A look at carved boxes

I’m getting ready to head down to Roy Underhill’s for the first carved box class of the season. It’s full, but there’s room in others at Lost Art Press, and later at Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking too – here’s the schedule https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/pf-2019-teaching-schedule/

The new joinery book features making three carved boxes in detail. There’s others shown incidentally in the carving section. But I’ve made over 100 of them I imagine. Here’s some from various years, most of these are not in the book. These are all scattered to the four winds; but I’m always happy to make carved oak boxes for customers.

This one is mostly made-up, but the carving pattern is copied from a walnut box in Victor Chinnery’s book Oak Furniture: the British Tradition. I really like this pattern, usually I do it on a pretty wide piece of wood, maybe 7″ high.


red oak box, fall 2008

I did it in walnut once, made a terrible mess of making that box, but the carving is OK when the light hits it right.

Two small boxes, one motif. These are only about 5″ high by 15″ wide or so. Same design, just aiming this way on one, the other one on the second example. Garish electric light, I don’t miss it.

small oak boxes

Just a raking-light shot of a box underway. A design I always like, based on an original from Braintree, Massachusetts, right next to where I grew up.


Another fairly large box; the carving is from a drawer front based on the same Braintree joinery. This box might be about 8″ high I’d guess; 20+” wide.

guilloche carving on oak box

This little one was one of my favorites; carving, molding, color and squiggles & dots. I plan on doing some carved & painted ones this spring.


Here’s one before the box lid was installed, showing the till inside.



Some of these pictures have been on the blog before; here are two views of the wooden pintle hinge. I use it most often on my boxes, although in the seventeenth century it’s the exception rather than the rule.


This one is from just last year or the year before, a carving sample re-used as a box. I assume that’s the inside of the front. I carve the samples over & over in classes and only need them at the moment. So sometimes they get recycled.


Red oak boxes with white pine bottoms and lids. Very distinct color and texture difference when new (on the left), but 10-15 years later (right) they blend quite well. Have patience.


a detail:


Joined chests

I’ve been reading through the pages of my new book “Joiner’s Work” https://lostartpress.com/collections/books/products/joiners-work recently, and was thinking about how many joined chests I have made over the past 30 years. I don’t have an exact number, but a careful guess is over 60 of them.

Back when I made furniture in a living history museum I got to practice all day long – a pretty good way to learn. Sometimes the chests I made there were based on careful examination of period examples, other times all I had to go by was a photograph & I had to fill in the details based on what I know of period practices. Lots of leeway. Here’s a few that aren’t in the book:

This one is loosely based on a picture in Chinnery’s book Oak Furniture: The British Tradition. I remember when Vic and Jan Chinnery came to visit, Jan was surprised to see this chest – the original was in their house!

oak chest, two panel front

This one is totally “made-up” in that it is not copied from any one source. I made it in 1997. All white oak. Probably pitsawn; I was younger then, we all were.

H:25” W:47 ¼” D:16 1/8”

joined chest

Here’s part of my inlay phase! Also made-up. Also pitsawn, or mostly so. These all got used hard, and for most years got a new coat of linseed oil every year. That’s part of why they darken so. Some of the secondary wood on this one is elm, the lid panels & the end panels. Maybe the floor boards too.


These photographs came about because I was forgetting which ones I had made or my co-workers made before me – so at one point I started shooting them each winter as I cleaned them and tried to catalog them. Some we shot when they were new – this one was late in my career there – I’d guess around 2004-2005, which is when I first saw chests with that wide center muntin.

a small oak chest


There’s one of these “5-panel” (really 14 panels!) chests in the book. This one I made for a PBS series called Colonial House in 2003. It’s a copy of two chests from Marshfield, Massachusetts…


One more from that Colonial House batch – I built four houses’ worth of furniture for that project.  I remember later working on the motif that’s carved on this top rail & muntins – thinking I had never done it before. Clean forgot about this chest!

