first started as a chairmaker and never would have thought it possible to do this sort of work in green wood. But a carefully chosen straight-grained oak, when split radially, will work up beautifully and result in boards that are very stable. The benefit of working this way is the ease of handling the green oak, it cuts very easily when wet; once it has lost its moisture, it requires much more effort to work the stock.  

More on that process later.

joined chests

 
joined chest with brackets, oak & pine

Last year, and now this year too, I made a few joined & carved chests. These are one of my favorite forms; mostly because there is plenty of area to carve. (these  photos are from two examples made last year. I intend to post the first two of this year soon.) Almost a standard item in seventeenth-century England and New England, these were used for storage of textiles, as well as other household goods. They survive in countless variations, all made along a basic format. They are frame-and-panel work, fastened with mortise-and-tenon joinery. The primary timber is almost always oak, sometimes with secondary woods like white pine that I use for chest lids, floors, etc. This example is based on many surviving ones from Ipswich, Massachusetss, and Devon, England. These Devon-style chests are noted for their varied repetoire of carved patterns.

carved details, joined chest 2007
carved details, joined chest 2007

 The inside features a till, the lidded compartment around which the chest is assembled. These consist of three boards; the bottom, lid & side. The sides and bottom are captured in grooves in the inside surfaces of the rear and front of the chest; the lid is shaved down to a round pin at each end, and fits into a hole bored in the front and back sections of the chest. Installing a till can make assembly more exciting than it needs to be.

 till inside joined chest

Box pintle hinge detail

box pintle hinge detail

This detail photo shows 2 boxes, back to back. the one on the left is completed, the one on the right needs its lid attached. It shows the extended section of the rear board, shaved to a peg about 5/16″ thick, and about 1/2″ long. The finished box shows the cleat that is nailed to the underside of the overhanging lid, with its enlarged round section at its back end. A hole is bored through this end to slip over the “pintle” – thus forming the wooden hinge.

 

They take a little planning to get them right, but are really quite simple after the first couple attempts. I use either oak or pine for the lid, and oak for the cleats. Usually 2 nails per cleat will do it. There is a related hinge for chests, but the pin then is a separate turned piece, fitted through the cleat and into a hole bored into the end of the chest. More on that another time.

boxes

I recently have been working on a few boxes; this one is nearly done. It is made like most of my boxes; riven green oak for the sides, front & rear. This one features a white oak lid as well. The bottom board is white pine.  I usually carve the front and sides; most boxes from the seventeenth century were carved only on the front. Mine are sometimes pegged at the corners; sometimes nailed.

carved oak box
carved oak box

All that is left on the new one are the wooden cleats that attach to the underside of the lid. In addition to helping to stiffen the lid and minimize warping, these cleats are part of the hinge. The back end of the cleat is wider than the rest, and a hole is bored through it to slip over the protruding pin on the end boards of the box. The detail photograph is from a different box, but is the same construction.

wooden pintle hinge detail
wooden pintle hinge detail
New England boxes often feature a till, or small interior compartment. I include these in some of my boxes as well. Essentially a 3-sided compartment around which the box is assembled, the till complicates assembly a bit. They can be useful though, for storing small stuff that would get shuffled and lost in the bulky contents of the box interior. Another benefit of the lidded till is that its lid can be opened to prop open the lid of the box. This is equally true of tills in joined and boarded chests.
box lid propped open with till lid
box lid propped open with till lid
This photo shows our mitten & scarf box; not much used right now of course; but there will come a day…

“three footed chair”

three footed stool, ash & cherry
three footed stool, ash & cherry
This turned chair has a beveled panel for a seat, captured in grooves in the thee seat rails. This requires that the seat rails all be at the same height. This is acheived by using interlocking tenons; in this case a rectangular tenon pierced by a turned tenon. Each seat rail has one of each tenon, and they chase each other around the chair frame.
seat rails\' joinery
seat rails
I turn the parts on the pole lathe; the ash is riven, or split from the log. Nice straight-grained wood is essential. The rectangular tenons are cut with a saw, and split with a chisel.
turning a round tenon
turning a round tenon
sawing a shoulder for the rectangular tenon
sawing a shoulder for the rectangular tenon
splitting the waste off the rectangular tenon
splitting the waste off the rectangular tenon
more to follow…

 

PF on Roy Underhill’s “The Woodwright’s Shop “

In the winter of 2007, I travled to North Carolina to shoot another episode of Roy Underhill’s PBS program on woodworking, “The Woodwright’s Shop.” I brought along some carved boxes, and we ran down the process as quickly as we could.

