about to go

A couple of things before I hit the road this week. For those of you who have written asking questions about carving, now you see why there has been so little of it on the blog this spring & summer – I was holding off until the Lie-Nielsen announcement about the DVD that we have coming up. When I get back to my shop in September I will be doing a few carved projects, and will post some bits here. The DVD will cover the stock I use (riven oak) and a selection of tools; gouges, V-tool, compasses and awl and a wooden mallet. And it includes a series of  patterns, each building upon the previous example. Once you manage them, you will be able to adapt various designs pretty readily. If you missed it, here’s the preview:

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Recently, there was a question about the long rails in a joined chest, how did I rive them, etc. For that, I will remind some folks, and introduce others, to the idea that the blog has a “search” button that might help you see if I have discussed the subject already. I am perfectly happy to go over things many times, (I do that at the museum all day long…) – but you might get your answer quicker if you check the archived stuff first. Here are some posts about riving with a brake:


I’ll be gone two weeks, so in the meantime, try the search button to see what’s what.

Meanwhile, it’s off to the country for me. http://countryworkshops.org/sloyd.html

One thing I have been thinking about for this spoon carving class I am taking is to learn to carve spoons from straight-grained stock. Seems when I want to find straight wood (oak) they are all twisty, and vice versa – when I want spoon wood, it’s often straight stuff I see. This spoon that I photographed last year while I was at Country Workshops was made by Wille Sundqvist. It is a gorgeous thing. Very deceptive little sculpture it is…

Wille's spoon
Wille's spoon side view

I’ve decided, based on an idea Drew Langsner gave me last year, to make several copies of this form over & over. I roughed out a couple of them in holly this week, and will ask Jogge to show me how to finesse them… I’ve always made each spoon different, striving to “see” the spoon in the curved blank. But what Drew was saying is to copy one, that way you’re learning the cuts, not having to work with design as well as execution. Reminds me of how potters sometimes approach a form, throwing the same shapes all day…

The holly developed a pretty strong reaction between the tools and the tannic acid in the wood. Turned the nice white wood blue-grey. I found a suggestion on the web to wipe it with citric acid. Maureen found some lemon in the fridge, and it has taken much of the discoloration away…

Finally, it was 30 years ago this summer that I first visited Country Workshops; taking a class in chairmaking with John (Jenny) Alexander. Amazing what things look like from here, no way I could forsee all that has happened since that week. Here’s Alexander & me at Country Workshops in the late-1980s, with Theodore.

PF JA Theo

joined chest floor boards & more

It doesn’t seem it lately, but I do still make furniture. Today I managed to shoot a couple of ordinary-quality pictures of the floor of a joined chest I have underway in the shop. This chest is a copy of the ones made in Braintree, Massachusetts c. 1640-1700 by William Savell and his sons John & William. Alexander & I wrote about these chests in our first article for American Furniture in 1996.  [see 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 online at http://www.chipstone.org/framesetAFintro.html ]

The floor is white pine, and it runs front-to-back. This time I have four boards. They are feathered/beveled to fit into grooves in the inisde of the front & side rails. At the rear, the floor boards sit on top of a lower rear rail. Ultimately they get nailed down to this rail.  [click the pictures to enlarge]

bottom boards, joined chest


The boards are fitted with a simple tongue & groove joint; and the board being driven in last here is tapered in its width, to spread the floor side-to-side…a nice touch. The joints consists of a standard groove plowed in one  edge, and the tongue is made by cutting a rabbet on the top face of the matching piece, and just bevelling the bottom to leave a tongue.

detail floor boards' joint


driving the wedge-shaped board


Here is the T&G on one of the surviving chests from the period, in this case on drawer bottoms. But the same joint is used on the floor boards. this time it’s not even really a bevel, the board is thin enough to make a “bare-faced” version of the tongue. These are riven white cedar boards, some are 10″ wide – that’s a big cedar tree (2′ or more) for southern New England.

tongue & groove boards, Savell chest


But otherwise, I’m gearing up for spoon-class next week at Country Workshops. I have been waiting for this for a whole year – Drew mentioned it to me last summer when I was there.. http://countryworkshops.org/sloyd.html

The other day while the kids were playing in the sand pile, I roughed out a birch ladle-sized spoon…such fun.  It’s the only woodworking I do at home here… but they made off with my workbench, so I have nowhere to set my stuff down. Now I have to make a new bench for the yard…

workbench absconded
hewing spoon


large birch spoon

now you know…

nails secure chest panel for carving

OK, today’s the day I can tell you…

If you are among those who wondered “what’s Follansbee doing working with Lie-Nielsen?” – here’s your answer.  In May we shot a DVD on carving. Conor Smith sent me an email today with the link to the preview on their YouTube site.

