I’ve been pretty immersed in JA chairs lately, having just finished teaching it for 6 days. And talking about chairs most every moment of those 6 days. Above is a chair I just assembled back here at home. I had made part of it before the class, intending to use it for all the demos – but eventually I bailed on it – there was enough going on, I didn’t need to be making a chair too. But I had it all bored and tenoned – so just assembled it, then made slats yesterday. Today I began weaving the hickory bark seat.
I have two chairs for sale – both made leading up to the class. The white oak one I took with me, to serve as an example (I also brought one of JA’s last chairs for the same purpose.) Both of these chairs use a mixed bag of wood – oak, hickory & ash. Linseed oil finish. Over time all the different woods mute to a nearly single color – it happens pretty quickly.
If anyone wants to claim one of these chairs, leave a comment or send an email. I can send a paypal invoice (plus their fee) or you can mail a check – the old-fashioned way. Questions? – fire away. Peterfollansbee7@gmail.com
Ladderback chair White oak posts & slats, hickory rungs, hickory bark seat. $1,400 includes shipping in US
it looks like red oak in the photo, but it’s white oak – a little browner than this reddish cast. The rungs are a mish-mash of hickory sapwood (the white ones) and heartwood (the cinnamon-colored ones) Here’s the bark seat on this one – my favorite, the inside half of a split strip of bark.
Ladderback chair – Ash posts, red oak slats, hickory rungs, hickory bark seat $1,400 includes shipping in US
The bark on this chair is the top half of the split – a different look, still a great seat. the more you sit, the better it looks.
Another view of the ash chair – there will be more of these, I have an ash log I have to open up before it goes bad…one of my favorite woods.
Meanwhile I’m writing up some notes about the boring method we used in the class – developed by Charlie Ryland. Those will show up here soon. I’m updating the chair-making video too – so people who signed on for that will get a notice when that’s posted. Then today I decided to re-shoot the seat weaving video section of that project. I made a few small tweaks to how I do that – one simple one being standing upright instead of hunched over. A world of difference. Below is today’s seat, now set to dry and shrink before I weave in the last bits.
I just recently came back from a 6-day class teaching the JA chair at Pete Galbert’s shop in Rollinsford, N.H. Assisted again by Charlie Ryland – it went swimmingly. And of course, the teacher learns as much as anyone, maybe more. So now I am itching to make some more chairs – but can’t get to them just yet.
There were 8 students whaling away at some red oak and a little bit of ash – splitting & shaving for a couple of days, then boring mortises & shaving tenons. All the chairs went together fine and were really well-done. The slats in particular went off without a hitch. Always a relief.
I told “iron man” Russ he was my favorite student because he used the brace & bit – most others used a cordless electric drill. (actually used the brace & bit too – but I still called Russ Iron Man.)
Pete’s shop is in a huge mill in Rollinsford, right on the NH/Maine border. Upstairs is a semi-new tenant, but an old friend – Dan Faia. We took an early lunch break to go see Dan’s new setup there – he’ll be in the mill full-time starting later this spring, offering small classes and even one-on-one instruction.
For decades, Dan has been teaching at Nort Bennet Street School in Boston – and running the furniture program there for a long time. Now he’s going to be closer to home and avoiding all that traffic that he endured so long. His shop in the mill is spectacular –
Everywhere you look is inspiration.
We spent a bit of time learning about this chair he’s been building as a Fine Woodworking video – they’re just about done shooting it I think. It looks like Dan just waves his hand and there’s a walnut chair…
So if you are looking for first-class instruction in fine furniture work, take a trip to Dan’s shop – here’s his website, etc
Monday I begin teaching a JA chair class at Pete Galbert’s in New Hampshire, so most of my shop-time lately has been in preparation for that. But I spent some time here at the desk sorting more photos of my furniture archive. It’s not complete by any means, lots got away before getting photographed. When I filed the recent photos of the joined chest I counted 33 folders marked “chest” – but one of them has 17 chests in it. So that’s close to 50 chests – with I-don’t-know-how-many that got away. I then looked at more of my collection of period writings – court records, letters, probate inventories – I was looking for descriptors for chests. One of my favorites was an English inventory from 1602 “a joined chest next in bigness to the biggest…”
Some records from Yorkshire cite a “Panneld chest” (as opposed to a board chest) a “Plaine chest” (could be un-decorated, or a board chest) a “longe chest” – just that – longer than usual.
