Some of you have heard some of this before. But it keeps rattling around in my head. So here goes. My main occupation is making carved oak furniture. I’ve been doing it since about 1989. But back then I had a few woodworking hats I wore, including chairmaker and basketmaker. By 1994 I specialized in the oak, and for the next 20 years it was all oak, all the time just about. A lot happened after 2014 and I built my shop here at home in 2016. Somewhere along the line, a friend of mine bought this settee at an estate sale. I made it in the early 1990s, probably 1992 or before. As soon as I saw it, the first thing that came to mind was “I couldn’t make that today…”
Ever since then, I’ve had an itch to re-learn how to make Windsor chairs. So I consider those and the board chairs/brettstuhls/Alpine chairs my hobby. (In my mind the JA ladderbacks are part of my main gig again – that’s another story.) Like many of you, I hardly ever have time for my woodworking hobby. But last week I got a nice 8/4 white pine plank, 16″ x 10′ – clear.
The chair above – another of my early 1990s-Windsors – lost a fight way back when. It wasn’t me fighting it – and at the time I did a hasty repair to it. I’ve never been happy with the result and set out today to make a new copy of it. One thing I can do now that I couldn’t do then is sharpen carving gouges. So right away I was off to a good start, carving the gutter. You’ll see I bored all the spindle and leg mortises before hollowing the seat. I know the Windsor chairmakers have changed things since I knew what was what, but this method still works.
I thought about stopping there, it was so perfect it could only go downhill.
But I slogged on. Used an adze for the initial hollowing, then onto an inshave.
Some drawknife work
Then a little scraper work and I quit for the day. I had pushed my luck far enough. As the afternoon light was fading I ran my hands across the seat here & there & highlighted with a pencil those areas where I want to refine it some.
I have the arm & comb all bent and waiting. And the legs rough-turned. So those will be next, I’ll finish them & ream their mortises. And on & on. Lots of chances for disaster still. But in the meantime I have a new oak log I’m riving for the cupboard. So that’s tomorrow.
Most of you old hands here already know this, but for the new followers/readers – it’s not just me in this household who spends their time making things – my wife Maureen has been waggling her fingers away at knitting for longer than I’ve known her and took up dyeing, eco-printing and felting somewhere in the last 10 years or so.
“I recently did some indigo dying with one of our friends who wanted a clothing update before a trip. It was fun to get into a dye vat again. From this batch I have added various indigo dyed shibori silk scarves to the shop.
I also added – botanical eco print wall hangings matted and ready to be framed or displayed as is. I enjoyed this botanical dying during the end of the summer and early autumn while there were still lots of green leaves and plants. These prints are a memory of this fleeting time of year. (photo up top)
Rose and I have been needle felting in the afternoons listening to some early Christmas music, relaxing and creating ornaments for Christmas trees. We hope you enjoy them. (PF adds – I can’t believe I’m posting this picture!):
In the shop you will also find – felted bowls, hand dyed silk scarves and knitted items. There will be another shop update the first week of December – shibori organic cotton scarves, knitted items and more felted ornaments, and maybe a few surprises! Thanks for your support and interest in my work.”
To which I will add my emphatic thank you as well – it always makes me feel good when she tells me she got an order from readers of the blog here – I greatly appreciate the support you all send our way.
Chest Plans, Carving Drawings & Vimeo Series on Sale
Maureen’s way ahead of me getting ready for holiday sales. I doubt I’ll ever get there really. I do have a couple of things in the loft to dig out & discount just to make room up there. It’s supposed to be storage for wood and projects…but in the meantime I have gone through some paypal-button hoops and reduced the prices on two sets of drawings – https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/carving-drawings-plans/
I reduced the chest plans and the 2nd set of carving drawings by $10 each. These sale prices will be for the rest of 2022. And yes, this is a loft-space saving move as well. Lots of rolled drawings in tubes up there.
At the same time, I’ve put the chest-build video series on sale as well. It is just about all done – I keep saying I owe one carving-tool sharpening video. And I’m close to making that one, so I’ll add it before the year is out.
