First off, I want to thank everyone for reading my notes here. I will be gone to a conference at Colonial Williamsburg for the next few days, so thought I would leave here with a bang – the turner from the Stent panel. Here’s the pictures, I’ll write my thoughts on it next time.
In addition to carving, (sometimes instead of it) applied moldings and turnings were a common form of decoration in seventeenth-century furniture of England and New England. Above is a chest of drawers I did a few years ago that use all of these techniques, as well as paint for its decorative effects.
The cupboard restoration I have underway now needs a couple of pieces of these applied turnings. I make the turnings on my pole lathe, and there are just a couple of details to make the job eaiser, and also make the result look more appropriate.
The applied turnings, in New England usually maple (acer species), do not appear to be complete half-cylinders. Instead of turning the solid and cutting it in half; these are made by gluing two sections together, with a strip in between them. I use hide glue for this, it is easily knocked apart afterwards. I have seen many modern turners do these with just a piece of paper between them. This allows them to separate the pieces after turning, but leaves the results looking mostly as half-cylinders. The real reason, in my opinion, for the wooden strip between these peices is because the points of the pole lathe will act as a wedge, and drive the glued-up blank apart as you tighten the stock in the lathe. In the photo below the center strip is oak, and you can see the point from the compass where I marked the center.
Then, it’s turned to the required profile.
After removing the stock from the lathe, I set it over a steaming pot of water for a minute, to soften the hide glue. Then just set a chisel in place, and give it a rap with a mallet. A little wriggling here & there will usually get the thing apart. If it is stubborn, more steam, not more force.
The saw and hatchet are positioned between the joiner and the turner; perhaps because both men use these tools. Joseph Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises, describes the hatchet used by joiners:
25. Of the Hatchet.
The Hatchet marked L, in Plate 4- It,, use is so well known (even to the most un-intelligent) that I need not use many Words on it, yet thus much I will say, its use is to Hew the Irregularities off such pieces of Stuff which maybe sooner Hewn than Sawn.
When the Edge is downwards, and the Handle towards you, the right side of its Edge must be Ground to a Bevil, so as to make an Angle of about 12 Degrees with the left side of it: And afterwards set with the Whetstone, as the Irons of Planes, &c.
So what Moxon is describing is usually now called a “broad” hatchet, other terms used are hewing hatchet or side hatchet, among others.
Moxon describes its use when talking about squaring up stock with the bench planes:
“…for quickness, hew away the Risings with the Hatchet: but then youmust have a care you let not the edge of your Hatchet cut too deep into the Stuff, lest you either spoil your Stuff, by making it unsizeable) if it be already small enough; or if it have substance enough, make your self more labour to get out those Hatchet-stroaks with the Plane than you need.Then take off the roughness the Hatchet made with the Fore-plane Rank-set, thenfine set, and last of all with the Jointer, or Smoothing-plane”
Here is what it looks like in my shop these days. The hatchet is swung, not pushed (sorry, Schwartz!) As a friend of mine said, it’s easier to sharpen the hatchet than the saw, so hew it if you can…
Mine is a German hatchet, made sometime before the early 1930s by Fuchs, in Canstaat – it arrived in my mailbox one day, courtesy of Alexander. I have a pretty good mailbox.
I finally got around to some photography of the box I finished this past fall. I made a molding around the front and sides, and carved some gouge-cuts into it. The box is pegged together, and the molding is pegged on as well. This is an example of a box that in a sense I made up; I copied the front carving from one box, and the sides from other period work. Red oak with a white pine lid & bottom.
Here is a detail of the carving; and also of the till inside the box.
two questions came up yesterday, both will get addressed in detail at some point – but for now, a quick answer. I think it was Steven Golden who asked about the panel groove – and I wrote something about it in my comment, but really it will take a series of about 4 photos and it will become very clear then. I will shoot that next time I make some chest stiles, which should be two weeks from now. Meantime, here is another period chest, showing the panel grooves on both front stiles. It extends beyond the side mortise on one stile, and beyond the front mortise on the other.
So, for the whole story of these panel grooves – stay tuned. It will be much easier for me to show you than to describe it.
Another question from yesterday was about moisture content, and modern heating; i.e. how will furniture made this way react to central heating. I haven’t had any problems here in New England. One of the greatest challenges I have faced is a customer who likes my stuff who lives in Arizona. I have tried to get her to move; but no dice. So for her work, I take a very long time between harvesting the log, and delivering the furniture. Thankfully she is quite patient and understanding. But outside of the desert, I don’t think there will be a problem. The better quality the wood, (straight-grained, knot-free) the better it will behave as it loses its moisture and settles down to an equilibrium moisture content compatible with its environment.
