revisiting an old favorite

I’ve been trying to finish off this chest with 2 drawers lately. I’m close, but have to go to North House Folk School soon, so the last bits will be in 2 weeks. Today I spent making the last 12′ of moldings – out of a total of over 45 feet! Rabbet plane first…

rabbet-before-molding

…followed by hollows & rounds….

round-for-hollow

Late in the day I still had some daylight. I have been using the last 30 or 45 minutes each day to hew some spoons for evening carving…but today I split some reject joinery-oak and started shaving the rear posts for some ladderback chairs. Must be because I’ve been thinking of Drew Langsner lately…

Here you can see the chest with a couple of clamps holding the drawer’s moldings in place. Shaving the chair posts was like old times…
shaving-posts

Here’s the inspiration – one of the last chairs from Jennie Alexander’s hand…and Drew’s book The Chairmaker’s Workshop. I had to look up a few things to remind me of what I was doing.

shaving-rear-post-ladder-back-chair

The last time I made these chairs was some shrunk-down versions for when the kids were small, December 2009. These chairs are put away in the loft now, outgrown…

kids-chairs-2

kids-chair-frame

 

I hope to bend the posts Friday, then leave them in the forms while I’m away. Hopefully there will be some chairmaking going on in March…

 

 

 

a look at some favorite joined chests

a detail of a carving I did last year…

carving detail

Each time I’m at a museum to study furniture, I ask permission to post my shots of the objects here…some say yes, some say no. I feel like I’ve been very lucky to have so much access to 17th-century furniture, and I know many folks either haven’t got the time or inclination to go search it out. (it’s also heavily skewed to the east coast here in the US…)

I thought I could review some stuff that’s been over on the blog before, there’s always new readers, and it never hurts to see details – even ones you’ve seen before. The following objects are from a group that I studied many years ago with Jennie Alexander and Bob Trent. These were the first oak chests I ever learned about…so I always enjoy looking at them again.

This photograph from 1932 (I think, early ’30s anyway) I saw in the object files at the Gardner Museum in Boston back in the early 1990s. I eventually chased down this chest in a private collection in Maine. Alexander & I published it in our article in American Furniture in 1996. http://www.chipstone.org/article.php/222/American-Furniture-1996/Seventeenth-Century-Joinery-from-Braintree,-Massachusetts:-The-Savell-Shop-Tradition

 

fiske-1932-bw

When I think back on the leg-work to find this – staggering. I also searched for who might have been the original owners in the late 1600s. From our research, we knew the group of chests came from Braintree, Massachusetts, so I had to do some genealogical research stretching back from the 1880s to the 1680s – eventually found some likely candidates, it’s in the article somewhere.

Here’s the same chest, scanned from one of my color slides. Until this one, all but one of the joined chests we had seen had one (sometimes two) drawers underneath. I’ve built copies of this chest many times….

fiske-chest-color-slide_edited-1

Here’s the other w/o drawer-chest, with brackets under the bottom rail. Lost some height of its feet, and has a horrible replaced lid.

joined chest, Jn Savell 1660-1690
joined chest, John Savell 1660-1690

One distinctive feature of these chests is the way the floor fits into the chest. Instead of a higher rear rail that the floor is nailed up to, these guys use a lower rear rail, and sit the floor on it. And nail it. Here’s one I restored, with some white pine floor boards, sliding over the lower rear rail, and fitting into grooves in the side and front rails. The back panel is not yet installed, making it easy to see what’s going on. Tongue & groove joints between the floor boards.

floor boards in chest
floor boards in chest

Same thing on a repro I did, better view of the lower rear rail. sorry for the garish light. (just think, when my new shop is done soon, only-daylight)

bottom boards, joined chest
bottom boards, joined chest

Then the back panel slides up from the feet, fitting into grooves in the stiles & upper rear rail. Here’s an overall view of one lying on its face. A white pine panel, (glued-up to get enough width to fill behind the drawer) – bevelled on its ends and top edge to fit the grooves. Slides behind the lower rear rail(s) – and is nailed to the bottom-most rear rail.

rear-panel

Here’s a detail. It requires some careful layout of the joinery for that/those rear rail(s).  The tenon is “barefaced” – it has only one shoulder. Fun stuff. rear-panel-detail

The same joiners made this desk box, missing its drawers in the upper section. I made one & 1/2 of these a year or so ago..shot it with Roy Underhill, then later at Lie-Nielsen. (Or vise versa, I forget) The Woodwright’s Shop episode is out now, the LN one hopefully before too long. http://www.pbs.org/woodwrightsshop/watch-on-line/watch-season-episodes/2016-2017-episodes/ 

savell-desk-box

Since the 1996 article there have been maybe 6 more of these chests that have shown up in auction houses. etc…I never saw this one, from James Julia Auctions in Maine. Clearly weird drawer pulls, something funny about the lid, but otherwise looks great.

