Mothers tell your children

Not to do what I have done. 

I know how you like to see me make mistakes. Made a doozy yesterday. I was having a great day making a JA chair, everything going swimmingly. Chopped the slat mortises, did all the boring and sub-assembly. Even brought Daniel out for the final assembly – it’s nice to have an extra set of hands and he seems to like the weird noises the joints make as they go together. 

Then I blew up the front post. Sheared it almost in two, right in the middle.

bad ending to a good day

Exit Daniel while I figured out what to do. “I thought you were supposed to be good at this…” I keep hearing that high school kid from years ago. 

Oh well, a teaching moment. Of course it happened at the end of the day. So I didn’t really get blow-by-blow photos. First thing – get the broken post off those rungs. Before the glue hardens. This was yellow glue and it was late in the afternoon, so not hot weather. Time on my side there. I sawed it off above and below each set of rungs. Then split off the bits. 

looks like René Magritte was here

Then spoke-shaved and bored a new post. Put some glue in the mortises, wriggled it onto the side rungs, then drove that home. Then wriggled it onto the front rungs.

there’s hope yet

And split it to smithereens. 

The culprit? Besides me, I mean. Slow-growing oak. Maybe too-tight joints. Certainly the first, maybe both factors. I’ve written a number of times about slow-grown oak – how much I like it FOR JOINERY WORK. Planes easily, mortising – piece of cake. Carves beautifully. But that oak furniture I make is greatly over-built. Jennie Alexander’s chair is designed to push the material as far as you can. So no weak wood there. I was testing my luck using these posts – and lost.

these shouldn’t be chair parts

Those bits above are 1 3/8″ in diameter, more or less. The pencil marks are at 5-year intervals. The two on the left have just over 15 growth rings in them. In red oak, that’s a lot of open pores and weak fibers. the one on the right went in the chair successfully – and it’s still pretty dicey. 11 rings maybe?

finally!

Today I got a new post on the chair & it’s fine now. 

And started in on a white oak chair with posts that have about 7 or 8 growth rings. Strong, just like JA used to use. 

THAT’S chair wood

I was thinking about Alexander a lot – I had extra time on this chair. I remember her telling me years ago she wanted to call the book “The Fifth Post.” And then, when reading her old notebooks, I see that during the original photo shoot for the first edition, she put the rear rungs in the front section! Got them back out somehow and carried on. Well, the consolation is that it’s good to be ready for chair emergencies and to know what to do when things go horribly wrong. No one got hurt, that’s a plus.

Essex County cupboards – related examples

lower case test assembly

Working on this reproduction cupboard project this year is more fun than I can stand. As part of it, I’ve been reviewing the notes from about 1998-2001 when I worked with Bob Trent and Alan Miller to research our article on the group. I dug out a few photos; I mostly shot slides then and they have since been tossed. But I have a few photos or color photocopies from the slides. 

much of this cupboard is original, much is not

The cupboard above was on loan to the Historical Society of Old Newbury (Massachusetts) when we spent a day or two studying it. It’s like the Gates of Eden – “the princess and the prince discuss what’s real and what is not.” Easy – the door is later. Some of the drawers too, although the arrangement of drawers is original. In fact the whole concept of the framing is original. And that’s the real kicker. Below is a side view

stack upon stack

This shop tradition (we don’t know who the joiners were who made these) loved the notion of overhanging segments. In this cupboard they outdid themselves. I tried time & time again to understand the sequence and relationship among the sections. One of my drawings to help me suss it out is below

part of the lower case

Here’s a detail of that rear section

up & over up & over

The one below isn’t really a cupboard, it’s a weird chest of drawers. That looks something like a cupboard. This photo is from a 1999 auction catalog when it was for sale. It had been restored in the late 19th/early 20th century and has since been re-restored. Trent & I wrote the catalog entry for the sale. It’s a stunning piece of work.

Now it’s part of the Chipstone collection in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, restored by our other co-author Alan Miller and his shop. Here’s the photo from Chipstone’s site showing what Alan came up with for the informed conjecture as to its possible original configuration.

These two examples make the one I’m doing look tame. Anybody wants to hire me, I’m ready to make one of these two next year – I’ll be all warmed up!

more cupboard work; drawer bottoms

V-shaped tongue & groove joint

A while back I took the cupboard’s lower case apart and began painting the integral moldings black, as well as the carved drawer front. Carbon pigment in linseed oil. So they’ve been sitting & drying while I tended to some other stuff. Today I got out one of the drawers and shot some photos while I worked on it. I’ll start with the drawer bottoms.

