Carving a Wainscot chair panel

We’re up above the water here at the Jones River. Here’s the 2nd day’s high tide, a few feet less than the day before. The only other time it got this high was early January this year. That conifer in the foreground is on the river bank…

We did get a picnic table and Adirondack chair float in during the flood tide on the first day…so if you’re down river from us and lost them, come get ’em. I hate Adirondack chairs…and picnic tables for that matter.

Back to working oak. I carved the panel for a wainscot chair today. This is a copy of a New Haven chair I saw at Sotheby’s this winter. A couple of noteworthy things about this panel. I carved the forward half entirely before going across the centerline –

That’s because this panel, like the original, is glued-up from two boards. Totals 14 3/8″ x 17 3/4″. I dislike working glued-up stock. The backs of these two boards are not even, thus the panel doesn’t sit perfectly flat. So I clamped it to the bench, instead of pounding a holdfast down onto it; and carved it in halves. There’s very little layout. A centerline and margins as usual. Then large half-arcs at each end. And a small full circle inside those arcs. That’s it. I chalked a sketch of what I was carving. Again, a bit cautious – this is the only white oak I have to do this chair panel, so I wanted to be sure there were no mishaps.

Using a #5 Swiss-made gouge to remove the background. This is my standard tool for this work. It and the V-tool are the only tools I used for 99% of this carving.


The V-tool cutting in the veins in this leafy shape.

Another view of the background removal, now on the 2nd half.

Two gouges to cut 4 leaf-highlights – this is the only use of anything other than the V-tool and the shallow gouge for background. So 4 strikes from 2 tools…to do a tiny fraction of this panel.

It’s very shallow carving. Now to build a chair around it.

Here’s some Ipad video of the carving – until Paula Marcoux called about Greenwood Fest. Inverted by some Ipad/youtube business. I’m video-challenged.

 

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Forgot about these November/December projects

Back in the late fall, I worked on some commission work that I kept off the blog. Didn’t want to let the cat out of the bag…these things being presents. Then I forgot to show them once the holidays were over. A Shakespeare enthusiast asked me to make a joined chest and joined stool, to commemorate 25 years of he & his wife reading Shakespeare together. Thus, the “WS” carved on the muntins.

As I was making the front of this chest, I wrote about the mitered joints for Popular Woodworking Magazine. The current issue (April 2018) has the whole run-down on cutting the joint. I think I added it to the upcoming book too. Here’s the layout of the tenon.

It’s one really leaned-over sawcut to get that mitered shoulder.

A marking gauge defines the bevel on each edge of this muntin. Then plane it down.

The tenon partway home, make sure the grooves line up, then the mitered shoulder slides over the beveled edge of the stile. Whew.

Then, to make matters even more complicated, I undertook a painting on the inside of the lid. I haven’t really done any painting since about 1981…What was I thinking?

The finished painting. I felt like Alec Guinness in The Horse’s Mouth – It never comes out like it is in my head.

When that was done, I got to make my own wife a present. A much-needed book rack, for library books used in home-schooling. It looks so Arts & Crafts; quartersawn white oak, through mortise & tenon joints…Look at that wild medullary ray pattern on those uprights. Who could dislike that?

Me. I couldn’t leave it like that. Too blank. Horror vacui.

period carvings; arches/arcading: what-have-you

That carving pattern I worked on the other day https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2018/02/19/carved-arcading/ is very common, except in my work & my photo files! I have rarely used it, but that will change; I’m planning to take a whack at a few versions of it. Here’s what mine was generally based on, a walnut box, made c. 1600-1610. London? This is the drawer front to the box…I’d say maybe 4″ high. Look how much detail is crammed into a small space.

arcading

This one was sent to me by a reader of the blog – I know, because I’ve never been to Suffolk. Simple version, cut very well.

Suffolk arcading

A few years back I had 2 workshops in England. Jon Bayes attended one, and this is his version of that carving in progress. https://www.riversjoinery.co.uk/workshop

 

Jon Bayes’ arcading

Here’s a row of it, over some nice spindles in a church in Great Durnford, Wiltshire.

