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)

Chairs for sale

I’ve been making a few chairs & sticking them up in the loft. Now that space is full and I want to keep making chairs. Time to sell this batch off and start another. The way I tend to do this is I post them here and if you decide you’d like one, leave a comment claiming the chair. Then we can sort payment either through paypal or by check in the mail. Shipping in US included. If you’re near southeastern Massachusetts you can pick them up.

UPDATE

UPDATE – well, the ladderback chairs sold right off the bat. You won’t see the comment claiming them because the buyer has asked that his name not be published there…

If you were hoping for one of those chairs and missed out I can always make you a chair. Just email me & I can put you on the list.

Ladderback chair, red oak with hickory rungs, hickory bark seat – SOLD

H: 33 1/4″ W: (across the front posts) 17 1/4″ D: 17 1/2″ (seat depth is 12 1/2″) SH (seat height): 17 1/2″
$1,200

This chair is one of the first in which I re-oriented the rear posts to show the radial face as the front of that post. A small change to the standard JA chair, for fanatics only. Means nothing otherwise. But I like the look of it. I also left these rungs generally octagonal, except where they enter the posts.

Below is the hickory bark seat on this chair – I had a mixed pile of bark, some from one tree, some from another. Over time the use will burnish the bark to a nice polished surface. Hickory bark makes the best seat I know.

——————-

Ladderback chair, red oak with white oak slats, hickory bark seatSOLD

H: 33 1/2″ W: (across front posts): 17″ D: 17 1/2″ (seat depth 12 1/2″) SH: 17 3/4″
$1,200

Below you can see the more “normal” orientation of the rear posts – so a different pattern on the wood depending on how it’s oriented. I assemble the chair frames, then poke around to see what I have on hand to make slats from – that’s how this red oak chair got white oak slats.

and its hickory bark seat. This was thick bark that I split in half, and used the inner part of that split for the warp (front-to-back) and the outer part for the weft.

——————-

Child’s ladderback chair SOLD
H: 26 7/8″ W: 14 1/4″ D: 13″ SH: 14″ seat depth 9 3/4″
$900

Something I used to make as a regular offering, but this is the first since my re-entry into chairmaking. (I made some in 2009 for my kids when they were small, but that’s it.) Ash with white oak slats, hickory bark seat.

Everything about it is the same as the full-size JA chair, but just scaled down. Harder to see in ash, but again these rear posts have the radial orientation. I’m leaning towards making that the way I do these now.

———————

Next up is something new. I was thinking this year I’d concentrate my chairmaking on the ladderbacks and the shaved windsor chairs. Then I got detoured into making some of these brettstuhls or board-chair or Alpine chair. I’m not sure what to call these. They’re fun chairs to build, simple but challenging. The two chairs here are close to what I’m after. I’m going to keep tinkering with these chairs for a little while anyway, I have walnut left to do three more.

Brettstuhl #1 Butternut & ash
H: 34″ W: seat – 17 1/2″ feet – 21 3/4″ D: 20″ SH: 18 1/8″
$1,200

The seat and the back are butternut, the battens underneath are white oak and the legs are riven ash. The legs tenon into the battens and the battens are captured by the back’s tenons – which are in turn wedged below. It’s a brilliant system. At the end of this post is a video showing how to assemble these.

Another view under there, showing how these parts connect.

Here’s the carved back

and the side view

Brettstuhl #2; Black walnut & ash
H: 33 1/2″ W: seat- 17″ feet- 20″ D: 18 1/2″ SH: 18 1/4″
$1,200

After I used up the wide butternut I had on hand, I went out & got a 16″-18″ wide plank of black walnut. Air drying for years & years, it was perfect for what I wanted. This is the first chair from that plank. I’ve begun to change things a bit from Drew Langsner’s 1981 article that I started with – here I’ve trimmed the front corners off the seat, I’ve seen photos of historic examples with this pattern. Also a thumbnail molded edge instead of just a simple chamfer like the butternut chair above.

The carving:

In this view you can see the shape of this seat

On the backs, I’ve just echoed the scrolled shape with a V-tool on both of these chairs.

here’s the underneath of this one. Same as before, white oak battens and ash legs. The battens are 1 3/8″ thick, quartersawn.

The brettstuhls I’m planning to ship partially un-assembled – here is a video showing how to put one together (first how to take it apart…) – it’s really quite simple. You need to be able to tell right from left and count to 2. A mallet for most of the persuasion, some light taps from a hammer for the last bits.

Another piece about the brettstuhls – it seems as if their feet stick way out beyond the chair itself. I thought so at first until I stood one up beside a Windsor chair I made. There’s several factors at play here; the spacing of the seat mortises for the legs, the rake & splay of the legs and to some extent the length of the legs. Here’s the butternut chair beside the Windsor and they aren’t all that different in the footprint.

Cupboard project: upper case rear stiles

The back of the cupboard’s upper case has an interesting detail in its construction. The frame consists of the two upright stiles, two long horizontal rails and one horizontal panel. Simple. Except for the details of the layout. The bottom rail is set in front of the panel (and ultimately under the floor of this section.) This requires some extra thought when laying out the mortises. It begins by laying out & cutting the mortise for the upper rear rail.

upper mortise

Then I lightly strike the beginnings of the panel groove. This is to give me the layout for the bottom mortise – it’s set inside this groove.

strike the beginning of the panel groove

This next photo is a bit confusing, for good reason. The stile on our left is a total disaster. I chopped mortises in the wrong face of one of the rear stiles, a fatal error – I had to rive out & plane a replacement. These things happen, my mind was on the next step, not on the very basic step of layout & mortising. So to concentrate on the correct stile, on our right below. The bottom mortise is closest to the camera – follow the panel groove and see that it’s in front of this bottom mortise and falls in the middle/toward the front of the upper mortise.

forget the one on the left

This construction allows the rear panel to be inserted after this frame is assembled. You slide it up from below, in front of the bottom rail, and tuck it up into the groove in the top rail. Then it’s nailed to the bottom rail from the back/outside. This small B&W photo is a related cupboard that uses this construction but with several vertical boards rather than one horizontal board.

back of related cupboard

The bottom rail uses a “barefaced” tenon, a tenon with only one shoulder, in this case the rear shoulder. Here’s the layout – penciled in after my great mishap. I was then taking no chances.

barefaced layout

And test-fitted in place.

in front of (or behind I guess) the panel groove

Here’s one more view

3/4 of the rear frame

I first saw this method in a group of chests I studied from Braintree, Massachusetts – here’s one on its back, showing the bottom rear rail – under the floor and with the panel outside it.

bottom of Braintree chest

A detail of the same chest –

rear rail under the floor and panel behind it

Trent showed me the same sort of construction on American kasten – the Dutch-style cupboards made in New York and New Jersey. There clapboards are often substituted for the back panel.

My pride is just about recovered from my blunder and when the replacement stile is ready, I’ll finish framing this rear section. Meanwhile, I moved onto the sides of the upper case, but that’s another post.

(pt 13 Essex County cupboard project 2021)

Forming double tenons

Today’s post is about the Essex County cupboard project, not about birds. For a change…

end frame underway

The end frames to the lower case are characterized by the tall/deep/wide upper & lower rails. My notes from the research we did all those years ago note that these rails use double tenons, instead of one great 7 1/2”” to 8” tenon. There’s no “haunch” or filler between the tenons. In one of the cupboards I was able to see light between them. So here’s how I cut them. It’s like most tenons I cut, with one or two extra steps. But there’s lots of new readers here, so I’ll show most of the process.

To start with, I layout a full-width tenon with a mortise gauge. In this case, a 3/8″ tenon set in 7/16″ from the face.

layout

Cutting it is just like any of my tenons, starting with slightly undercutting the front tenon shoulder.

sawing front shoulder at a slight angle

Then instead of sawing the cheeks, I split them off.

splitting

And pare the resulting tenon faces front & back. Usually I choose a heavy, 2″ framing chisel.

paring

Now comes the extra step – sawing out the stuff between the tenons. I use a fine-tooth turning, or bow, saw to cut out the waste. I stay above the shoulder, leaving some to be chopped out with the chisel.

turning saw

a detail of that step –

turning saw detail

Daniel & I put together a video that shows some of the steps. and it’s less than half-an-hour for once.

But I didn’t show you the (yellow-shafted) northern flickers (Colaptes auratus) outside the shop window two days ago:

flickers

(pt 12 Essex County cupboard project 2021)

update on the Essex County cupboard project 2021

rear frame, lower case

For any new readers, or to re-cap for anyone – the major work I have underway for this year is a copy of a large 1680s press cupboard made in Essex County Massachusetts. The original is now at the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston. https://www.masshist.org/highlights/index.php#id=3231

My notes in the blog show that I first posted about the cupboard project in mid-February. At that point, I planed what oak I had on hand, which wasn’t much. Then in early March got a short log and began planing stock. And kept on, in between other projects. Now much of that planed stock has reached the point where I can take the next steps. So now it will begin to look like something. If you want to see what’s come before, I went back to the blog posts about it and added the line “Essex County cupboard project 2021” so a search on the blog for that phrase will get all the posts (except this one, because I’m still writing it) –  https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/?s=Essex+County+cupboard+project+2021

test fitting

I’m a little out of sequence between what’s happening in the shop and here on the blog. That’s due to a couple things; there’s more work in editing & sorting video than posting photos on the blog – and spring migration got me out birding a lot this month. But stuff is trickling out, and I cut a bunch of joinery on it yesterday. More coming today. 

Some questions I’ve got about the project. It’s for a private client, who will remain private. That’s all we need to say about that. As far as plans/drawings, specs – I can’t really publish those for a couple of reasons. First, the object I’m copying is in a museum collection here in Massachusetts. I got permission from that institution to make this repro. But I didn’t ask for, and won’t ask for, permission to publish all the specifics like a measured set of drawings. Regardless of how I see the “who owns these things” debate, I try to not run afoul of the museums & collections I study – I like to be invited back. So I try to play by their rules. Some institutions don’t like you copying their stuff. No sense arguing with them.

Another reason is that this particular body of work is not solely my research. I collaborated with two groups when studying these pieces 20 years ago – I have mentioned & linked the article I worked on with Robert Trent and Alan Miller – here it is again http://www.chipstone.org/article.php/554/American-Furniture-2001/First-Flowers-of-the-Wilderness:-Mannerist-Furniture-from-a-Northern-Essex-County,-Massachusetts,-Shop-

The other angle I came at these cupboards is through my friends Rob Tarule and Ted Curtin. In 1999 they were making a copy of a related one for the Saugus Iron Works, and included me in the project. I don’t have a photo of that cupboard, but it used to be on view there, and if I remember right, there was a film about us making it. Ahh, found a corner of it on their website   https://www.nps.gov/sair/index.htm

c. 1999 Tarule/Curtin/PF cupboard at the edge of the photo

The article above has lots of photos, but they’re now 20 years old. Some of these cupboards are posted on the web, two at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston – they have good photos of one in particular – https://collections.mfa.org/objects/44557/court-cupboard

(they had more photos last time I looked. That cupboard is accession #51.53   and the other is #32.226)

This one from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY was also in our article, at that time it was in a private collection. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/20612  – the Met’s photos are public domain, how nice.

Cupboard, Oak, maple, yellow poplar, with oak and pine, American
Metropolitan Museum of Art cupboard

——————-

So where’d I get yesterday? Started the joinery for the lower case. Framed the back (photo at the top of the post), which is very straight forward – two upright stiles, two horizontal rails and a vertical muntin. This frame has chamfers and bevels on its outer face (the muntin needs molded edges still) – but the corresponding upper case frame is not decorated. Everyone who knows why is dead. 

Then I got to start in on the side framing, which is where the fun begins. Lots of little joinery – four 2” long mortises.

double mortises for double tenons

Double tenons on the wide rails.

the bottom rail almost fitted

I got one set done, tested the framing and quit for the day. The next set will take a bit more time because I’ll shoot video of it. So extra fumbling around. But it’s fun. 

panels next, then the front section(s)

(pt 11 Essex County cupboard project 2021)

Scratch stock molding video

In between all the birding and some odds & ends around here, I did some work on the cupboard and Daniel & I finished the next video this afternoon. It’s about creating the integral moldings on the deep/tall side rails to the lower case.

scraping the molding

I do this work in two parts – first a plow plane to create the channel, then a scraper/scratch stock to finish the molded shape. Finally, a video that’s shorter than Ben Hur –

And an ovenbird from two mornings ago, with nesting material

ovenbird w nesting material

(pt 10 Essex County cupboard project 2021)

planing the rear stiles; upper case

Just a video post today, about planing the odd-shaped five-sided rear stiles to the upper case. Here’s a sketch of the plan of the upper case – and in it you can see the cross-section of those stiles, both front & rear. All the rails have 90-degree shoulders, so the stiles are shaped to create the three-sided overall format.

plan view upper case

Here’s both the front & rear stiles, next step for these will be mortising.

stiles done & waiting

here goes.

(pt 9 Essex County cupboard project 2021)

One problem solved

I spent some time the other day scratching my head as I was ready to begin cutting joints for the cupboard project. Up first are the 4 deep (or tall, depending on how you look at it) side rails in the lower case. These rails are a distinctive feature of this cupboard and several of the related ones. Here, they are 7 1/2″ high – with integral moldings run on their faces and applied moldings too. But first, the mortises.

top & bottom side rails of lower case

I started with a basic question – how best to hold the rails for chopping the mortises. You can see that it’s thinner on one edge than the other. Naturally, I want the mortises in the thicker (1 1/4″) edge. So it needs to sit up on its thin edge, which might be closer to 7/8″ – 1″.

7 1/2″ x 19″ or so

Often when mortising I grab the stock in the double-bench-screw (aka Moxon vise these days) and use a holdfast to secure it against the planing stop/bench hook. (the photo below is a mock-up, I didn’t shove it against the bench hook…but it gives you the sense of the setup.)

deep rail held upright

My holdfasts aren’t long enough to reach up & grab the rail itself, so I wasn’t entirely sold on this idea. Another disadvantage is the height of that rail means I’m mortising into something that’s about 40″ high. A bit uncomfortable for little ol’ me. Then I remembered a photo of our friend Rob Tarule pictured in Scott Landis’ The Workbench Book. Rob had a bearing strip or ledger fastened to the front legs of his Roubo bench and sat his workpiece on that. So I clipped that idea.

holding the rail against the bench’s edge

I didn’t have any hardwood over 6′ long, so just used a crappy piece of framing lumber. It sits on the holdfast on our left, is pinched by the one on the far right. The middle & left holdfasts are fixing the rail against the bench’s edge. Now the mortising happens just higher than the bench. The wooden fixture with the screw (the bench screw) just stops any forward movement. Much better. Below is a detail. This was the tail end of yesterday, and I didn’t work in the shop today. So tomorrow I’ll get the other three to this point, then it’s on to cutting double tenons on each end.

Scott Landis’ book was just republished by (who else?) Lost Art Press https://lostartpress.com/collections/all-books/products/the-workbench-book – if you’re not familiar with it, you might like it. Benches of all sorts, historical and otherwise. Rob Tarule made a Roubo bench long before we knew who Chris Schwarz was…there’s also a chapter on green woodworking fixtures too, featuring Jennie Alexander, Drew Langsner & Daniel O’Hagan – three people who had a huge impact on me. As did Tarule, but that was later. And I’ve known Scott since he & I (& Alexander) were in Curtis Buchanan’s first windsor chair class in 1987. Oh no, I sound like I’m on the porch of the old folks’ home – I’ll stop now.

mouth of the Jones River early morning

(pt 8 Essex County cupboard project 2021)

Sharpening a Hewing Hatchet

I hate addressing sharpening. It’s such a touchy subject. almost as bad as politics. But I did a short video (short for me, anyway) about sharpening my hewing hatchet. In the video, you’ll see I fix the hatchet so it’s stationary, I might have got that idea from Drew Langsner. It really helps.

Additionally, I have come to feel hesitant to discuss my hewing hatchet. The hatchet I’m sharpening here, and use everyday, was made 90 years ago in Germany. No – I don’t know where you can get one just like it. Yes, there are lots of hatchets out there. some good, some bad. No, I’m not going to advise you this way or that re: what hatchet to use or buy. I have written about it at length here on the blog, with measurements and photos – for example https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2012/12/13/the-endless-look-at-hewing-hatchets/ and one more https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2011/08/27/the-hatchet/

But whatever you use, make it sharp. Sharper is better.

Splitting & planing video

new red oak log

First off, my thanks to my friend Rick McKee https://www.instagram.com/medullary_rick/ for helping me at Gurney’s Sawmill last week – we picked out & split up a red oak log & hauled it home. Now I’m back in the thick of planing stuff for the cupboard I’m building. I shot some video & photos there & here at the shop, showing how we split it, then how I choose & plan one of the pieces…

There’s noise at the sawmill (imagine that…) and wind like crazy here, so some caveat emptor with this video. There’s more in the works.