Resuming joinery; take 2 or 3

incised strapwork pattern

I’ve been working in the shop lately, mostly half-days. I looked back at the blog posts for the past month-plus. In mid-August I thought I was recovering from Lyme disease. Boy was that wishful thinking. You don’t need the gory details, but I’m perhaps back on the mend. Again.

I did video work yesterday, carving a strapwork pattern. This is part 2 in a series that’s tied to the 2nd set of carving drawings. I’ll end up carving maybe 3 or 4 different related designs. This time it’s in Alaskan yellow cedar (Callitropsis nootkatensis) – I sometimes feel guilty using this wood, then I remember people make decks from it. At least my boxes can last lifetimes if cared for.

carved strapwork

I have the video shot now and have begun editing it. Should be done and posted here & youtube in a few days. Here’s the finished piece, with a finish and better light.

strapwork in Alaskan yellow cedar

Rick McKee’s been here a bit lately. https://www.instagram.com/medullary_rick/?hl=en He’s gone nuts for spoon carving and all I can do is talk about it with him. Not because I’ve been laid-up, just because I haven’t carved spoons in ages & ages. So during a break in the afternoon, I dug out my basket to see what’s in it – I didn’t carve these today so much as I picked away at them here & there. I might go looking for some crooks and take up spoon carving.

spoon carving throwback

And the oak furniture just looms over me. I have been sorting through whatever stock is in the shop and bit by bit making parts for the cupboard I’m building. And at the same time, checking the text I’m writing to see if there’s any photos I need to shoot. It’s hard to imagine I missed any last year, I must have shot thousands. But there’s always one or two…somehow I didn’t have one of the plow plane in action.

part of the back, part of the side
plowing a panel groove

And the joined chest video project – also in semi-limbo. This holdup is me. The next step is making the oak lid and I’m not quite there yet. It will be 3 quartersawn boards, ripped, planed, glued-up, then planed. All pretty physical. So it waits a bit longer. If you’re a subscriber to that series, no, I haven’t forgotten. It’s coming as soon as I can get to it.

joined chest still waiting for me

I did do a test-paint job recently, thinking about this project. 30 years ago I made my first version of this particular chest and I painted the carvings and loved the result.

early 1990s joined chest

And I’ve never been able to get the same results. I ruined a chest and a box or two in trying… I did a test piece a few weeks ago. Might try one or two more samples and see if I get up the nerve. The sample is close. Not quite there, but close.

getting close

here’s the carving drawings page – https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/carving-drawings-plans/

and the chest video series is here https://vimeo.com/ondemand/follansbeejoinedchest

I never knew him

I read last week that chairmaker Dave Sawyer passed away. I never knew him, but I felt very connected to his work through our many mutual friends. Over the past ten years or so I’ve been working on this idea in my head (and down on “paper” well, really this screen) about the people who taught me woodworking and about others, like Dave, who were part of what I call my “Craft Genealogy.” My intention is for it to be a book, but it’s a long ways off. 

Dave Sawyer, c. 1981 photo by Drew Langsner

Four people who were huge influences on me were Jennie Alexander, Drew Langsner, Daniel O’Hagan and Curtis Buchanan. Dave was close friends with all of them, and their stories are intertwined. 

I worked most closely with Alexander and Langsner; in and out of their homes on a regular basis. When Jennie was getting older we often spoke of what would happen when she went to the “boneyard.” Among the concerns were what academics call her “papers.” These eventually went to Winterthur Museum’s research library, where I then began to sift through them, all the way back to about 1973 or 74. The pandemic interrupted that research – but I’ll pick it back up before too much longer. 

PF JA Theo; photo Drew Langsner

I knew Alexander as well as anyone did. From time to time, I used to ask how she came to write her book back in the 1970s. “It was in the air” she used to say. “If I didn’t write it, someone else would.”

In the mid-1970s, Alexander was a very-part-time woodworker. A busy lawyer with a young family, she could only work her chair stuff on sporadic weekends and holidays here & there. Many of us begin that way, squeezing in our craft when real life allows us some hours here & there. She learned mostly by studying old chairs in museum collections and experimenting with the tools and materials. And asking questions of anyone who might know something.

J. Alexander, c. 1978

Through a couple different connections, JA was told of someone in New Hampshire who made chairs “the old way…” or something like that. And so, in 1976 Alexander wrote to Dave Sawyer and introduced himself and his chairs. And that connection pushed JA’s chairmaking further along than anything before.

So yes, chairmaking “was in the air” – but what I found out when I began studying JA’s letters is that it was in the air around Dave Sawyer.

