the cupboard project test assembly

Might be two weeks ago now, I test-assembled the cupboard. Daniel & I just finished a short (for me) video showing how I work those large 3 1/4″ square blocks and then test-fit the lower case.

The upper case didn’t get much video-time. There was an earlier video showing how I cut some of the joints for it, and a short bit tacked on today’s showing how I fit the cornice on…we’ll see it all again over & over in time.

upper case partially assembled

(pt 16 Essex County cupboard project 2021)

in between

I got the cupboard all framed finally. Here’s the lower case, resting on its back. Now it makes much more sense, you can see the openings for the recessed drawers between the upper and lower drawers.

lower case

I tried to get a shot showing the whole thing – but the shop’s too small for that. I’ll have to go outside & shoot through the window next time.

crammed in there

Next up, I have to find some new logs; oak, maple – plus some pine boards. Meanwhile, I’m making a list of things to check when I go see the original again. It’s been 20 years since I’ve seen it. So I shifted gears just a bit while that project is in waiting. A joined stool framed, and parts for the next one freshly planed.

joined stool framed & in-the-works

I still have some of that hickory I’m working through. I got out Drew Langsner’s Country Woodcraft: Then & Now and made a few pitchforks – not because I need them, but just to practice some bits of green woodworking that I don’t get to much these days, including bending. After shaving the blank to shape, I ripped the tines down.

sawing tines

Drew’s instructions show how to make a rivet from a 10d nail & some washers. Then it’s into the steambox. Once it comes out, time to spread the tines, then bend the whole thing.

hammering wedges in to spread the tines

The most encouraging part of Drew’s description was something along the lines of “after some clumsy first attempts…” A lot happens in rapid succession – driving in the dowels between the tines, spreading the tines, then bending the fork. It’s been 30 years since my last pitchfork projects…and it shows.

exhale

I made about four of them. Here’s the first two. One is four tines, one is three – but the real difference is that they were each bent on a different form – resulting in a different shape. Drew’s form is the 4-tine one in front.

two different shapes

Last view – the tines.

Then comes the next barrage of brettstuhl doings. Friends in Germany did my bidding, literally, and got me a slightly-used Ulmia grathobel – a dovetail plane. Time to practice with this and get onto my next brettstuhl.

Ulmia grathobel

That’s enough for now. We’re working on the next video, showing the test-assembly of the cupboard. And on & on.

Carved box and 2 chairs for sale

A couple of things for sale, brought down from the loft. If you’d like any of these, leave a comment and we’ll take it from there. Paypal or check is fine, I add the fees to the paypal charges. If someone beats you to it, I can always make these sort of things on order.

I’ll start with the box. I made quite a few boxes last year, particularly in the fall. This box is #12 of 11, or something like that. I made the body of it then, but didn’t finish it until a week ago or so. It’s quartersawn red oak, with a white pine bottom. The carvings are based on boxes made in Dedham, Massachusetts in the 2nd half of the 17th century.

My schedule is pretty full with the large cupboard I’m making and some stools and chairs. I know I’ll make more boxes this year but don’t know when. And there won’t be as many as last year.

H: 10 1/2″ W: 26 1/2″ D: 14 3/4″
$1,200 includes shipping in US

carved box red oak white pine
open showing till

The till parts were scrounged from what was in the shop at the time, a walnut lid and red cedar bottom & side.

detail of front corner

The boxes I make depart from “typical” period boxes in that the sides are carved in addition to the front. This is seen on some period boxes, but most are just carved on the front. I use wooden pegs and glue to secure the rabbets – same story – most period boxes are nailed there, some are pegged. And I use a wooden hinge, again, you see that sometimes, but more often iron hinges.

——————

Ladderback chair
Hickory rungs and posts, red oak slats, hickory bark seat.

