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 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.,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.

Joined chest; cutting till parts

till detail, PF chest

The interior compartment inside a joined chest is called a till. These are commonly found, sometimes the till is gone, and the notches in the stiles and rails are all that remain.  I was cutting the notches for one recently, and I am often struck by how much of this oak you can cut away and still have a piece strong enough to stay together.

This next photo is the front stile for the chest I’m building now. This stile is red oak, and it’s about 3 1/4″ wide by 1 3/4″ thick. Clustered up near the top end of the stile are several cuts into the stock.
  • First, the two mortises, for the front and side upper rails. These are 5/16″ wide by about 3 3/4″ high. The one for the front rail is about 1 1/2″ deep, the other about 1 1/4″ deep.
  • Each has two 1/4″ holes bored in them, those for the front rail go all the way through the stile.
  • There is a groove running along each edge, into these mortises, for the beveled panels.
  • Additionally there is a notch cut across the inner face of the stile for the till bottom. this notch is about 3/8″ wide and about the same depth. It is positioned so that the till bottom is flush with the bottom edge of the upper rails.
  • What is missing from this photo is one more assault on this piece of wood – the hole bored into the stile for the hinged end of the till lid. This hole is usually about 3/8″ in diameter and about 1/2″ deep, and right near what will be the top end of the stile, after the extra wood is trimmed off the top. It will be about 3/8″ away from the mortise for the side rail.
That’s a lot of cuts into this piece of wood, all in the same neighborhood. Sometimes I am amazed that the stile can take it.
mortises, till trench & pin holes


Here’s an original that didn’t make it. Here we’re looking at the inside of the upper front rail. The till side and top are missing, but the bottom is in place. This chest is a little different, in that it’s a joined front fixed to board sides and rear. So the busted stile here has only one mortise in it, but where the side mortise would be in a standard chest, a rabbet was cut instead, to receive the board side. Wooden pins were driven through the front stile into the edge of the board side. There’s no telling when this inner face of this mortise broke away. This chest saw some neglect; but it might very well have happened when the piece was being built. One of the great things about oak is how well it splits, but one of the troubles with oak is how well it splits.

inner front rail, smithsonian chest
Alexander shot these photos many years ago. We were quite excited to be able to see inside the mortise, and see that it doesn’t need to be any great shakes in there, just get the wood cut out so the tenon can fit in. Notice that the end of the tenon does not reach the bottom of the mortise. A critical point.
busted mortise, inside upper front rail


One time Alexander & I taught a class in joinery. A blacksmith student in the class gave us a phrase that has stayed with me:  “I don’t care how weak it is, as long as it’s strong enough.”

workbench fittings, 17th-c style

"single bench screw" PF bench

Here’s my take on the bench screw(s) of Moxon & Holme. The “single bench screw” is the one fitted through the piece fixed to the front edge of the bench. For edge-planing and similar applications I found I need some way to support the other end of the stock & I opted for a “deadman” that slides on runners attached to the lower rail of my bench & the bench top’s underside. I have NO EVIDENCE for the deadman in the 17th-c reference material. So that is a case where I stole something from a later period… the deadman has a row of holes, not for holdfasts but for a peg on which to rest the nether end of the stock.

 The screw in this device can’t grab the way a vice can – it’s really just to pin the stock against the bench’s edge. If I have to really hold it tight I use a holdfast in the bench’s legs…

holdfast in bench leg
holdfast w stock vertical

For edge planing of stock that fits on the bench top – I use the “double bench screw” described by both Moxon & Holme. Instead of thinking of this as a precursor to a vice, I think of it like a clamp, in essence, it relates to the handscrew of the 19th & 20th centuries;  except in this case, both screws move in the same direction, and the action is quite slow.  But it holds.

