I picked away at the upper case’s soffit a little today. It’s a hard thing to photograph on the existing cupboard without laying them on their backs. The cover of Bob Trent’s 1976 Pilgrim Century Furniture shows this cupboard. The book title runs across the cornice’s front rail. That little resulting triangular area just under that is the soffit. In effect, much of the cornice is a sort of hollow space about 4″ deep.
When dealing with these terms, I always think back to Jennie Alexander’s fascination with Cyril Harris’ Illustrated Dictionary of Historic Architecture. I’m sure my copy came from JA, who told me to keep it in the bathroom. I used to…
If you don’t have a copy, or there’s someone in the bathroom, here’s the page for “cornice”:
And an entry for soffit:
I started by drawboring the cornice joinery and temporarily pinning them with removable drawbore pins. And then making a template from matboard to notch around the pointed rear stile and a corner notch at the front stile. And it fits into grooves in the front & side rail.
I made the template in two parts, and marked where they overlapped. Then transferred that to a 3/8″ thick oak panel. Beveled on the side and front – but you have to keep track of what’s the top & bottom of that panel. The good side goes down, the beveled side is up in the cornice.
To get it in place, I had to knock the front section off the side rails’ tenons – then insert the soffit board and put the front rail & stiles back on.
These boards get the same V-shaped tongue & groove that the floor boards and drawer bottoms get. I got the first 3 boards set, then ran out of light.
I probably won’t do the final installation until after the side panels’ decorations are attached. It’ll be easier to get at that stuff without the cornice in the way. This is what that looks like:
I’ve been testing the arches lately. More of that to come.
Might be two weeks ago now, I test-assembled the cupboard. Daniel & I just finished a short (for me) video showing how I work those large 3 1/4″ square blocks and then test-fit the lower case.
The upper case didn’t get much video-time. There was an earlier video showing how I cut some of the joints for it, and a short bit tacked on today’s showing how I fit the cornice on…we’ll see it all again over & over in time.
Just like the title says. The upper case of the cupboard has a recessed portion; semi-hexagonal in shape. Its front stiles are pentagons. You can see one of them on the right-hand side of this photo (the cover of Trent’s anthology of Antiques Magazine articles from ages ago.)
Here’s how I fumbled around to plane them. I last did this sort of work about 2008 or so, and before that, 1998. So I tend to forget how in-between. It starts with this billet of oak, in this case, white oak. That chunk is maybe 4″ square, by 22″ long or so. The template on top of it is the shape I’m after, with the two front faces towards us.
After riving some excess off the back of it, I laid out the centerline and marked the cross-section on the end.
Then began hewing it to shape. This is to establish the rough shape.
I have a chalkline down the center and one on each edge guiding my hewing.
Then it comes in the shop to begin planing it at the bench. I have the piece shimmed so that the face I’m planing is pretty much level. This took some fumbling around (which you’ll see if you watch the video of this process) – that fumbling I attribute to that notion of doing this work only every ten or twelve years or so.
This is what I’m after at this point – two faces flat & straight, with the proper angle between them. Those faces are extra wide at this point.
So the next layout shows where I need to go back to the hewing hatchet. The faces I’ve penciled in there are 90-degrees to the original two faces I planed. The bottom surface doesn’t matter at all, and is left un-planed.
After hewing, it comes back to the bench for more shimming & planing. This next photo reminds me of “the piano has been drinking, not me.” The camera was tilted, not the bench. But I’ve shimmed the stile now between two pieces of 2″ x 2″ oak, one of which is held with a holdfast, the other with a handscrew. Then the stile slips between them.
and back to planing. next time these pieces make it to the blog, they’ll be propped in similar positions for mortising. But that will be a while. First, they need to dry some, & I need to build the lower case.
If you’d like to watch a video of me making one of these, here it is. It’s long, and shows the fumbling-around in mostly real time. But some of the concepts might be helpful if you’re ever in the position of planing weird shapes.
Yesterday Michael Burrey dropped off some maple bolts – so today I got to turn a pillar, either for the cupboard or for practice. It’s been over 20 years since I turned one of these big pieces.
Maple isn’t my favorite riving wood by a long shot, but every now & then you find one that splits well enough. This section was fairly cooperative.
