works in progress & practice

Here’s a couple of unrelated items that are slogging around on my workbench and brain these days. The wainscot chair I have underway is coming along; I got a photo of it when I did the first arm, since then I have cut & fit the other. The rest of the work includes the seat , some moldings and boring the rest of the pin holes. Then final assembly.

wainscot chair, test fit one arm

 After this wainscot, I have one to do for the museum in walnut – a wood I rarely use. I decided to cut some sample carvings yesterday, to get a handle on what to do differently from carving oak. One thing that comes immediately to mind is the scribed lines show up much more here than in oak.  This particular piece is darker than most of what I have on hand for the wainscot chair.

walnut carvings

 The gouge stuff looks good in any wood. It really is fool-proof almost, and yet very effective. (this is from the batch of timber for the chair; a bit browner than that above.)

gouge-cut molding

 here’s how I cut these, from a post way back in the blog.  This will also be covered in the DVD, which should be out next month or so.

While on the subject of walnut furniture, keep in mind my friend Victor Chinnery’s book about Oak Furniture, with a walnut chair on the cover!

Chinnery, Oak Furniture: The British Tradition

Walnut figures in one of my favorite records concerning carpenters’ work, c. 1620 in Yorkshire. Now we can read Henry Best’s account book online at

Best hired a carpenter to make first a pig stye, then some walnut chairs; quite a spectrum of work.

1620, Apr. 4. Agreed with Matthewe Carter, for paylinge the swyne stye with sawen ashe payles, to give him for his worke 9d. yeardes, and hee is to sawe them, and to sawe the rayles ■ and postes, and sett them in a groundsel 1, and rabbitt them in to the rayle above; agreed also with him to pale the yearde, and hee is to sawe the rayles and postes, and to have 4d. per yearde, for his labor, and for making Austin’s howse, 20s.—

Dec. 13. Bargained with Matthewe Carter and John Carter his sonne, of Greate Driffeylde, carpenters, to digg upp a walnutt tree of myne, and to sawe it into 2 ynch and a half plankes, and the rest of the small peeces into such peeces as it is fittest for; and to make mee two chayres, one for my selfe, and the other a lesser, well turned and wrought, and I am to give them for doing these things above mencioned, workman like, 10s. in money, a bushell of barley, and a pecke of oatemeale, and give them in money 3d. for their godspenny.

The book is worth reading, there’s instructions on buying deal boards too…

My favorite craft project this past month was not in the shop, though. I have some basket splints around the house that I have been slowly trimming & smoothing. Mostly I soaked them in the kids’ wading pool this summer. I started to weave a few baskets for the house & one day Rose asked if she could make a basket. We took our time, and in 3 sessions got it done. Here we are finishing it up, lashing the rims with ash splints. Daniel took the picture for us, their mother was out at the time. Putting the D-80 in the hands of a not-quite-5-year old was dicey, but I needed the picture and it worked out fine.

Rose's first basket

surface textures & tool marks

I have been meaning to shoot photos in the shop of tool marks; and how they are made. I have not got to the pictures yet, but recently a reader asked about some difficulty he’d been having with tear-out in white oak. Some tear-out is common, especially in white oak that is near the juvenile wood (the section of a board nearest the center of the tree).

What is acceptable, and where it falls in a piece of furniture varies widely. Here’s some examples of just a few tool marks; mostly riving, hewing and some planing. We have seen some of these photos here before, but a review never hurts. First, one of my favorite shots; the bottom boards of a joined chest, Dedham MA c. 1640-1670. Here we have a lot to see. Riven material, never touched by anything other than a wedges and a froe for some of the bottom boards. Others have hatchet work. Iron/tannic acid staining where the nails secure the bottom boards to the rear rail. this staining also needs moisture present to occur. The sawmarks where the joiner trimmed the floor boards at the back of the chest. His saw ran against the outside rear rail, scratched it to a fare-thee-well. So, an extreme case where close-enough is good enough. but none of this shows on the finished piece.

