joined chest done

Ah! A flat surface! Quick, pile stuff on it…

this chest was next in my “finish all that leftover stuff” campaign. All it needed was its lid; and I had a piece of white pine perfectly suited for the job. As soon as it was done I started piling stuff on it. When the weather clears (should say “if the weather clears..”) I’ll make enough space in the shop to get proper photographs of it. The chest itself was from back when I was finishing up the book Joiner’s Work, it’s on the back cover of the dust jacket.

Its inspiration began 20 years ago on my first trip to England. There Victor Chinnery showed me a chest fragment he had just acquired for an American collector. I measured its parts – the framing of 2 stiles & 2 long rails; then the center wide (10″ -plus) muntin, dividing the chest front into two panels. Here is the center panel, dated 1669 & initialed EC.

1669 chest

One of the panels

panel of 1669 chest

I’ve made a chest before based on this example and another I saw by the same maker, that one dated 1682. Here’s my previous version.

 

I change stuff around from the originals – like the bottom rail’s carving of the ones I saw. I get what this is; and I could carve it. But I’ve never liked it. This pattern shows up regularly in this broad group of Devon furniture (and its relatives in Ipswich, Massachusetts) – but it does not show up in my work.

bottom rail of 1669 chest

If you follow Marhamchurch Antiques’ website https://www.marhamchurchantiques.com/ you might have seen another chest that I assume is the same maker. This one’s dated 1666.

 

One more – this from an advertisement dated 1988 – while I figure this is the same maker, I’ve never seen it in the flesh. Haven’t even seen a good photo of it. Also dated 1669/EC. Hard to see from here, but those date/initials are in the corners of the right & left panels.

It takes a large log to rive out panels like these, overall they’re about 14″ x 17″. The original I studied was sawn stock, as was my first one. This new one is all riven – but I rarely see oak that good.

 

When I was working on the book, I had no photos of making brackets that fit under the front bottom rail. I made some for this chest so I could shoot them. One test-fitted into the stile:

BLOG UPDATE:

The past couple of posts have included more videos  – As we all scramble around to figure out what’s next in the woodworking circus, I’ve decided to take some of this “at-home” time to focus on shooting more videos at the bench. I have nice cameras that can do it, just haven’t put enough time into it before now. So you’ll see me tinkering with that more, even did some housekeeping on my youtube channel = https://www.youtube.com/user/MrFollansbee/videos 

I don’t know why it’s called “Mr Follansbee” but I hate it. I changed what it says on the page – but that hasn’t changed the web address. Oh well. Mostly the youtube uploads are so I can copy things over to here; but some will just stay there. Either extras, redundant or one reason or another.

As I get further along this route, I’ll keep you posted about it. I had looked at a patreon site – but I don’t want more websites to keep up – the blog & Instagram is about all I can handle. And I decided I’m not keen on the subscription idea. I have always posted free content on the blog and will continue to do so. However, I do need to make a living like most of us – and traveling and teaching is a big part of my income each year. So I’m aiming to put a donate button on the blog for any who are in a position to help keep things rolling around here. Curtis Buchanan is my inspiration in that regard, there’s worse leads to follow.

I hope you’re all hanging in there,
PF

videos of joined stool work

Back when the book Make a Joint Stool from a Tree came out, I was making how-to videos with Lie-Nielsen. Made a bunch of them over a few years. For a couple of reasons, we never did one on the joined stool. I have a stool underway now, and a recent post brought a question about how the story stick is used. So I tried to cover it in a video – my video capabilities are limited and challenged. I am not going to try to learn video editing…there’s only so many hours in a day. I’m the camera man and the woodworker in these – so there’s your warning. I won’t cover every aspect of making the stool, but will try to hit many of them.

Once I had that stile marked out, I put one on the lathe & set the camera up to try to catch that work. I AM NO GREAT TURNER! – but I can do enough for joiner’s work. So to really learn turning, find someone else. (I like Pete Galbert’s video on turning…) – but here’s my series on turning this stile on the pole lathe. I chopped it up into 3 videos – mostly so I could fumble around & get what I need as I was working. You’ll see, warts n’ all. For short videos, they’re pretty long. Tom Lie-Nielsen used to ask me if I could make a video shorter than Ben Hur.

Part one is mostly turning the cylinder from the square.

Now some of the details; cove, baluster, etc.

I re-jigged the camera for the foot, to try to get some detail. The sun came on very strong, and made things both better and worse.