I scribed a 5” circle on the end and rived & hewed away the excess. Somewhere in there, I trimmed it to about 18” long.
To prep it for turning, I wanted to make it as even as I could without getting too crazy time-wise. Last time I did this, I didn’t know Dave Fisher’s great methods for prepping his bowl blanks. This time, I used some ideas based on Dave’s work. I struck a line through the middle of my 5” circle, and shimmed the bolt on the bench til that line was plumb.
Then struck a related line on the other end. From there, I could measure how high the centerpoint of the first circle was (3” off the bench) and scribe one in the same position on the other end. And strike that circle. Then shave down to those circles.
I then struck a new 3” circle on one end, to hew and shave a taper to the bottom end of the pillar.
Then it went on the lathe. At that point, it weighed 11 lbs 6 oz. (5.16 kg they tell me). Wrapping the cord around something even 3” in diameter means you’re turning slowly at first. So my objective early on is to determine the location of a cove and start to rough it out. That way I can move the cord there ASAP. Get more revolutions per tromp, and a smoother cut as the piece spins faster.
I spent a long time on this piece; between being out of practice, out of shape, taking still photos & video, and checking dimensions – I plodded along. Hadn’t turned maple in so long, and I’m always astounded at the long ribbon shavings you get, even from a pole lathe.
I live in a fantasy in which I’m about one afternoon’s cleaning away from being organized. Nothing is further from the truth though. And using the lathe drives that point home. My shop is on the small side, 12′ x 16′ – the local building codes allowed me to do it without permits & inspections if I kept it under 200 sq ft. The price I pay is that the lathe is tucked against the back wall, and I have to pull it out about 2 feet when I need it. And I don’t do a lot of turning, so often junk gets piled on the lathe temporarily. So this photo above shows some of the mayhem that ensues when I dig out the lathe. It’s one of the worst photos I’ve taken in the shop in ages – too cluttered and the photo of the pillar propped up at the lathe is extremely helpful to me, but so disorienting to look at here, with the open door beyond.
I got the pillar to a good point for quitting for the day. About 1/4″-3/8″ oversized for now. I’m aiming for a greater diameter of 4 1/2″ and the coves are about 1″ plus. The bits just inside the tenons will be 2 1/2″. Overall length between the tenons is 14 1/2″. At this stage, the general form is established. I put it in a paper bag with some of the shavings to hopefully dry it slowly and not have it crack apart. I’ll put it back on the lathe in a few days to turn the final size and the details. Weight at this point – 5 lbs. (2.27 kg). I didn’t weigh the shavings. Tomorrow is that cleaning day, I’m going to get organized this time…
When Irving P. Lyon wrote about 17th-century Essex County furniture in the 1930s, he referred to part of this work as the “small panel” style, based on a decorative element that divided up surfaces into molded grooves, with inset false muntins. Like this drawer front from the cupboard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
On the cupboard I’m going to make there’s a row of this, but only one groove down its length. No matter, I decided I need the practice, so I began a piece for the front of a box. White oak, 8 1/2″ x 22.” This work is done in DRY wood. I have on the bench a perfect piece of white oak, riven radially, straight as an arrow and planed a year ago or more. I skimmed it again just to freshen up the surface and make sure it was as flat as I could get it.
First decision was how many rows? Two, then three turned out to be too few for the 8 1/2″ height/width. So I settled on four rows. Set a ruler at one edge then angled it to 15″ at the other edge, then ticked off marks at 3, 6, 9 & 12 inches. And that gave me the centers for each row.
I wanted nice crisp edges to the plowed grooves that came next, so I scribed those limits with a mortise gauge, above & below each of those center marks.
Then came the plow plane, with an iron 9/16″ wide. I did two rows from one edge, then had to flip the board around to reach the other two rows. If you do this, you MUST be certain that the board’s edges are parallel.
I made those grooves a little more than 3/16″ deep. Close enough to a quarter-inch I guess.
Next comes the molded edges to each of those grooves. To do that, I use a scratch stock. You could make a dedicated plane, it would make sense if you were doing a lot of this. I haven’t made any of this decoration since 2002, so the scratch stock is a good trade; time-wise. For this sort of molding, (one not on the edge of the board’s face) I use a stock that’s like a marking gauge – a beam with a slot for the cutter, and a fence fastened by a wedge. The cutter is filed from an old scraper or saw blade.
