17th-century mistakes, pt 1

a reader wrote & asked about what happens when there’s a mistake? In carving for instance, do you try to glue back a piece that pops off, or just keep going? Start over?

My short answer was you just keep going. I try to keep a file of errors, mis-cues, etc that I find on period pieces. here’s a simple one. Old B & W photos by a friend of mine; a carved chest in a private collection. the chest is 17th-century, Plymouth.

carved chest, Plymouth 17th-c

One panel:

panel detail

another of the three panels in the front:

So – in the overall view of the chest, you don’t even notice a problem…so what’s to worry about? Alexander used to tell chairmaking students, “The eye is very forgiving.” It’s true…

9 thoughts on “17th-century mistakes, pt 1

  1. Hi Tico
    that’s the whole point, it’s not a big deal. If you have to search for the “mistake” then it’s OK to keep it there. Now, if it’s structural…

    We tend to try too hard these days. I work on getting this piece of furniture good enough, and try to get the next one a little better. But by all means, move on with it…

  2. A really nice, illustrative piece, with lots of “mistakes” or, perhaps more accurately, “inconsistencies”, which, from my view point, one should certainly expect on a hand-made piece of furniture….. It is too easy to fall into the mode of expecting the “perfection” of CNC carved/cut furniture…but the problem with such furniture is that it looks “too perfect.” I’ll take the inconsistencies that show up in a piece of hand-made furniture any time….they show that some one put the time and effort into learning the skills and the design work, and translated them to the best of their ability into something that can find a place of honor in someone’s home.

      • Perhaps “mistakes” is not the right word. There appear to be a number of inconsistencies in the arch carvings on the top, as well as some areas near the right muntin on the bottom rail carving that could be inconsistencies or damage that occurred throughout the years.
        Regardless, those are some of the things that give this piece its character and make it interesting.
        Thank you for posting this…I’ve learned a quite a few things from this chest.

  3. Peter – If you hadn’t titled this “17th century mistakes” I would not have noticed the mistake and would never have thought to look for one. Even when it is pointed out, as you have done, it is not jarring, just interesting. I have been wondering what that 17th century joiner thought and if he even noticed the mistake until he was done, if then. But if he did notice mid-stream he did a nice job of blending it in.
    These panels are symmetric about the x- and y-centerlines. I have been watching your videos about how to layout and carve similar panels. The disciplined method that you demonstrate of carving a small arc, then repeating this in each of the four quadrants goes a long way toward helping avoid mistakes like this. I observe in your videos that you never rotate the work, presumably in the interest of speed; instead you rely on your eye to keep the left-right, and top-bottom patterns the same. In my first attempts I find that the left-right symmetry is not too hard to achieve, but top-bottom is harder and rotating the work helps.

  4. took me 5 minutes as well! I like what James Owen said…about a piece not being “perfect” when hand crafted. Im just finishing a small desk and this post has helped me “cope” with some of the things ive encountered. It isnt perfect but i did the best i could, Sometimes, quartersawn w oak doesnt behave as we’d like it too. (I know these are riven)

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