Salvaged birding season

worm-eating warbler from about 2010

For longer than we can remember Marie Pelletier & I have wandered around & around Wompatuck State Park in Hingham, Massachusetts each May hoping to see migrating songbirds. As we were walking there this month, we pointed to a hillside and said “that’s where we saw the worm-eating…” (worm-eating warbler Helmitheros vermivorum) – I looked up this photo I shot and it was 12 years ago! And we still look there for the worm-eating…missed it this year. 

Usually we see lots of the migrating & nesting birds there – this spring was not usual. Cold northeast winds – the exact opposite of what brings the birds up here, blew for 2 straight weeks. Other weather worked against us and just plain dumb luck kicked in as well. It doesn’t really matter, a bad morning birding is still better than [fill in the blank].

Wompatuck is a big patch of woods for heavily-developed southeastern Massachusetts. Over 3,500 acres. For over 20 years it was a Naval Ammunition Depot – was decommissioned in the mid-1960s and has been a state park for many years now. I first went there in the mid-1970s, riding bikes and engaged in other general mayhem. For several years I had a woodworking shop in Hingham that backed up to the park. I used to cut through a hole in the fence and walk there at lunchtime. https://friendsofwompatuck.org/history.htm  (sounds like it’s over 4,000 acres now) 

It’s a great place for thrushes, towhees and ovenbirds. In May you’re guaranteed to hear them everywhere, and often you get to see them. Photographing them is another story – they all like to stay in the shady parts. We snapped some shots of the wood thrush (Hylocichla mustelina)

wood thrush

 And ovenbirds (Seiurus aurocapilla) – one of my favorites.

ovenbird

We have heard hundreds & hundreds of ovenbirds there – and seen quite a few as well. One thing we’ve always wanted to see was one building their nest that lends them their name. Never seen it. Closest we came was this one gathering nest material. 

ovenbird 2019

Today’s birding made up for our previous outings this season. Not in numbers, but in a close-up view of this blue-winged warbler (Vermivora cyanoptera) building a nest.

blue-winged warbler

Blue-wingeds are not as numerous in the park as the ovenbirds, so we were pretty excited to stumble onto 2 of them flitting about. Then we noticed one had bark in its bill. As we zeroed in on it, she dropped down into some grass near the edge of the path & vanished. Popped out a bit later and went back to pulling grapevine bark and other fibers. So that’s how we learned that the blue-winged warbler is a ground-nester like the ovenbird. We stayed for a long time – she didn’t seem to care. At one point she flew between Marie’s legs! So here’s a bunch of shots that made our day – back to woodworking next time.

blue-winged warbler stripping grapevine bark

at one point very suddenly she cocked her tail up in the air – well, that’s a sign if one knows how to read it.

Then we saw the male show up – they’re both very impressive – his tail is fanned, hers is cocked. They flew around like crazy for a little while, then she went back to building the nest. He stuck around a little bit then was gone…

female above male below

here’s a link to Cornell’s site – a great place to learn more about birds https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Blue-winged_Warbler/id

brief overview of a hickory bark seat

hickory bark

A week ago I was still wearing wool sweaters. Yesterday shorts & a t-shirt. Warm weather is perfect for weaving a hickory bark seat. It’s one of my favorite parts of making the Jennie Alexander-style chairs.

Last year I peeled a few hickory trees with Brendan Gaffney. We got a lot of bark in just 2 days of work, but to do so we took it off the tree pretty thick.

peeling hickory

I like to do it that way because I want to then split the bark in half before weaving with it. Thin bark makes a better seat than thicker bark – in my opinion. The photo up top shows two coils – on the right is the bark as we took it off the tree. The one on the left I just split in half lengthwise. Both are between 25′ and 30′ long.

Splitting it is a fine art – but it yields fabulous bark. I weave the seat with the inside half. So the inner bark of the inner bark. I score across it half-way with a knife, then peel the two halves apart. You have to watch carefully – it can run out like splitting wood with a froe. It’s slow-going but worth the time spent. Not all hickory bark will divide this way. If it won’t split, you can shave it down thinner with a spoke shave. That’s slower still…

splitting bark in half

Then weaving it is a walk in the park.

weaving is the easy part

This is yesterday’s seat. Now it needs to dry, at which point the strips shrink in width. Then I pack the strips closer together and add a few filler strips. The thing I like best about hickory bark seats is that they look great the minute you finish them, then they continue to improve as you use them.

nearly done

Last fall I shot a video of how I work a hickory bark seat. It’s long but covers splitting the bark & weaving the seat.

next video posted & a note from Drew

A couple of things. First is the next installment in the Joined Chest series on vimeo on demand is ready. It’s about some scratch-stock molding, then cutting mortise & tenon joints and plowing the panel grooves. Starting to look like chest parts now.

