Joined chest, copped from the web

I get regular updates from some auction and antique sites, and this one is one I always look it.

Paul Fitzsimmons specializes in oak 17th-century furniture… if you like oak stuff, don’t miss his website. 

You might recognize some of my carvings being based on patterns I have seen on his website. Here’s a joined & carved chest he had the other day. Looks great, right?

Devon chest, front view
Devon chest, front view

Well, let’s look around the corner before we jump to conclusions…

rear stile - wood movement
rear stile – wood movement


Note the wriggled shape of the rear stile! How’s this for green woodworking? Or as a testament to the power of drawbored mortise & tenon joinery? Imagine, they pinned those joints, then the thing took off…but didn’t bust the joints.Imagine working stock of this quality…it’s enough of a challenge when I use good timber…

Here’s a panel’s carving:

carved panel
carved panel

I have seen some related pieces in the flesh, and noted they were made of poor quality flatsawn wood. This one has oak and elm in it. Elm is notorious for not staying flat. Yet they have held up & held together. A rather extreme example, but worth seeing because the lesson is, if you don’t have perfect, rive-able green oak – don’t hold back. Dive in, no glue, no clamps. Mortise & tenon, and drawboring. It will make a believer of you. Have no fear….

11 thoughts on “Joined chest, copped from the web

  1. Im suspicious of that back stile because Ive seen examples of crap–lets be honest– being used for earlier work also. I cant remember where I saw it, but there was a 14th century hutch chest from eastern Germany with really lousy rear stiles. And some of the many pine hutch pieces from Scandinavia (not necessarily grain chests mind you) were riddled with knots….in back. Certainly hutch chest blowouts are common enough.

    As for that piece above, how could that be stretched out of position when its really bowing out? If we draw our eyes from the bottom its clearly in line….but then bows outward. Id be tempted to think it was wither a lousy job, crappy wood and/or both with too much weight added to the back very early on.

    Weird. Thanks for posting.

    • Ive been thinking about this all evening. Do we have a comparison of the other back stile? It looks like something very heavy was placed on that side, to explain the bow. The entire chest is tiled down that way, toward the back.

  2. The Schorsch’s Devon chest has much the same side panel construction, wih super-shallow front and rear posts. I need to go take pictures of it for you, really good carving close to Searle/Dennis and original red and dark green paint.

  3. “… if you don’t have perfect, rive-able green oak – don’t hold back. Dive in, no glue, no clamps. Mortise & tenon, and drawboring. It will make a believer of you. Have no fear….”

    Boo Ya!

  4. For some re
    ason, these Exeter area guys often used scant, sub-standard oak. No immediate explanation. Here the joints probably held a while before the one in the northwest corner gave way.

  5. As Trent noted, this chest is one of many from the area with poor quality timber. It has nothing to do with the load in the chest, it’s just wood movement. These rear stiles are often only 1″ thick, as are the rails. Full of knots, twisted grain and every other defect known to hardwood. I see the distortion as further evidence that the stock was worked green, pinned, then it moved. Says me.

    • Color me curious..

      Would it be a plausible notion (for lack of photos) to think more knots or funk exist on the back of the stile….whilst the inner part of the same stile is better grain, thus shrinking more?

      Thats the only general explanation I can think of without seeing it better.


      • I think anyone who has sawed and dried wood would acknowledge that Peter’s explanation is completely reasonable. It appears that the timber wanted to bow, but the pinned mortise and tenon joints prevented it from doing so along its entire length. The “wrinkled” appearance of the the scratched profile along the upper half of the stile attests to the poor quality of the timber. Notice how smooth the scratched profile appears on the left stile, which remained straight.

  6. I agree that it bowed–no question about that.

    What Im curious about is *what* caused it to bow…ie, the physical features or forces that might have caused it to bow. Peter suggests no weight was applied per se. So if thats the case, it had to be a question of un-even shrinkage no? The only explanation I can reasonably come up with is a knotty backside to the stile in question vs a relatively nice front side. Front side shrinks in but theoretical crappy back is unable to keep up, so a bowing of sorts is created.

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