more sources for 17th-century furniture studies

In an earlier post, I mentioned a number of sources for study concerning seventeenth-century furniture.

Jennie Alexander then called & suggested that I post a mini-bibliography of my writings on the subject. As we spoke, we arrived at the notion that it should include Alexander’s stuff as well…

Here’s a shot at it. Included are the links when the article is available online as well; but I have tried to include the whole publication citation, for those who are interested in books & things like that.

Peter Follansbee and John Alexander, “Seventeenth-Century Joinery from Braintree, Massachusetts: the Savell Shop Tradition” in American Furniture, ed., Luke Beckerdite, (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England for the Chipstone Foundation, 1996) pp. 81-104.

[this is the one that Alexander & I cut our teeth on, and the furniture in it is still my favorite; which anyone who sees my work can tell…]

Peter Follansbee, “A Seventeenth-Century Carpenter’s Conceit: The Waldo Family Joined Great Chair” in American Furniture, ed., Luke Beckerdite, (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England for the Chipstone Foundation, 1998) pp. 197-214.

[The Waldo chair in the Chipstone collection is an amazing piece of mechanics; thanks to Trent for leading me down that road…here’s one of my versions of it:]

3 legged wainscot chair iteFiles/AFintroframeset.html

Peter Follansbee, “Unpacking the Little Chest” in Old Time New England, vol 78, number 268 (Spring/Summer 2000): 5-23.

[not about a “little” chest, but about a chest that belonged to Nina Fletcher Little, whose collection ended up at Historic New England. The chest in question was made in Plymouth Colony, and this project really got me involved in the Plymouth Colony stuff…great variety of furniture forms survive from there. Here’s a picture I got of one that will be sold this winter at Sotheby’s]

Plymouth Colony chest with 2 drawers

Peter Follansbee, “Manuscripts, Marks, and Material Culture: Understanding the Joiner’s Trade in Seventeenth-Century America” in American Furniture, edited by Luke Beckerdite, (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England for the Chipstone Foundation, 2002), pp. 125-146.

[This one came the closest to showing how I get/got from surviving artifact & document to reproduction furniture…]


Peter Follansbee, “Connecting a London-Trained Joiner to 1630s Plymouth Colony” in Antiques and Fine Art (Summer/Autumn, 2007) 200-205.

 [the first installment in what I hope is a series of articles about London craftsmen who came to New England…I was thrilled when I found old Kenelm Winslow…]

Kenelm Winslow London record

Robert F. Trent and Peter Follansbee, “Repairs versus Deception in Essex County Cupboards, 1830-1890” in Rural New England Furniture: People, Place, and Production (Boston: Boston University Scholarly Publications, 2000) pp. 13-28

 [this one was an offshoot of the next one, but it came first…]

Robert F. Trent, Peter Follansbee and Alan Miller, “First Flowers in the
Wilderness: Mannerist Furniture from a Northern Essex County, Massachusetts, Shop” in American Furniture, edited by Luke Beckerdite, (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England for the Chipstone Foundation, 2001), pp. 1-64.

 [a monster project, spearheaded by Trent…amazing furniture]

Peter Follansbee, “Records of the London Carpenters’ Company” (2005) for New England Ancestors – the website of the New England Historic Genealogical Society

 [more London records. One could spend a whole career studying in the Guildhall Library there…]

Peter Follansbee, “Recreating a 17th-Century Carved Box” in Woodwork (Spring 2009) 42-49.

 [simple how-to, just took me a while to get around to it… ditto for below] 

Peter Follansbee, “Seventeenth-Century Carving Techniques” in Antiques and Fine Art  (I don’t have the citation here…)

 Stephanie Stone, “Peter Follansbee: Craftsman Scholar” in Woodwork (June 2005) 26-34.

[Stephanie & Woodwork magazine treated me very well…]

 Stephanie Stone, “Peter Follansbee Researching Historical Furniture” in Woodwork (June 2005) 80.

 John Alexander, “The 17th-Century Draw Bored Mortise and Tenon: The Heart of Joinery” in Woodwork (October 1996) 66-71.

[Note that even way back then the fine print reads that John (now Jennie) Alexander & I were working on a book about joinery…well, we are doing our best to really make it happen in 2010…only 14 years later…]

John Alexander, “Riving Wood” in Woodwork (April 2003) pp. 64-70.

John Alexander, “Riving Wood For 17th-Century Joint Furniture” American Period Furniture (2002)

[There is an online version of these articles; at Aleaxander’s website. For the printed version, I like the one in Woodwork, early issues of American Period Furniture were a little rough. Now its production is excellent, though.]

