carving a wide muntin

One of the most recent joined chests I made had fairly wide muntins in relation to the panels. Maybe 6” wide muntins & 9” wide panels. This was based on some period pieces I’ve seen by Thomas Dennis, the joiner in Ipswich, Massachusetts, c. 1660s-1706.

carved chest fall 2011


I have another one underway now; not a copy of any particular example, but drawn from the body of work Dennis is credited with, along with examples from Devon, England that are the source for his work.

This one is made from random bits of stock; I don’t even have all the panels cut yet; but I had two already planed up at about 9 ½” wide. That means the opening in the frame will be 8 ½” wide – particularly narrow for a panel in a 3-panel format. Earlier, I had posted this photo of the rails, stiles & one panel.

carvings for new chest

So I dug out some wide muntin stock, 6 1/2”, and started carving one of those today. In this case, I designed the pattern myself, filling the space with motifs from various notes & photographs I have collected over the years. Here is the outline struck with gouges & chisels, based on some centerlines and compass work.

design incised w gouges & chisels

This pattern has very little background to remove. That makes it both easier & harder. Tight spaces to fit in; but not a lot of wood to remove.

cutting down the background

A detail often found in these patterns is a circle left proud of the background, then gouge-cuts made into it to form a pinwheel-like shape.

it can always go wrong

Cutting the chips out of these little circular elements is always fraught with peril…more than once the whole little disc has scooted across the room. Seen on the oldies too, though. I don’t use a mallet for these, just hand pressure.

Here is the entire pattern now formed; the rest just repeats below the center.

half done


As an example of where I copped the design – here is a panel from one of the Ipswich chests, showing a diamond with flower shapes inside it; I greatly condensed this pattern & worked it into the muntin strapwork above…of course in the full-width panel more detail is possible; but it’s still the same design.

detail Ipswich chest, 1660-1700

I have to split open a new log soon to get the rest of the stock out for this chest and another…so you will see more of this in the weeks to come.

Chris’ side of the story…

joined stool

One of the stools I made while photographing the book…still without its paint. Maybe now I have time to work on it…

Chris told his side of the story tonight; and from what he says, you might want to get over & order your book soon if you haven’t yet…

Thanks to all who have chimed in…can’t wait to see your joinery projects.



if you want to read more from Alexander & Follansbee…now’s your chance

I was looking through some old correspondence between Alexander and me; from 1991. In it, we mention that such-and-such would be good for “the book.” Slowly we were assembling what we thought we knew about joinery techniques, all with the plan to publish it as “Make a Stool from a Tree” – drawing on the title of Alexander’s 1978 chair book.

Things happened. 1994 I got a job, both a blessing & a curse. then later I got married. A blessing. Then later still, twins. double blessing.

And the book got shelved a number of times. It was always on-going, but might sit for a year or two sometimes.

And I am glad it did. things happen for a reason, and last spring, I was in Saratoga Springs, NY where Chris Schwarz & I were roped into judging of a bunch of woodworking entries in the big show there…it went on for hours, & they didn’t feed us.

Turned out to be  a good thing. Off we went to some great pizza joint, where Chris was to meet Matt Bickford to pitch Lost Art Press to him for a book…while we waited, Chris pitched to me too.  So all those years, turns out we were waiting for the right publisher to come along.

The book is ready for ordering now, follow this link to Lost Art Press. Free shipping on orders between now & Feb. 27

I’ll have more to say about it, & so will Chris on the LAP blog.

paint ideas

I’m glad to see the interest in the painted decoration I am using on my tool chest. While the construction of that chest is not based on any 17th-century piece; the painted work is pretty close to period work. If you’ve just arrived, here’s what we’re talking about: and

for studying painted work of the 17th century, the trick is there are few surviving examples. Paint was often used as interior decoration. One good source for inspiration in James Ayers, Domestic Interiors: the British Tradition 1500-1850 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003). Ayers’ book goes well past the time period I am interested in, but he has a whole chapter on paint, and painted stuff shows up in other sections too; like doors, windows, walls, etc.


wall painting early 17th c

A sample from Ayers’ book shows a painted plaster wall, done in black & white. Imagine a room like this – you’d be hard-pressed to see any carved furniture sitting in it.


For sources of patterns like this, there’s great stuff done in the early 1600s by Thomas Trevelyon. He made 2 books of patterns, adaptable for gardeners, painters, joiners, embroiderers, etc. But, his were not printed books, but just 2 manuscript copies. So his work didn’t circulate enough to be an original source for much. But it’s based in things he’d presumably seen in various forms; drawings, patterns in gardens, needlework, ceramics, architecture, paintings on cloth, plaster, and more.


