Maureen’s Fiber Arts & my carving/chest plans sales

Most of you old hands here already know this, but for the new followers/readers – it’s not just me in this household who spends their time making things – my wife Maureen has been waggling her fingers away at knitting for longer than I’ve known her and took up dyeing, eco-printing and felting somewhere in the last 10 years or so.

Every so often I feature links to her work here – and with the you-know-what season fast approaching, she’s been busy. The link to her Etsy shop is https://www.etsy.com/shop/MaureensFiberArts

Here’s her note about what’s posted recently:

“I recently did some indigo dying with one of our friends who wanted a clothing update before a trip. It was fun to get into a dye vat again. From this batch I have added various indigo dyed shibori silk scarves to the shop. 

I also added –  botanical eco print wall hangings matted and ready to be framed or displayed as is. I enjoyed this botanical dying during the end of the summer and early autumn while there were still lots of green leaves and plants. These prints are a memory of this fleeting time of year. (photo up top)

Rose and I have been needle felting in the afternoons listening to some early Christmas music, relaxing and creating ornaments for Christmas trees. We hope you enjoy them. (PF adds – I can’t believe I’m posting this picture!):

In the shop you will also find – felted bowls, hand dyed silk scarves and knitted items. There will be another shop update the first week of December – shibori organic cotton scarves, knitted items and more felted ornaments, and maybe a few surprises! Thanks for your support and interest in my work.”

To which I will add my emphatic thank you as well – it always makes me feel good when she tells me she got an order from readers of the blog here – I greatly appreciate the support you all send our way.

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Chest Plans, Carving Drawings & Vimeo Series on Sale

Maureen’s way ahead of me getting ready for holiday sales. I doubt I’ll ever get there really. I do have a couple of things in the loft to dig out & discount just to make room up there. It’s supposed to be storage for wood and projects…but in the meantime I have gone through some paypal-button hoops and reduced the prices on two sets of drawings – https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/carving-drawings-plans/

I reduced the chest plans and the 2nd set of carving drawings by $10 each. These sale prices will be for the rest of 2022. And yes, this is a loft-space saving move as well. Lots of rolled drawings in tubes up there.

chest plans carving page

At the same time, I’ve put the chest-build video series on sale as well. It is just about all done – I keep saying I owe one carving-tool sharpening video. And I’m close to making that one, so I’ll add it before the year is out.

One more horrible plug – if you buy the video series, there’s a further discount on the plans. Spend more to save, just like the advertising always says. This video series has been a fun undertaking for me – although it’s a lot of desk work. My son Daniel left me holding the bag doing the editing (I don’t blame him, it ended up at 21 hours of video, which means a lot of time watching [for him] pretty boring videos.) – but I got a lot of practice shooting & editing video. So the next one is underway, the Jennie Alexander chair. That one I’ll shoot & edit the whole thing before I release it – no more serial woodworking video gig for me.

OK – next post is back to woodworking in the shop. Or the yard.

shaved rungs
cutting pine panels for the cupboard

I’m teaching a JA Chair class in March at Pete Galbert’s

Just what it says – I’m going back to Chair-Central – Pete Galbert’s shop in Rollinsford, NH in March 2023 to teach a 6-day class in making the Jennie Alexander chair. Registration for the class opens Nov 15 at 8AM. Details on Pete’s website – https://www.petergalbert.com/schedule/2020/7/13/make-a-chair-from-a-tree-with-peter-follansbee-8brcj-7b62n

JA’s chair on the left, mine on the right

I’ve taught it there a few times now – and it’s insane fun. Riving, shaving, bending & more – the whole works. I’ll demo hickory bark seating, but I don’t have enough for students. (sometimes these folks have it in stock – https://www.basketmakerscatalog.com/ps/57-hickory-bark I don’t know them, I think I used their bark once and had no problems with it at all. Otherwise you can hunt around on the web. Some use Shaker tape like in the chair on the right above.)

