round 2 of mistakes

joined chest, Massachusetts mid-17th-century

Two things to look at on this one; then it’s off to work with me. The stile-to-rail is 90-degrees at the bottom edge of the rail.

side top rail

Here is the front top rail. I’ll say no more. Trent & I shot this chest back in the late 1990s…and we came up with a plausible scenario – let’s see what you folks think.  Or read American Furniture 2002…it’s in there. that’s where the B&W photo came from…

top front rail to muntin



13 thoughts on “round 2 of mistakes

  1. They laid out and cut the mortises and then went to drill the holes and went on the wrong side of the layout line on this one. I’d have the top and bottom rails together to lay things out so It would be unlikely that I would get the mortise on the wrong side of the layout line.
    I wouldn’t gang them up to drill the holes though, especially if my bit was not as long as modern bits. I can certainly imagine drilling the holes on the wrong side of the line!

  2. This is great. We should always take old work, whether it’s a chest or a Shakespeare play, down off of the pedestal we’ve placed it on, and look at with a cold craftsman’s eye. Imagine yourself as the customer and turning your nose up at it, saying “Well, I’m not paying for that…” Thanks, Peter.

  3. perhaps it’s a distortion of the photo, but it almost looks as if one of the intended front tapered stiles got used as the top side rail by mistake?
    the extra doweled holes are a great suggestion for some colorful language in the shop that day.

  4. Nothing wrong with making mistakes, it’s knowing how to fix them that’s important. Everyone can, and I know I certainly have, made mistakes just like this. I’m very unhappy at the moment it happens but over time those mistakes are what can make a piece unique and desireable in my eye. It’s the perection that looks wrong in anything thats handmade. I would rather see a craftsmans ability to fix a mistake and make it work, than to either dicard the piece and go again, or it be totally perfect without a single flaw.

  5. I see it as the joiner chopped the mortise on the wrong side of a layout line, then bored the pin holes. At that point, realized the mortise was wrong, and cut a new one right beside it, bored that & moved on. Plugged the extra pin holes and sold the chest. I always say, it still holds linen.

    as far as the side rail, I think the carcass was out of whack upon final assembly, probably as a result of some poor layout, or twisted joints; tenons or mortises that are in “wind”. So he had to plane down the top edges of the frame to make a flat plane for the lid. Radically. I have done it. Makes you feel stupid, but it’s just a bad day in the shop. nothing fatal.

  6. one of my favorite general observations about early work was spoken by one of the smithsonian curators, “it’s amazing what great lengths people went to to save a piece from failure.”

    • Spring boarding off that thought, my research and fascination with the early lumber industry leads me to conclude that we often forget how much physical effort and labor went into this stuff. Just yesterday I was splitting open about six oak logs no more than 20 inches long after the chainsaw crew had at ’em. After roughly 4 hours of work creating what will become say the equivalent of 3-5 small boxes….I was pooped. That doesnt include another of hewing or planing.

      I guess my point here is that I would like the oak to have been a slightly tighter grain but its often hard to tell from the outside. So given the time issue, expenditure issue and deadline issue…its hard for me to imagine that a good tree would be thrown out for mere firewood after harvesting.

      I dont doubt a joiners eye for selecting a good “straight” tree. What I question is how easily they might be picky after so much effort went into felling the damn thing, splitting it, riving the planks…only to then be wishy washy and chalk it up for firewood. That alone is a waste of time. And time, even four hundred years ago, was still money. And hauling the bloody tree back to a workshop is no picnic…Whew! If its hard today, it had to be just as hellish back then.

      Thus, we have the origins of a professional lumber service which emerges by the latter 17th century. Yet a period in which oak is also beginning to wane in favor of tulips, pines and alternative and exotic woods–and notably woods that tend to be less particular with respect to grain quality and overall product.

      • The joiner was simply a good yankee….perfectly functional piece of wood/furniture…why throw it out (or burn it) when it can be made perfectly serviceable. I totally agree….and also with your note on the amount of labor in preparing a board…no way I’m throwing that out for a simple thing like a missplaced mortise!

        Thanks for the insight!

  7. […] the meantime, I will shamelessly plug  co-worker and friend Peter Follansbee’s blog: Read and subscribe to his blog, if you haven’t already. I guarantee that you will find it […]

  8. Hmmmmmm, pehaps the jointers apprentice had a very bad day and learned a couple of valuable lessons? Or could the mistakes have happened after a lunch at the local pub and a few pints? Anyway, thanks for starting a great discussion.

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