The Essex County cupboard project: recessed front stiles

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.

(pt 14 Essex County cupboard project 2021)

Cupboard project: upper case rear stiles

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.

upper mortise

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.

strike the beginning of the panel 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.

forget the one on the left

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.

back of related cupboard

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.

barefaced layout

And test-fitted in place.

in front of (or behind I guess) the panel groove

Here’s one more view

3/4 of the rear frame

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.

bottom of Braintree chest

A detail of the same chest –

rear rail under the floor and panel behind it

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.

(pt 13 Essex County cupboard project 2021)

update on the Essex County cupboard project 2021

rear frame, lower case

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

test fitting

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.

Another reason is that this particular body of work is not solely my research. I collaborated with two groups when studying these pieces 20 years ago – I have mentioned & linked the article I worked on with Robert Trent and Alan Miller – here it is again http://www.chipstone.org/article.php/554/American-Furniture-2001/First-Flowers-of-the-Wilderness:-Mannerist-Furniture-from-a-Northern-Essex-County,-Massachusetts,-Shop-

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

c. 1999 Tarule/Curtin/PF cupboard at the edge of the photo

The article above has lots of photos, but they’re now 20 years old. Some of these cupboards are posted on the web, two at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston – they have good photos of one in particular – https://collections.mfa.org/objects/44557/court-cupboard

(they had more photos last time I looked. That cupboard is accession #51.53   and the other is #32.226)

This one from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY was also in our article, at that time it was in a private collection. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/20612  – the Met’s photos are public domain, how nice.

Cupboard, Oak, maple, yellow poplar, with oak and pine, American
Metropolitan Museum of Art cupboard

——————-

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 mortises for double tenons

Double tenons on the wide rails.

the bottom rail almost fitted

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. 

panels next, then the front section(s)

(pt 11 Essex County cupboard project 2021)

Scratch stock molding video

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.

scraping the molding

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

ovenbird w nesting material

(pt 10 Essex County cupboard project 2021)

planing the rear stiles; upper case

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.

plan view upper case

Here’s both the front & rear stiles, next step for these will be mortising.

stiles done & waiting

here goes.

(pt 9 Essex County cupboard project 2021)

One problem solved

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.

top & bottom side rails of lower case

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″.

7 1/2″ x 19″ or so

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.)

deep rail held upright

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.

holding the rail against the bench’s edge

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.

mouth of the Jones River early morning

(pt 8 Essex County cupboard project 2021)

Essex County cupboard anatomy

Essex County cupboard

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.

side framing lower case

It might make sense in the photo below showing the four drawers open. That’s the edge of the inner stile beside the pillar.

side view lower case

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.

photo by Gavin Ashworth

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.

You can read it online, with photos shot by Gavin Ashworth. http://www.chipstone.org/article.php/554/American-Furniture-2001/First-Flowers-of-the-Wilderness:-Mannerist-Furniture-from-a-Northern-Essex-County,-Massachusetts,-Shop-

I can’t wait to start framing it; but for now the parts are stickered & drying some. I’m planing up the drawer parts now. Then on to some incidental bits – this oak log is going fast.

(pt 7 Essex County cupboard project 2021)

the Cupboard Project: planing pentagonal stiles

Just like the title says. The upper case of the cupboard has a recessed portion; semi-hexagonal in shape. Its front stiles are pentagons. You can see one of them on the right-hand side of this photo (the cover of Trent’s anthology of Antiques Magazine articles from ages ago.)

Here’s how I fumbled around to plane them. I last did this sort of work about 2008 or so, and before that, 1998. So I tend to forget how in-between. It starts with this billet of oak, in this case, white oak. That chunk is maybe 4″ square, by 22″ long or so. The template on top of it is the shape I’m after, with the two front faces towards us.

billet for pentagonal stile

After riving some excess off the back of it, I laid out the centerline and marked the cross-section on the end.

initial layout

Then began hewing it to shape. This is to establish the rough shape.

hewing oak

I have a chalkline down the center and one on each edge guiding my hewing.

Then it comes in the shop to begin planing it at the bench. I have the piece shimmed so that the face I’m planing is pretty much level. This took some fumbling around (which you’ll see if you watch the video of this process) – that fumbling I attribute to that notion of doing this work only every ten or twelve years or so.

planing the angled faces

This is what I’m after at this point – two faces flat & straight, with the proper angle between them. Those faces are extra wide at this point.

halfway there

So the next layout shows where I need to go back to the hewing hatchet. The faces I’ve penciled in there are 90-degrees to the original two faces I planed. The bottom surface doesn’t matter at all, and is left un-planed.

After hewing, it comes back to the bench for more shimming & planing. This next photo reminds me of “the piano has been drinking, not me.” The camera was tilted, not the bench. But I’ve shimmed the stile now between two pieces of 2″ x 2″ oak, one of which is held with a holdfast, the other with a handscrew. Then the stile slips between them.

and back to planing. next time these pieces make it to the blog, they’ll be propped in similar positions for mortising. But that will be a while. First, they need to dry some, & I need to build the lower case.

If you’d like to watch a video of me making one of these, here it is. It’s long, and shows the fumbling-around in mostly real time. But some of the concepts might be helpful if you’re ever in the position of planing weird shapes.

(pt 6 Essex County cupboard project 2021)

“Send out for some pillars…

& Cecil B. DeMille.”

the “Stent” panel, early 17th century England

Yesterday Michael Burrey dropped off some maple bolts – so today I got to turn a pillar, either for the cupboard or for practice. It’s been over 20 years since I turned one of these big pieces.

