This is the last we’ll see this view in this lifetime. It’s the upper case before the top goes on.
I think of the top as if it’s a giant joined stool seat. Same approach. Plane it, cut it to size, make the molded edge. Then peg it on. I had glued up three quartersawn oak boards a while back and rough-planed them. At this point, the fussy planing happens. Get one side flat enough, then work the thickness.
I make the thumbnail molding with a rabbet plane followed by a smooth plane. Here, a batten works as a fence for the rabbet plane. Depth by eye.
On the cupboard, this is just below eye level, so it all shows. No place to hide.
To bore the holes (and to peg it after) I needed a boost. This low bench was perfect, like first-time drivers sitting on a phone book.
3/8″ square pegs in round holes. I used 8 altogether, 3 in each end, one in the middle of each long rail.
First off – if you’ve read this blog for a while, you know this cupboard has consumed my every-waking moment for a while now. But when it’s done (in 3 weeks, I figure) I’ll be back to some usual blog stuff, including the carving videos that accompany the sets of carving drawings. I never finished the 2nd set of videos, there’s panels and strapwork to carve. Maybe more, I’ll have to check. But I haven’t forgotten them. Just shelved them & chairmaking til this behemoth is out of here. Now to the recent progress on the cupboard. It’s been a long time coming to this point. It’s not done, but it’s very close.
There’s been a bunch of small tasks; gluing and pinning the feet in place. I bored a 3/16” hole through the side of the stile to just catch the foot’s tenon then drove in a wooden pin. Not on the original, but it costs nothing. Belt & suspenders.
Some drawer bottoms. These are on-going as the oak panels dry. V-shaped tongue & groove. Nailed to the drawer sides, back and in a rabbet in the front.
Initials. The original cupboards are often initialed and/or dated. This one just has initials. Practiced first, I don’t often carve letters. One more turning fits between the C and the I. Its paint is drying now.
I re-did a bunch of the turned applied buttons. I found a better way to turn them and got the shape closer to what it should be. Also painted & drying. These all go on the upper case, 6 on the panels and a dozen on the upper stiles (replacing those on the upper stiles’ front faces right now.)
Then the pillars. Turning and installing those upper case pillars was a rare nerve-wracking bit of woodworking. I don’t usually shy away from the “next step” – in any project as you near completion, you have more to lose. These pillars are such a prominent part of the cupboard – they’re up front & up top. You can hide mistakes here & there in such a busy piece – but you can’t hide one here.
I went through a bunch of rigamarole to locate the holes in the lower case’s top for the pillars’ bottom tenons. And double & triple checked it. And thought about what I would have to do if I bored it in the wrong place. (Tear off that top, rip off the offending board. Plane & joint a new one, glue it on. Plane the whole thing. Molding on the front edge. Paint it. Pin it back in place.) I felt very wimpy being so timid, but got the holes right where they need to be. The tenons are 3/4” and the holes are 13/16” – no need to make that a tight fit. Gravity keeps them in place.
I rough-turned that maple pillar last March! It was the only one I got from a horrible maple log. So I turned it, went searching for more. Took months and finally settled on some cherry for the others. Turned the others in November & December. For this upper case, I roughed out three. One died on the vine – had a blown-out chunk from riving and checked badly. So these two had to make it. Yesterday I did the finish turning, very light cuts with freshly sharpened tools. And determined the final, actual shoulder-to-shoulder length from a test-fit.
Got ‘em as close to perfect as my shop produces. “I’m so happy” to quote Jögge Sundqvist.
I took some time out from the cupboard to sort & edit video clips for the next installment in the new series about making a joined chest. The video is a bit under 90 minutes and now at least there’s some action. It’s about splitting open the log and then riving out various parts with a froe. I also show how I use a hewing hatchet to further prep the riven stock prior to planing it to size. You’ll see some snippets about choosing a log, details on splitting a great log and a look too at working a below-average one as well. The video is available separately or as part of the whole series, which I expect to be about 12-15 hours overall. $85 for the whole series, $15 per video.
I’m looking forward to concentrating more on this project. I’ve added a new external microphone and a better #2 camera. Lots of juggling around to get at it, but most of the rest of the series will be in the shop, except some hewing here & there.
Next installment in 2 weeks will begin planing the stock. I’ll show how my bench works, some wooden planes and even some metal-bodied planes. Using them with green wood is like a science experiment! But you can do it…
I also added a video I shot last year about sharpening the hatchet, but that’s free on youtube already too. I plan on adding short extras here & there – first one will be about some of the history of these chests and how they compare to other 17th century New England chests. Sort of a slide lecture, but not boring I hope.
Well, let’s see. Need to wedge the drawer pulls. One turning to go on the bottom drawer & 2 initials flanking it. Some touch-up color here & there, then oil it. Most recent additions were the feet and the base molding.
When I got this miter box from Jennie Alexander I tried to sell it. I’m so glad it didn’t work. It’s heavy & bulky and I rarely use it. But when I do, I’m glad I have it. That’s the front piece of molding for the base. I was kicking myself for not making an extra full-length piece. I kept thinking “if I cut this too short, I have to rive a new piece. plane it, dry it, cut the molding, then paint 2 coats of black on it.” I cut it the right length. Whew.
