We had some heavy wet snow a week or so back. I found a broken cherry limb down by the river & made some spoons from it. Then the other day I found 2 more, but way up high. I borrowed a pole saw & cut them down. Then started to cut them up.
Around here cherry is the most common wood useful for spoons. It’s quite hard though, comparatively speaking. Birch for instance is much softer & more cooperative. but I love the cherry spoons. They are worth the extra work. I cut a few crooks out of this stuff to get started; but left lots in the limbs, to be dealt with later.
Here’s a whole mess of pictures; not the whole spoon – I didn’t finish it yet. Started some others instead. To really see where the spoons are in crooked timber like this, you have to view them from all around. More than once. This is 2 limbs, twined around each other in this heap.
I started here; there’s one good sized ladle/serving spoon between that end grain & the small branch in the bottom of the photo.
After cross-cutting, I hew away the bark to see where the piece wants to split.
The bottom of this crook is trash; it has a large broken-off limb, & resulting knot.
After some initial hewing, I like to start these large deep bowls with a gouge & (borrowed) mallet. Borrowed shop too.
The gouge can also be “hand” pressure, but it’s much more than my hands driving it. Here’s the top of the stroke, then my whole body moves to bring the gouge across the spoon’s bowl.
Poor Matt Bickford. There I was, gobbling up his new DVD from Lie-Nielsen about how he uses hollows & rounds to make moldings, when the video about Wille Sundqvist arrived. Eject, went Matt. In went Wille.
As you can imagine, I’m partial. I’ve got to know Matt & his family through Lie-Nielsen events; took a weekend class with him once to boot. His teaching method is excellent. The way he breaks down these moldings is simplicity itself. Things are presented very clearly on this disc, you’ll find it a great companion to his book of nearly the same name. It’s almost 3 hours’ worth of instruction. Makes me itch to get out some planes & make moldings…
Having my stuff stashed away in a few storage sites is a bit rattling. I have some tools here at the house, and one workbench. It’s tucked tight into a mixture of kids/grownups/and general clutter; snow-boots, the “shipping” department -(a mass of re-used cardboard boxes and misc materials) the path to the bathroom, and this desk where I write, pay bills, and read about woodworking, birds and a tiny bit of news. I finally decided the other day to quit waiting until I get things “set up” and instead just shoved junk aside & carved an oak panel. It was like riding a bike.
It being winter, I have dipped back into some of Henry David Thoreau’s journal. Somehow winter is when I read this book; “I to Myself” is the edition I’m using. Got to the part about firewood heating you twice, an oft-quoted section. But reading before and after that part was a treat:
“One-eyed John Goodwin, the fisherman, was loading into a hand-cart and conveying home the piles of driftwood which of late he had collected with his boat. It was a beautiful evening, and a clear amber sunset lit up all the eastern shores; and that man’s employment, so simple and direct, – though he is regarded by most as a vicious character, – whose whole motive was so easy to fathom, – thus to obtain his winter’s wood, – charmed me unspeakably. So much do we love actions that are simple. They are all so poetic. We, too, would fain be so employed. So unlike the pursuits of most men, so artificial or complicated. Consider how the broker collects his winter’s wood, what sport he make of it, what is his boat and hand-cart! Postponing instant life, he makes haste to Boston in the cars, and there deals in stocks, not quite relishing his employment, – and so earns the money with which he buys his fuel. And when by chance, I meet him about this indirect and complicated business, I am not struck with the beauty of his employment. It does not harmonize with the amber sunset.”
He goes on, then comes to this one:
“As for the complex ways of living, I love them not, however much I practice them. In as many places as possible, I will get my feet down to the earth.”
words to live by.
Meanwhile, the other day I ordered a new bowl/drinking cup from Jarrod Stone Dahl.
The box with drawer that I posted the other day is a great survivor – the only New England one of its kind. I have seen a corrupted English one – so I dug out the photos of it while we’re on the subject. I have had it on the blog before, but ages ago.