I have a joined stool that I disliked when I finished it, so I banished it to the basement, and ultimately outdoors. I figured it would self-destruct. It has been out through at least 5 winters and summers and is still tight. I wouldn’t now bring it in the house and expect it to survive, but all the household joined stuff I have made is fine.
Alexander posted a long comment on the moisture content, and soon I will cut & paste that together with some more thoughts on joinery as green woodworking.
Many times the best view of a piece of furniture is not the front. In this case, we have a seventeenth-century joined chest from New England. I have the chest sitting on its head, feet in the air. I was behind the chest, shooting the back & bottom. There are so many things to see from here, it’s like a textbook lesson in period joinery techniques.
First, it’s riven oak. The floor boards are not dressed on their bottom surface, and the riven fibers are quite visible. These bottom boards fit in grooves in the front & side rail, a notch in the front stiles, and are nailed up to a higher rear rail. The iron nails have reacted with tannic acid in the oak, but the blackening also requires moisture to be present – an indication of green woodworking.
The joiner used an awl & square to layout his joinery on the faces of the stock, the scribed lines are seen where the rear rail meets the stile, and where the muntin meets the same rail. (this same technique appears on the front of this chest, and related ones.) Laying out on the face is useful when transferring the layout from one piece to the next. To me, this indicates that the joiner measured only one vertical piece, and one horizontal piece, then scribed the others from these.
The floor boards are tongue-and-grooved at their edges, and there is one or more tapered-width boards. This maximizes the stock, and also serves as a “keystone” to drive the floorboards right & left to fill up the space.
These floor boards were installed with extra length, and trimmed flush with the rear face of the rear rail after installation. Sawmarks are visible where the saw abraded the rear rail.
the layout lines for the rear rail’s mortise in the stile are set out for a rail wider than this one – the front rail matches this layout, but the rear rail is not as high to accomodate the floor boards being nailed up. So the joiner copied the front layout to the rear pieces. The mortise is cut not to the layout, but to the actual rail that fits it. Mostly.
The pegs that fasten the joints are proud of the surface. Another indication of green woodworking. Much more of this & related stuff to come.
I wanted this picture in last night’s post about drawboring, but couldn’t find it. So today, while sorting pictures for my trip to Colonial Williamsburg, there it was.
I am driving the tapered oak pegs into the drawbored mortise-and-tenon joints. You can see four more pegs lying on the bench; mine are not all that long, about 5″ or even less. They are the driest stock in the shop, shaved from riven stock, never sawn. There will be lots more of this.
The other day I was working at some parts for some joined stools; and was able to get a few photos of some of the drawboring process. I still haven’t assembled this particular stool, but cut most of the joinery. The stool is for a demonstration I am doing down at Colonial Williamsburg on Feb 2; so it’s one of those Julia Child scenes; where I make most of the parts up here, then chop two mortise-and-tenon joints down there & presto! joined stool.
The essentials of drawboring a mortise and tenon are simple. The holes for the pegs which secure the joint are intentionally offset in such a way that a tapered peg, when driven through the holes, will pull the tenoned rail up tight against the mortised member. No glue, no clamps. Simplicity itself.
Here I am testing the thickness of the tenon in its mortise. I pare the tenon with a wide framing chisel; then I will saw & split off the upper 3/8″ of the tenon.
Once I’m satisfied with the fit, I insert the tenon and mark with an awl the location of the mortise’s holes on the face of the ten0n.
Here is a detail of the piercer style bit used to bore these holes. This bit is about 1/4″ to 5/16″. I eyeball the amount to offset the holes, towards the shoulder of the tenon – “about the thickness of a Shilling” says Joseph Moxon. This view shows a drawbored joint, unpegged, so we can sight through the offset holes. This much offset is perhaps a tad overdone, but it will work.
I make the pegs from split, straight-grained oak. I shave them with a chisel to a tapered octagon. I eyeball the size. Here is a cross-section of the peg’s path through the intentionally mis-aligned holes. This view is of a sample joint I made about 15 years ago. It has many of the hallmarks of seventeenth-century New England joinery: an undercut front shoulder, a tenon that is shorter than the mortise is deep, and in this case, no rear shoulder to speak of at all. This joint is only fastened with 1 peg, plus this 2nd one that is cut through. It has been handled by thousands and thousands of people over 15 years, and is as tight a joint as one would ever need.
