I’ve been pretty immersed in JA chairs lately, having just finished teaching it for 6 days. And talking about chairs most every moment of those 6 days. Above is a chair I just assembled back here at home. I had made part of it before the class, intending to use it for all the demos – but eventually I bailed on it – there was enough going on, I didn’t need to be making a chair too. But I had it all bored and tenoned – so just assembled it, then made slats yesterday. Today I began weaving the hickory bark seat.
I have two chairs for sale – both made leading up to the class. The white oak one I took with me, to serve as an example (I also brought one of JA’s last chairs for the same purpose.) Both of these chairs use a mixed bag of wood – oak, hickory & ash. Linseed oil finish. Over time all the different woods mute to a nearly single color – it happens pretty quickly.
If anyone wants to claim one of these chairs, leave a comment or send an email. I can send a paypal invoice (plus their fee) or you can mail a check – the old-fashioned way. Questions? – fire away. Peterfollansbee7@gmail.com
Ladderback chair White oak posts & slats, hickory rungs, hickory bark seat. $1,400 includes shipping in US
it looks like red oak in the photo, but it’s white oak – a little browner than this reddish cast. The rungs are a mish-mash of hickory sapwood (the white ones) and heartwood (the cinnamon-colored ones) Here’s the bark seat on this one – my favorite, the inside half of a split strip of bark.
Ladderback chair – Ash posts, red oak slats, hickory rungs, hickory bark seat $1,400 includes shipping in US
The bark on this chair is the top half of the split – a different look, still a great seat. the more you sit, the better it looks.
Another view of the ash chair – there will be more of these, I have an ash log I have to open up before it goes bad…one of my favorite woods.
Meanwhile I’m writing up some notes about the boring method we used in the class – developed by Charlie Ryland. Those will show up here soon. I’m updating the chair-making video too – so people who signed on for that will get a notice when that’s posted. Then today I decided to re-shoot the seat weaving video section of that project. I made a few small tweaks to how I do that – one simple one being standing upright instead of hunched over. A world of difference. Below is today’s seat, now set to dry and shrink before I weave in the last bits.
I just recently came back from a 6-day class teaching the JA chair at Pete Galbert’s shop in Rollinsford, N.H. Assisted again by Charlie Ryland – it went swimmingly. And of course, the teacher learns as much as anyone, maybe more. So now I am itching to make some more chairs – but can’t get to them just yet.
There were 8 students whaling away at some red oak and a little bit of ash – splitting & shaving for a couple of days, then boring mortises & shaving tenons. All the chairs went together fine and were really well-done. The slats in particular went off without a hitch. Always a relief.
I told “iron man” Russ he was my favorite student because he used the brace & bit – most others used a cordless electric drill. (actually used the brace & bit too – but I still called Russ Iron Man.)
Pete’s shop is in a huge mill in Rollinsford, right on the NH/Maine border. Upstairs is a semi-new tenant, but an old friend – Dan Faia. We took an early lunch break to go see Dan’s new setup there – he’ll be in the mill full-time starting later this spring, offering small classes and even one-on-one instruction.
For decades, Dan has been teaching at Nort Bennet Street School in Boston – and running the furniture program there for a long time. Now he’s going to be closer to home and avoiding all that traffic that he endured so long. His shop in the mill is spectacular –
Everywhere you look is inspiration.
We spent a bit of time learning about this chair he’s been building as a Fine Woodworking video – they’re just about done shooting it I think. It looks like Dan just waves his hand and there’s a walnut chair…
So if you are looking for first-class instruction in fine furniture work, take a trip to Dan’s shop – here’s his website, etc
Monday I begin teaching a JA chair class at Pete Galbert’s in New Hampshire, so most of my shop-time lately has been in preparation for that. But I spent some time here at the desk sorting more photos of my furniture archive. It’s not complete by any means, lots got away before getting photographed. When I filed the recent photos of the joined chest I counted 33 folders marked “chest” – but one of them has 17 chests in it. So that’s close to 50 chests – with I-don’t-know-how-many that got away. I then looked at more of my collection of period writings – court records, letters, probate inventories – I was looking for descriptors for chests. One of my favorites was an English inventory from 1602 “a joined chest next in bigness to the biggest…”
Some records from Yorkshire cite a “Panneld chest” (as opposed to a board chest) a “Plaine chest” (could be un-decorated, or a board chest) a “longe chest” – just that – longer than usual.
Typical references are to “smale chestes” (small chests), and “Great chest” – not magnificent, but large, and of course a “Joyned chest” followed by another “Playne chest.” One of the New England records I copied was about work someone did to disassemble a chest to move it into a house –
“[Salem, Mass; June 1673] Richard Rowland, aged about fifty-five years, and Mary, his wife, aged about forty-six years, deposed that Erasmus James did one day’s work at said [James] Smith’s house, which was to “take abroad” a great chest that would not go into his door and put it together again, etc. Sworn, 21:2:1673”
I interpret “take abroad” to mean “take apart.” And that got me browsing through lots of court records I copied – these have great details sometimes – I always lump these under a category “when things go wrong…” – this one mentions what might be a tool chest (a work-chest belonging to a joiner) but more likely a chest made of joiners’-work – a clumsy way of saying a joined chest.
[Salem, Nov 1673] Execution, for possession to foreclose mortgage, dated June 5, 1673, upon the house, shop and ground of Abraham Allen, in Marblehead, to be delivered to Mr William Browne, sr., of Salem, according to mortgage, also to satisfy judgement granted said Browne at Salem court, 25;4:1672, signed by Hilliard Veren for the court; and served by Henry Skerry, marshal of Salem, by attachment of the house, shop, land and a joiner’s work chest of Allin’s, which were delivered by turf and twig, also the chest given to Nathaniel Myhill, by order of said Browne.
Transporting large bulky (and heavy) finished pieces is a bit of a nuisance – imagine it in 1600s New England. This next case is lengthy & convoluted –
[Salem, Nov 1674] Writ of replevin, dated Nov 18, 1674, for a steer of Samuel Simons now detained by Robert Aimes, signed by Thomas Leaver, clerk, and served by Jeremiah Elsworth, constable of Rowley.
Samuel Simons’ bill of cost, £3-8
Robert Andors, aged about twenty-eight years, deposed that Edman Bredges hired him to carry a parcel of corn and a cupboard to Salem for him in the middle of September last and deponent asked him if the cupboard were made. Bridges said it was and that he had already paid Samuel Simonds for it in a good pied steer which was at John Commens’s. Further that the deponent brought the cupboard to Salem. Sworn, Nov 24, 1674, before Samuel Symonds.
Willam Smith, aged about forty years, deposed that Goody Bridges asked her husband how he paid for the ox and said she hoped he had not put away the steer he bought of John Lettilhaell, which was at John Cominses house and that said Simons was to pay for him in “joynery work.” Sworn, Nov 23, 1674
John Pabody, aged about thirty-two years, deposed that he was at Edmond Bredges’ shop when Bridges and Simons were making a bargain about the boards of the shop, and Simons said if he had the boards that said Bridges should not deprive him of the steer, etc. Sworn in court.
John How, aged about thirty-three years, deposed that he saw Robert Ames drive the steer, etc.
[Salem, Nov 1674] Zachaeus Curtious, jr., testified that he and Walter Farfeeld being at Mr Gedney’s sometime in October with Samuel Symonds, heard the said Symonds own that the bargain he had made with Edmond Bridges, jr., about some joinery work which he was to do for him, was to be paid in a steer of the work was done by Sept 1. Further that Symonds said the work had not done because his man had gone away and had stayed longer then he ordered him, etc. Sworn, Mar 26, 1674…
Seems that Samuel Symonds agreed to do some joinery work, a cupboard, in exchange for a steer. Lots of people involved – Robert Andors to move the cupboard from Rowley to Salem – Bridges paid for the cupboard with a steer that was at John Commens’ – and he, Bridges, had bought it, the steer, from John Lettilhall. Not only all that – but Symonds was late with the work (I can relate to that) – because his man was gone – I gather this man was working for him in some capacity. The court records had no more than this – so that little snippet is as much as we get.
The papers of the Winthrop family have great details sometimes as well. A letter from John Winthrop, governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony to his son in Connecticut:
John Winthrop to John Winthrop, Jr
28th of the 1 mo: 1636
“…you shall receive of mr Hodges the key of one of his Chests where the seeds are, the key of the other cant be found, so you must break it open, there is in one of them a rundlett of honey…”
Another from the Winthrop Papers, not about a chest but about workmen riving stock for pipe staves: (a pipe is a large barrel, splitting & riving staves for these was a common employment)
Hugh Peter and Emmanuel Downing to John Winthrop
“Wee are bold to intreat your furtherance in counsell and other helpe for the suppressing pipe staff rivers and clabords in our towne; because wee have 2 or 3 ships building. wee desire that within 2 or 3 miles neere any river they may not fell great timber fit for shipping; for they may as well cut it further of it being so portable, and ship-timber being so heavy. your letter to Mr Endecott by this bearer will helpe us very much…These men cut downe but halfe of the tree for their use, & the rest lyes rotting & spoyles our Comons, with many more inconveniencyes then wee nam…”
I emptied half the shop today (with Daniel’s help) so I could shoot photos of the joined chest I made for that video series. It’s going to a customer soon, so I wanted to get proper-enough shots of it. Who knows if I’ll make it again?
I’m so glad I don’t have a bigger shop, I’d only have a bigger mess. As for the photos, I shoot them almost every single time with just daylight. Sometimes too much, sometimes not enough.
I shot almost all of them from outside the shop. One or two through an open window, the others through the door.
The front panels of this chest are white oak, all the other hardwood bits are red oak (except the drawer pulls, those are white also). White pine floor, drawer bottoms and rear panel.
The till has a red oak lid and side, red cedar bottom.
The drawer front has a pattern I never tire of carving.
Same is true of the panels – that panel opening is about 8 3/4″ x 13 1/2″.
Here’s the shot I like the best, I added a small light from our right just to throw some shadows – the daylight was shifting this way & that. Shot it through the open window behind the stove.
Well, a day or two turned into a week later. But I finished the bark seat I started a week or so ago. I have always woven these in two sessions, letting the first weaving dry & shrink before finishing the seat by adding more strips. I have no idea how other people do them, this method is what I learned & it works for me.
First thing is to let the first round of weaving dry. As the strips dry, they shrink in width. So then you pack them tight again, filling in the spaces that opened up between them. Below is the seat in the middle of this process – I was moving the side-to-side strips toward the back of the seat. You can see the rear-most 6 rows have less space between them than those toward the front. Notice how much space is opened – enough for another full strip. So I finished knocking these toward the rear, then the warp (front to back strips) moved over to our left.
I’ve always called this “packing” the weave. It might be a basket-making term, I’m not sure. The seat is dry at this point and those strips are tough. So you can’t just slide them, I knock them with a short block of white pine. Top & bottom. It’s tough going.
The result is below – so there’s a good bit of space to fill. One full strip & two partial strips on the side. One full in front.
Re-wet it. I don’t wet the whole seat again, just the areas where I’m going to work. Top & bottom.
And then weave in the new strips, tucking them into the weave below as well.
Then snip off the last ends under the seat.
Then I wove the next one.
This bark had been split in half when we took it off the tree, but it was still too thick. So I thinned it with a spokeshave after soaking it. A little frustrating – but every time I try to use a drawknife when the bark is in strips, I slice through it. So spokeshave it is. I didn’t shoot any photos of that process – but here’s one from a few years ago. It’s a slow process, the bark gums up the spokeshave a lot. Sharpening helps.
The bark has a very different look from the first seat here. This is the top half of the split bark – the other is the inner-inner bark, if that makes sense. This is the part directly below the outer bark. Very stripey. Here’s the seat when I finished weaving it, as it dries it won’t be so bright. We’ll see it again when I finish that seat – next week I hope.
I’ve said it before, ‘ll say it again. I have great friends. Rick gave me an ash log last week – 8’ long. Straight & clear. One of my favorite woods, especially for chairmaking. I’ve spent parts of the last few days beginning to work up the sections into chair parts. Splitting and shaving, then more splitting and shaving. Here’s some sections waiting their turn. They don’t look it here, but the ash bolts are more than 5 feet long. (on the left side of this photo)
I split and shaved and then bent three sets of rear posts for ladderback chairs (two in this photo). There’s more of that to come.
I also roughed out a set of turnings for a Windsor chair – 4 legs, 3 stretchers and 2 arm posts. Those I rived, shaved, then turned just in a general way to get them drying a bit. Then I picked through the remnants from those two jobs – to shave what’s left into ladderback rungs and Windsor spindles.
These were all essentially leftovers – after I split out the other chair parts – so today I shaved them into 3/4″ square-sections. Random lengths. The longer stuff will be Windsor spindles. Any that already taper along their length – ditto. The stuff between 14 1/2″- 18″ will mostly be ladderback rungs. Some will be spindles. The shortest stuff there is 11″ – each Windsor arm chair has 4 short spindles. There’s more than a year’s worth for me! And the top of that heap are roughed-out stretchers for one of Curtis Buchanan’s democratic side chairs. I have the seat & legs made – but needed the stretchers. Now – big problem is where to put all this (& more right behind it). Today I committed a hideous sin – stuck them in a temporary place. On the lathe bed.
There was very little waste – a few handfuls of firewood so far. These two pieces (below) I rejected because they grew so slowly – there must be more like them, but I haven’t run into it yet. The green arrows show how the most recent growth was slower still. Weak as a kitten – if that’s really an expression.
At the end of the afternoon, I went outside and found one more off-cut. Stupidly, I cut whatever I needed & left this piece at 14″ – 14 1/4″. If it was even 1/2″ longer it would have been perfect for ladderback rungs. As it is, some will make it, but half will be too short. But it split like a dream. I got 14 blanks from it – didn’t lose one. One piece of firewood.
The picture below shows me splitting off the pointed inner bit. But I got one blank from that pointed side – the wood was so straight it split perfectly. (that’s how I ended up with 14, even though only 13 were marked out.)
I’ll shave those next time. Some will make it for ladderbacks – others will be good for something.
My next ladderback is going to have ash posts & hickory rungs. These posts were made long ago – the rungs are in the kiln. But I have to sort out the shop & clean it up before I can make this chair…
Ash – what a wonderful wood, but using it always makes me sad – millions of the trees have been killed off by the invasive Emerald ash borer – (this tree I’m working was dying from other causes if I remember correctly what Rick told me) – I don’t keep on top of that situation – but just now I found some encouraging efforts about identifying resistant ash trees – let’s hope they make it – https://www.monitoringash.org/lingering-ash-surveys/
Sometimes I’m a slow learner. When I made the chair-making video this winter, I wove the bark seat as I sat on a stool – pinned between 2 cameras-on-tripods; and up against the workbench. I flipped the chair up & down in my lap as I wove the top and bottom of the seat. It all worked – but today I did another seat, mostly without a camera and it went swimmingly.
I set a board so it hung off the front of the bench – and sat the chair on that. This time I wove the seat before putting the slats in – that makes winding the first strips (the warp) easier because I didn’t have to fish them under the bottom slat. Also easier to flip the chair around without the slats. I’m more comfortable working while standing for the most part, so this was an improvement in that regard as well.
In the “I thought you were supposed to be good at this department” I had to twice pull some weaving out because I messed up the pattern. In both cases I didn’t see it until I went to weave the next row.
A butterknife helps fish the weaver through the warp when things get tight. Don’t use one from the kitchen, get one from a yard sale or somewhere like that. Your family will be glad you did.
This seat, done for now, took 2 strips of bark, each over 30 feet long. There’s one joint under the seat. When the strips dry in a day or two, all these strips will shrink in width. I’ll then pack them tighter again and weave in some filler strips to finish the seat. I put one of these filler strips in already, on our left here. There will be one at the front, and one or more on the right side. Then I’ll make the slats.
A couple of things – I finished that Windsor chair I made – painted red & black, all the rage w/ modern Windsor chairs. Takes more patience than I have. Next time I might do oil paint & be done with it. But…now that it’s done, it’s my new favorite chair.
It was great fun to re-visit making Windsor chairs. I hope to make a few more this year. We’ll see what I can fit in between other projects.
And I edited a little bit of video that I shot when I was carving that painted drawer front for the reproduction 1680s cupboard that’s underway. The execution of the carving is just the same as before – it’s just the visual impact is immediate because the “finish” is done first.
The previous version of this video is much longer, more detail. Even more repetition. Some of you might have seen it last year – but for anyone who wants to see more of the above – here it is
And one day a week or so ago we had some hooded mergansers (Lophodytes cucullatus) on the river. They don’t often show up here, just every once in a while. Usually winter…
Last year I made this carved & painted drawer front the other way ’round. Carved first, painted after. I tried the reverse this time.
Most 17th-century carvings I’m familiar with that include paint have it as the background. So it’s like a 3-D coloring book. Carve out the recesses, then paint them. Like this English box:
But the cupboard I’m making has only one carving on it and its foreground is painted black. Here’s a detail from the original.
Prepped the oak board a few months ago. Trimmed it to size, then painted it black with dry pigment mixed in linseed oil/thinner/fast-drying medium. Then laid out the pattern with a compass, marking gauge, awl & square.
When that step was just a concept, I was concerned that the layout would be difficult to see. But the tools scratched right through the paint so the lines were bright. BUT – if you do this, make sure you have worked out the geometry first. I made a layout error and had to re-paint and wait til the new coat of paint dried. Just a day or two with that drier added, but a stupid mistake that could have been easily avoided.
This carving uses no V-tool for the outlines. I struck the shapes with a few different gouges and chisels.
Then using a very shallow, narrow gouge, began removing the background. This particular carving is pretty shallow.
Here’s a detail showing that background. Eventually it will get a coat of linseed oil so the oak behind will not be so stark. That’s much later though.
Whether you carve first or paint first, you must be careful at various points. There’s touch-up regardless of the method. This approach certainly makes the painting easier – and the carving is not any more difficult. So maybe it’s the way to go…
I can’t remember the last carving I did. I had this box front (the one with the painted background in the photo) carved for quite a while – youtube says 2 years! Very late in the day today I began sorting some stuff to turn it into a box. I wanted some pattern to carve on the sides – but didn’t want anything too involved. Below the box front is the beginning of what I carved…
It’s my version of some carvings I saw over 20 years ago, on my first-ever trip to England in 2000. Victor Chinnery took me to a church in Durrington, Wiltshire that had a lot of 17th-century carved decoration reinstalled in the pews. Each pattern looked different and the place was full of them. I got a few lousy photos – managed to scan a few of those old slides some years ago and salvaged a couple.
I didn’t dig out the photos when I was working – I only had 20 minutes of daylight left and wanted to get something down on the oak. I have this little box I made back then – I keep some loose tools in it under my bench. So that was my source for today’s version.
The nice thing about these particular period carvings is the seemingly endless variety. Very little v-tool work. Most of the outlines are struck with gouges to determine the shapes.
These patterns have what I call “approximate symmetry” – they don’t have to be perfect. Your brain likes to see patterns and will tolerate the variations. Or mine will, anyway.
Right after that trip to England I made a couple of boxes with these sort of patterns. It was fun to revisit that stuff today – I’ll scrounge around the shop and find the stuff to finish that box with…
Below is the youtube video from maybe 2 years ago of carving the piece that will be the box front.