 I have two. One made by me, one by Alexander. Mine is smaller, about a foot & a half long maybe. I use it to prop stock up on edge oin the bench top, for planing the edges of boards. Sometimes I set the back end of the stock up above the wooden screw, and tilt the forward end of the stock downwards against the bench hook. Other times, the double bench screw is just grabbing the end of the workpiece with the two inches or so beyond the screw. I use it a lot this way, for planing, to steady pieces under the holdfast for mortising. I also use the double bench screw to hold tenoned stock upright on the bench top for splitting the waste off tenons, after sawing the shoulders.

"double bench screw" on PF bench
Here is a slide of one of Jennie Alexander’s benches; its front edge is quite deep/high. This allows Alexander to bore a row of small-diameter holes for steel pins to catch the nether end of stock held in the single bench screw for edge planing. Eliminates the need for my deadman solution…
JA's bench w/ screw, holdfast & hook


Now back to Moxon. I think that Moxon’s illustration of the double bench screw is not reliable for scale – remember that he talks about planing stock that is 7 feet long – so if his bench is say 8 feet long, then the double  bench screw there is what, about 4 feet long? Seems awkward. But who knows? 

Moxon's joiner's bench


My take on the notion of attaching the double bench screw to the front edge of the bench top is that it’s hokum. I see no reason to try to do so, I can’t understand what operation would leave a joiner needing a device like that. Remember, joiners did not regularly dovetail stuff, rarely if at all. When I need to really hold stock upright, I blam it agsinst the bench legs/front edge of the bench with a holdfast in the leg.

 So that’s my view. I have used a bench like this for almost 10 years now. Almost never use a vise for anything; and certainly not for joined furniture. You just don’t need it. I started out using a modern Ulmia bench with two vises; and making the shift away from that was intimidating at first. But once I threw the switch in my head that told me it would be difficult, things went smoothly. The toughest stuff to hold is small-dimensioned thin stock. but there are ways…

Another fitting that Alexander & I both use, but have no period evidence for is the wooden bench hook – (not to be confused with the toothed planing stop that in the 17th century is called a bench hook) – this one’s the small board with cleats fastened at opposite ends of oppsite faces. It hangs against the edge of the bench for sawing tenon shoulders; and for paring tenons’ cheeks. Oh, yea, I shave pegs on mine too. I finally retired this one, & made a new edition. JA & I would love to hear the history of this bench accessory. 25 cents to anyone who can provide it with documentation.

wooden bench hook

spoon carving DVD from Country Workshops

Here’s an easy blog post for me, I just copied what Drew Langsner sent me the other day. They announced that Jogge Sundqvist’s 1988 video is now out on DVD. Drew says it will be posted on Country Workshops’ website soon, but they have it in stock now. So call or email Drew to order a copy…


“Carving Swedish Woodenware” on DVD.

In 1988 Jögge Sundqvist taught a course in carving Swedish woodenware at Country Workshops. Among the class participants was Rick Mastelli, who at one time was editor of “Fine Woodworking” and was then in charge of Taunton’s new video department. During the class Rick decided to produce a video with Jögge. He got on the phone and arranged for a video crew to fly down from Connecticut to record this production the very next week.

To do this Rick converted our teaching workshop into a video studio. Lots of distracting, extraneous stuff was moved off camera. The floor was scrubbed. Reflectors were set outside to bring in more natural light. The space between a freezer and shop frig became the control center (wires going everywhere). Rick taped a tree trimming against the outside of a window, to soften the light and to fill in some white space. We even borrowed our household TV, to be used as an extra monitor so that Jögge could see what was being recorded during his demonstrations. Incidentally, Peter Follansbee was our summer intern in ’88. He can occasionally be heard during the video nailing the loft flooring to our new barn. I was running back and forth between projects.

Click here for the full story – with historic photos from the 1988 production.

How to contact
Country Workshops
Drew Langsner
828-656-2280 (Daily, 9-6 Eastern time)

Postal mail:
990 Black Pine Ridge Road
Marshall, NC 28753

plow plane, up one side & down the other

proper right stile, top view


A small detail that often perplexes people is the grooves plowed in chest’s stiles for the bevelled panels. In this view of a joined chest from Dedham, Mass. the groove for the side panel runs out the top end of the stile .  (it’s clogged with some kind of filler, after the fact) The groove for the front panel does not come out the top.