Last time I wrote about the drawers, I barely mentioned the bottoms. Thin oak boards, nailed to the bottom edges of the drawer sides & back. And in a rabbet in the front. At their adjoining edges, there’s a V-shaped joint that lets one board slip into the edge of its neighbor. Much like a tongue & groove; but not as precise. I have no idea how this was made in the 1680s – but I figured out a method that works pretty well. It starts with the V-groove. I made a scratch stock to create it.

scraping the V-groove

Here’s a bit closer shot of the cutter.

scratch stock

Then plane a bevel on both sides of the neighboring board.

beveling the edges of a floor board

Then test them with a scrap that has the groove in it.

good enough

I also worked on some of the applied moldings that decorate some of the drawer fronts. I had a custom molding plane made by Matt Bickford – https://msbickford.com/ I showed him some of the measurements and drawings from the cupboard & we settled on this plane. Its molding is on the drawer fronts, the side panels of the lower case and with some additional detail on the upper case as well. So I’ll get a lot of use out of this beautiful plane. What a joy to use a plane made so well. I would have taken days & days to fumble through a much-less-functional plane…

new molding plane & some of its result

First, I choose the best stock I can find for the applied moldings. Strength is not an issue – this is about looks and ease of working. I want slow-growing, straight-grained oak. The blank on the left below would be good if I was making chairs (that’s next month) – but I want the one on the right. Another reason for choosing that stock for this reproduction is that it looks like the oak I see in New England furniture of the 1600s.

fast & slow

The “fast” one has 7 growth rings in about 1 1/4″ width; the other over 30 rings in 1 7/8″ width. I ran the 5/8″ wide molding on each edge of this strip of oak. Thickness is 3/8″. I am holding it in a sticking board of sorts. I need all the help I can get, so I grabbed the blank with the holdfast to keep it steady.

molding the edge

Then once they both were done, I sawed the piece apart. This is very careful work. Lightly does it. Any extra pressure from the saw can split that thin stock, then I’ve wasted not only the work to make the molding but the work to make the blank to begin with. I ran that sawn edge across an upside-down plane to clean up that surface & bring it to the final width.

separating the moldings

Back when Jennie Alexander & I were selling off her extra tools, I tried to unload this miter box. And I am glad now I had no takers…

Ulmia miter box

Here’s the top drawer front, nearly done. 27 pieces of wood so far to decorate that drawer front.

(pt 20 Essex County cupboard project 2021)

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)

Carving Crossed S-scrolls video

Daniel started school lessons recently, so I have to compete for his spare time. Promised him money, that worked this time. We got the next video in the Carving Oak Patterns series – these are to accompany the Carving Drawings https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/carving-drawings-17th-century-work-from-devon-england-and-ipswich-massachusetts-set-1/

 

This is the third video in the series; fourth if you count the intro to the drawings. I have several more to go, some of which have already been shot and just need editing. The floral panel I plan on shooting in the next week or so. Then it’s on to finishing the next set of drawings. I post all of the videos here on the blog as well as on youtube.

This one I shot the steps and discussed them as I went along, then carved the whole pattern a second time with little commentary, trying to just carve it in “real” time. (I hate that expression). So the back 12 minutes or so is a bit redundant. You’re warned, repetition is the mother of retention.

 

thinking about chairs: past, present & future

I don’t need the calendar to tell me the season is changing – the light in the shop is distinctly different now, a bit lower, coming around a bit earlier. A nice time of year…

Our neighbors put out some stuff for sale by the side of the road from time to time. I wouldn’t let Maureen bring home a small table last week, so I couldn’t bring home these chairs this week. But I could photograph them…some fun stuff to see. One with four slats, but still a small chair.

A hideous knot in the rear post – ugh. But it’s lasted quite a few years.

This was my favorite of the pile. Worn down on the feet, probably was about 4″ higher I’d say.

I like the top slat of this one.

They were $20 apiece – nobody bought them. Not enough traffic these days, I guess.

I’ve had chairs on my mind lately. I told you I pay attention to Curtis Buchanan’s work. Recently I bought a set of his new drawings for the democratic arm chair.

I finished this example of the side chair earlier this year – and started another. Now I hope to finish that one and then make the arm chair.

I shaved parts for the arm chair in red oak, but mine are a bit heavy. I’ll wait a little to see how much they shrink, then will go over them just a little more to slender-them-up a bit. Or down, I guess.

Curtis’ shaved chairs really hit me right at the right time. I made Windsors many years ago, learning from Curtis and Drew Langsner. Quite some time ago, my friend Michael Burrey took me into his house to show me some things he’d bought at someone’s estate sale – including this continuous arm settee I made back in the late 1980s/early 1990s. I took one look at it, and immediately thought “I couldn’t make that today.”

and that got me to thinking about how I’d like to recover some of those techniques/skills. Then along came Curtis’ democratic chair. It reminded me of some shaved chairs I made way back when, inspired by my friend Daniel O’Hagan. Here’s a settee my brother and his wife still have, I must have made it around the same time as the one above.

This one I still use, I’m sitting in it right now – it’s my version of Curtis’ sackback chair, just with shaved bits instead of turned bits. Tulip poplar seat, cherry legs/stretchers/arm stumps. White oak, ash & hickory above the seat.

