Cupboard project: upper case rear stiles

The back of the cupboard’s upper case has an interesting detail in its construction. The frame consists of the two upright stiles, two long horizontal rails and one horizontal panel. Simple. Except for the details of the layout. The bottom rail is set in front of the panel (and ultimately under the floor of this section.) This requires some extra thought when laying out the mortises. It begins by laying out & cutting the mortise for the upper rear rail.

upper mortise

Then I lightly strike the beginnings of the panel groove. This is to give me the layout for the bottom mortise – it’s set inside this groove.

strike the beginning of the panel groove

This next photo is a bit confusing, for good reason. The stile on our left is a total disaster. I chopped mortises in the wrong face of one of the rear stiles, a fatal error – I had to rive out & plane a replacement. These things happen, my mind was on the next step, not on the very basic step of layout & mortising. So to concentrate on the correct stile, on our right below. The bottom mortise is closest to the camera – follow the panel groove and see that it’s in front of this bottom mortise and falls in the middle/toward the front of the upper mortise.

forget the one on the left

This construction allows the rear panel to be inserted after this frame is assembled. You slide it up from below, in front of the bottom rail, and tuck it up into the groove in the top rail. Then it’s nailed to the bottom rail from the back/outside. This small B&W photo is a related cupboard that uses this construction but with several vertical boards rather than one horizontal board.

back of related cupboard

The bottom rail uses a “barefaced” tenon, a tenon with only one shoulder, in this case the rear shoulder. Here’s the layout – penciled in after my great mishap. I was then taking no chances.

barefaced layout

And test-fitted in place.

in front of (or behind I guess) the panel groove

Here’s one more view

3/4 of the rear frame

I first saw this method in a group of chests I studied from Braintree, Massachusetts – here’s one on its back, showing the bottom rear rail – under the floor and with the panel outside it.

bottom of Braintree chest

A detail of the same chest –

rear rail under the floor and panel behind it

Trent showed me the same sort of construction on American kasten – the Dutch-style cupboards made in New York and New Jersey. There clapboards are often substituted for the back panel.

My pride is just about recovered from my blunder and when the replacement stile is ready, I’ll finish framing this rear section. Meanwhile, I moved onto the sides of the upper case, but that’s another post.

(pt 13 Essex County cupboard project 2021)

next brettstuhl assembled

It was April 10th when I wrote here on the blog about the previous assembly of one of these chairs. I was too busy in May with the Essex County cupboard project and birding to spend much time chairmaking. So it wasn’t until today that I assembled the next one – 6 or 7 weeks apart. That’s a long enough gap to un-learn things for me.

One thing I changed this time is the seat – a thumbnail molded edge instead of just a bevel. And the front corners snipped off – something I saw scrolling through photos of antiques and museum pieces online.

black walnut & ash

I bored the mortises for the rear legs with the back in place – an attempt to keep the rear leg from bumping into the through-tenon of the back under the seat. It almost worked – I must have wiggled on one of them. But a minor wiggle.

boring rear mortises

I turned the leg’s tenons to their final dimension (in this case 15/16″ x 1 3/8″ long), Then sawed a kerf in them for a wedge and knocked them into the battens. With glue too. The batten is lifted off the bench top so the tenon can protrude through the top of the batten.

sub-assembly

My notes from last time said “make the tenons longer so they all exit completely.” A combination of the angle the mortise is bored at and the length of the tenon can leave the tenon either through like this one, or not quite all the way through like some of the others today. Oh well. Not the end of the world. I still wedged them and they glue helps too.

wedged tenon before trimming

Driving in the tapered beveled battens is pure fun. They’re very loose for a good stretch, then all of a sudden they get as tight as can be. Brilliant concept.

driving in the legged-battens

Then I insert the back in its mortises through the seat and the battens. I don’t use a mallet, it’d be easy to split that back right in half. I’ve done it, a very discouraging move. After it’s all the way in, I scribe for the wedge mortises in the through tenons.

fitting the back in place

I consulted the previous chair when I laid out the mortise for this wedge. I made it 5/16″ wide and just eyeballed cutting out the wedge angle. Then I used the wedge to lay out the angle of the mortise.

locating the wedge mortise baseline

Knocking the wedge in from the back. I drive it in, mark where I want to trim it front & back, then knock it out, trim it & put it back.

knocking in the wedge

Here’s today’s walnut one beside April’s butternut example. These chairs are a great combination of challenging and fun.

