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.

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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.

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.

some snapshots of birds

I haven’t been out birding in ages. While I was in Virginia, I took a morning off to go to Jamestown Island for a walk. Good eagle habitat there. I saw about 6 or 8  of them during the few hours I was there. Didn’t get any great shots, but a few photo snippets. Here’s an adult taking off from its perch.

I saw several  different juveniles. One was very distinctive, either molting some wing feathers or otherwise lost some..


At one point there was about 4 juvys and an adult in the air over me at once. here’s one of the other young birds.

Out at the tip of the island, I saw this raccoon digging relentlessly in the flats. Maybe not a good sign seeing him/her out at mid-day in the bright sun. Seemed fine, but made me wonder why it was out at that time of day…

Back down the island I ran into some eastern bluebirds, including this one.

I kept seeing flocks of birds I couldn’t get a bead on, ten or twelve birds scattering around here and there. Then I finally got ’em, yellow-rump warblers.


Back home, there’s a chickadee that’s been around all fall and winter, he’s missing some pigment so he shows a lot of white feathers. Daniel dubbed him “Moby Chic”

a pair of hooded mergansers in the river one day.

I gotta try to get out some soon. So much oak to be worked, I’ve been at my bench every daylight moment…but the oak won’t go bad. So maybe tomorrow…

Back in the shop

First off – my holdfast is bigger than yours. Being back at Colonial Williamsburg last week reminded me of my previous visit there 11 years ago. I was using the 18th-century style holdfasts, and made an off-hand comment along the lines of “boy, these high holdfasts get in the way…” Ken Schwartz, the head blacksmith offered to make me a low one like I use at home…but I said “No – don’t go to all that trouble..”  – then I guess I made another comment about the height of the holdfast. So after lunch, Ken came on stage and presented me with a custom-made holdfast.

He & I met up again last week, both remembering that event. Seems we’ve both told the story many times – but I’ve never posted the holdfast before. I find it a couple times every year during deep cleaning of the shop.

I finished a carved box for a customer today. One of my “usual” boxes; oak with a pine lid & bottom. Wooden hinges.

I have a number of custom pieces to build this year, so I’ll be doing a lot of furniture work. I get questions sometimes about “do you take commissions?” – and the answer is yes. I have a list right now that will take me through the first half of the year, but this box is an example of something that can jump the queue – I can usually work one of these into my schedule pretty easily. As it happened in this case, the box was made, I just had to finish the lid & bottom.

Finished this walnut book stand today too – which was just the finish; linseed oil. This one is spoken for, but there’s another right behind it.

One of the custom pieces I’m working on now is a chest of drawers. This one is not based on any particular period example, it will be carved and have moldings between the four drawers. I don’t want to use applied moldings in this case (it’s going to a very dry climate, compared to here by the ocean) so I have opted to adapt this “lipped tenon” seen in Plymouth Colony work of the 17th century. In this shot, you see the joint halfway home, leaving a piece about 7/8″ thick riding over the stile’s face. That section will get the molding cut in it.

Here’s how I cut it. Pencil layout for the camera’s benefit. This blank is laying on its face, that will be the molding.

I’ve made the rip cut that sets off the molding, and cut the tenon to length. Now I’m cutting the rear shoulder.

Splitting the waste off. 

Sawing the other cheek of the tenon.

Then chopping the end grain between the tenon and the molding.

The joint once it’s cut & pared.

Fitted into the mortise. There’s 3 rails like this, the other two will have scratched moldings. I’ll shoot more of this project soon.

Colonial Williamsburg Working Wood conference

I got home yesterday from my trip to Colonial Williamsburg’s Working Wood in the 18th Century conference. Or was it a symposium? This was the 20th year, quite an accomplishment. I had previously attended in 2007; I was especially pleased to be back. Lots of old friends, lots of familiar faces both on stage and in the audience. I took a few lousy photos, but found many on the facebook site from https://www.facebook.com/CWhistorictrades/ – so I “borrowed” many from them. Go to the link to see their whole pile of photos; they got good ones.

First thing I noticed upon loading my gear into the auditorium was that I had left my green wood billets at home. If there is anyplace you can go & expect to get green wood upon asking, Williamsburg is it. One of the carpenters’ crew found me some white oak that was so good that it needed no hewing when I split it. So I showed the camera just how flat the good stuff is when it splits:

 

 

The Williamsburg woodworking crowd; Kaare Loftheim, Bill Pavlak, Ted Boscana, Garland Wood, and my old cohort Brian Weldy all had presentations. Here’s Brian & Bill during the tool chest presentation…

And Kaare Loftheim showing the saw till under the lid of a tool chest the crew worked on several years back:

Ted Boscana and his crew of apprentices went through the steps to make some architectural moldings, including some crown/cornice molding. I didn’t get a shot of it, but there was a great demo of the apprentices pulling Ted through the air as he provided the weight to push down on the plane.

Ken Schwartz, the master blacksmith, led a presentation showing through slides and video how a drawknife and axe were made, then he had members of the coopers’ and wheelwrights’ shops briefly show the tools in use. Here’s a shot showing the axe “bit” and the eye/head:

For me, one great highlight was seeing W. Patrick Edwards’ presentation on Sunday morning.

His introductory story about an abrupt change of career early on in his life made me grin from ear to ear. If you get a chance to see Patrick as a presenter, jump. http://wpatrickedwards.blogspot.com/2017/09/the-risk-of-living-as-process-of-life.html

Don Williams de-mystified finishing on Sunday – (yes, it finished with finishing) – Don made it so accessible that I wanted to try some, instead of my usual cop-out linseed oil. http://donsbarn.com/the-barn/  His demonstration of the winding sticks-with-feet was especially good.

 

Jane Rees is often a fixture at the Williamsburg conference,and it was great to catch up with her again. So many historic tool questions were diverted from the audience to the stage, then down to the front row with “I don’t know, let’s ask Jane”  http://www.reestools.co.uk/books/

Jane understood when she heard I ducked out for half a day to go see eagles on the James River.

and then there was Roy Underhill. Do I have to say anything? Keynote speaker, moderator of a discussion panel, all around helpful schlepping on & off stage, native guide around CW; and poker-of-sacred-cows. When Roy is around, I stick close, because something worth seeing is going to happen.

My presentation was sponsored by EAIA; other sponsors were SAPFM and Fine Woodworking. My thanks to them for helping make it happen.

On any of my southerly trips, I try to get over to see my greatest friends; Heather Neill and her wife Pat. It’s always too much fun in too short a time when we visit. Here’s a sampling of Heather’s work, both painting & writing:  http://heatherneill.com/studio-blog/2017/07/18/in-my-element/ 

Her Instragram is here https://www.instagram.com/hnartisan/

I woke up to this idyllic sight today. Won’t make it to working in the shop today…but tomorrow I will.

Carpenters’ bowling alley expenses

I’m supposed to be putting together 3 lectures and planning 2 demonstrations. And finishing an article. And more. So I’m susceptible to distraction tonight. While looking for slides, I ran across these old notes I took about 15 years ago. Many years ago, I bought a few volumes of the Records of the Worshipful Company of Carpenters. An extravagant purchase, but with some great details about their goings-on. Here’s a snippet, I wrote a “translation” in parentheses for the many folks who might not be so nimble at deciphering the original:

Bower Marsh, editor, Records of the Worshipful Company of Carpenters, vol 4, Warden’s account book, 1546-1571

payd to Rychard burdn for iij plankes for the bowlyng ale xviijd  (paid to Richard Burden for 3 planks for the bowling alley, 18 pence)

payd for iiij lode of funders yearthe & the caryag for the bowlyng ale vs vjd  (paid for 4 loads of founders earth and the carriage for the bowling alley, 5 shillings, 6 pence)

payd to ij laborars for a day & di for caryeng owte of the funders yerthe in to the strett Redy for ye cartes & for caryeng yt in to or well yard xviijd

(paid to 2 laborers for a day & a half for carrying out of the fuller’s earth into the street ready for the carts & for carrying it in to our well yard – 17 pence)

payd for iiij lod of sope ahysses & the caryag iijs xd (paid for 4 loads of soap ashes and the carriage 3 shillings 10 pence)

payd for v busschelles of howse ahysses for the bowlyng ale xd (paid for 5 bushels of house ashes for the bowling alley 10 pence)

payd to ij men for the makyng of the bowlyng aly xxjs xjd  (paid to 2 men for the making of the bowling alley 21 shillings 11 pence)

Randle Holme’s description of bowling, from 1688 is:

Bowling is a Game, or recreation which if moderately used very healthfull for the body, and would be much more commendable then it is, were it not for those swarms of Rooks, which so pester Bowling greens, where in three things are thrown away by such persons, besides the Bowls, viz: Tyme, Money, and Curses, and the last ten for one.
Seuerall places for Bowling.
First, Bowling greens, are open wide places made smooth and euen, these are generally palled or walled about.
Secondly, Bares, are open wide places on Mores or commons.
Thirdly, Bowling-alleys, are close places, set apart in made more for privett persons, than publick uses.
Fourthly, Table Bowling, this is, Tables of a good length in Halls or dineing roomes, on which for exercise and diuertisement gentlemen and their assosiates bowle with little round balls or bullets.

Here’s Jan Steen’s skittle players, not technically bowling. But what we in the US think of as bowling these days.

Randle Holme again, describing the types of bowls:

Several sorts of Bowles.
Where note in Bowling the chusing of the Bowls is the greatest cunning, for
Flat Bowles, are best for close Narrow alleys.
Round Byassed Bowles for open grounds of advantage.
Bowles as round as a ball for green swarths that are plain and Levell.
Chees-cake bowles, which are round and flat like cheeses.
Jack Bowles, little bowles cast forth to bowl att, of some termed a Block.
Studded Bowles, such as are sett full of pewter nayles, and are used to run at streight Markes.
Marvels, or round Ivory balls, used by gentlemen to play on long tables, or smooth board Romes.

I saw these bowlers during my trip to England a few years back. I think this was near Royal Leamington Spa

Here is a 17th-century bowling ball, found during Boston’s famous Big Dig:

Read about it here: http://www.sec.state.ma.us/mhc/mhcarchexhibitsonline/crossstreetbacklot.htm