One more horrible plug – if you buy the video series, there’s a further discount on the plans. Spend more to save, just like the advertising always says. This video series has been a fun undertaking for me – although it’s a lot of desk work. My son Daniel left me holding the bag doing the editing (I don’t blame him, it ended up at 21 hours of video, which means a lot of time watching [for him] pretty boring videos.) – but I got a lot of practice shooting & editing video. So the next one is underway, the Jennie Alexander chair. That one I’ll shoot & edit the whole thing before I release it – no more serial woodworking video gig for me.
OK – next post is back to woodworking in the shop. Or the yard.
I’ve taught it there a few times now – and it’s insane fun. Riving, shaving, bending & more – the whole works. I’ll demo hickory bark seating, but I don’t have enough for students. (sometimes these folks have it in stock – https://www.basketmakerscatalog.com/ps/57-hickory-bark I don’t know them, I think I used their bark once and had no problems with it at all. Otherwise you can hunt around on the web. Some use Shaker tape like in the chair on the right above.)
In addition to learning to make this particular chair, every other thought during the week is about chairs, chairs, chairs. Who knows – maybe you’ll be the next student to surprise us & cut your chair in half as soon as you’re done. That way it fits on the airplane.
Chairs & chairmaking consume most of the week’s thoughts, but some thoughts are about the dog Georgia.
I’ll bring one of the last chairs JA made as well as some of my own. And lots of stories about Alexander and her chairmaking career…
UPDATE: After I posted this, I got a note from Drew Langsner – who developed the class as I teach it with Jennie Alexander all those years ago.
“Hi Peter- I tried to put a short comment to your post, but have no idea about my password, and don’t want to dig further. My comment, which you can post… Them’s the chairs we sit on…Every day. I’ll be 80 tomorrow. Having a few friends over for a seafood bordetto. (Soup) It will also be cold, for the first time this fall. dl”
Well, two comments from me follow that – when he says those are the chairs they use every day – he’s talking about using them for the past few decades! And – he’s turning 80 today! There – I’ve just used up my quota of exclamation points for quite some time. HB Drew – have a great time today. PF
I’ve been working on the joinery for this cupboard I’m making. Having just done one of these last year makes this one a snap. But I couldn’t find the notched blocks I made last year to hold the stiles for mortising. They must have ended up in the stove. So I made new ones.
But that got me to thinking about the surviving cupboards from this group. I think there’s 11 or 12 of them. I have measurements from several when I studied them with Bob Trent and Alan Miller for our 2001 article. I wondered if they used the same angles every time – I remembered that the components’ dimensions varied a little. So I drew some scaled half-plans of the upper cases.
Here’s the one I’m making, same as last year. The angle between the back edge and the side is 50 degrees. Makes a roomy cupboard inside.
I don’t have measurements for all of them, but checked the ones I do. Three of them came out at 45 degrees, like this one.
On those three, the shoulder-to-shoulder dimensions of the side rails are 14″, 14 1/4″ and 15 3/8″. Front shoulder-to-shoulders vary as well, 15″, 15 1/4 and 13 5/8″. Stiles vary only slightly – 2 3/8″ or 2 1/4″.
This cupboard is the shallowest of the ones I measured. Forget the glass door and some other oddities, those happened later. But they didn’t change the format of the piece.
Its upper case is pretty shallow. Angle comes out to 35 degrees.
It doesn’t mean much – especially because I didn’t get those dimensions from the whole group. For comparison, I checked the side framing of the lower cases – to see how much variation there is. First of all, here’s the format I’m looking at:
But it might be hard to visualize with all that junk applied to it. Here it is before assembly, before the pillars and applied decoration.
The dimensions of the one I’m making are this:
I have measurements for four of these. They vary here and there – the shoulder-to-shoulder of those deep rails run from 14 3/4″ to 16 3-8″. These panels are 5 1/8″ wide, the others are 4 1/8″, 4 1/4″ and 4 7/8″. The part that’s interesting to me is the space between the recessed stile and the blocks/stiles that frame the top & bottom drawers. Here it is slight – 1 1/8″. One has a 2″ space there, one at 1 7/8″ and 1 3/8″. But the final overhang, from the recessed drawer/face to the top & bottom drawer faces is quite consistent – 4 3/8″, 4 3/8″, 4 5/8″ and one at 5 1/4″.