Thomas Trevelyon's Miscellany 1608

Here’s one more of his drawings/paintings:


For more of his work, see

There are only snippets of painted architectural work surviving in New England, but here & there in old England there are numerous examples. Nothing like there once was… Here’s a room painted to look as if it’s paneled , late 17th-century,  from Oakwell Hall inYorkshire.


Oakwell Hall, Yorkshire


For comparison, here’s an actual paneled wall, from the same trip my wife & I made in 2005. So the painting is not to fool you into thinking it’s a paneled wall, but just to give the impression. I think this is from Haddon Hall in Derbyshire. I can’t swear to it, but I’m close…

wall paneling Haddon Hall

How about pinstripes? This is from the Merchant’s House in Marlborough, Wiltshire. Note that the door doesn’t interrupt the scheme.


original 1650/60s paint scheme w re-done section

Painted furniture from the period is not unusual; it’s again hard to find surviving examples, but they are out there. Here’s a simple one. English again. What we don’t know for certain is the finish for the non-painted parts.

Remember, these folks were not afraid of patterns and colors. Here is a very high-style chair of the 2nd half of the 17th century, now displayed against a pale, plain wall in a museum – but in a period house? Could be totally lost against some of these walls.

turkey work chair

and a detail

turkey work detail

On my toolbox, I am not following any particular scheme; just sort of making it up as I go. To make matters more confounding, I have also looked at several examples of late 18th/early 19th-century Pennsylvania chests, seen in Wendy Cooper’s & Lisa Minardi’s book Paint, Pattern and People: Furniture of Southeastern Pennsylvania, 1725–1850 , I never did make it to see the exhibition, I had seen bits of it when it was being researched. But Kari Hultman went for us::

Those chests and boxes really stuck me, and if I had room here at the house, I’d make some copies. In my spare time…

A favorite random piece of English  decoration is this embellishment I found in the Carpenters’ Company Records in London – 1573.

Carpenters' Company Records


As far as how I prepare the paint, several people wrote & asked. Yes, it’d dry pigments mixed in linseed oil. And I doubt I’ll put a finish over that. When it’s painted, it’s done. The stool book has a section about making & using this sort of paint. Any day now…

There’s stuff in a few books on paint in New England work. Abbott Lowell Cummings’ Framed Houses of Massachusetts Bay has some architectural interiors with paint. And Jonathan Fairbanks has a whole essay about portrait painting, but it has great details about materials, etc. “Portrait Painting in Seventeenth-Century Boston: Its History, Methods and Materials” in Fairbanks & Trent, New England Begins: The Seventeenth Century (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1982)



forget the oak, there’s food to be had

If you have read my blog for a while, then you have heard me go on about Country Workshops, the school in western North Carolina for woodworking classes. I have been a student there since 1980, and sometimes an instructor these days.

up towards the workshop

I can’t say enough good things about the place, and its keepers, Drew & Louise Langsner.  If you are not familiar with CW, then try the website to learn more about it

hatchet & plane work

In their newsletter today was an item that just about knocked me out of my chair – Louise has started a blog about her cooking. I have often joked that the woodworking is just what we do there to kill time between meals. If you’ve been there, you know what I mean…


So if you like good food, and/or cooking take a moment to catch up on what Louise is up to… here with her friend & swimming companion, Smoky Joe.

Nice goin’ Louise.

another day of painting

well now I’ve done it. I have to get this tool chest painted so I can get on with the rest of my life. But today I painted for about 4 hours or more. And was it tiring! Standing in one position all day. And there’s more to go.  but here’s what I got today.

I marked out some artificial spacing – created “stiles” on the ends of the chest front, and a center muntin. this way it mimics the lid above it.  Then I started outlining the designs for the resulting two panels. I chose to use stuff I know well, that reduced how much head-scratching I had to do…then I outlined the pattern in bone black pigment.

beginning the outline

The pine chest is not primed in any way, so it’s quite absorbent. Helps the paint dry quickly.

well on its way

Then came some yellow ochre, just like I did yesterday.

details & backgrounds


As before, I am figuring this out as I go.  Getting some paint on there helps to see where I have to go next.  There’s a lot of area to cover. Can’t leave anything blank.

the drawers

I knew I wanted fake drawer fronts on the skirt around the bottom of the chest; but I didn’t outline them in black, just scribed them with marking gauge & awl. So I will go back when this dries, and add outlines.

half done

This is the front, about half-done. Gotta figure out the “muntin” for this section; and add some details.  Next week I hope to finish the painting. Then I can start using the chest.

One nice part was standing at the window all day. Saw a red fox scoot by; but the camera was up on the tripod, so no shot of him. He’s a regular – I’ll get him at some point.