In case you’ve not got to Curtis’ chairs & plans yet – here’s his links:

https://www.youtube.com/user/curtisbuchanan52/videos

https://www.curtisbuchananchairmaker.com/store/c1/Featured_Products.html

Curtis’ plans are the inspiration for my Carving Drawings https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/carving-drawings-17th-century-work-from-devon-england-and-ipswich-massachusetts-set-1/

 

 

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/

 

 

Carving gouges

First, thanks for the quick response on the Carving Drawings – I have 6 sets that haven’t gone out yet; but the 2nd print run should be here today. I’ll get those out right away. https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/carving-drawings-17th-century-work-from-devon-england-and-ipswich-massachusetts-set-1/

I thought this would be a good time to look at the carving gouges I use everyday. I checked and it’s been 7 years since I last did this run-down (& 3 years before that…). My gouges are a mixture of modern and old, some made here in the US, some English ones, some Swiss-made. A couple of other odds and ends too. As you see above, I keep them in shallow trays. In use I bring the trays to the bench, and try to keep the gouges in the trays as I work. It might make for more picking up & putting down, but my goal is to keep from hitting the tools’ edges together on the bench. When not in use, the trays fit into the upper drawer in my tool chest.

I count 13 tools in that photo above. I never use that many in any one carving, or even one project. Typically it’s about 4-8 tools per carving. Because of the mixed-batch of tools, it’s hard for me to tell students what to shop for if they want shapes like I use. In person, I usually end up whacking each tool into a scrap of wood and sending them on their way with that as a guide. So these photos aim for that effect. (I just previewed this post, and for some reason I have to click the photos twice to enlarge them.)

Left to right here, a Swiss-made (Pfiel is the company name) V-tool. Sometimes called a V-parting tool. Mine’s their #15 6mm wide. I tried to measure its angle and it seems to be around 55 degrees. Next is also Swiss-made; a #5 I use for removing background and shaping some patterns. Then two antiques, so no numbers. These are similar to the Swiss-made #8s, maybe a little more curve than that. Below are the same tools, with a ruler just below them to give you an idea of scale.

Below are the marks on those tools – the top two the Swiss-made, then W. Butcher (English I think) and Buck Brothers (Massachusetts, here in US).

There’s a few small gouges that get tucked into that box; these are only used once in a while. The first two from the left are essentially the same size and “sweep” (a term for the curvature of a gouge’s edge) – the difference being the one on the left is ground straight across its end, the middle gouge is crowned – sometimes referred to as a fingernail gouge. The narrow one is maybe like a #5, I use if for shaping in tight spots. It’s a Henry Taylor, made in Sheffield.

Some of the larger gouges are in the next tray. These are all about the same sweep, the one on the left is a Swiss-made #7, about 3/4″ wide. I use it in almost every carving I do, probably 2nd most important gouge after the V-tool. Middle is Austrian, Stubai is the maker. And the large one on the right is English/modern by Ashley Iles – here in the States they’re from https://toolsforworkingwood.com/store/dept/TXQ

The English sweeps are I think one step off from the Swiss/Austrian ones – that Ashley Iles is maybe a #6, but it’s a similar curve to the #7s beside it.

A few more, like in the first tray, these are less-used than the others. On the left is another antique, of these three, it gets used the most. It’s W. Butcher again. Then another Ashley Iles, more sweep than the previous one, and an antique Henry Taylor small shallow gouge.

A detail showing the edges of the tools above.

While we’re looking at carving gouges, here’s a few #5s – I use them for background removal, shaping & beveling, etc. The one on the bottom is straight across its edge, the other two are crowned across their cutting edge. I much prefer this shape, I feel it’s more versatile, better able to meet curved lines – just all around easier to handle. My everyday one is on top of this batch.

These V-tools were difficult to photograph to show what I want here – my everyday Vee is on bottom, it’s cutting edge is angle up from the V to the tops of the “wings” – the German tool above is an excellent V-tool, but its edge is pretty much 90 degrees to the line of the tool’s shank. I find the angled end slices a little easier…I can carve with either, I prefer the bottom one.

You can go back & read what I said about the same subject 7 & 10 years ago…I skimmed it. Not much has changed. I’ve switched some tools out here & there. There might be some better photos there…

https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2013/12/05/carving-tools-i-use-for-oak-furniture/

https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/carving-gouges/

Carving S-scrolls video

First, thanks for all the positive response to the sets of Carving Drawings/Patterns. I ordered more, so they’ll be here soon. Daniel & I finished the first video associated with the drawings, so here it is. Hope it helps.

 

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

And a video showing the content is here – https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2020/09/01/carving-drawings-for-sale-now/

there’s a full-length video I did with Lie-Nielsen than includes this and other version of S-scrolls – https://www.lie-nielsen.com/products/17th-century-new-england-carving-carving-the-s-scroll?path=home-education-videos&node=4243