The impetus for this diversion into these German/Austrian/Italian/Swiss etc chairs was first of all Drew Langsner’s article “Two Board Chairs” in the Jul/Aug 1981 issue of Fine Woodworking. At first, I felt skittish making them because I’ve never studied an old example. But 2020 blew that notion out of the water anyway. So I started in, figuring I’d make some blunders here & there, some changes to Drew’s instructions and find my way into them. One thing I have seen online is the wedging that fastens the back under the seat is usually a pin, not a wedge. I like the wedge idea that Drew learned in Switzerland, but I run mine from the back toward the front – not side-to-side like the way Drew learned. All those options work of course. I have enough walnut boards to make three more. But they’ll take me some time. There’s that cupboard to get back to…

[if you missed the April brettstuhl assembly post – here it is https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2021/04/10/brettstuhl-2-done/ ]

Forming double tenons

Today’s post is about the Essex County cupboard project, not about birds. For a change…

end frame underway

The end frames to the lower case are characterized by the tall/deep/wide upper & lower rails. My notes from the research we did all those years ago note that these rails use double tenons, instead of one great 7 1/2”” to 8” tenon. There’s no “haunch” or filler between the tenons. In one of the cupboards I was able to see light between them. So here’s how I cut them. It’s like most tenons I cut, with one or two extra steps. But there’s lots of new readers here, so I’ll show most of the process.

To start with, I layout a full-width tenon with a mortise gauge. In this case, a 3/8″ tenon set in 7/16″ from the face.

layout

Cutting it is just like any of my tenons, starting with slightly undercutting the front tenon shoulder.

sawing front shoulder at a slight angle

Then instead of sawing the cheeks, I split them off.

splitting

And pare the resulting tenon faces front & back. Usually I choose a heavy, 2″ framing chisel.

paring

Now comes the extra step – sawing out the stuff between the tenons. I use a fine-tooth turning, or bow, saw to cut out the waste. I stay above the shoulder, leaving some to be chopped out with the chisel.

turning saw

a detail of that step –

turning saw detail

Daniel & I put together a video that shows some of the steps. and it’s less than half-an-hour for once.

But I didn’t show you the (yellow-shafted) northern flickers (Colaptes auratus) outside the shop window two days ago:

flickers

(pt 12 Essex County cupboard project 2021)

update on the Essex County cupboard project 2021

rear frame, lower case

For any new readers, or to re-cap for anyone – the major work I have underway for this year is a copy of a large 1680s press cupboard made in Essex County Massachusetts. The original is now at the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston. https://www.masshist.org/highlights/index.php#id=3231

My notes in the blog show that I first posted about the cupboard project in mid-February. At that point, I planed what oak I had on hand, which wasn’t much. Then in early March got a short log and began planing stock. And kept on, in between other projects. Now much of that planed stock has reached the point where I can take the next steps. So now it will begin to look like something. If you want to see what’s come before, I went back to the blog posts about it and added the line “Essex County cupboard project 2021” so a search on the blog for that phrase will get all the posts (except this one, because I’m still writing it) –  https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/?s=Essex+County+cupboard+project+2021

test fitting

I’m a little out of sequence between what’s happening in the shop and here on the blog. That’s due to a couple things; there’s more work in editing & sorting video than posting photos on the blog – and spring migration got me out birding a lot this month. But stuff is trickling out, and I cut a bunch of joinery on it yesterday. More coming today. 

Some questions I’ve got about the project. It’s for a private client, who will remain private. That’s all we need to say about that. As far as plans/drawings, specs – I can’t really publish those for a couple of reasons. First, the object I’m copying is in a museum collection here in Massachusetts. I got permission from that institution to make this repro. But I didn’t ask for, and won’t ask for, permission to publish all the specifics like a measured set of drawings. Regardless of how I see the “who owns these things” debate, I try to not run afoul of the museums & collections I study – I like to be invited back. So I try to play by their rules. Some institutions don’t like you copying their stuff. No sense arguing with them.

Another reason is that this particular body of work is not solely my research. I collaborated with two groups when studying these pieces 20 years ago – I have mentioned & linked the article I worked on with Robert Trent and Alan Miller – here it is again 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 other angle I came at these cupboards is through my friends Rob Tarule and Ted Curtin. In 1999 they were making a copy of a related one for the Saugus Iron Works, and included me in the project. I don’t have a photo of that cupboard, but it used to be on view there, and if I remember right, there was a film about us making it. Ahh, found a corner of it on their website   https://www.nps.gov/sair/index.htm

c. 1999 Tarule/Curtin/PF cupboard at the edge of the photo

The article above has lots of photos, but they’re now 20 years old. Some of these cupboards are posted on the web, two at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston – they have good photos of one in particular – https://collections.mfa.org/objects/44557/court-cupboard

(they had more photos last time I looked. That cupboard is accession #51.53   and the other is #32.226)

This one from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY was also in our article, at that time it was in a private collection. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/20612  – the Met’s photos are public domain, how nice.