Typical references are to “smale chestes” (small chests), and “Great chest” – not magnificent, but large, and of course a “Joyned chest” followed by another “Playne chest.” One of the New England records I copied was about work someone did to disassemble a chest to move it into a house –
“[Salem, Mass; June 1673] Richard Rowland, aged about fifty-five years, and Mary, his wife, aged about forty-six years, deposed that Erasmus James did one day’s work at said [James] Smith’s house, which was to “take abroad” a great chest that would not go into his door and put it together again, etc. Sworn, 21:2:1673”
I interpret “take abroad” to mean “take apart.” And that got me browsing through lots of court records I copied – these have great details sometimes – I always lump these under a category “when things go wrong…” – this one mentions what might be a tool chest (a work-chest belonging to a joiner) but more likely a chest made of joiners’-work – a clumsy way of saying a joined chest.
[Salem, Nov 1673] Execution, for possession to foreclose mortgage, dated June 5, 1673, upon the house, shop and ground of Abraham Allen, in Marblehead, to be delivered to Mr William Browne, sr., of Salem, according to mortgage, also to satisfy judgement granted said Browne at Salem court, 25;4:1672, signed by Hilliard Veren for the court; and served by Henry Skerry, marshal of Salem, by attachment of the house, shop, land and a joiner’s work chest of Allin’s, which were delivered by turf and twig, also the chest given to Nathaniel Myhill, by order of said Browne.
Transporting large bulky (and heavy) finished pieces is a bit of a nuisance – imagine it in 1600s New England. This next case is lengthy & convoluted –
[Salem, Nov 1674] Writ of replevin, dated Nov 18, 1674, for a steer of Samuel Simons now detained by Robert Aimes, signed by Thomas Leaver, clerk, and served by Jeremiah Elsworth, constable of Rowley.
Samuel Simons’ bill of cost, £3-8
Robert Andors, aged about twenty-eight years, deposed that Edman Bredges hired him to carry a parcel of corn and a cupboard to Salem for him in the middle of September last and deponent asked him if the cupboard were made. Bridges said it was and that he had already paid Samuel Simonds for it in a good pied steer which was at John Commens’s. Further that the deponent brought the cupboard to Salem. Sworn, Nov 24, 1674, before Samuel Symonds.
Willam Smith, aged about forty years, deposed that Goody Bridges asked her husband how he paid for the ox and said she hoped he had not put away the steer he bought of John Lettilhaell, which was at John Cominses house and that said Simons was to pay for him in “joynery work.” Sworn, Nov 23, 1674
John Pabody, aged about thirty-two years, deposed that he was at Edmond Bredges’ shop when Bridges and Simons were making a bargain about the boards of the shop, and Simons said if he had the boards that said Bridges should not deprive him of the steer, etc. Sworn in court.
John How, aged about thirty-three years, deposed that he saw Robert Ames drive the steer, etc.
[Salem, Nov 1674] Zachaeus Curtious, jr., testified that he and Walter Farfeeld being at Mr Gedney’s sometime in October with Samuel Symonds, heard the said Symonds own that the bargain he had made with Edmond Bridges, jr., about some joinery work which he was to do for him, was to be paid in a steer of the work was done by Sept 1. Further that Symonds said the work had not done because his man had gone away and had stayed longer then he ordered him, etc. Sworn, Mar 26, 1674…
Seems that Samuel Symonds agreed to do some joinery work, a cupboard, in exchange for a steer. Lots of people involved – Robert Andors to move the cupboard from Rowley to Salem – Bridges paid for the cupboard with a steer that was at John Commens’ – and he, Bridges, had bought it, the steer, from John Lettilhall. Not only all that – but Symonds was late with the work (I can relate to that) – because his man was gone – I gather this man was working for him in some capacity. The court records had no more than this – so that little snippet is as much as we get.
The papers of the Winthrop family have great details sometimes as well. A letter from John Winthrop, governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony to his son in Connecticut:
John Winthrop to John Winthrop, Jr
28th of the 1 mo: 1636
“…you shall receive of mr Hodges the key of one of his Chests where the seeds are, the key of the other cant be found, so you must break it open, there is in one of them a rundlett of honey…”
Another from the Winthrop Papers, not about a chest but about workmen riving stock for pipe staves: (a pipe is a large barrel, splitting & riving staves for these was a common employment)
Hugh Peter and Emmanuel Downing to John Winthrop
“Wee are bold to intreat your furtherance in counsell and other helpe for the suppressing pipe staff rivers and clabords in our towne; because wee have 2 or 3 ships building. wee desire that within 2 or 3 miles neere any river they may not fell great timber fit for shipping; for they may as well cut it further of it being so portable, and ship-timber being so heavy. your letter to Mr Endecott by this bearer will helpe us very much…These men cut downe but halfe of the tree for their use, & the rest lyes rotting & spoyles our Comons, with many more inconveniencyes then wee nam…”
I emptied half the shop today (with Daniel’s help) so I could shoot photos of the joined chest I made for that video series. It’s going to a customer soon, so I wanted to get proper-enough shots of it. Who knows if I’ll make it again?
I’m so glad I don’t have a bigger shop, I’d only have a bigger mess. As for the photos, I shoot them almost every single time with just daylight. Sometimes too much, sometimes not enough.
I shot almost all of them from outside the shop. One or two through an open window, the others through the door.
The front panels of this chest are white oak, all the other hardwood bits are red oak (except the drawer pulls, those are white also). White pine floor, drawer bottoms and rear panel.
The till has a red oak lid and side, red cedar bottom.
The drawer front has a pattern I never tire of carving.
Same is true of the panels – that panel opening is about 8 3/4″ x 13 1/2″.
Here’s the shot I like the best, I added a small light from our right just to throw some shadows – the daylight was shifting this way & that. Shot it through the open window behind the stove.
Well, a day or two turned into a week later. But I finished the bark seat I started a week or so ago. I have always woven these in two sessions, letting the first weaving dry & shrink before finishing the seat by adding more strips. I have no idea how other people do them, this method is what I learned & it works for me.
First thing is to let the first round of weaving dry. As the strips dry, they shrink in width. So then you pack them tight again, filling in the spaces that opened up between them. Below is the seat in the middle of this process – I was moving the side-to-side strips toward the back of the seat. You can see the rear-most 6 rows have less space between them than those toward the front. Notice how much space is opened – enough for another full strip. So I finished knocking these toward the rear, then the warp (front to back strips) moved over to our left.
I’ve always called this “packing” the weave. It might be a basket-making term, I’m not sure. The seat is dry at this point and those strips are tough. So you can’t just slide them, I knock them with a short block of white pine. Top & bottom. It’s tough going.
The result is below – so there’s a good bit of space to fill. One full strip & two partial strips on the side. One full in front.
Re-wet it. I don’t wet the whole seat again, just the areas where I’m going to work. Top & bottom.
And then weave in the new strips, tucking them into the weave below as well.
Then snip off the last ends under the seat.
Then I wove the next one.
This bark had been split in half when we took it off the tree, but it was still too thick. So I thinned it with a spokeshave after soaking it. A little frustrating – but every time I try to use a drawknife when the bark is in strips, I slice through it. So spokeshave it is. I didn’t shoot any photos of that process – but here’s one from a few years ago. It’s a slow process, the bark gums up the spokeshave a lot. Sharpening helps.
The bark has a very different look from the first seat here. This is the top half of the split bark – the other is the inner-inner bark, if that makes sense. This is the part directly below the outer bark. Very stripey. Here’s the seat when I finished weaving it, as it dries it won’t be so bright. We’ll see it again when I finish that seat – next week I hope.