joined chest, rear view of bottom


Here is a view of a joined stool showing the contrast between the surface that shows and those that don’t – the molding on the upper rail, and in the background, hatceht work on the inner faces of the adjacent upper rails.

joined stool detail


 Here’s some plane chatter (or scratch stock tear-out) in the moldings on this English cupboard (Lakes District, 1691) flatsawn wood, another culprit.

torn-up moldings on cupboard door panel, 1691

 Torn-up grain, mostly from riving, inside the till space on a joined chest from Ispwich, MA. (till is missing, of course)

inside till space, Ipswich chest

 How about tear-out on the front of a piece? See the background (i.e. the panel) on this chest with drawer, Salem MA. 1630s-1690s.

tear-out on panel etc

 Inside a Plymouth Colony chest with drawers, (from a slide, so not the best shot)

interior Ply Colony chest w drawers

That’s enough to get us started. Soon I’ll do one with photos of really first-rate work. It exists, even in New England.

Most of these surfaces I showed tonight result from the riving process, but some of them are from planing. The causes for these torn-up surfaces from a plane can be many; wood that’s too wet/green; It needs to lose some moisture before you can “finish” plane it. Twisted stuff near the heart of the tree;  this juvenile wood is fibrous and tough. It often is wavy also, not as straight at that stuff our neared the bark. Plane irons that need honing will also effect the surface you produce.

Wainscot chair: two liberties

wainscot chair progress

I mentioned in some previous posts that I am making a copy of a wainscot chair from Hingham, Massachusetts, c. 1630-1680 or so. This chair, and another I had copied a year or two ago both descended in branches of the Lincoln family in Hingham, yet appear to be by different makers. Yet, both have similarities. I think I mentioned the use of two vertical panels, the crest rails have similar shapes, as do the arms.

The one I am working on now has very distinctive carved panels  that took me a few tries to get them “right.”  Here’s the proper left panel in the original chair:




proper left panel, original chair

It is a very simple carving, all executed with just a V-tool…but what was the layout? When I went to see the original chair, I didn’t get great pictures of it. By the time I got to carving these panels, I had printed this picture and it was the source I used to try and suss out how this carving was laid out & cut.  There are a few scant traces of some compass-work layout – the many arcs seem to emenate from a pair of scribed compass arcs. But these don’t seem to follow any rhyme or reason. So I winged it, and ruined two panels of oak. (one’s a total loser, the other can be planed down to become a plain panel somewhere)

 THEN I looked at the other panel in the original chair! It retains all its compass-layout, and now the design at least, make sense.

Lincoln chair back panels

So I went ahead and carved them like this.

PF carving of Lincoln chair panel

The liberties I took were these. The original panels, much like the crest rail, are essentially two different patterns, as a result of the execution of the carving. On the first panel I was following, the carver obliterated the layout. On the other panel, his arcs stem from the compass work… I chose to make two panels that retain the compass work, and make a more coherent design. As a single panel it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but once you put both panels side-by-side, the pair of them forms a composition that makes more sense.

both panels together

The other liberty I took (and this is a big one) is I used a pencil to mark out the arcs! I haven’t resorted to a pencil in five years. I found it helpful to draw these arcs, that way I could see how they would flow from the compass lines.

 Now, one other question comes up. In a previous post I had shown and discussed the crest rail, and how the carver made an asymmetrical pattern, by blowing through a compass-derived layout. Now he’s done it again on the panels. Is it sloppy carving, or intentional? Ahh, he’s dead, so we’ll never know what he intended. some will speculate, but not me.