Dave Sawyer at Country Workshops, early 1980s, photo by Drew Langsner

Unlike Alexander, Sawyer was a full-time craftsman, at that point, making wooden hay forks and ladderback chairs. So Alexander would fire off questions in the mail & Dave would send ideas and comments back and forth. Eventually they got together in New Hampshire and down in Baltimore. From that beginning, they became lifelong friends. 

Dave Sawyer ladderback, mid-1970s

Sawyer’s first letter to JA notes: “I’ve made near 200 ladderback chairs, most 3-slat, most with hickory bark seats – using just the same methods you do (unless you turn your posts – I shave mine).”

Alexander did turn her posts at that time, but soon shifted to an all-shaved chair. A version of that story is recounted in the new version of Make a Chair from a Tree. I suspect Sawyer was an un-credited catalyst for that change in technique. After some back & forth, Sawyer got right to the point:

“I want you to come here next June for a couple of days – ride the train from Baltimore – I’ll meet you in Bellows Falls at 12:30 AM or whenever (can also meet buses in Charlestown or Claremont, or I suppose you could drive if you wanted to be so foolish.) We can do barking one day and I’ll show you anything you like about chairmaking too.” [PF emphasis]

In the early 1980s Dave, then in Vermont, shifted his attention from ladderback chairs to Windsor chairs, and those are what he became most known for. And his were the best Windsor chairs produced in this country.

Dave Sawyer chairs (from an auction results webpage)

When I learned Windsor chairmaking from Curtis Buchanan in 1987, he shared as much as he knew freely – because he said that’s what Dave did for him. Curtis has tweaked a lot of chair designs over 40 years but the DNA of many of his chairs is pure- Dave Sawyer. Curtis always tells the story of Dave saying to him that his “questions were getting too good – you have to just  come up here and I’ll show you what to do…”

Curtis Buchanan’s 1987 class at Country Workshops, photo by Drew Langsner

I learned something from 1976 Dave Sawyer just a few years ago – the notch for splicing hickory bark seating. JA struggled with bark at first and Dave tried to sort it out for Alexander. In one of Dave’s letters he cut out a sample joint in paper & pinned it to the letter. 45 years later, I adopted it on the spot – Alexander never did, continued to tie knots in the bark seats throughout her career. Stubborn.

sample for joined hickory bark strips

I’m still gathering material for this history of how this particular green woodworking branch formed and grew. It doesn’t begin with Dave, nor does it end with him. But he’s a critical part of the story. His impact was huge – back when it was really just a few dozen people exploring working this way. He retired many years ago but his son George took over making “Sawyer Made” chairs several years back. So Dave’s designs and legacy will carry on. My goal with my Craft Genealogy project is to put these people’s stories together, to make sure we don’t lose track of who the people were who got us here. 

Dave Sawyer at Country Workshops c. 1997, photo by Drew Langsner

Finished the basket-video series 2 years later

ash basket, hickory rims, handles & hickory bark ashing

Back in 2020 when we were all at home wondering what to do, I made some videos about making ash baskets. Just recently someone either wrote to me or saw me somewhere & said “Oh, I loved watching your videos on basket-making…” and I was instantly apologetic for never finishing that series!

So now, 2 years later, I got a chance to shoot a short video about lashing the rims and handles on a woven basket. Better late than never. Here it is, I lashed new rims and handles on a laundry basket I made years ago.

If you scroll back to the main page where my youtbue videos are, there’s a section called “playlists” and the basket ones are collected there in a folder called Making Ash Baskets or something like that.

First joinery for the next cupboard

I started cutting joinery for the next version of the Essex County cupboard.

part of the lower case’s end framing

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

MHS cupboard detail

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.

Symonds shop cupboard

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.

Winterthur cupboard

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.

Currier Gallery of Art

The deep rails appear on the joined chests-with-drawers, usually as the bottom rail on the ends. Here’s just one example.

Wadsworth Atheneum chest with drawer

It’s fun to be back at this sort of work. Time for a new log so I can keep going.

new carving video: Strapwork Layout

strapwork design

Well, it’s been ages and ages since I did a youtube video tied to the carving designs project. But I have all along intended to get back to them. I’m still not quite ready to resume shop work yet, but getting closer all the time. But I did sneak in there, figuring I could do a video about the layout of a strapwork carving. I like to do this on paper for the camera – it shows up better than scratches from an awl or marking gauge.

I anticipate shooting several videos about strapwork – the next one will be cutting the pattern I laid out in this one. Then there’s numerous variations, and one I expect about how to design a pattern rather than just copying the measurements from an existing one.

