England 2015

england 1

I’m back from teaching two classes with the New English Workshop. It was my first trip to England to do woodworking, my previous visits had been for furniture study. It’s an amazing place, a rural little island filled with hobbits and badgers and twitchers and train spotters.

The classes were held at two colleges, my first at Warwick College in Royal Leamington Spa, Warwickshire. Jamie Ward of the College was very helpful and the students there were quite flexible as we worked out the kinks. The first of which was some oak logs that looked like bad firewood. Poor Paul Mayon – he picked me up the first morning, brought me to the school, and we’d known each other for all of 20 minutes when I was telling him that the oak bolts they had were next to useless. Undaunted, Paul trucked off in his typically British tiny car and bought a new section of giant oak (2 really, the 2nd arrived the next day.) installed into Paul’s car with a forklift, I wasn’t sure it would ever come out. Paul’s car was riding low, for a 2-plus hour drive. Meanwhile the students dove in & split what we had so we could get started at least. They were great.

hewing week 1

Our class was at one end of the room, while Tom Fidgen’s was at the other end. It was diffuse porous vs ring porous (cherry v oak) all week. You could hear our shavings hit the floor, while theirs floated down to the bottom.

caught among the ring porous
Tom Fidgen scurrying back to diffuse porous land

Lots of camaraderie in the evenings, we even had a token American who had been traded to the RAF…

Boxes got made, carving patterns all over the place. Tricia was adamant that she would finish her box, I think her first woodworking project.

Tricia got a photo, so that means it must have happened

The English oak,which by habit I kept calling white oak, was different than our white oak. I know it’s sacrilege to say it, but it felt lighter weight, a bit softer, and certainly easier to split. Even the better logs had knots in them and we were able to split right through them like I never can in American white oak (Quercia alba)

On the weekend, I met up w Mr & Mrs Underhill of Graham, NC, who were there for Roy to teach week 2 in Leamington. We had dinner one night, then the old switcheroo was scheduled for that Saturday – Paul was bringing Chris Schwarz who had been teaching down in Somerset up to Leamington, then turning around to take me down to Zummerzet so I could do week 2 there at Bridgwater College. A too-short round-table lunch was had by all before we headed south…the only other times Roy, Chris & I had all been together had been WIA events, in which case we never saw each other. Hand tool freaks unite!


Bridgwater also boasted a great & helpful staff…and a group of students who were serious about carved oak. Ringers Jon Bayes http://www.riversjoinery.co.uk/ and Richard Francis http://www.flyingshavings.co.uk/ represented England well… I barely had to teach this crew any English terms at all. Like rabbet/”re-bate” or clamp/cramp. The first group insisted that some are clamps, and I insisted that you’re British dammit, call it a cramp.

One thing I was missing was old oak carvings, and the students took care of that. Joel, hewer extroidinaire, scouted out several churches and even arranged for us to get in them after 5 pm…130-odd steps up a circular staircase afforded us a heck of a view of somerset. One pulpit wasn’t oak, I said I wanted my money back. we saw three churches, carved pulpits, bench ends, a chest, and who knows what else. This pulpit is oak:

pulpit 1

Tim came down from County Durham, and lent me binocs and a good bird book…I had a simple little bird guide book with me…I saw some nice birds, some well, some fleeting. This’ll be the only time you’ll hear the word tit on this blog. As in blue tit, long tailed tit, willow tit, etc. I didn’t see a great tit. Then of course the day we drove over/down to Heathrow we saw several kites, much larger than I thought…musta seen 6 of them. No pictures, highway driving…

blue tit 2
juvy blue tit
blue tit
even better, juvy blue tit in oak

I was invited by Robin Wood to be part of Spoonfest, but that would have meant another week & 1/2 away from home. So, another time. Thanks to all who made my trip a success, especially the ones who waited at home. Why did it take me so long to get hip to Skype?

here’s what it looked like each night

More photos here:


Another board chest with drawer(s)

To pick up where I left off the other night, https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2012/11/11/a-couple-of-new-england-17th-century-board-chests/

Here’s one more board chest, made in Plymouth Colony…late 17th century. Hard to pin a date on such a thing.

board chest w drawers

Lots of added junk inside to house the drawers. Runners nailed to the inside for the drawers to ride on, (pictured) and a divider between the two narrow, side-by-side drawers.

drawer runner

Very simple cut-out to form the “feet” of this chest. Note the decorative end of the lid’s cleat. I like this sort of treatment and use it way more than I see it on old chests and boxes. It’s hard to resist.



side view

Simple rabbeted nailed drawer. Note the sawmill’s tally mark scribed on this drawer side. The board’s been planed, but not deeply enough to get all the way past the race knife marks. Is it the number of board feet in each board? I don’t know for sure how it’s employed.

drawer and sawmill tally mark

Here’s the juncture of the moldings outlining the  “frames” on the chest front.

applied moldings, with saw-tooth decoration

Another view of one of the drawers. Nailed-on bottom board. Running side-to-side.

another view of a drawer

All in all, a great chest, but pretty simple. All white pine, maybe the moldings are Atlantic white cedar, I’m not sure. There’s a till on the inside; the chest lid’s been repaired with a new strip at the back edge where the hinges busted out.

a couple of New England 17th-century board chests

I have been reading about Chris Schwarz’ take on what he’s calling “Furniture of Necessity”, I’m interested particularly in the board chests. Here’s Chris’ post: http://blog.lostartpress.com/2012/11/04/help-build-the-furniture-of-necessity/#jp-carousel-5279

Chris & I corresponded a bit about these things, but I was no help really. I haven’t studied them much. I made a few for PBS’ show Colonial House many years ago, and a few others besides. Here’s one of my Colonial House chests, I have another here at the house, filled with kid’s junk. The color in this photo is off- I did paint is w iron oxide mixed in linseed oil, but it doesn’t really look like this.

PF board chest

So I have been digging through some old photos in my files. Here’s a couple of board chests, made in New England in the late 17th century. This first one might even be in Chris’ slide show he copped from auction houses. I had it here to make replacement brackets under the front board. (I see it was pre-kids, there’s no plastic toys in the photos, but was shot at the house.)

board chest, pine

One nit to pick is to say that these are un-decorated. This chest is covered with “crease” moldings run along all the front and end boards. I often see pine paneling in early New England houses decorated the same way.

board chest, foot cutout

If you want to cut out the feet in some simple scheme, here it is. No turning saw, bowsaw – just a handsaw.

closer shot of foot cutout

Most often in the New England examples I know best, there is a drawer or drawers under the chest carcass. Makes it more useful, but some fussing around to fit drawers in it. This one is part of a huge group of joined and boarded furniture attributed to Plymouth Colony. See Robert St. George’s book The Wrought Covenant for details about the whole show – but here it’s a pine chest w drawer. Dated on the till lid 1689. Drawer front carved. Applied moldings above and below the drawer. Punched & scribed decoration on the chest front. Replaced hinges. It’ s pretty big – H: 32″ W: 48″   D:  20″

board chest, Plymouth area, 1689
side view

One great thing about his chest is the surviving stick that locks the drawer from within the chest. (This batch was scanned from photos I shot 18 yrs ago, these are the best I have of this chest) – the sleeve is nailed to the inside face of the front board. There’s a mortise chopped through the chest bottom = and the oak stick slides down into a corresponding sleeve in the drawer.


sleeve & stick to lock drawer
inside the drawer

Notice that here, the joiner used front-to-back boards for the chest bottom and drawer bottom. Looks like the drawer had a divider in it once also. Here’s the drawer front, and the applied moldings.

carving detail

Here is the till. It’s a bit of a mess. Maybe always was. Horrible carving, but gives us the date just the same. Other Plymouth Colony chests have similarly awful carved dates.

the till

I have another, but am out of time. So more later.