carvings, boxes, and more carvings

So having just come back from teaching a class in carving and box-making; it seemed logical that I would work on a few boxes and carvings while I got settled in back at my shop. So after unpacking and sharpening, I worked first on this white oak & white pine box. It was already planed & carved, so I cut the till and did the assembly. Just have to install the iron hinges. It’s about 7″ high, and 20″ wide.

newest white oak box
newest white oak box

 Here is the till:

open till
open till

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next I started a small box, about 4 1/2″ high, and 12″ wide. I am really enjoying making this size box. It ‘s a good way to use up small bits of wood that are too good to burn. I had only seen a few period ones this size before, and never a New England one until this summer when I studied an original in a private collection. I got it planed & carved this afterno0n, and will work fitting the till and assembly later this week.

box front, red oak
box front, red oak

I am making changes to the original, mainly so the owners aren’t put off by me making copies. So for starters I have carved the sides, on the original they were left blank. I will use wooden hinges on this one, whereas the period box had iron gimmals. I’ll also use pine for the top and bottom, instead of all-oak construction seen on the 17th-century example.

side carving new box
side carving new box
The S-scrolls seen on the box front above are a common motif, adapted and altered in numerous ways. This one is cut with a V-tool and gouges, but the next one (below) is cut entirely with a V-tool. This one is more practice for the MFA cupboard project, to be used as a painting sample. The background paint will be red ochre and bone black mixed in animal glue, then the whole panel will be given a thin coat of pigmented (red ochre) plant resin varnish…but that’s next week. Today I just carved it. It’s about 7″ x 12″ or so, carved in about 20 minutes. White oak.
practice panel for MFA cupboard
practice panel for MFA cupboard

Inspiration & learning

People often ask me about my training at green woodworking in general and joinery in particular. The first part to fall into place came at Country Workshops, which is run by Drew & Louise Langsner in Marshall, NC. It’s the place where I really learned the fundamentals of the woodworking that I do…the specifics of joinery/furniture history/social history  part came later, I’ll tell that one another time. But the tools & wood part was inspired by frequent trips down to the Smoky Mountains, then bumping along the lane to Langsner’s place.

 

Drew & Louise have run week-long classes there for 31 years now, an amazing accomplishment. The instructors have come from several countries, as have the students. While I was there this month, I kept looking at the inspiring bits & pieces here & there throughout the place, like these homemade door latches that Drew has done on the house & guest house.  I like these sorts of thing, they are a real nice touch.
door latch 
door latch inside
Many of the classes over the years have concentrated on chair-making, the first one I attended back in 1980 was to learn the basics of Jennie (then John) Alexander’s ladderback chair:
Alexander's post-and-rung chair 
Here the kids are sitting in some very nice Windsors Drew made that have been around the shop for some years now…I especially like the lowback version. I never made one of these, this class came along while I was consumed with joinery…
kids in Drew's windsors
Here are two timber-frames, tucked against each other. The one on the left was built with a class back in the mid-1980s…it was at that class that I met Daniel O’Hagan, who became a very strong influence on my approach to woodwork. The second timber frame is a shelter for a wood-fired oven, this frame features some nice natural forms. During our box class, the oven was used for a huge batch of the best pizzas I’ve had in ages.
timber frames
Country Workshops got its start in 1978, when Drew & Louise invited Wille Sundqvist to teach a class in carved woodenware… here’s a photo I copied from Country Workshops’ website www.countryworkshops.org  of Wille in that first class. Woodenware features prominently at each meal during the workshops, a real treat.
Wille Sundqvist 1978
Here is a more recent spoon by Wille, this one’s displayed in a small show-room in the workshop. Others have seen long use at the table, and have developed a great patina.
Wille Sundqvist spoon
It’s a long story, but part of the origins of Country Workshops was when Bill Coperthwaite brought Wille to meet Drew & Louise back in the mid-1970s…
I had a chance to meet Coperthwaite a few years ago, although only briefly…I had been working for a short stint in Machias, Maine & kept hearing folks talking about a guy who lived over in the next cove in a yurt. The yurt was the thing that tipped me off, I remembered Drew mentioning this fellow…we didn’t get over there that visit, but by the next year, I had found Bill’s book, A Handmade Life, and I was hooked. We searched & searched for the path that led to his place, and literally bumped into him, unfortunately as he was on his way out…so another visit is in order. Maybe next year. The book is one of my all-time favorites…very highly regarded.
A Handmade Life, by Wm Coperthwaite. (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, hardcover 2003/paper 2007)
A Handmade Life
A Handmade Life

 

New England boxes way down South

up towards the workshop
up towards the workshop

I just got back from Country Workshops, (www.countryworkshops.org) where I taught a class how I make a carved oak box, patterned after 17th-century examples. It was great to be back spending time with Drew & Louise Langsner. My Country Workshops experience goes all the way back to 1980, and from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s I was a regular there.

The picture above shows the path up towards the workshop; this is an early-morning view. My kids & I started each day with a walk to see the chickens & cows, then it was off to breakfast, then the shop.

Students learned &  practiced hewing, then planing the oak that was riven from a log…

hatchet & plane work
hatchet & plane work

then some carving work, this case with mallet & V-t0ol.

mallet & V-tool
mallet & V-tool
Once we got to assembly, my photography went by the wayside. So I will have to wait to show the finishing steps…
We did have several watchful eyes through the week. here’s a few,
you can observe a lot by watching
you can observe a lot by watching
Smokey Joe
Smokey Joe

 

 

Including the daily visit from the kids to hound Karen to see if her box was done.

Is your box done, Karen?
Is your box done, Karen?

little boxes, little boxes, all filled with ticky-tacky

small oak boxes
small oak boxes

In preparation for the upcoming class I have at Country Workshops, I have made two new oak boxes. Small boxes like this are quite rare from the seventeenth century, I have only seen a few this size (these are about 5”-6″ high, 12-14” wide). I based these on a period example I saw this summer in a private collection. These are white oak with pine tops & bottoms; the original was all oak.

You can see that the pattern I used for these is the same on both box fronts, just re-arranged one from the other. This one follows the original; and the next I adapted by re-arranging the S-scrolls.

small box, oak & pine
small box, oak & pine

This second one I also added some paint; iron oxide & bone black mixed in linseed oil & turpentine.

small box, oak & pine, w painted & carved decoration
small box, oak & pine, w painted & carved decoration