“Send out for some pillars and Cecil B. DeMille”

 I finally turned the pillars for the MFA cupboard project.
turning pillars with pole lathe
turning pillars with pole lathe

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.

17th c turned pillar
17th c pillar

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.

rouging-out gouge
rouging-out gouge

 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.

the turned blank
the turned blank

Once it’s a cylinder, it’s time to mark out and cut the details.

a bead and cove underway
a bead and cove underway
a small gouge used to cut the cove.
skew chisel
skew chisel

The skew chisel taking a nice shaving, leaving a smooth surface.

test-fit detail
test-fit detail

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.

upper case test fit with pillars
upper case test fit with pillars
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5 thoughts on ““Send out for some pillars and Cecil B. DeMille”

  1. Peter,

    The pillars do have a different look to them, compared to what we see in the Essex county “Mannerist” style.

    Is it a little unusual, to see this much carving on a press cupboard?

    My understanding is carving became less the rage, with emphasis placed on the applied moldings . As we got closer to the 1700s.

  2. Peter:
    Is it possible to be more specific regarding the pillar’s moisture content at the time of turning? I recognize this is hard to “figure out” absent “modren” high tech. “Once they slowed down in their weight loss” helps but….. Of course, the ultimatr test test is how well the wood turns. Clearly you got it right. I have tried to figure out a methodology, but difficulties arise everywhere I turn.
    Jennie

    Jennie

  3. Peter:
    Is it possible to be more specific regarding the pillar’s moisture content at the time of turning? I recognize this is hard to “figure out” absent “modren” high tech. “Once they slowed down in their weight loss” helps but….. Of course, the ultimatr test test is how well the wood turns. Clearly you got it right. I have tried to figure out a methodology, but difficulties arise everywhere I turn.
    Jennie

    Jennie

  4. JA

    I have no idea what the moisture content is or was…it turned pretty nicely, but it was sawn-out stock, not riven. So there is some tearout here & there; i.e. grain direction switching around, which on the lathe I have a terrible time trying to correct.

    I didn’t wait for them to stop losing weight, just for it to slow down. Here’s one pillar’s chart:

    Apr 5: 9lbs, 6oz
    Apr 22: 8lbs, 5 oz
    May 7: 8 lbs
    May 21: 7 lbs, 12oz
    Jun 3: 7 lbs, 11 oz
    Jun 22: 7 lbs, 9oz

    So, maybe X years from now I’ll get to do another cupboard and we can learn some more.

  5. Peter: Thanks for the time/weight loss figures. Weight loss was indeed slowing down. And when you started turning you knew you were at the correct moisture content-not too wet but not too dry. I apologize for my Comment being printed twice. This was not for emphasis. PEBKAC ate my avatar and I wouldn’t stand for it. Your comment about using sawn stock is well taken. There is nothing like rived wood from a straight tree. The first time I turned rived wood, I said to myself, I will never go to the lumber yard again.
    It is amazing how seldom I have.
    Jennie
    ~

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