The next part is a note from Drew Langsner –

L-R Drew Langsner, Jogge Sundqvist, Louise Langsner, PF

back in August 2020 I posted a note about Drew’s medical scene at the time – well the good news is he’s recovered and was catching up on some old internet-reading recently. He didn’t see all the well-wishes that came his way at the time. So here’s what he wrote:

“Hi Peter-

Messing around with iPad I stumbled on your post of appreciation and hopes for recovery. And then came across all of the good wishes from so many friends. I wish I had seen and thanked everybody. Maybe it can still happen…

Thanks for the good thoughts and wishes! I’m doing well enough; and trying to do better. Taking care of our 100 acres is consuming much time and effort, But it’s where we want to be. My art project  has become a series of sculptures — This is Not a Chair. From old chairs that are hand made and the Habitat ReStore. Still shaving kindling  with a drawknife. This time of year -early May – I try for some small boat sailing once a week. With Covid lingering, climate change, and  age, I’m reluctant to get into an aluminum tube so the travel kit is in the attic. It was great working with Lost Art Press on the new Country Woodcraft: Then and Now. Come by for a visit If you’re in western North Carolina.
Drew”

Here’s a couple of Drew’s sculptures from the “This is Not a Chair” series:

oak, from a post & rung rocker
Elm, cherry, oak from a rustic windsor

More about Drew here – http://drewlangsner.com/Drew_Langsner__Art_With_Trees.html

And the re-done book here https://lostartpress.com/collections/green-woodworking/products/country-woodcraft-then-now

some joinery, some birds

chest parts cut

I’ve been working on the chest-video series lately. I haven’t made a chest in a couple of years so this is a lot of fun to do again. The past few days I’ve been catching up on the joinery – the video footage is shot but I had more joints to cut before I can shoot the next steps.

chopping mortises

I probably spent most of 2 days shooting various angles on mortising so once that was done it seemed easy to just go in and cut mortises. But as soon as I thought how nice it was to work without the camera, I realized I could use some still shots. So back to the tripod and camera angles, etc. But it was still fun and much easier to shoot stills than video. What I blather about doesn’t matter in still photos.

plowing panel grooves

Now I’ve got the whole front frame (and much of the two side frames) cut. Time to finish the videos on the front framing and then I go on to the front panels. Those I’ve never carved on video before. They’re in the book Joiner’s Work but this will give me a chance to delve more deeply into that pattern.

carving the panels

The only other thing is that it’s May. Bird migration has begun for real here in New England. I’ve made a few short trips with our friend Marie to see what’s coming in. Yesterday’s haul included this wood thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) He was hard enough to find and I couldn’t get him in any good light. His song is one of the wonders of spring in the woods.

wood thrush

And whenever we hear thrushes in the woods, we know we’ll also hear and hopefully see, ovenbirds and towhees. This ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla) looked me right in the eye (in the lens, I guess)

ovenbird

The eastern towhees (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) were all throughout the woods, as were the ovenbirds. Each spring lately I get what I call the “one-day towhee” here at the shop.

one day towhee

Our yard is not the right habitat for them, not enough woods. But last week, one came out from under the holly tree, as it does each year, for one day. Back & forth, scratching in the leaves and junk. Gone the next day.

And the Baltimore orioles (Icterus galbula) are everywhere. Including outside my shop window. And that means yet another camera in the shop, so I can be ready. Binoculars too for the far-away birds.

Baltimore oriole

thinking about chairmaking

3-plus chairs underway

I taught a class in making the Jennie Alexander chair with Pete Galbert & Charlie Ryland just recently. During the class, I put on my “old fart” hat & told stories of JA’s chairmaking career. Then back home I’ve been working on a few chairs – the parts for which have been made & stored here for quite a while. It got me to thinking of how the chairmaking changed from what’s in the original 1978 edition of the book, to the revised one in 1994 to the present 3rd edition. And now will change again as more & more people are making these chairs. I looked recently at that first edition – I made chairs from it before meeting JA & Drew Langsner – but it’s pretty stingy on instruction.

In the first edition (1978) there’s no kiln, no steambox. JA dried rungs in the basement nestled up above a pipe from the hot water heater. (How did JA dry things in a Baltimore summer?) A chairmaker JA corresponded with in the early 1970s dried rungs on the tin roof of the shop. In the south. Gets hot up there. 