You can just go ahead and scrape/scratch the molding from there.
But you can speed things up a bit by removing some excess stock first with a round plane. Just a couple of swipes is all you need.
Eventually you have to flip the cutter around in the scratch stock to scrape the opposite edges.
I was shooting still photos and videos, and changing setups around. And doing work I hadn’t done in nearly 20 years. I got a bit past this point, but this a good place to stop part 1. Part two will be cutting & fitting the insets. Underway, but ran out of light. And energy at the same time. Funny how that works.
[the photos here are from a variety of sources and formats. Some I downloaded from museum websites, some are scans of prints, some shot with an ipad, etc. – all this is to apologize for the poor quality of some of these photos. Some citations at the bottom]
Well, now I have a log for my cupboard project – I’ll go pick it up (some of it anyway) on Monday. Thanks Rick. It looks like it’s in a tilted-over part of the world, I better be careful. Otherwise it seems promising.
In the meantime, I’ve been reviewing my notes from 20+ years ago when Bob Trent, Alan Miller & I worked on an article for American Furniture. These books, notebooks & files are a small part of the research – there’s scads of letters and notes to go with them. The large notebook at the bottom of the heap is mostly field-notes – measurements and descriptions from examinations of the 12 cupboards we saw when working on our article.
It’s an amazing body of work by some anonymous joiners/turners. There’s about 12-13 cupboards, but there are also chests of drawers, chests with a drawer below, two “dressing boxes” – small, table-top chests with numerous compartments dividing up the insides and some ordinary boxes for general storage. At least one table too, a folding example from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The date range runs from 1678 – this chest of drawers at Winterthur – dated on the middle part of the bottom drawer. The owner’s initials are carved on the top drawer; IMS, for John & Margaret Staniford.
The other end of the date range is 1701, incised on this chest with a drawer at the Hoxie House in Sandwich Massachusetts. I took this lousy photograph, pretty much on the fly one day. The date and the initials IP are carved on small plaques at the bottom of the middle panel.
Here’s a hideous crop showing the dates/initials – just like above, when you see “I” think “J”. Usually.
The decoration found on the whole group is so varied and impressive, it’s really mind-boggling. Lots of geometric combinations formed with applied moldings, then always accented with applied “split” turnings (which aren’t split). This shot of the Massachusetts Historical Society cupboard has a little of everything, except carving.
I first got closely involved with them when Bob Trent & I did a presentation at the Dublin Seminar in 1998. Our presentation there was called “Repairs Versus Deception in Essex County Cupboards 1830-1890” – pretty dramatic title. It’s not illustrated in the article, but our lecture included this cupboard, which we only knew from a photograph in Irving P. Lyon’s 1930s article “Oak Furniture of Ipswich, Massachusetts, part IV, the Small-Panel Type” in Antiques Magazine.
Well, some of Lyon’s findings hold up some don’t. Note in the caption that he doesn’t know what to call it. I don’t know what to call it either, technically it’s a chest of drawers. But it’s not a chest, so maybe it’s a cupboard of drawers. But it’s not a cupboard. It just looks like one. Eventually, it came out of the woodwork, was re-restored and is now at Chipstone if I remember right. Lyon was right in one respect – “probably unique” – we’ve never seen anything like it.
There’s one we never found – the base of a cupboard, shown here in Wallace Nutting’s book Furniture Treasury (1926 or so). Let us know if it’s in your barn or something. One of them was a hen coop in the 19th century.
