brief overview of a hickory bark seat

hickory bark

A week ago I was still wearing wool sweaters. Yesterday shorts & a t-shirt. Warm weather is perfect for weaving a hickory bark seat. It’s one of my favorite parts of making the Jennie Alexander-style chairs.

Last year I peeled a few hickory trees with Brendan Gaffney. We got a lot of bark in just 2 days of work, but to do so we took it off the tree pretty thick.

peeling hickory

I like to do it that way because I want to then split the bark in half before weaving with it. Thin bark makes a better seat than thicker bark – in my opinion. The photo up top shows two coils – on the right is the bark as we took it off the tree. The one on the left I just split in half lengthwise. Both are between 25′ and 30′ long.

Splitting it is a fine art – but it yields fabulous bark. I weave the seat with the inside half. So the inner bark of the inner bark. I score across it half-way with a knife, then peel the two halves apart. You have to watch carefully – it can run out like splitting wood with a froe. It’s slow-going but worth the time spent. Not all hickory bark will divide this way. If it won’t split, you can shave it down thinner with a spoke shave. That’s slower still…

splitting bark in half

Then weaving it is a walk in the park.

weaving is the easy part

This is yesterday’s seat. Now it needs to dry, at which point the strips shrink in width. Then I pack the strips closer together and add a few filler strips. The thing I like best about hickory bark seats is that they look great the minute you finish them, then they continue to improve as you use them.

nearly done

Last fall I shot a video of how I work a hickory bark seat. It’s long but covers splitting the bark & weaving the seat.

next video posted & a note from Drew

A couple of things. First is the next installment in the Joined Chest series on vimeo on demand is ready. It’s about some scratch-stock molding, then cutting mortise & tenon joints and plowing the panel grooves. Starting to look like chest parts now.

The next part is a note from Drew Langsner –

L-R Drew Langsner, Jogge Sundqvist, Louise Langsner, PF

back in August 2020 I posted a note about Drew’s medical scene at the time – well the good news is he’s recovered and was catching up on some old internet-reading recently. He didn’t see all the well-wishes that came his way at the time. So here’s what he wrote:

“Hi Peter-

Messing around with iPad I stumbled on your post of appreciation and hopes for recovery. And then came across all of the good wishes from so many friends. I wish I had seen and thanked everybody. Maybe it can still happen…

Thanks for the good thoughts and wishes! I’m doing well enough; and trying to do better. Taking care of our 100 acres is consuming much time and effort, But it’s where we want to be. My art project  has become a series of sculptures — This is Not a Chair. From old chairs that are hand made and the Habitat ReStore. Still shaving kindling  with a drawknife. This time of year -early May – I try for some small boat sailing once a week. With Covid lingering, climate change, and  age, I’m reluctant to get into an aluminum tube so the travel kit is in the attic. It was great working with Lost Art Press on the new Country Woodcraft: Then and Now. Come by for a visit If you’re in western North Carolina.
Drew”

Here’s a couple of Drew’s sculptures from the “This is Not a Chair” series:

oak, from a post & rung rocker
Elm, cherry, oak from a rustic windsor

More about Drew here – http://drewlangsner.com/Drew_Langsner__Art_With_Trees.html

And the re-done book here https://lostartpress.com/collections/green-woodworking/products/country-woodcraft-then-now

some joinery, some birds

chest parts cut

I’ve been working on the chest-video series lately. I haven’t made a chest in a couple of years so this is a lot of fun to do again. The past few days I’ve been catching up on the joinery – the video footage is shot but I had more joints to cut before I can shoot the next steps.

chopping mortises

I probably spent most of 2 days shooting various angles on mortising so once that was done it seemed easy to just go in and cut mortises. But as soon as I thought how nice it was to work without the camera, I realized I could use some still shots. So back to the tripod and camera angles, etc. But it was still fun and much easier to shoot stills than video. What I blather about doesn’t matter in still photos.

plowing panel grooves

Now I’ve got the whole front frame (and much of the two side frames) cut. Time to finish the videos on the front framing and then I go on to the front panels. Those I’ve never carved on video before. They’re in the book Joiner’s Work but this will give me a chance to delve more deeply into that pattern.

carving the panels

The only other thing is that it’s May. Bird migration has begun for real here in New England. I’ve made a few short trips with our friend Marie to see what’s coming in. Yesterday’s haul included this wood thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) He was hard enough to find and I couldn’t get him in any good light. His song is one of the wonders of spring in the woods.

wood thrush

And whenever we hear thrushes in the woods, we know we’ll also hear and hopefully see, ovenbirds and towhees. This ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla) looked me right in the eye (in the lens, I guess)

ovenbird

The eastern towhees (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) were all throughout the woods, as were the ovenbirds. Each spring lately I get what I call the “one-day towhee” here at the shop.

one day towhee

Our yard is not the right habitat for them, not enough woods. But last week, one came out from under the holly tree, as it does each year, for one day. Back & forth, scratching in the leaves and junk. Gone the next day.

And the Baltimore orioles (Icterus galbula) are everywhere. Including outside my shop window. And that means yet another camera in the shop, so I can be ready. Binoculars too for the far-away birds.