Cupboard, Oak, maple, yellow poplar, with oak and pine, American
Metropolitan Museum of Art cupboard

——————-

So where’d I get yesterday? Started the joinery for the lower case. Framed the back (photo at the top of the post), which is very straight forward – two upright stiles, two horizontal rails and a vertical muntin. This frame has chamfers and bevels on its outer face (the muntin needs molded edges still) – but the corresponding upper case frame is not decorated. Everyone who knows why is dead. 

Then I got to start in on the side framing, which is where the fun begins. Lots of little joinery – four 2” long mortises.

double mortises for double tenons

Double tenons on the wide rails.

the bottom rail almost fitted

I got one set done, tested the framing and quit for the day. The next set will take a bit more time because I’ll shoot video of it. So extra fumbling around. But it’s fun. 

panels next, then the front section(s)

(pt 11 Essex County cupboard project 2021)

Scratch stock molding video

In between all the birding and some odds & ends around here, I did some work on the cupboard and Daniel & I finished the next video this afternoon. It’s about creating the integral moldings on the deep/tall side rails to the lower case.

scraping the molding

I do this work in two parts – first a plow plane to create the channel, then a scraper/scratch stock to finish the molded shape. Finally, a video that’s shorter than Ben Hur –

And an ovenbird from two mornings ago, with nesting material

ovenbird w nesting material

(pt 10 Essex County cupboard project 2021)

planing the rear stiles; upper case

Just a video post today, about planing the odd-shaped five-sided rear stiles to the upper case. Here’s a sketch of the plan of the upper case – and in it you can see the cross-section of those stiles, both front & rear. All the rails have 90-degree shoulders, so the stiles are shaped to create the three-sided overall format.

plan view upper case

Here’s both the front & rear stiles, next step for these will be mortising.

stiles done & waiting

here goes.

(pt 9 Essex County cupboard project 2021)

A few things here & there

First of all, it’s May. That means migratory birds should be returning here to (& through) New England. I’ve been out for some practice trips w Marie but the real show should begin next week. An eastern towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) – I like these birds a lot, I liked them better when they were called “rufous-sided towhee.”

eastern towhee

and a wood thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) for starters.

wood thrush

The good news lately is the resumption of in-person classes is in the works. The bad news is right now I’m only scheduling three of them, and 2 of those are full of hold-overs from 2020. The one that will be open to registration is a carved box class at Lost Art Press in Covington, KY in November. I’m hoping 2022 will have a full schedule of classes, with a focus on the JA ladderback chair and the carved box.

carved oak box

Read this post from Megan Fitzpatrick where she includes lots of frequently asked questions that might save some people some trouble. https://blog.lostartpress.com/2021/05/03/2021-classes-at-the-storefront/ Tickets go on sale May 17th at 10am eastern time.

And as I write this post, one comes in from Chris Schwarz who hosts the classes there – in his home – about vaccinations. https://blog.lostartpress.com/2021/05/07/classes-vaccinations/ – if you’ve been to a class there, you can easily see that all Chris really gets out of it is disruption as we overwhelm the shop for a week. So let’s be good guests, now – OK?

crease moldings on side rails

I’ve started cutting joinery for my cupboard project and I’m two videos ahead of Daniel now. So we’ll have more & more of that coming up as blog posts & videos – in between birding.

next brettstuhl

I also went out and paid actual money for some boards – 16″-18″ wide clear air-dried walnut. I started cutting out the next brettstuhl – decided to carve it first, then cut out the scrolled shape.

There must be more, but that’s enough for now. An orchard oriole (Icterus spurius) showed up outside the shop yesterday afternoon. This is the male, the female was there too, but she wouldn’t come out for a picture.

orchard oriole

One problem solved

I spent some time the other day scratching my head as I was ready to begin cutting joints for the cupboard project. Up first are the 4 deep (or tall, depending on how you look at it) side rails in the lower case. These rails are a distinctive feature of this cupboard and several of the related ones. Here, they are 7 1/2″ high – with integral moldings run on their faces and applied moldings too. But first, the mortises.

top & bottom side rails of lower case

I started with a basic question – how best to hold the rails for chopping the mortises. You can see that it’s thinner on one edge than the other. Naturally, I want the mortises in the thicker (1 1/4″) edge. So it needs to sit up on its thin edge, which might be closer to 7/8″ – 1″.

