strapwork carving designs

Sometimes I buy two copies of a book on purpose, other times it’s because I can’t find it, buy the replacement and then later find the first. So a while back I sent George Walker a copy of the 1981 journal “Furniture History” because it has an article by Anthony Wells-Cole about the “strapwork” design found on oak furniture in Devon, England and Ipswich, Massachusetts from the seventeenth century. Wells-Cole ran down the existing work in oak, then looked at possible sources for it, including stone monuments and print sources. The article is titled “An Oak Bed at Montacute: A Study in Mannerist Decoration.”

Hans Vredeman de Vries, 16th c
Hans Vredeman de Vries, 16th c

I’ve been prepping lately for my now-postponed carving class, so had the chance to review a lot of photos of various carving patterns. The strapwork one in the Wells-Cole study in particular always fascinates me. I have carved it umpteen times. Never the same twice.

strapwork boxes big & small

Based on markings still visible on the old ones, one method for layout seems to be horizontal and vertical centerlines, then spacing things outward from there in four directions according to the size of the timber, and the size & shape of the tools.

carved box, Thomas Dennis, 1660s-1700, Ipswich, Massachusetts
carved box, Thomas Dennis, 1660s-1700, Ipswich, Massachusetts


this next box has an abandoned layout partially struck on its inner face of the front board. I always get excited by this sort of evidence, march off & adopt it at my bench, then I pull up and think, “wait a minute, this is a mistake – that’s why it’s not done!”

Dennis - 193

dennis deed box

I usually work outwards from the center, and most often start with a circle there, then the bands/straps working east/west/north/south.

PF in process
PF in process
adding leaves inside the strapwork
adding leaves inside the strapwork

This time, I marked the pattern left and right, but only on the top half of the board. Then it’s easy enough to copy from there to the bottom half. Then remove the background. 

the second half
the second half
removing background
removing background

Depending on a number of factors, one of which might be whim, you can make the curved straps that run along the top and bottom margins either broad and shallow, or taller and tighter. Once you learn the vocabulary, you can combine these parts in a streaming run of designs, never to be repeated…

Here’s broad & shallow:

Dennis -broad layoutversus taller and tighter:

Dennis - 209

Those are both the same maker, Thomas Dennis again. Here’s more variations:


strapwork panel

winterthur top rail box HNE

hennock strapwork (2)


Then, don’t forget this one:

(The photos in tonight’s post run the gamut from my own, others from Trent, Rob Tarule, and a couple clipped from books. thanks to all…)


3 thoughts on “strapwork carving designs

  1. Great post, I’ve been gathering research on strapwork designs to try and distiil down some of the basic design elements.

    Any idea on how I might be able to get a copy of this article? I checked the Furniture History Society page, and it seems to imply I can only get upcoming issues. If I join, can I get reprints of the past issues? Or is there another way to buy a copy of this specific journal?

  2. MMMM Dennis deed box with drawer. Do I recall correctly that the Historic New England box is thought to have once had a drawer? It was for many years on loan at the Whipple House. Now I assume it’s in Haverhill. Speaking of Eat your heart out, I was just looking at Drouot, the big auction place in Paris, and there are two big cupboards coming up, one with a pitch pediment, and an ebony grand cabinet.

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