one of the most exciting classes I’ve been to…

Jogge Sundqvist at Country Workshops, 2010

I’m back from my trip south, but still generally unpacking and getting back in the swing of things. The class with Jogge Sundqvist was out of this world. Jogge & I met in 1988, when I was the Country Workshops intern, and he was here to teach a similar class. 22 years between visits is a long time; but my work kept me up north when Jogge had been back a few times in those years. The week we just spent was one of the absolute top woodworking experiences of my career. If any of you are the least bit inclined, drop what you are doing & write or call Drew Langsner, because there was still space left in the next class Sept 6-11.

Some people often think it sounds somewhat simple, “I’m going to learn how to carve a spoon from wood” – but this work is often more challenging than much of the joinery I know. There is no place to hide on the spoons, all the surfaces count. Once you get what Jogge is saying about design and function, then you start to learn to see the spoon in the blank piece of wood. Each stick is different, though, and it’s up to you to coax the spoon from the blank. This work is much more than “whittling” a handle & scooping out the bowl of the spoon. Jogge spent much time on the shapes possible, and how the parts of the spoon intersect and interact. It’s fascinating stuff. We had nine (for a little while, 10 – sorry you had to bail, Kari) students working diligently at carving these spoons. Often they were carving long after the day’s class had ended.

In addition to the focus on design, Jogge’s teaching also centers on technique, and both were very engrossing. His various movements and grasps of the two main knives used are really whole-body exercises. You tend to think that to cut this stuff, one just sits and whittles; but to be effective, each posture and grip has movement from your upper body, legs, and hips. The idea is to get the wood cut, not to kill hours & hours shaving tiny bits of wood away…

Jogge w spoon knife

Same ideas applied to the hewn bowls we worked on; but in that case, I went for the really whacked-out shape of a goose-bowl. I had two crooked blanks of birch I got at work & we decided to work these into bird shapes. I only got them roughed-out; but now I intend to carve the birds, and decorate them with chip-carving and paint.

adze work
early form of the roughed-out bowl

I was a clunky student, intentionally starting more projects than I could finish. I figured that way more possibilities for discussion would emerge. I can cut the stuff here at home, but I principally wanted the ideas while I was with Jogge.

Many thanks to Jogge for his great skills as a woodworker & teacher and to Drew & Louise for bringing him back once again. He & I were talking, and he’s been teaching this stuff for more than half of his life…and right about now he is the age his father was when he first came to Country Workshops in 1978, the beginning of that school that has been so pivotal in shaping me into the woodworker that I am… more tradition.

Here’s Jogge’s website. the most colorful on the web, I think…

and the video from 1988, available again

about to go

A couple of things before I hit the road this week. For those of you who have written asking questions about carving, now you see why there has been so little of it on the blog this spring & summer – I was holding off until the Lie-Nielsen announcement about the DVD that we have coming up. When I get back to my shop in September I will be doing a few carved projects, and will post some bits here. The DVD will cover the stock I use (riven oak) and a selection of tools; gouges, V-tool, compasses and awl and a wooden mallet. And it includes a series of  patterns, each building upon the previous example. Once you manage them, you will be able to adapt various designs pretty readily. If you missed it, here’s the preview:

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Recently, there was a question about the long rails in a joined chest, how did I rive them, etc. For that, I will remind some folks, and introduce others, to the idea that the blog has a “search” button that might help you see if I have discussed the subject already. I am perfectly happy to go over things many times, (I do that at the museum all day long…) – but you might get your answer quicker if you check the archived stuff first. Here are some posts about riving with a brake:

I’ll be gone two weeks, so in the meantime, try the search button to see what’s what.

Meanwhile, it’s off to the country for me.

One thing I have been thinking about for this spoon carving class I am taking is to learn to carve spoons from straight-grained stock. Seems when I want to find straight wood (oak) they are all twisty, and vice versa – when I want spoon wood, it’s often straight stuff I see. This spoon that I photographed last year while I was at Country Workshops was made by Wille Sundqvist. It is a gorgeous thing. Very deceptive little sculpture it is…

Wille's spoon
Wille's spoon side view

I’ve decided, based on an idea Drew Langsner gave me last year, to make several copies of this form over & over. I roughed out a couple of them in holly this week, and will ask Jogge to show me how to finesse them… I’ve always made each spoon different, striving to “see” the spoon in the curved blank. But what Drew was saying is to copy one, that way you’re learning the cuts, not having to work with design as well as execution. Reminds me of how potters sometimes approach a form, throwing the same shapes all day…

The holly developed a pretty strong reaction between the tools and the tannic acid in the wood. Turned the nice white wood blue-grey. I found a suggestion on the web to wipe it with citric acid. Maureen found some lemon in the fridge, and it has taken much of the discoloration away…

Finally, it was 30 years ago this summer that I first visited Country Workshops; taking a class in chairmaking with John (Jenny) Alexander. Amazing what things look like from here, no way I could forsee all that has happened since that week. Here’s Alexander & me at Country Workshops in the late-1980s, with Theodore.