It’s glued & nailed. I don’t know why I glued it too – just been gluing so many things on I guess. Some of the original cupboards from this shop never had a base molding. They look better with it. Right now the feet are just fitted in, it was late in the day & the shop was getting cool, so I didn’t want to glue them until the next time the stove’s running. Another session I shifted to the upper case. I turned new versions of the pilasters that flank the door. The first set would have worked, but they were a bit heavier than these. I’m glad I re-did them. A lot of work, but worth it.
Then the small turned “drops” – these are also glued & “sprigged” on. I used 7/8″ cut nails instead of handmade iron sprigs. I even snipped them shorter. They just prick into the panel. There are 1″ round button shapes coming to go under these 3 spindles.
Today I was sorting oak panels for the drawer bottoms. When I made the drawers I just put some of the bottoms in place, mostly to keep the drawers square. So now begins the task of filling them in. I need about 150″ of width. 2 drawers at 39″ wide, 2 at 36″. The panels vary from about 7″ wide to just over 10″. Many taper in their width. so it’s a bit of a puzzle. They finish about 3/8″-7/16″ thick. First thing tomorrow is plane sharpening.
(here’s more detail on the drawer bottoms – in that post I made the same comment about the miter box!)
The cupboard is really coming to an end. It’s in sight at least. While some paint was drying, I finished this joined stool that had been waiting in the wings. All but one leg & the seat was done months ago. Here’s a detail view – we’ve never found a New England example with carved aprons, but I like to do them. Lots and lots of English ones were carved. Why not the New England ones? Maybe they were, and just don’t survive. There’s only a small number of NE joined stools as it is…
I sussed out the middle of the cupboard door last week. Here it is mocked-up. I had tried a horizontal oval turning in the middle, but didn’t like the way it looked. The original has what I think is a 19th-century ornament added smack in the middle. Some have the date carved on the door, that would have worked also.
I did three of these turnings the other day. They’re halves with a strip in between. They decorate the side panels. The toughest thing to turn on the pole lathe, very, very slender. 5/16″ at the small end, 3/4″ at the greatest. About 7 1/2″ long. I’m glad they’re done. Painted now & drying.
Soon I’ll get to the part where I finish-turn these pillars for the upper case. First the base molding & feet get attached this week.
At the desk lately, I’ve been working on the next video in the new vimeo series – about splitting the chest parts from the log. So this video will at least have some action to go with all the blather. The link is now on the sidebar to sign up for that series. I hope to finish this video later this week.
Every day in the shop is a good day, but snowy days are even better. Off I go.
In December 2020 I subscribed to a series of videos Pete Galbert was releasing called Foundation in Chairmaking. I knew right away I wanted to do the same with a joined chest. And now I have. Or started it anyway.
I got a great red oak log that’s perfect for joiner’s work. I didn’t have any particular work scheduled that needed it, so I decided to begin a video series like Pete’s. For the project, I chose to copy a chest that means a lot to me, the first group of joined carved chests I ever studied, starting back in 1990. You’ve maybe seen bits and pieces about them in my work over the years. Here’s one I saw in New York a couple of winters ago.
The chests were made in Braintree, Massachusetts by a joiner named William Savell and his sons John & William, between 1640 and 1700. The video series is open-ended; I don’t know how long it will be (Galbert’s ran about 15 hours) – but my previous chest-video with Lie-Nielsen is 4+ hours. This will be MUCH longer than that. There will be room for much more detail and background. I have just posted the introduction, which looks at a restored version of one of these chests and then a segment in the shop introducing the material and some alternatives. That video is about 45 minutes, I expect the shop videos to be an hour to an hour & a half. If a subject runs longer than that, I’ll probably split it in 2. I’ll get to talk about and show you various joined chests and how these Braintree chests are similar and different. And there’s carving. Of course.
The introductory price is $85 for the whole series. On March 1, 2022 that price will go up. Readers have asked for the option to buy individual segments, so I put that there at $15 per video. Below is a trailer and you can follow that to purchase it.
I have shot much of the splitting and riving, hewing and planing. So as I finish up my cupboard I’ll be working on getting the next video posted – hopefully about two weeks from now.
And Jeff Lefkowitz and I are working on a set of drawings/plans for one of these chests. Subscribers to the whole series will get a discount on those plans when they are ready. I have no timetable for that but we’re working on them.
I spent a few days working at my desk recently & in doing so re-read some notes from 20-22 years ago about the Essex County cupboards. Turns out the door hinges more easily than I had planned. So today I got a few bits done. Above is the pin in the bottom of the door. The hole it fits is 3/8″. I tilt the door up and that pin falls into the hole in the bottom rail.
The hole in the top rail is bored all the way through – so the top pin simply pokes through from above into the matching hole in the top end of the door stile. Simple.
The way I had done it before the top pin entered the rail from below. The bottom pin fit all the way up in the door & then dropped down when the door was in place. To get it out, you had to tip the whole thing upside down. This cupboard will be beastly heavy. Now you just reach in above the front top rail & lift the pin up. Door pops out.
So then I could install the cornice. I’ve test-fitted it before, so I knew it worked. Just a matter of pinning the joints.
And then the soffit. The more I work on this thing, the heavier it gets.
I forgot to shoot it standing up, but here it is from below; the soffit colored to match the rest of the oak.