A solution to too much blank space…

first color

So I started painting the lid to my tool chest. It’s part 17th-century English, part 19th-century Pennsylvania. The lid has two flush panels in a frame, so it was easy to break it up into components. Here I have outlined some of the patterns in bone black pigment mixed in linseed oil.

yellow ochre

Next came yellow ochre, to do some of the backgrounds, and some small details on a long rail.

iron oxide

When I started these flower-shapes in red, at first the red ran all the way out to the black background. Then I quickly realized I like a white-ish outline. So I will go over this when the colors dry & outline these in white.

compass work in muntin

This is as far as I got; I hadn’t figured out the patterns for the rest of it yet…




scratch stock evidence

OK – so about scratch stocks in the 17th century. How did they make moldings on joined works? We know they had molding planes, there are a few from the 16th-century shipwreck the Mary Rose. And they appear in many probate inventories too; the following are some examples of molding planes found in New England inventories:

2 revolving plains

4 round plains

3 rabet plains

3 holou plains

9 Cresing plains

inboring plaines

Joseph Moxon & Randle Holme both call them by classical names too; ogees, bolection, and so on.

But look at the molding above the center panel in this detail shot of a joined chest from New Haven, CT.  (I clipped this photo out of Victor Chinnery’s book Oak Furniture: the British Tradition. If you don’t have that book & you like this blog, get it)

New Haven chest detail

The molding fades in & out at the juncture between the horizontal rails and the vertical muntins flanking the panel. This amounts to a run of about 9” or so. Not more than 10”.

In that length, the molding reaches its full profile in the middle, but is shallower and not fully defined at each end. I think you can’t do that with a molding plane – the length of the plane’s sole would prevent you from reaching that full-depth in such a short run, while still fading out before the muntins. Says me.  One of mine:

PF joined chest

To do this in my shop, I use a scratch stock. But I don’t know the history of this tool. I do know I have never seen it by that name in any 17th-century records. There is one reference I know of that describes using a scraping action to define moldings – in Moxon, but on Turning, not Joinery.

“Of laying Moldings either upon Mettal, or Wood, without fitting the Work in a Lathe.

I Had, soon after the Fire of London, occasion to lay Moldings upon the Verges of several round and weighty flat pieces of BrassL And being at that time, by reason of the said Fire, unaccomodated of a Lathe of my own, I intended to put them out to be Turned: But then Turners were all full of Employment, which made them so unreasonable in their Prizes, that I was forc’d to contrive this following way to lay Moldings on their Verges.

I provided a strong Iron Bar for the Beam of a Sweep: (For the whole Tool marked in Plate 16, is by Mathematical Instrument-Makers called a Sweep) To this Tool is filed a Tooth of Steel with such Roundings  and Hollows in the bottom of it, as I intended to have Hollows and Roundings upon my Work: For an Hollow on the Tooth, makes a Round upon the Work; and a Round upon the Tooth, makes an Hollow on the Work, even as they do in the Molding-Plains Joyners use…”

He goes on in great detail, talks about using this sweep to shape moldings in brass, then having success at that, took on wood too. (it’s pp. 217-219 in the section on turning).  Here is the tool Moxon’s engraving of the tool he claims to have invented; probably adapted would be a better term.

Moxon's sweep

Here’s one Bob Trent & I had made by Tom Latane back in 2001 when we did an exhibition at Chipstone’s installation in the Milwaukee Art Museum. Latane does some of the nicest blacksmith work I know.

sweep by Tom Latane

I know the sweep is a rather specific tool, but for me the idea is that with it, the workman scrapes moldings, rather than shave them as you would with a plane. that’s the driving point in the search for scratch stocks…

Here is an 18th-century engraving, from Roubo, about a tool like our modern scratch stock. I got it from Greber’s History of the Woodworking Plane. I didn’t look up the translation.

Roubo, from Greber's History of the Woodworking Plane

Here is a funny old tool I bought one day, because it almost is a scratch stock. It’s probably a coach-maker’s molding cutter. It’s sort of like a spokeshave, its blade is not perpendicular like a scratch stock, but more pitched like a true plane. But clearly a home-made job. Screwed together. The sole of this tool is quite short, maybe an inch long. Curved too.

a detail

One more

In this last view, you can see that it’s one piece of wood that’s been sawn in half, then screwed back together. I would look in Salaman’s Dictionary of Woodworking Tools, but it’s in the shop – and I’ll probably forget once I get there.

I’m sure there’s more, but that’s enough for today. I have a book to finish up.

it was the rust that got me…

Yup. I am one of the many who have followed along with Chris Schwarz’ book The Anarchist’s Tool Chest  & made a tool chest.

It was the rust that got me…

My shop at the museum has an ocean view. Good for the soul. Good for birding at lunchtime. But tough for iron & steel. When I read Chris’ note that one benefit of keeping tools in a chest was rust prevention, I was sold. I changed a bunch of things, some intentional, some otherwise. The lid I made has two panels that are flush with the framing. This way I can use strap hinges on the inside…those are on order now.  The dust seal on my lid is fixed to its bottom surface, not the edges. It gets the same effect, I think.