The one with the greater overhang is the one at the Metropolitan Museum of Art –
There’s no conclusion to all this looking at these measurements. Other than they didn’t have a standard size/angle to work with or from. And I can’t imagine I’ll be making a third one of these – but I’ll hang on to those blocks just in case.
Many years ago I saw this carved box for the first time. Right away I knew it related to works from Devon England – the initials were something new, but the leaves and flowers were quite familiar. It’s supposed to be from Windsor, Connecticut. Who might have made it is immaterial (it’s attributed to John Drake of Windsor or one of his sons, but that’s not correct.) I knew I wanted to make boxes with that kind of initialing.
My kids don’t read the blog. So they won’t see these boxes-in-progress. I’ve owed them these boxes for 2 years I think. I caved most of these parts a while back, and put one box together yesterday. This is maybe really the last of the butternut boards I’ve had the past few years. What a nice wood for boxes, not hard, not soft. Not light, not dark.
A recent writing assignment the kids had was about what they think the world will be like in 50 years. Turns out they’ll be pretty much the age I am now in 50 years. And for the past few years I have been studying extensive writings of my father’s and two people who taught me woodworking. Maybe 50 years from now the kids will read my writings.
Some people think, based on carefully selected photos here, that I live in some idyllic pastoral setting. While I do have a wonderful river view out back, our place is right in town, near some very busy roads. Out of sight, but within hearing is the highway to Cape Cod. Lots of traffic. So lots of accidents. One of my favorite comments on the blog was someone who watched one of the videos – and said words to the effect of: “It looks like you live in a beautiful rural setting, but sounds like you live in Detroit.” Sirens mess up my videos constantly.
One of the tasks I had yesterday was to cut the parts for the till. I use 3/8” stock for till parts – and squirrel it away when I make extra. If I don’t have any on hand, then I hew and plane the oak parts. But the bottoms and sides I make from whatever is around – hard or soft wood is fine. In this case, I ripped a piece of quartersawn white pine. It was 7/8” thick which was enough to give me perfect 3/8” parts. A few moments with a marking gauge and a ripsaw.
It’s autumn here in New England. Great light, just a wonderful time of year. Yesterday was unseasonably warm, so all the windows open. And then – the leaf blowers. I hate them with a passion. (I know, I’m in a minority re: leaf blowers, smart phones, etc – I can like you & hate your machines…) So the contrast between my ripsawing and my neighbor’s leaf blower reminded me of Bill Coperthwaite’s poem Dead Time. (It’s been a while since I’ve mentioned Bill on the blog. Some of the new readers might not know the story – his book is https://www.chelseagreen.com/product/a-handmade-life/ – there’s lots more to it, but one place you can learn more is this website http://www.insearchofsimplicity.net/)
His poem Dead Time captures for me a big part of why I use hand tools. It’s not to be old-timey, nor pure – it’s a personal preference about how I want to spend my time. A tablesaw would have ripped that pine board in seconds. But those seconds – dead time. Like the leaf blower. Here’s Bill’s poem –
Today I was making some moldings on the faces of framing parts for the cupboard I’m making. I can’t remembe when I last showed these, so thought I’d add this post. I call them “crease” moldings – from 17th century references to molding planes. There’s mainly three kinds of moldings I see – applied moldings (I’ll skip them for now) and two sorts of integral moldings. Those on the edge of a board and those that run down the center of the stock. While lots of moldings were probably made with creasing planes, some were not. I make the ones down the middle with a plow plane and a scratch stock/scraper.
Here’s just a couple of references to start off – these are probate inventories from New England.
