Strapwork design & carving

Strapwork pattern in progress

I have this great piece of red oak; quartersawn, 12″ x 24″, clear, pretty straight (thanks, Rick) – and after seeing the carved lid on the cedar box the other day, I decided to try a large panel of a strapwork design again. Usually when I undertake these patterns, I only have a partial idea of what it will be. Much of it I work out as I go.

The top and bottom edges are easy, they’re always those linked arches. I divided up the space, put a circle in the middle and struck all the arches with gouges and a chisel. Then I knew that this time I wanted these long, vertical leafy things. You can see in the photo below that I carved one all the way before continuing. That way, if it didn’t work – I could quit, or flip the board over. Or plane it all away. (all extreme choices that rarely get employed.)

initial pattern

But I liked it, so I went on from there. Here, I’m setting a marking gauge to strike lines that will connect the right and left sides of the panel at the middle.

striking layout w marking gauge

Below – using a 3/4″ wide gouge to strike circles in some empty spaces around the middle.

using a gouge to define elements

This time the area where those left & right halves come together get volutes carved as the ends of each section. I strike their outlines with 3 different gouges.

volutes

These patterns usually flow outward from the center – up & down, left & right. Here I’m using a compass to mark the height of one element from the horizontal centerline. Then I’ll swing it around to hit the bottom of the same form.

compass work

Most of the work is striking out the design. Removing the background is easy, there’s just a lot of it.

background removal

But you only have to solve one-quarter of it when doing the design part. Then it’s a matter of flipping it over in your mind to “see” the other 3/4. This is as far as I got yesterday afternoon, but the fire’s now lit, so time to finish this carving.

Carved box for sale: Alaska yellow cedar – SOLD

carved box; Alaska yellow cedar, white pine, red oak.

I found some quartersawn Alaska yellow cedar for sale on the web last month, and decided to make a special box from it. The carved lid is a dust-magnet; but I couldn’t leave that much blank space in that beautiful wood.

H: 7″ W: 22″ D: 11 3/4″
$1,400 includes shipping in US.

SOLD

It’s a higher price than usual, but it’s not my everyday box. I had only carved a lid on a box like this once or twice before. Some time ago, Paul Fitzsimmons of Marhamchurch Antiques sent me a photo of a box from Exeter, England that used strapwork designs all over like this. I didn’t copy that box, but copied the idea.

As expected, there’s a till inside, this time with red cedar for the bottom & side, ash for the lid.

I tend to mostly use a wooden cleat/hinge arrangement for the lid. For this reason I made the back of the box from red oak – its strength is lent to the extended pin that engages the cleat, which is also oak.

I just finished it today and shot a series of photos once the lid was attached.

the lid; fun to carve. Nice to look at. A demon to dust.

The rabbet joints are glued and pegged. I scrounged an off-cut from the lid to make these yellow cedar pegs for the front.

corner detail

And one more view of the carving on the lid.

The cover and the box

It was 1976. I was eighteen years old. My father had died the year before, and among his effects that came to me by default (I still lived at home) was a tablesaw & jointer, drill press, router, lathe, hand-held “power” tools and an assortment of handtools. I was an art student, aspiring to be a painter. I learned from a neighbor how to use the tablesaw and began to make picture frames for my paintings. Somehow made a bookcase, surfaced with a belt sander. 

That summer I accompanied my mother on a trip to Doylestown, PA to visit her childhood friend. We did the tourism routine there, including the Mercer Museum – so I saw rooms full of antique woodworking tools, but have no recollection of it. I have a vague memory that we visited Nakashima’s showroom – but I might have imagined that. But one thing I know for certain – on that trip someone showed me an early issue of Fine Woodworking magazine. And I subscribed when I got home. Back then, information trickled out, unlike today’s barrage. I used to read every word in each issue, several times in many cases. I still have many of those old copies. And I know many people who tell a similar story. It was through Fine Woodworking that I got onto John Alexander and Drew Langsner. 

The other day, Dave Fisher wrote to me to congratulate me on being on the cover of the new issue. I hadn’t seen the email from FWW and although I knew my box article was in the works, I had no idea it was going to be the cover. I remember when Pete Galbert wrote his version of this blog post – and now it’s my turn. Thanks to everybody at the magazine for making it  happen, I appreciate it. 

Barry Dima came up here in the beginning of this year to shoot the article about making the carved box. Because the whole world flipped upside down shortly after that, I forgot about it. Every now & then it would come up again and I’d be surprised. Recently I was sorting photographs and saw that box & couldn’t place it. Then I remembered I had sent the box down to them to photograph – now they’re done with it, so it’s available for sale. 

Approx dimensions are H: 8 1/2”  W: 24” D: 12 5/8”

Red oak box, pine lid and bottom. Till inside. SOLD
$900 includes shipping in US. Leave a comment or send an email if you’d like it. Check or paypal ($927 through paypal.) Or when the magazine comes out, you can make your own.

Two boxes for sale

I photographed the two boxes I’ve worked on lately. These are made from quartersawn red oak, with white pine bottoms. There’s a couple things about my boxes that are different from most seventeenth-century boxes. I’ve seen a few period boxes with pegged corners instead of nailed. Mine are almost always glued & pegged. The bottoms are nailed on with handmade nails. Similarly, a few period boxes are carved on the ends, but most have plain ends and carved fronts. Mine almost always are carved on the ends too. I tend to use a wooden hinge on most of mine, another feature sometimes seen on seventeenth-century boxes. I sometimes use iron hinges, which is more typical of period work.

November box #1 – SOLD
H: 8 5/8″ W: 23 1/4″ D: 13 7/8″
$1,000 includes shipping in US.

Nov. box #1
Nov box #1 open
till, walnut lid, red cedar side & bottom
Nov. box #1; end carving & wooden hinge

————-

Nov. box #2 SOLD
H: 7 5/8″ W: 23 1/2″ D: 14 3/4″
$1,000 includes shipping in US.

The second box actually came first. The carvings on these boxes are based on work from Devon, England and Ipswich, Massachusetts. This one has a zig-zag design with what I guess are tulip shapes.

The paint is iron oxide (red) and lampblack mixed in linseed oil.

Nov. box #2
Nov. box #2, end view
Nov. box # 2 till; walnut & red cedar
Nov. box #2, detail

If you’d like either of these boxes, leave a comment or send an email. Payment by check or paypal – if paypal the invoice will be $1.030. Shipping in US included.

I take orders as well, so if there’s a box (or other joiner’s work) you see here & miss, send a note. I’ll be home all winter making stuff…

My most recent box and my first one from 1994

carved box, Nov 2020

Today I’ll finish this box by adding cleats under the lid; they’ll form part of the hinges too. As I’ve worked on it, I’ve thought about my first carved box. Between 1989 & 1994, I was a chairmaker/basketmaker learning joinery in my spare time. Now it’s flipped around just the other way. My first joinery projects were carved chests and then joined stools and a wainscot chair. I didn’t make a box until I got the job at Plimoth Plantation in 1994. They had an original box and one of my first projects was to study it & make a copy to use there. Flatsawn white oak, Mark Atchison made the hinges and nails. I hadn’t yet made a background punch, so I textured the background by repeatedly striking a nail into the recessed ground. 

my first box, 1994

I kept looking for a scheme to the layout of the design. I tried striking segments of arcs here & there, combining them this way & that. It wasn’t until I carved this design a few times that I realized it’s just freehanded. It was Victor Chinnery who told me that this box belonged to the overall group of carved works from Devon England – the material that New England works done in Ipswich, Massachusetts by Thomas Dennis and William Searle stems from. 

carved box, Devon; detail

Jump ahead quite a few years and enter Paul Fitzsimmons and Marhamchurch Antiques. He specializes in oak furniture in general, and the Exeter/Devon works specifically. https://www.marhamchurchantiques.com/

He’s been great about posting photos of his finds and I don’t miss a post from him. Over the years he’s handled a number of related boxes to this one – and nearly every one of them is different, but clearly the same general elements/composition. 

The box I made the past few days is one of my versions of these designs. I had a photo of one from Paul’s site and switched things around here and there to come up with a “new” design.

V-tool outline, over chalk
chopping a flower with a gouge

The variations depend on the scale of the board I have, and what I plan to improvise in the middle – the old ones always had locks there, and a big part of the upper middle of the design got covered. On my first take above I hadn’t yet removed the lock plate on the old box, so didn’t know what design was under there. 

Here’s a later version I did of that first box. I have no idea when this was – photo stamp says 2008. Pine lid this time, that means the museum was selling it – I kept the oak lids for use in the recreated period houses.

PF version, Devon box

This one was earlier this year. I’ve carved it a few times since Paul first posted his photo of the original.

carved box, 2020

When Pret & I built the shop, we scabbed framing in to mount the windows. I didn’t want to look at that framing all the time, so I dug out a box of carved samples and nailed them up all over the shop. From time to time, I paint them – mostly to use up extra paint I’ve mixed. Here’s some box fronts mounted now vertically.

This box is from 2013 back when I was still at the museum. Might be the last one I made there. It was for an EAIA raffle, I think. Or auction.

carved box, May 2013

It’s funny, I never drew any carving designs when I was learning them. I always worked from photos (still do mostly). But several years ago I started drawing them. These pages show a couple of these designs; the top one done as a 1/2 box front full-scale and the full box front half-scale. If that makes sense…

notebook


leftover photos

I haven’t looked in my cameras lately; so today I downloaded what’s on them. Here goes. Some go back a good ways, here’s the last osprey (Pandion haliaetus) I saw this season, in the locust tree outside the shop. Sept 13th.

There’s some dead branches in that tree that hang right outside the shop windows. An excellent perch for bird portraits, when I’m quick enough to react. Here’s a blue jay (Cyanocitta cristata) – to me, an overlooked bird. Common, maybe even a nuisance, but a beautiful bird nonetheless.

the great blue herons (Ardea herodias) stick around all year.

Maureen’s garden is winding down; these are celosia she tells me.

So now the colors are coming from the trees, here’s the sassafrass leaves.

And the light in the shop is changing; I noticed some late afternoon reflected light hitting some chip carving that’s usually buried in the corner. It’s like Stonehenge or something, only gets lit up a couple times a year.

This box finally got done. It’s butternut, with various secondary woods.

It has a sliding lid and the front panel lifts up & out to access a drawer.

I’ve done similar boxes a few times; they’re fun. They’re not based on anything in particular; but inspired by a few boxes I’ve seen here & there. One from Pennsylvania, some from Sweden. I’ve made up some of the construction, not having studied the old ones in any detail. This one’s about 22″ long.

Two carved boxes for sale

A couple of carved boxes available for sale. If you’re interested in one, email me or leave a comment. Peterfollansbee7@gmail.com

(for some reason, when I previewed this post, to enlarge the photos I have to click them twice. It’s worth it.)

I’m making some chairs next; and still have two of those for sale. https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/ladderback-chairs-oak-boxes-for-sale/

CARVED BUTTERNUT BOX – SOLD

The first one is made from butternut (Juglans cinerea) – a relative of walnut. This was a wide board that I cut apart to make quartersawn stock. I chose a strapwork pattern for the front and sides – I wanted to make the most of this fabulous wood for carving. Wooden hinges (the back board and the cleats under the lid are oak), a till inside. Pine bottom as usual.

H: 9 1/2″   W: 24 1/4″ D: 14 1/2″
$1,200 including shipping in US.

———————–

CARVED OAK BOX
white & red oak, white pine bottom.
H: 8 1/2″ W: 23 3/8″  D: 13″
$1,000 includes shipping in US.

This pattern is often found on 17th-century work – a surprising amount of detail in small spaces. (the bottom photo shows the detail well…)
Glued & pegged at the corners, bottom nailed on w handmade nails. Handmade hinges as well. A lidded till inside.

Carving video – upright S-scrolls

I uploaded the next carving video to go along with the drawings. This video builds on the previous one, now the S-scrolls are standing upright rather than running in a row (or rows).

I first saw this as a box front, and have used it that way many times over the years. Here’s one from earlier this year, I think.

It could just as easily be a horizontal panel in frame-and-panel work. Or a wide framing member in the same sort of construction. The example I carved is 6″ high, with a margin of 1/2″ top & bottom.

Here’s the video –

 

And the drawings are available here https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/carving-drawings-17th-century-work-from-devon-england-and-ipswich-massachusetts-set-1/

If you’re just getting to this set of drawings and videos – the previous posts for this batch are

https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2020/09/04/carving-s-scrolls-video/

https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2020/09/01/carving-drawings-for-sale-now/

and – https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2020/09/09/carving-gouges-2/

 

 

It’s not that big a loft…

the loft isn’t all that large; only 12′ x 8′. But I manage to pull a lot of stuff down from there…lately it’s been butternut boards. I have operated essentially as a mono-culture in furniture work, maybe a duo-culture. Oak and pine. Every once in a while something slightly different; usually that means ash.

Years ago, I got a job to make a walnut high chair – customer’s wood. Big mistake. Then I built a chest with walnut I selected. Better. Then quartersawn walnut – now I started to get it. Riven- even better. But it’s still very dark, and for someone who relies on shadows to see what I’m carving, that gets tricky. I finally got the hang of it, but I don’t come across it very much.  I just finished this little walnut box – it was in the loft and just needed some molding here & there. And a cleaning…

I always joke that the best thing walnut does is sell. And I stubbornly keep making things from oak…then I went back into the loft and pulled down some butternut boards. I have often said, but maybe not often enough, I have great friends. In this case, Michael Burrey, https://www.instagram.com/mlbrestorations/?hl=en  who pretty much made me take these butternut boards from him. I might have paid him a pittance for one of them, but I think I got several in a couple of trips there…

Butternut (Juglans cinerea) is related to walnut, softer wood, lighter in color. On the left below is a board that has about 16″ of usable width, by 4′ in length. The narrower one I split apart from a wider board, to yield quartersawn material.

Looking at the end grain – the quartersawn one on top, its annular rings are perpendicular to the board’s face. It has very straight, boring grain. I love it, it’s perfect. The bottom one is the wider stock, flatsawn. You can see the growth rings wiggle this way & that. The fibers in the board’s face have a corresponding waviness to them…

The quartersawn face –

Even though this flatsawn face has some wild grain pattern, it planes easily and cleanly.

I had very limited experience with butternut before – this chip-carved box has butternut sides and ends, but a pine lid & bottom. I keep sharpening stuff in it. This butternut was radially riven – and worked like a dream.

I didn’t push the material too far, just the simplest of chip carving work.

I posted something on Instagram about butternut the other day, and Ouida Vincent reminded me that up in the loft is this not-finished sliding lid box with a drawer. So all the easy parts are done, now just the hard bits. This I made out of boards like the wavy one – I remember some of the carving digging in here & there, tearing things up when I wasn’t careful.

But I jumped ahead and started a new box from the quartersawn agreeable stuff. And I had the best time working this one so far…the detail at the top of the post is the ends of this box…

So, if you run across some butternut, grab it. Amazingly nice wood. Now, back to what I was doing…I’m not going up into the loft til these are done & gone.

The black walnut box is for sale – $800 shipped in US. Size is 11 1/4″ x 15 1/2″ x 4 3/4″ high. white oak back & bottom, blacksmith hinges.

Leftover walnut box

I engage in this ridiculous fantasy that I will get the loft in my shop cleaned up & functional, beyond dis-organized storage. Every so often I get close to halfway there…then all hell breaks loose again. I was up there last week and found this walnut box, filled with odd (mis-matched) coils of hickory bark. I knew right above the box were some walnut boards I brought home from Heather’s one year…and that I had one more pair of hinges. So the time was right to finish off this box that might be 10 years old…

The carving is based on a London-style box fragment I once studied, from the first decade of the 17th century. Otherwise, I made up the whole thing according to some walnut boards I had at the time. Dovetailed corners, the back board is white oak, the bottom white pine. The attached base molding covers the edges of the bottom. No till inside, just a bare-bones box.

H: 6 1/2″ W: 24 1/4″  D: 14 3/4″

I can’t sell a 10-year old box for brand-new prices, so this one’s $650 including shipping in US.

SOLD 

 

I added it to the page with new boxes and ladderback chairs https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/ladderback-chairs-oak-boxes-for-sale/

Leave a comment here, or send an email if you’d like this box of any of the other work for sale…

peterfollansbee7@gmail.com