In addition to learning to make this particular chair, every other thought during the week is about chairs, chairs, chairs. Who knows – maybe you’ll be the next student to surprise us & cut your chair in half as soon as you’re done. That way it fits on the airplane.

fits in luggage this way, but pretty useless as a chair afterwards

Chairs & chairmaking consume most of the week’s thoughts, but some thoughts are about the dog Georgia.

Georgia

I’ll bring one of the last chairs JA made as well as some of my own. And lots of stories about Alexander and her chairmaking career…

PF chair, red oak, hickory & hickory bark

UPDATE: After I posted this, I got a note from Drew Langsner – who developed the class as I teach it with Jennie Alexander all those years ago.

“Hi Peter-
  I tried to put a short comment to your post, but have no idea about my password, and don’t want to dig further. My comment, which you can post…
  Them’s the chairs we sit on…Every day.
  I’ll be 80 tomorrow. Having a few friends over for a seafood bordetto. (Soup)
  It will also be cold, for the first time this fall.
dl”

Well, two comments from me follow that – when he says those are the chairs they use every day – he’s talking about using them for the past few decades! And – he’s turning 80 today! There – I’ve just used up my quota of exclamation points for quite some time. HB Drew – have a great time today. PF

In the shop daily

And it feels very good. Here’s what I’ve been working on. Finally have the chest lid underway for the video series on making this chest. The past few days I’ve been gluing up these 3 oak boards to make this lid, shooting the videos to go with it. Today I planed the top & bottom surfaces of the full lid. Even though this stock is long-air-dried, I temporarily clamped boards to the underside so I get no surprises overnight. I think I’ll chop the lid-video in 2. The first part’s nearly done, working the boards, gluing up the lid & planing it. Next will be making & fitting the cleats then installing the hinges. That video series doesn’t expire – it’ll remain available for sale on vimeo, and the plans here on the blog. Then if anyone needs a chest, get a hold of me.

the joined chest almost with a lid

I’ve been prepping the oak for the next cupboard and some of it was ready for joinery. Here’s the 2 end frames of the lower case. Beside them on the left are the 6 rails to the upper case.

end frames with panels, upper case rails on the left

Here’s the lower case of last year’s cupboard showing how those end frames work:

Meanwhile more oak for that project is planed and stickered to let it air-dry some before cutting the joinery in those parts. This is one pile in the shop, there’s two others as well.

maybe 1/4 of a cupboard

I have been planning on shooting another video after the chest one is done – making the Jennie Alexander chair. Started it in fact, before the Lyme disease got me. Lots of people are making JA chairs now, which would please her to no end. And many have made changes, adjustments, etc. I remember Alexander saying of one chairmaker “he has passed me by…” and was perfectly happy with that. Well, I haven’t passed anybody by. The way I make them is mostly the way JA made them, one or two tweaks here & there. I’ll show the whole process, including harvesting and weaving the hickory bark for the seat. It will include details of JA’s chair that I have in the shop, along side me making one. This time I’ll make the whole video before it goes up – not dribble it out like the chest. I’ll keep you posted.

JA chair posts

Other news is that I’m planning on actually leaving home at some point to teach a class or two. Not till late winter/early spring. I’ll post information about that when I get them finalized. The only one so far that’s certain is making the JA chair at Pete Galbert’s in March. No details yet – so sit tight. I’ll let you know.

The vimeo series, now 18 hours & counting vimeo.com/ondemand/follansbeejoinedchest

The chest plans are here https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/carving-drawings-plans/

I never knew him

I read last week that chairmaker Dave Sawyer passed away. I never knew him, but I felt very connected to his work through our many mutual friends. Over the past ten years or so I’ve been working on this idea in my head (and down on “paper” well, really this screen) about the people who taught me woodworking and about others, like Dave, who were part of what I call my “Craft Genealogy.” My intention is for it to be a book, but it’s a long ways off. 

Dave Sawyer, c. 1981 photo by Drew Langsner

Four people who were huge influences on me were Jennie Alexander, Drew Langsner, Daniel O’Hagan and Curtis Buchanan. Dave was close friends with all of them, and their stories are intertwined. 

