more work-holding methods

In my woodworking training, I was lucky enough to meet several people who were willing to freely share information, techniques etc. – I have always been appreciative of transmission of ideas among crafts-persons… and nowadays this sort of stuff is zinging around the world quite quickly, and reaching a much wider audience than ever before. I suspect this is both a good thing & a bad thing. But tonight, it’s a great thing. We have another drawing from Maurice Pommier. You might remember his other contributions to the blog

Maurice, I am flattered that my blog posts make you happy, and the feeling is likewise when I see your sketches. they are outstanding.

Here’s Maurice’s note, then the drawing. Click to enlarge. It’s great stuff. Similar to the British books I read when I first learned this work from Drew Langsner & Jenny Alexander. Daniel O’Hagan is shown using something like these in Scott Landis’ The Workbench Book. Worth looking up…

“Hi Peter!
To thanks you for your post on your blog, some little drawings: other ways to pinch and split some wood. Feuillardier is an old job, he works in forest of chesnut tree.
Thanks, I read your post I look the beautiful pictures and it makes me happy.
I wish you good time with shavings and sawdust.” Maurice


paring ladder, not shaving horse

Two years ago, I started this blog with a post about shaving horses, and the lack of 17th-century evidence for them. Here is that post:

In it, I showed Randle Holme’s “paring ladder” and also a photograph from early 20th-century England showing the same device for drawknife work.

Today I stopped down in the museum’s English village to see the carpenters there, here is a repro early 17th-century house they are working on:

new old house


There’s lots to see in it, but I was there for one thing – my friend Michael French said he would showe me how he uses the paring ladder they have made…

paring ladder

I think they said this is the second one they’ve made; you can see it’s two uprights, joined by three rungs. Sticking between two rungs is a thin riven board of oak, this is the work surface.  Below you see Michael with a small stick of sassafrass pinched between the work surface and the rung – his hip bears against the bottom end of the work surface, and that is enough pressure to keep the workpiece (the sassafrass) in place. The top of the ladder is leaning against a timber in the house that is under construction… the uprights are about 8′ long.  They are sassafass, and I bet the rungs are white oak, but I didn’t even check.

shaving stock on paring ladder


Here is a detail of a notch cut in the back side, upper end of the work surface. This reduces the chance that the work surface will slip down and out…

work surface detail


 I was impressed by how quickly Michael could shift the stock; and with some practice it would be quite handy to use…he said you could also just lean it against a building, rather than this timber inside here. I imagine it could also be made as a free-standing tripod too. Everybody who uses it has a slightly different approach, but the whole crew spoke highly of it…

shifting the stock


Its feet are wide apart so there’s room in there for the workman; depending on what sort of stock you use, you might adjust the spacing near the top of the ladder. These guys are making clapboards and wattle with it, so some narrow and some wide stuff…

paring ladder in use


a nice apparatus, I tried it for a minute, and I would like to work on it again. It’s quick. Maybe I’ll rive some more basket stock and try it out… thanks to Michael, Rick McKee, Tom Gerhardt & Justin Keegan et al for working this device up, and putting it through its paces… I hope to sneak more of their work onto this blog. I think you’d like it…

two notes from England

First, from Chris Currie, a friend from the Regional Furniture Society -some pictures of brackets.

First, Chris had posted a comment on the post I did about brackets,   then sent the photos thru. so now here’s the photos along with Chris’ comment:

oak table, Oxfordshire

“…a Communion table I saw recently, the brackets on the long rails applied – tennoned and pegged and sort of flush to the rail, those on the side cut out from a single deeper rail – so flush to the face. Will send you some pics. You will love the timber – great example of the ropey stuff joiners in parts of England were using. The table is in Oxfordshire – good arable country and long way from the sea – so pressure on timber was probably heavy.”

here’s a detail:

bracket details, Oxfordshire table
front view of table

Next up a photo of some spoons that Wayne Batchelor made. He sent this photo, (along with some period ones) – I liked his so much I aksed if he would tell me about how he made them, etc. So here goes:

Tudor spoons by Wayne Batchelor

Here is Wayne’s letter about his carving. He mentioned a class he took with Robin & Nicola Wood…

“Over the past few years I have been trying to master the skill of traditionally making 16th- 17th century style wooden eating spoons. There is not a lot of evidence from that period of wooden spoons, but there were a few found on the Mary Rose and others in museums. There is some variety in shape but generally they have the same basic design with a large round bowl and short handle. Stylistically they are comparable with pewter spoons of the period and are illustrated in the paintings of Pieter Brueghel. One of the spoons from the Mary Rose has a bowl 60mm wide with a handle 140mm long. That is not a spoon you can easily put in your mouth so they must have been used like soup spoons. They are generally quite flat with a shallow bowl but with a subtle curve to the rim of the bowl. Those from the Mary Rose have plain handles with a tooled finish but the handle can also be decoratively carved. The few I have seen are described as being made from maple.