Links –

the book Make a Joint Stool from a Tree https://lostartpress.com/products/make-a-joint-stool-from-a-tree

The video series from Lie-Nielsen; https://www.lie-nielsen.com/nodes/4243/home-education-videos

Pete Galbert’s video on turning – https://lostartpress.com/collections/dvds/products/galbert-turning

Curtis Buchanan’s video series – he’s got turning in there somewhere. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2QCOxzGYG6gAqtF-1S7orw

the Arkansas Test

Many of you know I’ve been editing Jennie Alexander’s Make a Chair from a Tree for Lost Art Press. (yes, I know you want me to hurry…) At the same time, I’ve begun a meandering sort of research project that is only partially formed in my head. For a year or more now, I’ve referred to it as my “Craft Genealogy.” This is the first blog post on that subject. 

Much of this parallel project draws on the Jennie Alexander Papers, now housed at Winterthur Museum’s research library. JA kept notebooks from nearly the beginning of her chairmaking work, the earliest is dated 1973/4. There are other papers, notes and letters that I have here. Eventually, I’ll add these to the Winterthur collection. 

At North House, I gave a talk outlining some of it. It was mostly for me, but some of the audience claimed to like it. But they’re midwestern, they’re very polite. The focus of the talk was mostly about JA, Daniel O’Hagan and Bill Coperthwaite. All letter-writers. Many other people are involved – certainly Drew Langsner who is my connection to all of these folks.  While I was at North House, I stumbled onto a piece by surprise. 

In Daniel O’Hagan’s notes is a description of a stress-test Dave Sawyer used to apply to his ladderbacks, dated 1974: 

His chairs are so strong that he recommends what he calls the Arkansas test having learned it with other techniques from Arkansas craftsmen. The test is to tilt the chair on one leg and taking hold of a back post exert all one’s weight downwards on the chair which supports it all on one leg; by this any weak point will soon creak or break. ” 

The only Arkansas chairmaker mentioned so far in the Alexander letters was Charles Christian. More about him another time. JA eventually visited Christian, but I think had first  heard of him through Dave Sawyer. JA introduced himself to Sawyer in a letter dated May 1976 – but in an Oct 1976 letter to Sawyer, JA noted:

“It is a small world. I was going over my old notes the other day and saw that the Woody Brothers of Spruce Pine N. Car. had given me your name 2 years ago but I never got around to writing.”   

I don’t know how JA got onto the Woody Brothers of Spruce Pine, N.C. – Arval & Walter. Then-John and his wife Joyce had visited them in spring of 1974, and then traded a few letters back and forth. 

While at North House, I was browsing the bookshelves in one of the workshops. A variety of Scandinavian stuff, boatbuilding, timber-framing, etc. One little coffee-table National Geographic book “The Craftsman in America” (1975) – so I opened that, and found a photo that I recognized right away, but had never seen before. Arval Woody testing the chair just the way Daniel described Dave’s test. 

Chairmaking in the US is now is a small world, in the mid-1970s, it was even smaller. I see several explanations, none of which we really need. One is that Daniel mixed up Dave’s chairmaking friends, thus the Arkansas test might really be the NC test. Another is that the Woodys and Charles Christian knew each other, and they both did it. Another is that Dave is the transmission of this show-stopping demo – bringing it from the Christian shop to the Woodys. None of it matters. All I know for sure is when I opened that book at North House, and saw that photo, I knew right away I was on the right track. I heard Daniel O’Hagan’s voice say “It is providential!” 

PS:

I tried it yesterday and almost broke my neck.

I couldn’t balance, needed one hand on the bench. There’s plenty of weight on the chair still, I have enough to go around.

Brendan Gaffney got a better photo than I did; he’s still young & more nimble than me. 

 

PPS: The Woody’s Chair Shop is still going. https://www.woodyschairshop.com/

 

 

 

The new John Brown book and dimensions

I feel right at home reading Chris Williams’ new book Good Work, about John Brown. I’m sure I first heard of John Brown from Drew Langsner; he taught at Drew’s school a couple of times. His book Welsh Stick Chairs is quite an inspiration. Today I was reading one JB’s columns reprinted in the new book, about his disdain for measured drawings and plans. His thrust is to learn to trust your eye(s); and have that as a guide while you make your chair.

I have similar feelings about drawings for the joined furniture I make. Once I had a job for the US government, making a few pieces of furniture for an historic house in Connecticut. The major stumbling block for me was the feds wanted measured drawings and specs. I asked if I could do the drawings after making the furniture. They didn’t understand. I got through it, but it wasn’t fun.

