17th-century carved oak from Braintree, Massachusetts

I have a student here this week, we’re studying period carving while making an oak box. Scattered all over this blog (10 years’ worth, over 1,000 posts) are photos of period work. Carving, turning, moldings, mess-ups, etc. But I never knew when I started what a potential resource this could be. And now I’m too busy to organize it. But if you want to see some oak carvings…they’re in here! I’ll stick a few here, some of what Nathan & I are using for reference this week.

This one from a private collection; lots of gloppy finish on it, making it hard to see exact details. But one of my favorites over the years. My notes said that Bob Trent & I examined this back in 1998.

carved box, William Savell, 1590s-1669

Related to the above is this one, another I’ve copied many times over. Carved by the eldest son of William Savell above, John Savell, 1642-1687 or so.

Jn Savell box, side carving

This lunette, (this one’s on the top rail of a chest) is also by John Savell. To carve these, you need to practice your V-tool work. Lots of concentric arcs.

carved lunette, attr John Savell

One of my boxes, “made up” in the sense that it’s not copied from a period piece. But the box front is a direct copy of a drawer front by the Savells. As is the construction – pegged & glued rabbets instead of the typical nailed rabbets for joining the box parts.

PF box

Here’s one of the chests with two drawers. This one was from an auction website. I’ve lost track of where it went. Although I’ve made chests with two drawers, I never made one in this style…maybe 2018. 

The elder William Savell came to Braintree, Massachusetts by the late 1630s. He was first in Cambridge, working on the “college” that became Harvard. In his will dated 1669, he leaves to his wife a “chest with drawers” – with, not of, and drawers plural. There are at least three we’ve seen with 2 drawers. Most have just one. Only a couple were chests – no drawers.

I discovered this one in research done for a 1996 article about these objects. All I had to go by was this 1930s photograph and the owner’s name & hometown. Lots of dead ends, but I found it in the long run.

The article from 1996, but if you track down the volume itself, you get all the pictures

http://www.chipstone.org/article.php/222/American-Furniture-1996/Seventeenth-Century-Joinery-from-Braintree,-Massachusetts:-The-Savell-Shop-Tradition

Earlier looks at this work from the blog:

https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2009/04/23/three-hands/

https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2009/04/24/three-hands-carving-again/

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carving some oak

I have several days, even weeks maybe, to work on oak furniture now. Some carving yesterday & this morning. here’s a quick photo tour of cutting one lozenge/diamond shape, with tulips in it.

After laying out a diamond shape on horizontal & vertical centerlines, I strike an inner diamond with a small gouge, approximately a #7 sweep. Maybe it’s a 1/4″ wide. Just connect the dots, hitting the vertical & horizontal centerlines with the corners of the gouge.

Then I use the same gouge to “echo” this making an outline around it, these do not connect.

A more deeply curved gouge now comes off these outlines, beginning to form the undersides of the flowers.

Then the same gouge reverses, making an “S”-curve going out to the border. Or just about out to the border…

When you repeat this step on all four quadrants, your negative shape becomes quite prominent – it reminds me of those Goldfish snacks small children eat –

 

Now a larger gouge, approximately a #8 – reverses again, forming the tops of the lower flower petals.

 

Then a #7 about 3/4″ wide does more connect-the-dots – reaching from where I left off to the borders. that’s the whole outline. This one is quite small, the piece of wood is 6″ wide, and there’s a 3/4″ margin on both edges. You can use the same pattern on a panel, then some of this outline is cut with a v-tool instead of struck with the gouges.

 

Then I cut out the background. In this case, it was tight quarters in there, so I used a couple different tools, depending on where I had to get..

The end result. about 15 minutes of carving for the lozenge/diamond. This is going to be one of three muntins for the footboard of a bedstead I’m making.

Here’s the top rail I started back at the Lie-Nielsen Open House…they always show up better once they’re oiled.

another view.

