some more mistakes

I have some more period mistakes for you. These have proven popular, so why not? The two for tonight are ones I have used in lectures many times, and they were in an article I did for American Furniture in 2002. (but that’s now 10 years ago – I guess I better stop thinking of that article as recent.)

First up, a nice chair/table from Plymouth Colony; probably late 17th century. Maple & oak. Looks good from here, right?

When I saw this years ago, I scootched down underneath it, and found this mortise chopped in the turned section.

It took me a while to understand it, but my guess is that the joiner did his mortising in the squared stock, then did his turned decoration. 

In this case, the mortise was chopped in the wrong place, he went ahead & re-cut the proper mortise, then turned the stile as if nothing had happened. Didn’t plug it, patch it – nothing. Just left a gaping hole in the stile. I like it. 

I got very excited when I deduced this order of work; mortising, then turning. So much so that I have done it that way in my shop ever since. Then,  after about 6 years of doing it that way, I finally thought, “Great – now I’m taking lessons from some guy who couldn’t even get it right!” (and he was using maple…)

At least this next one is oak…

side view cabinet; w crack at upper hinge

This side view of a small cabinet shows a nice crack where the upper hinge is nailed onto the case. Being a semi-coherent joiner, the guy skipped the nail that lined right up with the crack; leaving that hinge with just 3 nails to hold it in place. I couldn’t decide whether the crack stemmed from boring & nailing the hinge in place, or nailing the top board down onto the ends of the sides. Either could have split the 3/8” -1/2” thick stock.

But, open the door to the cabinet & you see that the joiner, just to be safe, took the extra nail & drove it through the edge of the cabinet side, effectively closing the crack. It’s held since 1679. not bad.

nail driven into edge of cabinet side

Here’s a detail:

So these are some of the reasons why I don’t get too worried about woodworking. It’s easy once you relax…and then, whoops. 

14 thoughts on “some more mistakes

  1. Man, just to think that cabinet has been around for 333 years.

    It is kind of funny to see their mistakes.
    And it makes me feel a little less like a goof when I have a brain lapse.

    You see some of these magnificent, old pieces pieces; it’s nice to see something a little less perfect once in a while.

    It puts things in a more realistic perspective.

    Thanks Peter.

  2. Hi, you never seace to impress me, how are you going to fix the “feet” of the chest you showed in an earlier post that you had made for the plantation, and the feet were decayed? thank you. Winston James Birchill

  3. Thanks for the post. It’s nice to see that some museum pieces are a little flawed and not just perfect woodworking designed to further dimenish my woodbutcher’s self-esteem.


  4. You didn’t even mention the difference in the turned legs of the table. It almost makes me laugh thinking about people nitpicking IKEA furniture when I see things like this. I suspect it would be hard to get away with things like this today, though.

    Slightly OT, but does that “drawer” on the table pull out into a seat?

    • The legs look fine to me…
      the drawer is a drawer. The top flips up to form the back of the chair…chair tables make lousy chairs & crappy tables…but they’re around.

  5. I just finished building a Split Top Roubo. Leveled the tops and put on a coat of oil. I decided to drill only one extra (3/4″) round dog hole for the time being (there is a row of square dog holes along the front). Then with use, decide where I really needed them. I grabbed a forstner bit, drilled the hole, and dropped the holdfast in. It fell into the hole with a thud and I immediately realized I had grabbed the 7/8 not the 3/4 bit. Ooops.

    • Been then. I cut all of my mortises for my workbench with a 7/8″ bit that I thought was a 3/4″ bit. AFTER I had already cut all my tenons to 3/4″. Whoops. I ended up paring the ridges to 3/4″, with big valleys in between. The joints are still tight after 7 years of constant use. But now I cut my mortises first!

  6. Being completely new to woodworking and not having the space for a full-fledged shop replete with table saw, jointer, band saw, etc., it’s nice to see that if I go the hand tool route and my stuff doesn’t look like the stuff one sees in Fine Woodworking, that’s OK.

  7. Which is worse, turning the stock and dawking it up, or chopping the mortises and then screwing up the turnings? I can’t belive the guy didn’t mortise it after the turnings.

  8. Awesome!!! Thank you for this article! We are so full of ourselves these days. The guys that built these things had to complete the job ASAP at the least expense in time and material, just like us. The attitude was a bit different but the pressures were the same whether it was being built for a client or for a friend. Shit happens. I was born 300 years too late…thanks again.

  9. When it comes to their shapes, the diamond blades are similar to
    circular saw blades, band saw blades and gang saw blades.
    I made a band saw that cuts up to 12 inch stock, but one of the first things I had to do was calculate some various measurements.
    2 on the Italian charts a week after its release.

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