Making Chairs from a Tree with Plymouth CRAFT

That was quite a week-plus. Plymouth CRAFT hosted its first-ever 6-day workshop; 6 students came to Massachusetts to learn how to make a chair from a tree, as JA’s book proclaimed all those years ago. For me, it was an overwhelming experience – to see all these new chairs, following Alexander’s steps, and in many cases using tools and equipment from her workshop…I can’t tell you how many sentences I started with “I remember Alexander saying/doing…”

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Here’s some photos, a couple I clipped from Marie Pelletier’s FB thread (the group shot above for example) – she shoots all our Plymouth CRAFT events. Most of these were mine, but I often forgot to shoot stuff.

Day one, after the first riving session, students begin shaving front posts.

A lineup of chairs; from left – antique New Jersey chair, PF 2019 chair, JA one of the last batch, PF 2018, JA stool, pre-1978, JA one-slat, c. 1975, PF kid’s chair, c. 2008.

Some layout of rungs, to be split. Ash, dead-straight. We lost very few pieces.

Andy splitting some of the rungs with a froe.

Arizona Sam shaving a rear post.

 

 

Kurt helping Andy bend some hot posts.

 

They worked green wood for the first couple of days, then following the format employed for decades by Drew Langsner, after they shaved & bent stuff for the next class, I issued air-dried stock I prepped ahead of time. That’s what they made their chairs from…here’s Andy & David chopping slat mortises.

Then it’s time to bore them. Here, Kurt & Warren are boring a front post. We teamed up, at least for the first sections, good to have an extra set of eyes on the progress.

It’s a JA-innovation to assemble the side sections first. Probably overkill, but it’s how I do it still. Here, Kurt has done a mock-up once his side sections are assembled. I get it, I want to know what it’s going to look like too.

 

Then bore for the front & rear rungs.

I showed them how I size tenons by jamming them in a test-hole in dry hardwood. Spokeshave work.

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Then assembly. Make sure the shorter rear rungs are in the rear. That way the longer front rungs go in front.

 

After a short steaming, the slats are popped into the mortises. Here, I’m making a slight adjustment.

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Some student’s first chair – (that’s a joke – it’s Brian Chin’s – he became “some student” through an innocent remark I made…)

He & Arizona Sam scored some hickory bark and had time to weave the seats on the last afternoon.

Thanks to the usual Plymouth CRAFT crowd, especially Pret & Paula, the great students who put up with me, and to JA & Drew Langsner, who all those years ago showed me what to do.

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Update on Peter Follansbee’s ‘Joiner’s Work’

Word from west of here…

Lost Art Press

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The printing plant has finished its work on Peter Follansbee’s new book, “Joiner’s Work,” and it will be trucked to our Indiana warehouse on Monday. We’re not certain when it will start mailing out to people who placed pre-publication orders, but my best guess is it will be this week.

If you haven’t placed an order, this is the last opportunity to get a free pdf of the book with your order. Once the book starts shipping, the price of the book plus the pdf will be $61.25, up from $49.

Yesterday I received a sample from the printer and the book looks great. Oak is featured on 100 percent of its pages. You will not find an oakier tome.

— Christopher Schwarz

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finally some birds

Finally, some walks in the mornings, so some birds. I thought it would never happen. If you use a computer, you can click the photos to enlarge them. I don’t know what happens on your phones.

We’ll start with large & showy – wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) the males are displaying lately. Front view:

Rear  view:

And a very metallic side view:

More iridescence – tree swallow, (Tachycineta bicolor) not often I find them standing still.

That’s about as close as I can get to the American kestrel (Falco sparverius) 

Right near where I saw the kestrels, this Northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) did a whole range of every neighborhood bird it could think of. If only I had the camera that does video…but there’s only so much gear I care to tote…


A young red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) – this bird almost hit me when it flew by; buzzed right over my shoulder.

Here he is going by…

 

Probably the same hawk harassed by a red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)

A red-winged blackbird up close, they’re all loudmouths.

Finished out this morning’s walk with a great blue heron (Ardea herodias) just as I was getting back in the car to come home…

Chairs are next

I’m back home now; earlier this week I was one of the presenters at Winterthur Museum’s “Furniture Up Close” – it was a great time there; I love re-connecting with the museum world; it’s where I learned so much about furniture. Got a preview of spring while I was down in Delaware, back here it’s still the future. Spring is an amazing time at Winterthur – the full name is Winterthur Museum & Gardens for a reason.

But after a month of near-constant travel or preparation for travel, I’m glad to be here for a while. A long string of large projects; the queen-sized bed, the dresser and settle; is now behind me. Now I’m going to make small stuff; carved boxes and ladderback chairs. I shot almost nothing at Winterthur and did shoot nothing at Cutchogue when Pret & I installed the dresser and settle…

Next up is the chair-making class with Plymouth CRAFT. My latest JA chair, with a bark seat mostly done by Rose – I’ll add the last filler strips this week.

 

I started in yesterday on either making or gathering a few of the bits & pieces we’ll need for 6 of us to be working on this stuff. I use a gauge like this for sizing the rough-shaved posts and rungs. 1 3/8″ on one notch, 3/4″ on the other.

These V-blocks we use when boring the posts; the thick ones came from JA’s shop, I made a set yesterday, but had no thick stuff. Should work fine anyway. The other little frames on the right are for temporary mock-up of the rear posts, for alignment purposes. And some various bits; 20th & 21st century-style.

I shaved these rungs here & there – these will be issued AFTER the students split & shave replacements for them.

 

Same is true of these posts. In practice, each class prepares the material for the next class. Thus I started it off, now it’s on them.

I was taking these shots this morning; and thought of Rick McKee and his chicken-scratching obsession recently. https://www.instagram.com/medullary_rick/

I see those pinwheels/daisy wheels and just think it’s someone too scared to finish carving it. This is the door to the axe-cupboard.

And this a box with gouges – someday I’ll finish it.

 

I’m going to make another few chairs – the Shaker tape one here is available, the bark seated ones sold; but can be ordered. Here’s a slightly out-dated page about the chair project – https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/pf-ladderback-chairs/

Spring trip to the Woodwright’s School

I poked around here all winter, then spring came (according to the calendar) and things got busy. Over 3 weekends between March 22 and April 9, I spent 6 full days driving. That’s getting a bit crazy. The 2nd leg of that trip was my annual trip to Roy Underhill’s Woodwright’s School. Like always, it was worth the long haul. Here’s pictures.

Because I’m going to be in the car for hours & hours anyway, I take the scenic route. I hate I-95, so here’s a leg-stretching stop among the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia.

The project was an oak carved box. We used quartersawn red oak, with white pine lids and bottoms. Here’s Paul, carving his box front. On his messy bench, like everyone else’s. It made me come home & clean my shop.

Another box front off to a great start. Carving the box fronts comes after a full day of practice carving.

 

Our host had some saw sharpening that needed doing. Plenty of light out here.

No trip to Roy’s is complete without a stop or two upstairs at Ed Lebetkin’s tool store. I got out mostly unscathed, I didn’t need a box to haul my tools out like many do.

A snippet of squares.

I warned them that fitting the till is the fussiest part of making this box. They were not disappointed. It was fussy.

Here’s Scott’s wild carving and a deep till.

I’ve had students come to class barefoot, in sandals, flip-flops, etc – but never in spurs. Something new…I had to look up where Montana is, it’s way up there.

All the times I’ve been down there, I’ve never made it out to Elia Bizzari’s shop. We rectified that. What a nice place, great setting. My renewed chair fixation got more inspiration… http://handtoolwoodworking.com/ and https://www.instagram.com/eliabizzarri/?hl=en

Things kept getting busier and busier as the week went on. That’s the point, I guess.

The mornings weren’t great for birding, but some nice views down the creek at one point.

Then back home, jumped into a Plymouth CRAFT demo. Now finishing some furniture, then off to Winterthur later this month. More box classes later in the year, at Lost Art Press’ storefront not-a-school, and at Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking. (I guess I better send Bob the photos & blurb…) – I think there’s one or two spaces still in the December version at Lost Art.  https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/pf-2019-teaching-schedule/

A look at carved boxes

I’m getting ready to head down to Roy Underhill’s for the first carved box class of the season. It’s full, but there’s room in others at Lost Art Press, and later at Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking too – here’s the schedule https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/pf-2019-teaching-schedule/

The new joinery book features making three carved boxes in detail. There’s others shown incidentally in the carving section. But I’ve made over 100 of them I imagine. Here’s some from various years, most of these are not in the book. These are all scattered to the four winds; but I’m always happy to make carved oak boxes for customers.

This one is mostly made-up, but the carving pattern is copied from a walnut box in Victor Chinnery’s book Oak Furniture: the British Tradition. I really like this pattern, usually I do it on a pretty wide piece of wood, maybe 7″ high.

 

red oak box, fall 2008

I did it in walnut once, made a terrible mess of making that box, but the carving is OK when the light hits it right.

Two small boxes, one motif. These are only about 5″ high by 15″ wide or so. Same design, just aiming this way on one, the other one on the second example. Garish electric light, I don’t miss it.

small oak boxes

Just a raking-light shot of a box underway. A design I always like, based on an original from Braintree, Massachusetts, right next to where I grew up.

 

Another fairly large box; the carving is from a drawer front based on the same Braintree joinery. This box might be about 8″ high I’d guess; 20+” wide.

guilloche carving on oak box

This little one was one of my favorites; carving, molding, color and squiggles & dots. I plan on doing some carved & painted ones this spring.

 

Here’s one before the box lid was installed, showing the till inside.

 

 

Some of these pictures have been on the blog before; here are two views of the wooden pintle hinge. I use it most often on my boxes, although in the seventeenth century it’s the exception rather than the rule.

 

This one is from just last year or the year before, a carving sample re-used as a box. I assume that’s the inside of the front. I carve the samples over & over in classes and only need them at the moment. So sometimes they get recycled.

 

Red oak boxes with white pine bottoms and lids. Very distinct color and texture difference when new (on the left), but 10-15 years later (right) they blend quite well. Have patience.

 

a detail:

 

Joined chests

I’ve been reading through the pages of my new book “Joiner’s Work” https://lostartpress.com/collections/books/products/joiners-work recently, and was thinking about how many joined chests I have made over the past 30 years. I don’t have an exact number, but a careful guess is over 60 of them.

Back when I made furniture in a living history museum I got to practice all day long – a pretty good way to learn. Sometimes the chests I made there were based on careful examination of period examples, other times all I had to go by was a photograph & I had to fill in the details based on what I know of period practices. Lots of leeway. Here’s a few that aren’t in the book:

This one is loosely based on a picture in Chinnery’s book Oak Furniture: The British Tradition. I remember when Vic and Jan Chinnery came to visit, Jan was surprised to see this chest – the original was in their house!

oak chest, two panel front

This one is totally “made-up” in that it is not copied from any one source. I made it in 1997. All white oak. Probably pitsawn; I was younger then, we all were.

H:25” W:47 ¼” D:16 1/8”

joined chest

Here’s part of my inlay phase! Also made-up. Also pitsawn, or mostly so. These all got used hard, and for most years got a new coat of linseed oil every year. That’s part of why they darken so. Some of the secondary wood on this one is elm, the lid panels & the end panels. Maybe the floor boards too.

 

These photographs came about because I was forgetting which ones I had made or my co-workers made before me – so at one point I started shooting them each winter as I cleaned them and tried to catalog them. Some we shot when they were new – this one was late in my career there – I’d guess around 2004-2005, which is when I first saw chests with that wide center muntin.

a small oak chest

 

There’s one of these “5-panel” (really 14 panels!) chests in the book. This one I made for a PBS series called Colonial House in 2003. It’s a copy of two chests from Marshfield, Massachusetts…

 

One more from that Colonial House batch – I built four houses’ worth of furniture for that project.  I remember later working on the motif that’s carved on this top rail & muntins – thinking I had never done it before. Clean forgot about this chest!

H:29” W:47 ¾” D:19”

joined chest, oak & pine

 

There’s no measured drawings in the book, but it shows you how to make a chest, and how to figure out the dimensions. Each one’s different, as you can see in this sampling. So glad I don’t have to move them around and clean them every winter anymore…but I’m glad I have even these basic photos.

OK – one more. In process, April 2011 it says. This one’s in the book incidentally; some process shots show it underway.

wainscot chest