the cupboard is gone, but it’s still on my mind

Here’s a look at the finished cupboard that took up much of the blog this past year. We had to haul it out of here to get far enough away to photograph it. Then off it went to the client’s home.

PF cupboard, 2021/2022

A detail view – the original has some floral bits in the middle & corners of the door. Done in brass maybe? I doubted they were from the period – so substituted the turned “button” for the middle. Maybe an incised date could have been there, who knows? Some of the related examples are dated. But I didn’t want to carve “2022” – too many curves.

detail of the upper case

A reader sent me a photo he took at the Henry Ford Museum – of a cupboard described as being part of the group I was studying. But it ain’t so – whoever made this one had seen some of the originals – or photos of them. Deep side rails at the top of the lower case, for instance. The overhang there is patterned after one of the cupboards at Winterthur. But the pillars are wrong – too plain. Most of the moldings are wrong – that heavy one around the bottom of the upper drawer section for instance. And the base molding. Drawers are dreadfully plain. Turned pendants under that overhang look like nothing else from this group. The door is framed opposite the way these guys did them. Here the stiles are tenoned into the rails – the 17th century ones the rails tenon into the stiles.

Henry Ford Museum cupboard

There were lots of these cupboards made in the 19th century. Some just “colonial revival” but others made to be passed off as “real” i.e. period pieces. I worked with Bob Trent on an article about both the period ones & the 19th century ones we had studied – published in the Dublin Seminar’s 1998 Rural New England Furniture: People, Place & Production.

Here’s the Winterthur one, with the overhang. Dated 1680. Jennie Alexander used to call this one the “lunar lander.”

Winterthur cupboard

Mine’s got my name stamped in it –


and is pretty well documented. About to be more-so. I’m more than halfway through writing a book about making it, to be published by Lost Art Press of course. But still, some unscrupulous person might misrepresent it a generation or two from now…who knows?

the cupboard & the joined chest videos

Well, the cupboard is apart again.

in pieces

This time for linseed oil over the paint. I’m most of the way through this step, then some final touches here & there. Nothing significant. Then haul it out for photographs. Then haul it back until the customer comes to pick it up. 

a stack of drawers

It’s been an amazing project – the customer couldn’t have been better. I remember our first conversation, he told me 3 things. “The money is fine, I just want it done right, and I want it well-documented.” Four things – “ It doesn’t matter how long it takes.” Imagine that!

the door

Meanwhile, in between painting & oiling, I’ve been working on the video series about making the joined chest based on those from 17th-century Braintree, Massachusetts. I’ve just uploaded the next video, 1 hour 45 minutes on planing the riven green oak. What planes I use, how I orient the boards, a short section about sharpening & cleanup of the tools – even a bit about what happens if you use metal-bodied planes on green oak. 

planing green oak

That also led to a separate 30-minute video about how I cleanup & sharpen the planes – something I’ve almost never talked or written about. There’s nothing I do that’s earth-shattering about sharpening, but you do have to clean these planes after using the green wood, so it seemed like I had to address the subject. 

Here’s a trailer to show you some of what these videos look like. I shoot them myself, with 2 Nikon cameras. I’ve about caught up now with the clips I had before I launched the series, so from here on out the quality should only get better. Should is the key word…. 

Today is Monday March 7, on Wednesday March 9 the price for the series will go up from $85 to $100. The videos by themselves are $15 each. The link is 

You won’t see this view again

This is the last we’ll see this view in this lifetime. It’s the upper case before the top goes on.

upper case sans top

I think of the top as if it’s a giant joined stool seat. Same approach. Plane it, cut it to size, make the molded edge. Then peg it on. I had glued up three quartersawn oak boards a while back and rough-planed them. At this point, the fussy planing happens. Get one side flat enough, then work the thickness.

trimming it to thickness

I make the thumbnail molding with a rabbet plane followed by a smooth plane. Here, a batten works as a fence for the rabbet plane. Depth by eye.