This time it’s a view of the tools hanging behind the joiner’s bench. There are four planes; all seem to be molding planes of some type – the side escapement for the shavings, and the shoulders that serve to reduce the thickness of the stock where the joiner holds the plane are the evidence for these being molding planes. To my eye, one point worth noting is the varied length of these tools. Later on, molding planes reached a uniform length, but not these.
For most of the seventeenth century it seems that workmen made their own planes. In his Academy of Armory, Randle Holme, (published 1688, but begun in 1649) discusses joynter planes, and the caption for one of his illustrations states:
“…a Joynter, which of some is made after this manner, contrary to that described in chap. 9 numb. 19 but all the difference is in the Tote or Handle, which every Workman maketh according to his own Fancy, all other parts in the stock agreeing.”
The plane on our left is a little different from the other three – not sure why. It’s missing its wedge for one thing, and the upper section as well. I speculate that the carving went wrong – you can’t put the wood back once it’s cut.
The chisels are mostly blocked from veiw, but we see one is skewed, and another has a flared end. On the right of the row are two gouges, and inbetween the gouges & chisels is the joiner’s compass.
An 1633 inventory for John Thorp, carpenter, of Plymouth Colony, includes among other tools, some unspecified molding planes.
John Thorp, Carpenter
1 Great gouge £00-00-06; one gr brush & 1 little brush at 00-00-10; 1 square 00-02-00 one hatchet 00-02-00; One Square 00-02-06; 1 short 2 handsaw 00-02-00; A broade Axe 00-02-00; An holdfast 00-01-06; A handsaw 00-02-00; 3 broade chisels 00-01-06; 2 gowges & 2 narrow chisels 00-01-00; 3 Augers Inch & ½ 00-01-00; 1 great auger 00-01-04; inboring plaines 00-04-00; 1 Joynter plaine 00-01-06; 1 foreplaine 00-00-00?; A smoothing plaine 00-00-00?; 1 halferound plaine 00-01-00; An Addes 00-02-06; a felling Axe 00-03-00
I find the study of planes fascinating, and we are lucky there are so many good researchers working on it. The most recent book I have seen on early English planes is Don & Anne Wing’s Early Planemakers of London: Recent Discoveries in the Tallow Chandlers and the Joiners Companies. A wonderful book.
Much of the material I have been posting on the blog in the past month or two is related to a project that has been underway for some time. Along with Jennie Alexander I am working on a book that will be an introduction to the craft of joinery, as we have practiced it for the past 20 years. The project in the book will be a joined stool, but the principles apply to most of the forms of joined furniture common in the seventeenth century. The book is still a ways off, but this winter I am working on some new photography for it, then we will start to pull it together from our copious notes and drafts.
A preview of that work is this carved panel, depicting a joiner and turner of the period. We have always come back to this panel as a cornerstone in our research. When we first conceived the idea to do a book, the first picture Alexander sought permission for was this panel. The present owner graciously granted it, and asked to credit “John Stent of Shere.” The panel is about 10 ½” x 24 ½.”
The “Stent” panel has been published a number of times. As far as we can tell, the first major publication to discuss the panel was W L Goodman’s excellent book The History of Woodworking Tools (1964). Goodman cited the saw handle as evidence that the panel is probably English.
The importance of this panel resides in its having been made by a seventeenth-century tradesman who worked in a similar shop rather than being an artist’s interpretation. All of the tools depicted in the carving are described in detail in Moxon’s Mechanick Exercisesor Doctrine of Handyworks (1683) & Randle Holme’s Academy ofArmory & Blazon (1688) and appear in early New England inventories. More importantly, marks left by similar tools are present on the interior and exterior surfaces of surviving furniture.
We intend to review the panel in detail in the book, and will sample some of that here. In light of recent posts, we note the joiner’s bench, bench hook and holdfast. The bench’s legs are bored to accept the holdfast, (or wooden pegs) in conjunction with the piece fitted on the bench’s edge for jamming a board edge-up for planing. If only we knew what to call it. Moxon’s & Holme’s are fitted with a wooden screw, and thus they call it a “bench screw.” This one clearly lacks the screw. Note the flat arm of the holdfast; very different from the curved one seem more commonly.