My joined furniture falls into two general categories; one is direct copies of existing pieces. Then I measure the original, and produce parts that will get me stock of the proper size to build that piece. The other is to make a piece based on period practices, using construction, decoration and proportions based on what I’ve studied in various collections. I have notebooks filled with detailed notes to draw from. Then I get to work making my version of a box, stool, chest, etc.

Here’s the next carved box underway. The determining factor for the size of this box was my suitcase! I took the white oak board for the box front to North House and carved the front as a demonstration. Then brought it back home and made the box sides accordingly. So this is not a reproduction of an existing box, but made in all the same manner as a period box.

My next joined stool is underway as well. The customer didn’t have any particular stool in mind, but we talked about stools from Connecticut and from Northern Massachusetts…so I climbed up on the ladder to look over the story sticks hanging in the shop. Here’s just a few of them; one problem is many are two-sided. That’s now one of those rainy-day projects, to copy any “backs” and make them all one-sided, so they’re easier to find.

I picked one from Essex County, Massachusetts – the first thing I do after prepping the stock is layout and cut the mortises.

But I wanted to change a couple of things. The previous stools I just did were a customer request for stools just a tad higher than usual. I liked that look, and wanted to make this stool just 1 1/2″ or so taller. So you see here I’ve bumped things up (to our right) to increase the foot for this stool. I’ll tinker with the foot shape when I get to the lathe. I also beefed up the stretcher from 1 3/4″ high to 2″ high. Slight changes, but this is the sort of thing John Brown was writing about.. and some of his thoughts on this subject “keep it simple”…”use the eyes” – good advice.  I drive some of my students crazy when they ask for specifics and my reply is “just a little bit more” or “about like that” with my fingers showing the amount. Rulers – bah!

 

Once I struck the dimensions on the first stool leg/stile, I put the story stick away and marked the rest from that existing stile. It became the standard for this particular joined stool.

In the book, I also saw a variation on a favorite quote – “Experience is the best teacher but the fees can be very high.” I learned it from Daniel O’Hagan, “Experience keeps a dear school but fools will learn from no other.” That version is often attributed to Ben Franklin. Citations are hard to come by. Apparently, if you go by the internet, everybody said everything. 

Get the new John Brown book, well, the Chris Williams book from Lost Art Press

Good Work: The Chairmaking Life of John Brown

They brought John Brown’s book back into print as well.

Welsh Stick Chairs <BR>by John Brown

 

North House Folk School

Some thoughts and interspersed photos from my week at North House Folk School.

Clearly North House Folk School is doing something right. Over 350 classes & 3,000 students per year? It makes my head swim. I just got back from a week-plus there – If you’ve not heard of them, their website is great. Be sure to watch the 10-minute film about the school.  https://northhouse.org/

The event was called “Wood Week” – two 3-day sessions, with an in-between day of demonstrations, films, and the legendary pizza night. I didn’t take any useful photos to give you an idea of the scope of the event. There were so many courses, including mine – and I didn’t get to peek into more than just one or two. I’ll just cop out & copy the info from their website about the offerings:

“Choose from a dozen courses, including returning favorites in bowl carving with Jon Strom, spoon carving with Fred Livesay and Mike Loeffler, Krympburkar: Scandanavian-Style Shrink Boxes with Paul Linden & Jim Sannerud, and figure carving with Harley Refsal. Or, try something new with Bruce Futterer (Carving Facial Detail), Liesl Chatman (Kolrosing), or Jock Holmen (Dragon Head Carving).”

The view outside the shop where I was teaching:

A setting that is out of this world – out of mine, anyway. The lake there is so nice they call it Superior. The tide never goes out. The town of Grand Marais is quite nice too. Small, friendly, nice place for walking. 

One piece that I especially liked was the evening presentations by several craftspeople, none of whom had grey hair. Lots of young people around North House, delving deeply into crafts of many kinds. We heard from Mike Loeffler and Mary Beth Garmoe about time they both spent in Sweden & Norway as part of an Artisan Development Program run by North House. Two years at North House, culminating in a several-weeks-long trip through some of Scandinavia, working and studying with various artisans. What an experience for these people. 

During the week we also saw demonstrations by Dawson Moore and Rose Holdorf – Dawson’s about the spoon mule he’s developed, following some initial input from Jarrod.  Rose showed us methods she uses for making a post & rung stool. She managed to get the whole thing built in just an hour, having the parts made up ahead of time. The third presentation in this lineup was Angela Robbins showing how she hews a bowl with an axe and adze. Like Mike and Mary Beth, Angela was an ADP recipient. 

Here’s Rose carving in one of my classes –

I didn’t get photos of the pizza night – I’d guess 100-130 pizzas baked in the wood-fired oven on Friday night. Friday was called the “carver’s conference” and it consisted of all of the instructors demonstrating for the day. The students who had been in the first session were welcomed to stay over and see what they missed in other classes; and the incoming students likewise were welcome to come in early. After the pizza party, I gave a talk about three of the people who were either teachers of mine, (Jennie Alexander and Daniel O’Hagan) or inspiration (Bill Coperthwaite) – my talk was well-received – people were kind to sit through something that was a little different than my usual woodsy lecture. 

Among the instructors in the 2nd go-round was Alex Yerks – and he & I were trying to remember if we’d ever seen each other in this country. We think not. We first met in England, and then in Australia. So this was our first US gig maybe.  One other highlight – Liesl Chatman and her partner Erin gave a riveting presentation about their frequent travels in New Zealand. It was a moving talk.

Lots of things like this in the ceiling – I think they catch the dust and keep it  off the benches.

A sunrise – the time changed while I was out there, so I caught a sunrise by accident.

This sod-roof timber frame must have been a class at some point. Everyone gets lots of photos of it…including me.

This is blog post #1,234 for me. That’s a lot of words and pictures over the years. More on that thought another time.

There were a lot of links for this post – I moved most of them here:

The North House blog – https://northhouse.org/blog

The Artisan Development Program https://northhouse.org/get-involved/artisan-development-program

Dawson Moore’s Spoon Mule plans – https://www.michigansloyd.com/products/spoon-mule-plans

Alex Yerks’ Instagram https://www.instagram.com/alex_yerks/?hl=en

Liesl Chatman’s Instagram https://www.instagram.com/rivchicawarrior/?hl=en

 

carving an oak panel

Yesterday my intention was to carve this oak panel for a wainscot chair & photograph many of the steps showing some decision-making that happens when tackling a detailed carving…but then I saw that several cameras here had dead batteries all at once. So while the batteries were charging, I began the carving. All I got of the beginning is this Ipad photo, showing some of the initial V-tool work.

It’s a big panel, one I’ve been saving for I think about 4 years. The carving inside the margins is 12 3/4″ wide by 15″ high. That’s a huge piece of riven oak. This one’s perfect – dead straight all the way from one margin to the other. I’m going to miss it when it’s gone. I started with a vertical centerline, and then struck an arc with a compass that defines the arch at the top. From there, I used some chalk to get the gist of the pattern I wanted. The urn at the bottom I outlined by striking two circles left & right of the centerline, then connecting them with an upper & lower tangent line. From there, everything else is freehand. Next I figure where that vine is that comes from the urn and flows outward left & right then splits in half. The top half connects up to the arch; the bottom  half winds down to form a large round flower. All you need is what I call “approximate symmetry.” The points where the vine splits and goes up & down you can find with a square across the board, then measure out from the center – so the left & right agree.

Once one of the batteries charged, I shot a few photos. Here’s most of the V-tool work done.

After the V-tool work comes background removal. I always use a Swiss-made #5 gouge. It’s about 1/2″ wide. Mine has slightly rounded corners, making it easier to get in & out of places. They come from the manufacturer dead-straight across.

The big flowers aren’t V-tool work. I struck circles to locate them, then use a couple different gouges to strike the outlines of the petal.

In this next photo, I’m using a #7 gouge to define some leaf-shapes that blend out from the vine. Just below where I am working (above in the photo, but below on the panel) is a mistake – I beveled the area where these leaves will go on that vine. Better to define the leaves first, then bevel. Less fragile that way.

Now you can see some of these leaves cut out above the vine – and I’m just about to knock out some background on the next batch.

Then using a few gouges to layer the flowers. They’re hollowed in each petal, and have an inner & outer row of petals.

After a bit, all the roughing-out is done. Then it’s just picking at details. This is where I got yesterday. I’ve started to try to track my time for various operations – it’s been years since I’ve done so. From the blank panel to this was just under 3 hours – a long time for one carving.

Today I finished it. Using the gouge bevel up to give the petals a bit of a bevel themselves.

