walnut chest, no woes yet

well, like I mentioned the other night, if you enjoyed watching me struggle with the walnut high chair, you get another chance to see me wince. I am making two wainscot chairs in oak for a customer – here’s one underway.

wainscot chair in oak

Same customer added two board chests to the gig, neither is Anglo, and only one might be 17th-century. But, to get to do the chairs, I took the chests too – it’s a long story that I won’t go into in public, but here is the original of the walnut board chest.

walnut chest, probably 19th c


Simple board chest, nailed together. finished off with applied moldings framing the boards, a two-piece base molding, carved feet, and carved cleats and a lip fitted to the underside of the lid.

the applied molding:

applied molding

the carved pattern attached to the lid:

Maybe you saw the boards loaded in the car in the post this week. I got the timber from Paul Lelito, after meeting him at a SAPFM demo. He had just what I needed, saved me from buying kiln-dried stuff, so now I get to try working air-dried walnut. Here’s a post from Steve Branam’s blog about Paul’s woodcutting business: http://www.closegrain.com/2011/04/sapfm-new-england-chapter-april-meeting.html

I didn’t get any shots yet of the chest nailed up, but tonight I started sawing stock for the cleats and base moldings. After I  jointed one edge, I used a marking gauge to strike the widths I wanted, then ripped them. I like to rip short stuff like this standing up, so I use the holdfast to secure it to the front leg of my bench.


I roughed out a few sections,


then planed them.

That was enough, after working all day, then working into the evening. So then I went home.


a simple mortise gauge and some mail

Jennie Alexander's fixed mortise gauge

Here is one of Alexander’s favorite shop-made tools, a fixed mortise gauge. A simple shape cut out of riven oak, and two drywall or sheetrock screws. It really works quite well, but I have resisted making one all these years. Stubborn, I guess. But for those of you who want to tackle some joinery, here is a simple solution to marking the same setting for mortise-and-tenon joints over & over again.

here is the top edge, showing the screws:

The gauge was included in a package that came in the mail the other day. Usually it’s junk these days, but in former times I got great stuff in the mail. And so I did again.


Alexander's scrub plane

This plane arrived, now retired from Alexander’s shop, and back in service in mine. I didn’t need such a tool, but wanted this one because it has been part of our joinery study from the beginning. I think. I really don’t remember when JA made this tote – but it’s been a long-standing favorite plane. It looks like the turned hand-hold behind the iron is a part of the JA rehab job as well. Perhaps Jennie remembers better than me & will chime in.


In seventeenth-century studies I always like it when a joiner died in his prime; that way his probate inventory stood a good chance of containing lots of tools. Like this one from Thomas Scottow of Boston, 1661:


A lathe and six turning tooles     00:12:00

In the yard

A prcell of wood      02:00:00

A prclll of bolts & pannells &c          01:00:00

In the shop

25 plaines   01:??:??

One long saw 3 hand sawes       00:12:00

A paire of compasses 3/ 3 augers 3/     00:06:00

2 hold fasts 5/ 3 benches 12/     00:17:00

25 Chissells, files, & other tooles          00:12:00

2 Axes & a frow      00:08:00

6 chissels & other working tooles & lumber    00:10:00

Boards       01:10:00


The other end of the spectrum is when a joiner lived beyond his working years, and his tools got dispersed, thus did not show up in the inventory. Well, here in the modern day, I’m glad it’s not an early death. And now I know what it’s like to receive some well-worn, but still completely useful tools, passed from one set of hands to another. Nathaniel , you’re next. If the US Post Office is still running in 30 years on, it’s yours.

Unless one of my kids takes up the craft…



Well, it was only a matter of time….

