new wainscot chair

new wainscot chair
new wainscot chair

I have just been finishing up this wainscot chair, for the Brooklyn Museum. It’s a copy of an original they own…said to have descended in a Hingham, MA family. It has a few notable features, one being the beveled shoulders on the frames of the back section.  Not exactly a coped joint, but there are scratched moldings that are blended a bit. The mortised members are beveled, and the tenon shoulders overlap this bevel. Then the moldings are just kind of fudged to look as if they meet properly. It helps that the molding just seems to be a double quarter-hollow. (I don’t know its real name, if it in fact has one…there certainly isn’t a seventeenth-century New England name for it…)

beveled & mitered joints
beveled & mitered joints

The carvings on the back panels are like no others I have ever seen. Early on in this project I got stuck on them reminding me of Edvard Munch’s The Scream and I never got past that…

The museum wanted me to copy the panels verbatim, so there is a strange lack of symmetry between the 2 panels, and within the one on the proper left of the chair.


Otherwise, there are some standard features, among them the riven surfaces seen on the inside faces of the seat rails.

riven & hewn surface
riven & hewn surface

One more. I haven’t measured it yet, but it’s a big chair. About four feet high at the back.

side view
side view

But the best picture I got yesterday was at Sandwich beach. I had some work down on Cape Cod, but got there early. So walked out to the beach for a bit..

juvenile great blue heron
juvenile great blue heron

9 thoughts on “new wainscot chair

  1. That’s a lovely chair. Nice and sturdy, too. Wonderful workmanship, and I appreciate the inside hidden surfaces being left rough The Way They Ought To Be. The arms seem a bit unusual… not only is there that hooky-thing in them, which I don’t really understand, but they have more curve in them than I would have expected given the shape of the rest of the chair. They seem almost like they came from some other chair, and were added on as an after-thought. I wonder if the original was one cohesive design from the beginning, or if it started out as a plain chair without arms, and arms were added later.
    You’re totally right about that carving. It definitely reminds me of “The Scream”. :)


  2. Peter,
    I could not resist setting that as my background. Oh, and nice chair too. William Bradford would be impressed me thinks.

  3. Rick
    it took me a minute, thinking the chair was your new background…the heron makes more sense.

    Scrolled arms like that are standard-issue for wainscot chairs such as this. Seen many many many examples. Flatter arms are the exception…they almost all have the “hooky” thing underneath too. Lots of mythic interpretations as to why…

  4. Beautiful chair, Peter. Congratulations. The photos remind me of a question I’ve been meaning to ask for awhile now. Not only in this chair but in the various stools, chests, etc. that you’ve shown us, there is frequently a bit of open mortise showing in the joints. Putting aesthetics aside, it suggests that the tenon is really quite loose in there and that the pegs must be under considerable strain to hold the article together. Particularly on a chair this would seem to invite rack and ruin, so to speak, over time. Is that not so? This seems the antithesis of the dry tenon – wet mortise technique that you’ve written about previously. So what considerations suggest the use of the one technique versus the other?

  5. Yes indeed John, you got it right! The greatest part of the strength of most 17th-century New England drawbored mortise and tenon joints is created by the drawbored pins pulling the outer knife-edged shoulder of the tenon against the surface of the mortised member. The height and width of the tenon are far less important and often of no consequence at all. Additionally, crease molding on the exterior surface of the tenoned member even further decreases the crucial length of the outer tenon knife-edge. Obviously, the sagging tops of the arm tenons on the wainscot chair in Follansbee’s entry are quite troubling, aesthetically at least. If concerned, wedge them up before drawboring. I haven’t seen this done and doubt it would do much to strengthen the joint. I usually blam the tenoned member up against the visible end of the mortise before drawboring.
    This is not the wet-dry joint of the post and rung chairmaker. Nor is it the dry-dry snug fitting glue joint of the cabinetmaker. True, it is best to have joinery tenons relatively dry at the time of drawboring and assembly. But this is because holes bored into moist wood will deform as the bone dry bent pins are driven home and subjected to great lateral pressure. Such a joint may in time become loose and fail. Stated another way, pop the pins out of a 17th-century drawbored mortise and tenon and the tenon will slip easily out of the mortise. The joint is a wonder, but it works. You asked Follansbee and Alexander spoke up. Now let us hear from the man who has studied and made many, many more on a daily basis.

    • Robin
      the most ridiculous one I have heard many times is that you can hook your fingers under there; and lift & balance the chair for moving. I consider this in the realm of parlor tricks…these chairs are HEAVY. to effectively move ’em, I pick them up by the side seat rails…to carry a long distance, it’s even better to have 2 people carry them – holding it by the rear feet & top of the rear stiles…

      I think I once heard someone say you could put a stick across the arms’ cutouts, to keep either young people, or old infirm people in the chair. To me, it looks as if that would equate with torture.
      so that’s two. not “lots” but surely gibberish, I say. Others say othewise.

  6. Could you contact me about your reproduction and the original from which it was copied? I am chair of the Historical Commission in Hingham, MA and we have the supposed “original” which will soon be seen on loan to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts new Americana wing. Facinated about the connection, if any, between our “original” and the one at the Brooklym Museum!

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