If you watch the preview then you have seen as much as I have seen. But I had a great time shooting it with them in May, and have confidence that the finished product will be a good one.

The premise is that the disc will show you how I carve several different patterns, using some basic techniques that build one upon another…it should be fun. We start the carving with the V-tool and mallet, then add some gouges,  some background removal, etc. Typical 17th-century stuff…

You will see the ordering details here when we know what they are..it says early Fall.

here’s the snippet Conor sent. Thanks to Conor, Thomas Lie-Nielsen and the whole crew up there in Maine that helped make it happen.


spoon wood, hatchet work & safety

a few things tonight; none really furniture related. There’s some clearing of timber at the museum for a new pathway, and we were able to convince those involved to keep much of the timber out of the chipper. So I got a pile of birch branches the other day; and some holly today. spoons galore…

saved from the chipper


I don’t have a lot of time right now for spoon work; but I roughed out one each of holly and birch. I consider them practice for Jogge’s class in two weeks.  Here’s a hunk of the birch. First I hew away the bark along the proposed split, then I used a wedge and sledge hammer to break it open. It’s a nice crook, which makes a good spoon, but hard to hold for splitting. Fortunately I had just quartered an oak, and two sections of that provided enough resistance to the splitting until the thing opened. This was lunchtime today, then later tonight I hewed the shape…but no picture of that part yet.

bark trimmed


splitting the blank


This work, and hewing the canted rear posts for a wainscot chair I was working on today had me using several hatchets. I always think about safety when using a hatchet – I was taught good techniques about posture and safety when using these tools, and it has always stayed with me.

Recently Adam Cherubini wrote about tablesaws and safety – he was trying to lead a campaign to erdicate tablesaws from amatuer shops. An admirable goal; but pissing in the wind I figure. http://blogs.popularwoodworking.com/blog3/CommentView,guid,eb24a328-21fc-489f-9683-c3f8b9161496.aspx#commentstart  (wow – 33 comments there when I went to get that URL just now…Adam struck a nerve it seems. )

I don’t hate or love tablesaws; I don’t spend any time thinking about them one way or another. But, I do think about injuries whenever I pick up  a hatchet. I also think that if as many people used hatchets and axes as use tablesaws, the emergency rooms would see just as many or more grisly woodworking injuries. If I understand things correctly, you can go buy a tablesaw, come home & set it up, and start cutting. Maybe read the manual, maybe not. It’s easy for us handtoolies to get high & mighty (I have done it many times…) but the same story holds true for us – you can, if you have enough money, go buy a great hewing axe or hatchet, and come home & start cutting and drive the damn thing right into your leg.  Or take off Jerry Garcia’s finger with one..

So, for what it’s worth:

I’m right handed, so my right leg is dropped back a good ways; keeping it out of the path of an errant hatchet swing. Also speading my feet apart gives me a little more stability. Use your whole body in this sort of work.

I hold the workpiece either in the midst of the chopping block, or even on the further side of center…again, a misdirected blow will hopefully hit the block, not bounce out of the workpiece into my leg.

short strokes & sharp hatchet are the way to go.

In my shop, the hatchet is either in my hand, or hanging on the wall. the stump is right behind my bench, and the hatchet hangs right behind that…leaving it lying around can cause it to get bumped/knocked about. A falling hatchet is scary.

hewing stance


The only other thing I have to mention tonight is this link to Nicola Wood’s blog about the Kesurokai project happening now in Japan. I was quite honored to be invited to attend this thing – as it turns out I couldn’t go, but I am very much enjoying seeing  what’s happening with this crew…if you have some time, go ahead and read the posts on her blog. Experience of a lifetime, I’d say.


slight updates

I haven’t forgotten the blog; it’s just that usually I write around the photographs, and with the rather excessive heat & humidity – just woodworking has been enough of a task. I haven’t really shot much in the past month or so.