1661 Jonathan Proudfoot, Cambridge
2 frameing Sawes 6s, a Handsaw 3s, 3 axes 10s, a 2 foote rule 12d, 5 chessels & a gouge 2s6d, 2 Squares 3s6d, Twibell 3s, an ads 2s, an Holdfast 12d, 2 Hamers 2s, 5 planes 9s, a plow to draw boords 2s, a stocke shave 1s, 9 creasing planes 8s, a peece Sole leather 12d, a grindstone & winch 8s, 10 peeces of Square Timber 1£, pine boords 12s
Another reference, this time from Essex County
1675, Georg Coall (Cole)
will: “…I give to my master John Davis all my timber…”
Interesting that in George Cole’s case the planes are distinct from the hollow & round planes listed before them. Revolving planes – goodness knows. Might be a mis-transcription too, I’ve never seen the original of this document, only a transcription.
So some moldings are made with planes for certain. But for many of mine, I use a scratch-stock (a profiled scraper in a wooden stock). Why? Well, in addition to the inventory references, there’s the evidence on surviving furniture. Look at this wiggly molding on a small joined chest from Dedham Massachusetts:
And another from the same shop – here the molding on the top and middle rails fades out before reaching the end of the stock.
I think both of these results are hard to get with a plane. And another argument for scraping some moldings is this chest from New Haven Colony – its molding has its full profile then in a very short distance it fades to almost nothing. Again, I can’t see how you can cut that with a typical molding plane with a body of any reasonable length.
It’s especially significant over the middle panel – in that case the whole run of molding is only about 10″ long.
The ones I was cutting today come in two steps. First I plow a groove 1/2″ wide down the length of the stock.
Then I use a scraper/scratch stock I made to scrape the profiles on each side of the plowed groove.
We have no idea what the scraper/scratch stock of the 17th century was called or what it looked like. So mine’s just what works easily. I made it like a marking gauge, adjusted by a wedge fence. The scraper slips into a saw kerf in the beam. then pinched in place with a screw.
Joseph Moxon describes a tool on a trammel which he calls a “sweep” for making moldings on arches. It’s hard to tell if his scraped or cut the moldings like a plane does…but it’s the closest I’ve come in 17th century writings to describing a scratch stock. And it ain’t close really.
Moxon on the turner’s sweep,
Of laying Moldings either upon Mettal, or Wood, without fitting the Work in a Lathe
I Had, soon after the Fire of London, occasion to lay Moldings upon the Verges of several round and weighty pieces of Brass: and being at that time, by reason of the said Fire, unaccomodated of a Lathe of my own, I intended to put them out to be Turned: But then Turners were all full of Employment, which made them so unreasonable in their Prizes, that I was forc’d to contrive this following way to lay Moldings on their Verges.
I provided a strong Iron Bar for the Beam of a Sweep: (For the whole Tool marked (D) in Plate 16, is by Mathematical Instrument-makers called a Sweep) To this Tool is filed a Tooth of Steel with such Roundings and Hollows in the bottom of it, as I have intended to have Hollows and Roundings upon my work: For an Hollow on the Tooth, makes a Round upon the Work; and a Round upon the Tooth makes a Hollow upon the Work; even as they do in Molding-plains Joyners use. Then I placed the Center- point of the sweep in a Center-hole made in a square Stud of Mettal, and fixed in the Center of the Plain of the Work, and removed the Socket that rides on the Beam of the Sweep, till the tooth stood just upon its intended place on the Verge of the Work, and there screw’d the Socket fast to the Beam.
To work it out, I employ’d a Labourer, directing him in his Left Hand to hold the Head of the Center-pin, and with his Right Hand to draw about the Beam and Tooth, which (according to the strength) he us’d, cut and tore away great Flakes of the Metall, till it receiv’d the whole and perfect Form the Tooth would make; which was as compleat a Molding as any Skillfull Turner could have laid upon it.
Having such good Success upon Brass, I improv’d the invention so, as to make it serve for Wood also. And make a Plain-Stock with my intended Molding on the Sole of it, and fitted an Iron to that Stock with the same Molding the Sole had.
Through the sides of this Stock I fitted an Iron Beam, to do the Office of the Beam I used for the Sweep, viz to keep the Plain always at what position I lifted from the Center (for thus the Iron in the Plain wrought about the Center, even as the Tooth in the Sweep (before rehearsed) and to that purpose I made a round Hole of about half an Inch Diameter near the end of the Iron: then in the Center of the Work I fixed a round Iron Pin, exactly to fit the said round Hole, putting the round Hole over the pin, and fitting the Iron onto this Stock commodious to work with. I used this Plain with both hands, even as Joyners do other Plains: For the Iron Pin in the Hole of the Beam kept it to its due distance from the Center; so that neither hand was ingaged to guide it.