H: 33 1/2″ W: (across front posts) 17 1/2″ D: (overall) 18″ Seat height 17 3/4″

ladderback chair

There’s a story to this chair. I fumbled around a bit when I was re-learning how to make these chairs. This one I got the orientation of a rear post a bit off, resulting in what Drew Langsner calls a “windswept” back to the chair. Just a bit asymmetrical. It’s perfectly sound and sits fine. It’s just not a top-flight chair. But neither is it a “second.” I guess it’s a “second & 1/2.” When I assembled it, I saw the problem and stuck it in the loft and made another. Recently I got it out & decided it’s not that bad – so I put a hickory bark seat on it and took $200 off the price.

$1,000 including shipping in US.

You can see the post on our right is kicked out too far. Not fatal.

front view

Here’s the hickory bark seat.

hickory bark seat

———————–

Kid’s size ladderback chair

H: 26″ W: (across front) 14 1/4″ D: (overall) 14″ Seat height 14″
$800 including shipping in US.

Kid’s ladderback

A colored chair? From me? Yup, it’s to hide another mishap. Bored a hole in the wrong spot, plugged it & carried on. But it was right in a front post. So I practiced coloring this one. Even with the plugged joint, the chair is perfectly sound. Here’s the plugged mortise, at the rung that’s running down to the right in this photo.

plugged mortise

—————-

I still have two brettstuhls here, Alpine chairs, board-chairs – whatever you might call them. It’s funny to think about me making Alpine chairs down here at sea level. They might seem like quite a departure from my normal work, but with carved decoration, mortise & tenon joinery and a long tradition, they are right up my alley. If anyone is interested in one, send me an email at PeterFollansbee7@gmail.com 

brettstuhl walnut & ash

Cupboard project: next video

Daniel & I went over some snippets of video on the cupboard project the other day. It’s a mish-mash of how to hold those funny-shaped stiles for mortising & plowing grooves. Then the beginnings of setting in the cornice joinery.

I’m headed out to the shop momentarily to pick up this project where I left off. It’ll take some head-scratching to see where I am. Below is a mock-up of the cornice rail on one side, and a test-piece of the soffit. This step will locate the groove on the inside face of that cornice – to fit those soffit boards.

Soon I hope to have the framing of the upper case all cut. Fingers crossed.

(pt 15 Essex County cupboard project 2021)

Make a Chair from a Tree

Make a Chair from a Tree

Recently Pete Galbert wrote about the coming 3rd edition of MACFAT “It’s no exaggeration to say that this book changed my life…” – I too have used that expression in talking about that book. As I’ve been thinking about it lately, one person whose life changed immensely because of the book was Alexander. John, Jennie, JA, Alexander  – I feel like Billy Pilgrim, unstuck in time. So some of what I think about involves John Alexander, some Jennie. Before anyone gets in a snit over it – I mean no disrespect. I was as close to JA as you can get.  

PF JA Theo

Lately, I’ve been working on the beginnings of a book that I hope will come to pass. It involves some threads and stories of how the people who taught me woodworking learned themselves, how they intersected – and one of the central players is Alexander. To that end, I’ve been reading about 700-900 pages of what could be a couple thousand pages (I haven’t seen all the notebooks yet, the pandemic put a halt to that research for 1 1/2 years) of notes and letters in Alexander’s papers. It tells quite a story. 

intersecting rung tenons

I wrote a short intro to the new edition, noting that in the first edition JA wrote: “I’ve made more friends in the past year than I had in the previous five years.” – and that was before Alexander went to Drew Langsner’s & began teaching chairmaking. From that point (1979) on, things really took off. 

In one letter, JA wrote “I am an attorney by profession, that is my cash crop so to speak. However I am equally concerned with my craft.” Well, that’s not strictly true. I never saw JA take time from woodworking to do legal work, but the reverse was often the case. He’d write letters and notes while waiting for his case to be called in court. Lots and lots of them. Always woodworking was churning around in his head; even when his professional life kept him busy and out of the shop. 

1978

I never have known anyone who read as much as JA did, nor I guess have I known anyone who wrote as much as she did. But one thing is very clear, the woodworking and the relationships developed through it were the most important and significant part of JA’s life outside of the family. 