H:29” W:47 ¾” D:19”

joined chest, oak & pine


There’s no measured drawings in the book, but it shows you how to make a chest, and how to figure out the dimensions. Each one’s different, as you can see in this sampling. So glad I don’t have to move them around and clean them every winter anymore…but I’m glad I have even these basic photos.

OK – one more. In process, April 2011 it says. This one’s in the book incidentally; some process shots show it underway.

wainscot chest

Joiner’s Work available for ordering from Lost Art Press

No photo description available.

Well, I guess I’m not writing a book anymore – Chris just posted last  night that “Joiner’s Work” is available for “pre-publication order.” (Not “pre-order” – ask Roy Underhill about “pre-drilling” a hole sometime…) https://lostartpress.com/collections/books/products/joiners-work

Like most of my work, there’s a story behind this book. For eons, Jennie Alexander & I worked on “the book” – our collaboration about making a joined stool. It was to serve as “an introduction to joinery”. We spent so long on it that I used to drop out for years at a time, “you finish it” I’d say. Then JA’s health got dicey and s/he said “When I go to the boneyard, promise me you’ll finish the book.” Gladly, says I, knowing it’d be easier that way…

One thing led to another, and I wanted to write a book about making joined chests; complete with carving…but first, I had to get Alexander’s book out of the way. The plan was that I would provide the text and photos for the joined stool book, then JA could do with it as s/he pleased. Chris Schwarz has told the story of how one night after some woodworking show, he held court in a local pizza joint – “trying to start a publishing empire” I think was his recent quote. I was about starved to death, and was just looking for someone to have dinner with, but that meal really opened up a new world for me.

I had never written a how-to book before; I had been published a good bit, but it was all academic furniture history stuff. When Chris told me how LAP worked, I was thrilled with the idea of being a part of it – so I went down to Baltimore, wrestled with Alexander and we ended up finishing the Joint Stool book finally.

Then I went back to the carved chest book; and all kinds of hell broke loose. Somewhere in there, I started teaching, which meant I traveled. For someone who’d never driven a car until age 24 or so, I started to get around some. I ended up in places I’d never even heard of – imagine that Australia is actually real. Also mixed in there, I quit the job I never imagined I’d leave. So at that point, I had to figure out where I was going to set up shop. My good friend Ted Curtin lent me his for a while, then Pret Woodburn & I built mine here…so this book, like the first one, had a long gestation period. Lots of interruptions. But now it’s done.

I was splitting out parts for ladderback chairs yesterday afternoon, and there was one piece that was too good for chairs – dead-flat radial plane, 6” wide by three feet long – so today I’ll begin planing that stuff and in May I’ll make a box from it. The trees talk to Jögge Sundqvist. I get it. They make decisions for me sometimes. I might want one thing, but the tree has another thing in mind. It’d be stupid to not listen.

White pine furniture

Image may contain: indoor

I posted this one on Instagram recently; making some pitiful excuses for having brought those awful plastic clamps into the shop. It’s a settle that I’m test-assembling. About 5′ x 5′. It’s for the Old House in Cutchogue, Long Island. But I can’t build it here, I have to assemble it in the house. So I copped out & bought two of those pathetic tools to help hold it as I worked out the ship=lapped boards across the back. It’s all painted now, and stacked in the corner. I’m onto the next thing; a large dresser for the same house. This one’s even bigger – 6′ wide, and 7′ high. Shelves above, shelves, drawers & cupboard below.

The page below is from Russel Kettell, Pine Furniture of Early New England – this is not the dresser we studied as the basis for what I’m making, but it’s not much different. I’ve had this book almost as long as I’ve been a woodworker. It’s a wonderful book, somewhat dated now, but still excellent.

Here’s some work on it I did on mine today –

You can just make out that this is a 7′ high side board to the dresser. The scalloped bit just behind my back is the upper end, where the shelves for plates/dishes fit in.  I’m jointing the front edge, this will be the cupboard section. The board is held in the single screw, pinched against the bench. Resting on a holdfast in the near leg and a wooden pin in the far leg.