Irving P. Lyon’s 6 articles on Oak Furniture of Ipswich are well worth having, even with a grain of salt (it’s not all from Ipswich by a long shot). They are collected in Robert F. Trent’s Pilgrim Century Furniture, Main St/Universe Press, 1976. Irving W. Lyon, Irving P. Lyon’s father, illustrated a couple of these cupboards in his The Colonial Furniture of New England (1891, reprinted 1925 etc). I already mentioned Wallace Nutting’s Furniture Treasury, his Furniture of the Pilgrim Century also includes some of this work. And on & on. The short article I did with Trent is in Rural New England Furniture, Dublin Seminar, 2000. (it’s the papers for the 1998 conference of the same name.) The longer one we did when Alan Miller worked along with us is online, but the printed volume has all the illustrations, the website sometimes has fewer. http://www.chipstone.org/article.php/554/American-Furniture-2001/First-Flowers-of-the-Wilderness:-Mannerist-Furniture-from-a-Northern-Essex-County,-Massachusetts,-Shop- The volume it’s in is the 2001 edition of American Furniture, edited by Luke Beckerdite. That pile of books shown up there also has Jonathan Fairbanks and Robert Trent, New England Begins, 3 vols, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (1982) and Richard Randall American Furniture in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (1965). Winterthur’s collection search is here https://www.winterthur.org/collections/online-collections/
While I wait for the legs of the brettstuhl to dry, Daniel & I worked on catching up at the beginning of the joined stool video series. This one will do it, planing the stock. It’s got a couple of blips in the video, I had some trouble with one of the cameras. And some fumbling around on my part – had I been watching Daniel I probably would have had him edit some stumbling out – but in the end, it’s probably good to show it. Yes, I fumble around some too, looking for tools, setting the cap iron too close to the cutting edge & more.
I’ll organize the joined stool playlist when I think of it – now it should be the whole project. When I get going full-tilt on the joined press cupboard there’ll be a lot of videos about that – I’m really looking forward to it. I don’t have a log yet, but some ideas in the works.
First off, thanks to those who responded to Maureen’s work yesterday & today. I greatly appreciate it. Now, a blog update. I know I’ve been posting lots of stuff for sale recently. Being off the road for the past nine months has been very nice, but it also dried up a great portion of my income. The other flip side of that is it gave me lots of time to make things. I hope to return to teaching in person in 2021, we’ll see how things unfold. I am planning an on-line class with Elia Bizzarri http://handtoolwoodworking.com/ where we’ll cover some spoon carving. He & I are planning on testing some stuff this month. We’ll both post details when we have them. It’ll be partially modeled after what Elia & Curtis Buchanan have done with their recent chairmaking stint; but I’ll have axes & knives in hand too.
In January (probably before) I’ll be concentrating on blog posts again, some carving, some chairmaking and spoon carving. I also have a 2nd set of carving drawings pretty much ready to go, but the timing was such that I’d be posting them maybe a week from now. I decided to hold them back til after the holidays. I didn’t want to add to any frenzy – no one needs it this year.
I also plan on getting back to some more video work in January. I’ve been busy trying to get the boxes done for December, but haven’t given up on the video work.
Meantime – I have three boxes and some other craft items as well as some videos & drawings available. Leave me a comment if you’d like to claim any of these, or send an email to email@example.com
CARVED OAK BOX – SOLD white & red oak, white pine bottom. H: 8 1/2″ W: 23 3/8″ D: 13″ $1,000 includes shipping in US.
This first box got posted some time ago, but it didn’t sell right off, then other blog posts pushed it aside, and I put it in a chest & forgot it. Found it the other day…the box is some great riven white oak, the lid quartersawn red oak.
This pattern is often found on 17th-century work – a surprising amount of detail in small spaces. Glued & pegged at the corners, bottom nailed on w handmade nails. Handmade iron hinges as well. A lidded till inside.
Carved box; oak & pine. Strapwork design with carved lid. SOLD H: 8 1/4″ W: 23 1/2″ D: 11 3/4″ $1,500 includes shipping in US.
This box is a slightly new direction for some of my work. Until recently, I had mostly avoided carving the lids, but last month I made a box from yellow cedar and decided to carve its lid. I had seen a photograph of an English box with a “strapwork” pattern carved in its lid, and decided to do that. I loved the way it looked, and so did two other people at least (it sold & I took an order for a 2nd). My friend Rick DeWolf provides me with great quartersawn oak for my box-carving classes – this year he brought me the wood, but with no classes, I dove into making boxes & boxes. Among that stash was a great piece of 12″ wide perfect quartersawn stock. Bang! Carved the lid, then make a box to go under it.
