It was 20 years ago today…

well, not really today, but I have been at the museum for 20 years. I moved my tools down there in April 1994…and since then have concentrated pretty much entirely on 17th-century style English and New England furniture. I love doing it, the stuff is great & there is a lot to learn still…formerly I made ladderback chairs, baskets, Windsor chairs and other “green woodworking” stuff. I set almost all that aside, except for the spoons (done mostly at home) and an occasional basket.

But in recent years, I have had a pull to make other furniture…the catch is at the museum, except in the off-season, I can’t have a bunch of non-17th-c furniture sitting around distracting attention. A further complication is that there is no shop at home. Here’s one reason why:


There are restrictions about what we can build so close to the river. I have never pursued whether or not we can get permission – because I haven’t the time nor money to build anyway…and that’s not even mentioning the need for more room in the house with 2 growing-nearly-8-yr olds.

But these nagging furniture ideas keep coming up, a while back there was an exhibit at Winterthur of Pennsylvania furniture that had lots of stuff I liked. I sort of incorporated some of that into my tool box…but the paint was 17th-c English patterns.

I can't believe how long this takes
I can’t believe how long this takes

The variety bug has gotten stronger in recent months. A trip to Drew & Louise’s certainly helped it along. I always am drawn to this chair of Drew’s – my all-time favorite of his.

drew's lowback chair

I started one a few winters back, but botched the reaming of the leg mortises in the seat. Might be salvageable…

En route home from Drew’s, I stopped to see Curtis Buchanan…that didn’t stem any tide either.

There’s 4 of us in the household, and we have 4 chairs around the kitchen table.  It’s a small kitchen. Forget this trumped-up photo, it doesn’t really look this neat & tidy. We tuck 2 chairs where this stool is…and one at each end. 

kitched table overall b

Three of them are old windsors of mine, from the early 1990s. A bowback sidechair, a sackback armchair, and a continuous armchair. So chair # 4? Something like my wainscot chair is pure stupid for use at the table, when you actually have to use the table for other stuff between meals. Godawful heavy. So that’s out. I have one more windsor, but it’s a high back comback armchair. It’s in the way, so it sits here at my desk. I had a sort of oversized ladderback chair, and everyone here hated it. so the 4th person to the table always got stuck with it & complained. A Boston-style leather chair (see the photo)  is comfortable to me, but heavy – and the others don’t like it much. I have a large turned armchair in ash, hickory bark seat. Great chair, literally; but we need another side chair, not another armchair.

Then, a hickory log showed up at work. I thought, “it will bend” – so I decided to try another windsor. I used to really like the fanback sidechair, and I didn’t have one. I think they went to some grandchildren when my mother died. I forget. So I searched around the house & shop for my notes from before 1994. Found some paper patterns, seat shapes, etc for the fanback. but not the whole set.

Got to the shop, and remembered that I had tucked some windsor seat templates behind a bookcase in 1994. The bookcase in this most cluttered section of the shop:

gotta deal with this corner at some point
gotta deal with this corner at some point

I thought the stuff I wanted was in the corner, so I moved the bundle of rushes, and cleared some room, held my breath & tugged. Out came several plywood (I think you heard me right) templates based on designs Curtis gave me many years ago. Maybe 4 or 5 different chairs. The 7 spindle fanback was one of them. Great. All the angles recorded, spindle & post length. 

fanback seat template
fanback seat template

One night after work, I quickly split and shaved a batch of rough spindles. A breeze down memory lane, working at a shaving horse. Nothing better than good hickory. 

shaving hickory
shaving hickory

Now I have hickory for the spindles, comb, and rear posts. Just gotta shave, turn & otherwise get it together. i’ll figure out the legs & stretchers, but for the seat? I knew there was some chainsaw-milled elm around. Big huge beastly boards. Would require 2 people to sift that pile, dig out those monsters, cut them down to size, etc. I thought I still had a small piece of it around. Found it, but too narrow & cracked.  Back to the drawing board. Some 3” thick pine planks around. Seemed extreme.

Oh, well. I shifted my thoughts to the fan – I knew the hickory will make a great fan. But where’s the pattern? Maybe it’s behind the other end of the bookcase. (to the left in the photo) So I moved a huge pile of oak planks, and got near the back of the bookcase. Too dark to see. No flashlight. One of the young guys had a phone with a flashlight on it. Could see something back there, maybe it’s a bending form. Stretched, grunted & pulled. 

Out came a fanback sidechair seat – all carved, bored, reamed. WIth a tailpiece. 20+ years old. Older than the kid with the flashlight on his phone.

older than some co-workers
pine seat, c. 1993 or so

Curtis is sending the plans with the fan shape, bending form pattern.

Ol’ Daniel would say “It is providential”

much more to this story to come.

PS: There was a comb-back seat also all carved, bored, etc. 


curtis’ DVDs

Drew Langsner’s Chairmaker’s Workshop book

House of Chairs


black finial

My family & I took a quick trip to visit friends in Maine. No class, no workshop, lecture, etc.  Just plain fun. Scattered about the self-proclaimed “house of chairs”  is a great mis-mash of ladderback chairs. When I began woodworking in 1978, I started with this book.

MACFAT cover


It showed how to make a “shaved” chair. Same format as a turned chair, but no turnings.

Here’s a turned Shaker chair –

shaker rocker



Many years later, I learned some about furniture history & found references to “plain matted chairs” and “turned matted chairs” – matted referring to the woven seats. (See American Furniture, 2008 for an article on shaved chairs – “Early American Shaved Post and Rung Chairs” by Alexander, Follansbee & Trent. )

Here’s a nice $15 version, from French Canada. Through mortises all over, rungs & slats. Probably birch. Posts rectangular, not square. Did they shrink that way, or were they rectangles to begin with? 



sq post 1b

sq post 1a


Rear posts shaved, not bent. 


sq popst side

sq post rear


Tool marks, sawing off the through tenon, hatchet marks from hewing the post. 


sq post tool marks


Small wooden pins secure the rungs in the post. Did not see wedges in the through tenons. Tool kit for a chair like this is pretty small, riving & hewing tools – drawkinfe, maybe a shaving horse? – tools for boring a couple of sizes of holes. what else? A knife? a chisel for the slat mortises…


sq posat thru t


Here’s an armchair – also shaved.  Big. the curved rear posts angle outwards. the arms meet the arris of this post…one front post has a nice sweep to it. I forget if the other does…

sq post armchair

It was a tight spot that had enough light…so I had to tilt to get the whole chair in this shot. 

sq post armchair overall

The side seat rungs and the arms both have this bowed shape…

sq post armchair overall rear above

Although the arms have been moved down in the rear stiles. 

sq post armchair mortise in rear

I couldn’t get high enough to really capture the shape of the rear stile… I’d guess these stiles are bent this time, not shaved. 

sq post armchair rear stile

The front stile, swept outwards. 



sq post armchair front post


You should see the cheese press. A masterwork of mortise-and-tenon joinery.  Next time I’ll empty it and shoot the whole thing. 

cheese press detail


cheese press detail 2


two wainscot chairs

A while back i showed some snapshots of these wainscot chairs. Before I left town for trip # 2 to North Carolina and then came back & made a trip to Maine, (over 4,000 miles in 3 trips)  I got a chance to shoot them without the shop in the background. The first one is a copy of a Thomas Dennis chair, generally. I changed a few things here & there; but the proportions, carving style, construction, etc all stem from the originals at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA and the Bowdoin College Art Museum in Brunswick, ME. Here goes:

TD chair three quarters

TD chair overall

TD chair detail crest


The next one I made for the museum last month. Its proportions and dimensions are based on one I copied some time ago, made in Hngham, MA in the mid-17th century. The original had simple V-tool carvings and checkered inlay. I opted to just make up some carvings based on the Thomas Dennis material…so the resulting chair is a mish-mash of period work. All oak as usual for these chairs. 

PF design three quarters


PF design overall rear

PF design detail

carving class, Sept 14 & 15 Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking

I have a lot of catching up to do with the blog. I got back from a fabulous week at Country Workshops on Sunday…and have written several posts in my head. Which does you no good now.


today’s very quick post is to tell you that we have some spaces still in the 2-day carving class, Saturday & Sunday, September 14 & 15 at Bob Van Dyke’s place, the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking.


here’s some shots from last time –

leslie diggin the posture

I thought I had a lot of carving tools

dedham panel

The middle part of the box class at Country Workshops is the 2-day section on carving – those students aced it.  Here’s a few of theirs:

aug braid student

rebecca's scrolls detail




chris' lunettes



yesterday’s photos

this guy was around again yesterday, didn’t see it this AM.  Still haven’t seen it catch anything in the yard. 


heron profile

Finished this wainscot chair yesterday at the shop. It’s a mixed-up bag. Size, format, etc taken from one I copied a few years ago, but I substituted a variety of carving patterns instead of the originals. I want to make a straight copy of the original again, but for now…this is it. 


wainscot chair done

summer birds

It’s been a slow year for me, bird-wise. I went to Maine a week too early to catch the best of migration there in the spring. Summer is always slow, although now fall migration has begun out on Plymouth Beach. I just haven’t got to see any of it yet. I usually wait til after Labor Day. 

But for the past 3 days, we’ve had this heron hanging around our yard. Not in the river, but up in the grass. Weird. I offered the kids a 50-cent reward to anyone who sees him eating whatever it is that brings him up in the yard. 

heron standing

At first it seemed he was just hanging around. I checked the tide, and it was up very high. So I figured he was waiting for it to come down. But after watching him a while, it seemed he was stalking stuff….he walks, he stalks…

heron shuffles

heron strides

Here you can see how far up he’s come. Once (when my camera was not handy) he came up to where the bird feeders are, even further from the river.

overall shot
overall shot

While I had the window open to shoot this guy, two hummingbirds were tussling over the sugar-water feeder. Here’s one

hummer landing

hummer flight

hummer posed

I don’t have time for this…

I rarely chase free logs. I get calls pretty often, and just as often the logs are not up to snuff. Folks mean well, and I appreciate them wanting to find a use for their trees, logs, etc. But I’m fiercely demanding when it comes to picking a log. 

But this one, I decided I had to take a chance. I got a call from Nathan  Goodwin, a finish carpenter up on the South Shore…about an oak 42″ in diameter, x 3′ long. Would I like it? No, not really thinks me, then come to find out, he’s got it in his truck & is willing to drive by my house so I can see it. I figured then I had nothing to lose, nothing much anyway. 

But, I says, I have no way to get it out of your truck. He’s got chains & a come-along. And will drive it to the shop. So how could I say no?

big 'un
big ‘un

There’s some metal inside somewhere, and rot near the middle. But even if only half of it is good, there’s a lot of wood in it. I was busy beyond compare, but had to split it open to see if it would yield anything. 

starting split
I wouldn’t park next to one of these

Indeed, I wouldn’t park there. But fortunately I’m a “tapper” not a swinger when it comes to the sledge hammer. 

radial plane pretty flat


Pretty flat radial plane on much of this thing. Some of these faces approach 14″ wide. 


further splitting


I only had time to break part of it open. So once it was mostly quartered, I broke one section into bolts. 

wide stuff 2

The narrow ones here are 8″-9″ wide and the others are 12″ wide.  I had to split off a bunch of the wood towards the juvenile stuff, that’s where the decay was.  The stock is mostly nice & flat in the riven radial plane. 

I know this log is red oak, and I think it’s specifically a black oak called yellow-bark . So if it’s yellow, that means it’s black, in which  case it’s red. Tell Roy.  Rick McKee always used to rave about yellowbarks for riving clapboards, unless he was saying he hated them.  I can’t remember. I just look for straight oaks is all. 

Thanks to Nathan for bringing me the log. 


The place is so crowded…

Nobody goes there anymore…” said Yogi Berra. 

so crowded
so crowded

today, I shaved & drove pins. Into a large joined table frame, then a wainscot chair (the one closest to the camera, no seat yet) , then a joint stool. (also the seat-less one in the shop). 

Then it was lunchtime…I knew I couldn’t keep that pace, so I went home & took the kids to their swimming lesson. 

More joinery next week.