Now the other front stile:

proper left stile, top view


Here the groove for the front panel runs out the top, (again patched). The other groove is stopped before it gets out the top. This is as it should be. Here’s another chest, from Essex County, Mass. – same scenario.

proper right stile, top view


proper left stile, top view


The plow plane’s “handedness” is the reason behind these grooves being found in this pattern. I started a joined chest last week, and got a couple of shots that aim at showing how this happens. The plane goes up one side of the stile, and down the other. To get the groove deep enough just above the lower mortise on any side; you need to extend the groove beyond that mortise. Here’s two front stiles, laying on their faces.

grooves for side panels in chest stiles


Here is a full view of the stiles. To get the groove deep enough (about 1/2″) just above the lower mortise on the left-hand stile, I had to bring the plow plane back & extend the groove below this mortise. Because the plow only cuts in one direction (like a molding plane) the other stile’s groove was cut from top to bottom. Thus here, I had to get the groove beyond the top of the top mortise, to hit my 1/2″ depth just below that mortise. Thus the grooves run up one side, down the other. Almost always.

up one side, down the other


Here is the plane, (a poor shot, but the best I could get quickly) – the gist of it is to get the rear “skate” of the plow low enough to engage the iron in the mortise. If the groove did not extend back there, the skate would be tilted, and the iron wouldn’t be able to cut the groove deep enough right above the mortise.

plow plane cutting grooves


The plow in use:

plowing panel grooves


The chest thus far:

joined chest front, April 2010


Here’s some other posts I did concerning plow planes, if you didn’t see them:

more joint ID marks

marked up interior

here we are looking at the proper right rear stile of a New England 17th-century  joined chest. I marked some points I wanted to show – (click the pictures to enlarge, these are small details we’re looking at.)

  •  the height of the mortise is struck with an awl (and presumably) a square. The awl skitters a bit across the fibers of the oak. A knife would cut it more cleanly..
  • the joint ID marks that I wrote about last night are clearly shown, chopped with a very narrow chisel. I’d guess about 1/4″.
  • the pins securing the rear frame were driven in, then the pin from the side blew through it.


Here’s a photo I couldn’t find last night; of an assembled stool. Shows the joint ID marks – the stile just gets one mark, then the two rails (in this case, aprons) each have the numeral I chopped in them.

joint ID marks

mortise & tenon; marking the joints

I was working last week or so on the stool book project. That’s why I assembled a small joined stool the other day, it was to shoot trimming the feet.  While I was at it, I shot some stuff concerning the “joint ID” that we will present in the text. This is what I mean:

II goes in II


If you have read my blog, or even had the displeasure of being a victim of  mine in a workshop…then you know I won’t use a pencil to mark these joints. but marking them somehow does help to keep them straight. All these pieces look the same when stacked on the bench. But I have never seen a joined stool with its pieces marked out for assembly. But these sorts of marks are quite common on larger pieces of furniture; chests, cupboards and such. And they are found in carpenters’ work all the time as well. Carpenters need a more detailed method of marking, having so many joints to keep track of…but us joiners have it pretty easy. Alexander & I decided years ago to use chisels and gouges to mark a stool, borrowing the method from other joinery.

The picture above is a stretcher (lower rail) meeting a stile – it is marked with the 5/16″ mortise chisel that cut the stool’s mortises. I have stumbled along until I have a method that only uses numbers I & II. I mark one “frame” of the stool with the mortise chisel, the oppostie frame with a gouge.

joint ID wth gouge


The aprons (upper rails) and stretchers (lower rails) are not interchangeable, thus can each be I & II. With one set done with the chisel, the other with the gouge, they are distinct.

The angled end rails then are marked according to where they fall in the stool; one end with a chisel, the other with the gouge. simple.

