chest progress finally

A couple of things happened. First, the season changed which means the light changed. I always enjoy the way the light changes from one season to the next.

autumn light

All the interest in the chest-plans had me chomping at the bit to get back to that project. And I went back to the chiropractor on Monday. So today I began working on shooting video for making the chest lid. And so far, nothing hurts. We’ll see what happens tomorrow.

ripping oak boards

There’s lots of options for chest lids. The best, no surprise, is also the most demanding. An oak lid made of multiple riven boards. Takes a big log and a lot of effort.

riven oak lid

A simple way to do it is to use a wide white pine lid. I really like these, they’re light. Fast and pretty easy. They can get dinged up, being soft wood. But that’s just part of living. We all get dinged up now & then.

oak chest pine lid

A paneled lid is another option.

one of the plainest chests I ever made

I’m making this lid out of 3 quartersawn red oak boards. It will be close to the riven-board lid. Effort is in between that and the pine lid. Maybe a toss-up with the paneled lid.

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The chest plans now are on a page with the carving drawings –

https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/carving-drawings-plans/ As far as the PDFs go – of any of the 3 of these – I had hoped to set up a place where you could just pay for them with paypal and download them. But so far that’s beyond my blog-capability. But if you want any of them as PDFs, just email me & I’ll send a paypal invoice.

Chest plans available now

After a year of intermittent work on the plans for the Braintree Joined Chest, I’m happy to announce they are now available and ready for ordering. The chest featured is based on some examples I studied (and one I own) made in Braintree, Massachusetts between 1670-1700. I made them like the originals, with riven oak as the primary wood with white pine as the secondary wood. Substitutions are up to you. The finished chest is 35 1/4” high, 55 1/4” wide and 23 1/2” deep (front to back.) 

I’d like to include a word about Jeff Lefkowitz. If you’re not aware of his work, a little background. A chairmaker and teacher, Jeff first came to my attention through the plans he worked on for Curtis Buchanan’s Windsor chairs. As plans, they convey all the details you need when building the chairs. But they’re also just exquisite images. If I had wall space in my shop, I’d stick some on it. Jeff went on to do other plans you might have seen, Tim Manney’s shaving horse, Dawson Moore’s spoon mule, Jarrod Dahl’s pole lathe, chairs by Pete Galbert and Bern Chandley – I’m sure there’s more. And two sets of carving patterns he’s worked on with me. 

This time I threw Jeff a challenge – working up detailed drawings for a joined chest with a drawer – something that to my knowledge he’s never seen in life. Or is certainly not familiar with. Very un-chair-like. We went back and forth over the past year. Picking the project up, then setting it aside now and then to come back to. Jeff fits these projects in between his chair-classes and his home life. Always in this project, it was Jeff pushing for more detail, better explanations. 

some of the carvings

The plans consist of 6 pages, 24” x 36”. The first four are the chest and its components and joinery, these are drawn by Jeff in his usual detailed and clear images. The last two pages are the carving patterns on the top rail, drawer front and panels, as well as diagrams of the geometry used in the layout for these carvings. Scaled drawings, a stock list and construction details throughout. There’s even some filler showing how to make it as a chest with two drawers, I was able to measure two of those when I did the research about these chests many years ago. 

interior and moldings

You could build the chest from the plans, but they  also serve as a companion to the series of videos I’ve been making on vimeo. That series is not yet done – I got laid up with lyme disease and missed 2 months of shop work. I’m getting back to it – there will be at least 2 more, maybe 3 more videos. The lid, some sharpening of carving gouges. Maybe installing a lock. 

One minor blip in the printing resulted in one drawing (bottom left image below) coming out lighter than the rest. Rather than scrap 600 pages of paper – I decided we could live with it. It’s still readable, just light.

The plans are $90 and come rolled in a cardboard tube. Shipping in the US is $9.00

International customers, I’ll send you a PDF and you can take it to be printed.  $70 for the PDF. Email me at Peterfollansbee7@gmail.com

Chest Plans; Braintree Chest with a drawer, 6 pages, 24″ x 36″
rolled in a cardboard tube, $90 plus $9 shipping in US.