Some folks recently have written asking about this & that, two of whom mentioned/asked about using power tools for one thing or another. I can’t even remember the specifics about the requests right now, so here is a general comment for this blog about power tools. First, you don’t need my permission to use power tools – go ahead if that’s what you want to do. Secondly, and most importantly,  I can’t give you advice about using them one way or another. I really know nothing about them, nor do I want to… so for those of you looking for that sort of information, it ain’t here. There is lots of stuff here about hand tools, furniture history (of a very narrow scope) and some other random bits… so feel free to take what you can from here, and add to it whatever way suits your interests. some of my best friends use power tools…as they say. I decided long ago that I did not want to spend my time working that way. I have not regretted that at all, and I continue to derive great pleasure working wood with old tools and methods. Recently, a visitor to my shop, watching me work asked if I also did “traditional” woodworking.  I lo0ked around at the pole lathe, hand planes, hatchets, saws, etc and the carved oak – and I asked him what he meant. He said, “you know, do you go home & use power tools?” – that was his definition of “traditional” woodwork. Oh, well.

I’m slowly getting back in the swing of things, and in the meantime, I was browsing my folders here and ran across a couple of things.

Here is a painted box, done as practice when I worked on the MFA cupboard. This one I decided was worth finishing, so I put a bottome & molding on it the other day, and cleats on the lid. All it needs now is the new wood painted. https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/?s=MFA+cupboard

painted box

One project I did this summer is another three-footed chair. This one is ash & cherry. I think it too will be painted; but not till the humidity is gone. I wrote a piece about its joinery for Popular Woodworking Magazine, that’s why it got bumped from the blog…

board-seated turned chair

When I was up in Maine at the Lie-Nielsen open house, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2nbt_L4Cr2c a father & son duo shot a photo of this white rat in one of my boxes. I did not get their names, but they had previously visited my shop at Plimoth. Apparently they photograph the rat wherever they go, or many places at least…

rat in till

Most of my photos this summer have looked something like this, early morning at the beach, when time allows…

Daniel as T-rex


low tide


august fog
Went out in the yard the other evening to pick up some stuff, and saw this heron across the river; catching the low light as the sun set… around the yard lately have been herons most days (heard more than seen) and red-tailed hawks nearly constant. One morning two screech owls, also heard not seen…
sunset heron

two notes from England

First, from Chris Currie, a friend from the Regional Furniture Society -some pictures of brackets.

First, Chris had posted a comment on the post I did about brackets, https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2010/06/15/i-always-get-this-part-wrong/   then sent the photos thru. so now here’s the photos along with Chris’ comment:

oak table, Oxfordshire

“…a Communion table I saw recently, the brackets on the long rails applied – tennoned and pegged and sort of flush to the rail, those on the side cut out from a single deeper rail – so flush to the face. Will send you some pics. You will love the timber – great example of the ropey stuff joiners in parts of England were using. The table is in Oxfordshire – good arable country and long way from the sea – so pressure on timber was probably heavy.”

here’s a detail:

bracket details, Oxfordshire table
front view of table

Next up a photo of some spoons that Wayne Batchelor made. He sent this photo, (along with some period ones) – I liked his so much I aksed if he would tell me about how he made them, etc. So here goes:

Tudor spoons by Wayne Batchelor

Here is Wayne’s letter about his carving. He mentioned a class he took with Robin & Nicola Wood…

“Over the past few years I have been trying to master the skill of traditionally making 16th- 17th century style wooden eating spoons. There is not a lot of evidence from that period of wooden spoons, but there were a few found on the Mary Rose and others in museums. There is some variety in shape but generally they have the same basic design with a large round bowl and short handle. Stylistically they are comparable with pewter spoons of the period and are illustrated in the paintings of Pieter Brueghel. One of the spoons from the Mary Rose has a bowl 60mm wide with a handle 140mm long. That is not a spoon you can easily put in your mouth so they must have been used like soup spoons. They are generally quite flat with a shallow bowl but with a subtle curve to the rim of the bowl. Those from the Mary Rose have plain handles with a tooled finish but the handle can also be decoratively carved. The few I have seen are described as being made from maple.

For making my spoons if I can get hold of Maple I will use that but I tend to end up using Sycamore which is thought of as a weed around here so readily available. Firstly I rive the green log in to spoon size billets longer than the finished spoon will be. I score around another spoon on to the blank to give me a shape to carve to and then do all my shaping with a small axe. I’m sure in the past this would have just done by eye. I find it easier and safer to leave a long handle on the spoon at this stage. After I have roughed out the spoon shape I use a Frosts wood carving knife to refine the shape of the handle and outside of the bowl. Then using a Svante Djarv hook knife I shape the inside of the bowl to a shallow curve and carve as close as possible to the rim edge. I tend to rough carve a few at a time and then let them season for a bit. Then I will go over them again with the knives and get as clean a finish as possible and cut the handle to length. If I decide to decorate the handle I just hold the point of the knife like a pencil and cut small “v” shaped grooves. This seems to be the traditional way of carving spoons and can be done very quickly in proficient hands. Accepted wisdom is that spoons were left with a clean tooled finish. Earlier in the year I had the opportunity to handle one of the original spoons from the Mary Rose and the finish on that is very smooth on the inside of the bowl and rim, and the back of the bowl only has very feint tool marks which to me look like some effort has been used to smooth the bowl perhaps by scraping. My carving skills at present don’t give me the very smooth finish of the originals so this is where I depart from period techniques and rub some very fine sandpaper over the bowl which leaves a similar finish. I also like to dip mine in warm raw linseed oil as a finish but I have know idea if this was a period technique.”

