Recently I have had some questions from readers and others about woods other than oak for joined work. So here is a joined stool frame made from ash, riven in the same manner as oak, and worked green. It handles a little differently, but the work proceeds the same.
I don’t know how many years ago I made a bedstead for our house, and used ash for many of the parts. Over time, dust & dirt, and occassional polishing have blended the colors of the oak & ash fairly well. It’s not as stark as when new.
I have seen some period examples using ash, others use walnut (English and American) also. I recently looked at a chest of drawers at the Museum of Fine Arts that was principally made of cedrela (now usually called Spanish Cedar). Cedrela is related to mahogany, but some species of cedrela are ring-porous, meaning they can be riven with ease…
And finally, a reminder to keep your eyes open. On one of my trips to England I was caught off-guard when Victor Chinnery showed me a walnut joined chair that is featured on the cover of his book Oak Furniture: The British Tradition:
Richard Francis, one of the readers of this blog, was kind enough to send me some photographs he shot at the V&A in London, of the paneling I had been studying from published photos & drawings. Thanks, Richard. (well, I got this one sideways…) (here’s the previous discussion of this material: https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/?s=bromley )
My first version was outlined with a V-tool, which leaves a characteristic beveled edge to the lines.
I decided that was not what I was seeing in Richard’s photo. So today I tried another version, in which the curves were marked out by incising the oak with various carving gouges to define the shapes.
So I think the way I will approach it will be to layout with a compass, and then use the gouges & chisels to incise the pattern, then cut down the background, followed by shaping the surface. Next time I get to London I plan on spending a good amount of time studying this same pattern repeated umpteen times throughout the room…I’ll bring a flashlight/torch…
So last week the bowl arrived in the mail. It’s a nifty thing, we are all thrilled with it, but the kids now both want bowls…and while I often have these great visions of a house full of handmade this & that…at 3 1/2 years into kid-dome, I still have yet to assemble their chairs, much less make them woodenware.
But today I caved a bit, and made the first of a couple of bowls for them. Found some cherry in the firewood pile. This was my warm-up bowl, after a year-long hiatus.
My pole lathe is essentially for furniture parts, but I have finagled some bowls out of it each year. I don’t aspire to be a bowl turner, joinery keeps me challenged enough. I’ll leave bowls to others, but I like making a few once in a while.
I don’t use any special set-up, no separate poppets, and I use my regular tool rest for the outside of the bowl. The inside has a dedicated tool rest. I use one hook tool, and a gouge. The hickory mandrel has a 5/8″ turned tenon, that now is worn down a bit, so that a shaving & the tenon produce a tight fit. The methods I use are not the most efficient, but they work. When I undertook to learn turning bowls, there was little to go on for a pole lathe. It wasn’t until later than I learned of Robin’s work. As one of my woodworking teachers, Daniel O’Hagan once told me, “I didn’t know I couldn’t do it…so I just dove in.”
BUT…I snapped the pole!
The first one I had lasted 14 years, this one barely one year…it looks like it snapped at a knot, so I am hoping the one I replaced it with will be no problem. However, I did look up quite a bit when the new (#3) pole went up…maybe my confidence is not shaken, but my faith in my tree selection…
PS: the above was yesterday. I made a second bowl today but had no time for photos. I’m getting the shape a little better on the 2nd one, that Ring of Saturn around the bowl that becomes the handles really has to be pitched. My first one is too flat, and is not as comfortable as Robin’s. The bowl turners are safe from me, it’s back to carving oak real soon.
Here’s the next take on squiggles, this time painted with pigments mixed in watery hide glue instead of oil. The iron oxide red finish was done first, and left to dry. Then rubbed down a bit with steel wool. The black was brushed on after the red dried; the brush was loaded with paint, then much of it wiped off – so a very light touch, holding the brush just about 90-degrees to the surface. I’m not keen on the flat look to the red. Still hoping to hear more from the science people at MFA and Winterthur about this notion of seventeenth-century paints being mixed in glue. Seems to me there has to be something then over it. We’ll see. Meanwhile I am trying to do a lot of this work, to loosen up the motions when I paint…I want the final version to be confident. Here’s a test one today, this time pigments mixed in oil. A thin red wash over the whole thing, then more opaque in the background, and black squiggles and dots.