Geli Courpas reminded me once that back in the mid-to-late 1970s they bent the posts green, so a more subtle bend than in the later chairs. Below is a lousy photo, cropped from a larger view, showing one of these early 2-slat chairs with slight bend to the posts.

The book talks about boiling the posts prior to bending, but doesn’t do it. 

bending rear post, 1978

At first, her chairs were assembled with pretty wet posts. Easy & forgiving, but not the best for a long-lasting joint. The work JA did with Bruce Hoadley showed that a lower moisture content in the post resulted in a stronger joint. That gave rise to the air-dry post/oven-dry rung. 

So all that is changed/fixed in the present text – it shows how to super-dry the rungs, how to steam & bend the posts and other detailed improvements on the earlier text. 

improved bending form for rear posts

I made a layout error in the class that led to some plugged mortises in students’ chairs. Everyone was very understanding. I recently learned from reading JA’s notebooks that during the photo shoot for the first book she put the front rungs in the rear posts (or vice-versa) – was able to get them out & redo things. But mistakes are easy to make. Once JA told me that a working title of the book was “The Fifth Post.” 

I rived and planed some legs for another of my Alpine chairs. Was able to split an odd number so made 5 legs. Just in case. 

only need 4 out of 5

Next video in the Joined Chest series

Carving the top rail

Well, after a slew of headaches and support-emails with the vimeo people, I have uploaded my most recent video “Carving the Top Rail” – part of the series on making a joined carved chest-with-a-drawer. Just to complicate matters, the trailer is on youtube. I don’t have the strength to suss it out otherwise.

It’s a lengthy video – almost 90 minutes, so I made a lengthy trailer. The video covers how to layout and carve the lunettes on the top rail, hopefully in enough detail to get you there. Here’s the trailer:

The video series is at vimeo.com/ondemand/follansbeejoinedchest – each of these videos (there’s 6 1/2 right now, totally almost 7 hours) is available separately or as part of the whole series. $100 for the full set, $15 per video.

I just got back from teaching a class in making Jennie Alexander’s chair – next up in the shop here is some more chairmaking, then the next video which will cover cutting the mortise & tenon joints, some plow plane & more…and in the meantime – spring migration.

Carolina wren

a week of chairmaking

assembling a sample chair

Time to pack up for a week of chairmaking at Pete Galbert’s. Well, every week there is a week of chairmaking. But for me, it’s a shift in focus. This is only my 3rd class since the pandemic began. I used to travel frequently for teaching, not sure how much of it I’ll do going forward. One thing is constant – I know I’ve packed too much stuff, same as always. I’m bringing parts made by the previous class (filled in some with stock I prepped) and the students will make new ones to replace these – here’s 10 chairs’ worth of back posts in a bucket, with some filler added.

back posts for 10 chairs

I’ll bring one of the last chairs JA made (on the left below) and one I made last year.

JA left, PF right

So we’ll shave green parts, bend them in these forms and move onto the stuff that’s ready to go.

back post bending forms

I didn’t have enough rungs dry ahead of time. So I made 10 dozen and we’ll set these in Pete’s kiln. These all came from some oak bolts that I had rejected for the cupboard I built. But the wood was fine for these.

red oak rungs

The hickory chair I was making came out fine. I’ll use it for the slat-demo, maybe seat weaving too. Depends on timing.

hickory chair

Well, that’s been my week mostly. Time to stuff it in the car, class begins tomorrow morning.

—————

PS: If you’re a subscriber to my vimeo chest-building project. I’m working on it steadily. But I’ve run into glitches with vimeo and the support staff there are on it, trying to guide me through some wrinkles. Sorry for the delay, I’ll announce it here when new content (carving the top rail) is up & running.

top rail to a joined chest

Making JA chairs

need more Wheaties

It’s like the old days – I feel like I just got back from one class and I’m preparing for the next. Worked today on a JA ladderback chair in preparation for teaching it at Pete Galbert’s shop next week. The parts are hickory, which means boring it is harder than it should be. I didn’t have enough Wheaties this morning for this work.

parts, jigs and tools

It’s a real nostalgia trip making these chairs. As I worked, I was thinking of all the Jennie Alexander chairs being made nowadays, and of the times I worked & carried on with JA. Many tools in my shop came from her, many ideas in my head came from her.