I’m not much of a dovetail-er…but now I have had some practice.

dovetails on box for gouges


My carcass is white pine, but the trays inside are walnut. I ran out of pine, and had a fair amount of the walnut leftover. So I ripped a bunch of it down to ½” thick and made the three trays from that. “Trays” doesn’t quite seem the right term for them, but I guess they aren’t quite drawers either.

I have never studied antique tool chests, so all I had to go on was the book; the way these trays ride is pretty nice. The lowest tray rides on slats fixed to the inside walls of the chest; but the trays are different widths. The narrowest is the bottom, the next one a bit wider and the top one is the full width of the chest’s interior. So to keep them from flopping laterally, you need to fix spacers beside the trays. In the case of the bottom tray, the spacers also serve as the runners for the next tray, and this repeats once more for the top tray. Chris used quartersawn white oak for his. Nice tough wood for sliding those heavy trays across.

re-used carvings

I decided to use some odd bits of carving demos for mine. (in this view, the top tray doesn’t have its bottom yet.) Couldn’t bear to use up new blank pieces of oak. This way we’ll know this chest is mine. Some of these were done during the shooting of the DVDs on carving. Some I make boxes from, but I don’t need three versions of each box around here. Others were carvings I did for demonstrations, but never finished them…

The trays’ bottoms are also oak, in this case riven clapboards I conned the carpenters into letting go. I planed them down to ¼” thick. Using a period-style bench makes planing this very thin stuff quite challenging. I used a simple lap joint between the boards; ship-lapped it’s sometimes called. In this case, I used machine-made nails; no sense using hand-made nails for this tiny work.

1/4" thick oak bottoms, ship-lapped

So far, I have put dividers in two of the trays; the clapboard bottoms flopped around a bit in the wide open middle of these long trays. So I inserted a divider, and nailed the bottom boards up to that.

top tray's divider, with another box inside

Today I made a tray-within-a-tray; to keep carving gouges in. This way I can just lift the small tray out of the box, and bring it to the bench. We’ll see how it goes. At this point, I’m at the stage where I am fitting various tools into the trays, etc.  It’s been a fun project, but I am continually reminded that I am a joiner, not a cabinetmaker. And that’s a good thing…joinery I can handle, this I’m barely getting by…

box for carving tools

But as I finish this part, I am planning the paint. And it’s not going to be any solid-color plain job. Wait til you see it. Remember the MFA cupboard?

scratch stock moldings

crease molding Dedham chest

The photo above is a detail of a joined chest’s top rail-to-stile joint. There’s a few things to see, but right now I want to draw your attention to the molding run on both framing members. This is what we think a “crease” molding is; one run down the midst of the stock rather than at the edge.

To cut this molding, you can use a dedicated molding plane, or a couple of them. Wait for Matt Bickford’s book to get the hang of that.

Until then,  you can cut them with a plow plane and a scratch stock. That’s how I do most of them.

plowing a groove

Here, rather fundamental stuff – a wooden plow plane set to cut a narrow groove down the middle of a stile for the chest. To hold the stock on the bench, I just pin one stile down with a holdfast, then shove the workpiece against that, and up to the teeth of the bench hook (planing stop).

I measured the stile’s width, marked the center, then set the plow plane so its blade hit the point I had scribed. I eyeball the depth of the groove. I tend to start at the forward end and get the groove running, then lengthen each successive stroke to gradually make the grooves full-length.

Now I use a scratch stock made from an old scraper blade, or saw steel. I filed the shape into the end, then mounted the cutter in a wooden stock that works like a marking gauge.  Set it to cut this ogee shape down one side of the groove:

scratching first half of molding

Then, re-set the scratch stock, and run the other molded edge.

the other half

To check the shape, I just lay a piece of scrap wood on edge across the rail, and look at the shadow made from it. This helps you see the definition of the profile.

finished molding

In the midst of making these moldings, I remembered a new technique I sorta learned from watching Matt Bickford – once I cut the plowed groove  down the length of the stock, I take a round plane & start a bit of a hollow – with the plane riding in the groove. This just gets some of the waste out of the way before scraping the actual profile.

round plane removes waste

Here’s another look at a period example:

molding detail, joined chest Dedham MA 1650-1680

Simple stuff. Notice on this period example how the profile runs out towards the shoulder of the rail; or the upper end of the stile. It’s best to scrape this molding on stock longer than you need, then you more easily hit the entire profile the full length of your finished stock…but if it doesn’t make it …the chest will still hold linen.

molding runout

Here is the carved panel with that molded framing around it, had the camera a bit tilted. This and the previous are from old slides;  so not the best views. Often either the central plowed section or the entire molding is painted black.

carved panel, frame w moldings