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.
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.
Since then, I’ve acquired and restored a beat-up one and seen a few other beauties.
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.
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
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”.
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.
Then I found it. I had looked right at it, right where I first thought it was.
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.
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.
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.
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/
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 –
but totally ruined the first attempt, then planed it off & carved this. Not terrible, but not great either.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…)
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This one is a Plymouth Colony chest with 2 side-by-side 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.
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 –
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.
Here’s a good one for comparison. Note particularly the details in the flower’s petals.
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.
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.
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.
this chest was next in my “finish all that leftover stuff” campaign. All it needed was its lid; and I had a piece of white pine perfectly suited for the job. As soon as it was done I started piling stuff on it. When the weather clears (should say “if the weather clears..”) I’ll make enough space in the shop to get proper photographs of it. The chest itself was from back when I was finishing up the book Joiner’s Work, it’s on the back cover of the dust jacket.
Its inspiration began 20 years ago on my first trip to England. There Victor Chinnery showed me a chest fragment he had just acquired for an American collector. I measured its parts – the framing of 2 stiles & 2 long rails; then the center wide (10″ -plus) muntin, dividing the chest front into two panels. Here is the center panel, dated 1669 & initialed EC.
One of the panels
I’ve made a chest before based on this example and another I saw by the same maker, that one dated 1682. Here’s my previous version.
I change stuff around from the originals – like the bottom rail’s carving of the ones I saw. I get what this is; and I could carve it. But I’ve never liked it. This pattern shows up regularly in this broad group of Devon furniture (and its relatives in Ipswich, Massachusetts) – but it does not show up in my work.
One more – this from an advertisement dated 1988 – while I figure this is the same maker, I’ve never seen it in the flesh. Haven’t even seen a good photo of it. Also dated 1669/EC. Hard to see from here, but those date/initials are in the corners of the right & left panels.
It takes a large log to rive out panels like these, overall they’re about 14″ x 17″. The original I studied was sawn stock, as was my first one. This new one is all riven – but I rarely see oak that good.
When I was working on the book, I had no photos of making brackets that fit under the front bottom rail. I made some for this chest so I could shoot them. One test-fitted into the stile:
The past couple of posts have included more videos – As we all scramble around to figure out what’s next in the woodworking circus, I’ve decided to take some of this “at-home” time to focus on shooting more videos at the bench. I have nice cameras that can do it, just haven’t put enough time into it before now. So you’ll see me tinkering with that more, even did some housekeeping on my youtube channel = https://www.youtube.com/user/MrFollansbee/videos
I don’t know why it’s called “Mr Follansbee” but I hate it. I changed what it says on the page – but that hasn’t changed the web address. Oh well. Mostly the youtube uploads are so I can copy things over to here; but some will just stay there. Either extras, redundant or one reason or another.
As I get further along this route, I’ll keep you posted about it. I had looked at a patreon site – but I don’t want more websites to keep up – the blog & Instagram is about all I can handle. And I decided I’m not keen on the subscription idea. I have always posted free content on the blog and will continue to do so. However, I do need to make a living like most of us – and traveling and teaching is a big part of my income each year. So I’m aiming to put a donate button on the blog for any who are in a position to help keep things rolling around here. Curtis Buchanan is my inspiration in that regard, there’s worse leads to follow.
I’ve taught the style of carving I do many times, shot a few videos about it and included a slew of it (almost 50 pages) in the book Joiner’s Work that was published this year. https://lostartpress.com/products/joiners-work The first “pattern” I have students do is a simple exercise that uses one tool and two moves. If you go crazy with it, it can look like this:
That’s a detail from a small joined chest I started many years ago. Ah, I can check – it was 2013, because it was preparation for a pair of episodes on Roy Underhill’s show – https://www.pbs.org/video/woodwrights-shop-paneled-chest-peter-follansbee/ Roy always wanted backup materials in case something went wrong, so I started two of these chests prior to going down to shoot.
They both ended up in the book, the first one was a dead-plain one that’s in the section on fitting lids to a chest. This one, sans lid, is on page 40, in the carving section, complete with a caption that says “Someday I hope to actually finish this chest…” Today was that day. Thankfully, unlike the chest of drawers, this one only took the morning to finish. The pine lid is quite bright, but given time it catches up to the oak in tone. I’ve just given the whole thing a going-over with linseed oil. I don’t usually go on about the figure in oak, it’s always there in my stock, but I never think about it. This chest, though, has some really nice red oak. The two-tone effect in the front panels was there the day I split the log, something in the tree, I guess.
Here it’s open, with the till lid propping up the chest lid. The lid is a single-board of white pine. Red oak chest, white pine bottom board too.
When I turned it around, I saw more practice carvings re-used, here one of the rear panels and the bottom rail. Iron gimmal (snipe-bill to many of you) hinges. I forget who made them, either Peter Ross, Tom Latane or Mark Atchison.
The till lid inside, molded edge.
I opened the lid & saw that the side & bottom to the till are American chestnut. Leftovers from a restoration project I did that year.
I really like this little chest, but I’m supposed to making this stuff to make a living. So it’s for sale.
Dimensions are H: 21″ W: 30 3/4″ D: 16 1/2″
$3,000 plus shipping.
For a number of reasons, I was looking through some photo files here tonight. During the past year I have had a couple of chances to revisit some old favorite piece of oak furniture, and saw a couple related fragments for the first time. There is a group of chests and boxes made in Dedham and Medfield, Massachusetts during the 17th century. Years ago they were the focus of a study by Robert St. George, culminating in his article “Style and Structure in the Joinery of Dedham and Medfield, Massachusetts, 1635-1685” Winterthur Portfolio; vol. 13, American Furniture and Its Makers (1979), pp. 1-46. You can join JSTOR and read it here – https://www.jstor.org/stable/1180600?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
But like all oak of the period, our friend Robert Trent was all over them too – thus several examples were featured in the exhibition New England Begins at the Museum of Fine Arts too. (Boy, did that set come down in price – https://www.amazon.com/New-England-Begins-Seventeenth-Century/dp/0878462104 -If you don’t have it, and you like the furniture and decorative arts of the period, get it. Used to be way more than $90…)
This chest is in a private collection, I had it years ago to make a new oak lid for it. Typical for this group, 3 carved panels, moldings on the framing parts. Not great work, but real nice. Black paint in the backgrounds, originally bright red on the oak, dyed with logwood or brazilwood dye.
This one was made for the Fairbanks house in Dedham, was illustrated in a late 19th/early 20th century article about that house. For many years it was MIA – then the Fairbanks Family was able to buy it at auction either late 1990s or early 2000s…I forget which. Has the only oddball center panel. (see the detail, top of the blog post) Refinished.
A reader sent me these photos once, shot at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY. These boxes are often pretty tall – maybe 9″ high. Pine lids and bottom, oak box. I made a copy of this one for a descendant of one of the joiners credited with this work, John Thurston of Dedham and elsewhere.
Now it gets really wiggy. I cropped this shot from an overall of a chest in a museum collection. Notice the panels on the left & right. They look good, right?
Here’s one – then compare it to its cousin below…
The other. Amazing what your eyes & brain can tolerate and still accept as a repeating pattern. I’ve carved this design a lot, and I can carve a panel about 10″ x 14″ or so in under an hour. I bet this guy was flying right along. Or old and infirm. Or somehow incapacitated, or compromised. Or something. Notice too the holes in the corners where I presume the panel was nailed down to hold it still for carving. I nail mine to a back board, and fasten that to the bench with holdfasts. That way I don’t have to move the holdfasts – they’re out of the way.
A related, but dead-simple version. Why all that blank margin? No applied molding, the framing is beveled around the panel. Ahh, everyone who knows why is dead.
These next two are the lynch pins for the attribution to John Houghton, joiner. These are fragments from a meetinghouse in Medfield from 1655/6. The town records cite a payment made to Houghton for work on the desk, a table and more. The “deske” in the records is the pulpit. These panels are believed to be part of that pulpit. This panel is about 6 5/8″ x 14″.
a detail of the rectangular panel.
This diamond-shaped panel is nailed to a piece of oak that looks like some framing stock – but it tapers in width. Tradition says that these pieces were saved when the 1655/6 meeting house was demolished in 1706.
One more – this one’s in Nutting’s books, now at Wadsworth Atheneum. “Refreshed” paint, or completely re-painted. I forget which. Really nicely carved.
I have been cutting some moldings lately for a chest with drawers I’m building. The moldings surround the panels, and the drawer fronts. While I was cutting these, I was thinking about this blog. I started it in 2008, and never thought it would keep going this long. Because I didn’t know what I was doing, I never really organized it well. So there’s lots of photos spread out all over the blog that are useful…but sometimes hard to find. Today, I thought I could just post some photos of period moldings found on New England joined works. So here’s pictures.
a chest from Salem, Massachusetts: Tearout, anyone?
a chest with drawers, Plymouth Colony. This large molding (2″ tall) is integral to the rail, not applied.
Inside one of the Plymouth Colony chests, moldings on the rails and muntins:
Here’s a panel detail from Plymouth Colony. This is a common profile for the period, technically an ogee with a fillet, I think:
This one’s from Chipstone’s website – a Boston chest panel:
This is a muntin from a chest made in Braintree, Massachusetts. I used to make this molding with a scratch stock. I think that cutter is gone now…
This Connecticut (Wethersfield? Windsor? I can never get it straight) chest with drawers was the model we copied last time at Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking. These moldings are oak:
A lousy photo, but if you squint at the ruler’s shadow, you can see the profile of this molding. Dedham Massachusetts chest.
Also Dedham, different chest:
Back to Connecticut, more Wethersfield, Windsor, etc.
a drawer from a Woburn, Massachusetts cupboard:
An ogee on the bottom edge of a table’s apron. Maybe this square table is Boston?