All those phone calls in Jennie’s last years were about excruciating minutiae about making the chair. Always questioning, always pushing to make it easier, better, more accurate. It really did give her something to live for, long after shop work was out of the question, the chair kept JA alive. She knew she’d not see the book. It didn’t matter, for her – it wasn’t the end, it was the journey. She knew we’d take care of the rest. 

Jennie Alexander 2014

And now 42/43 years later, MACFAT & Drew Langsner’s Country Woodcraft are back to life and better than before, thanks to  Chris and the rest of the Lost Art Press gang. Boy, do I feel old. And grateful. 

recent projects-in-the-works

A long stretch here without a blog post. That means I wasn’t shooting many photos in the shop. well, not woodworking photos anyway. The shop has been a bird blind lately, more about that later. But I have done some woodworking, mostly stock prep. Sorting the hickory, I’ve been splitting and shaving it into chair parts.

some of the hickory

The photo above shows just some of it. In that heap are parts for shaved windsor chairs (Curtis Buchanan’s “democratic chair”), some ladderback chair rungs, tapered legs for brettstuhls, some shaved stuff to make basket handles and rims, and some oak for a joined stool. There was more work that didn’t make it into this photo, some back posts bent on forms for ladderbacks and two pitchforks from Drew Langsner’s Country Woodcraft: Then & Now. https://lostartpress.com/products/country-woodcraft-then-now

a few baskets woven

During the recent heat wave (we had it easier here than most, but it was still pretty warm) I wove a few baskets from some ash splints I had stored. Easy work and you slosh around in a bucket of water. Next I’ll finish off the tops of them, then make handles & rims from the hickory.

kids’ chair & full sized version

These two chairs were kicking around, so I wove hickory bark seats on them from some of the last bunches of old bark I had around. The kids’ chair had a boring error that needed plugging, so I experimented with coloring it to hide my sins. The chair behind it is hickory with oak slats. It has been in the loft for a year or more, and I finally decided it was either getting burned or getting a seat. It too had a boring error, no real harm other than to my pride.

hickory bark seat

Also down from the loft is this box.

carved oak box

The box was maybe #12 of 11 boxes I made last fall (or 11 of 10, I can’t remember). I got the body made & then stuck it up in the loft. There it sat til I was cleaning up there last week. Found a wide piece of pine and glued up 2 quartersawn boards for the lid. So this is sort of the first box for 2021 – except I made the box in 2020. It’s a big one, I’ll get the measurements when I do proper photos in the next few days.

OK – the birds. Out one window has been the house wren (Troglodytes aedon) nest in one of the gourds Maureen grew last year. They kept me pretty occupied with their comings & goings. Here’s an adult with a chick in the gourd, mouth opened wide.

begging for more

out the same window, but closer to the shop, a robin (Turdus migratorius) was building its nest for a 2nd brood of the season.

working on the nest

I also kept an eye out on the other side of the shop for the great blue heron (Ardea herodias) who was hunting in our yard for chipmunks and other critters.

looking out from the hurdle

This strike was a mole or vole down in the shavings pile by the garden.

gotcha

It’s gone on like this for a month, day in & day out. The wrens have fledged but I hear the male singing again. Time for a new mate for him and a last brood of the season. The robins hatched just one chick this time, and it’s growing daily. The heron keeps coming back. There’s no shortage of chipmunks.

Hickory bark

more than 30′ to the branches

I made my first foray away from home in 16 months recently. Went out to the Catskills where Brendan Gaffney https://www.instagram.com/burnheartmade/?hl=en had a couple of hickory trees for us to harvest for the wood and the bark. I first peeled a hickory tree when John Alexander’s Make a Chair from a Tree arrived in 1978. But I lived (then & now) in a hickory-starved area. I had never seen the likes of these trees Brendan selected for us. The one above we got 24 strips in the neighborhood of 30′ long. Unheard of in my suburban settings.

scoring

We peeled away the outer bark along the top surface of this log, then scored a strip to peel up. Above I’m scoring it with a slojd knife. Trying to cut pretty straight along that full length.