Maple isn’t my favorite riving wood by a long shot, but every now & then you find one that splits well enough. This section was fairly cooperative.

the larger section is the one I need

I scribed a 5” circle on the end and rived & hewed away the excess. Somewhere in there, I trimmed it to about 18” long. 

To prep it for turning, I wanted to make it as even as I could without getting too crazy time-wise. Last time I did this, I didn’t know Dave Fisher’s great methods for prepping his bowl blanks. This time, I used some ideas based on Dave’s work. I struck a line through the middle of my 5” circle, and shimmed the bolt on the bench til that line was plumb.

line up this end & that end

Then struck a related line on the other end. From there, I could measure how high the centerpoint of the first circle was (3” off the bench) and scribe one in the same position on the other end. And strike that circle. Then shave down to those circles. 

roughing it out w a drawknife

I then struck a new 3” circle on one end, to hew and shave a taper to the bottom end of the pillar. 

hewn taper at one end

Then it went on the lathe. At that point, it weighed 11 lbs 6 oz. (5.16 kg they tell me). Wrapping the cord around something even 3” in diameter means you’re turning slowly at first. So my objective early on is to determine the location of a cove and start to rough it out. That way I can move the cord there ASAP. Get more revolutions per tromp, and a smoother cut as the piece spins faster. 

well underway

I spent a long time on this piece; between being out of practice, out of shape, taking still photos & video, and checking dimensions – I plodded along. Hadn’t turned maple in so long, and I’m always astounded at the long ribbon shavings you get, even from a pole lathe.

a horrible photo

I live in a fantasy in which I’m about one afternoon’s cleaning away from being organized. Nothing is further from the truth though. And using the lathe drives that point home. My shop is on the small side, 12′ x 16′ – the local building codes allowed me to do it without permits & inspections if I kept it under 200 sq ft. The price I pay is that the lathe is tucked against the back wall, and I have to pull it out about 2 feet when I need it. And I don’t do a lot of turning, so often junk gets piled on the lathe temporarily. So this photo above shows some of the mayhem that ensues when I dig out the lathe. It’s one of the worst photos I’ve taken in the shop in ages – too cluttered and the photo of the pillar propped up at the lathe is extremely helpful to me, but so disorienting to look at here, with the open door beyond.

the pillar roughed out

I got the pillar to a good point for quitting for the day. About 1/4″-3/8″ oversized for now. I’m aiming for a greater diameter of 4 1/2″ and the coves are about 1″ plus. The bits just inside the tenons will be 2 1/2″. Overall length between the tenons is 14 1/2″. At this stage, the general form is established. I put it in a paper bag with some of the shavings to hopefully dry it slowly and not have it crack apart. I’ll put it back on the lathe in a few days to turn the final size and the details. Weight at this point – 5 lbs. (2.27 kg). I didn’t weigh the shavings. Tomorrow is that cleaning day, I’m going to get organized this time…

(pt 5 Essex County cupboard project 2021)

“small panel” molded decoration, pt. 2

Well, I told you this was a practice piece. yesterday was one of those afternoons when all craft skills evaded me. But I can show you the steps to finish the so-called “small panel” decoration. Just not a neat job of it. This first photo is using the same molding cutter, now mounted to scrape the profile on the edges of a thin strip (1/4″ or less in thickness) to be cut into the inserts.

edge molding a strip for inserts

Holding that thin strip is tricky. I simply nailed it down to a piece of scrap pine. That gets it up high enough to clear the fence portion of the scratch stock. Cutting the first two miters on a blank is easy – there’s a length of material to hold. I got this miter box from Jennie Alexander umpteen years ago, tried to sell it. No dice, but glad now I didn’t get rid of it.

miter box

Once those two miters are cut, I lay the piece in place, and scribe its length based on the distance between two rows of molding. Ideally, it’s the same from row to row. Mine aren’t. They’re close. When I do a box front like this for keeps, I’d cut up a number of blanks and scribe all the housings in one pass. I was going back & forth for the photos & videos I was shooting. So a bit clunky and inefficient.

scribing the length

I didn’t shoot photos of cutting the 2nd set of miters, on a piece that’s now about 1″ to 1 1/4″ long. Hard to hold that little devil in the miter box. I fumbled around with a couple of options using clamps. Too cumbersome. Finally just pinned it in place with my left hand and LIGHTLY sawed. Key word is lightly. Any extra pressure shifts the blank aside & ruins the miter. Next, I used a square to line it up, as preparation for scribing its placement.

squared up

Make sure it doesn’t shift on this next step either, scribing its edges and miters.

more scribing

Then comes the chisel work. Chopping down to sever the fibers. I’m working inside my scribed lines. I’ll sneak up to them.

chisel work, pt 1

Now, bevel down. chop out the waste. Some back & forth with chopping down into the fibers, then cutting out the waste.

stock removal

Once you’ve got that bottom flattened out, and all the bits removed it’s time to cut to the scribed lines. Set the chisel right on the line, and chop it.

last cuts

It will take some practice to get to the point where I can cut the inserts spot-on, then the housing ditto. But this shot gives you the concept of alternating these faux muntins to divide up the rows of moldings.

starting to see the pattern

In many cases, it seems that these mini-panel frames were painted black. To me, that seems to defeat the effect of the molding. But it does hide a multitude of sins. Here’s a chest of drawers I made back about 2002, showing that black paint scheme. (the low light in that room is giving the black that blue cast…) Paint might save yesterday’s efforts, but I still think I’ll do it over.

(pt 4 Essex County cupboard project 2021)