Baltimore oriole

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 –

Follansbee

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?

waiting for some paint to dry

I’ve been doing a couple different things as I wait for this oil paint to dry on these pillars. This is the second coat, put on today. So these should be ready in 2 or 3 more days.

upper case pillars

I spent today planing oak panels for the joined chest project and shooting video about cleanup & sharpening of the wooden planes after working green oak.

newly ground bevel on smooth plane

I hate talking about sharpening, but it has to happen. In for a penny, in for a pound – when I get to editing the video from today about sharpening I’ll write a blog post for here too. I’ve never done one in all these years. Maybe bits & pieces, but not a full-blown discussion of what I do.

The video clips will be for the joined chest series I started last month. Yesterday was going to be the day I upped the price, but I’ll keep the introductory price ($85 – about to be $100) for the rest of this week anyway. I’m finishing up the next video, which is the beginning of planing the riven pieces into chest parts. I plan on posting it on the weekend. If you’d like to know more about the video series, here’s the post where I introduced it. https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2022/02/07/joined-chest-video-series/

most of 2021’s carvings

Last year was probably the least amount of oak carvings I’ve done since 1994. That photo above is easily 90% of the output for the year! I have my first carved box class in 2 years coming up the end of March. So I’ve got to get practicing. I carved this one yesterday –

back at carving

but totally ruined the first attempt, then planed it off & carved this. Not terrible, but not great either.

I will get back to the Youtube videos that accompany the carving drawings – I have several more to do for the 2nd set of drawings. Those all got interrupted by the cupboard. I see that at least one of the carvings above was done as a video/drawing. https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/carving-drawings-17th-century-work-from-devon-england-and-ipswich-massachusetts-set-1/

Tulip pattern drawing
tulip pattern as a box front

The class I mentioned is at Lost Art Press – and is one of only two classes I have scheduled for 2022. The other is a JA chair class at Pete Galbert’s in April. When I figure out if and where I’m adding more, I’ll be sure to post about it here first. I want to see how these two go first, then take it from there.

Sometime recently I dug out this old sackback of mine to repair it. I made it in 1989 and used it for years & years. Its form is from Curtis Buchanan’s sackback, which is from Dave Sawyer’s – but I shaved the legs, stretchers and arm posts instead of turning them. A mish-mash of woods – tulip poplar seat, ash arm, hickory spindles, white oak bow and cherry for the understructure & arm posts.

old PF sackback

Over time the spindles poked through the bow – they must not have been dry enough at assembly. So I knocked them about some, split them with a chisel & drove in new wedges. Then trimmed them flush with the bow.

double wedges

A bigger problem was a break in the back of the arm. It hadn’t popped apart but threatened to. I had seen old Windsors with braces attached outside fractured bends – so figured I had nothing to lose. Scrounged up in the loft for something I could cobble together. Raided some cheap hardware-store hinge, a bit of hacksaw work (I like it less than sharpening…) and two screws. Not beautiful, but you can’t see it when you sit in the chair.

not hidden at all

Next video in the Joined Chest series posted

1/4s into 1/8s

I took some time out from the cupboard to sort & edit video clips for the next installment in the new series about making a joined chest. The video is a bit under 90 minutes and now at least there’s some action. It’s about splitting open the log and then riving out various parts with a froe. I also show how I use a hewing hatchet to further prep the riven stock prior to planing it to size. You’ll see some snippets about choosing a log, details on splitting a great log and a look too at working a below-average one as well. The video is available separately or as part of the whole series, which I expect to be about 12-15 hours overall. $85 for the whole series, $15 per video.

I’m looking forward to concentrating more on this project. I’ve added a new external microphone and a better #2 camera. Lots of juggling around to get at it, but most of the rest of the series will be in the shop, except some hewing here & there.

Next installment in 2 weeks will begin planing the stock. I’ll show how my bench works, some wooden planes and even some metal-bodied planes. Using them with green wood is like a science experiment! But you can do it…

I also added a video I shot last year about sharpening the hatchet, but that’s free on youtube already too. I plan on adding short extras here & there – first one will be about some of the history of these chests and how they compare to other 17th century New England chests. Sort of a slide lecture, but not boring I hope.

See www.vimeo.com/ondemand/follansbeejoinedchest/

work in progress

well, the verdict is that I will try to run that video series I asked about last time, building a carved chest with a drawer. Lots of stuff to figure out before then, none of which is woodworking. But today I started riving and planing a few pieces for the chest.

riven stile

I have a desk box underway, ordered as a present. Time for the guts and then the top & bottom.

desk box, red oak

This is “made-up” – not a copy of an existing desk box. The size and proportion are derived from one I studied. The carvings – the front is based on one I saw on Marhamchurch Antiques’s site, or his Instagram page.

front carving

The ends I made up based on some New England work, as well as the Devon work that so often appears on Marhamchurch’s site.

detail carving

Paul Fitzsimmons is the man behind Marhamchurch Antiques – and he’s even more fanatical about oak furniture from Devon than I am – https://www.marhamchurchantiques.com/ and his Instagram page https://www.instagram.com/marhamchurchantiques/?hl=en I owe Paul a lot – I benefit greatly from his postings and photographs.

The cupboard is still on-going. I’ve been making moldings and doing test-samples for coloring it. I don’t remember what it looked like last time I posted it -but here it is today.

cupboard lower case

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)