But note, The Stock of this Plain was not straight (as the Stocks of other Plains are) but by Hand cut Circular pretty near the size of the Diameter of the intended Molding; And yet was made to slide upon the Beam, farther from or nearer to the Center, as different Diameters Verges might require.
I finished the joined carved chest. Finally. And mostly finished the video series about making it. The last bit was making the lid and attaching it. I sorted it into 2 videos – and I shot and edited the first one & forgot to post it. When I finished part 2 & posted it an astute member of the audience kindly pointed out there was no part 1…but now they’re done. I will post one more part -sharpening carving gouges. But not for a couple of weeks, I’m sick of the sound of my own voice. Right now it stands at 21 hours of video on making the chest. I used to figure a chest like this at about 80 hours of work, maybe more now. So be glad I didn’t shoot the whole thing.
One of the pieces I left til the end was the turned drawer knobs. With my recent cantankerous joints I wasn’t up to tromping on the spring pole lathe. But I’ve been on the mend, so took a stab at them. Worked out fine.
On to the next thing – in spades.
I decided to push my luck and begin turning the pillars for the cupboard I’m building. I roughed out one in cherry yesterday. It’s aiming for 4 1/4″ thick at its greatest diameter. About 16″ long. At this point, I leave it quite rough and well oversized – about 1/2″ thicker in most places. It’s as green as can be. All that shaping exposes lots of end grain, so it’ll begin losing moisture quickly. Not too quickly, or it will crack. So in a bag full of shavings it goes. I’ll keep an eye on it and switch it to a paper bag soon. Too much moisture can create mold. It’s a balancing act.
I then went on to some lighter work – painting. For reasons unknown to me, 17th century New England joiners often created moldings that they then painted black. Sort of wipes out most shadows thrown by the shapes. Beats me, but my job is to copy this stuff. So some masking tape and black pigment mixed in linseed oil/turpentine/drying medium.
Here’s some of the rails for the upper case. The molding is a flat groove cut with a plow plane, then a cove scraped on each edge of that groove. But from this vantage point, it just looks like racing stripes.
And it feels very good. Here’s what I’ve been working on. Finally have the chest lid underway for the video series on making this chest. The past few days I’ve been gluing up these 3 oak boards to make this lid, shooting the videos to go with it. Today I planed the top & bottom surfaces of the full lid. Even though this stock is long-air-dried, I temporarily clamped boards to the underside so I get no surprises overnight. I think I’ll chop the lid-video in 2. The first part’s nearly done, working the boards, gluing up the lid & planing it. Next will be making & fitting the cleats then installing the hinges. That video series doesn’t expire – it’ll remain available for sale on vimeo, and the plans here on the blog. Then if anyone needs a chest, get a hold of me.
I’ve been prepping the oak for the next cupboard and some of it was ready for joinery. Here’s the 2 end frames of the lower case. Beside them on the left are the 6 rails to the upper case.
Here’s the lower case of last year’s cupboard showing how those end frames work:
Meanwhile more oak for that project is planed and stickered to let it air-dry some before cutting the joinery in those parts. This is one pile in the shop, there’s two others as well.
I have been planning on shooting another video after the chest one is done – making the Jennie Alexander chair. Started it in fact, before the Lyme disease got me. Lots of people are making JA chairs now, which would please her to no end. And many have made changes, adjustments, etc. I remember Alexander saying of one chairmaker “he has passed me by…” and was perfectly happy with that. Well, I haven’t passed anybody by. The way I make them is mostly the way JA made them, one or two tweaks here & there. I’ll show the whole process, including harvesting and weaving the hickory bark for the seat. It will include details of JA’s chair that I have in the shop, along side me making one. This time I’ll make the whole video before it goes up – not dribble it out like the chest. I’ll keep you posted.