 Adam Katz Stone, “John Alexander: The Science of Simplicity” in Woodwork (October 1997) pp. 22-29.

[I think still a good overview of what Alexander’s woodworking career covered…]  

JA riving oak
JA at shaving horse


three hands carving again

lunette, attr William Savell 1652-1700
lunette, attr William Savell 1652-1700
carved lunette, attr John Savell
carved lunette, attr John Savell 1642-1687
lunette, William Savell Sr 1590s-1669
lunette, William Savell Sr 1590s-1669

After yesterday’s post looking at the three hands involved in the principal objects from the Savell shop, it seems worthwhile to look at the carvings from the upper rails of their  chests.  This batch goes in reverse order; the uppermost image is the work attributed to William Savell, the youngest son of William Savell, Sr. Then the middle one is John Savell, the eldest son, who trained the younger William. The lower of the three is one we assign to the immigrant, William Savell, Sr. This carving is somewhat obsucured by numerous paint layers, so some of the detail is barely discernable.

Two answers concerning the comments from the panels – somewhere in the article we mentioned that John Savell was made freeman at such-and-such a date…being admitted as a “freeman” of the town entitles one to various rights, privileges and benefits that a non-freeman is restricted from. Probably responsibilities too.

Concerning the differences in the handling in the carvings; there can indeed be many explanations for it. We were able to see several examples of the work we attribute to both sons, but for the work assigned to William Savell Sr we had only two pieces at the time of publication, and have added only one more since. John’s work, and young William’s were both consistent within themselves. Ditto the old man, although with a smaller sample it’s hard to draw any conclusion. Might be that even had young William trained with his father, (instead of with his brother) he still might have done his carvings with a less than supple curve to his work. That said, he still carves better than me…I blow out the oak between V-tool lines when they are spaced very closely together.

box-making class Country Workshops

When I was 18 years old, I was an art-school dropout, and had inherited a basement shop full of modern (c. 1960s) power tools. I had started to learn a bit about using them, and quickly found that I was a bit intimidated by them. Fortunately for me, by the time I was 20, in the fall of 1978 an issue of Fine Woodworking dropped an alternative into my lap. It featured 2 articles, one an excerpt of the book Make a Chair from a Tree, by John Alexander, the other an article on riving by Drew Langsner. I ordered Alexander’s book, and while I waited for it to arrive, read the 2 articles til they were worn.

 In 1980, I saw an advertisement for a week-long class in chairmaking, being held at Drew & Louise Langsner’s craft school Country Workshops, to be taught by John Alexander. I didn’t drive at the time, had practically never been out of New England, wasn’t much of a woodworker, and was terminally shy. I wrote to the address, signed up for the class and made plans to get down to western North Carolina. I was not the star student in the class, to say the least.  

Alexander teaching chairmaking
Alexander teaching chairmaking at Country Workshops, undated

 The class really inspired my interest in this craft, and I stumbled along on my own for a few years. Then I returned to Country Workshops by the mid-1980s, and was for the next five years or more a regular attendee at a number of classes – timber framing, white oak basketry, spoon carving, coopering, as well as ladderback chairs with Alexander and American style Windsor chairs. A woodworker from eastern Pennsylvania named Daniel O’Hagan was one of the teachers I met there, and it was his example of using exclusively hand tools that got me to give away all my machines and power tools. I have never missed them.


woodenware class, Country Workshops, early 1990s
woodenware class, Country Workshops, early 1990s


The late 1970s/early 1980s were an excellent time for green woodworking, a term that I think was coined in print by Alexander. He used to tell us that it was “in the air.” Lots of books, workshops, and activity in this field then…and central to it was Country Workshops. Drew & Louise have worked for 30 years making the workshops happen, bringing in teachers of the highest caliber, finding and eventually selling the best tools designed for the work, and keeping it going year after year, always improving on the facility and the format. (See their website for details of the types of classes they offer ) Everyone I have ever talked to has had nothing but great praise for the experience of taking a class there. The students come from all over, national & international, and it always is interesting to me that a disparate group can come together over a common appreciation/interest in traditional “green” woodworking and spend a very full week totally immersed in the given subject.


 Drew & Louise are still plugging away, and a couple of years ago my wife & our then nearly 2-yr old twins chugged all the way down there so I could teach a class in making a carved box. I am delighted to be returning this summer to repeat that class. Drew tells me there’s a couple of slots left, so if you are inclined, drop him an email at  There’s classes year-round and the details are listed on the website.