I just came back from the trip to Maine for the 30th Anniversary Open House at Lie-Nielsen Toolworks. It was a great 2 days of demonstrations and tools, tools, tools. Lots of folks that I see each time I get together with the LN crowd, both staff  & demonstrators. I first met Thomas Lie-Nielsen back at the Valley Forge Woodworking in America. We talked about hatchets & axes, and ultimately that conversation drifted around to me doing a video on carving with them. I really didn’t think it would fly; I mean, THIS is my favorite plane:

PF plane

Note the excellent repair with a wrought nail:


Here’s my newest plane:

Dutch-style fore plane in ash

Not exactly the tolerances that LN Toolworks is known for. But over the past couple of years, I have come to know the folks there & I really have an increased respect for their company. They make good stuff, in Maine, and get it right into the hands of their customers. Additionally, they have a great dedication to instruction & education. I am quite pleased to be associated with them.


So here’s the kicker – I spent some time at Jennie Alexander’s on my way home from Country Workshops last month, and part of our task that day was sorting some tools. I managed to ferret out a couple for myself, with JA’s blessing. So thanks to JA, these shiny tools were added to my arsenal.

are these for green wood? nope...

I thought I had great restraint back at the Valley Forge show when I bought a few floats for making planes. But once you let these things in the shop, it’s all downhill from there. I weakened and wavered recently, and got a carcass saw for tenon shoulders. It’s not the first, before that I got a thin-plate dovetail saw and some chisels for dovetailing…



Dovetailing? On this blog?


Well, I’ll tell that story later. But  if you enjoyed my struggles with the walnut high chair, stay tuned…

flatsawn walnut boards

Meanwhile, at my house, the most popular Lie-Nielsen plane was this wooden version:

LN wooden plane

Here’s the fliers

Daniel took one right on the noggin

and, thanks to Matt Bickford’s kids, I learned about another great LN product:

patterns, patterns

When I teach carving, I always start students off with a simple exercise that involves one tool, striking a row of chopped-out cuts. Chop straight down to incise a curve, then bring the tool back, tilt the handle down, and chop out a chip that meets the first incision. I think the DVD starts the same way… ( http://www.lie-nielsen.com/catalog.php?grp=1320#new ) here’s photos showing the basics, This time done on a molding. step one is to strike the gouge straight down:


striking the gouge

then you tilt the tool’s handle down, and step back – cutting towards the incised mark you just made:


finishing the carved detail


A related pattern is a double row of these, tilted over & seemingly woven one under the other, sort of a braid. We did a few of these in the class I taught at Country Workshops last month. (http://countryworkshops.org/ )  Usually it’s only one or two gouges. And it can be combined many different ways.


carved "braid"

For the braid, the layout is the key. A horizontal centerline, and upper & lower margins are the beginning. Then strike spacing with compass, then I mark these spots with a punch, in this case a nail set. Bang bang.

punch marks, gouge strikes


Then strike with a wide but not too curved gouge. The first set of cuts is to the bottom margin, from the left side of the punch. Do the whole row. Then the top set goes the other direction. Flip the gouge around, and have at it. The spacing is determined by the nailset punch marks and the margin.


Now go back & remove the chip. Then take the same gouge, or a slightly narrower one, and make the incised marks that meet the horizontal centerline, and the midst of the chip just removed. Think of this as the S in the braid. You can take a very small gouge & just incise the bit where the braid goes under itself, or leave this off. I hit it, I think it’s worth it.  This pattern is ages old, and it immediately sprung to my mind last summer when Jogge Sundqvist showed us a diamond/triangle version he uses in his work. Here are both in drawings, Jogge’s steps in drawing his version are a little different from mine; but he’s really good. :


diamond braid

Here is the drawing for the curved version:

bottom row is the best spacing

Then I thought of Sebastiano Serlio’s sixteenth-century books on architecture. I use the Yale University Press edition, Sebastiano Serlio On Architecture (1996). There’s some patterns in there that contain versions of similar  ideas. These can get quite complex.  These Serlio cites as being used in ceilings;



Here’s a crest rail from a wainscot chair I shot from a book, showing a pattern quite similar to Serlio:

crest rail


And then there are the various guilloches:

PF carving, copy of drawer from Braintree chest w drawer

These are laid out with a compass, and outlined with a V-tool. Here it’s a box front:

PF box

And here is one just cut with the gouges, no V-tool. Compass outline, though.

and then I remembered the first chest I made at the museum, back in 1994. I haven’t looked at this closely in about 5 years. I bet I would carve it differently now. The front stiles are almost direct quotes from Serlio.

joined chest 1994

Recently,  I was cutting some “twist turnings” for a chair I am making, and lo & behold…braids. But I’ll get photos of those later. Meanwhile, go cut some. If you can’t get to cutting them right away, draw some. It’s fun stuff..

Lie-Nielsen Open House July 15 & 16

Lie-Nielsen Toolworks

30th Anniversary Open House

July 15 – 16, 2011 • Friday & Saturday • 10 AM to 5 PM
264 Stirling Road • Warren • Maine 04864

I’m getting ready to head back up/down to Maine a week from today. These Open House events that Lie-Nielsen has are pretty busy times; and this one should really be the best one yet…30 years they have been making these tools in Maine.

carving oak panel

I’ll be carving some pieces, and getting some work together to take down to Roy Underhill’s Woodwright’s School later this month. Many irons in the fire. If you’re near Maine, the Open House is worth the time, and the price is right – free.  Here’s some video from last summer up there.


a gallery of Jennie Alexander’s joined stools

Well you wouldn’t know it by the blog, but I’ve been pretty busy lately. I just got back from Country Workshops last week, where 9 students made carved boxes in oak. On my way north, I stopped in to see Jennie Alexander. While I was there, I photographed Alexander’s joined stools. I know we’ve never looked at them in detail here, so now’s the time.

 Like the JA ladderback chairs, the joined stools are, in my mind, a modern adaptation of the period form. And just like the chairs, these are more slender than their historic counterparts. But all the construction and stock extraction, etc is following period work. This first one features upholstery by Bob Trent; so a collaboration between Alexander & Trent.

upholstered stool

Here’s a detail showing the supporting webbing underneath. Trent can give us details I’m sure.

linen webbing


All of these stools are red oak if I remember correctly; and date from 1989-1993 or so.  Here’s another one; with a nicely molded seat board; rabbet decoration in aprons; and the Alexander foot turning. Most early stools have lost their feet; we speculate as to what they were originally; and this is JA’s result.

joined stool

The next one is my favorite of the bunch; it has a black-painted crease molding on the aprons.

here’s a turning from one of these stools. I’d have to check my notes, but I think it’s about 10″ long:

turning detail

there’s another version; using a chamfered stile, instead of turned. I am going to copy this idea for the upcoming class at Roy Underhill’s, in case some students don’t want to tackle turning. This one also features two narrow boards butted side by side to make up the seat. These were not glued together. there is a slight gap, but they are still tightly pegged to the frame.

chamfered stiles

One of the stools with turned stiles has its seat pinned to the aprons, not to the stiles. JA drove the pins all the way through the aprons. the pins don’t bottom out that way!

seat pins exiting through aprons

We sometimes use a rabbet planed in the lower face of the aprons on stools. These are then decorated with punches & gouge-cuts. Like this:


and a table with a small drawer in its narrow dimension. Pine top. carved decoration, picked out in 3 colors. A very narrow rail above the drawer.


here it is open. Small half-blind dovetail, nailed through the sides into the end grain of the drawer front. side hung drawer slides on runners nailed to inside framing.


the table has no “rake” – its tenons are all cut with 90-degree shoulders. All the joined stools with wooden seats are raked, or splayed. The upholstered stool is done like the table. Here’s a view from the side of one of the raked stools



So that’s a batch of Alexander’s joined stools. I was glad to catch them all on digital shots, we have a slew of slides of them, but scanning slides can be a bit muddled.


anyone interested in making one of these, there’s still a few spaces in the upcoming class I’m teaching at the Woodwright’s School. Go here: