Last year I made this carved & painted drawer front the other way ’round. Carved first, painted after. I tried the reverse this time.
Most 17th-century carvings I’m familiar with that include paint have it as the background. So it’s like a 3-D coloring book. Carve out the recesses, then paint them. Like this English box:
But the cupboard I’m making has only one carving on it and its foreground is painted black. Here’s a detail from the original.
Prepped the oak board a few months ago. Trimmed it to size, then painted it black with dry pigment mixed in linseed oil/thinner/fast-drying medium. Then laid out the pattern with a compass, marking gauge, awl & square.
When that step was just a concept, I was concerned that the layout would be difficult to see. But the tools scratched right through the paint so the lines were bright. BUT – if you do this, make sure you have worked out the geometry first. I made a layout error and had to re-paint and wait til the new coat of paint dried. Just a day or two with that drier added, but a stupid mistake that could have been easily avoided.
This carving uses no V-tool for the outlines. I struck the shapes with a few different gouges and chisels.
Then using a very shallow, narrow gouge, began removing the background. This particular carving is pretty shallow.
Here’s a detail showing that background. Eventually it will get a coat of linseed oil so the oak behind will not be so stark. That’s much later though.
Whether you carve first or paint first, you must be careful at various points. There’s touch-up regardless of the method. This approach certainly makes the painting easier – and the carving is not any more difficult. So maybe it’s the way to go…
I’ve been working on the joinery for this cupboard I’m making. Having just done one of these last year makes this one a snap. But I couldn’t find the notched blocks I made last year to hold the stiles for mortising. They must have ended up in the stove. So I made new ones.
But that got me to thinking about the surviving cupboards from this group. I think there’s 11 or 12 of them. I have measurements from several when I studied them with Bob Trent and Alan Miller for our 2001 article. I wondered if they used the same angles every time – I remembered that the components’ dimensions varied a little. So I drew some scaled half-plans of the upper cases.
Here’s the one I’m making, same as last year. The angle between the back edge and the side is 50 degrees. Makes a roomy cupboard inside.
I don’t have measurements for all of them, but checked the ones I do. Three of them came out at 45 degrees, like this one.
On those three, the shoulder-to-shoulder dimensions of the side rails are 14″, 14 1/4″ and 15 3/8″. Front shoulder-to-shoulders vary as well, 15″, 15 1/4 and 13 5/8″. Stiles vary only slightly – 2 3/8″ or 2 1/4″.
This cupboard is the shallowest of the ones I measured. Forget the glass door and some other oddities, those happened later. But they didn’t change the format of the piece.
Its upper case is pretty shallow. Angle comes out to 35 degrees.
It doesn’t mean much – especially because I didn’t get those dimensions from the whole group. For comparison, I checked the side framing of the lower cases – to see how much variation there is. First of all, here’s the format I’m looking at:
But it might be hard to visualize with all that junk applied to it. Here it is before assembly, before the pillars and applied decoration.
The dimensions of the one I’m making are this:
I have measurements for four of these. They vary here and there – the shoulder-to-shoulder of those deep rails run from 14 3/4″ to 16 3-8″. These panels are 5 1/8″ wide, the others are 4 1/8″, 4 1/4″ and 4 7/8″. The part that’s interesting to me is the space between the recessed stile and the blocks/stiles that frame the top & bottom drawers. Here it is slight – 1 1/8″. One has a 2″ space there, one at 1 7/8″ and 1 3/8″. But the final overhang, from the recessed drawer/face to the top & bottom drawer faces is quite consistent – 4 3/8″, 4 3/8″, 4 5/8″ and one at 5 1/4″.
The one with the greater overhang is the one at the Metropolitan Museum of Art –
There’s no conclusion to all this looking at these measurements. Other than they didn’t have a standard size/angle to work with or from. And I can’t imagine I’ll be making a third one of these – but I’ll hang on to those blocks just in case.
I started cutting joinery for the next version of the Essex County cupboard.
I hate to use the word “unique” when describing particular antique furniture. But these northern Essex County cupboards from the 1680s or so have some features that we don’t see elsewhere in New England furniture of that period. The framing I cut in the past day or two (part of the end framing of the lower case) illustrates some of that distinction. Two very deep (or tall) end rails are the first feature that stands out – these appear in the cupboards and also in some of the joined chests from this unidentified shop. These two are each 7 1/2″ high. Below is the original cupboard now at the Massachusetts Historical Society
Those double tenons on the rails join a “normal” stile at the rear, but at the front they join separate square blocks that are connected by the large turned pillar. Behind that pillar is a recessed stile that frames the middle two drawers. This recessed section, or the overhang above and below it, is part of this shop’s signature approach to making large cupboards.
So what’s “normal” look like? Here’s another shop from Essex County, another elaborate cupboard (at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem). But look at the lower case, essentially a chest-of-drawers. All the drawer fronts are in the same plane – none of that overhanging “jetty” like the northern Essex County stuff. This is what most New England court/press/wainscot cupboards present for their lower case, whether it’s drawers or doors down there.
Some of the overhangs are significant, some very slight. Here’s the one at Winterthur that Jennie Alexander used to call the “lunar lander.” Here the overhang is to the sides, not the front.
And the most extreme example, even with its later additions/changes – the Currier Gallery of Art cupboard. It has double-jetties both to the sides and the front in the lower case. Framing that takes some head-scratching.
The deep rails appear on the joined chests-with-drawers, usually as the bottom rail on the ends. Here’s just one example.
It’s fun to be back at this sort of work. Time for a new log so I can keep going.
Many irons in the fire. Between brettstuhls and other things, we spit out the next video for the cupboard project. This one’s about the short, wide recessed front stiles in the lower case. This photo below shows a partially-assembled end section to the lower case. On the bench is the rear stile, the two wide/tall rails we’ve seen before. Between them is the muntin in the middle, and near the top of the photo the piece I’m calling the “recessed front stile” (for lack of a better term, and that’s what it is.)
These stiles are, in New England furniture, unique to this shop’s production as far as I can remember. I started them by laying out and chopping the mortises for the drawer rails. These stiles frame a section that houses two drawers – the lower one about 7″ deep, the upper one about 4″. Between and above & below the drawers are narrow/short rails – 1 1/4″-1 1/2″. Once the mortises were cut, I laid out and cut the tenons that fit this stile between the rails.
The photo below is a bit dark, but you can see perhaps the layout of the near tenon. The odd thing about it to me is that it’s in the tangential plane. Most tenons are in the radial plane in stock like this – so I drew all over it with pencil. Didn’t want any more mishaps. You can see the pin holes bored in the stile’s face where I have the mortises chopped.
Now for the rear shoulder. Switched to a bigger saw and cut those shoulders down to the line. This opens up the top bottom mortises, turning them into what I think of as bridle joints. But these will never show regardless.
Then it’s just a matter of splitting off the waste & paring it, like I do for most of my tenons.
These stiles are chunky, 1 7/8″ x 4 7/8″ – so inside there’s still some moisture. I got some resulting checks on the newly-exposed end grain once I formed the tenons of the first one. (I cut one for still photos, one for videos and there might have been a day in between). Nothing fatal, but on the 2nd one I glued those ends after cutting it. Just to reduce the chance of a split carrying into the edge of the stile.
Below is the whole thing in a short 11-minute video. A new record for me, usually I go on & on. It shows how they all fit together, so might help make sense of this slightly-weird construction. I hope by the end of the month to be able to test-fit the bulk of the framing, both upper & lower cases.
The back of the cupboard’s upper case has an interesting detail in its construction. The frame consists of the two upright stiles, two long horizontal rails and one horizontal panel. Simple. Except for the details of the layout. The bottom rail is set in front of the panel (and ultimately under the floor of this section.) This requires some extra thought when laying out the mortises. It begins by laying out & cutting the mortise for the upper rear rail.
Then I lightly strike the beginnings of the panel groove. This is to give me the layout for the bottom mortise – it’s set inside this groove.
This next photo is a bit confusing, for good reason. The stile on our left is a total disaster. I chopped mortises in the wrong face of one of the rear stiles, a fatal error – I had to rive out & plane a replacement. These things happen, my mind was on the next step, not on the very basic step of layout & mortising. So to concentrate on the correct stile, on our right below. The bottom mortise is closest to the camera – follow the panel groove and see that it’s in front of this bottom mortise and falls in the middle/toward the front of the upper mortise.
This construction allows the rear panel to be inserted after this frame is assembled. You slide it up from below, in front of the bottom rail, and tuck it up into the groove in the top rail. Then it’s nailed to the bottom rail from the back/outside. This small B&W photo is a related cupboard that uses this construction but with several vertical boards rather than one horizontal board.
The bottom rail uses a “barefaced” tenon, a tenon with only one shoulder, in this case the rear shoulder. Here’s the layout – penciled in after my great mishap. I was then taking no chances.
And test-fitted in place.
Here’s one more view
I first saw this method in a group of chests I studied from Braintree, Massachusetts – here’s one on its back, showing the bottom rear rail – under the floor and with the panel outside it.
A detail of the same chest –
Trent showed me the same sort of construction on American kasten – the Dutch-style cupboards made in New York and New Jersey. There clapboards are often substituted for the back panel.
My pride is just about recovered from my blunder and when the replacement stile is ready, I’ll finish framing this rear section. Meanwhile, I moved onto the sides of the upper case, but that’s another post.
For any new readers, or to re-cap for anyone – the major work I have underway for this year is a copy of a large 1680s press cupboard made in Essex County Massachusetts. The original is now at the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston. https://www.masshist.org/highlights/index.php#id=3231
My notes in the blog show that I first posted about the cupboard project in mid-February. At that point, I planed what oak I had on hand, which wasn’t much. Then in early March got a short log and began planing stock. And kept on, in between other projects. Now much of that planed stock has reached the point where I can take the next steps. So now it will begin to look like something. If you want to see what’s come before, I went back to the blog posts about it and added the line “Essex County cupboard project 2021” so a search on the blog for that phrase will get all the posts (except this one, because I’m still writing it) – https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/?s=Essex+County+cupboard+project+2021
I’m a little out of sequence between what’s happening in the shop and here on the blog. That’s due to a couple things; there’s more work in editing & sorting video than posting photos on the blog – and spring migration got me out birding a lot this month. But stuff is trickling out, and I cut a bunch of joinery on it yesterday. More coming today.
Some questions I’ve got about the project. It’s for a private client, who will remain private. That’s all we need to say about that. As far as plans/drawings, specs – I can’t really publish those for a couple of reasons. First, the object I’m copying is in a museum collection here in Massachusetts. I got permission from that institution to make this repro. But I didn’t ask for, and won’t ask for, permission to publish all the specifics like a measured set of drawings. Regardless of how I see the “who owns these things” debate, I try to not run afoul of the museums & collections I study – I like to be invited back. So I try to play by their rules. Some institutions don’t like you copying their stuff. No sense arguing with them.
The other angle I came at these cupboards is through my friends Rob Tarule and Ted Curtin. In 1999 they were making a copy of a related one for the Saugus Iron Works, and included me in the project. I don’t have a photo of that cupboard, but it used to be on view there, and if I remember right, there was a film about us making it. Ahh, found a corner of it on their website https://www.nps.gov/sair/index.htm
So where’d I get yesterday? Started the joinery for the lower case. Framed the back (photo at the top of the post), which is very straight forward – two upright stiles, two horizontal rails and a vertical muntin. This frame has chamfers and bevels on its outer face (the muntin needs molded edges still) – but the corresponding upper case frame is not decorated. Everyone who knows why is dead.
Then I got to start in on the side framing, which is where the fun begins. Lots of little joinery – four 2” long mortises.
Double tenons on the wide rails.
I got one set done, tested the framing and quit for the day. The next set will take a bit more time because I’ll shoot video of it. So extra fumbling around. But it’s fun.
In between all the birding and some odds & ends around here, I did some work on the cupboard and Daniel & I finished the next video this afternoon. It’s about creating the integral moldings on the deep/tall side rails to the lower case.
I do this work in two parts – first a plow plane to create the channel, then a scraper/scratch stock to finish the molded shape. Finally, a video that’s shorter than Ben Hur –
And an ovenbird from two mornings ago, with nesting material
Just a video post today, about planing the odd-shaped five-sided rear stiles to the upper case. Here’s a sketch of the plan of the upper case – and in it you can see the cross-section of those stiles, both front & rear. All the rails have 90-degree shoulders, so the stiles are shaped to create the three-sided overall format.
Here’s both the front & rear stiles, next step for these will be mortising.
I spent some time the other day scratching my head as I was ready to begin cutting joints for the cupboard project. Up first are the 4 deep (or tall, depending on how you look at it) side rails in the lower case. These rails are a distinctive feature of this cupboard and several of the related ones. Here, they are 7 1/2″ high – with integral moldings run on their faces and applied moldings too. But first, the mortises.
I started with a basic question – how best to hold the rails for chopping the mortises. You can see that it’s thinner on one edge than the other. Naturally, I want the mortises in the thicker (1 1/4″) edge. So it needs to sit up on its thin edge, which might be closer to 7/8″ – 1″.
Often when mortising I grab the stock in the double-bench-screw (aka Moxon vise these days) and use a holdfast to secure it against the planing stop/bench hook. (the photo below is a mock-up, I didn’t shove it against the bench hook…but it gives you the sense of the setup.)
My holdfasts aren’t long enough to reach up & grab the rail itself, so I wasn’t entirely sold on this idea. Another disadvantage is the height of that rail means I’m mortising into something that’s about 40″ high. A bit uncomfortable for little ol’ me. Then I remembered a photo of our friend Rob Tarule pictured in Scott Landis’ The Workbench Book. Rob had a bearing strip or ledger fastened to the front legs of his Roubo bench and sat his workpiece on that. So I clipped that idea.
I didn’t have any hardwood over 6′ long, so just used a crappy piece of framing lumber. It sits on the holdfast on our left, is pinched by the one on the far right. The middle & left holdfasts are fixing the rail against the bench’s edge. Now the mortising happens just higher than the bench. The wooden fixture with the screw (the bench screw) just stops any forward movement. Much better. Below is a detail. This was the tail end of yesterday, and I didn’t work in the shop today. So tomorrow I’ll get the other three to this point, then it’s on to cutting double tenons on each end.
Scott Landis’ book was just republished by (who else?) Lost Art Press https://lostartpress.com/collections/all-books/products/the-workbench-book – if you’re not familiar with it, you might like it. Benches of all sorts, historical and otherwise. Rob Tarule made a Roubo bench long before we knew who Chris Schwarz was…there’s also a chapter on green woodworking fixtures too, featuring Jennie Alexander, Drew Langsner & Daniel O’Hagan – three people who had a huge impact on me. As did Tarule, but that was later. And I’ve known Scott since he & I (& Alexander) were in Curtis Buchanan’s first windsor chair class in 1987. Oh no, I sound like I’m on the porch of the old folks’ home – I’ll stop now.
For a couple of weeks or more I’ve been splitting, hewing & planing oak for this cupboard I have to build. In the blog here and in videos I mention various parts of the cupboard by name (the stiles, the cornice rails, inner stiles, etc) – all without having introduced the various parts to the audience. I have the cupboard frame in my head but realize that few here do. So here I’ll try to identify the bits – which for right now are just a growing pile of boards in the shop.
One way to see this frame more easily is to strip off all that applied decoration. I took a photo of one of the related cupboards and traced its framing as best I could. It’s built in two cases; lower & upper. The lower case contains 4 drawers. The distinctive feature of the lower cases in this group is the overhang at the front that is created in the side framing. That leaves room for the lower pillars you see here. The two middle drawers are tucked behind these pillars. Those drawers are narrower than the top & bottom drawers by about 3″-4″.
This sketch shows the basics of that side framing in the lower case. It’s clearly not to any scale, it’s just a sketch. The inner stile marked on both of these drawings is about 1 7/8″ thick x 4+” wide.
It might make sense in the photo below showing the four drawers open. That’s the edge of the inner stile beside the pillar.
The upper case’s format is pretty standard, but its embellishments are top-of-the-line. Its overall shape is sort of an interrupted octagon. At the front is a central door, loaded up with applied moldings that create a great sense of depth. Then the angled sides of the cupboard reach back to the rear stiles. Next, the top over the cupboard is back to rectangular, a 3-sided cornice creating another overhang. Those corner blocks that I refer to as “cornice stiles” are supported by the pillars. The pillars have tenons at both ends and are loose-fitted into the top of the lower case and the underside of those cornice stiles.
I think I’ve said before, but here goes again. More than 20 years ago, Bob Trent, Alan Miller & I studied about 12-13 of these and related chests of drawers for an article for American Furniture. A staggering body of work that really doesn’t span all that many years, 1670s & ’80s mainly if my memory is right.