PF JA Theo

joined chest floor boards & more

It doesn’t seem it lately, but I do still make furniture. Today I managed to shoot a couple of ordinary-quality pictures of the floor of a joined chest I have underway in the shop. This chest is a copy of the ones made in Braintree, Massachusetts c. 1640-1700 by William Savell and his sons John & William. Alexander & I wrote about these chests in our first article for American Furniture in 1996.  [see Peter Follansbee and John Alexander, “Seventeenth-Century Joinery from Braintree, Massachusetts: the Savell Shop Tradition” in American Furniture, ed., Luke Beckerdite, (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England for the Chipstone Foundation, 1996) pp. 81-104 online at ]

The floor is white pine, and it runs front-to-back. This time I have four boards. They are feathered/beveled to fit into grooves in the inisde of the front & side rails. At the rear, the floor boards sit on top of a lower rear rail. Ultimately they get nailed down to this rail.  [click the pictures to enlarge]

bottom boards, joined chest


The boards are fitted with a simple tongue & groove joint; and the board being driven in last here is tapered in its width, to spread the floor side-to-side…a nice touch. The joints consists of a standard groove plowed in one  edge, and the tongue is made by cutting a rabbet on the top face of the matching piece, and just bevelling the bottom to leave a tongue.

detail floor boards' joint


driving the wedge-shaped board


Here is the T&G on one of the surviving chests from the period, in this case on drawer bottoms. But the same joint is used on the floor boards. this time it’s not even really a bevel, the board is thin enough to make a “bare-faced” version of the tongue. These are riven white cedar boards, some are 10″ wide – that’s a big cedar tree (2′ or more) for southern New England.

tongue & groove boards, Savell chest


But otherwise, I’m gearing up for spoon-class next week at Country Workshops. I have been waiting for this for a whole year – Drew mentioned it to me last summer when I was there..

The other day while the kids were playing in the sand pile, I roughed out a birch ladle-sized spoon…such fun.  It’s the only woodworking I do at home here… but they made off with my workbench, so I have nowhere to set my stuff down. Now I have to make a new bench for the yard…

workbench absconded
hewing spoon


large birch spoon

now you know…

nails secure chest panel for carving

OK, today’s the day I can tell you…

If you are among those who wondered “what’s Follansbee doing working with Lie-Nielsen?” – here’s your answer.  In May we shot a DVD on carving. Conor Smith sent me an email today with the link to the preview on their YouTube site.

If you watch the preview then you have seen as much as I have seen. But I had a great time shooting it with them in May, and have confidence that the finished product will be a good one.

The premise is that the disc will show you how I carve several different patterns, using some basic techniques that build one upon another…it should be fun. We start the carving with the V-tool and mallet, then add some gouges,  some background removal, etc. Typical 17th-century stuff…

You will see the ordering details here when we know what they says early Fall.

here’s the snippet Conor sent. Thanks to Conor, Thomas Lie-Nielsen and the whole crew up there in Maine that helped make it happen.

spoon wood, hatchet work & safety

a few things tonight; none really furniture related. There’s some clearing of timber at the museum for a new pathway, and we were able to convince those involved to keep much of the timber out of the chipper. So I got a pile of birch branches the other day; and some holly today. spoons galore…

saved from the chipper


I don’t have a lot of time right now for spoon work; but I roughed out one each of holly and birch. I consider them practice for Jogge’s class in two weeks.  Here’s a hunk of the birch. First I hew away the bark along the proposed split, then I used a wedge and sledge hammer to break it open. It’s a nice crook, which makes a good spoon, but hard to hold for splitting. Fortunately I had just quartered an oak, and two sections of that provided enough resistance to the splitting until the thing opened. This was lunchtime today, then later tonight I hewed the shape…but no picture of that part yet.

bark trimmed


splitting the blank


This work, and hewing the canted rear posts for a wainscot chair I was working on today had me using several hatchets. I always think about safety when using a hatchet – I was taught good techniques about posture and safety when using these tools, and it has always stayed with me.

Recently Adam Cherubini wrote about tablesaws and safety – he was trying to lead a campaign to erdicate tablesaws from amatuer shops. An admirable goal; but pissing in the wind I figure.,guid,eb24a328-21fc-489f-9683-c3f8b9161496.aspx#commentstart  (wow – 33 comments there when I went to get that URL just now…Adam struck a nerve it seems. )

I don’t hate or love tablesaws; I don’t spend any time thinking about them one way or another. But, I do think about injuries whenever I pick up  a hatchet. I also think that if as many people used hatchets and axes as use tablesaws, the emergency rooms would see just as many or more grisly woodworking injuries. If I understand things correctly, you can go buy a tablesaw, come home & set it up, and start cutting. Maybe read the manual, maybe not. It’s easy for us handtoolies to get high & mighty (I have done it many times…) but the same story holds true for us – you can, if you have enough money, go buy a great hewing axe or hatchet, and come home & start cutting and drive the damn thing right into your leg.  Or take off Jerry Garcia’s finger with one..

So, for what it’s worth:

I’m right handed, so my right leg is dropped back a good ways; keeping it out of the path of an errant hatchet swing. Also speading my feet apart gives me a little more stability. Use your whole body in this sort of work.

I hold the workpiece either in the midst of the chopping block, or even on the further side of center…again, a misdirected blow will hopefully hit the block, not bounce out of the workpiece into my leg.

short strokes & sharp hatchet are the way to go.

In my shop, the hatchet is either in my hand, or hanging on the wall. the stump is right behind my bench, and the hatchet hangs right behind that…leaving it lying around can cause it to get bumped/knocked about. A falling hatchet is scary.

hewing stance


The only other thing I have to mention tonight is this link to Nicola Wood’s blog about the Kesurokai project happening now in Japan. I was quite honored to be invited to attend this thing – as it turns out I couldn’t go, but I am very much enjoying seeing  what’s happening with this crew…if you have some time, go ahead and read the posts on her blog. Experience of a lifetime, I’d say.

slight updates

I haven’t forgotten the blog; it’s just that usually I write around the photographs, and with the rather excessive heat & humidity – just woodworking has been enough of a task. I haven’t really shot much in the past month or so.

Some folks recently have written asking about this & that, two of whom mentioned/asked about using power tools for one thing or another. I can’t even remember the specifics about the requests right now, so here is a general comment for this blog about power tools. First, you don’t need my permission to use power tools – go ahead if that’s what you want to do. Secondly, and most importantly,  I can’t give you advice about using them one way or another. I really know nothing about them, nor do I want to… so for those of you looking for that sort of information, it ain’t here. There is lots of stuff here about hand tools, furniture history (of a very narrow scope) and some other random bits… so feel free to take what you can from here, and add to it whatever way suits your interests. some of my best friends use power tools…as they say. I decided long ago that I did not want to spend my time working that way. I have not regretted that at all, and I continue to derive great pleasure working wood with old tools and methods. Recently, a visitor to my shop, watching me work asked if I also did “traditional” woodworking.  I lo0ked around at the pole lathe, hand planes, hatchets, saws, etc and the carved oak – and I asked him what he meant. He said, “you know, do you go home & use power tools?” – that was his definition of “traditional” woodwork. Oh, well.

I’m slowly getting back in the swing of things, and in the meantime, I was browsing my folders here and ran across a couple of things.

Here is a painted box, done as practice when I worked on the MFA cupboard. This one I decided was worth finishing, so I put a bottome & molding on it the other day, and cleats on the lid. All it needs now is the new wood painted.

painted box

One project I did this summer is another three-footed chair. This one is ash & cherry. I think it too will be painted; but not till the humidity is gone. I wrote a piece about its joinery for Popular Woodworking Magazine, that’s why it got bumped from the blog…

board-seated turned chair

When I was up in Maine at the Lie-Nielsen open house, a father & son duo shot a photo of this white rat in one of my boxes. I did not get their names, but they had previously visited my shop at Plimoth. Apparently they photograph the rat wherever they go, or many places at least…

rat in till

Most of my photos this summer have looked something like this, early morning at the beach, when time allows…

Daniel as T-rex


low tide


august fog
Went out in the yard the other evening to pick up some stuff, and saw this heron across the river; catching the low light as the sun set… around the yard lately have been herons most days (heard more than seen) and red-tailed hawks nearly constant. One morning two screech owls, also heard not seen…
sunset heron