Here we have an English box with drawer, c. 1600-1610, in walnut mostly. This one got wrecked way back when, then incorrectly restored. The lid is new, and the piece has been turned into a very deep box, the drawer being re-fitted & fixed in place.
There’s I think 3 surviving relatives, one at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, in their European Decorative Arts collection. One in a private collection in the US, and one that was featured in Percy MacQuoid’s Age of Oak book…
The others have dated iron escutcheons where the blank square panel is here between the inlaid panels. Dates (from memory) are 1603 and 1610? Something like that. I don’t have MacQuoid’s book.
Here’s the only image I have of the Met box
A couple of exterior detail shots:
There are remnants of block-printed paper lining the inside of the box. Also scribed compass work from an abandoned layout scheme for carving? In the first photo below you can see the wooden pin for locking the drawer from inside the box.
Now to someday see the other examples, so we can suss out what really went on with these things.
The other box with a drawer, without its drawer. How’s that for confusing?
Here’s two shots I got years ago from Trent of the “other” Thomas Dennis box w drawer. But it’s been chopped down & its drawer is missing. This one’s in Historic New England’s collection, published in one of the books I mentioned last night – Brock Jobe and Myrna Kaye, New England Furniture: the Colonial Era (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1984)
What’s even better is that there is documentary evidence that Thomas Dennis made this furniture form – there’s a deposition in the Essex County Court Records, cited in the Irving Lyon articles also mentioned last time:
“March 28, 1682 Thomas Dennis deposed that Grace Stout bought a carved box with a drawer in it of him in 1679 and it had two locks, ” for which he was paid 2/6.
(2 shillings, 6 pence – more than a day’s wages…but not 2 days’ wages. Then there’s the price of the locks to consider…)
Here’s a detail from the Bowdoin one just so we can have them both in mind. For me, the exciting stuff about Dennis’ best carvings is the great variety. Never repeats, even thought the “vocabulary” is clearly evident.
A while back I was up in Maine to take part in a program at Bowdoin College Museum of Art. Huh? I hear you ask – why is Follansbee at Bowdoin? Because their collection is mecca to the study of Thomas Dennis’ carved oak furniture.
They have not one, not two, not three – but four pieces of oak furniture THAT DESCENDED FROM THOMAS DENNIS’ FAMILY.
This time, my focus was on the box with drawer in the collection. I had seen it published many times – but the text was always about the family history of the box, never about its construction. I had never seen good enough views of it opened to understand the format.
Here’s Bowdoin’s excellent photo of the box:
Bowdoin’s credit line runs thus:
William Searle (School of Thomas Dennis); Carved Box with Drawer, 1665-1700
oak; 14 3/16 in. x 25 9/16 in. (36 cm. x 65 cm.)
Bowdoin College Museum of Art, bequest of H. Ray Dennis; 1989.42
(the box is currently on view in their galleries in the exhibition “The Object Show: Discoveries in Bowdoin Collections,” through June 1, 2014.)
First thing I wanted to see is the drawer construction. The drawer sides are fitted to the inside of the drawer front with a sliding dovetail. The drawer front then overhangs the carcass of the box. There are no drawer pulls set into the drawer front, but two “glyphs” glued onto the end grain of the drawer front that act as pulls. Why these are still intact is beyond me.
The drawer bottom is made up of two riven oak boards running side-to-side.
Here is the detail that shows the sliding dovetail, the overhang and the glyph on the end grain.
As you see in the overall photo, the box sits on turned feet. These are tenoned into oak slats that run front-to-back and are nailed to the box’s bottom. I made a couple of rough sketches/notes = the piece is on display in the gallery; and time was short. I had a mini-lecture to give & cheese & crackers to eat! I hope to get back there to see the box in detail some time this year.
I had this photo from Rob Tarule & Ted Curtin years ago, but never really looked at the lid’s species – until I saw it in the flesh. Sycamore’s radial flecking is more pronounced than oak’s…it’s really amazing. Click the photo & see for yourself.
The box mixes riven oak with flatsawn oak (on the sides in the view above) and the millsawn sycamore as well. The box sides are glued-up of two boards, with an applied molding covering the seam. There’s an abandoned carving pattern scribed & partially cut on the inside face of the box front. I love that stuff. I can still mess them up myself, so I’m glad to see it’s not just me.
In the meantime, once I get set up & working oak again, the first box I make is going to have a drawer and turned tootsies.
The William Searle/Thomas Dennis story is terribly long. Here’s a partial bibliography that discusses their works:
Jonathan L. Fairbanks and Robert F. Trent, eds., New EnglandBegins: The Seventeenth-Century 3 vols. (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1982)
Brock Jobe and Myrna Kaye, New England Furniture: the Colonial Era (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1984)
Irving P. Lyon, series of six articles, “The Oak Furniture of Ipswich, Massachusetts” that originally appeared in Antiques in 1937-38. These are all collected in Robert F. Trent, ed., Pilgrim Century Furniture: An Historical Survey (New York: Main Street/Universe Books, 1976) pp. 55-78.
Robert Tarule, The Artisan of Ipswich: Craftsmanship and Community in Colonial New England (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004)
Discovering Dennis: The Search for Thomas Dennis among the Artisans of Exeter, Paul Fitzsimmons, Robert Tarule, and Donald P. White III; review by Peter Follansbee in American Furniture, ed. Luke Beckerdite, (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2010)
This now-out-of-print book is for completists only, it’s from an exhibition at the Heritage (MA) Museum – back in the mid-1990s. Our friends Rob Tarule & Ted Curtin made the furniture and the period room installation. After the exhibit closed, the room came to a local living history museum where it was installed as an accent piece in the gift shop for about 18 years.
Brian Cullity’s book has a couple of shots of period houses that were the partial inspiration for the paint scheme, this frame’s most obvious feature:
Now that they are ready to tear into the building my shop was in, I got wind last week that the room was headed for the dumpster – so when that happens there’s only one thing to do. Go see Michael. As in Michael Burrey, local restoration carpentry guru, and the quiet, behind-the-scenes figure in the popular blog Blue Oak – http://blueoakblog.wordpress.com/
You folks have read the Blue Oak for a while – and most of those guys used to work at the museum. One by one they shifted over to MLB Restorations. They put ’em up, they take ’em down. Michael worked on the original installation, doing plaster work and other duties, then took it down the first time, then put it up at Plimoth, and now he & I started taking it down this past weekend. I got some shots of what he was doing, but from time to time he needed me to put down the camera & lift, heave & shift.
This shot shows the frame with its polka-dot ceiling; I had already removed the pine paneling on the facing wall. It has several runs of ogee-molded decoration; and ship-lapped joints.
You start where it ended, taking off the ceiling boards. Here’s Michael gently prying to test how they were fitted.
He ran around & numbered each board first…
Then I removed nails & screws (it’s a gift-shop installation – not necessarily period-correct, remember) – and stashed the boards out of the way.
Then down came the red oak joists.
These got numbered and stashed as well.
This was about the end of my camera work – here you see the end view of the summer beam; about 12″ tall, x I forget what thick. Godawful heavy is what it is. MLB estimated 600 lbs. So at this point, we set up staging to pry the summer up, then shifted it onto blocking on the staging. Then quit for the day. Took the frame down around the staging/summer beam elephant in the middle of the room. And waited for help.
This AM Michael, Justin and Rick & I started bit by bit easing the summer beam down onto blocking. No photos, I had a short shift because I bugged out to take the kids to the MFA & left the MLB/Blue Oak-ers to finish the task. We’ll see what happened.
The room is 18′ x 20′, would be a great addition to some enthusiast’s home. If someone’s interested, I can put them in touch with MLB. Then we can figure out how it goes back together.