Yesterday I started painting a desk box I have underway; but found out I was out of red pigment (iron oxide) – ordered some, and did the black for starters.

Oak furniture from Dedham & Medfield Massachusetts

For a number of reasons, I was looking through some photo files here tonight. During the past year I have had a couple of chances to revisit some old favorite piece of oak furniture, and saw a couple related fragments for the first time. There is a group of chests and boxes made in Dedham and Medfield, Massachusetts during the 17th century. Years ago they were the focus of a study by Robert St. George, culminating in his article “Style and Structure in the Joinery of Dedham and Medfield, Massachusetts, 1635-1685” Winterthur Portfolio; vol. 13, American Furniture and Its Makers (1979), pp. 1-46. You can join JSTOR and read it here – https://www.jstor.org/stable/1180600?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

But like all oak of the period, our friend Robert Trent was all over them too – thus several examples were featured in the exhibition New England Begins at the Museum of Fine Arts too.   (Boy, did that set come down in price – https://www.amazon.com/New-England-Begins-Seventeenth-Century/dp/0878462104  -If you don’t have it, and you like the furniture and decorative arts of the period, get it. Used to be way more than $90…)

This chest is in a private collection, I had it years ago to make a new oak lid for it. Typical for this group, 3 carved panels, moldings on the framing parts. Not great work, but real nice. Black paint in the backgrounds, originally bright red on the oak, dyed with logwood or brazilwood dye.

This one was made for the Fairbanks house in Dedham, was illustrated in a late 19th/early 20th century article about that house. For many years it was MIA – then the Fairbanks Family was able to buy it at auction either late 1990s or early 2000s…I forget which. Has the only oddball center panel. (see the detail, top of the blog post) Refinished.

 

A reader sent me these photos once, shot at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY. These boxes are often pretty tall – maybe 9″ high. Pine lids and bottom, oak box. I made a copy of this one for a descendant of one of the joiners credited with this work, John Thurston of Dedham and elsewhere.

Now it gets really wiggy. I cropped this shot from an overall of a chest in a museum collection. Notice the panels on the left & right. They look good, right?

Here’s one – then compare it to its cousin below…

The other. Amazing what your eyes & brain can tolerate and still accept as a repeating pattern. I’ve carved this design a lot, and I can carve a panel about 10″ x 14″ or so in under an hour. I bet this guy was flying right along. Or old and infirm. Or somehow incapacitated, or compromised. Or something. Notice too the holes in the corners where I presume the panel was nailed down to hold it still for carving. I nail mine to a back board, and fasten that to the bench with holdfasts. That way I don’t have to move the holdfasts – they’re out of the way.

A related, but dead-simple version. Why all that blank margin? No applied molding, the framing is beveled around the panel. Ahh, everyone who knows why is dead.

These next two are the lynch pins for the attribution to John Houghton, joiner. These are fragments from a meetinghouse in Medfield from 1655/6. The town records cite a payment made to Houghton for work on the desk, a table and more. The “deske” in the records is the pulpit. These panels are believed to be part of that pulpit. This panel is about 6 5/8″ x 14″.

a detail of the  rectangular panel.

This diamond-shaped panel is nailed to a piece of oak that looks like some framing stock – but it tapers in width. Tradition says that these pieces were saved when the 1655/6 meeting house was demolished in 1706.

One more – this one’s in Nutting’s books, now at Wadsworth Atheneum. “Refreshed” paint, or completely re-painted. I forget which. Really nicely carved.

Carving today before I carve this weekend

I am working on another desk box; an oak box with a slanted lid. Mainly I need this for the photos, for an article in the works. The annoying part is that the photos I needed to shoot were the slots/dadoes/what-have-yous on the inside faces of the box’s end boards. But…I don’t like to do the carving after cutting voids into the board. So first, I had to carve them.