I have wanted to do some dots like those seen on the broken slat-back chair in this Judith Leyster painting, c. 1630s I think. I’m going to try to add them to the practice stool above.
Meanwhile, I looked out the window the other day, and there were first two, then three Great Egrets in the river. We often have Great Blue Herons, but very rarely Egrets. They are around here a lot, just not in our river…I didn’t dare go out to try to get a shot of them; they spook so easily. so this was out the window…
Here is take one of squiggles and ovals, painted for the MFA cupboard project. Rather than mess up the months of work on the cupboard itself, I made a quick little carved box & painted the sides. In this case, the pigments are mixed in oil & turpentine. It might be that the cupboard gets its pigments mixed in hide glue, depending on the final results of paint analysis from the museum.
Take one is somewhat of a mess, but the evidence we have from the originals in this group shows some variety. This is the best-preserved example:
I interpreted these squiggles as coming from a brush that has gaps in its bristles. My first attempt the result was uneven, but I found that by loading the brush with paint, & then wiping a bit of it off before painting, I got closer to what I was after. Here’s take 2:
There’ll be more practice runs before I commit paint to the cupboard parts. These first two are not even attempts at copying what’s found on the originals, just something in the same manner. These are on white oak, I did some on white pine with uneven results. Painting this stuff on bare pine did not work well at all, the oil bled, spreading the paint. The panels on the cupboard are oak anyway, but the original above is probably yellow pine, a little harder surface than white pine.
The panels on the lower case at the MFA do not have squiggles as far as we can see, but the framing parts and drawer fronts do – black squiggles over a red stain or wash…
There’s paint highlighting the carvings as well. Here’s the front of the practice box, a little too timid. The photo shows the backgroung color as orange, but it really is yellow ochre, same as on the sides. I think the overall front board needs a wash/stain first and the polka dots need to be thinner paint. So more experimentation. It’s all in the wrist I imagine…
I often get emails in addition to the comments posted on the blog…some with questions, others just wanting to contact me about furniture, tools, woodworking, etc. Thanks & keep ’em coming, I say.
Today I got a very nice note from Olde England …a reader of this blog James Rayner, wrote to say that it had “led me to explore a type of woodworking previously unknown to me and its a style I have fallen in love with.”
AND, then James sent several photos from a small village church near his home in Suffolk.
There was no need for James’ apology about the photos, it’s hard to shoot in those village churches. But well worth it, they are a treasure. So, James – thanks for sending the photos along. As I said in my reply to James this morning, isn’t it great to have a crash course in joined work just 2 miles from his house, & he can go right in & sit down…
When I first visited some of the redundant churches in the south of England, I couldn’t comprehend it. There is no reference point for it here in New England. The feeling I got walking into such an old building…it felt like some seventeenth-century church-goers had just left & closed the door…and with their many layers of history, these churches are an unbelievable area of study.
I shot some stuff years ago with Victor Chinnery in Wiltshire. The color of the oak in the churches is different from domestic stuff, I think because of the lack of a fire…all that smoke darkens the wood & finish. Here’s a table I saw, sitting in essentially one spot for over 300 years.
There’s a group that has been working for years with these old buildings, doing preservation and restoration. Here’s their website: http://www.visitchurches.org.uk/
While on the subject of Suffolk, a book I have really enjoyed is Birkin Hayward’s ‘Suffolk Medieval Church Roof Carvings‘. Stuff is unreal. Makes me want to go to Suffolk, where my mother’s family emigrated from in the 1630s.
So, I have used up a bunch of oak trees in my time, and decided it wouldn’t hurt to encourage a couple of new ones. we have a few kinds of trees in our yard, one hickory and a bunch of very fast-growing locusts, maples, some holly and apple. But only a couple of oaks.
The gift of a couple of oak seedlings was the impetus.
After the grown-ups started things off, the youth took over.
And hopefully they are on their way
So, what are you doing one hundred years from this day???
well, this one was going to be straight-forward enough. I had been waiting to photograph splitting this section of oak, in part because it had rained here so long that there rarely was a day bright enough for pictures. So today I finally quit waiting & decided to go ahead.
