Spring trip to the Woodwright’s School

I poked around here all winter, then spring came (according to the calendar) and things got busy. Over 3 weekends between March 22 and April 9, I spent 6 full days driving. That’s getting a bit crazy. The 2nd leg of that trip was my annual trip to Roy Underhill’s Woodwright’s School. Like always, it was worth the long haul. Here’s pictures.

Because I’m going to be in the car for hours & hours anyway, I take the scenic route. I hate I-95, so here’s a leg-stretching stop among the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia.

The project was an oak carved box. We used quartersawn red oak, with white pine lids and bottoms. Here’s Paul, carving his box front. On his messy bench, like everyone else’s. It made me come home & clean my shop.

Another box front off to a great start. Carving the box fronts comes after a full day of practice carving.

 

Our host had some saw sharpening that needed doing. Plenty of light out here.

No trip to Roy’s is complete without a stop or two upstairs at Ed Lebetkin’s tool store. I got out mostly unscathed, I didn’t need a box to haul my tools out like many do.

A snippet of squares.

I warned them that fitting the till is the fussiest part of making this box. They were not disappointed. It was fussy.

Here’s Scott’s wild carving and a deep till.

I’ve had students come to class barefoot, in sandals, flip-flops, etc – but never in spurs. Something new…I had to look up where Montana is, it’s way up there.

All the times I’ve been down there, I’ve never made it out to Elia Bizzari’s shop. We rectified that. What a nice place, great setting. My renewed chair fixation got more inspiration… http://handtoolwoodworking.com/ and https://www.instagram.com/eliabizzarri/?hl=en

Things kept getting busier and busier as the week went on. That’s the point, I guess.

The mornings weren’t great for birding, but some nice views down the creek at one point.

Then back home, jumped into a Plymouth CRAFT demo. Now finishing some furniture, then off to Winterthur later this month. More box classes later in the year, at Lost Art Press’ storefront not-a-school, and at Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking. (I guess I better send Bob the photos & blurb…) – I think there’s one or two spaces still in the December version at Lost Art.  https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/pf-2019-teaching-schedule/

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A look at carved boxes

I’m getting ready to head down to Roy Underhill’s for the first carved box class of the season. It’s full, but there’s room in others at Lost Art Press, and later at Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking too – here’s the schedule https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/pf-2019-teaching-schedule/

The new joinery book features making three carved boxes in detail. There’s others shown incidentally in the carving section. But I’ve made over 100 of them I imagine. Here’s some from various years, most of these are not in the book. These are all scattered to the four winds; but I’m always happy to make carved oak boxes for customers.

This one is mostly made-up, but the carving pattern is copied from a walnut box in Victor Chinnery’s book Oak Furniture: the British Tradition. I really like this pattern, usually I do it on a pretty wide piece of wood, maybe 7″ high.

 

red oak box, fall 2008

I did it in walnut once, made a terrible mess of making that box, but the carving is OK when the light hits it right.

Two small boxes, one motif. These are only about 5″ high by 15″ wide or so. Same design, just aiming this way on one, the other one on the second example. Garish electric light, I don’t miss it.

small oak boxes

Just a raking-light shot of a box underway. A design I always like, based on an original from Braintree, Massachusetts, right next to where I grew up.

 

Another fairly large box; the carving is from a drawer front based on the same Braintree joinery. This box might be about 8″ high I’d guess; 20+” wide.

guilloche carving on oak box

This little one was one of my favorites; carving, molding, color and squiggles & dots. I plan on doing some carved & painted ones this spring.

 

Here’s one before the box lid was installed, showing the till inside.

 

 

Some of these pictures have been on the blog before; here are two views of the wooden pintle hinge. I use it most often on my boxes, although in the seventeenth century it’s the exception rather than the rule.

 

This one is from just last year or the year before, a carving sample re-used as a box. I assume that’s the inside of the front. I carve the samples over & over in classes and only need them at the moment. So sometimes they get recycled.

 

Red oak boxes with white pine bottoms and lids. Very distinct color and texture difference when new (on the left), but 10-15 years later (right) they blend quite well. Have patience.

 

a detail:

 

Joined chests

I’ve been reading through the pages of my new book “Joiner’s Work” https://lostartpress.com/collections/books/products/joiners-work recently, and was thinking about how many joined chests I have made over the past 30 years. I don’t have an exact number, but a careful guess is over 60 of them.

