some box questions addressed

Bookended hawks today. Here’s #1
red tailed hawk AM


 I have had a lot of questions lately about wood selection for the carved boxes. Let’s tackle the whole issue here, rather than trying to answer individual queries.  First off, 17th-century English boxes are mostly made of sawn oak throughout, most often from what I have seen flatsawn stock. Carcass, lid & bottom. Usually the construction is nailed together. I can’t recall if I have ever seen English ones that are glued & pegged versus nailed. Here’s one I have used here before, but a real beauty. All oak, Devon, England, c. 1660-1690.


New England ones most often have their carcass made of riven quartered oak, either white or red. Bottoms are often watersawn pine; some white pine, some yellow. The latter mostly Connecticut. Tops are sometimes also pine, sometimes glued-up riven oak boards. Here’s a detail of a Thomas Dennis box, Ipswich, Massachusetts, c. 1660-1690. Oak box with white pine lid & bottom:


 For my carved boxes, that leaves a lot of options. Depending on what stock is at hand, I will most often use an oak carcass with white pine top & bottom, like this one:


 The next most common variant in my shop is to substitute riven glued-up oak for the lid, like this next one. This is the best scenario, some extra work compared to making the lid from pine. Plus you need plenty of good oak on hand. but it’s worth it:

 I dislike flatsawn oak lids, they need to be done in real dry stock to have a chance at not cupping in use. I have even had some white pine lids distort, one of them just recently – I took a box to the Northeast Woodworkers Association in Saratoga Springs, NY and hotel woodworking did it in. The box is two years old, and has been in my house all that time with a flat lid. The hotel was so dry that the lid deflected overnight.

For any who might have missed it before, or for the new folks these days, here is a PDF of an article I wrote about how I make a box. I hope to expand on this article this year, we’ll see.

 Now, by request an off-woodworking topic. Everyone in our house enjoys Daniel Phelps’ website  – but half of our house’s population is five years old. Today my son Daniel & I took some shots as an homage to the other Daniel



And here’s the back-end hawk, just at the end of the daylight.

Hmm.  many glitches tonight trying to get this to work. My apologies if things are weird.

still catching up

raking light

Coming into the shop in the morning before the lights are on is often my favorite view of the place. The raking light coming from the large windows really throws shadows across the carvings.


I’m still in the midst of finishing up leftover projects. The joined chest that I put the floor in recently just needs its hinges attached, and then some photos and it will be done.

In the meantime, I hinged the lid to this white oak carved box – this motif is one I adapted from a piece in an auction catalog. The background of the carving is done in lampblack pigment mixed in linseed oil. The bottom of this box is riven ash, two pieces glued up to form the full depth. The lid is flatsawn white oak, the box carcass is riven white oak.


I framed a trestle table base in red oak last week. Used 3 x 5 sawn stock, just planed it and cut the joinery. Added some stopped chamfers to the parts; now I just need to get some white pine boards to make up the table top. I’m aiming for a top of about 2’ x 7’. Although trestle tables were quite common in the seventeenth century, there are few survivors here inNew England. I’ve seen English ones much more massive than this. Victor Chinnery’s book is still the best source when researching this sort of thing.


In a few weeks, I will be doing a one-day demonstration for SAPFM at Phil Lowe’s Furniture Institute of Massachusetts in Beverly, Mass.  SAPFM is the Society of American Period Furniture Makers – here is their website.  be sure to look at the forum there too. Because my shop is a public place, Phil has been kind enough to let SAPFM use his for the event. Details are here.

 To learn more about Phil’s place, see

A couple of years ago I was at WinterthurMuseumin Wilmington, DE and got a chance to see a preview of an exhibit that is now opened, on Southeastern Pennsylvania Furniture. There’s much in the catalog that doesn’t interest me at all, but there are numerous painted boxes and chests that really hit me right. Some of them remind me of the cupboard I did for the MFA last year, and the related box I made. Kari Hultman has reviewed the book and the exhibition on her blog:

 here’s one of my favorites from the catalog, lifted from Kari’s site



 Now I just gotta find some liriodendron tulipifera and practice some dovetails – just what the web needs, another knucklehead writing about cutting dovetails.

I owe a lot of people answers to questions, I’ll get those done soon…

kid’s chair(s)

Dug through my files for a picture of a kid’s chair – let’s see…

kid's chair

Whoops – it was a dreadfully slow day in the pouring rain today, this 11-day-old kid was in the Crafts Center for a few visits and kept the museum’s visitors quite enthralled; much more compelling than any old-timey craft junk.  But I really do have photos of the walnut kid’s chair.

really done this time

Got the footboard installed today & applied the first of several coats of linseed oil/turpentine/beeswax. I finally like it more than I thought I would, but like Alexander used to say about white ash, the problem with it is that it’s not oak. so here’s the views. It’s about 37″ high overall, seat height is about 22″ I think. it’s smaller than you might think; someone asked about the wide panel in the back – but it’s only 8″ x 9″ or so. Seat depth is about 10 1/2″. overall width at seat is maybe 20″

walnut high chair, 2011
side view
rear view

what are you doing this summer?