Buy Now button

Here’s a short video showing what’s included in the drawings.

back at the bench

I’ve been in the shop part-time lately, just hadn’t taken any photographs. I have been spending part of my time making chair parts from a section of hickory I brought home from my bark-trip in July. Still trying to relearn what I used to know 30 years ago. I can’t find stuff I had last week, but I knew just where the old plans for these chairs were. This is a comb for a comb-back armchair.

bent comb for Windsor chair

And an arm for it. Not the best bend, but the best I’ve done this past week. The few wrinkles will plane out when I go to use the arm.

off the form, but tied to keep its bend til I need it

But yesterday was my first day back to joinery in nearly a month. Started making the drawer parts for the joined chest video series. I cut the drawer front to fit the opening. Looks like it’s all done, but those are the drawer sides tucked under the chest.

looks like it has its drawer

I want the front to have some space all around it so it doesn’t stick. This is why I had business cards printed all those years ago.

checking the spacing

I plowed a groove in the drawer sides to match the runner that’s set in the drawer opening.

This test-fit is too tight. Needs a couple of shavings off the top edge of the drawer side.

too tight

Like this:

better

Next up is half-blind dovetails, rabbets and nails.

next video available: Carving the Drawer Front

I finished work on the next video in the Joined Carved Chest series. This one I’ve been looking forward to – Carving the Drawer Front.

detail of the drawer front carving

Some simple geometry and only about 5 or 6 carving tools combine to create a very full pattern across the drawer front. I’ve always liked this design and have used it as box fronts a number of times. I put together a lengthy sample (5 minutes) of what’s in the full 90-minute video. The video series is at vimeo.com/ondemand/follansbeejoinedchest

When Jennie Alexander and I studied these chests in preparation for our article about them, we sorted them into two main groups attributed to John Savell (1642-1687) and his brother William Savell (1652-1700). Our findings were that John used a different pattern than William – but only slightly different. This drawer, from the chest at Wadsworth Atheneum is, we believed (& I still believe), the work of William –

drawer attributed to William Savell

But the drawers from chests we felt were John Savell’s skipped the pinwheels around the middle of the drawer. A very small distinction, but one that requires some extra thought in the layout.

drawer attributed to John Savell

The video shows how to carve the one with fewer pinwheels, but it would be easy enough to adjust the geometry to do the other instead. Here’s one I did years ago for a chest I restored.

replacement drawer front on period chest

Carving Panels video available

one of these panels I carved some time ago

I just uploaded to vimeo-on-demand the most recent video in my series on making a carved joined chest. This one is carving the panels. It’s about 90 minutes long and took me a ridiculous amount of time to put together. These chests have 4 panels of the same pattern across the front. So I shot video of carving 3 of them. On 2 cameras. And had a crazy number of clips (over 80!) to choose from, trying to get just the right angle, just the right detail, etc. 

joined chest w drawer, 1660-1690

I always say this, but these chests are my certified favorites. Back in the late 1980s when Jennie Alexander first hooked me into studying 17th-century oak furniture, the subject was a cupboard by these joiners – William Savell and his sons John & William.

one of JA’s slides of the Winterthur cupboard

Well, we didn’t know that part then, all we knew was there was this cupboard fragment at Winterthur and some related chests here & there in public collections. So we began a long journey to study about 12 of them and research their history. The result was a 1996 article in Chipstone’s American Furniture. https://www.chipstone.org/article.php/222/American-Furniture-1996/Seventeenth-Century-Joinery-from-Braintree,-Massachusetts:-The-Savell-Shop-Tradition

Since then, I’ve acquired and restored a beat-up one and seen a few other beauties. 

Braintree chest restored

The first carvings I learned to do were the lunettes and panels in these chests. And I’ve carved them here & there ever since. There’s a section in my book on carving them – but I’ve never carved the panels on video until now. 

leaf tips

When I started this video series last winter, after seeing Pete Galbert’s series, I expected it to run about 12 videos and maybe 20 hours. RIght now this is the 11th video and it’ll be up to about 12 1/2 hours thus far. So much for my estimates – the chest isn’t even assembled yet. Videos to come include cutting & fitting the floor (next time), ditto the till, fitting the rear panel, then assembling the chest. Making, carving & fitting the drawer. Making & hinging the lid. I’m sure I’ve forgotten one or two. Sharpening carving tools – I can’t believe I agreed to that, but it’s about time I dealt with it. 

Meanwhile here’s today’s trailer about the Panel-Carving video. The video is available as a stand-alone (each episode is) for $15 or as part of the whole kit and caboodle for $100. See vimeo.com/ondemand/follansbeejoinedchest 

There is a condensed video that’s a different chest. Years ago I shot a video with Lie-Nielsen. It’s just under 4 hours https://www.lie-nielsen.com/products/joined-chest-stream?path=home-education-videos&node=4243

Pete Galbert’s Foundation of  Chairmaking is the piece that got me on this path. I bought it, it’s excellent.  vimeo.com/ondemand/galbertfoundations 

Lost & found

side frame test-fit

Roy Underhill is a bench-clutterer. There, I said it. But, I am as well. As hard as I try to not be – I am. Once I asked Roy about Peter Ross’ shop – it’s so neat & organized. “Why can’t we be like him?” Roy told me he asked Peter the secret one time and got the answer: 

“Never put anything in a temporary place.” 

I have no idea if Peter really said that. (maybe he’ll let us know…or maybe it’s better just thinking it’s true.) But I think of it all the time. Like today when I spent easily 90 minutes looking for a plow plane iron. The chest I’m building has 2 different size grooves. One for the oak panels, about 2 1/2-sixteenths. And one for the floor of the chest and the rear pine panel – about 1/4”. 

plow plane setup w 1/4″ iron

I was working on a video about plowing the floor grooves last week or even the week before. I switched out my standard panel groove-iron and put it in a safe place. Inserted the 1/4” iron, plowed the floor grooves, finished the video. And set up to work on some chairs I had kicking around. 

Today I went to resume the chest project, shooting the next video segment – about framing the rear section of the chest. So I cut the joinery for the side frame & panels – where they meet the rear stiles. And went looking for my narrower plow iron. I thought I had put it in a top tray in my tool chest, tucked in with some carving tools. Didn’t see it. Maybe the window-sill. Nope. On & on. Pulled the bench out away from the wall & swept under it. Lifted the tool chest up on some blocks and swept under it – that never happens.So the whole time I spent looking for it, I kept thinking this is what I get for not putting things away. Wondered did it get swept into a bag of shavings. Thought about going in & ordering a new (old) set from Patrick Leach. Then gave up & plowed a slightly wider groove in the rear stiles – it’ll work but it doesn’t match what meets it. 

two different-width grooves

Then I found it. I had looked right at it, right where I first thought it was. 

well at least it wasn’t in the shavings

Yup, I’m a bench-clutterer and a moron. 

Next video in the Joined Chest series

Carving the top rail

Well, after a slew of headaches and support-emails with the vimeo people, I have uploaded my most recent video “Carving the Top Rail” – part of the series on making a joined carved chest-with-a-drawer. Just to complicate matters, the trailer is on youtube. I don’t have the strength to suss it out otherwise.

It’s a lengthy video – almost 90 minutes, so I made a lengthy trailer. The video covers how to layout and carve the lunettes on the top rail, hopefully in enough detail to get you there. Here’s the trailer:

The video series is at vimeo.com/ondemand/follansbeejoinedchest – each of these videos (there’s 6 1/2 right now, totally almost 7 hours) is available separately or as part of the whole series. $100 for the full set, $15 per video.

I just got back from teaching a class in making Jennie Alexander’s chair – next up in the shop here is some more chairmaking, then the next video which will cover cutting the mortise & tenon joints, some plow plane & more…and in the meantime – spring migration.

Carolina wren

waiting for some paint to dry

I’ve been doing a couple different things as I wait for this oil paint to dry on these pillars. This is the second coat, put on today. So these should be ready in 2 or 3 more days.

upper case pillars

I spent today planing oak panels for the joined chest project and shooting video about cleanup & sharpening of the wooden planes after working green oak.

newly ground bevel on smooth plane

I hate talking about sharpening, but it has to happen. In for a penny, in for a pound – when I get to editing the video from today about sharpening I’ll write a blog post for here too. I’ve never done one in all these years. Maybe bits & pieces, but not a full-blown discussion of what I do.

The video clips will be for the joined chest series I started last month. Yesterday was going to be the day I upped the price, but I’ll keep the introductory price ($85 – about to be $100) for the rest of this week anyway. I’m finishing up the next video, which is the beginning of planing the riven pieces into chest parts. I plan on posting it on the weekend. If you’d like to know more about the video series, here’s the post where I introduced it. https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2022/02/07/joined-chest-video-series/

most of 2021’s carvings

Last year was probably the least amount of oak carvings I’ve done since 1994. That photo above is easily 90% of the output for the year! I have my first carved box class in 2 years coming up the end of March. So I’ve got to get practicing. I carved this one yesterday –

back at carving

but totally ruined the first attempt, then planed it off & carved this. Not terrible, but not great either.

I will get back to the Youtube videos that accompany the carving drawings – I have several more to do for the 2nd set of drawings. Those all got interrupted by the cupboard. I see that at least one of the carvings above was done as a video/drawing. https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/carving-drawings-17th-century-work-from-devon-england-and-ipswich-massachusetts-set-1/

Tulip pattern drawing
tulip pattern as a box front

The class I mentioned is at Lost Art Press – and is one of only two classes I have scheduled for 2022. The other is a JA chair class at Pete Galbert’s in April. When I figure out if and where I’m adding more, I’ll be sure to post about it here first. I want to see how these two go first, then take it from there.

Sometime recently I dug out this old sackback of mine to repair it. I made it in 1989 and used it for years & years. Its form is from Curtis Buchanan’s sackback, which is from Dave Sawyer’s – but I shaved the legs, stretchers and arm posts instead of turning them. A mish-mash of woods – tulip poplar seat, ash arm, hickory spindles, white oak bow and cherry for the understructure & arm posts.

old PF sackback

Over time the spindles poked through the bow – they must not have been dry enough at assembly. So I knocked them about some, split them with a chisel & drove in new wedges. Then trimmed them flush with the bow.

double wedges

A bigger problem was a break in the back of the arm. It hadn’t popped apart but threatened to. I had seen old Windsors with braces attached outside fractured bends – so figured I had nothing to lose. Scrounged up in the loft for something I could cobble together. Raided some cheap hardware-store hinge, a bit of hacksaw work (I like it less than sharpening…) and two screws. Not beautiful, but you can’t see it when you sit in the chair.

not hidden at all

Joined chests – a proposed video series

UPDATE:

From the sounds of it, looks like I’ll tackle this project. Thanks for all the encouraging support. A few things to wrap up first. but I’ll look into getting this started early in the new year. I’ll try to address many of the suggestions here, and more to come. PF

——

If you read this blog much, you’ve seen some posts about the carving drawing sets I’ve developed with Jeff Lefkowitz. I’m planning a new project for Jeff & I to work up early in 2022 – a set of detailed drawings about a particular chest that I have studied since 1990. 

chest with drawer made in Braintree Massachusetts 1660-1680

When I shot a “make a chest” video with Lie-Nielsen some years ago, I worked on two different chests, each of which might be considered a “typical” 17th-century English/New England chest. That video is still available from them, and is still valid. I probably do things much the same way I did in that video. https://www.lie-nielsen.com/products/joined-chest-stream?path=home-education-videos&node=4243

But the chests made in Braintree, Massachusetts from about 1640-1700 are different enough to warrant a separate look at them. First, most of them have one drawer under the chest (a few have two drawers, one above the other). The construction details have some nice features and in particular the floor and back of the chest are unlike most others in New England. There’s molding details, an interior till, iron “snipebill” hinges. 

I have studied them as a group since about 1990. Back then I was working on an article about them with Jennie Alexander. At that time, we’d seen maybe 12 of them –  all by one family, William Savell and his sons John and William. Since our article came out in 1996, there have been about 6 more chests with drawers that have shown up at auctions (a few I’ve found because people just sent me photos of chests in their families.) 

Back in 2005 I even got to buy one for our house. A rather poorly-restored example, I re-restored it and now our off-season clothing is in it. (It wasn’t expensive for something 350 years old – about the same as I charge for my versions. You can see I’ve never colored the new bits. Some day…) 

Braintree chest w drawer, restored by PF c. 2006

So my plan is to send Jeff the details he needs to do the drawings, then I’ll draw the carving patterns and their layout. 

Then I got to thinking about Pete Galbert’s Foundations of Chairmaking video-on-demand. https://www.petergalbert.com/videos

If you’re not familiar with Pete’s project, it’s a video-on-demand series of about 15 hours of chairmaking. I subscribed as soon as he announced it and I’ve watched the whole thing. He has released it in about 11 videos so far, each around an hour to an hour & 1/2 in length. 

I’ve posted over 30 “warts n’ all” videos on youtube since the spring of 2020. Those are free and will continue to be so – I still have some carving videos to come, that are based on the 2nd set of my drawings that I’ve worked with Jeff Lefkowitiz on. 

But as I’m coming to the end of my cupboard project, I’m looking to tackle something for this winter. I’d like to try the video-on-demand idea. I thought the Braintree chest with a drawer would be an excellent project to take on for that format. The Lie-Nielsen video is about 3 1/2 hours long – the idea I have now would not be restricted by time, I’d be able to delve into more detail about the wood, the chests, tools, techniques, etc. I’d be able to include much more detail about how and why the chest is formatted the way it is. We could look at different planes and where to use this or that one, discussions about moisture content of the stock and where it matters and where it does not.  Even some history if people want it!

muntin to upper rail joint

In the woodpile and shop, I’d show how I split up an oak and sort the pieces as I hew and plane the stock. There’s more attention to detail in the stock prep in these chests than most. Working through the steps, I’d show how I make a scratch stock for the molding on some of the framing parts, layout & cutting the joinery.

And the carving. I can show you the layout and details of how to carve the designs – the top rail’s lunette I have carved (in my carved box video with Lie-Nielsen) but I’ve never carved the panels on video before. I can show you the two different “hands” involved in the original chests, how I see which one is which – (through still photos interspersed in the video) – there’s a lot of nuance in these carvings. Only a few patterns but great detail. 

chest panel, attributed to John Savell

The point of this blog post is to see if there’s interest in something like this. A joined and carved chest is a very different project from Pete’s Windsor chairs. The chest with a drawer involves about 40-50 pieces of wood, Pete’s stool is 6! (His chair is way more, 15.) And it takes up a lot of space. Finished size is 54” wide by about 32” high by 22” deep. The Lie-Nielsen video about making a chest is $40 – Pete’s Foundation of Chairmaking is $99 (the introductory price was $79) – so – the question is, anyone game? Because it’s such a large undertaking, I’m putting out this feeler to see if it’s feasible.

Looking closely at chests and boxes

I’m way behind with the blog, mostly due to lack of good photos. I spent a week at Pete Galbert’s where we taught 6 1/2 people how to make the iconic Jennie Alexander style ladderback chair. My photos stunk, so Pete’s sending me some & then I’ll show you more about that later. 

chairmakers at Pete Galbert’s

One thing I had an eye on lately was an auction of chests, chairs, boxes and more that belonged to an antiques dealer that I was acquainted with. She passed away a year or so ago and much of her stuff was sold online recently. Seventeenth-century furniture is not terribly abundant, and it’s hard to find pieces that have survived 350+ years without some repairs or outright alterations. When such pieces do show up they command pretty high prices (for some people, all things being relative). But there are often problematic pieces – over-restored, refinished beyond recognition, and then there’s things that are made up of old (& new) pieces.

This collection had some of all of those, some from New England and many from old England. English pieces aren’t terribly expensive, especially over here.  I thought it might be interesting to look at a few of the items that caught my eye. It doesn’t matter what auction house it is – I’m not trying to pick on anyone, just to show what I look at when I see these things.

turned 3-legged stool

First is simple – a turned, 3-legged board-seated stool. Nearly ubiquitous in Dutch paintings of the period. But none have ever been discovered or identified as a 17th-century piece. This one had the following, pretty-accurate description – 

Turned Triangular Stool, probably England, 17th century style, with subtle incised and ball turnings to posts and spindles, ht. 21 1/4, wd. 21 in.”

Key phrase is “17th century style” which is their caveat that it was NOT made in the 17th century. But, it wasn’t made in England either – I made it in 2016. It was the first piece I made in my shop, before the windows were even in. Sold at the auction for $225 dollars – a bargain. I’d charge way more than that. 

look Ma, no windows
I sold it unfinished. A mutual friend colored it.

This one is a Plymouth Colony chest with 2 side-by-side drawers.

a Plymouth Colony chest with 2 drawers

It sold for $17,000 which isn’t a lot for what it is. There was a lot of damage to the back, drawers and floor – moisture and pests – but other than the lid much of what we see in this view is original. I imagine the finish is old, but not the original. A nice example of an interesting group of joined works. 

But this piece sold for almost as much – and is a real problem in my eyes. I’ll start with the photo and description – 

“Carved and Joined Oak Sunflower Cupboard, Wethersfield, Connecticut, or vicinity, 1675-1700, the molded top above a converted cupboard section with carved floral panels and turned applied ebonized half-baluster spindles, on a lower cupboard section with applied ornament, all on a molded base and turned feet, ht. 46, wd. 46 1/2, dp. 20 1/2 in.”

Well, that’s carefully phrased. The “converted cupboard section” is a chest that’s been cannibalized into a cupboard. That happens – I’ve seen several that got that treatment. It’s always a shame. This one then got stuck on top of an unrelated cupboard – if in fact it’s a period piece of work. How we know the base is unrelated is that there are in fact “sunflower” cupboards – here’s one from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

photo from MFA.org

The base has the carved sunflower pattern – not the upper case. All the known “sunflower” cupboards look much like this one. 

Back to the converted one – see the two weird moldings between the upper & lower cases? One of those looks to be a shallow drawer – unheard of. This was the only picture in the catalog – and I can’t tell if it’s one case or two. It almost looks to be one. Which is in keeping with the sunflower cupboards. But it’s still not right. So part of this object comes from 17th century Wethersfield, but where & when the rest of it happened is an open question. 

This next one I can’t make up my mind about –

refinished chest

first off, rare as can be to find these Wethersfield sunflower chests with no drawers. This one does not seem to be cut down, though I’ve seen that before. What stands out here is how bad the carving is. I kept staring at it trying to figure out how it could be so awful. 

“sunflower” pattern

Here’s a good one for comparison. Note particularly the details in the flower’s petals. 

more like it

Well, the finish might be the answer. We know the chest is completely refinished – a common thing in the early 20th century to take them and clean them up to look new. So my theory – and it’s only a theory – is that the carved panel was planed down. I have taken carved bits before and planed them (needing a board more than a carved sample at the time) and to see the carving get shallower and shallower as the plane keeps swiping away shavings is interesting. The alternative (equally plausible) is that someone took a plain oak chest and did all the carving to make it look like a Wethersfield chest. I go back & forth between the two explanations. As I type this, I like scenario #2 more now.

One more, then I’ll finish with something positive.

pine chest

This pine chest was carved to look as if it was a framed chest – with carvings based on a group of chests always made in oak. I studied the actual chests way back when and they were the subject of the first publication I ever did, with Jennie Alexander – http://www.chipstone.org/article.php/222/American-Furniture-1996/Seventeenth-Century-Joinery-from-Braintree,-Massachusetts:-The-Savell-Shop-Tradition

I’ll eat my hat if someone could show me that this carving is original to the pine chest. When pine chests are decorated in early New England it’s with scratched, punched or incised carvings. Like this board chest with a drawer:

Now I’ll finish with my favorite piece in the auction.

carved box, Dedham Massachusetts 2nd half of the 17th century

Small Red-painted Pine and Oak Blanket Chest, possibly New England, 18th century, the facade with molded and carved details, on a molded cutout base, ht. 16, wd. 26 1/2, dp. 14 1/2 in.

It’s not 18th-century, it was made between about 1640-1700 in Dedham or Medfield Massachusetts. And it’s not a small chest, but a big box (26″ across the front.) It belongs to a large body of chests and boxes that have been well-documented. It’s an oak box with a pine lid – the silly base can be taken off & thrown away and you’re left with an outstanding example of that work. This one I saw in person some years back – it’s the best box from that group. I’ve dabbled at carving that pattern and will have another go at it this fall or winter.