John Savell, c. 1660s-1690
John Savell, c. 1660s-1690

and one with two drawers – we saw only two of those in our research, there might be four now

braintree chest w drawers
braintree chest w drawers

I’ve written about these chests and boxes many times…here’s a search for “Savell” (the name of the joiners who we think made them) https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/?s=Savell  – there’s other stuff mixed in there, but lots of stuff about the chests and the carvings.

recent projects

 

 

two-stools

I have a number of projects underway, as usual. I have just test-fitted these two joined stools, in preparation for the demonstrations I have next week at Winterthur Museum in Delaware. I plan on assembling them there, but haven’t got a chunk of oak big enough for seats right now…

 

For that demo, I am mainly concentrating on furniture from Plymouth Colony, where this sort of “lipped” tenon was standard practice for joined chests and cupboards. In this configuration, the molding is integral, not applied.

 

detail, Plymouth Colony joined chest w integral molding
detail, Plymouth Colony joined chest w integral molding

 

 

 

 

It makes for some complicated work cutting the tenons. The cheeks are sawn, and the joint is not draw-bored. One or two square pins secure the tenon in place. I haven’t done one in almost 15 years, so I will make a new demo piece to replace this grubby-looking example.

 

PF sample repro of "lipped" tenon
PF sample repro of “lipped” tenon

 

 

 

unassembled view of "lipped" tenon
unassembled view of "lipped" tenon
 But what I have been really excited about is the new London carved pattern I wrote about last week. I knew I would try to squeeze it in, so I carved this sample of it the other day. It took some tinkering to figure out the layout and sequence of cuts. A test version is essential for me when I’m doing something this complex. I got it along pretty well, but knew this one is a sample at best. So I didn’t bother finishing it, but now have a good idea of how to tackle it for next time.

test-carving of London pattern
test-carving of London pattern

 

 

 

 

 

mortise & tenon work

driving the pins
driving the pins

The post about making the pins for drawbored mortise & tenon joints brought a couple of comments, and a couple of questions. First & foremost, the moisture content of the pins – bone dry…gotta be. I shave mine dry. I split excess straight-grained oak into pin blanks and then store it around the shop. They are small-cross-sections, so dry quickly…but in any event, I always have several piles of them around – from green to dry.

They do have to fit the holes, but the taper in their length makes this easy enough to acheive. It doesn’t hurt to have a piece of scrap stock with a test-hole bored in it, and check your first dozen or so pins in that hole…typically beginners make the pins too stout.

Alexander points out that using a shaving horse & drawknife to make them makes the taper easier to achieve.  But JA is working from stock that is easily 3 times the length I use. It’s a trade-off.  As far as my method requiring experience and skill, well…I am reminded of a quote I once heard the folksinger Claudia Schmidt repeat:

“Good judgement is the result of experience. Experience is the result of poor judgement.”

(I figured it’s from Yip Harburg [If I Only had a Brain] but on the web I’ve seen it attributed to Twain. Don’t think it’s him…but maybe need to look at Puddn’head Wilson again)

Hmm. I adopted this method of shaving pins when I saw it in a sixteenth-century woodcut. I find it really works, and splitting the stock is very easy in such short lengths. You can often split it down to nearly the size you need.  I say make your pins that way, and you’ll get good at ’em. Shaving them from long stock with a drawknife will get you good at shaving them from long stock with a drawknife…either way, make them dry, make them tapered.

It is not a wet/dry joint like in Alexander’s post & rung chairs. The action of the drawboring is what makes the joint work, not a moisture content differential. for more on the drawboring, see https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/?s=drawboring

(on the right-hand side of this blog is a search button, way down towards the bottom. Let’s see if the above link works to get readers to the previous entries on the subject.)

drawbore pins
drawbore pins

 

I do use drawbore pins to pull the joint together first, this allows me to check the joints and make sure everthing is as it should be, before I put any wooden pins in. Some folks think these steel pins will wreck the drawbore, but I’ve never had a problem with them. Alexander found these pins at Sears many years ago, and handled them for me. Cheap & effective.

 

joint ID
joint ID

I also often use a numbering system for making certain that the correct tenon is in the mortise. Here just the mortise chisel chops Roman numerals to ID the joint.

 

Here’s the inside of a recent stool showing the trimmed pins, the fore plane surface on the inside face of the rail; and the inner shoulder of the rail not quite hitting the stile. Also these pins are staggered in height, so as to not interfere with each other.

interior of stool frame
interior of stool frame

pins for drawbored mortise & tenon joints

This is my wooden bench hook – I have been thinking of replacing it for a couple of years now, but just haven’t bothered yet. Maybe soon…

 

wooden bench hook
wooden bench hook

 

How it got this way is simple, I use it when I make the pins that secure the mortise & tenon joints in my furniture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First I split the stock from scraps of dead-straight dry oak. Any crook & they get discarded. It is critical that the stock be near-perfect because I want it to be strong enough to snake through the off-set holes in the joint.

 

 

splitting pin stock
splitting pin stock

 

After splitting out a bunch of pieces, I shave them with the largest chisel I have – a 2” framing chisel. I find this to be the simplest tool for this job. The weight of it helps; when I have done this work with lighter weight chisels, I find I was pushing too hard…of course, it’s important to grab the pin stock up higher than the cutting edge.

shaving pins
shaving pins

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

shaving pins detail
shaving pins detail

 

 

 

My pins start out about 5” long. Shave them square, and then taper them. Finally, shave them into an octagonal cross-section.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

finished pins, red oak
finished pins, red oak

 

 

 

Sometimes, as in this period stool, the tips are pointed. Sometimes not, as in a wainscot chair I saw recently.

 

17th-century joined stool; pins
17th-century joined stool; pins
17th c wainscot chair; pins
17th c wainscot chair; pins

 

 

 

one more miter square, & inventories

Felebien detail
Felebien detail

In my previous post about miter squares the other day, I forgot Andres Felebien (1676). There is a lot of talk about Joseph Moxon on the web these days, with Chris Schwarz’ interpretive publication of Moxon’s chapter on joinery. Alexander & I have tried to remember to consult Randle Holme and Andres Felebien in addition to Moxon. I’d say Holme is our favorite; his drawings are quite enticing. Searching all three of these 17th-century authors can sometimes make things more clear; at other times,  more confounding.

The miter square is quite the same as Moxon’s; which leaves only Randle Holme who illustrated the multi-angle miter square. The modern one I have in my shop is set up to mark angles of 90, 30, 60 & 45 degrees.

Finding miter squares in period inventories is rare; here is one from Essex, England. The numbers are not values in this case, but quantities. This inventory comes from the Essex Record Office (D/DP E2/23)

Thorndon Hall inventory: tools in the joiner’s workhouse, 1592)

 An Inventarye of all suche tooles as remayned in ye Joyners Workehowse at Westhordon after ye deathe of Cornelius Everssen, there taken by John Bentley and Water Madison the xvth daye of September, 1592

 

 

Inprimis Joyners playnes of divers bignes                                  15

Item ioynters                                                                             2

Foreplaynes                                                                               2

Smothing playnes                                                                       1

Squiers                                                                                      4

Myter squiers                                                                             1

Addes                                                                                        1

Hatchettes                                                                                  1

Handsawes                                                                                 1  

Frame sawes                                                                               1

Hammers                                                                                    1                 

Holdfastes                                                                                   1

Jages                                                                                           2

One percers stock and v Wilkyns for ye same

Thre fyles

Two brode paring chizelles

Thre mortise chiselles

Three small Flemish chizelles

One gouge

Thre ripping chizelles

one lyne rowle with ye lyne upon it

Two staples or banke hookes

Two rules of ij foote ye pece

Thre malletts

Two spare plainyng yrons

 

 

This next one has just “squares” so nothing regarding miter; BUT as often is the case, you look for one thing & find another – this one has “patterns” something it’s very gratifying to see. Lincolnshire, very late 17th century. I found it in L.B. and M. W. Barley, “Lincolnshire Craftsmen in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries” in Lincolnshire Historian, II (1959)

 

 

Inventory of John Dring of Lincoln dated 1696:

 

The Yard

 

The Bed Post, bed rales, bed sides & all other pieces, a turning wheel & bords £2-15-0

 

The Wood House

 

The Oake quarters, elme bords, wall nuttree plancks & other pieces £5-0-0

 

The Shop in ye Street

 

The coffins the wenscote bords, the base bords & pieces of bords £2-9-4

 

The Stools & cheese feet & rales 2 gun stocks with other pieces 17s

The molds & patterns squares & leavell frame of table screws & boxes 16s6d

The chist & all tools in it & in the Shop; Hatchets, hansawes, hammer, hold fast, long plain, for plaines, ogees, hollow and round plaines, plowe groving plaines, spring plaines, files and rasps & turning tooles, screws & screw plates, Wimbles & passer stocks & small bits, mortis chissel & all sorts of chissells & formers and gouges, the bench & all things in it  [PF: no value listed]

 

The Old house where they come from

 

The Oake planck, the wall nuttree planck, the partree planck, the grindle stone and other waist wood in all £4-7-1

 

The Timber

 

The Oake timber by Saint Sweethings Church the Sawpitt The faur trees coming in

all £6-13-4

 

Elme Wood

 

The elme wood att stamp end 20 pieces coming to in all  £3-0-0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

miter squares then & now

In the post about turning stiles for my joined stools, I mentioned and illustrated using a miter square for marking the centers of the stock. Miter squares are as simple as a try square, only instead of marking lines at 90-degrees to an edge, they usually are designed to mark a line at 45-degrees to an edge.

I know of two descriptions from the seventeenth century for this tool, the first is from Joseph Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises (1678-83) :

 

Joseph Moxon layout tools, including the mitre square
Joseph Moxon layout tools, including the mitre square

“18 of the Miter Square.  And  its Use.

 

The Miter Square marked E, [PF: it’s really marked “R”]  hath (as the Square ) an Handle marked a, one Inch thick  and three Inches broad and a Tongue marked b, of about the same breadth: The Handle and the Tongue (as the Square) have both their Sides parallel to their own Sides. The Han­dle (as the Square) hath in the middle of its narrowest Side a Mortess in it, of an equal depth, the whole length of the Handle: Into this Mortess is fitted one end of the Tongue, but the end of the Handle is first Beveld off to make an An­gle of 45 Degrees with its inside.  This Tongue is (as the Square) Pin’d and Glewed into the Mortess of the Handle.

 

It is used for striking a Miter-line, as the Square is to strike a Square-line, by applying the inside of the Handle to the outside of the Quarter, or Batten, you are to work upon; and then by strik­ing a Line by the side of the Tongue: For that Line shall be a Miter-line. And if upon two Bat­tens you strike two such Lines, and Saw and Pare them just off in the Lines, when the flats of those two sawn ends are applied to one another, the out and inside of the Battens, will form them­selves into the Figure of a Square. Thus Picture Frames, and Looking Glass-Frames are commonly made…”

 

 The other source that Alexander & I have relied upon a great deal is Randle Holme’s Adademy of Armory & Blazon (1688). Holme illustrates two versions of the miter square, one like Moxon’s;

 

Holme miter square #138
Holme miter square #138

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

a Miter square, of a contrary form to the following, mentioned chap. 9 numb. 17  It hath an Handle (or top part) an Inch thick, and three broad, with a Tongue of the same breadth, and for length 5, 6, or more inches, according to the breadth of the Work: it is to be Glewed into the Handle by a Mortess and Pinned.

 

 

 

 His second illustration is a different version of the miter square, but his description still follows Moxon’s quite closely:

 

Miter Square, Randle Holme 1688
Randle Holme, miter square, 1688

 Book III, Chapter 9, Section 1b, #17:

“a Miter square. This Square hath also an Handle and a Tongue, as that mentioned numb.15. whose use is to strike either Square or Miter Lines according as you apply the ends of it to the out-sides of the Quarter or Batten you are to work upon; By the help of this, Miter or Bevil Lines are Cut or Sawed so exact, that two being joined together it will make an Angle; thus square Frames for Pictures, Looking Glasses, and such like are comonly made. ”

I have a few in my shop. the one I use most is the shop-made one, slightly smaller than Moxon’s or Holme’s.

shop-made miter square
shop-made miter square

 

I have a modern version like one of Randle Holme’s, that scribes four different angles, but I have hardly used it.

miter square w/ 4 angles
miter square w/ 4 angles

Another place where these tools are applicable, in addition to marking the centers of square turning stock, is the mitered bridle joint, sometimes seen on seventeenth-century cupboard doors from England. Here’s a few views of a sample joint:

mitered bridle joint apart
mitered bridle joint apart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

mitered bridle joint open
mitered bridle joint open
mitered bridle joint assembled
mitered bridle joint assembled
Two more things. I saw a post about these tools yesterday,  – the site/post is: http://dans-woodshop.blogspot.com/2009/03/old-shop-made-bevel-gauge.html . He calls it a bevel gauge, I know it as a miter gauge. The one he illustrates is a nice tool. I found it through www.unpluggedshop.com/ – When I have time, I look at a bunch of sites through there…but most of the readers here probably already know it.
JA shaved chair
JA shaved chair
If you have read my blog more than once or twice, you’ve noticed a presence from Jennie (John) Alexander. Well, JA has updated the website www.greenwoodworking.com and anyone with an inkling might go see what’s what over there. There are a great many green woodworkers today who got their start either directly or indirectly because of what Alexander did over 30 years ago with the book Make a Chair from a Tree. Now, based on JA’s website, I better get to work…