It seems like a really good candidate; nice straight grain, a big bump at the bottom, that I felt I could isolate into one-quarter of the log. Good & round, even growth, etc. All the things I look for in a log. Only 18″ in diameter, but should provide a bunch of 4″ wide boards, good for framing parts of joined furniture, and 2″ square stuff for joined stools.
So, I laid into it, with all the careful steps of someone who knew what they were doing.
Even with something this small a diameter, I used two wedges to start the split, to even out the action of the wedges. So far, so good. You can see in the next photo that it appears to be opening well, and I still had visions of a fresh batch of oak boards piling up in the shop…
Until I got to this…
So, even after all these years, & all these logs – sometimes I just plain lose. This one will yeild some straight stuff, but barely enough to bother with. The price was right, but gotta start searching for a new log now…
I finally turned the pillars for the MFA cupboard project.
A quick review: the project is to build a replacement for a now-missing upper case to a two-part cupboard. The museum owns the lower case, and thus I have been building the upper case. Typically a cupboard like this (a press cupboard, joined cupboard, wainscot cupboard, these are some of the names for it) has a lower section with a top board that forms the deck for fitting the upper case. The upper case usually just sits on top of the lower, the connection points being the turned tenons at the bottom of the pillars fitting round mortises bored into the lower case at the front corners, and sometimes some “free” tenons between the bottom edges of the upper case’s rails and mortises chopped in the top of the lower case.
The pillars for this upper case are based on a related example that survives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.. These pillars are maple, and are just a bit different from almost all other cupboard pillars of 17th-century New England. These stand out because the pillar and squared block above it are one. In most cases, the squared block (really a very short stile) is separate and the pillars have turned tenons that fit up into the mini-stile, and down into the top boards of the lower case.
Rob Tarule sent me the maple stock I used for these, sawn out to just oversized dimensions. I then let them sit a while in the shop before working them, the maple being less reliable than oak. I weighed them and once they slowed down in their weight loss, I decided they were OK to work. On April 5th they were each 9lbs 6oz. By June 22nd, one was 7lbs 9oz. So at that point, I planed them, & mortised them. Their finished size is 3 ¾” square, and just over 22” in length.
After mortising, I then mounted them on the lathe. It had been several years since I made pillars, so I was somewhat rusty at it. Lucky for me this time the work I am copying is not that good, so it was easy enough to do a passable job.
I used a hatchet to hew off the corners of the section to be turned; then used this gouge to work the hewn shape into a cylinder.
Once it’s a cylinder, it’s time to mark out and cut the details.
a small gouge used to cut the cove.
The skew chisel taking a nice shaving, leaving a smooth surface.
a detail and overall of the test-fit of the upper case with its pillars. Things a little out-of-whack, but most of these joints are not pinned at this point.
I was reminded of an English box I’ve seen with some geometry scribed on the inside face of the box front. This particular example survives in a corrupted configuration; it was once a box with a drawer, and is now just a very deep box.
On the inside face of the bottom section carved with the arcading is a series of attempted spirals, laid out with “a pair of compasses.” The original layout called for three spirals, and only one is complete. The center one is poorly-thought-out, and the one on the proper left end of the box is barely begun. Here are the two better examples:
And a detail of the one on the left above:
This spiral is marked out with two center points; with some help today, it was not too much trouble to figure out the layout.
But my next question – what happened? This face of the board is laid out with a vertical center line, (which is not centered on the present length of the board) and two equidistant lines marked out from that. These all serve as centers for the spirals. One spiral got nowhere fast, two partial arcs. The center one is not a consistent spiral, there are mistakes in its layout. The one on the proper right-hand end is fully-formed, and “correct” in that it follows a system to produce a continuing spiral. Here’s a sketch showing the layout with two center points:
So I wonder, was it was practice? Did the joiner/carver start out wanting a “three-spiral” motif on his drawer front, get frustrated with the geometry, give up & flip the board over to carve the simpler arcading? Maybe it was just a bad day for geometry c. 1605.
The carving, in walnut, is excellent, first-rate work. This box dates from about 1600-1610. A nearly identical example, dated 1605, is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Another is in a private collection.
(I can’t think of a carved pattern with spirals that continue outwards so much, most are just one or two turns around…I’ll be on the lookout.)