I worked most closely with Alexander and Langsner; in and out of their homes on a regular basis. When Jennie was getting older we often spoke of what would happen when she went to the “boneyard.” Among the concerns were what academics call her “papers.” These eventually went to Winterthur Museum’s research library, where I then began to sift through them, all the way back to about 1973 or 74. The pandemic interrupted that research – but I’ll pick it back up before too much longer. 

PF JA Theo; photo Drew Langsner

I knew Alexander as well as anyone did. From time to time, I used to ask how she came to write her book back in the 1970s. “It was in the air” she used to say. “If I didn’t write it, someone else would.”

In the mid-1970s, Alexander was a very-part-time woodworker. A busy lawyer with a young family, she could only work her chair stuff on sporadic weekends and holidays here & there. Many of us begin that way, squeezing in our craft when real life allows us some hours here & there. She learned mostly by studying old chairs in museum collections and experimenting with the tools and materials. And asking questions of anyone who might know something.

J. Alexander, c. 1978

Through a couple different connections, JA was told of someone in New Hampshire who made chairs “the old way…” or something like that. And so, in 1976 Alexander wrote to Dave Sawyer and introduced himself and his chairs. And that connection pushed JA’s chairmaking further along than anything before.

So yes, chairmaking “was in the air” – but what I found out when I began studying JA’s letters is that it was in the air around Dave Sawyer.

Dave Sawyer at Country Workshops, early 1980s, photo by Drew Langsner

Unlike Alexander, Sawyer was a full-time craftsman, at that point, making wooden hay forks and ladderback chairs. So Alexander would fire off questions in the mail & Dave would send ideas and comments back and forth. Eventually they got together in New Hampshire and down in Baltimore. From that beginning, they became lifelong friends. 

Dave Sawyer ladderback, mid-1970s

Sawyer’s first letter to JA notes: “I’ve made near 200 ladderback chairs, most 3-slat, most with hickory bark seats – using just the same methods you do (unless you turn your posts – I shave mine).”

Alexander did turn her posts at that time, but soon shifted to an all-shaved chair. A version of that story is recounted in the new version of Make a Chair from a Tree. I suspect Sawyer was an un-credited catalyst for that change in technique. After some back & forth, Sawyer got right to the point:

“I want you to come here next June for a couple of days – ride the train from Baltimore – I’ll meet you in Bellows Falls at 12:30 AM or whenever (can also meet buses in Charlestown or Claremont, or I suppose you could drive if you wanted to be so foolish.) We can do barking one day and I’ll show you anything you like about chairmaking too.” [PF emphasis]

In the early 1980s Dave, then in Vermont, shifted his attention from ladderback chairs to Windsor chairs, and those are what he became most known for. And his were the best Windsor chairs produced in this country.

Dave Sawyer chairs (from an auction results webpage)

When I learned Windsor chairmaking from Curtis Buchanan in 1987, he shared as much as he knew freely – because he said that’s what Dave did for him. Curtis has tweaked a lot of chair designs over 40 years but the DNA of many of his chairs is pure- Dave Sawyer. Curtis always tells the story of Dave saying to him that his “questions were getting too good – you have to just  come up here and I’ll show you what to do…”

Curtis Buchanan’s 1987 class at Country Workshops, photo by Drew Langsner

I learned something from 1976 Dave Sawyer just a few years ago – the notch for splicing hickory bark seating. JA struggled with bark at first and Dave tried to sort it out for Alexander. In one of Dave’s letters he cut out a sample joint in paper & pinned it to the letter. 45 years later, I adopted it on the spot – Alexander never did, continued to tie knots in the bark seats throughout her career. Stubborn.

sample for joined hickory bark strips

I’m still gathering material for this history of how this particular green woodworking branch formed and grew. It doesn’t begin with Dave, nor does it end with him. But he’s a critical part of the story. His impact was huge – back when it was really just a few dozen people exploring working this way. He retired many years ago but his son George took over making “Sawyer Made” chairs several years back. So Dave’s designs and legacy will carry on. My goal with my Craft Genealogy project is to put these people’s stories together, to make sure we don’t lose track of who the people were who got us here. 

Dave Sawyer at Country Workshops c. 1997, photo by Drew Langsner

Interlocking joints; post & rung chairs

David Douyard https://www.daviddouyardchairmaker.com/ & I live within about a 2 1/2 hour drive from each other, yet we’ve only ever met in Australia. But we’ve traded notes & phone calls here & there. About chairs. Yesterday he wrote with a question about the interlocking joints on Jennie Alexander’s chairs. Not something I’ve gone into detail on before, so a chance to think some more about chairmaking and JA, now four years since her death in July 2018.

side rung locking a front or rear rung in place

Back in the 1978 edition of Make a Chair from a Tree, Alexander built the front and rear sections of the chair first, then bored for the sides. She used the interlocking joints (photo above) to pin the front (or rear) rungs in place with the side rungs. This photo is from those days – the mortise is bored with a forstner bit and the tenons have shoulders – it might even be turned. Looks like all hickory.

I have an early JA chair here, made about 1973 or 1974 before she used interlocking rungs. It’s turned, all hickory. Shouldered tenons bored on centerlines, not on tangents. A beastly uncomfortable thing, but an important (to me, anyway) chair.

early JA chair

JA did not cook up the interlocking joints She learned the technique from studying old chairs in museum collections, disassembled ones were the best. Before she learned photography, she’d commission black & white shots from museums she’d visited with Charles Hummel. You can see in the photo below that both mortises are shifted above & below the tangent layout line.

disassembled post & rung chair joints

This next one is a great photo showing the relationship to all these parts. The post with the mortises in it has been turned around to show us the mortises. Note the notch on top of the tenon at the bottom right in the photo. And you can clearly see the layout struck on the post, Great stuff.

interlocked mortise & tenon joints

Alexander drew the joint a million times to better understand the mechanics and to tell whoever would listen. And Alexander was a tinker-er. Locking the front and rear rungs in place was not good enough for her. She decided, very early on, that the main stress on a chair was fore & aft. So why not assemble the sides first and lock those in place? This sketch has the chamfer at the end of the tenon, flats on the sides and even the circumferential notch (later dumped by JA, Drew, etc). But clearly labels the side rung as the “subservient” tenon in this case.

That’s where she was when she & Drew Langsner met in the late 1970s. Drew helped figure out how to go about assembling the sides first. From then on all the JA chairs were built sides-first. Not at all intuitive. But it works.

And one of JA’s favorite parts was making test joints and cutting them open. Both to see the result and to capture the perfect photo of it. We shot hundreds of this sort of thing, both for these joints and the drawbored mortise and tenons we used in joinery. This one you can tell is a later-period example from the top of the blog post. All oak now, white oak at that (maybe it’s a red oak post). No shoulder on the tenon – all shaved. I’m not sure how that mortise was bored – there’s no lead screw of any kind.

later JA cross section

I imagine eventually this one would be rejected – the mortise isn’t deep enough in the post. She preferred a very thin post, 1 1/4″ or so. Less sometimes. And a 1″ deep mortise. That’s pushing the limits of the material. It can get pretty frightening at times. Note the split in the post where the top tenon reaches the bottom of the mortise.

detail of above

Is this technique necessary? No, not at all. Millions of post & rung chairs have been made without interlocking rungs. I still do it – I like the history of it and it’s fun. But it means nothing. I still flatten the sides of the tenons too, and Drew told me he stopped doing that over 30 years ago!

But I did dump the circumferential notch.

the circumferential notch

It’s simple to do if you’re turning a chair, but if you’re shaving it the notch is a pain. When the first book came out, there I was with a Stanley utility knife carving this stupid notch around the top & bottom of each tenon. Eventually JA decided that the most important surfaces on the tenons were the top and bottom and the notch removed material from them. So out it went. Some makers of turned chairs still use it. I bet it’s fun. JA’s note in the 1978 text says “some chairmakers used more than one notch” – how about three??

three notches

The interlocking joints made it into the new edition of the book. The notch did not…

brief overview of a hickory bark seat

hickory bark

A week ago I was still wearing wool sweaters. Yesterday shorts & a t-shirt. Warm weather is perfect for weaving a hickory bark seat. It’s one of my favorite parts of making the Jennie Alexander-style chairs.