Once I get the front & rear frames  assembled, I set them on the bench with their feet together…then I can set the end rails in one section…

foot to foot


and drop the other on top…

like this…


“…picked up a (mallet) and a little piece of (oak)…”

My kids have been asking to hear the song John Henry over & over again lately. We have the Bruce Springsteen CD called We Shall Overcome: the Seeger Sessions. It’s pretty lively music. They are particularly interested in the part where John Henry hammered so hard that he broke his heart & died…

I have just told them that he laid railroad track (trains are a big deal…) but it’s difficult to run down the whole man versus machine thing for 4 yr olds. So I save that for later…

 But the John Henry story is important for me, in a way. Being a hand-tool enthusiast, I have no interest in machine woodworking. If other people want to spend their time that way, that’s their business. Just keep it away from me. 8 months out of the year, I work in front of the museum-going public, answering questions about the woodworking & furniture aspects of 17th-century England and New England. Some folks I meet are woodworkers, some are not. I often get the question “Did you use a router to carve this?”
I didn’t even know it was possible to do so, but if you live long enough, you see all kinds of things in this world. Last night, I saw video on the web of a guy carving a 17th-century style panel with a laminate trimmer…I couldn’t believe it. It was so horrible I couldn’t look away.  The video ultimately answered the constant question – how long does it take? And the fellow said he spends over 4 hours per panel. Works with the router first, to remove the background, then chops the edges of the outline with gouges…I didn’t stay to see the end. I had seen enough.

 The panel in question is one I know very well, having carved it many times; and seen about 5 original chests decorated with the design. I hadn’t timed one of these panels in a while, so I took out some white oak, some gouges & mallet, a clock & camera and carved one today.

panel, joined chest, c. 1635-1680


I spent about 5 minutes laying out the grid for the pattern. (the video used a template, but the original work clearly used a pair of compasses, a marking gauge, awl & square. Perhaps a ruler, but not really necessary.) I scribed four half-circles to define the ends of the pattern. That’s where I was at 10:30 this morning, and it was nailed to the bench ready for working. Then I started carving. I won’t show you the blow-by-blow, partly because I wanted to just carve it, not produce a photo essay on carving it. (that takes a longggg time).

15 minutes, most of the outline done

It took 25 minutes to carve the entire outline of the panel. Some of this was V-tool work, some was struck with gouges. Then fifteen more minutes to remove the background. And that was it. Forty minutes, and the panel could go in a chest, and be essentially just the same as the original work…

25 minutes
40 minutes


finished panel


I intentionally tried to go as fast as I could. If I had taken my time, the panel would have been even better; and still under an hour. I didn’t have my notes & photos with me when I carved it, so was mostly going on memory. Mine has less background than the original; but its background is faceted, as it should be…

Score one for the John Henrys of the world. SO HERE”S MY HARSH OPINION – If you want to copy something made by hand, with hand tools – use hand tools. You learn more, have more fun. And get better results. BUT it takes one other ingredient – practice.

joined stool, trimming the feet

joined stool assembled


I assembled this joined stool the other day; it’s a slightly smaller than usual stool – I guess if I keep it I need another. But for now, what I wanted it for was to photograph the steps in trimming the feet. As you see, the rake of the sides results in feet that don’t sit even.

joined stool feet, detail


So the first step is to shim the feet until the sides of the stool are plumb. This is done with some small wooden wedges and a framing square.

shim the stool


Once I am satisfied with the way it sits, I scribe with a compass around the feet. I open the comass up so that I am about 1/2″ above the highest point on the foot; it’s easier to saw off a thicker chunk than a thinner one. So this consideration goes all the way back to when I turned the foot; I try to leave it a little longer than what I want to end up with.

using the compass to scribe the feet


I lean on the stool to keep in wedged in place, then run the compass around all four feet to mark where I want to trim them.

scribing stool feet detail


I then secure the stool to the bench with a holdfast, and saw the feet to the scribed line. If all goes well, it sits just fine off the saw. Sometimes a chisel or spokeshave is used to correct some mis-deed with the saw.

trimming stool feet


Now it sits nice & even, depending on the flat-ness of the bench, and the floor it might go on…but it’s close enough.

feet trimmed on stool