slowly getting the hang of it

After a hiatus from the shop, I like to work back slowly. I just had two weeks pretty much with no shop time. So I didn’t want to come in today & cut some important detailed work… When I can I try to go right back to the beginning, working with logs. Today I spent some time splitting a section of red oak into 1/8ths. It was just a two-foot long leftover, from the bottom of a clapboard log. Diameter was 29”. The butt of a tree is never the best stock, but it is the widest, so it has some appeal. Stool seats and panels are what I look for from this sort of wood.

The one today wasn’t worth photographing, pretty run-of-the-mill stuff. Some wind and other problems to boot. There was some iron in the log higher up, so some staining. Come to think of it, I will shoot some of it tomorrow, just to show what medium quality logs look like. There’s more work in getting useful stock from it, but it beats burning it.

walnut high chair beginnings

In the shop, I tinkered a little bit with a project I started in early December, a wainscot high chair. These are challenging, and this one even more so, because it’s made from a wood I almost never have used – black walnut. It’s quite a departure for me, not-oak, not-riven, not-green. This stock was supplied by the museum’s customer. I requuested straight grain, and no knots – and it’s mostly straight, I guess. It is clear, which is nice.

All I have worked out so far are the front stiles and the corresponding rails. Today all I was making was some scratched molding on the piece of stock from which I will make the side aprons. So far, it’s nice wood to work with, but I’m so fixated on oak that anything else feels weird.

scratched molding, walnut


Walnut was used some in 17th-century work; the best book on the subject of English furniture of that period is still Victor Chinnery’s Oak Furniture: The British Tradition. I think I have mentioned before on this blog that Vic put a walnut chair on the cover of his book – and an ash chest of drawers on the spine, Chris Currie pointed out. (Yup, here’s the link to that post: )

Here is a fragment of an English box with drawer made of  walnut; really quite nice work. This piece has been restored incorrectly, and now lives as a deep box. The drawer has been incorporated into the body of the box. Related ones with dates in iron escutcheons are from 1600-1610.

box w drawer, walnut & inlay

2 thoughts on “slowly getting the hang of it

  1. Hi Peter, and all the best for the New Year.

    A quick question re. scratching the moulding. I notice from the picture you appear to be scratching ‘into’ the wood (i.e. with the uncut stock in front of the scratch stock rather than behind – assuming you are cutting on the ‘push’, away from yourself, rather than the ‘pull’ towards yourself). I have played around with various different ways of doing this over the years but nearly always end up cutting out of the stock (in other words, I would have the finished moulding in the foreground and the uncut stock behind – the opposite way to your picture). Just wondering if you are simply showing your preferred way of doing it or if you have arrived at the way shown on the basis of some evidence – or a practical reason I have missed?

    Interesting also to see you working in timber other than oak. I look forward to any comments on what techniques you use on oak are not as effective on the walnut. In Britain, many woods (including walnut and fruitwoods) seem far more prone to attack by worm than oak. Whilst I have little doubt that oak was always the predominant timber used, I often wonder just how much of the furniture made from other (or a mixture of woods) has not survived over here.


  2. Peter and just finished an article for the 2010 issue of American Furniture about Boston case pieces made with a lot of walnut and cedrela as the primary woods and a lot of applied ornaments and plaques and even veneers made of tropical imports like cocobolo, snakewood, and ebony. Peter notes that some sub-species of cedrela are ring porous and therefore can be riven, and some walnut also was riven. My question is, when it comes to making ornaments of dense tropical hardwoods, many of which are poisonous, did they turn it on the regular lathe holding the tools at a shallow angle, or did they use a smaller, sturdier lathe, on the order of those used to make metal clock parts?

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