Back when I made furniture in a living history museum I got to practice all day long – a pretty good way to learn. Sometimes the chests I made there were based on careful examination of period examples, other times all I had to go by was a photograph & I had to fill in the details based on what I know of period practices. Lots of leeway. Here’s a few that aren’t in the book:

This one is loosely based on a picture in Chinnery’s book Oak Furniture: The British Tradition. I remember when Vic and Jan Chinnery came to visit, Jan was surprised to see this chest – the original was in their house!

oak chest, two panel front

This one is totally “made-up” in that it is not copied from any one source. I made it in 1997. All white oak. Probably pitsawn; I was younger then, we all were.

H:25” W:47 ¼” D:16 1/8”

joined chest

Here’s part of my inlay phase! Also made-up. Also pitsawn, or mostly so. These all got used hard, and for most years got a new coat of linseed oil every year. That’s part of why they darken so. Some of the secondary wood on this one is elm, the lid panels & the end panels. Maybe the floor boards too.

 

These photographs came about because I was forgetting which ones I had made or my co-workers made before me – so at one point I started shooting them each winter as I cleaned them and tried to catalog them. Some we shot when they were new – this one was late in my career there – I’d guess around 2004-2005, which is when I first saw chests with that wide center muntin.

a small oak chest

 

There’s one of these “5-panel” (really 14 panels!) chests in the book. This one I made for a PBS series called Colonial House in 2003. It’s a copy of two chests from Marshfield, Massachusetts…

 

One more from that Colonial House batch – I built four houses’ worth of furniture for that project.  I remember later working on the motif that’s carved on this top rail & muntins – thinking I had never done it before. Clean forgot about this chest!

H:29” W:47 ¾” D:19”

joined chest, oak & pine

 

There’s no measured drawings in the book, but it shows you how to make a chest, and how to figure out the dimensions. Each one’s different, as you can see in this sampling. So glad I don’t have to move them around and clean them every winter anymore…but I’m glad I have even these basic photos.

OK – one more. In process, April 2011 it says. This one’s in the book incidentally; some process shots show it underway.

wainscot chest

Joiner’s Work available for ordering from Lost Art Press

No photo description available.

Well, I guess I’m not writing a book anymore – Chris just posted last  night that “Joiner’s Work” is available for “pre-publication order.” (Not “pre-order” – ask Roy Underhill about “pre-drilling” a hole sometime…) https://lostartpress.com/collections/books/products/joiners-work

Like most of my work, there’s a story behind this book. For eons, Jennie Alexander & I worked on “the book” – our collaboration about making a joined stool. It was to serve as “an introduction to joinery”. We spent so long on it that I used to drop out for years at a time, “you finish it” I’d say. Then JA’s health got dicey and s/he said “When I go to the boneyard, promise me you’ll finish the book.” Gladly, says I, knowing it’d be easier that way…

One thing led to another, and I wanted to write a book about making joined chests; complete with carving…but first, I had to get Alexander’s book out of the way. The plan was that I would provide the text and photos for the joined stool book, then JA could do with it as s/he pleased. Chris Schwarz has told the story of how one night after some woodworking show, he held court in a local pizza joint – “trying to start a publishing empire” I think was his recent quote. I was about starved to death, and was just looking for someone to have dinner with, but that meal really opened up a new world for me.

I had never written a how-to book before; I had been published a good bit, but it was all academic furniture history stuff. When Chris told me how LAP worked, I was thrilled with the idea of being a part of it – so I went down to Baltimore, wrestled with Alexander and we ended up finishing the Joint Stool book finally.

Then I went back to the carved chest book; and all kinds of hell broke loose. Somewhere in there, I started teaching, which meant I traveled. For someone who’d never driven a car until age 24 or so, I started to get around some. I ended up in places I’d never even heard of – imagine that Australia is actually real. Also mixed in there, I quit the job I never imagined I’d leave. So at that point, I had to figure out where I was going to set up shop. My good friend Ted Curtin lent me his for a while, then Pret Woodburn & I built mine here…so this book, like the first one, had a long gestation period. Lots of interruptions. But now it’s done.

I was splitting out parts for ladderback chairs yesterday afternoon, and there was one piece that was too good for chairs – dead-flat radial plane, 6” wide by three feet long – so today I’ll begin planing that stuff and in May I’ll make a box from it. The trees talk to Jögge Sundqvist. I get it. They make decisions for me sometimes. I might want one thing, but the tree has another thing in mind. It’d be stupid to not listen.

Assembling the bedstead

I’ve been building this bedstead for an embarrassingly long time. My ever-patient customer will assemble at her house in the southwestern US. So I have compiled a how-to for that work. Some of you might like to see it also, so I made it a blog post. First off, this is NOT a period-correct bedstead. It uses construction that is perfectly within 17th-century range, (except the slats under the bedding) but I’ve not seen it on a bedstead. One of the hardest parts of my old job was “what was the bed like?” – there are no New England bedsteads that can be attributed to the 17th century. So I made this one up – with the idea being that it could easily be shipped across the country. And assembled without any particular skills. Our bed at home is done in a similar manner. We don’t bang our shins on the protruding tenons, so stop right now second-guessing my use of that joint.

There’s just a few major parts; the headboard and the footboard,

the headboard before the crest was attached

the two long rails, and eight wooden wedges. 

there’s really 8, only 6 got in the photo

I made two cradles to help hold the long rails up while inserting the tenons.

You only have to be able to count to two to ID the joints. I, II and ) and )) cut with a chisel or gouge. Joint ) on the headboard’s post, and the corresponding rail.

ID mark above the mortise in headboard
ID mark on top edge of rail

Set the far end of the rail in the cradle, then slide the tenon into the mortise. In the southwest, I bet the tenons will slide even more easily than they do here in the more humid northeast. If they get stubborn, there’s a dead-blow plastic mallet to knock the post onto the rail. Not vice-versa.

I can do it myself, but it’d be easier with help

Once both rails are in the headboard, then get the footboard and slide it in place. The cradles hold the rails up just a bit off the floor, to make it easier to get in place.

rails inserted in headboard

 

the footboard being eased onto the tenons

back and forth, use the plastic dead-blow mallet if necessary. I alternate hitting above and below the tenon to move the post into place.

(I couldn’t build a king-sized bed in this shop…)

Then drive wedges into the joints. The wedges, two per joint, are numbered and labeled “upper” and “lower” because each tenon has two wedges. The wedges point out toward the outside of the bed. The side that’s written on is the bottom, the angled bit engages the tenon. I use a hammer now, tap them, don’t bang them. The hammer is more precise than the big mallet. (I didn’t photograph driving the wedges at the headboard. those are behind the bed, and I couldn’t get back there. Same as here, just that because they are outside the headboard, they don’t show.) 

even with just one wedge, you’ll feel things tighten up

 

it might be the most fun part

Tap all eight wedges all around the bed. Then lift the footboard and knock the cradles out of the way. Throw them out. Or save them for reassembly sometime if you move. Same with the mallet – I don’t want to see it again. 

Now the real modern junk – a series of five slats across ledgers inside the bed. These get screwed down; probably don’t need to be fastened, but it doesn’t hurt.

the ugly bits. You only see them when you move.

I numbered them in pencil 1-5; one at the head, 5 at the foot. You’ll see scribe lines outlining where they go. Apply some beeswax or soap to the screw threads if they aren’t going in easily. I start the screw in the slat until it pokes through, then I can find the hole it goes in easier. This step is one thing I worry about, that the holes will close up as the timber dries further down there. I tried to make them generous. You can see the numbering if you click the photo to enlarge; they’re numbered on the slat, and on the ledger they sit on. Just on one side of the bed. 

The stick your bedding in place. I hope it fits right.

 

here it is as a slideshow/video – a little too quick on the captions, but there’s a pause button. I have little video-making tolerance.

shop cleaning day

There’s often talk on Instagram & other sites about how people don’t present “real” life/work there – it’s all cleaned-up, perfect & presentable. I certainly do that on the blog and IG. I try to compose most of my photos so they show what I wanted to present. Here’s a photo shot with no thought, planning, etc – the camera was set up to shoot every two minutes, whatever was happening at the bench then.

It looks like I work in near-total darkness, which is just the opposite of how it is. If I had to get a shot of this process, I’d either wait til the sun was off those windows, or I’d cover them, to brighten the bench. I’d also bracket shots on the camera, etc.

Well, what could be more real-life than a complete (or nearly-so) cleaning of the shop? I photographed some of it, just in case something good happened. I didn’t shoot the complete “before” picture. Here, I’d already started sorting, so making a mess to clean up a mess. It either ends up on the benches or the floor for sorting.

I emptied the shelf under my main bench, and sorted these three boxes. Mostly it was dumping shavings out of them. These are tools I use nearly everyday (on the right) some of the time (middle) and rarely (left – I hate the tools in this box, mostly. Except the Millers Falls drill).

The everyday box up on the bench – (see, no planning for this photo) – hammer, carving mallet, chalklines, rulers, joiners’ saddles. I use these tools a lot. I’ve been planing some oak for joinery lately and the chalklines & saddles are key in that work.

I have some very straight, slow-growing red oak. Great stuff to plane.

I started planing up joined stool parts, and stuff for a wainscot chair.

Here’s some of that wood all planed or drawknifed. From here it needs to find a place to dry out some:

Under that bench when I was done – it won’t stay this tidy for long. All that belongs under there are those loose tools in boxes, then planes, bench hook, winding sticks, etc.

This stuff was under the other bench. Most of this got burned. A few bits & pieces went back under the bench. There’s an old plane I made that is all done. I salvaged the handmade iron and will make a new plane for it. But the cracked & broken body of that one will go in the stove.

Some views around the shop – this one for JoJo Wood –

This one is by Wille Sundqvist, it belonged to Jennie Alexander.

As I moved around the shop, sorting things here & there, I shifted these two boards for the settle I’m making next. It made a sort of white pine Rorschach test.

I had to clean up the shop to shoot photos for assembling the bedstead. that’s next.

I’m really not a wood-collector

I can’t be a wood hoarder (or collector) – I don’t have room. But for someone who claims to not collect wood, I sure spent a lot of time lately gathering it. Much of my wood of choice is green wood. If your eyes get bigger than your stomach for green wood, you end up with stuff that goes bad one way or the other. Some green wood rots, like birch for spoons. Some gets insects if you don’t get the bark off. Like oak. Here’s former spoon wood that never got made:

Winter is the easiest time for a green woodworker; no insects to invade the stashed timber. I have this pile of riven oak bolts standing outside my shop; this time of year there’s no hurry to deal with them. These are between 5 and 6 feet long, a few shorter sections in there too. Most is oak, a few are hickory that just came in this week. 

I have started to split them up and rough plane them one by one. Removing the sapwood and the bark is critical, that’s where the creatures get in. I have some joined furniture coming up – 2 joined stools, a chest of drawers and a wainscot chair. But then I need a place to store the planed oak bits…here’s a small stack up in the edge of the loft. I’ve glued the ends so they don’t check. I often write the date on them too, helps me keep track of what’s what. These are drawer parts and frame stock for a chest of drawers that’s on my list. The chair rungs behind them are a bit too wiggly to be good enough; but too good to burn. For now…

Before most of that oak work, I have two large pieces to build for the Old House in Cutchogue, Long Island out of white pine. A settle that’s essentially 5 feet square and a dresser that’s 6 feet wide and 7 feet tall. Like much early pine furniture, the originals that we studied to base these on were made from wide white pine boards. The settle for instance – the narrow parts are 15” wide. The uprights are from an 18” board.

This week I went to visit a friend of mine to get some of this white pine. We had to sort through a lot of pine boards, because there were too many 24-26” wide boards and we didn’t want to cut those down to 15” stuff. An interesting problem to have – boards that are too wide! I couldn’t leave all those two-footers behind, so a couple came here to be future chest lids. On the left is one of the settle’s uprights – it’s about 18″ wide, the board beside it is maybe 24″ wide. One or two small knots in the settle piece, the other board has none. 

I pulled one down from my loft that I’d been saving for a couple years, and cut it for a chest here in the house that has been wanting a lid for a while. So I can stash one board where that came from. But clearly it’s time to sort and clean out the loft and use it for real storage, not dead storage.

The next day found me helping some friends sawing out white pine boards, and some of them came back here too. These are green, just sawn. So their storage is easy, outside, stickered and forgotten til next year. Some 20” one inch boards, and one 2” thick plank; about 12 feet long. I’m in the midst of covering this small stack with leftover boards from building the shop. 

Then back to the first stop, where now there was a section of green hickory up for grabs. I split some out, about 6’ long. Chair parts, basket rims and handles. This needs pretty immediate attention, hickory has a lousy shelf life, and is best worked green. A detour, but a fun one. 

I disassembled my lathe to make room for all this oversized work; just finishing up the bedstead now, then will begin work on the pine pieces. You can see how tight it is in there. The long rails are just seen by the through tenons in the foot board’s posts. 

Here’s the wedged through tenon. After this photo, the wedges got trimmed a little, the tenon got chamfered on its corners.

After these large pieces, I’ll re-assemble the lathe. By then, it’ll be spring and I’ll start travelling and teaching. Better get to it.