You can see some streakiness through the oak on this box, the result of something or other in the tree. Time will mute all these oak colors together. Patience and patina rule the oaks. For that matter, the pine too. Here’s a photo I’ve posted before, showing a new box on the left, and one about 12 years old on the right. Both red oak and white pine. Both with linseed oil finish. The one on the right has been in use in our house now for 15 years.
CARVED BOX, S-scroll design – SOLD H: 7 1/4″ W: 17″ D: 11″ $850 includes shipping in US.
This one’s just a bit smaller than usual. I think the box front carving was either a demo or maybe a video I did this year…however it happened, I found the board all carved – so rather than waste it I made a box to go around it.
This one has an extra carving too – the till lid I made from a leftover white oak carving. You’ll only see it when you go fumbling around in the till.
Catalpa bowl H: 5 3/4″-6″ L: 20 1/2″ W: 12″ $600 includes shipping in US.
I’ve made bowls with axes, adzes & gouges going back to the late 1980s. From time to time I take another stab at them, but usually just winging it. Then, I met Dave Fisher. I’ve watched Dave teach bowl carving a number of times, but I would usually see just some of the steps, not in order. This time, I tried to just follow Dave’s instructions based on his video with Fine Woodworking https://www.finewoodworking.com/videoworkshop/2017/11/carve-greenwood-bowl-david-fisher
You can flip it over and wear it as a helmet. When I shot this photo, I realized I need to carve my initials on the bottom.
CARVED SPOON #1 – SOLD rhododendron, L: 9 1/2″ W: 2 1/2″ $100 includes shipping in US
This spoon is made from a “crook” – a naturally bent or curved section from which the spoon derives its shape. The most fun spoons there are to make…
large round basket – white ash splints; hickory rims & handle. Hickory bark lashing 14″ diameter at rims, basket height 9″ to handle 18″ $600 including shipping in US.
DVD – Build a Shaving Horse
$42 includes shipping in US 2 discs; 162 minutes.
I have 9 copies left of this video I shot with Lie-Nielsen Toolworks. They have plenty I’m sure, and they offer it as streaming video too. How to make the style of shaving horse developed by Jennie Alexander and adapted by me. Mine’s been in use since the late 1980s. I still use it all the time…
Carving Drawings 17th-century Style Carving: Devon, England and Ipswich, Massachusetts, set #1 4 pages, 24″ x 36″, rolled in a cardboard tube. $66 includes shipping in US.
These have their own page describing them, but in summary – 4 pages 24″ x 36″ of drawings showing several designs I carve in my oak furniture. Full-scale chest panels, framing parts, box front. Step-by-step drawings showing how to establish the patterns…
I found some quartersawn Alaska yellow cedar for sale on the web last month, and decided to make a special box from it. The carved lid is a dust-magnet; but I couldn’t leave that much blank space in that beautiful wood.
H: 7″ W: 22″ D: 11 3/4″ $1,400 includes shipping in US.
It’s a higher price than usual, but it’s not my everyday box. I had only carved a lid on a box like this once or twice before. Some time ago, Paul Fitzsimmons of Marhamchurch Antiques sent me a photo of a box from Exeter, England that used strapwork designs all over like this. I didn’t copy that box, but copied the idea.
As expected, there’s a till inside, this time with red cedar for the bottom & side, ash for the lid.
I tend to mostly use a wooden cleat/hinge arrangement for the lid. For this reason I made the back of the box from red oak – its strength is lent to the extended pin that engages the cleat, which is also oak.
I just finished it today and shot a series of photos once the lid was attached.
The rabbet joints are glued and pegged. I scrounged an off-cut from the lid to make these yellow cedar pegs for the front.
Daniel & I worked out editing the first video of panel carving to accompany the sets of drawings. This panel is one I have never carved on video before, nor have I covered it in print.
When I shoot these, I’m the camera-person as well as the carver. That means I get to ruin things two different ways. I shot these in late July, and here two-plus months later, I found out that for one section the camera was not in focus. So when I get to the free-hand stuff outside the diamond, there’s not much detail about what I’m doing. But I think you can see it pretty well. I was very happy with raking light across this one. So much so that we only used the views from one camera. It’s long, like most of my videos so far. If you make it to the end, or scoot through to the end, there’s a gallery of about 4 variations on the pattern.