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.

Make a Chair from a Tree

Make a Chair from a Tree

Recently Pete Galbert wrote about the coming 3rd edition of MACFAT “It’s no exaggeration to say that this book changed my life…” – I too have used that expression in talking about that book. As I’ve been thinking about it lately, one person whose life changed immensely because of the book was Alexander. John, Jennie, JA, Alexander  – I feel like Billy Pilgrim, unstuck in time. So some of what I think about involves John Alexander, some Jennie. Before anyone gets in a snit over it – I mean no disrespect. I was as close to JA as you can get.  

PF JA Theo

Lately, I’ve been working on the beginnings of a book that I hope will come to pass. It involves some threads and stories of how the people who taught me woodworking learned themselves, how they intersected – and one of the central players is Alexander. To that end, I’ve been reading about 700-900 pages of what could be a couple thousand pages (I haven’t seen all the notebooks yet, the pandemic put a halt to that research for 1 1/2 years) of notes and letters in Alexander’s papers. It tells quite a story. 

intersecting rung tenons

I wrote a short intro to the new edition, noting that in the first edition JA wrote: “I’ve made more friends in the past year than I had in the previous five years.” – and that was before Alexander went to Drew Langsner’s & began teaching chairmaking. From that point (1979) on, things really took off. 

In one letter, JA wrote “I am an attorney by profession, that is my cash crop so to speak. However I am equally concerned with my craft.” Well, that’s not strictly true. I never saw JA take time from woodworking to do legal work, but the reverse was often the case. He’d write letters and notes while waiting for his case to be called in court. Lots and lots of them. Always woodworking was churning around in his head; even when his professional life kept him busy and out of the shop. 

1978

I never have known anyone who read as much as JA did, nor I guess have I known anyone who wrote as much as she did. But one thing is very clear, the woodworking and the relationships developed through it were the most important and significant part of JA’s life outside of the family. 

All those phone calls in Jennie’s last years were about excruciating minutiae about making the chair. Always questioning, always pushing to make it easier, better, more accurate. It really did give her something to live for, long after shop work was out of the question, the chair kept JA alive. She knew she’d not see the book. It didn’t matter, for her – it wasn’t the end, it was the journey. She knew we’d take care of the rest. 

Jennie Alexander 2014

And now 42/43 years later, MACFAT & Drew Langsner’s Country Woodcraft are back to life and better than before, thanks to  Chris and the rest of the Lost Art Press gang. Boy, do I feel old. And grateful. 

Make a Joint Stool from a Tree

2012. That’s when the Joint Stool book appeared with Lost Art Press. I forget, but I think it was one of their first “outside” books, i.e. authors other than Chris/or reprints. It is a book that is near & dear to me, representing 20-plus years of my collaboration with Jennie Alexander – I learned so much in that period it’s always fun to look back on the whole ride. 

Chris wrote to me recently, saying it’s time for the 2nd printing, and would I write something about JA for it. So I added a new short intro – that’s all that’s changed for content. Chris made some changes in paper choice, and we switched it to a board cover. The aim was to lower the price of it from here on out. 

But there’s still some hardcover copies left, and they have put them on sale to move them ahead of the new printing coming in. So if you want the original hardcover – now’s the time to get it for $27 – I think it was $43, so not insignificant. Have at it.  https://lostartpress.com/collections/books/products/make-a-joint-stool-from-a-tree 

In my back & forth with Chris, I mentioned that I had wanted to add a shaved baluster instead of a turned one. But never had the time. So I said maybe we could do it as a blog post – then I searched & realized we had already done it! I knew it was a good idea.

 https://blog.lostartpress.com/2012/07/02/joint-stools-without-a-lathe/

a few ladderbacks & oak boxes for sale

Daniel & I are slowly working out the next basket video, but we’re on it. Today I made a page of a few ladderback chairs & two oak boxes for sale. https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/ladderback-chairs-oak-boxes-for-sale/

If any of it catches your eye, leave me a comment, or send an email – peterfollansbee7@gmail.com

Two of the ladderbacks are at a slightly reduced price, details on the page – one of them is this slightly used Shaker-tape seat chair.

My cousin Paula came by recently, brought her husband Jim so he could buy her a carved oak box for her birthday. She had picked out this one:

But then when they got here, she chose a different one. (You should have seen that one! I almost brought it into the house…)

So now the one I had set aside is available…it’s a very nice box. Oak lid, nails & hinges by Tom Latane, till inside, etc.

I’ll make a separate page for the big-ticket items, I never expect them to fly out the door. But eventually someone finds them – chests, wainscot chairs, etc.

Joined Stool Video series finale – Molding & Pegging the Seat

Well, we finally finished the joined stool video set. This is the one where Daniel inadvertently discovered an echo chamber effect when he blended two shots together. Much to his delight…

 

I’ll do some blog housekeeping one of these days, and make a page with all the videos in this series together. But they’re on youtube in a playlist there too…

I was going to put a gallery of joined stools in the video, but it was already pretty long. So here are some stools over the years. Most of these have been here before.

There’s some stand-alone videos I shot a while back, I’ll get to those soon. Nowadays, I’m shooting several about making baskets from an ash log. I also got a couple of requests, so I have plenty in the pipeline. They’re fun to do, but a bit time-consuming. I need to remember to shoot ordinary photos too…

Here’s the highlight of the past week for me – a rare sighting of a mink around the shop. They’re here a lot, but usually the only view I get is a fleeting glimpse. This one was in constant motion, but stayed in view long enough for me to get some photos…

 

Basket tour part 1

 

The past two weeks or so I’ve been pounding ash splints for making baskets. I’ve started weaving a few of them, and have lots more coming up. Baskets used to be almost a weekly thing for me, back in the 1980s and early 1990s, before oak furniture took over my thoughts. But I always come back to them, they’re so much fun to make and even better – to have around.

While getting ready to plunge deeply into them in the next couple of weeks, I’ve been studying some that I have hanging around here. Unlike the baskets I’m starting these days, all these are white oak baskets. You split white oak growth rings apart, instead of pounding like you do ash.

First, some I got when we cleaned up Jennie Alexander’s house after her death. JA loved baskets, and collected lots of them, but especially white oak baskets. I brought home a couple. This one is by a Maryland basketmaker JA knew, James McCrobie.

Here is Mr. McCrobie, as Alexander referred to him, shaving oak at a fair in Maryland.

The bottom of this basket:

And the inside view:


This one’s special because it’s by our great friend Louise Langsner, for Alexander. Way back when Louise used to make white oak baskets. Later, she began growing willow & using that to weave baskets. This white oak basket has hickory bark lashing on the rims.

The bottom:

The inside:

Louise used to peg the handles to the rims. I learned that technique there at County Workshops about 1986 or so. I had read it before that in Drew’s book County Woodcraft. Watch Lost Art Press for an updated version of that classic book (I’ll post about it when it happens too…) – in it is a chapter by Louise about making her oak baskets.

Here’s my first oak basket from that class – the instructor was Darry Wood.

In 1989 I made this round bottom white oak basket for Alexander. It came back to me after her death:

Inside:

Bottom, with hickory bark reinforcements

The hickory handle has a double notch, the lashing is hickory bark.

This one’s mine too, from 1988, I probably made it at Langsner’s – that spring & summer I was the intern there. White oak, hickory handle

I’ve used this basket a lot. Usually it holds all my spoon-carving gear, mostly tools & spoons-in-progress. The bottom features two “skids” shaved hickory bent up into the body. These reduce wear & tear on the bottoms.

One more white oak by me – this one’s from 1990. I’m working (again!) to re-learn how I weave those “filled” bottoms. So I swiped this one back from my wife, emptied it, and will this time keep track of what I did to weave it.

But it’s all ash here now. I haven’t made a white oak basket since this one probably…here’s a real favorite, but very small basket in ash with hickory rims & handle, hickory bark lashing. It’s about 6″ x 8 1/2″ and the basket is 3″ high. I wish I could make them this good all the time. Better go practice…

These new ones still have potential…

here’s the last time I re-learned the filled bottoms. https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2015/11/01/another-basket-underway/ 

Joined Stool video series – prepping the seat board

Winding down the joined stool video series. Prepping the seat board took more time, both in reality and in getting this video done, than I wished. Some days it’s like that.

After this one comes making the molded edge & pegging the seat down. I expect that to be one video, but we’ll know more when Daniel & I sit down to work that one out.

After that, I have a few stand-alone videos I shot a few weeks ago, and right now I’m starting to shoot a series on making ash baskets. I had a couple of requests too, and I’ll try to get to those.

Thanks, everyone, for watching, commenting, supporting. I appreciate it.


The book version is here – https://lostartpress.com/products/make-a-joint-stool-from-a-tree

Joined Stool video series: Trimming the tops & feet

Next installment in the Joined Stool series of videos. A bunch of fiddly fussy bits trimming the stool prior to making the seat.


There’s nothing more to say – other than thanks for watching. So here’s an ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla) from yesterday’s socially-distant birding trip. No one told the birds we were coming, so it was a complete dud. Maybe next week.

Joined Stool video series – Assembly

The next video in the joined stool series is up & running. Assembling the stool. There’s a lot of repetition, but somewhere in there is what you need to know about pinning these joints together. And some of what can go wrong.


We’re closing in on this set being done, there’s maybe two more. Three I guess when I re-load the one about carving & scratch stock molding.

If there’s something you’d like to see addressed in future videos, I can’t promise anything but it won’t hurt to ask.

And thanks to all who help to make this go. I appreciate it.

I forgot to add: Today’s warbler, a common yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas)

For anyone new to the blog, The book about the stool

Make a Joint Stool from a Tree is here – https://lostartpress.com/products/make-a-joint-stool-from-a-tree 

Make a Joined Stool videos – the End Frames

Then it was May. And the sun came out.

Daniel is on a two-video edits a week schedule. Today’s was a bit of a clunker, which was my fault. It’s a combination of too many things, all related to working the end frames of the joined stool.

This part of making the stool was one of Alexander’s favorite exercises; because it allowed her to pontificate about construction dimensions and resulting dimensions. I could usually follow along to a degree, so here I show how to calculate the length of the side stretchers.

(and today, for some stupid reason, the video wants to start part way into it. I clicked all the same buttons, etc. – skip back to the beginning.)

All of this stuff I’m doing in these videos is covered in detail in the book JA & I did some years ago –

Make a Joint Stool from a Tree

for anyone new to this blog and this work, the book is here https://lostartpress.com/products/make-a-joint-stool-from-a-tree

(when I went to get that link, I accidentally followed one to Amazon – $130. Weird. I think it’s a good book, but it’s not that good…)