So, thanks to the Brits I did a blog post with next to no work… here’s the links, first to Regional Furniture Society. If you like furniture history, consider joining. even for those over here, not over there, the journals and newlsetters are really well done. worth having:


Chris’ personal website is here:


I have seen some of Wayne’s stuff before, on the forum at the Bodgers’ website – I read this forum now & then. there can be some good stuff there…


spoons and spoons

As you might have noticed, I haven’t written much lately. well, not here anyway. Been finishing some articles, one for American Furniture and some for Popular Woodworking Magazine. That, plus the awful heat here have conspired to keep me from the blog. It’s not cooler yet, but I did get a few pictures of this and that.

As some of you know, I am looking forward to carving Swedish-style spoons this summer in Jogge Sundqvist’s class at Country Workshops (www.countryworkshops.org) –

various PF spoons


but sometimes in my day job I need to carve spoons that represent those used by English settlers in Plymouth c. 1627. I know just about nothing of the spoons used then, other than having seen a few at the Mary Rose years ago ( http://www.maryrose.org/)  

I carve them from maple usually, having riven out radial blanks. This way I can get a lot of spoons from one small section of firewood. I broke up a piece of maple last week that was about 10″ in diameter, and about 2 feet long. I have made 25 spoons from it thus far, and have that many again, I think. plus a lot of twisted discarded wood for firewood.

I came up with a simple rig to hold the riven & hewn flat blank so I can quickly gouge out the bowl of the spoon. It’s just a thick scrap of oak board, with two pieces of pine nailed to it; these are slightly angled towards each other. Then I just drive the blank into this wedge-shaped space; I use a holdfast to secure the whole thing to the bench.

I use a bent gouge & mallet to rough out the bowl shape. I trace a repro pewter spoon for the outline, then a few strokes with gouge & mallet have the basic shape hollowed out.

spoon blank held in place for gouge work


after the mallet; I then refine the rough bowl with hand-pressure on the gouge.

hand pressure gouge work


I did not photograph the whole process by which I make these; but in the photo below you can see one where I have sawn shoulders in just above the bowl, then I split down to these saw-cuts to define the section that will be the handle. From there is hatchet & knife work.

17th-century style spoons


Nathaniel Adams, Sr., a turner in Boston had an extensive inventory that included many items not necessarily made in his shop. Among these were “4 grosse of woodden Spoones         4s. pr. grosse” which came then to 16 shillings. Now, a trained tradesman at that time (1675) might make 2 shillings a day in Boston…depending on many factors; time of year, with or without meat, etc. – but however you cipher it, a person making these spoons in 17th-century New England was a.) making lots of them, and b.) not earning much for them. I was thinking I might be able to make 5 or 6 dozen in a day; but I wouldn’t want to make them the next day, that’s for sure.

Dave Fisher and his patient family came to visit a while back, and Dave gave me a very nice spoon, in cherry. Thanks, Dave. See his website here: http://davidffisher.com/home

and the spoon is here:

spoon, Dave Fisher, cherry

carving gouges

I’ve got a number of questions lately about carving tools. Which ones do I use, what do I recommend, etc.

 Here is some of the answer. The carving tools I use are a mixture of new & old. They all generally work, some better than others. I have some English, German, Swiss, American.

 I mostly lean towards the older tools; but I have many new (in the last 25 years) tools. Most of those are the Swiss-made tools, (Pfiel is the name of the company that makes them, I think). These days I have found some of their tools a little lightweight, which I don’t like.  

I imagine the “antique” tools I use are not all that old, maybe early-twentieth century. I have never really studied gouge-history, but I bet someone has and there must be a rundown of various gouge-making firms, like Butcher, Addis, Buck Bros, Henry Taylor. I have tools from all these & mostly like them.