To take a break from boring that hickory, I went back & forth between boring and tenoning. Below is a set of 3 hickory rungs, ready for tenoning.

shaving rungs

I got the two side sections done, then picked away at this & that. Tomorrow I hope to bore & assemble the rest of the chair. I’ll bring it to class sans seat – sometimes it’s helpful to be able to see the frame without it.

opened the door & the sun came in

Since I got back from Lost Art Press last week, I’ve shot two videos for my joined chest series.

joinery layout

When I went to post the first of them – “Finish planing & layout of joinery” – it wouldn’t load to the site. And I found out that one I had posted a month ago (planes & green wood: care & cleaning, something like that) has sat there in limbo, its setting was marked “private” which meant no one could see it. I spent a ton of time the past couple of days with the Vimeo help people sorting it out. So if you’re one of the subscribers to that series, there’s 2 videos you haven’t seen yet. I’m halfway through editing the next one, which is carving the top rail’s lunettes. Hope to post that by the weekend. Here’s the link if you’d like to subscribe – it’s starting to get interesting now. Right now it’s at 5 1/2 hours of content – it’ll probably go way over my estimate of 12-15 hours. https://vimeo.com/ondemand/follansbeejoinedchest

sample lunette

Seems like spring is really getting here now. Saw this tree swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) this morning when I was out for a walk. Too involved in its preening to be bothered by me.

tree swallow

And an osprey flew over – they’re all around, setting up nesting…

osprey

the cupboard is gone, but it’s still on my mind

Here’s a look at the finished cupboard that took up much of the blog this past year. We had to haul it out of here to get far enough away to photograph it. Then off it went to the client’s home.

PF cupboard, 2021/2022

A detail view – the original has some floral bits in the middle & corners of the door. Done in brass maybe? I doubted they were from the period – so substituted the turned “button” for the middle. Maybe an incised date could have been there, who knows? Some of the related examples are dated. But I didn’t want to carve “2022” – too many curves.

detail of the upper case

A reader sent me a photo he took at the Henry Ford Museum – of a cupboard described as being part of the group I was studying. But it ain’t so – whoever made this one had seen some of the originals – or photos of them. Deep side rails at the top of the lower case, for instance. The overhang there is patterned after one of the cupboards at Winterthur. But the pillars are wrong – too plain. Most of the moldings are wrong – that heavy one around the bottom of the upper drawer section for instance. And the base molding. Drawers are dreadfully plain. Turned pendants under that overhang look like nothing else from this group. The door is framed opposite the way these guys did them. Here the stiles are tenoned into the rails – the 17th century ones the rails tenon into the stiles.

Henry Ford Museum cupboard

There were lots of these cupboards made in the 19th century. Some just “colonial revival” but others made to be passed off as “real” i.e. period pieces. I worked with Bob Trent on an article about both the period ones & the 19th century ones we had studied – published in the Dublin Seminar’s 1998 Rural New England Furniture: People, Place & Production.

Here’s the Winterthur one, with the overhang. Dated 1680. Jennie Alexander used to call this one the “lunar lander.”

Winterthur cupboard

Mine’s got my name stamped in it –

Follansbee

and is pretty well documented. About to be more-so. I’m more than halfway through writing a book about making it, to be published by Lost Art Press of course. But still, some unscrupulous person might misrepresent it a generation or two from now…who knows?

carved box class last week at LAP

Clint planing oak

I ventured a long ways from home last week to teach a carved box class at Lost Art Press. 6 great students, some of whom were new to hand tools and almost all new to carving. They did great work. We started with a stack of quartersawn oak boards, planed them up a bit and dove into carving.

seeing patterns in addition to carving them

I brought my usual pile of sample carvings & photos. We spent a day doing practice patterns then on the 2nd afternoon they were carving their box fronts for keeps. Often there’s a student who has their own ideas – unlike me, the copyist. Below is the box front by Peter from Boulder, CO. A little bit of everything.

I’ve never seen this before

When I first taught a carved box class many years ago I would not include the lidded till inside. Once I gave in & let them make tills all hell broke loose. Three little boards (bottom, side & lid) wreak such havoc with an assembly. This group aced them. Below Clint is chopping out the notches for his till.

till work

I told Gary the hardest part of using winding sticks is getting up & down. He did better than me, I didn’t hear him groan once.

winding sticks

He & Pat were neck-and-neck trimming the pegs that secure the glued rabbet joints. Being by the large front windows gets them in lots of photos.

bevel down

All in all a nice stack of boxes – by the end of the 5th day we heard all the lids go “plunk” just as they should. This photo was a bit before the last couple were done, one student had a flight to catch…

6 excellent oak & pine boxes

I don’t have any other classes planned yet for 2022 – might tuck something into the fall. May is for birding, summer’s too hot. We’ll see. I’ll post anything that comes up here on the blog. Thanks to Chris & Megan for making it happen. “Such a a long, long time to be gone & a short time to be there…”