Country Workshops students, carved box class 2007
Country Workshops students, carved box class 2007


PF carving demo at Country Workshops
PF carving demo at Country Workshops


seventeenth-century carvings

I have been unpacking from my trip to the Colonial Williamsburg Antiques Forum, which has then led into cleaning my shop. Thus not much photography lately. So I thought I’d dig out some pictures of period furniture. today I’d like to start with a cupboard from the Lake District.  The cupboard, dated 1691 and initialed E E H, is something of a wreck; having been incorrectly restored who-knows-when. So I will focus on the carvings and the door framing.  Pitsawn oak throughout.

 This is the central panel between the two doors in the upper section of the cupboard. Note the holes in the right-hand side of this view, presumably nail holes for fixing the panel to the bench for carving. Also the layout lines scribed with an awl are still visible on parts of the carving.

carved panel, 1691
carved panel, 1691
carving detail w layout
carving detail w layout
door framing
door framing
I didn’t shoot very much of this cupboard, but in this detail of one of the upper doors, you can see the framing arrangement. The stile with the (replaced) door knob runs the full height of the door, and is mortised to receive the horizontal rails. The hinge stile is shorter, and is tenoned into the horizontal rails…this requires some extra planning while laying out the stock and the joinery. The door swings on wooden hinges. Holes are bored into the top & bottom edge of the door frame, and pins are inserted that run into matching holes bored into the rails  above & blelow the door. If this stile ran the full height of the door, these pins would be driven into holes bored in end grain. I have seen many doors done that way, but sometimes you see them this way too.
E E H 1691
E E H 1691
Most of what I know about this group of furniture comes from Victor Chinnery’s Oak Furniture: the British Tradition (Antique Collector’s Club, 1979) – see  Chinnery’s discussion for his figures 4:169-4:183. Also, there was not too long ago an article on a related chest in the journal put out by the Regional Furniture Society. The citation is Michael Bucknole, “A Lakeland Chest Dated 1683” in Regional Furniture (vol 18 ,2004) pp. 68-77.  To learn more about the Society, and to join, see their website  – the journal is excellent, the newsletters always make me wish I was over in England. They have great trips, tours and workshops. A very enthusiastic group…

seventeenth-century joiner’s bench

Stent panel
Stent panel

Much of the material I have been posting on the blog in the past month or two is related to a project that has been underway for some time. Along with Jennie Alexander I am working on a book that will be an introduction to the craft of joinery, as we have practiced it for the past 20 years. The project in the book will be a joined stool, but the principles apply to most of the forms of joined furniture common in the seventeenth century. The book is still a ways off, but this winter I am working on some new photography for it, then we will start to pull it together from our copious notes and drafts. 


A preview of that work is this carved panel, depicting a joiner and turner of the period. We have always come back to this panel as a cornerstone in our research. When we first conceived the idea to do a book, the first picture Alexander sought permission for was this panel. The present owner graciously granted it, and asked to credit “John Stent of Shere.” The panel is about 10 ½” x 24 ½.”


The “Stent” panel has been published a number of times. As far as we can tell, the first major publication to discuss the panel was W L Goodman’s excellent book The History of Woodworking Tools (1964). Goodman cited the saw handle as evidence that the panel is probably English.


The importance of this panel resides in its having been made by a seventeenth-century tradesman who worked in a similar shop rather than being an artist’s interpretation. All of the tools depicted in the carving are described in detail in Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises or Doctrine of Handyworks (1683) & Randle Holme’s Academy of Armory & Blazon (1688) and appear in early New England inventories. More importantly, marks left by similar tools are present on the interior and exterior surfaces of surviving furniture.


We intend to review the panel in detail in the book, and will sample some of that here. In light of recent posts, we note the joiner’s bench, bench hook and holdfast. The bench’s legs are bored to accept the holdfast, (or wooden pegs) in conjunction with the piece fitted on the bench’s edge for jamming a board edge-up for planing. If only we knew what to call it. Moxon’s & Holme’s are fitted with a wooden screw, and thus they call it a “bench screw.” This one clearly lacks the screw.  Note the flat arm of the holdfast; very different from the curved one seem more commonly.

detail, joiner's bench
detail, joiner's bench



PF on Roy Underhill’s “The Woodwright’s Shop “

In the winter of 2007, I travled to North Carolina to shoot another episode of Roy Underhill’s PBS program on woodworking, “The Woodwright’s Shop.” I brought along some carved boxes, and we ran down the process as quickly as we could.

I don’t have television here at home, and even if I did, the local PBS does not carry Roy’s program. Some places do, some don’t. But you can view non-current episodes on the web. The link is: