planing the rear stiles; upper case

Just a video post today, about planing the odd-shaped five-sided rear stiles to the upper case. Here’s a sketch of the plan of the upper case – and in it you can see the cross-section of those stiles, both front & rear. All the rails have 90-degree shoulders, so the stiles are shaped to create the three-sided overall format.

plan view upper case

Here’s both the front & rear stiles, next step for these will be mortising.

stiles done & waiting

here goes.

I got very little done in the shop today…

Mostly because of this female Baltimore oriole (Icterus galbula). She was repeatedly outside my shop window, searching for nesting material (except when Marie came by to see her, then she was AWOL.)

The name – how did they get it? It’s not as if they are confined to that area, they nest over more than half of the US and into Canada. Spend half the year in Central America. So I looked it up on Cornell’s site, I got this:

“Baltimore Orioles got their name from their bold orange-and-black plumage: they sport the same colors as the heraldic crest of England’s Baltimore family (who also gave their name to Maryland’s largest city).”

stripping milkweed bark

She was right below my window, sampling the bark leftover from last year’s milkweed. In the end, she pulled & pulled lots of it – but I didn’t see her take any of it away.

maybe it’s too dried out

This is a typical feeding posture for these birds – Thoreau referred to them as “fiery hangbirds”, a more colorful name than Baltimore oriole. He also called them “golden robins.”

She wasn’t the only one scouting around for nesting material. This house sparrow (Passer domesticus) was around again & again with various materials to line the box fixed to the side of the shop.

whose feather is that?

Here’s a link to Cornell’s site – it’s where I snag all those scientific names for the overseas readers – good info all around, maps, sounds, etc. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Baltimore_Oriole/overview

a cupboard-prep video coming tomorrow.

A few things here & there

First of all, it’s May. That means migratory birds should be returning here to (& through) New England. I’ve been out for some practice trips w Marie but the real show should begin next week. An eastern towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) – I like these birds a lot, I liked them better when they were called “rufous-sided towhee.”

eastern towhee

and a wood thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) for starters.

wood thrush

The good news lately is the resumption of in-person classes is in the works. The bad news is right now I’m only scheduling three of them, and 2 of those are full of hold-overs from 2020. The one that will be open to registration is a carved box class at Lost Art Press in Covington, KY in November. I’m hoping 2022 will have a full schedule of classes, with a focus on the JA ladderback chair and the carved box.

carved oak box

Read this post from Megan Fitzpatrick where she includes lots of frequently asked questions that might save some people some trouble. https://blog.lostartpress.com/2021/05/03/2021-classes-at-the-storefront/ Tickets go on sale May 17th at 10am eastern time.

And as I write this post, one comes in from Chris Schwarz who hosts the classes there – in his home – about vaccinations. https://blog.lostartpress.com/2021/05/07/classes-vaccinations/ – if you’ve been to a class there, you can easily see that all Chris really gets out of it is disruption as we overwhelm the shop for a week. So let’s be good guests, now – OK?

crease moldings on side rails

I’ve started cutting joinery for my cupboard project and I’m two videos ahead of Daniel now. So we’ll have more & more of that coming up as blog posts & videos – in between birding.

next brettstuhl

I also went out and paid actual money for some boards – 16″-18″ wide clear air-dried walnut. I started cutting out the next brettstuhl – decided to carve it first, then cut out the scrolled shape.

There must be more, but that’s enough for now. An orchard oriole (Icterus spurius) showed up outside the shop yesterday afternoon. This is the male, the female was there too, but she wouldn’t come out for a picture.

orchard oriole

One problem solved

I spent some time the other day scratching my head as I was ready to begin cutting joints for the cupboard project. Up first are the 4 deep (or tall, depending on how you look at it) side rails in the lower case. These rails are a distinctive feature of this cupboard and several of the related ones. Here, they are 7 1/2″ high – with integral moldings run on their faces and applied moldings too. But first, the mortises.

top & bottom side rails of lower case

I started with a basic question – how best to hold the rails for chopping the mortises. You can see that it’s thinner on one edge than the other. Naturally, I want the mortises in the thicker (1 1/4″) edge. So it needs to sit up on its thin edge, which might be closer to 7/8″ – 1″.

7 1/2″ x 19″ or so

Often when mortising I grab the stock in the double-bench-screw (aka Moxon vise these days) and use a holdfast to secure it against the planing stop/bench hook. (the photo below is a mock-up, I didn’t shove it against the bench hook…but it gives you the sense of the setup.)

deep rail held upright

My holdfasts aren’t long enough to reach up & grab the rail itself, so I wasn’t entirely sold on this idea. Another disadvantage is the height of that rail means I’m mortising into something that’s about 40″ high. A bit uncomfortable for little ol’ me. Then I remembered a photo of our friend Rob Tarule pictured in Scott Landis’ The Workbench Book. Rob had a bearing strip or ledger fastened to the front legs of his Roubo bench and sat his workpiece on that. So I clipped that idea.

holding the rail against the bench’s edge

I didn’t have any hardwood over 6′ long, so just used a crappy piece of framing lumber. It sits on the holdfast on our left, is pinched by the one on the far right. The middle & left holdfasts are fixing the rail against the bench’s edge. Now the mortising happens just higher than the bench. The wooden fixture with the screw (the bench screw) just stops any forward movement. Much better. Below is a detail. This was the tail end of yesterday, and I didn’t work in the shop today. So tomorrow I’ll get the other three to this point, then it’s on to cutting double tenons on each end.

Scott Landis’ book was just republished by (who else?) Lost Art Press https://lostartpress.com/collections/all-books/products/the-workbench-book – if you’re not familiar with it, you might like it. Benches of all sorts, historical and otherwise. Rob Tarule made a Roubo bench long before we knew who Chris Schwarz was…there’s also a chapter on green woodworking fixtures too, featuring Jennie Alexander, Drew Langsner & Daniel O’Hagan – three people who had a huge impact on me. As did Tarule, but that was later. And I’ve known Scott since he & I (& Alexander) were in Curtis Buchanan’s first windsor chair class in 1987. Oh no, I sound like I’m on the porch of the old folks’ home – I’ll stop now.

mouth of the Jones River early morning

Sharpening a Hewing Hatchet

I hate addressing sharpening. It’s such a touchy subject. almost as bad as politics. But I did a short video (short for me, anyway) about sharpening my hewing hatchet. In the video, you’ll see I fix the hatchet so it’s stationary, I might have got that idea from Drew Langsner. It really helps.

Additionally, I have come to feel hesitant to discuss my hewing hatchet. The hatchet I’m sharpening here, and use everyday, was made 90 years ago in Germany. No – I don’t know where you can get one just like it. Yes, there are lots of hatchets out there. some good, some bad. No, I’m not going to advise you this way or that re: what hatchet to use or buy. I have written about it at length here on the blog, with measurements and photos – for example https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2012/12/13/the-endless-look-at-hewing-hatchets/ and one more https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2011/08/27/the-hatchet/

But whatever you use, make it sharp. Sharper is better.

Essex County cupboard anatomy

Essex County cupboard

For a couple of weeks or more I’ve been splitting, hewing & planing oak for this cupboard I have to build. In the blog here and in videos I mention various parts of the cupboard by name (the stiles, the cornice rails, inner stiles, etc) – all without having introduced the various parts to the audience. I have the cupboard frame in my head but realize that few here do. So here I’ll try to identify the bits – which for right now are just a growing pile of boards in the shop. 

One way to see this frame more easily is to strip off all that applied decoration. I took a photo of one of the related cupboards and traced its framing as best I could. It’s built in two cases; lower & upper. The lower case contains 4 drawers. The distinctive feature of the lower cases in this group is the overhang at the front that is created in the side framing. That leaves room for the lower pillars you see here. The two middle drawers are tucked behind these pillars. Those drawers are narrower than the top & bottom drawers by about 3″-4″.

This sketch shows the basics of that side framing in the lower case. It’s clearly not to any scale, it’s just a sketch. The inner stile marked on both of these drawings is about 1 7/8″ thick x 4+” wide.

side framing lower case

It might make sense in the photo below showing the four drawers open. That’s the edge of the inner stile beside the pillar.

side view lower case

The upper case’s format is pretty standard, but its embellishments are top-of-the-line. Its overall shape is sort of an interrupted octagon. At the front is a central door, loaded up with applied moldings that create a great sense of depth. Then the angled sides of the cupboard reach back to the rear stiles. Next, the top over the cupboard is back to rectangular, a 3-sided cornice creating another overhang. Those corner blocks that I refer to as “cornice stiles” are supported by the pillars. The pillars have tenons at both ends and are loose-fitted into the top of the lower case and the underside of those cornice stiles.

photo by Gavin Ashworth

I think I’ve said before, but here goes again. More than 20 years ago, Bob Trent, Alan Miller & I studied about 12-13 of these and related chests of drawers for an article for American Furniture. A staggering body of work that really doesn’t span all that many years, 1670s & ’80s mainly if my memory is right.

You can read it online, with photos shot by Gavin Ashworth. http://www.chipstone.org/article.php/554/American-Furniture-2001/First-Flowers-of-the-Wilderness:-Mannerist-Furniture-from-a-Northern-Essex-County,-Massachusetts,-Shop-

I can’t wait to start framing it; but for now the parts are stickered & drying some. I’m planing up the drawer parts now. Then on to some incidental bits – this oak log is going fast.

Splitting & planing video

new red oak log

First off, my thanks to my friend Rick McKee https://www.instagram.com/medullary_rick/ for helping me at Gurney’s Sawmill last week – we picked out & split up a red oak log & hauled it home. Now I’m back in the thick of planing stuff for the cupboard I’m building. I shot some video & photos there & here at the shop, showing how we split it, then how I choose & plan one of the pieces…

There’s noise at the sawmill (imagine that…) and wind like crazy here, so some caveat emptor with this video. There’s more in the works.

Planing oak joinery stock

planing a long rail

I got a new log last week, and have started in on planing it. Daniel & I are finishing up a video about splitting and planing, but there’s lots of that to be done – so here’s a short post about the planes I’m using this week. When I have a lot of pieces to plane, I usually keep several planes going at once. In this case, 5 of them.

5 planes

From the top left to bottom right – an American jointer 28 7/8″ long, a German jointer, 223 1/2″ long. Then another American plane, just a bit shorter, 22″, and an Ulmia (German) smooth plane 9 1/2″ long and a Dutch-style plane ground as a scrub plane. Its body is only 6″ long. Why so many? I tend to set a couple to different depths-of-cut, so that I switch planes rather than adjust irons when I want either a heavier or lighter cut. Depending.

German plane, marked J Holst Hamburg

I dragged this German plane out of the tool chest recently, and have been using it as the primary plane the last few days. I got it years ago from Josh Clark, I bought it because it’s oak. It feels pretty heavy, I weighed it today – it’s 7 lbs 9 oz. The American jointer behind it is more than 5″ longer and weighs just about the same.

Working 4-foot long rails, I was finding this plane easier to get full-length shavings. At first I thought it was about the weight, but I then looked at the placement of the iron in the body.

compare iron placement

The American one on top is 22″ long, its cutting edge is 7″ from the end. The German one at 23 1/2″ long has its edge 9 7/8″ from the end. Finally, the large jointer is 28 7/8″ and its iron is 9 1/8″ from the front end. So the German one has more mass ahead of its iron than the other two. Maybe that accounts for the different feel. The angles the irons bed at are pretty similar. I didn’t measure those…

Here’s the maker’s mark from Holst.

J Holst Hamburg

The internet search I just did wanted to take me to Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” instead of Holst planes. I found one hit, what’s listed as a hornbeam plane – https://www.holzwerken.de/museum/profilhobel/treppenhobel3.phtml One of those views seems to show pronounced medullary rays – similar to the plane I have. I looked up European hornbeam in the wood database – that entry doesn’t mention ray fleck figure – it does discuss the end grain – but I can’t see anything on the end grain of this plane. So I keep thinking it’s oak, the medullary rays look like white oak to me – but maybe it is hornbeam – which is what someone told me 9 years ago – I’m a slow learner. https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2012/10/24/im-an-oak-man/

this picture is from when I bought the plane in 2012

Here’s Josh’s site, if you’ve not seen it before https://www.hyperkitten.com/

brettstuhl #2 done

Before I dive into splitting & planing a new oak log, I figured I’d take today to finish up the brettstuhl that was 3/4 done.

brettstuhl #2

Some of what I tackled today. First, make sure the legs are dry. The scribbling on them is their weight in ounces over the past couple of weeks. They’ve been in a kiln made of insulation board, heated by a single light bulb. Kept at about 140 degrees.

dry bones

Then figure out the placement of the mortises and the angles of the legs. I built the first one based on Drew Langsner’s 1981 article “Two-Board Chairs” about a chair he built with his teacher/mentor Reudi Kohler. But here & there, I changed a few things. And on this one, I changed them some more. Drew sent me some notes on his chair, measured the angles for rake & splay, etc. But I’ve been looking at images online from various sources too. Often these chairs seem to have an exaggerated degree of rake & splay. So that’s what I aimed for this time.

sightlines for mortising

After some mock-ups I laid out the sightlines on paper, then taped that in place because the battens and underside of the seat do not form a plane to easily lay things out on. I had to nip off the corners of the paper so I could bore the mortises. I have no mind for math, I used the “chairpanzee” contraption made available by Lost Art Press – https://lostartpress.com/products/the-chairpanzee-analog-computer to figure these angles.

boring with adjustable bevel as guide

It’s all well & good to figure all those cool angles, but you still have to bore them on the money. I got close, but could have been better in a couple instances. These mortises are 15/16″ in diameter, 1 3/8″ deep.

rear legs

And there’s the problem – the far leg here bumps into the back’s through tenon below the seat. Not fatal, I just trimmed that tenon some. Only my pride was hurt, and I’m used to that.

#1 on our left, #2 on the right

I like the looks of the new one much better. More lively. But as I viewed it beside the previous example, I thought I’d over-done the angles. Figured those feet would trip people up walking by the chair.

#2 beside my version of the democratic chair

Then I began to measure it against a version I made of Curtis’ democratic chair (another post later…) and they both are about 17″ across the front of the seat, with footprints of 21 3/8″ (the brettstuhl) and 20 3/4″ (the democratic chair). So both of these chairs’ front feet jut out beyond the seat a bit. I guess the thing to do is use the new one some & see what happens. And go measure some of the other chairs around here…

works in progress

some recent chairs

I haven’t taken many photos lately, which is why there’s been no posts. I have been working, though. As I wait for the oak I planed up to dry some before I begin framing the cupboard, I’ve been making chairs. And I have a few more to do – I am shopping for a new oak log to finish prepping the cupboard stock, but started another brettstuhl, a joined stool and some more ladderback chairs. Below are the next three- each waiting for the next step.

next 3

The joined stool parts are at the end of the bench. Joinery is all cut, but I’m letting them dry a little more before I do the turned decoration. Maybe a week.

Then the brettstuhl – that one’s next. Right now, the oak battens are drying in the kiln, and later today I’ll begin shaping them & fitting them to the seat board. So that one will be done in the next three or four days. (longer if I find an oak log Friday…)

The ladderback chair in the front of this pile – its rungs need to go in the kiln now. There, they’ll dry a few more days and I can then bore & assemble that chair.

Someone asked about how I store bits & pieces for many projects at once. In my small (12′ x 16′) shop, it’s tricky. The chair parts are easiest – they get split & shaved, then tucked up in the ceiling/floor joists above my head.

chair parts drying

The stuff for the joined cupboard I’m doing is difficult, in part because the parts are big, but mainly because there’s so many – maybe 60 pieces in the frame. Here’s part of them, stickered & sitting on the loft floor.

stacked & stickered

The absolute worst storage, if you can call it that, is this one – a heap standing in the corner.

storage or out of control wood pile?

I think I’ll tackle this heap first today. The bent chair posts can go into some racks between the rafters. Then I’ll sort out the cupboard parts here, and stack them somewhere. some of this is bound to become firewood – so that can go outside. And on & on.