I don’t have television here at home, and even if I did, the local PBS does not carry Roy’s program. Some places do, some don’t. But you can view non-current episodes on the web. The link is:

http://www.pbs.org/wws/schedule/video.html

shaving horses

One thing I hear from people about a lot is the shaving horse I made, based on one designed by my friend John Alexander. It’s discussed on Alexander’s website www.greenwoodworking.com – in my intro on that site, I mention that the shaving horse is an old tool, but how old, and where the English version came from are still open questions. We illustrated one from the sixteenth century in that article, from De Re Metallica, (1556) a German text concerning mining, of all things.  

This week, J. Alexander kindly lent me a copy of Das Hausbuch der Mendelschen Zwolfbruderstiftung zu Nurnberg, where there is a slightly earlier German shaving horse, (1485) this time used by a cooper, as would be expected. So, although this painting is lacking some small details (no legs for this shaving horse, for instance) it is clearly a “dumbhead” style shaving horse -easily recognized today. 

 

 

 

 

 But, my work is concerned with reproducing seventeenth-century joined and turned furniture. Sometimes, I use a drawknife. So, the question arises, what did the English use in the seventeenth century for drawknife work?  Joseph Moxon, writing in the 1670s and 80s, describes using a drawknife while bracing the stock against your breast, and shoving the other end against part of the workbench.

Ҧ 5. Of the Draw-knife, and its Use

 The Draw-knife described Plate 8E is seldom used about House-building, but for the making of some sorts of Household-stuff; as the Legs of Crickets, the Rounds of Ladders, the Rails to lay Cheese or Bacon on, &c.  When they use it, they set on end of their Work against their Breast, and the other end against the Work-bench, or some hollow Angle that may keep it from slipping, and so pressing the Work a little hard with their Breast against the Bench, to keep it steddy in its Position, they with the Handles of the Draw-knife in both their Hands, enter the edge of the Draw-knife into the Work, and draw Chips almost the length of their Work, and so smoothen it quickly.”

 

 That could be done, but it must have been uncomfortable. 

 

 

 

Randle Holme’s Academy of Armory (1688) has a “paring ladder” – a sort of brake:  

“… the paring Ladder, or Coopers Ladder, with a pareing Staff in it: By the help of this all Barrel Staves or Boards are held fast and safe while the Work-man is paring or shaving them fit for his purpose.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

The same device is depicted a little less than three hundred years later in J. Geraint Jenkins’ Traditional Country Craftsmen (1965) showing a hoop-maker using something similar to shave his stock. Jenkins called it an upright horse. It seems his left leg applies the pressure that holds the stock against the “paring staff” both of which are held under a cross piece at the top. there’s no date for the photograph, the presumption is c. 1920s-40s. [illustration from J. Geraint Jenkins, Traditional Country Craftsmen (London, Boston & Henley: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1965,1978) figure 23.] 

 

  

But, where the English style shaving horse came from is still to be discovered. I still like mine, it’s a little weary by now. I’d guess it’s about 15-20 years old. I use it less than I used to, it’s just that most of my work is planed at the bench, rather than shaved these days. But it still holds up all right. I simplified Alexander’s design, by eliminating metal fastners and fixings, and I used pine for the bench and work surface.  

 

 

  This detail photograph shows how the work surface is hinged. A block that is essentially the same as the poppets on a wooden lathe receives a wooden pin through its head. This pin also pierces the end of the work surface. A bevel on the bottom corner of the work surface facilitates the hinge motion.