Great Durnford, Wiltshire

A wainscot chair now in the Merchant’s House in Marlborough, Wiltshire. Even has the pattern upside-down.

wainscot chair Merchant’s House

One for the dish-people. V&A in London:

It’s as old as the hills. But so are all the other patterns I know…here it is from Sebastiano Serlio’s 16th century book on architecture:

Same book, different section. This time a fireplace/hearth:

I’ve seen it on boxes quite often, or the top rail of a chest. Here’s one more from a book called “A Discourse on Boxes of the 16th, 17th & 18th Centuries” by Andrew Coneybeare. Nice detail shots of carving in that book. Published in 1992 by Rosca Publications, Worcestershire. Like the first one, look at all the detail jammed into a tiny space. The other versions seem blank…

I remember learning its name as “nulling” but I see no reference to that anywhere. Harris’ Illustrated Dictionary of Historic Architecture had a definition of nulling with no illustration. Said it was part of a molding. Coneybeare cited just above calls it “fluting.” Makes some sense. I’ve called it “arcading” but my kids thought I was talking about the crazy places with video games and noisy rides. So now I don’t talk about it.

Carved arcading

I spent the weekend at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking, teaching 13 students to carve oak patterns…but I forgot my camera. One design I hoped to include, but ran out of time for, is this “nulling” or arcading pattern. It’s very common, there’s lots of variations on it. This is my recent version, in walnut instead of oak. This example is only about 3 1/2″ between the bottom and top margin.

Here’s how I carved a section of it today, after unpacking. This pattern has no free-hand aspect of it, very different from my usual work. All the elements are struck first with an awl, square and marking gauge. Spacing is marked off with a ruler and compass/dividers. Once I know the spacing (that’s some trial & error, based on the size of your stock, and the tools available) – I strike the chisel work to define the spaces between the arches.

Then I use my #7, 3/4″ wide gouge to strike the tops of the arches and the peaked leaf that falls behind them. 3 strikes of the gouge outline the tops of the arches. There’s a marking gauge line at the top & bottom of these, so they all line up properly.

This leaf tip that fits behind them starts about 1/2 way up one side of the arch, and hits a centerline struck through the chiseled portion.

Once the outlines are struck, I use the chisel with its bevel down to chop these sections. Sometimes I have to go back & forth between the vertical strikes and the beveled ones to get the chip out.

Then comes some background removal. I use the #7 to chop behind its original strikes.

Then a #5, about 1/2″ wide to smooth off this background. It leans down from the top margin to the arches/leaves.

Then I hollow the leaves with the #7.  Makes them look like they fall behind the arches a bit.

Now to hollow the arches. I start with a narrow, deeply-curved gouge. (old, no before they were numbered. It’s between a #8 & #9.) Two strikes  define the bottom of the hollow. Previously I struck inner margins for this hollow.

I chop right behind this to remove a chip. This will help protect the bottom solid bit when I finish hollowing.

Now a larger gouge hollows out the whole thing. This takes a few cuts. I don’t go to the full depth in one go. In the end, I want this tool to hollow all the way to the outlines I struck.

Here is the pattern after the shaping. But it looks pretty blank…

Gotta fill all the blank spaces. Start with a small #7 to chop details in the leaves.

A straight chisel to highlight the peaked bits.

A large gouge just strikes an incised line around the top of the arches. A punch fills in other spaces.

This really narrow gouge chops little patterns inside the hollows.

 

I always like to see what they look like after applying some linseed oil –

 

(I’ve 

I’ve heard it called “nulling” but my copy of Cyril Harris’ Illustrated Dictionary of Historic Architecture is out in the shop. That’s where I would check the name. Maybe I’ll remember tomorrow.

Installing a lock on a joined chest

I installed the 2nd lock the other day. The first one was here – https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2018/02/08/locks

This one was easier because I was fitting it in a chest, not a box. I don’t often do these so I cut an entire housing in a piece of scrap first.

After taking some measurements from the lock, I scribed a centerline and then located the keyhole. When I bored it, I used a square to help align the bit.

One step I forgot on the box lock the other day was the housing on the top edge of the rail/box front. Here I marked it out with a chisel, then chopped & pared it. This notch is quite shallow, but helps snug the lock down into place.

Next comes sawing, chopping and paring to cut the multi-tiered housing for the lock and its moving parts. I scribed the limits with an awl & square, and marking gauge.

When chopping, I braced my hip/gut against the chest front to support it while knocking against it. I wish I had cut this when the parts were un-assembled…but if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

It’s easy to cut the depth of this housing un-even. I kept chopping and then paring across the grain.

This is the housing just about done – it needs to go lower to reach down to the scribed line.

At this point, I got the lock ready to install, but first had to extend the keyhole. I scribed about the bottom of the key, and bored & chopped the rest.

Still not installed; I get it this far – then scribe the rectangle where the staple from the lid will fall into the lock. That wood needs to be cut away.

At this stage, I’ve nailed the lock in place, and added the escutcheon too. Its nails are quite short, if they are too long, they can interfere with the lock. Once it’s done, I lock the staple in place and mark the underside of its plate with a Sharpie/felt marker – then close the chest lid. And lean on it.

That leaves some impressions in the underside of the chest lid. Two divots from the feet of the staple. And a smudgy black rectangle showing where to pare the lid to engage the plate. I took a small carving gouge to hollow out a spot for the staple’s feet.

A benefit of a pine lid is that this operation is easily done. Well, still awkward up in the air, but it’s not oak at least.

Once I had it where I wanted it, I bored pilot holes for the nails. Reamed those holes, and drove the nails.

Then, test the lock & key. If all goes well, then you clinch those nails on top of the lid.

I wanted to see how the lock worked from the inside. But it’s very dark in there. If you’re going to be locked inside for any duration, I suggest bringing a light.

 

Nostalgic Chairmaking: 40 years

 

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my start in woodworking. Forty years ago I made my first “real” pieces of furniture; ladderback chairs from John (Jennie) Alexander’s Make a Chair from a Tree. The book came out in 1978, I remember when I first opened that package. The chairs I made then, from that book, would really make me cringe now – but that’s not the point. (thankfully, I have no idea where those chairs are, but I have this drawing of one saved in an old sketchbook. That chair was made before I met Alexander and Drew Langsner in 1980.)

For years, I made these chairs, and then Windsors – before I made any oak furniture. Then once I started on the oak joined furniture, those chairs sort of fell by the wayside. I made a couple kid-sized JA-style chairs when my children were small, but that was it.

Otherwise, large oak carved chairs or turned (also large) chairs – all that 17th-century stuff. We saw one of my wainscot chairs displayed in the Hingham Massachusetts Public Library the other day. I made it based on an original made in Hingham in the 17th century.

But I’ve been planning for a while to “re-learn” how to make JA ladderbacks. These chairs are more demanding than my wainscot chairs – the tolerances are much tighter, less forgiving. I made a couple attempts recently that I wasn’t happy enough with to finish – so today I took the day off from joinery and worked on one of these chairs. First thing I did was to review Jennie’s DVD about making the chair. If you are interested in these chairs, I highly recommend that video. http://www.greenwoodworking.com/MACFATVideo 

(yes, Jennie & Lost Art Press are working towards a new edition of the book – but get the video in the meantime. It covers every detail of making this chair.)

The part I had to re-learn is how to orient the bent rear posts while boring the mortises. That’s what I went to the video for; the rest I still had. Included with the video are drawings for a couple helpful jigs to aid in those tricky bits. This morning I made several of those jigs – but didn’t photograph any of that. I didn’t get the camera out until I was boring mortises…

In this photo, I’m boring the mortises for the side rungs into the rear post. If you get this angle wrong, you might as well quit now. I forget now who came up with this horizontal boring method – but I learned it from Jennie & Drew Langsner. They worked together many summers teaching classes to make this chair. The photo is a bit cluttered (the bench is cluttered really) so it’s hard to see. But the bent rear post needs to be oriented carefully. But once you have it right, then it’s just a matter of keeping the bit extender level and square to the post. there’s a line level taped to the bit extender. Eyeball 90 degrees.

Alexander’s non-traditional assembly sequence is to make the side sections of the chair first. So after boring the rear & front posts for the side rungs, I shaved the tenons in the now-dried rungs. Mostly spokeshave work.

I bored several test holes with the same bit, to gauge the tenons’ size. Chamfer the end of the tenon, try to force it into the hole. Then shave it to just squeeze in there. No measurements.

Once the tenon starts in that hole, you get a burnished bit right at the end. That’s the guideline now. Shave down to it.

Yes, glue. I don’t often use it, but this is a case where I do. The chair would probably be fine without it, but it doesn’t hurt. Belt & suspenders. Knocking the side rungs into the rear post.

Make sure things line up, and the front post is not upside-down.

Then bang it together. Listen for the sound to change when the joints are all the way in.

Then time to bore the front & rear mortises. This little angle-jig has the unpleasant name of “potty seat” – I wish there was another name for it. But there’s a level down on the inside cutout – so I tilt the chair section back & forth until that reads level. Then bore it.

 

It’s hard to see from this angle, but that chair section is tilted away from me, creating the proper angle between the side and rear rungs.

Then re-set for the front mortises.

I was running out of daylight – and any other task, I’d just leave it til tomorrow. But with glue, and the wet/dry joints, I wanted to get this whole frame together this afternoon. Here I’m knocking the rear rungs in place. That’s a glue-spreader (oak shaving) in the front mortise.

Got it.

Expect to hear a lot more from me this year about making these chairs; their relationship to historical chairs, and also about the people who taught me to make them. It’s been a heck of a trip these past 40 years.

Locks

Chests, cupboards, boxes, cabinets – most any wooden furniture that opened and closed had an iron lock in 17th-century New England (& old England for that matter). It’s rare that they survive, even more unusual is a customer who wants to pay what it takes to get locks on their custom furniture. I have such a client right now, for 2 boxes and a chest. So I get to a.) show how I install a handmade lock, and b.) first, re-learn how I install a handmade lock. I do them so rarely that each time is like doing it for the first time. The lock above was made by Peter Ross, blacksmith. http://peterrossblacksmith.com/ His website is perpetually under construction. His iron work is top flight. We’ll get the tacky stuff out of the way first – if you want locks that are so-called “museum-quality/period-correct”, expect to pay for them. This lock, with escutcheon and 2 keys was $650. I suspect Peter still undercharged me, given the amount of work that goes into these. OK. Now to install it.

I cut a test-mortise in a piece of scrap to make sure I was on the right track. Then proceeded to the box. First, bore the main part of the keyhole.

The real dumb thing was to build the box, then decide it wanted a lock. So now, how to hold it for all the chopping, paring, etc? Because of the overhang of the bottom/front, I had to prop the box up on a piece of 7/8″ thick pine. I put some bubblewrap between them so as to not mess up the carved front too much. Then to hold the lid open with something other than my forehead, I cut an angle on a piece of scrap, and clamped it with a spring clamp. Not traditional, but worked well.

After scribing the layout based on the lock, I sawed two ends as deeply as I could.

After chopping some of that waste out, I had to re-score the end grain. I switched to a very sharp knife for this part. worked great.

Alternated scoring with the knife and paring with this long-bladed paring chisel.

Once I got to the stage for testing the fit, I realized I needed a hole bored in the scrap below for the sleeve to fit through. Once that was in place, I swiped a black sharpie over the lock, and then tested it. Left black marks where I needed to adjust things.

Some back & forth til it fit the way I wanted it. The slot on the top edge of the lock is for the staple from the lid to engage the bolt. So I needed to get the wood out of that slot.

Ready to be nailed in place. I bored pilot holes, and drove the nails in. I backed them up out front, thinking some might poke through. As it happened only one did, in a low point in the carving. So no trouble at all.

Then needed to open up the keyhole a bit. A rare appearance of a file in my woodworking. I bored a small hole first, then opened it up with the file.

The escutcheon, nailed in place. I had to snip the ends of these nails off, so they wouldn’t mess up the lock. In this application, they are as short as a wrought nail can be just about.

Then, some fussing to locate and excavate the housing for the staple. Here, I locked the staple to the lock and impressed its position by using the sharpie, and closing the lid & leaning on it. That left a mark so I could see where to cut into the lid.

Knife and chisel work again.

 

I got this part done, then had to pick up speed because it was getting dark. So the final photos will be another day. It’s 99.9% done. An adjustment is all that’s left.