Meanwhile, I’m working on the page where these patterns are sold, with an eye toward offering the option for downloads versus buying the paper versions. I’m only marginally capable at that end of the blog so it will take me some tinkering.

https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/carving-drawings-plans/

Along those same lines, I have to get with it because the plans for the joined chest are nearly finished. Jeff Lefkowitz has done an amazing job. When I first approached him about this project, he had never seen one of these chests, but he quickly caught on and has out-done himself.

a couple of new chairs

butternut chair 2022

I built this chair a while ago, but added a linseed oil finish lately and now it’s presentable. I’ve lost track but this might be about the 6th of these chairs I’ve made in the past couple years. I’ve written before about my introduction to them through Drew Langsner’s long-ago article about one he made with his mentor Ruedi Kohler, the Swiss cooper. Like Drew, another big influence on my work was Daniel O’Hagan (1923-2000). I met him through Drew’s classes back in the 1980s. When I met Daniel, I owned a tablesaw, jointer, drill press, electric lathe, circular saws, portable electric drills, etc. I came home after one week with him and made a couple of phone calls and all those tools left my shop at once. That was 1985. I’ve never missed them.

I’ve had the chance recently to read through his old notes. Daniel wrote about these chairs in his shop notes over the years. That’s what spurred me to revisit making these European style chairs. They’re great fun to make. Just the right combination of ease and complexity.

1969 notes about German style chairs

This one is butternut again. The carving is a mish-mash, I really wasn’t concentrating on it, I just wanted to quickly fill the blank spaces. Mixing chip carving and gouge-cut carvings is silly, but my goal was to get on with the chair itself.

through tenons where the legs meet the battens and seat

When I first made them, I was following the article by Drew. At that point, Ruedi Kohler had adapted his chairs to use blind tenons where the legs met the battens under the seat. I did the same for my first several chairs. On this one, I decided to go ahead and bore those mortises through both the battens and the seats. This invites the seat to split – the battens run 90 degrees to the seat’s long fibers. The minute I assembled this one, I liked it. The reason? It looks like the old chairs I see in museum collections, etc. Maybe it’ll split, we’ll see. Some do, some don’t.

butternut with ash legs

I’m going to do a couple more with this format – the 3-piece back. It’s 2 extra joints, but only needs some narrow stock. And I like the open space in the back of the chair.

I also finished an arm chair based on the plans developed by Curtis Buchanan and Jeff Lefkowitz.

shaved windsor armchair

Although I tinkered a bit with Curtis’ details, I’m a copyist when it comes to a chair like this. This one’s got red oak arms, white pine seat and the rest is hickory. The major change I made I’ve discussed here before, I used a rectangular tenon where the crest meets the posts. Curtis’ is a bored 3/8″ hole in the post and he shaves the crest down to fit. I wanted to keep the crest full-height across the chair. That means I can’t “crown” the crest like he does, in fact it tends to droop a bit in the middle. It’s a trade I like. The crowning is more important to Curtis than the ends of the crest.

shaved windsor 2022

This is my 2nd attempt at this arm chair, (I’m sitting in the first one here at my desk) and I’ve made maybe 3 or 4 of the side chairs. This one went the best – no hassles. All the joints were tight but not so tight as to split any of those parts. It went like it was supposed to. Finally. Maybe I really can re-learn how to make windsors. We’ll see.

Curtis’ plans are here – https://www.curtisbuchananchairmaker.com/store/c8/Plans_for_Arm_Chairs.html

Some of my posts about brettstuhls https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/?s=brettstuhl

back at the bench

I’ve been in the shop part-time lately, just hadn’t taken any photographs. I have been spending part of my time making chair parts from a section of hickory I brought home from my bark-trip in July. Still trying to relearn what I used to know 30 years ago. I can’t find stuff I had last week, but I knew just where the old plans for these chairs were. This is a comb for a comb-back armchair.

bent comb for Windsor chair

And an arm for it. Not the best bend, but the best I’ve done this past week. The few wrinkles will plane out when I go to use the arm.

off the form, but tied to keep its bend til I need it

But yesterday was my first day back to joinery in nearly a month. Started making the drawer parts for the joined chest video series. I cut the drawer front to fit the opening. Looks like it’s all done, but those are the drawer sides tucked under the chest.

looks like it has its drawer

I want the front to have some space all around it so it doesn’t stick. This is why I had business cards printed all those years ago.

checking the spacing

I plowed a groove in the drawer sides to match the runner that’s set in the drawer opening.

This test-fit is too tight. Needs a couple of shavings off the top edge of the drawer side.

too tight

Like this:

better

Next up is half-blind dovetails, rabbets and nails.

done

I finished the chair yesterday. Somewhere along the way I drew up this template showing the sightlines I use to bore the leg mortises. I tape it right to the battens, stick a block of scrap wood under it so the adjustable bevel will sit on it and set the bevel & bore away.

sightlines

It works pretty well. The auger bit chews up the oak battens some because it’s canted over pretty far – 25 degrees. Having the back’s uprights in place helps keep the legs from hitting those through tenons coming down from above. The back edge of the template is 4 3/4″ from the seat’s back edge. It worked perfectly, the legs miss the tenons by about 1/4″ or more.

boring leg mortises

Usually on the old chairs, the leg tenons come through both the battens and the seat. This cross-grain construction – the battens run perpendicular to the seat – almost guarantees that the seat will crack. Except sometimes it doesn’t. In all of my previous versions of this sort of chair I did the joinery so the leg tenons only penetrated the battens. This time I made the leg tenons long enough to come all the way through. So I threw the switch in my head that told me not to do it – and bored the mortises through the battens and seat. And glued and wedged the legs in place.

in for a penny

I didn’t think I’d like the tenons poking through the seat board, but I do. It’ll show up better when I put a finish on the chair. Then decades from now it will be harder to see again. Ash legs, butternut seat and back.

July 2022 brettstuhl

I’m going to tinker some more with these 3-piece backs, but I do have some wide walnut waiting to be brettstuhls. And one more ash bolt to rive. Better get to it.

Plymouth CRAFT spoon classes with JoJo Wood

Twain didn’t really say “reports of my death are greatly exaggerated” but it’s a good line. In a similar vein, if you’ve heard that Plymouth CRAFT is defunct – it ain’t so. We just sat out the pandemic and then some. There was no need for us to dive in earlier, so we just waited. But one thing or another has happened lately and we’re pleased as punch to have JoJo Wood coming back to teach our first next workshop. I’m late in getting this notice out so I’ll just shut up & put the links in.

JoJo

There’s two classes, 2 days each. One is the pocket spoon – https://www.plymouthcraft.org/pocket-spoon-with-jojo-wood

The other is an eating spoon intensive – https://www.plymouthcraft.org/jojo-wood-forms-and-motifs

Dates are Aug 1 & 2 and 4 & 5. At the Wildlands Trust building in Plymouth Massachusetts.

JoJo hewing a spoon

I see on the events page that Paula has posted that I’m teaching the JA chair this fall. That’s true, but I think the dates listed there are speculation. I guess she & I need to get our shit together. We’re out of practice. Come take a class with JoJo – I’ll see you there.

Sneaking a chair into the mix

In between long sessions trying to get video of the heron striking chipmunks and even longer sessions working on the videos for the joined chest series, I’ve begun another Alpine chair/brettstuhl/stabelle/what-do-you-call-’em chairs. I found a couple more boards of butternut for the seat and back(s) and have some ash legs I roughed out a while ago.

The shape of these uprights & crest pieces is derived from a photo Chris Schwarz and his Chair-Chat friends Rudy & Klaus sent me. The carvings I made up – and it’s weird to have chip carving mixed with gouge-cut carvings. But I wanted to fill the spaces as quickly as I could. So that’s what I ended up with.

back assembly

This time the battens are dovetailed with a plane. My notebook tells me it was 7 months ago when I last did one this way. So some head-scratching coming up to cut the housings accurately. I guess the problem is laying them out accurately. Once that’s done cutting them shouldn’t be that big a deal.

using the Ulmia dovetail plane

I bore the waste out of these mortises for the back. First in the seat itself. Then once I’ve cut the housings, I’ll insert the battens and finish boring & cutting those mortises. Clunky approach but it helps me get cleaner results.

13/16″ auger bit & Spofford brace

Today I posted the next video in the chest series. Making the floor boards. 5/8″ white pine, tongue & grooved edges. It’s always a fun part of making the chest.

test-fitting the floor

The tongue & groove is a funny one. Not made with matched planes. Nor is it just a rabbet on the top & bottom face – for some reason they rabbeted the top and beveled the bottom to make the tongue. So that’s what I did.

tongue & groove

I didn’t bother with a trailer, I was tired of computer work & wanted to go work on the chair. There’s plenty of trailers for other episodes if you would like to see what the videos look like. You can find the trailers here https://www.youtube.com/user/MrFollansbee/featured

And the full series – now at 11 episodes and 13 1/2 hours. With lots more to come. vimeo.com/ondemand/follansbeejoinedchest

I went to the end of the shop for a tool & spooked the heron the other day. A relief for the chipmunks. Got a couple of flight shots, which I rarely get in focus.

gone for now but back before you know it

Gotta go see if he’s out there now.