Last year I peeled a few hickory trees with Brendan Gaffney. We got a lot of bark in just 2 days of work, but to do so we took it off the tree pretty thick.

peeling hickory

I like to do it that way because I want to then split the bark in half before weaving with it. Thin bark makes a better seat than thicker bark – in my opinion. The photo up top shows two coils – on the right is the bark as we took it off the tree. The one on the left I just split in half lengthwise. Both are between 25′ and 30′ long.

Splitting it is a fine art – but it yields fabulous bark. I weave the seat with the inside half. So the inner bark of the inner bark. I score across it half-way with a knife, then peel the two halves apart. You have to watch carefully – it can run out like splitting wood with a froe. It’s slow-going but worth the time spent. Not all hickory bark will divide this way. If it won’t split, you can shave it down thinner with a spoke shave. That’s slower still…

splitting bark in half

Then weaving it is a walk in the park.

weaving is the easy part

This is yesterday’s seat. Now it needs to dry, at which point the strips shrink in width. Then I pack the strips closer together and add a few filler strips. The thing I like best about hickory bark seats is that they look great the minute you finish them, then they continue to improve as you use them.

nearly done

Last fall I shot a video of how I work a hickory bark seat. It’s long but covers splitting the bark & weaving the seat.

thinking about chairmaking

3-plus chairs underway

I taught a class in making the Jennie Alexander chair with Pete Galbert & Charlie Ryland just recently. During the class, I put on my “old fart” hat & told stories of JA’s chairmaking career. Then back home I’ve been working on a few chairs – the parts for which have been made & stored here for quite a while. It got me to thinking of how the chairmaking changed from what’s in the original 1978 edition of the book, to the revised one in 1994 to the present 3rd edition. And now will change again as more & more people are making these chairs. I looked recently at that first edition – I made chairs from it before meeting JA & Drew Langsner – but it’s pretty stingy on instruction.

In the first edition (1978) there’s no kiln, no steambox. JA dried rungs in the basement nestled up above a pipe from the hot water heater. (How did JA dry things in a Baltimore summer?) A chairmaker JA corresponded with in the early 1970s dried rungs on the tin roof of the shop. In the south. Gets hot up there. 

Geli Courpas reminded me once that back in the mid-to-late 1970s they bent the posts green, so a more subtle bend than in the later chairs. Below is a lousy photo, cropped from a larger view, showing one of these early 2-slat chairs with slight bend to the posts.

The book talks about boiling the posts prior to bending, but doesn’t do it. 

bending rear post, 1978

At first, her chairs were assembled with pretty wet posts. Easy & forgiving, but not the best for a long-lasting joint. The work JA did with Bruce Hoadley showed that a lower moisture content in the post resulted in a stronger joint. That gave rise to the air-dry post/oven-dry rung. 

So all that is changed/fixed in the present text – it shows how to super-dry the rungs, how to steam & bend the posts and other detailed improvements on the earlier text. 

improved bending form for rear posts

I made a layout error in the class that led to some plugged mortises in students’ chairs. Everyone was very understanding. I recently learned from reading JA’s notebooks that during the photo shoot for the first book she put the front rungs in the rear posts (or vice-versa) – was able to get them out & redo things. But mistakes are easy to make. Once JA told me that a working title of the book was “The Fifth Post.” 

I rived and planed some legs for another of my Alpine chairs. Was able to split an odd number so made 5 legs. Just in case. 

only need 4 out of 5

a week of chairmaking

assembling a sample chair

Time to pack up for a week of chairmaking at Pete Galbert’s. Well, every week there is a week of chairmaking. But for me, it’s a shift in focus. This is only my 3rd class since the pandemic began. I used to travel frequently for teaching, not sure how much of it I’ll do going forward. One thing is constant – I know I’ve packed too much stuff, same as always. I’m bringing parts made by the previous class (filled in some with stock I prepped) and the students will make new ones to replace these – here’s 10 chairs’ worth of back posts in a bucket, with some filler added.

back posts for 10 chairs

I’ll bring one of the last chairs JA made (on the left below) and one I made last year.

JA left, PF right

So we’ll shave green parts, bend them in these forms and move onto the stuff that’s ready to go.

back post bending forms

I didn’t have enough rungs dry ahead of time. So I made 10 dozen and we’ll set these in Pete’s kiln. These all came from some oak bolts that I had rejected for the cupboard I built. But the wood was fine for these.

red oak rungs

The hickory chair I was making came out fine. I’ll use it for the slat-demo, maybe seat weaving too. Depends on timing.

hickory chair

Well, that’s been my week mostly. Time to stuff it in the car, class begins tomorrow morning.

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PS: If you’re a subscriber to my vimeo chest-building project. I’m working on it steadily. But I’ve run into glitches with vimeo and the support staff there are on it, trying to guide me through some wrinkles. Sorry for the delay, I’ll announce it here when new content (carving the top rail) is up & running.

top rail to a joined chest

Making JA chairs

need more Wheaties

It’s like the old days – I feel like I just got back from one class and I’m preparing for the next. Worked today on a JA ladderback chair in preparation for teaching it at Pete Galbert’s shop next week. The parts are hickory, which means boring it is harder than it should be. I didn’t have enough Wheaties this morning for this work.

parts, jigs and tools

It’s a real nostalgia trip making these chairs. As I worked, I was thinking of all the Jennie Alexander chairs being made nowadays, and of the times I worked & carried on with JA. Many tools in my shop came from her, many ideas in my head came from her.

To take a break from boring that hickory, I went back & forth between boring and tenoning. Below is a set of 3 hickory rungs, ready for tenoning.

shaving rungs

I got the two side sections done, then picked away at this & that. Tomorrow I hope to bore & assemble the rest of the chair. I’ll bring it to class sans seat – sometimes it’s helpful to be able to see the frame without it.

opened the door & the sun came in

Since I got back from Lost Art Press last week, I’ve shot two videos for my joined chest series.

joinery layout

When I went to post the first of them – “Finish planing & layout of joinery” – it wouldn’t load to the site. And I found out that one I had posted a month ago (planes & green wood: care & cleaning, something like that) has sat there in limbo, its setting was marked “private” which meant no one could see it. I spent a ton of time the past couple of days with the Vimeo help people sorting it out. So if you’re one of the subscribers to that series, there’s 2 videos you haven’t seen yet. I’m halfway through editing the next one, which is carving the top rail’s lunettes. Hope to post that by the weekend. Here’s the link if you’d like to subscribe – it’s starting to get interesting now. Right now it’s at 5 1/2 hours of content – it’ll probably go way over my estimate of 12-15 hours. https://vimeo.com/ondemand/follansbeejoinedchest

sample lunette

Seems like spring is really getting here now. Saw this tree swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) this morning when I was out for a walk. Too involved in its preening to be bothered by me.

tree swallow

And an osprey flew over – they’re all around, setting up nesting…

osprey

Jennie Alexander’s website

JA shaving chair parts

Over the past I don’t-know-how-long I got a lot of questions or notices that JA’s website “greenwoodworking” was down. Turns out the domain name had expired & someone bought it up. I spoke over the weekend to Anatol Polillo – he’s the one who shot & produced JA’s chairmaking video and built and managed the website – and he just bought a different (slightly) domain – and now the site is back up & running.

www.greenwoodworking.org

There’s a collection of Alexander’s articles, one on riving stock, one on drawbored mortise & tenon joints, etc. Many of these had been in Woodwork magazine in the 1990s. So if you’ve been looking for it, or hadn’t seen it before and want to know what the fuss is about – off you go.

I have lots of JA content here and plan on posting some of it over the winter. I’ve been researching a book that will draw heavily on the notebooks Alexander kept starting back in 1973 or ’74. Those are now at Winterthur Museum’s library. I always used to say I never knew anyone who read more than JA. Nor anyone who wrote as much.

The 3rd edition of Alexander’s chair book is here https://lostartpress.com/products/make-a-chair-from-a-tree