I don’t have a router plane; here I’m chopping a stopped dado for a vertical partition that is part of the cupboard. Using a chisel to chop out the waste, then cleaned up with a bevel-down chisel.

Test-fitting the partition in that dado. I’ve got the long shelf pinched onto the bench with 2 holdfasts and a strip of scrap pine.

I shoot most of my photos with a tripod and a remote shutter-release. I forgot to hold still for this one. I’m rip-sawing a 6′ piece to make the kick-plate that fits under the lowest shelf. I’m not sure I’ve ever pointed it out, but I keep a large open bag at the end of the bench. It doesn’t catch all the plane shavings, but it catches a bag-full.

I’ve started jointing the kick-plate and here I’m checking with one of the most accurate tools in our arsenals – eyeballs.

I don’t work from drawings. I do best when I get the piece started, then I can easily see where to go next. This is my end-of-the-day, “what was I thinking?” look. I’ve got one upright, the vertical partition and the mid-shelf mocked up across from my bench, and I’m trying to figure out the next piece to cut. The cupboard door is standing beside the bench. This picture is here because the camera was set to shoot every-so-many minutes. Building big stuff in this small shop, and setting up a tripod makes it tricky sometimes…so I just stuck it in the corner and got lots of photos to delete.




some tools for sale, plus a box, basket, etc.

Recently I posted a photo or two about the un-thrilling task of cleaning up the shop. This past week I made it into the loft to begin a clean-out up there. There’s things there that were in my old shop at the museum; nearly five years ago. They were extra tools then, got stored after that, then when I built the shop, they came out of storage only to be….stored in the loft. Time to sell off some tools, nothing fabulous, but some planes and a few other bits. If you want any of these items; leave a comment on this post, citing which item you are interested in. Timed comments help sort out any tussles. I’ll send a paypal invoice afterwards. Prices include shipping in the US.

There’s also a couple of recently-made items; or recently finished. A box, a basket, and a knife handle & sheath. Here’s the details.

H: 6 1/2″  W: 16 3/4″   D: 11″

This is the year of the box. I’m teaching it several times, twice at Lost Art Press https://www.eventbrite.com/o/woodworking-classes-at-the-lost-art-press-storefront-11163310977 . Meanwhile, here’s a recent one I just finished. The white pine lid is streaked with darker brown bits, but over time the whole thing will take on a patina that blends these differences together. Till inside, wooden hinges.



Height to rim: 11″   Diameter: 12 1/2″

Made the basket last year, finished the rims and handle with some hickory and white oak last week. Hickory bark lashing. If there’s no takers, I’ll fill it with oak pegs and hang it from the rafters. Like the others.






I half-made this, it’s a Morakniv 106 blade. to which I fitted a butternut handle, carved. Birch sheath. Had a custom order for one, made two while I was at it.



Make a Joint Stool from a Tree – by Jennie Alexander & PF; BOTH SOLD – 

Found two shrink-wrapped copies of this one.



First, some horn planes. These came out of a box that is mentally marked “extra planes.” There’s still 7 or 8 planes in that box, so these were extra-extras.

Horn Plane #1;  SOLD German, ECE. I converted it to a scrub/fore plane. Convex iron…I used it for a long time. It’s still in fine shape. Will need some cleaning, and sharpening.
L: 8 1/2″   W (of iron): 1 7/8″



Horn plane #2; German smooth plane  SOLD

L:  9 3/4″  W (of iron): 1 3/4″

This one’s missing its medallion, I don’t know the maker. It’s heavier than the ECE one above, a little longer. Its iron need grinding as well as honing. I guess I never re-habbed this one. It’s a nice plane.


Horn plane #3; German smooth plane;  SOLD
L: 8 1/2″  W (of iron): 2″

This one is a little more worn than the others. Wedge is chipped at its top end; and the mouth is really wide. It could stand a patch let in to close the mouth. Or re-grind it to be a generous scrub plane. I had students use it as is, it makes shavings. Just dangerous if you get your finger in there.



horn plane #4; Scrub plane.  SOLD
L:  9 3/4″ W (of iron):  1 1/4″

A nice little scrub plane. Clearly a replaced iron from somewhere. Someone told me this plane is French, but I can’t swear to that. It’s not beech. Nice patina, some wear here & there, the horn has a glued-together crack.



