Figured wood? Sliding dovetails?

Figured wood??? 

sycamore sample figured wood

sycamore figure

Sliding dovetails?

sliding DT

sliding DT 2

I remember when this blog had integrity…what’s happened here anyway? 

Nah…I haven’t sold out – it’s just another day in the 17th century. 


box with drawer, Ipswich, Massachusetts, made between 1663-1706
box with drawer, Ipswich, Massachusetts, made between 1663-1706; Bowdoin College Museum of Art

The 17th-century work of Thomas Dennis – and to some extent William Searle, but it’s a long story that I think might involve murder…has long been a huge inspiration to me. 

[Oh…what did I mean, about murder? You see Searle was a trained joiner from Ottery St Mary, Devon, England, living in Ipswich Massachusetts in the early 1660s. Then, 1666 or so, he died. Thomas Dennis then moved from Portsmouth, New Hampshire to Ipswich, married Grace Searle, widow of William, and practiced joinery there until his death in 1706. There’s a group of maybe 4 or 5 pieces, all carved, that descended from Thomas Dennis – but were some of them his wife’s from her first marriage to Searle? When Searle died, his estate included the following:

“one bedsted & Cupboard £5  a trundle bedsted & a box & a little box £1  3 stooles & 3 little boxes —-   one Chaire £1  one table & 3 Chaires & one Cradle £1-5  2 wicker basketts 4s  one settle one meale trough & a Chest £2  one Cupboard £2-12  a box 5s  Tooles & Timber & board, 2 pikes £3-19”

Furniture scholars have tried to divide the group into Searle’s work & Dennis’ work – and some that are probably apprentices of Thomas Dennis – and on & on. I gave up years ago. But I have often wanted to write a murder mystery involving Dennis & Searle, and the widow Grace Searle…]

I went to Bowdoin College Museum of Art  to see the pieces from the Dennis family, including the wainscot chair that is the inspiration for the one in my new video. There’s a segment in the video where we look at the original; and hear its story from the curator Laura Sprague.

bowdoin chair B

On another trip up there, I got a brief look at the carved box with drawer (above) that is the basis for one I am making these days. I had known this box from publications ever since I began studying 17th-century stuff. but had never seen it in the flesh. First thing I noticed upon walking into the gallery – the lid is sycamore (you Brits, think “plane tree”). There are very few instances of this wood in surviving works from 17th-century New England. Maybe two others? One I know for sure is a cupboard at Winterthur Museum that uses sycamore boards for drawer bottoms – a horrible idea if, as in this case, they are flatsawn.

Bowdoin box w sycamore lid

The lid of the Dennis family box is sawn very near the heart of the tree. In this shot, you can see splits running down the middle of the board. Mine are 3 quartersawn boards, edge glued together. I got the sycamore from the website – the boards were just as described, arrived in just a couple of days, and all around a good experience. Thanks, Kevin. Now you know why the figured wood in the opening photo.

lid done

We’ll save the sliding DTs for another day…(quite a term, sliding DTs…)

11 thoughts on “Figured wood? Sliding dovetails?

  1. this is really frustrating. You ask 10 people what they think a sycamore is and you get 11 answers.. For you it’s a maple (Acer pseudoplatanus)? What do you call a ‘london plane’ tree – just plane tree?

  2. I really like sycamore. I’ve quarter-sawn a lot of it, but there is so much flat-sawn wood as a byproduct, which behaves very poorly when drying. I will saw it if the tree has come down naturally, or has been taken down for other reasons, but I will not cut a sycamore expressly for sawing into lumber. The trees that are ideal for quarter-sawing are usually fine specimens, and should be left alone.

  3. We Brits call Acer pseudoplatanus the sycamore – multiple citations if you look up British sycamore.
    Platanus × acerifolia, London plane, is usually thought to be a hybrid of Platanus orientalis (oriental plane) and Platanus occidentalis (American sycamore).
    Clear as mud…
    A real sycamore, thought to have been planted by British colonial settlers, was recently taken down in Colonial Pemaquid and would have made an excellent lid for your box.

    • Hi Richard – there you are, bridging both sides of the Atlantic! But what do you mean, “a real sycamore…”? and why did the Brits have to plant it? Is Maine too far north for it? I’ve seen American Sycamore’s northern limit listed as south-western Maine…

  4. What I’d like to know is… Did Zachaeus climb a sycamore leaf maple (A. pseudoplatanus) or a plane (Platanus)? It is confusing especially when the boring, bland snow white A. pseudoplatanus means something like false platanus and the latter has such gorgeous wood. Thanks for the photos Peter I would never have realised it had such good figure.

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