What are you doing this summer? Me, I’m driving a bunch, and flying some…

Country Workshops

 I have two classes in North Carolina this year, the first at Country Workshops from June 20-24th. I’ll be returning there to teach making a carved box again. Last I knew there were still maybe 2 spaces left in this class. I’m very partial to Country Workshops; it’s where I learned much of the woodworking that I know. It’s always a great experience there…Other classes there this summer include two courses in chairmaking, coopering, carved bowls & spoons and Carl Swensson’s Japanese Woodworking… I’ve ranted & raved before about what Drew & Louise Langsner do there, now for over 30 years. Have a look here:

hatchet & plane work

Then I’ll scoot home, work a bit, then go back down south in July for a class at Roy Underhill’s Woodwright’s School in Pittsboro, NC. This time it’s a joined stool. Lots of mortise-and-tenon work, after we split & plane the stock from a red oak log. It’s my first time at Roy’s new school & I am really looking forward to it. He told me today there’s 3 spaces left, so if you’ve been thinking about it, get crackin’.

joined stool
There’s other demo/lecture type things this year, but these are the only hands-on classes that I’ll be doing in 2011. I just wanted to let folks know that there’s only a few slots left at this point – so if you’re thinking about it…think no more, sign up!


wainscot chest

One of the projects I am working towards finishing is this wainscot chest. The other day I did the final pinning, which can only be done after the till parts are cut and test-fitted. One of the biggest headaches in making such a chest. There’s lots of ways to fit the till. I thought I’d show you some alternatives from my files.  

First, to catch anyone up who is new – the till is the small compartment fitted on the interior of a chest or box. It is sort of squeezed between the front and back of the chest, and captured there when the whole thing is assembled.

Here is one from Braintree, Massachusetts – these guys cut the till lid to conform around the rectangular stiles. The lid pivots on an extended round-whittled tenon, or pintle. This fits into a bored hole in the interior faces of the front and rear stiles. For this till lid to work, you must nick away the top inside corner of the stile as well.

till lid, Braintree chest

Here is the same shop, with a till in a small carved box. This till had two small drawers under it at one point…note that when the till lid is open, it can support the box lid. All oak, refinished, even inside!

Braintree box interior

Next is one from Thomas Dennis’ shop in Ipswich, Massachusetts, 1660-1700 (same dates as the Braintree stuff we just looked at) . Here the till itself is gone, a common thing. but its evidence is clear – the notches for the side & bottom, and the hole for the lid’s pintle.

till trenches and hole

Note that on that one the top corner is again nicked away. To make a till with a square-ended lid, you must hack away chunks of the stile. Shops in Plymouth Colony did that regularly. This till lid is riven Atlantic white cedar, complete with runs of crease moldings.

plymouth colony chest till lid

Same till, showing the molded till front, and the overall large size. Most tills are smaller than this. This till bottom fits into notches in the stiles AND in the side muntin.

till side and bottom
 Here is the evidence for a simple till in a chest from Dedham, Massachusetts, same general time frame. No till lid, just notches for the side & bottom. Simplifies things a lot
Dedham chest till notches
Here I am scribing the till bottom to nest against the chest’s side. I made the till bottom extra-wide, slid it into the notches, and scribed with a compass. Then removed it, cut to shape, and fit the till side.
scribing till bottom

The till lid being test-fitted; the chest’s rear frame is not pinned on yet, so I can open up the frame a bit, slip the till parts in, and then test the whole thing. If the till parts are too long, they can keep the chest from coming together. On this chest I have carved the upper side rail, so the chest’s front is on our right in this photo. The till lid has been cut to conform to the front stile’s irregular rectangular shape.

till lid


finished till

There, done. After the weekend, the floor is next.

knocking them off one-by-one

I finally finished assembly of the walnut high chair, except for a footboard. Fitting the arms was a bit of trial & error; they have rectangular tenons where they enter the rear stiles, and a round mortise where the front stile fits. Because of the canted front stiles, this mortise was bored at an angle, and the mortises in the rear stiles are also angled. Some fun making this all work; but in the end I was reasonably satisfied. But no pictures of the process – it took long enough as it is.

final assembly

Then I carved an extra panel – to use for finish sampling. I applied linseed oil, turpentine and some beeswax. Being a child’s chair, the ability to wipe it clean is a concern. My kitchen table is carved, and has remnants of yogurt and oatmeal embedded in the carvings. I could clean them out if I had to, I guess – but where’s the time?

   finish sample

Next up is a joined chest that has lingered in the shop for a couple of years – I have been building it from odds & ends; many of the carvings were from public demos. Two were photographed for an article on carving that I did for Popular Woodworking sometime in the past few years.  Yesterday I started the assembly, in preparation for fitting the till. Here is the chest front, from the inside; with one side inserted, and the cuts for the till. Also you can see a carving-gone-bad, re-used as a muntin.

chest sub-assembly

I pinned the side frames to the front, and then test-fitted the rear section in place. This gives me a chance to scribe the till parts accurately. I’ll dig out some till stock next, cut & fit the till, and then finish pinning the chest. Afte that comes the floor, or bottom of the chest. but that’s getting ahead of things.

assembling the joined chest