 First, as for sizes. This picture is what I generally send people who ask what size tools do I use the most. A set of gouges like this will go a long ways in carving 17th-century style patterns.

carving tools' profiles


I’ve collected my tools here & there over the years; and some have come from Alexander’s collection as well. (as always, thanks JA) As for manufacturers, I guess most of my old ones are British. There’s no magic in the British ones, but they are generally nice.

The museum where I work once bought some tools, and in a money-saving mood, we chose the smaller versions of some Austrian tools, and I find them hard to use. I hit these things pretty hard, and the smaller tools feel like they can’t take it. I haven’t had a problem with them, I just don’t like the way they feel. I prefer a larger, full-size tool. Pfiel (sold through Woodcraft & elsewhere) make some carving tools in two sizes as well, so I recommend the bigger versions if you go that route. I bought some Ashley Iles last year from www.toolsforworkingwood.com and for new tools they seem well-made. They are large, and strong.

gouges old & new


This picture shows a bunch of tools I use a lot. From the top, two Henry Taylor gouges, one old one new. A W Butcher gouge, one of my favorites. Then a new Ashley Iles gouge, and a very nice, although small, Sheffield-made gouge.

Here is a comparison between the two Henry Taylor gouges. I don’t think the “old” one is all that old, (I’d guess 25 years or so?)  but there’s a noticeable difference between the two. see the detail of the bolsters, the new one doesn’t quite fit the ferrule that well, and the handle’s a little cockeyed too. Not a terrible big deal, but it makes the old one more appealing to me.

Henry Taylor gouges


detail, Henry Taylor gouges


This is one of my favorite gouges. Again, I doubt it’s all that old. But nice & stout where it needs to be, and well made.

W Butcher gouge


NOW, the V-tool is the real killer. It’s a hard tool to find one that’s the right shape. I have a Pfiel one that I bought 20+ years ago, and have changed its shape through sharpening over time, and I do most of my V-tool work with it. I have since bought new ones, same size, same maker. Different shape. Some of those failed (chipped cutting edge!) – I also have an old German one that I use a good bit. It’s a very nice example. This photo shows, from right to left, Pfiel, Ashley Iles, one from Hamburg (no name) and a Stubai from Austria. Look at the detail of their V-shapes, that’s the thing to look for. The closer it comes to an absolute point at the junction of both “wings” the better it is. That’s where the Stubai in this group loses out, the Pfiel and the German ones have the best shape. Ashley Iles is pretty good, probably better than the newer Pfiels I have bought in recent years.



Here they run just as above, from the left, Stubai, German no-name, Ashely Iles, and Pfiel (Swiss-made). the German & Swiss are the best, cleanest cuts, sharpest lines. the other tw0, being a little rounded at the bottom, bump along a bit, leaving ridges inside the lines.

V-tool shapes & lines


To learn more about V-tool shapes, have a look at Chris Pye’s website. He has an e-book dedicted to just this one tool. I skimmed it, and there’s good stuff there about the proper shape for this tool. (one of the proper shapes, anyway)


Hope some of this helps with questions about carving tools. it’s a start anyway. I”ll be doing some more carving this summer, and will try to add some blog content here on the subject.

Here’s a recent, nearly-done  panel I have been practicing, just so we have a carved panel after all this talk about the tools:

practice panel

recent work, oak, oak & ash

Some work from the shop recently. I finally finished the white oak rabbet plane I started some time ago. (there was a maple version that got scrapped) . Atchison made the iron, and I fit the body to it. I think the iron is about 1″ wide, maybe just under. Yesterday, I fine-tuned this one, and it seems to be running alright. I gave it to Rick, one of our carpenters at work. He’ll use it for doors & shutters in the repro period houses. We’ll see how it goes…

rabbet plane, white oak w beech wedge


I took some liberties with the shaping. Shavings were getting jammed, so I took a gouge and opened up the area right ahead of the wedge.

bottom view of new rabbet plane


Then I was able to cut rabbets in both green wood & dry, and it worked well. So off it went this morning.

rabbeting chest bottom boards


Last week I took some of my own time for the kitchen door project. Got this one done at last, had the panel, made & carved the frame for it.

white oak door c. 14" x 19"


One more picture for tonight. I gave away the last of the applewood for bowls, so now I am officially done with that batch of bowls and back to turning chair parts, like it should be. the bowls were fun, but it’s time for chair stuff. I have an ash log that won’t last thru the summer, so I split it open the other day & started in on a three-legged turned chair. This is the sort of chair that I wrote about when this blog was very new… https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2008/07/05/three-footed-chair/

enough with the bowls already