I didn’t shoot a lot of photos – it was very green in those woods. No fear of sunburn under there. I like to take a strip as soon as I can get at it, that way I can gauge the thickness of the adjacent strips. We aimed to make the strips thick enough to split apart later. Then it’s the inner-bark of the inner-bark that I like best. But I often use both halves of the strip, sometimes the outer one for lashing basket rims while the inner one is chair seats.

first strip

Below Brendan is scoring and peeling another strip. It’s hard to move a log like this – it’s about 12″ in diameter at the butt and well over 30′ long (we were cutting the strips off the top end, the log went on a while.) When he felled the tree, it landed wedged between 2 saplings at this height. A little low, but WAY better than on the ground.

more of the same

Brendan being who he is has to tinker. Instead of using a knife to score the strips, he brought a fabric-cutting wheel. A very thin blade, it cut very well. Took some practice to learn to steer it. We referred to it as either the pizza cutter or the wheelie-thing. As in “Do you have the wheelie-thing?” You can see he’s using his fingers of his right hand to gauge the width of the strip as he moves the cutter along. Nicely done.

the wheelie thing

In two days-plus we worked up two logs, the 2nd one slightly shorter. Maybe 25′. Coiled all the strips as we went, then when the logs were all peeled, split up the best parts of the wood.

part of the bark harvest

So now at home, the first thing was to find a place to stash that bark. Up in the air is what I wanted, to continue to dry it out. I rigged up some hanging racks – one on each side of the shop.

about 15 coils

Then comes the wood. Without its bark it can be ruined very easily. Need to keep it out of the sun & wind or it will crack wide open. All those lines we scored with the knives and cutters are like perforations now. So I covered it with a tarp. And began working it up as soon as the coils of bark were put away.

straight clear hickory

Some go to various steps to keep the wood green. In this case, I subscribe to the idea of just working it up as fast as I can. So I’ll concentrate the next several days to making parts – chair legs/rungs/ etc – some just need shaving, others shaving & bending. And on & on. I have some lesser quality stuff to make two new froe clubs from. And some wedges. years ago I wrote an article called “Hickory Can’t Wait.” I love working this wood and don’t have it as a regular thing. It might be me that can’t wait.

We heard the other day that Jennie Alexander’s new edition of Make a Chair from a Tree should be available within a week or so from Lost Art Press. In the book you’ll find instructions on harvesting bark and weaving the seat. It’s also covered in Drew Langsner’s book The Chairmaker’s Workshop. Drew’s updated Country Woodcraft: Then & Now includes an appendix about using the bark of tulip poplar the same way. Worth seeing.

https://blog.lostartpress.com/2021/06/18/update-make-a-chair-from-a-tree-bandanas/

http://drewlangsner.com/Purchase_Books.html

Another reason I didn’t shoot a lot of photos of the bark processing – the birds there were very distracting. Like these blue-headed vireos (Vireo solitarius) feeding two chicks in a nest 12′ above where we peeled our 2nd hickory tree.

blue-headed vireo w chicks

The Essex County cupboard project: recessed front stiles

Many irons in the fire. Between brettstuhls and other things, we spit out the next video for the cupboard project. This one’s about the short, wide recessed front stiles in the lower case. This photo below shows a partially-assembled end section to the lower case. On the bench is the rear stile, the two wide/tall rails we’ve seen before. Between them is the muntin in the middle, and near the top of the photo the piece I’m calling the “recessed front stile” (for lack of a better term, and that’s what it is.)

These stiles are, in New England furniture, unique to this shop’s production as far as I can remember. I started them by laying out and chopping the mortises for the drawer rails. These stiles frame a section that houses two drawers – the lower one about 7″ deep, the upper one about 4″. Between and above & below the drawers are narrow/short rails – 1 1/4″-1 1/2″. Once the mortises were cut, I laid out and cut the tenons that fit this stile between the rails.

The photo below is a bit dark, but you can see perhaps the layout of the near tenon. The odd thing about it to me is that it’s in the tangential plane. Most tenons are in the radial plane in stock like this – so I drew all over it with pencil. Didn’t want any more mishaps. You can see the pin holes bored in the stile’s face where I have the mortises chopped.