I’m only making two spoons…

In Jogge Sundqvist’s class on making spoons & bowls that I attended last month, one of the other students was Will Simpson. I have bumped into Will on the web here & there, so it was nice to meet up with him for real. One thing Will said is that he was trying to make 100 spoons this year. He was well on his way during the class… (here’s some of his work )

 One of my goals in the class was to learn about making spoons from straight-grained riven stock, as opposed to making them from “crooks.”  The notion with the crook is that you make a spoon with a nice curve that follows the bottom of the spoon bowl, up through the stem towards the handle. Fine, if you have some crooks. These are trickier to find than you might think, unless you have a patch of woods from which you can cut stuff…

two spoons from crooks


So I decided that I am only going to make two spoons. I’m just doing them over & over again. One I posted here before I went to the class, Jogge’s father Wille Sundqvist made it at Country Workshops some years ago.


I had seen it there last year, and it’s a beauty. So I worked up a pretty careful copy of the shape of this one, (still not really done, though) and then just cut multiple versions of it. It’s small, so I can fit it in my pocket, and carve it as time allows here & there. What I have been doing is splitting out & hewing the general shape, then I toss it in the basket for knife work later. So a couple 20-minute sessions each day gets me the basic form. Then I let them dry and do the final shaping later…


PF version of straight spoon


various stages of straight spoons


The other spoon I am making is also based on Wille’s work, and is a larger version really of the same thing. A bit different bowl for it. I carved one, and decided I liked it, so rather than trying to design something new each time, I am just working the same basic shapes. I’m glad I stumbled onto this approach, this way I concentrate on the cuts, and their sequence. Once those are really nailed, then I can spread out a bit for different shapes. Unless I come across a really good crook as I sift through the pile of stock I have…

PF larger spoon, roughed-out

Most all of mine above are birch, some are holly. More joinery next…


wainscot chair notes

About three or four weeks ago, I planed up some stock for the wainscot chair I have to make this fall…and once I returned from Country Workshops’ spoon camp, I started the joinery for this project. I don’t have any photos from the shop this week worth looking at, so some of what we will see here are the original chair.

The front stiles (and rear ones too actually) are planed to a cross-section that defines the seat plan. Here is the rear stile, seen from the top – showing the angle between its front face, and the side of the chair.

rear stile, Lincoln family chair

This arrangement is probably the most common in wainscot chairs, as opposed to having square stiles with angled tenon shoulders and/or angled mortises. I covered this concept in the article back in 1998 c0ncerning the three-legged wainscot chair at Chipstone.  (see Peter Follansbee, “A Seventeenth-Century Carpenter’s Conceit: The Waldo Family Joined Great Chair” in American Furniture, ed., Luke Beckerdite, (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England for the Chipstone Foundation, 1998) pp. 197-214 also at

Here’s the diagraoms from that article, first from a “typical” wainscot chair:

seat plan diagram, wainscot chair
The Chipstone chair, (known as the Waldo chair) has square stiles, as do some four-legged wainscots:
seat plan for Chiostone chair


 Another feature of this particular chair is some inlaid decoration along the edges of the rear posts, rails & muntin. It seems that the original had heartwood & sapwood of walnut. I had no sapwood, so I used walnut & maple. I don’t recall seeing this sort of decoration along the edge before. My recollection of it usually has it centered on stock instead.

Here’s the crest rail, bottom rail & muntin. the crest rail’s carving still needs some detail, but the bulk of it was done this afternoon.

inlaid work, Lincoln chair repro


Here’s a detail of the original crest. Note the asymmetrical carving. On our right, the carver left an outlined “blank” area, just where the incised arcs teminate. This band then has punched decoration in it. But on the other side he cut the incised curved lines all the way up to where this band should be. I chose to leave the band on both sides.  It’s very deep V-tool work. Some of it cuts right into the inlay, and the opposite arcs stop just short of it…

crest rail, Lincoln family chair


This chair came from the town of Hingham, Massachusetts. I did another wainscot chair based on a Hingham example a year or more ago. See some of that chair here:

the two Hingham wainscots share some features; two vertical panels in the back, the general shape of the crest rail, the orientation of the rear stiles (radial face is the side of the stile). the proportions are different, as is the seat plan. The turnings are different, the arm shapes are similar. I’ll get more photos as I work on this chair this month & we will compare the two more closely.