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.

storage

these have to go somewhere

Wood storage in a small shop is a challenge. When I brought home all that quartersawn oak last week, I had to dedicate some time to sorting and sifting it and tucking it out of the way so I could get back to work. I had a question about it, not a terribly exciting subject, but here’s how I tackle it.

First – I sort the piles into the best stuff, lesser so, etc. Some of the things I’m looking at is how straight is it? Is it quartersawn or riftsawn? Defects? Here’s two really wide boards, 15″ or more. About 5′ long. I need this sort of stock for the tops of both cases to the cupboard. These tops end up about 23″ x 50″ – I’ll glue them up from 3 or 4 boards. You can see in the photo that these two boards have large knots and cracks near the inner part of the log. I split that stuff off – I’m never going to use it, so why store it? Get rid of it now.

as they came off the saw

Here is one of them with its split section detached. The good stuff runs about 10″-11″ wide, straight & clear. That it tapers in width doesn’t matter. The glued-up top will be evened out, the individual bits don’t need to be.

better now

I do the same sort of culling on lengths too. Looking for knots, curved grain and other problems. The board below I crosscut before splitting off the inner wavy bit. A large knot an the end would make that splitting a hassle. So I cut it first, then split it. Got rid of the rough end cut too, where there can be checks and splits from when the board was stacked outside.

crosscut at the green line

so it goes on & on. There were 30 pieces I think. They had been cut to different lengths to fit in my car, I have no truck. Nor do I want one. I like to mark the position of the growth rings on the end grain so I can look in the stack and see right away the orientation of each board.

good ones

I also took off the sapwood edge, it can be buggy and rotten. Same principle applies, I don’t want to store something I’m not going to use. I don’t have the room.

got my exercise

Then where does it go? Some went in the loft, stickered. Some was even labeled for its use. I don’t like to add too much weight up there, most of these will get used within a couple of months. This wood was sawn well over a year ago, but has been outdoors all that time. And it was wet in southeastern New England this summer. So these need some time to settle before I use them.

first stack

Over near the eaves of the building, but in the loft, I store dry wide stuff on edge. Some walnut up there, some wide pine that just came in and some leftover butternut.

dry stuff

The worst place to stack some is under the 2nd bench in the shop – but it takes up no floor space. This will be boxes later in the year and next winter.

under the bench

I lied. That’s the 2nd worst place. The worst is standing in the corner. I’m guilty of that too, but I’ve got it down to one corner this summer. That’s progress.

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!

some recent work

In between rounds on the cupboard I have got some other joined and carved things done. And now with the cleaned sensor on my camera, photographing them is a treat.

carved box, butternut & oak

This one is a box that is headed tomorrow to New Hampshire as part of an exhibit/gallery show at The Two Villages Art Society called “Into the Woods” https://www.twovillagesart.org/into-the-woods a new venture for me. Dave Fisher, Kenneth Kortemeier, Dan Dustin and many others have submitted pieces as well. Worth a look if you’re in the area, opens Sept 17.

A couple of joined stools for a patient customer –

red oak joined stool

The other – he asked for two stools that didn’t have to be a pair. Good thing…

red oak joined stool

This box you’ve seen here before, I shot a video of carving its front. Now it’s done & delivered. It was a retirement gift for a curator I’ve known for eons – Dean Lahikainen at Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. It’s based on a box in their collection.

carved & painted box, oak & pine

That box and the tops of the two joined stools finished off my stash of quartersawn oak. So today I ventured out into the world to get some more. Thanks to Rick for letting me be so picky. Sunday is white pine day for the same reason – my larder is empty. I guess Monday is stacking & stickering day. Then it’s back to the cupboard full-time. Assembly is on the horizon.

30 pieces of quartersawn oak random lengths & widths

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)

New Carving video

box front

I began shooting videos to go along with the new set of carving patterns. No telling how frequently I’ll be able to do these, I’m hoping for every 2 weeks. Lots of stuff in the shop right now though. This design is on page 1, the first pattern – the “tulip.” That’s my name for it, we have no idea if it even had a name in the mid-1600s in Devon.

It’s adaptable to fit different spaces, to a degree. If you watch the video, you’ll see that I dive off the deep end right away – not following the drawing verbatim. But it all works out. It’s a bit repetitious -but I tried to get some tight shots after showing each step…

If you would like to get the set of drawings – there are 5 pages in the set, 24″ x 36″. Patterns, step-by-step diagrams & more. Link is here -(it says “set 1” but set #2 is the new one) https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/carving-drawings-17th-century-work-from-devon-england-and-ipswich-massachusetts-set-1/

Wille Sundqvist’s tools

I spoke to Jogge Sundqvist last week about the outcome of the auction of his father’s tools. I had asked him if I could post something about it – and he told me “of course.” The short version is – Jogge was able to save/rescue/preserve a lot of his father’s things due to the generosity of the “slojd community” – all of the wonderful people who responded when we asked for help. Thanks everyone, well done.

some of Wille’s carvings & tools

When I asked if I could post something, Jogge told me that Kara Gebhart Uhl from Lost Art Press had interviewed him & was going to write about it. I knew I would rather read Kara’s reporting on it than mine, so I didn’t even bother. If you want the full story, here’s the link to Kara’s post – well worth the read. https://blog.lostartpress.com/2021/09/02/the-outcome-of-the-auction-to-preserve-wille-sundqvists-tools/

Drawers

1680s cupboard, Massachusetts Historical Society

The lower case of the cupboard houses 4 drawers. I started making them in the last few days. They are all oak, some period drawers have softwood bottoms but these use thin oak boards running front-to-back. 

The drawer sides are 3/4” thick and join the fronts with a half-blind dovetail on three of the drawers.  At the back, a rabbet joint. Both joints are nailed. Yes, right through the dovetail. The bottoms tuck behind a rabbet in the drawer front. (I’ve yet to make the deep drawer, it has through dovetails front & back. Who knows why? Not me.)

These, like most 17th-century drawers in case furniture, are side-hung. Meaning there’s a groove in the outside faces of the drawer sides that engages a runner set between the front and rear stiles. First step after prepping the stock is plowing the groove in the sides for the drawer runner. Mine’s 1/2” wide, set roughly in the midst of the drawer side’s height. It’s about 5/16” deep. 

plowing the groove in the drawer side

Me showing step-by-step of dovetailling is absurd. Go see someone who actually does it more than every other year or two. After plowing the groove, I laid out the single dovetail on each drawer side. I estimated the angle based on photos of the originals. Steep. Then sawed that out,

single dovetail

and transferred it to the end of the drawer front. Chopped that out. 

Some back & forth fitting the joint. Below is good enough for me. All it needs is a rabbet in the drawer front, then nails through the dovetail.

Like this. Next step from here is installing the bottoms.

As I said, the bottoms run front-to-back (some 17th century shops ran them parallel to the drawer front). I rive out thin oak boards, aiming for 6″-9″ wide. I rough-planed them, then aired them out in the sun to dry for a couple of weeks. Then I re-planed the top/inside surface and hewed and scrub-planed the bottom surface until they were either 3/8″ thick or slightly less. The boards for the top & bottom drawers are about 20″ long. For the smaller recessed drawers about 16″ long. At this point, I just nailed boards to each end of each drawer – these serve to keep the drawer square & solid while I rive and plane more of this thin stock. Below I’ve lined up the board just inside the drawer side and bumped up to the rabbet in front. This board has not been squared off to its edges, so I set it in place and scribed the front end to trim it. Then I nailed it in place and trimmed the back end.

Here’s the top drawer in place. I’ve been recording some videos about the drawers – it’ll take a bit of doing. But in the end it will include the runners/grooves and the vee-shaped tongue & groove between the drawer bottoms.

Then I went & rived some more thin stock.

(pt 19 Essex County cupboard project 2021)

The Cupboard project; carved drawer front

carved drawer front finished

I worked on the only carving in the whole cupboard just about. This is the front of the 2nd drawer from the top – of the lower case. Here’s the original –

It’s 3 repeats of one pattern – here’s the pattern isolated:

I made a video of the work, it’s chopped with a gouge rather than cut with a V-tool. So something a bit different.

But one of the first things I said in the video is a lie – turns out I found afterwards measurements of the carved bits. Partial measurements anyway. I came close to what I measured in 1999 – close enough.

(pt 18 Essex County cupboard project 2021)

Heather Neill’s paintings

We all miss somebody these days. Well, many somebodies. One I miss in particular is my friend Heather Neill. But every year about this time there’s a daily dose of Heather’s paintings as she prepares for her show at the Granary Gallery on Martha’s Vineyard. And lo and behold, I made another appearance. I had completely forgotten posing for this one.

The bookbinder Heather Neill

To see more of Heather’s work, and to read the stories behind each one, see her blog with its “painter’s notes.” https://heatherneill.com/studio-blog/