rabbet first

On the cupboard, this is just below eye level, so it all shows. No place to hide.

meet me at the corner

To bore the holes (and to peg it after) I needed a boost. This low bench was perfect, like first-time drivers sitting on a phone book.

just enough room

3/8″ square pegs in round holes. I used 8 altogether, 3 in each end, one in the middle of each long rail.

square peg round hole

(pt 34 Essex County cupboard project 2021/22)

closer still…

a big step closer

First off – if you’ve read this blog for a while, you know this cupboard has consumed my every-waking moment for a while now. But when it’s done (in 3 weeks, I figure) I’ll be back to some usual blog stuff, including the carving videos that accompany the sets of carving drawings. I never finished the 2nd set of videos, there’s panels and strapwork to carve. Maybe more, I’ll have to check. But I haven’t forgotten them. Just shelved them & chairmaking til this behemoth is out of here. Now to the recent progress on the cupboard. It’s been a long time coming to this point. It’s not done, but it’s very close. 

sticking in the feet

There’s been a bunch of small tasks; gluing and pinning the feet in place. I bored a 3/16” hole through the side of the stile to just catch the foot’s tenon then drove in a wooden pin. Not on the original, but it costs nothing. Belt & suspenders. 

nailing drawer bottoms in

Some drawer bottoms. These are on-going as the oak panels dry. V-shaped tongue & groove. Nailed to the drawer sides, back and in a rabbet in the front. 

not mine

Initials. The original cupboards are often initialed and/or dated. This one just has initials. Practiced first, I don’t often carve letters. One more turning fits between the C and the I. Its paint is drying now. 

thinner button shapes

I re-did a bunch of the turned applied buttons. I found a better way to turn them and got the shape closer to what it should be. Also painted & drying. These all go on the upper case, 6 on the panels and a dozen on the upper stiles (replacing those on the upper stiles’ front faces right now.)

maple pillar

Then the pillars. Turning and installing those upper case pillars was a rare nerve-wracking bit of woodworking. I don’t usually shy away from the “next step” – in any project as you near completion, you have more to lose. These pillars are such a prominent part of the cupboard – they’re up front & up top. You can hide mistakes here & there in such a busy piece – but you can’t hide one here. 

at some point you just go ahead & bore it

I went through a bunch of rigamarole to locate the holes in the lower case’s top for the pillars’ bottom tenons. And double & triple checked it. And thought about what I would have to do if I bored it in the wrong place. (Tear off that top, rip off the offending board. Plane & joint a new one, glue it on. Plane the whole thing. Molding on the front edge. Paint it. Pin it back in place.) I felt very wimpy being so timid, but got the holes right where they need to be. The tenons are 3/4” and the holes are 13/16” – no need to make that a tight fit. Gravity keeps them in place. 

turning tenons

I rough-turned that maple pillar last March! It was the only one I got from a horrible maple log. So I turned it, went searching for more. Took months and finally settled on some cherry for the others. Turned the others in November & December. For this upper case, I roughed out three. One died on the vine – had a blown-out chunk from riving and checked badly. So these two had to make it. Yesterday I did the finish turning, very light cuts with freshly sharpened tools. And determined the final, actual shoulder-to-shoulder length from a test-fit. 

time to paint some more

Got ‘em as close to perfect as my shop produces. “I’m so happy” to quote Jögge Sundqvist. 

(pt 33 Essex County cupboard project 2021/22)

closer every day

lower case

Well, let’s see. Need to wedge the drawer pulls. One turning to go on the bottom drawer & 2 initials flanking it. Some touch-up color here & there, then oil it. Most recent additions were the feet and the base molding.

JA’s miter box

When I got this miter box from Jennie Alexander I tried to sell it. I’m so glad it didn’t work. It’s heavy & bulky and I rarely use it. But when I do, I’m glad I have it. That’s the front piece of molding for the base. I was kicking myself for not making an extra full-length piece. I kept thinking “if I cut this too short, I have to rive a new piece. plane it, dry it, cut the molding, then paint 2 coats of black on it.” I cut it the right length. Whew.

nailing it on

It’s glued & nailed. I don’t know why I glued it too – just been gluing so many things on I guess. Some of the original cupboards from this shop never had a base molding. They look better with it. Right now the feet are just fitted in, it was late in the day & the shop was getting cool, so I didn’t want to glue them until the next time the stove’s running. Another session I shifted to the upper case. I turned new versions of the pilasters that flank the door. The first set would have worked, but they were a bit heavier than these. I’m glad I re-did them. A lot of work, but worth it.

front pilasters

Then the small turned “drops” – these are also glued & “sprigged” on. I used 7/8″ cut nails instead of handmade iron sprigs. I even snipped them shorter. They just prick into the panel. There are 1″ round button shapes coming to go under these 3 spindles.

adding turned decoration

Today I was sorting oak panels for the drawer bottoms. When I made the drawers I just put some of the bottoms in place, mostly to keep the drawers square. So now begins the task of filling them in. I need about 150″ of width. 2 drawers at 39″ wide, 2 at 36″. The panels vary from about 7″ wide to just over 10″. Many taper in their width. so it’s a bit of a puzzle. They finish about 3/8″-7/16″ thick. First thing tomorrow is plane sharpening.

sorting drawer bottom stock

(here’s more detail on the drawer bottoms – in that post I made the same comment about the miter box!)

(pt 32 Essex County cupboard project 2021/22)

Door, cornice, soffit

pin in bottom of door stile

I spent a few days working at my desk recently & in doing so re-read some notes from 20-22 years ago about the Essex County cupboards. Turns out the door hinges more easily than I had planned. So today I got a few bits done. Above is the pin in the bottom of the door. The hole it fits is 3/8″. I tilt the door up and that pin falls into the hole in the bottom rail.

tilting the door in place

The hole in the top rail is bored all the way through – so the top pin simply pokes through from above into the matching hole in the top end of the door stile. Simple.


The way I had done it before the top pin entered the rail from below. The bottom pin fit all the way up in the door & then dropped down when the door was in place. To get it out, you had to tip the whole thing upside down. This cupboard will be beastly heavy. Now you just reach in above the front top rail & lift the pin up. Door pops out.

So then I could install the cornice. I’ve test-fitted it before, so I knew it worked. Just a matter of pinning the joints.

pinning the cornice

And then the soffit. The more I work on this thing, the heavier it gets.

Never to be seen again, once the top goes on

I forgot to shoot it standing up, but here it is from below; the soffit colored to match the rest of the oak.

(pt 31 Essex County cupboard project 2021/22)

panel decoration

the map is not the territory

Today was a long day doing one thing – gluing stuff onto the cupboard. Last week sometime I turned the blanks for the arches. I fumbled around a bit but got some I liked after some practice.

turning the arches

I turned them from thicker stock than the finished arches, but that was to fit the mandrel I was using. Afterwards I cut them into quarters and dressed them to 3/8″ thick.

various stages of the arches

Also last week I mocked-up a frame that is the same size as the panel opening. That way I could do all the scribing and fitting of the arches on the bench where it’s easier to look directly over the work.

scribing the arches to fit the keystones

Today it was time to glue one set of these and the supporting moldings on one panel. Below is why I waited to attach the cornice and install the soffit (They’re all cut & ready to go). I’m using hide glue so don’t really need to clamp this stuff – I can hold it in place long enough for it to grab, but it doesn’t hurt to use the clamps when they can reach.

arches attached

So the next thing is to just cut and fit all the moldings and junk that goes under those arches. There’s two triangular blocks of maple that fit down along the bottom rail. Their points aim at the space between the arches. So to line them up I used a square – my try square was too short. This one from Chris Schwarz was too long – so I boosted it up with a scrap piece sitting on the top rail. In the end, I never measured that spacing to see how even it is. It’s more important to me for them to line up above and below than to be even left to right.

lining up the bottom triangles

Then a couple of easy pieces before the fun begins. These two moldings are scribed to meet that horizontal piece under the arch. Technically I guess it’s an impost – but for some stupid reason it tapers the same way as the keystones. Which means the bottom of the arch and the top of this molding are both angled. The bottom of these moldings is plain ol’ 45 degrees.

starting to look like something

I keep thinking “I’m a carver, not a ______” (whatever the joiner who cuts all this molding is…) I don’t do this enough to be fast at it, I’m barely good at it. Here’s how I find that angle between the two pieces that run along this bottom edge. Connect those dots, cut that out with a knife, then set an adjustable bevel to that angle. Probably a lot of ways to do this, but this one got me there.

making a template of the angles

Jumping ahead. It’s pretty redundant work – scribe the angle, cut it, check it – make any adjustments, then glue it on – after getting the bottom rail done there’s two more maple bits glued on under the junction between the arches. Then 3 moldings around each of these. Then two applied turnings – one oval, one sort of squashed oval.

That’s when I knew I’d get there

I felt like I was done – I certainly wasn’t going any further today (it was getting dark). But there’s nine more pieces to go on this panel. Those small spaces above the arches get filled, then three long turned drops under each arch. And below them three round applied bits. The bare strips on the left & right get painted black. So those disappear.

not really done

Next time I start in on the other panel. At least now I know the steps…

(pt 29 Essex County cupboard project 2021/22)

Soffit begun

Trent;’s Pilgrim Century Furniture

I picked away at the upper case’s soffit a little today. It’s a hard thing to photograph on the existing cupboard without laying them on their backs. The cover of Bob Trent’s 1976 Pilgrim Century Furniture shows this cupboard. The book title runs across the cornice’s front rail. That little resulting triangular area just under that is the soffit. In effect, much of the cornice is a sort of hollow space about 4″ deep.

When dealing with these terms, I always think back to Jennie Alexander’s fascination with Cyril Harris’ Illustrated Dictionary of Historic Architecture. I’m sure my copy came from JA, who told me to keep it in the bathroom. I used to…

If you don’t have a copy, or there’s someone in the bathroom, here’s the page for “cornice”:

cornice from Harris

And an entry for soffit:


I started by drawboring the cornice joinery and temporarily pinning them with removable drawbore pins. And then making a template from matboard to notch around the pointed rear stile and a corner notch at the front stile. And it fits into grooves in the front & side rail.


I made the template in two parts, and marked where they overlapped. Then transferred that to a 3/8″ thick oak panel. Beveled on the side and front – but you have to keep track of what’s the top & bottom of that panel. The good side goes down, the beveled side is up in the cornice.

first soffit board

To get it in place, I had to knock the front section off the side rails’ tenons – then insert the soffit board and put the front rail & stiles back on.

fitting the soffit board

These boards get the same V-shaped tongue & groove that the floor boards and drawer bottoms get. I got the first 3 boards set, then ran out of light.

filling in

I probably won’t do the final installation until after the side panels’ decorations are attached. It’ll be easier to get at that stuff without the cornice in the way. This is what that looks like:

side panels upper case

I’ve been testing the arches lately. More of that to come.

(pt 27 Essex County cupboard project 2021/22)

applied turnings continued

egg-shaped, ovals & rounds

It’s been almost 12 years since I’ve written about making the applied turnings that we sometimes erroneously call “bosses.” So here goes – this cupboard I’m building has just under 50 applied turnings that are either ovals, egg-shaped, round or somewhere in between. Here’s a couple of the larger ones, on the lower case’s side panels – this is the 1680s original cupboard not my repro.

applied turnings inside the rectangular panels

There’s some funny, squat-shaped ones on the upper case’s side panels, as well as some round ones. (The round ones get their own discussion later.)

squat turnings sitting on top of the pointed moldings

I start with some geometry to figure out what thickness stock I need – these turnings are chunkier than some period examples so I’m using maple blanks 5/8″ – 7/8″ thick. They get glued to a middle strip so they don’t blow up in the pole lathe’s pointed centers. Once the blank is glued up and hide glue has dried, I plane the corners off at the bench. One end is sitting in a cradle (a “joiner’s saddle” in 17th century phrasing).

planing a rough octagon shape

Then mark the center to mount it on the lathe.

1/2″ strips w a 1/2″ spacer

I round the blank with a large gouge, then from that point on, it’s skew-work.

roughing out the shapes

At first it seems daunting because of the quantity – I think I counted 25 ovals/eggs – but they go very quickly. The largest ones are only 2 3/4″ long so you can get a good number of them on a stick.

The part I don’t understand is why there are so many different shapes – some 1″ wide by 1 1/4″ long and others 7/8″ x 1 3/8″. And on & on. I’m just going to turn a whole lot of them and toss the ugly ones. I’m making them in between turning the upper case’s pilasters.

ready ti be separated

Then comes the round ones and the “drumstick” shapes – Oh, and the arches…this batch might be turned rather than scraped. We’ll see.

upper case side panels

Here’s the earlier post about applied turnings – I thought it was last week – it was almost a month ago!

And one from 2010 –

(pt 26 Essex County cupboard project 2021)

cupboard project: upper case floor

floor to upper case

This afternoon I fit the floor boards into the upper case of the cupboard. They’re 3/8″ thick red oak boards I rived and planed a long time ago. Random widths, often tapered in width. They sit on rabbets in the front and side rails and on top of the lower rear rail. I started at each end and then filled in the middle. I have no idea how 17th century joiners went about fitting this sort of work. And I don’t bother speculating. I use matboard scraps from a picture-framing shop to make templates. Stiff enough to sit flat and thin enough to cut easily.

first template

After I got that first template fitting the way I liked it, I made the first oak board to do the same. Then cannibalized the template for the next piece, the one that fits around the front stile. I can’t remember how the boards in the original cupboard fit around the stiles. This notching was not too difficult, but maybe harder than it needs to be. (on the other stile, I split the board so the notch is on two adjacent boards – easier.) Because the rear panel is already in place, there’s no forgiveness in the length of these boards. They have to be right in their angles and their size.

template # 2

And this one was not –

a gap around the stile

That gap isn’t the worst thing – but I decided to re-do it. Because I knew I could do better, it was worth the extra piece of wood and the time. Rejecting that board left me with an odd-shaped leftover, but the upper case’s soffit has some funny shapes, so I’ll probably be able to use it there. Below is the replacement.

that’s better

Then it’s just more of the same. These boards have a V-shaped tongue and groove connecting their edges. This shows up in the drawer bottoms (and eventually that soffit I just mentioned) too.

V-shaped tongue & groove

Because the boards are varied and uneven widths, the angle between the ends and the edges is not necessarily 90 degrees. So out comes the adjustable bevel (I just got a new one from Blue Spruce a month before Lost Art Press/Crucible Tools started selling them, sorry Chris.) The opening between these two boards is wider at the back than at the front. In this case it doesn’t matter – the rear panel is already in place. Often you knock the tapered-width board in from behind and it forces things side-to-side.

getting the angle

Eventually it’s time to force the boards in place. Here I have one butted up to the other front stile. Because of the tongue & groove, you have to tip them in and press down in the middle of these two to get them in place.

filling in the spaces

I got them all in and then ran out of light. Next they get pilot holes and nailed down into the rails. Then I’ll be able to tip it over and show you underneath. Another time…

ran out of light

(pt 25 Essex County cupboard project 2021)