Now for the rear shoulder. Switched to a bigger saw and cut those shoulders down to the line. This opens up the top bottom mortises, turning them into what I think of as bridle joints. But these will never show regardless.

Then it’s just a matter of splitting off the waste & paring it, like I do for most of my tenons.

These stiles are chunky, 1 7/8″ x 4 7/8″ – so inside there’s still some moisture. I got some resulting checks on the newly-exposed end grain once I formed the tenons of the first one. (I cut one for still photos, one for videos and there might have been a day in between). Nothing fatal, but on the 2nd one I glued those ends after cutting it. Just to reduce the chance of a split carrying into the edge of the stile.

Below is the whole thing in a short 11-minute video. A new record for me, usually I go on & on. It shows how they all fit together, so might help make sense of this slightly-weird construction. I hope by the end of the month to be able to test-fit the bulk of the framing, both upper & lower cases.

(pt 14 Essex County cupboard project 2021)

Chairs for sale

I’ve been making a few chairs & sticking them up in the loft. Now that space is full and I want to keep making chairs. Time to sell this batch off and start another. The way I tend to do this is I post them here and if you decide you’d like one, leave a comment claiming the chair. Then we can sort payment either through paypal or by check in the mail. Shipping in US included. If you’re near southeastern Massachusetts you can pick them up.

UPDATE

UPDATE – well, the ladderback chairs sold right off the bat. You won’t see the comment claiming them because the buyer has asked that his name not be published there…

If you were hoping for one of those chairs and missed out I can always make you a chair. Just email me & I can put you on the list.

Ladderback chair, red oak with hickory rungs, hickory bark seat – SOLD

H: 33 1/4″ W: (across the front posts) 17 1/4″ D: 17 1/2″ (seat depth is 12 1/2″) SH (seat height): 17 1/2″
$1,200

This chair is one of the first in which I re-oriented the rear posts to show the radial face as the front of that post. A small change to the standard JA chair, for fanatics only. Means nothing otherwise. But I like the look of it. I also left these rungs generally octagonal, except where they enter the posts.

Below is the hickory bark seat on this chair – I had a mixed pile of bark, some from one tree, some from another. Over time the use will burnish the bark to a nice polished surface. Hickory bark makes the best seat I know.

——————-

Ladderback chair, red oak with white oak slats, hickory bark seatSOLD

H: 33 1/2″ W: (across front posts): 17″ D: 17 1/2″ (seat depth 12 1/2″) SH: 17 3/4″
$1,200

Below you can see the more “normal” orientation of the rear posts – so a different pattern on the wood depending on how it’s oriented. I assemble the chair frames, then poke around to see what I have on hand to make slats from – that’s how this red oak chair got white oak slats.

and its hickory bark seat. This was thick bark that I split in half, and used the inner part of that split for the warp (front-to-back) and the outer part for the weft.

——————-

Child’s ladderback chair SOLD
H: 26 7/8″ W: 14 1/4″ D: 13″ SH: 14″ seat depth 9 3/4″
$900

Something I used to make as a regular offering, but this is the first since my re-entry into chairmaking. (I made some in 2009 for my kids when they were small, but that’s it.) Ash with white oak slats, hickory bark seat.

Everything about it is the same as the full-size JA chair, but just scaled down. Harder to see in ash, but again these rear posts have the radial orientation. I’m leaning towards making that the way I do these now.

———————

Next up is something new. I was thinking this year I’d concentrate my chairmaking on the ladderbacks and the shaved windsor chairs. Then I got detoured into making some of these brettstuhls or board-chair or Alpine chair. I’m not sure what to call these. They’re fun chairs to build, simple but challenging. The two chairs here are close to what I’m after. I’m going to keep tinkering with these chairs for a little while anyway, I have walnut left to do three more.

Brettstuhl #1 Butternut & ash
H: 34″ W: seat – 17 1/2″ feet – 21 3/4″ D: 20″ SH: 18 1/8″
$1,200

The seat and the back are butternut, the battens underneath are white oak and the legs are riven ash. The legs tenon into the battens and the battens are captured by the back’s tenons – which are in turn wedged below. It’s a brilliant system. At the end of this post is a video showing how to assemble these.