Michael says these rescue demo jobs always have a desperate last-minute feature to them. As it happened, this one tied me up so I mostly missed a great winter storm. I would have loved to sit by the window & carve spoons again, but there’ll be other times, & this frame is now safe from the dumpster. Meanwhile I bumped into this hermit thrush right outside the shop on the 2nd morning – picking around the snowbank.
* the title to this post alludes to some moronic American movie that I fortunately never saw; but could not avoid the tagline after hearing it repeated endlessly. It’s applicable here, Michael gets calls whenever there’s an old frame that needs restoration, rescue or just plain ol’ examination. Remember this wood shop?
I’ve written this post before, I know. But with so many new folks, I can get away with it. I was telling my kids about Henry David Thoreau the other day. And I always think of him when I hear a Great Horned Owl – here is one of his many writings that mention the “cat owl”
December 9, 1856 From a little east of Wyman’s I look over the pond westward. The sun is near setting, away beyond Fair Haven. A bewitching stillness reigns through all the woodland and over the snow‑clad landscape. Indeed, the winter day in the woods or fields has commonly the stillness of twilight. The pond is perfectly smooth and full of light. I hear only the strokes of a lingering Woodchopper at a distance, and the melodious hooting of an owl, which is as common and marked a sound as the axe or the locomotive whistle. Yet where does the ubiquitous hooter sit, and who sees him? In whose wood‑lot is he to be found? Few eyes have rested on him hooting; few on him silent on his perch even. Yet cut away the woods never so much year after year, though the Chopper has not seen him and only a grove or two is left, still his aboriginal voice is heard indefinitely far and sweet, mingled oft, in strange harmony, with the newly invented din of trade, like a sentence Allegri sounded in our streets,‑hooting from invisible perch at foes the woodchoppers, who are invading his domains. As the earth only a few inches beneath the surface is undisturbed and what is was anciently, so are heard still some primeval sounds in the air. Some of my townsmen I never see, and of a great proportion I do not hear the voices in a year, though they live within my horizon; but every week almost I hear the loud voice of the hooting owl, though I do not see the bird more than once in ten years.
The owl above I found at work, I knew where we had heard them calling a lot lately; back & forth in the mid-to-late afternoon. I took a chance & went to see if I could find one. Just stood near the spot & scanned all the white pines for 15 minutes. Then, all of a sudden, I noticed this one right near me.
Later in the day, the owl had turned to face the sun:
Other birds were out & about – some I often just pass by – the blue jay being one of these. I always think that if people had never seen one, or if they were not so conspicuous, folks would travel miles to see such a bird:
Then I was looking for the golden crowned kinglet again, but found a chickadee instead, here then gone.
After this batch goes out the door, I’m going to look into some of the suggestions I got about making selling more straight-forward. In the meantime, if you want one of these spoons, leave a comment about which one you’d like. It will help if you let me know your preferred payment method, paypal or check. From this end, paypal is easiest, but I will take checks if you want to send them.
All the spoons are finished with flax oil. Anybody ever has a problem, I’ll take the spoon back, refund your money (minus shipping) w no questions asked.
The package arrived the other day. I only had a little time to view the spoon & the video at lunch, so when I got home later, I was looking at Wille’s spoon and just wanted to show someone. I took it into the living room, where Daniel was drawing. I said nothing, just handed him the spoon.
He held it, looked it over, and whispered “It’s perfect.” As if it was so good you had to be quiet around it…
Last fall or summer, I forget which, readers of this blog responded with great enthusiasm for the fund-raising campaign that helped Jogge Sundqvist and others make the film that chronicles his father Wille’s woodworking journey. The film is now available as a DVD – and if you haven’t already done so, now’s the time to go order it. It is a treasure. I’m sure if you’re reading this blog, you’ll love this film. I am so pleased for Wille and especially Jogge to have completed the task of making this film – it’s a great accomplishment.