Horn plane #5;  Scrub plane  SOLD
L: 9 1/2″ W (of iron): 1 1/8″

Another unknown. Not sure I ever worked with this one, either. It’s got a nice hollow-grind on it, but not sharpened. Iron needs some clean-up. Great Elephant insignia on the iron. Chip on the tip of the horn.




Horn plane #6;   Scrub plane –  SOLD
L: 8 1/2″  W: (of iron): 1 1/4″

It’s a theme. I guess I bought these whenever I saw them. Some came from Alexander too. This one needs cleaning & tune-up, but is in fine shape really. Its iron will clean up with some elbow-grease.


Plow plane –  SOLD
L: 10″  iron in the plane is 1/4″

I got this plane from Ed Lebetkin. It’s a simple one, in fine shape. I used it some with students, but it’s been stored so long it’s time to move it on.


Length: 8″    width 2 1/2″    weighs  1lb 14oz

I used to use this one for roughing out Windsor chair seats. Later I got a Hans Karlsson adze for bowl-carving – this one got shelved. A little too big for bowls probably. Except for really large bowls. Austrian, I bought it in the mid-1980s; sawed a poll off the back end. I forget if it had an exterior bevel when I got it, but it does now. Needs sharpening and a handle. 



Saw set –  SOLD

I had this one for many years, rarely used. I bought a vintage one several years ago, and I sure don’t need two. So it sat for a long time.


This one has a story. It was Jennie Alexander’s…she & I argued about it for years. She never used it, but loved it in theory. I have other favorites. When we cleaned up JA’s shop, I took it because of the story. I still have the story, but don’t need the tool.




Wooden spokeshaves = 2 available  SOLD
$25 each. 

Spokeshave #1  top one 9 1/2″ long, iron just over 1 1/2″

Spokeshave #2  bottom one 9 1/2″  iron 1 3/8″; body more slender than above.

These I’ve had since 1975. I used them some early on, but over time they got shelved. They are a project, there’s some wear on the sole in front of the blade, they need a strip added there. Some use brass, some inset a hard-wearing wood. I kept one large one to do just that with…



1 7/8″ TAP & DIE
price? I don’t know…. first offer is $60. Next one’s at $100. 

Another JA tool, with another story. This one I’ve had for several years, after JA insisted that I had arranged for someone to borrow it from her. I never remember being involved in any way with the loan of a large threader, but JA would not hear of it. Was sure that I somehow arranged it. Eventually, someone returned to me this large home-made tap & die. JA claimed, nope – that’s not the one. So for the past 8 years or more, I’ve had this in a box. I have no idea of its value. So make me an offer. I’m not aiming to get rich off this tool. Off any of these come to think of it. If more than one of you wants this tap & die, we’ll go with the best offer by Wednesday Noon, Eastern gets it. I keep the story, as always, the important part for me.





Nine turning tools  SOLD
various sizes & shapes. The bottom four are Robert Sorby. c. 1980s; some scrapers, a bowl gouge that needs re-grinding; and a large straight double-bevel chisel. There’s 3 Buck Bros tools, a large skew, and two narrow straight tools, single bevels. Then 2 antiques; a small gouge, and a large skew? Lengths range from 14 1/2″ to 21″. These tools were neglected, but can be revived. I have too many turning tools, and I only use about 5 of them. I’d prefer to sell these as a pile rather than one-by-one. It’ll be a heavy box. How’s $125 shipped in US?




Rabbet plane
L: 14 3/4″  W (of iron): 1″+
An extra-long rabbet plane. Someone once said had to do with shipwright’s work, but again, I don’t know that. I only know joiner’s work. Can’t imagine it’s worn away so much to open the mouth that much. Could use a patch or new sole added. Nice iron/chipbreaker arrangement.