For making my spoons if I can get hold of Maple I will use that but I tend to end up using Sycamore which is thought of as a weed around here so readily available. Firstly I rive the green log in to spoon size billets longer than the finished spoon will be. I score around another spoon on to the blank to give me a shape to carve to and then do all my shaping with a small axe. I’m sure in the past this would have just done by eye. I find it easier and safer to leave a long handle on the spoon at this stage. After I have roughed out the spoon shape I use a Frosts wood carving knife to refine the shape of the handle and outside of the bowl. Then using a Svante Djarv hook knife I shape the inside of the bowl to a shallow curve and carve as close as possible to the rim edge. I tend to rough carve a few at a time and then let them season for a bit. Then I will go over them again with the knives and get as clean a finish as possible and cut the handle to length. If I decide to decorate the handle I just hold the point of the knife like a pencil and cut small “v” shaped grooves. This seems to be the traditional way of carving spoons and can be done very quickly in proficient hands. Accepted wisdom is that spoons were left with a clean tooled finish. Earlier in the year I had the opportunity to handle one of the original spoons from the Mary Rose and the finish on that is very smooth on the inside of the bowl and rim, and the back of the bowl only has very feint tool marks which to me look like some effort has been used to smooth the bowl perhaps by scraping. My carving skills at present don’t give me the very smooth finish of the originals so this is where I depart from period techniques and rub some very fine sandpaper over the bowl which leaves a similar finish. I also like to dip mine in warm raw linseed oil as a finish but I have know idea if this was a period technique.”

So, thanks to the Brits I did a blog post with next to no work… here’s the links, first to Regional Furniture Society. If you like furniture history, consider joining. even for those over here, not over there, the journals and newlsetters are really well done. worth having:

Chris’ personal website is here:

I have seen some of Wayne’s stuff before, on the forum at the Bodgers’ website – I read this forum now & then. there can be some good stuff there…

three-footed chairs again

three-footed chair


I’ve been making one of these chairs again lately; and took some time to get some new photos of the old one the museum owns. This is a small chair; and quite nicely done. It has a new seat rail, so at some point it must have been apart…

It looks like either a fruitwood or maybe beech in the posts. The seat board is oak. No idea if it’s original or dates from the time of the new seat rail.

Notice the movement of the rear post. Lots of angles to be bored here; and this chair is fairly plain – i.e. not many pieces. Some have double arms, multiple braces, additional spindles below the seat, etc.
rear view three-footed chair


These chairs are common survivors in England. They also appear with frequency in Dutch artwork of the 16th & 17th centuries; but seem to have not been made in early New England. Four-legged chairs with board seats are well-known in New England; but the 3-legged version just seems to drop out of use. Can it be that they were made here & ALL the New England ones didn’t survive? Seems far-fetched.  

One of the little mysteries surrounding New England furniture studies…

Here I am one hot night putting together the frame of the new one. I am making a turned crest rail for this one. I’ll try to get some shots of the rest of the process.

Meanwhile, remember that American Furniture often has great photos of stuff, details & all. Alexander and Trent had a piece about “board-seated turned chairs” not too long ago…

“American Board-Seated Turned Chairs, 1640–1740” by Robert F. Trent and John D. Alexander in American Furniture 2007, edited by Luke Beckerdite. I always encourage more woodworkers to read this journal, even if it’s just for Gavin Ashworth’s photos.

don’t tell them I showed you this

cupboard old base, new top


Until a better one comes along, here is a photo of my cupboard work from this past year & a half – I was at the Museum on some business recently; and surreptiously shot this while no one was looking… so this is what folks will see when the wing opens the end of this year. Yikes.

with a few exceptions, much of the story is at this search result:

spoons and spoons

As you might have noticed, I haven’t written much lately. well, not here anyway. Been finishing some articles, one for American Furniture and some for Popular Woodworking Magazine. That, plus the awful heat here have conspired to keep me from the blog. It’s not cooler yet, but I did get a few pictures of this and that.

As some of you know, I am looking forward to carving Swedish-style spoons this summer in Jogge Sundqvist’s class at Country Workshops ( –

various PF spoons


but sometimes in my day job I need to carve spoons that represent those used by English settlers in Plymouth c. 1627. I know just about nothing of the spoons used then, other than having seen a few at the Mary Rose years ago (  

I carve them from maple usually, having riven out radial blanks. This way I can get a lot of spoons from one small section of firewood. I broke up a piece of maple last week that was about 10″ in diameter, and about 2 feet long. I have made 25 spoons from it thus far, and have that many again, I think. plus a lot of twisted discarded wood for firewood.

I came up with a simple rig to hold the riven & hewn flat blank so I can quickly gouge out the bowl of the spoon. It’s just a thick scrap of oak board, with two pieces of pine nailed to it; these are slightly angled towards each other. Then I just drive the blank into this wedge-shaped space; I use a holdfast to secure the whole thing to the bench.

I use a bent gouge & mallet to rough out the bowl shape. I trace a repro pewter spoon for the outline, then a few strokes with gouge & mallet have the basic shape hollowed out.

spoon blank held in place for gouge work


after the mallet; I then refine the rough bowl with hand-pressure on the gouge.

hand pressure gouge work


I did not photograph the whole process by which I make these; but in the photo below you can see one where I have sawn shoulders in just above the bowl, then I split down to these saw-cuts to define the section that will be the handle. From there is hatchet & knife work.

17th-century style spoons


Nathaniel Adams, Sr., a turner in Boston had an extensive inventory that included many items not necessarily made in his shop. Among these were “4 grosse of woodden Spoones         4s. pr. grosse” which came then to 16 shillings. Now, a trained tradesman at that time (1675) might make 2 shillings a day in Boston…depending on many factors; time of year, with or without meat, etc. – but however you cipher it, a person making these spoons in 17th-century New England was a.) making lots of them, and b.) not earning much for them. I was thinking I might be able to make 5 or 6 dozen in a day; but I wouldn’t want to make them the next day, that’s for sure.

Dave Fisher and his patient family came to visit a while back, and Dave gave me a very nice spoon, in cherry. Thanks, Dave. See his website here:

and the spoon is here:

spoon, Dave Fisher, cherry