Another view under there, showing how these parts connect.

Here’s the carved back

and the side view

Brettstuhl #2; Black walnut & ash
H: 33 1/2″ W: seat- 17″ feet- 20″ D: 18 1/2″ SH: 18 1/4″
$1,200

After I used up the wide butternut I had on hand, I went out & got a 16″-18″ wide plank of black walnut. Air drying for years & years, it was perfect for what I wanted. This is the first chair from that plank. I’ve begun to change things a bit from Drew Langsner’s 1981 article that I started with – here I’ve trimmed the front corners off the seat, I’ve seen photos of historic examples with this pattern. Also a thumbnail molded edge instead of just a simple chamfer like the butternut chair above.

The carving:

In this view you can see the shape of this seat

On the backs, I’ve just echoed the scrolled shape with a V-tool on both of these chairs.

here’s the underneath of this one. Same as before, white oak battens and ash legs. The battens are 1 3/8″ thick, quartersawn.

The brettstuhls I’m planning to ship partially un-assembled – here is a video showing how to put one together (first how to take it apart…) – it’s really quite simple. You need to be able to tell right from left and count to 2. A mallet for most of the persuasion, some light taps from a hammer for the last bits.

Another piece about the brettstuhls – it seems as if their feet stick way out beyond the chair itself. I thought so at first until I stood one up beside a Windsor chair I made. There’s several factors at play here; the spacing of the seat mortises for the legs, the rake & splay of the legs and to some extent the length of the legs. Here’s the butternut chair beside the Windsor and they aren’t all that different in the footprint.

Cupboard project: upper case rear stiles

The back of the cupboard’s upper case has an interesting detail in its construction. The frame consists of the two upright stiles, two long horizontal rails and one horizontal panel. Simple. Except for the details of the layout. The bottom rail is set in front of the panel (and ultimately under the floor of this section.) This requires some extra thought when laying out the mortises. It begins by laying out & cutting the mortise for the upper rear rail.

upper mortise

Then I lightly strike the beginnings of the panel groove. This is to give me the layout for the bottom mortise – it’s set inside this groove.

strike the beginning of the panel groove

This next photo is a bit confusing, for good reason. The stile on our left is a total disaster. I chopped mortises in the wrong face of one of the rear stiles, a fatal error – I had to rive out & plane a replacement. These things happen, my mind was on the next step, not on the very basic step of layout & mortising. So to concentrate on the correct stile, on our right below. The bottom mortise is closest to the camera – follow the panel groove and see that it’s in front of this bottom mortise and falls in the middle/toward the front of the upper mortise.

forget the one on the left

This construction allows the rear panel to be inserted after this frame is assembled. You slide it up from below, in front of the bottom rail, and tuck it up into the groove in the top rail. Then it’s nailed to the bottom rail from the back/outside. This small B&W photo is a related cupboard that uses this construction but with several vertical boards rather than one horizontal board.

back of related cupboard

The bottom rail uses a “barefaced” tenon, a tenon with only one shoulder, in this case the rear shoulder. Here’s the layout – penciled in after my great mishap. I was then taking no chances.

barefaced layout

And test-fitted in place.

in front of (or behind I guess) the panel groove

Here’s one more view

3/4 of the rear frame

I first saw this method in a group of chests I studied from Braintree, Massachusetts – here’s one on its back, showing the bottom rear rail – under the floor and with the panel outside it.

bottom of Braintree chest

A detail of the same chest –

rear rail under the floor and panel behind it

Trent showed me the same sort of construction on American kasten – the Dutch-style cupboards made in New York and New Jersey. There clapboards are often substituted for the back panel.

My pride is just about recovered from my blunder and when the replacement stile is ready, I’ll finish framing this rear section. Meanwhile, I moved onto the sides of the upper case, but that’s another post.

(pt 13 Essex County cupboard project 2021)