There’s lots of these shapes cut into leaves all over.

As always, the general notion is “no blank space.”

The finished panel. total time was about 3 3/4 hours.

A question I get a lot is “where can I get designs/images to carve from?”

I’m working towards part of the answer to that question being “from me…” – I’ve been drawing patterns a lot for the past year or so, since the book Joiner’s Work has been done. The drawings started as a coloring book. Then that idea got shelved, and now the idea is sets of loose sheets showing patterns for rails, panels, box fronts.

Here’s an example – this is the design I started with for the wainscot chair panel. I drew it full-scale, based on a couple of related panels. I combined bits of this one with bits of that one. But when I got to carving, some things changed. Nothing major, but here & there some details were easier to fit on the drawing than on the oak. The V-tool is wider than a pencil point. The drawing is a place to begin – that’s all. Now that I figured out what urn I wanted in this panel, I can finish the drawing!

 

You can see the cover of the book is a related panel – that one’s part of a bedstead. Narrower, so less detail.

Here’s the link to the book at Lost Art Press https://lostartpress.com/products/joiners-work

the next wainscot chair

I’ve been working on some blog-housekeeping lately, with more to come. I re-did some of the drop-down menus at the top of the blog. A couple new pages just show examples of things like carved boxes, wainscot chairs, chests, etc. On the side menu there’s a link to the page at Lie-Nielsen for the videos they produced of my work.  I think there’s 8 of them now, including the new one about making a shaving horse. I have some of the shaving horse one for sale still, or you can get them from LN.

Meanwhile, I’ve just started another version of the chair above. The wainscot chair isn’t in the book Joiner’s Work, but I did shoot a DVD with Lie-Nielsen about building one. Making the rear posts is as “un-green-woodworking” as you can get. The wood is fresh, wet, all that. BUT – it’s non-supportable in an ecological sense. The back posts are hewn and planed out of a large piece of oak. Most of which ends up as chips. Here’s a side view, showing what I’m after.

Here’s how I shaped them this week. The bolt I shape them from is about 4′ long, and initially maybe 6″x 6″. There’s one on the sawbuck in the right of this photo. I’m using a hatchet to remove the bark first.

This is a case where I work the tangential, or growth ring plane first. Now using a joiner’s hatchet to get a relatively clean surface to lay out the shape on.

I lay the chair stick on there, and shift it this way & that to get the orientation the best I can. There’s compromises happening with grain direction. I’d like the upper part to follow the fibers, but then I’d need an even bigger bolt to start with. So shift it some more.

Using a froe to knock some excess stock out of the way.

In the shop now, having planed the surface some, re-do the layout of the shape. But there’s one problem down at the foot. The riven shape falls away, so I had to shift the stick over some more.

The detail showing how the stock is tapered under that surface.

There’s a lot of back & forth between the planes, the hatchet and layout with the chair stick.

 

A chalk line to mark out the width of the stile – then hewing it to nearly that line.

I almost gave up this indoor chopping block. It’s in a tight space & I don’t often use it. But I’ve had this particular one since 2001 so I figure I’ve kept it this long…

checking the front face above the seat, I want it flat along its length. There’s going to be joinery in two planes there, and carving too.

The front face both above & below the seat level are mostly defined now, and I’ve laid out the back line to this post.

The easiest way to hew that rear section is to cut reliefs in the wood along the layout lines. These saw cuts go down to a depth, then I hew to them.

I’ve switched to a smaller hatchet, this one by Julia Kalthoff https://www.instagram.com/kalthoffaxes/?hl=en. I’m using it to knock out the blocks between the saw kerfs. Several saw kerfs takes most of risk out of this step. You can do it with one, right at the junction between up & down. But more kerfs helps.

I set it on the bench now on its face to work the back surface.

A holdfast grips it down to the bench, and I shimmed under the foot at the other end. Then went at it with the scrub plane. Flipped it end for end to do the same to the top end.

The first one took forever, because I was photographing it. The second one went more quickly. About halfway through the 2nd one, I switched from using the chair stick as reference to using the first post. More important that they match each other than getting them to agree to the stick. I timed the 2nd one and it was 1 hour & 5 minutes from the split-out section to the finished post. All the steps above included. Now these (and the other parts for this chair) will sit for a month to six weeks to begin drying at the surface. Then I’ll work them along, planning to work on this chair at Fine Woodworking Live in April. http://www.finewoodworkinglive.com/