While I was demonstrating carving panels at Woodworking in America, I used a few different bench arrangements. It has been a while since I worked with bench dogs and vices; and for the stlye & method of carving I do, I am now re-convinced that my method of holding the stock to the bench works better than vices & dogs. this carving results in some pounding on the panel, which can bounce loose from dogs, clamps, etc. I managed to work with each bench OK, but back at my shop, when I put the panel down on the bench, it stays put.
I nail ’em down. Over the years, I have taken to nailing the oak panels to a pine board, and then fastening that board to the bench with 2 holdfasts. They stay down.
BUT, this is not just some whacky method of mine – it’s based on period evidence. I have found only one snippet of writing from 17th-century England about carving; John Evelyn in his book Sylva (1664) mentions that
While that quote will work its way into a discussion about moisture content, it has nothing to do with techniques used in the period shop. For that, we turn to the surviving objects, to see if they have any evidence, and they do. Here is a panel carved in Dedham, Massachusetts, showing the nail holes around its edges. there’s at least four holes, probably 5… (each corner, and one in a long side)
Next, I look for this technique in other works, just to be sure it’s not an abberation exclusive to one shop. So here are nail holes in panels from the Lakes District in England:
I tend to make my panels extra long, and position the nails holes in the waste piece that gets trimmed before fitting the panel…which presumably many joiners did. But now & then I find panels that show nail holes like those above. I leave the nails proud, so I can pull them easily when done. These are fairly stout wrought nails, so tapered square shanks that grab well…
PS: I FORGOT ONE IMPORTANT DETAIL. WHEN I BORE THE HOLES IN THE PANEL FOR THE NAILS, I ANGLE THEM SO THE NAILS PINCH THE PANEL DOWN TO THE PINE BOARD. THIS REDUCES THE CHANCE OF THE PANEL WORKING ITSELF LOOSE DURING CARVING.