Other news is that I’m planning on actually leaving home at some point to teach a class or two. Not till late winter/early spring. I’ll post information about that when I get them finalized. The only one so far that’s certain is making the JA chair at Pete Galbert’s in March. No details yet – so sit tight. I’ll let you know.
A couple of things happened. First, the season changed which means the light changed. I always enjoy the way the light changes from one season to the next.
All the interest in the chest-plans had me chomping at the bit to get back to that project. And I went back to the chiropractor on Monday. So today I began working on shooting video for making the chest lid. And so far, nothing hurts. We’ll see what happens tomorrow.
There’s lots of options for chest lids. The best, no surprise, is also the most demanding. An oak lid made of multiple riven boards. Takes a big log and a lot of effort.
A simple way to do it is to use a wide white pine lid. I really like these, they’re light. Fast and pretty easy. They can get dinged up, being soft wood. But that’s just part of living. We all get dinged up now & then.
A paneled lid is another option.
I’m making this lid out of 3 quartersawn red oak boards. It will be close to the riven-board lid. Effort is in between that and the pine lid. Maybe a toss-up with the paneled lid.
The chest plans now are on a page with the carving drawings –
https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/carving-drawings-plans/ As far as the PDFs go – of any of the 3 of these – I had hoped to set up a place where you could just pay for them with paypal and download them. But so far that’s beyond my blog-capability. But if you want any of them as PDFs, just email me & I’ll send a paypal invoice.
After a year of intermittent work on the plans for the Braintree Joined Chest, I’m happy to announce they are now available and ready for ordering. The chest featured is based on some examples I studied (and one I own) made in Braintree, Massachusetts between 1670-1700. I made them like the originals, with riven oak as the primary wood with white pine as the secondary wood. Substitutions are up to you. The finished chest is 35 1/4” high, 55 1/4” wide and 23 1/2” deep (front to back.)
I’d like to include a word about Jeff Lefkowitz. If you’re not aware of his work, a little background. A chairmaker and teacher, Jeff first came to my attention through the plans he worked on for Curtis Buchanan’s Windsor chairs. As plans, they convey all the details you need when building the chairs. But they’re also just exquisite images. If I had wall space in my shop, I’d stick some on it. Jeff went on to do other plans you might have seen, Tim Manney’s shaving horse, Dawson Moore’s spoon mule, Jarrod Dahl’s pole lathe, chairs by Pete Galbert and Bern Chandley – I’m sure there’s more. And two sets of carving patterns he’s worked on with me.
This time I threw Jeff a challenge – working up detailed drawings for a joined chest with a drawer – something that to my knowledge he’s never seen in life. Or is certainly not familiar with. Very un-chair-like. We went back and forth over the past year. Picking the project up, then setting it aside now and then to come back to. Jeff fits these projects in between his chair-classes and his home life. Always in this project, it was Jeff pushing for more detail, better explanations.
The plans consist of 6 pages, 24” x 36”. The first four are the chest and its components and joinery, these are drawn by Jeff in his usual detailed and clear images. The last two pages are the carving patterns on the top rail, drawer front and panels, as well as diagrams of the geometry used in the layout for these carvings. Scaled drawings, a stock list and construction details throughout. There’s even some filler showing how to make it as a chest with two drawers, I was able to measure two of those when I did the research about these chests many years ago.
You could build the chest from the plans, but they also serve as a companion to the series of videos I’ve been making on vimeo. That series is not yet done – I got laid up with lyme disease and missed 2 months of shop work. I’m getting back to it – there will be at least 2 more, maybe 3 more videos. The lid, some sharpening of carving gouges. Maybe installing a lock.
One minor blip in the printing resulted in one drawing (bottom left image below) coming out lighter than the rest. Rather than scrap 600 pages of paper – I decided we could live with it. It’s still readable, just light.
The plans are $90 and come rolled in a cardboard tube. Shipping in the US is $9.00
International customers, I’ll send you a PDF and you can take it to be printed. $70 for the PDF. Email me at Peterfollansbee7@gmail.com
Chest Plans; Braintree Chest with a drawer, 6 pages, 24″ x 36″ rolled in a cardboard tube, $90 plus $9 shipping in US.
Here’s a short video showing what’s included in the drawings.