This time, I made up the design, drawing from my research (and others’) into the varied carvings coming out of Devon, England. The same style appeared in Ipswich, Massachusetts during the last 3rd of the 17th century. I carve this stuff more than any other grouping, mostly because of its variety. Once you learn the “vocabulary” it’s easy to make up designs willy-nilly.

The desk box ends are weird shapes though. Took a little sketching with some chalk, and some wiping away with a damp cloth – but I got something I like. So then the front board is simple enough – a plain ol’ rectangle. There are three boxes from Devon that seem to be the same carver, or the same general pattern anyway. One of these I photographed back when I worked at Plimoth Plantation, the other two are from a website I subscribe to, Marhamchurch Antiques – http://www.marhamchurchantiques.com/ Paul Fitzsimmons there is a magnet for this Devon/Exeter oak furniture.

I’m going to carve the box front at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston on Sunday July 9. from noon to 3pm. I’ll be demonstrating the carving, and some joinery and other oak-y stuff.  http://www.mfa.org/programs/gallery-activities-and-tours/early-american-furniture-carving

 

Here are a few details from the Devon boxes that were the inspiration for my sketch – (the first two from Marhamchurch Antiques, thanks Paul, the 3rd is my photo).

This one had a later escutcheon on it, covering up the pattern. I took it off, so we could see the shape. At that time, I had never seen the previous two.

 

But before I go to Boston to work  on Sunday, I’m off to Maine for the Open House at Lie-Nielsen Friday & Saturday. https://www.lie-nielsen.com/hand-tool-events/USA/146

These events are legendary; the lineup this summer is killer. I try to do this show every July…it’s like old home week, seeing all my friends from the hand-tool circus. I guess I was there last summer – found my picture on their Facebook page –

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, shoes and outdoor

This time I’ll mostly be carving oak for a bedstead I’m working on. But I have a talk on Saturday about green woodworking, so I’ll do some spoon carving too. See you there I hope.

Finished an oak & pine carved box

Then I fitted a lid onto a new box I made recently. Iron hinges – “gimmals” in the 17th century. I’ve gone over setting these before on the blog, and in the chest video with Lie-Nielsen. https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2011/12/14/setting-gimmals-you-might-know-them-as-snipe-bills/

So I won’t go over the whole thing here. I usually mount these now in the box’s back before assembly, but I just got these from Mark Atchison yesterday…I bored the hole down at an angle into the box. Drove them in so the eye is flush with the top edge of the box. Sometimes you gotta knock it down some. I did for this one.

Then bend them over & clinch them inside. I used a steel bench dog for backing up the hinge’s eye.

Then do just about the same on the lid.

Oak & pine box – H: 7 1/4″   W: 21 3/4″   D: 14″
when it’s new, the color difference is quite stark. I’ve used a few coats of boiled linseed oil/turpentine mixture.

But they don’t stay looking like that. On the left, today’s oak & pine box. On the right is a box I made about 10 or so years ago. Same woods exactly; red oak box and white pine top & bottom. Same finish, followed by some heavy use and occasional dusting/polishing. What a great look they get…

Here’s a detail showing the patina on the older box. Patience is all it takes.

The new box will be posted for sale soon; along with a book stand & a couple other items. If you want to make a box, I have a dozen of the DVDs left, https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/new-dvds-carved-oak-boxes-hewing-wooden-bowls-spring-2017/  and Lie-Nielsen has a large supply. I’ll be teaching the box class for 4 days down at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking in November.

Details here http://www.schoolofwoodworking.com/woodworking-classes.html#Speciality_Weekend_Classes

I’m working on setting up a page about one-on-one classes here at my shop too – and the box would be a 4-day class there too. Details soon.

some leftover bird photos: gray catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) arrived today.

red-tailed hawk, (Buteo jamaicensis ) here year-round.

House finch  (Haemorhous mexicanus) here year-round, but more colorful now.

This one is hard for new birders – (Agelaius phoeniceus) the red-winged black bird. But you’ll note there’s no red anywhere, & it’s not black. It’s a female. I like them, nice markings.

spring cleaning pt 1

we started spring cleaning here yesterday.  I spent the day in the back yard, burning the winter’s collection of brush/branches, etc. It’s a once-a-year chance to spend the entire day by the riverbank…with nothing to do but feed and watch a fire.

I saw lots of birds during the day’s fire. Didn’t get shots of most of them, but here’s a few. (I don’t know what this looks like on your end, but when I preview it, if I click on the photos, they get pretty large, makes them easier to see. sometimes 2 clicks.) There were ospreys around much of the day, but only briefly when I had a camera in my hands:

The cormorants were fishing; but they were quite skittish. Here they are high-tailing it away:

If I was sitting on the riverbank, the red-breasted mergansers paid no attention to me;

when I was standing they either went up the other side of the river, or flew off.

This week I have a few things coming up. Going out to answer a call “Do you want some wide red oak?” – pretty simple question to answer. So some log-splitting coming up. Then I have to plan out my demo/talk for Fine Woodworking Live  http://www.finewoodworkinglive.com/ – it’s my first time working with them. Looks like it will be quite an event.

thanks for all the support from those who have ordered the new videos. I really appreciate it. My setup was a bit clunky, but I went in & made it so those ordering both titles are only paying one shipping fee. I refunded any who got caught in the earlier “double-shipping” debacle. https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/new-dvds-carved-oak-boxes-hewing-wooden-bowls-spring-2017/  I have some oak boxes underway, and some hewn bowls. I’ll shoot some of it soon & post some stuff here so any who have not seen the details can get an idea of what the fuss is about…

New DVDs; carving oak boxes & hewing wooden bowls

I just got a shipment from Warren, Maine – 2 boxes of new DVDs from Lie-Nielsen. We’ve had these in the works for a while, but better late than never. The first is Carving Oak Boxes.

This makes the 3rd oak project video; after the wainscot chest & the wainscot chair. I think this one is my favorite – it covers making 2 different boxes – one typical flat-lidded box, with wooden hinges and a till inside. The other is the slant-lidded “desk” box. This has 2 tills, a tray and 4 small drawers inside. The video also covers carving the designs on the desk box – patterns that I have done from the very beginning of my carving career, and have never put in the previous videos on carving.

Here’s the desk box –

——————–

The 2nd video is Hewing Wooden Bowls

Like spoon carving, a whole sub-culture of bowl-carving is gathering quite a bit of momentum. Who can blame them? Axes, adzes and gouges – what could be more fun? I was on a spree of hewing bowls a couple summers ago, and had done an episode of Roy Underhill’s show about this work. Then I went up to Maine to shoot this video shortly after that. Things got in the way, and my bowl-work got shelved for a while, but just lately I have started picking up my bowl-carving tools again.  I think of  this video as an introduction to this work; showing how I split, hew and plan out the shape. Then follow that work with gouges and other shaping. The whole reason I make them is to decorate them, and that is covered too.

Here’s one of the bowls:

 

I have some of each video for sale, price is $40 each, with $3.50 shipping in US. This page has them, with a paypal button for ordering: https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/new-dvds-carved-oak-boxes-hewing-wooden-bowls-spring-2017/

Contact me for shipping outside the US – we can figure out pricing. Peter.Follansbee@verizon.net

(I hope this works – I’m a bit clunky with the retail end of blogging. With my spoons, I usually send out an invoice – but there’s usually only a dozen of those at a time. I tried to set this up so it will take you right to payment – so I don’t have to send out invoices. If there’s a wrinkle, bear with me, and we’ll get it sorted. Fingers crossed.)

or you can order directly from Lie-Nielsen https://www.lie-nielsen.com/nodes/4243/home-education-videos

some of my older videos are available to purchase as streaming videos through Lie-Nielsen, instead of buying a physical disc. https://www.lie-nielsen.com/nodes/4228/peter-follansbee