7 1/2″ x 19″ or so

Often when mortising I grab the stock in the double-bench-screw (aka Moxon vise these days) and use a holdfast to secure it against the planing stop/bench hook. (the photo below is a mock-up, I didn’t shove it against the bench hook…but it gives you the sense of the setup.)

deep rail held upright

My holdfasts aren’t long enough to reach up & grab the rail itself, so I wasn’t entirely sold on this idea. Another disadvantage is the height of that rail means I’m mortising into something that’s about 40″ high. A bit uncomfortable for little ol’ me. Then I remembered a photo of our friend Rob Tarule pictured in Scott Landis’ The Workbench Book. Rob had a bearing strip or ledger fastened to the front legs of his Roubo bench and sat his workpiece on that. So I clipped that idea.

holding the rail against the bench’s edge

I didn’t have any hardwood over 6′ long, so just used a crappy piece of framing lumber. It sits on the holdfast on our left, is pinched by the one on the far right. The middle & left holdfasts are fixing the rail against the bench’s edge. Now the mortising happens just higher than the bench. The wooden fixture with the screw (the bench screw) just stops any forward movement. Much better. Below is a detail. This was the tail end of yesterday, and I didn’t work in the shop today. So tomorrow I’ll get the other three to this point, then it’s on to cutting double tenons on each end.

Scott Landis’ book was just republished by (who else?) Lost Art Press https://lostartpress.com/collections/all-books/products/the-workbench-book – if you’re not familiar with it, you might like it. Benches of all sorts, historical and otherwise. Rob Tarule made a Roubo bench long before we knew who Chris Schwarz was…there’s also a chapter on green woodworking fixtures too, featuring Jennie Alexander, Drew Langsner & Daniel O’Hagan – three people who had a huge impact on me. As did Tarule, but that was later. And I’ve known Scott since he & I (& Alexander) were in Curtis Buchanan’s first windsor chair class in 1987. Oh no, I sound like I’m on the porch of the old folks’ home – I’ll stop now.

mouth of the Jones River early morning

(pt 8 Essex County cupboard project 2021)

Sharpening a Hewing Hatchet

I hate addressing sharpening. It’s such a touchy subject. almost as bad as politics. But I did a short video (short for me, anyway) about sharpening my hewing hatchet. In the video, you’ll see I fix the hatchet so it’s stationary, I might have got that idea from Drew Langsner. It really helps.

Additionally, I have come to feel hesitant to discuss my hewing hatchet. The hatchet I’m sharpening here, and use everyday, was made 90 years ago in Germany. No – I don’t know where you can get one just like it. Yes, there are lots of hatchets out there. some good, some bad. No, I’m not going to advise you this way or that re: what hatchet to use or buy. I have written about it at length here on the blog, with measurements and photos – for example https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2012/12/13/the-endless-look-at-hewing-hatchets/ and one more https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2011/08/27/the-hatchet/

But whatever you use, make it sharp. Sharper is better.

Essex County cupboard anatomy

Essex County cupboard

For a couple of weeks or more I’ve been splitting, hewing & planing oak for this cupboard I have to build. In the blog here and in videos I mention various parts of the cupboard by name (the stiles, the cornice rails, inner stiles, etc) – all without having introduced the various parts to the audience. I have the cupboard frame in my head but realize that few here do. So here I’ll try to identify the bits – which for right now are just a growing pile of boards in the shop. 

One way to see this frame more easily is to strip off all that applied decoration. I took a photo of one of the related cupboards and traced its framing as best I could. It’s built in two cases; lower & upper. The lower case contains 4 drawers. The distinctive feature of the lower cases in this group is the overhang at the front that is created in the side framing. That leaves room for the lower pillars you see here. The two middle drawers are tucked behind these pillars. Those drawers are narrower than the top & bottom drawers by about 3″-4″.

This sketch shows the basics of that side framing in the lower case. It’s clearly not to any scale, it’s just a sketch. The inner stile marked on both of these drawings is about 1 7/8″ thick x 4+” wide.

side framing lower case

It might make sense in the photo below showing the four drawers open. That’s the edge of the inner stile beside the pillar.

side view lower case

The upper case’s format is pretty standard, but its embellishments are top-of-the-line. Its overall shape is sort of an interrupted octagon. At the front is a central door, loaded up with applied moldings that create a great sense of depth. Then the angled sides of the cupboard reach back to the rear stiles. Next, the top over the cupboard is back to rectangular, a 3-sided cornice creating another overhang. Those corner blocks that I refer to as “cornice stiles” are supported by the pillars. The pillars have tenons at both ends and are loose-fitted into the top of the lower case and the underside of those cornice stiles.

photo by Gavin Ashworth

I think I’ve said before, but here goes again. More than 20 years ago, Bob Trent, Alan Miller & I studied about 12-13 of these and related chests of drawers for an article for American Furniture. A staggering body of work that really doesn’t span all that many years, 1670s & ’80s mainly if my memory is right.

You can read it online, with photos shot by Gavin Ashworth. http://www.chipstone.org/article.php/554/American-Furniture-2001/First-Flowers-of-the-Wilderness:-Mannerist-Furniture-from-a-Northern-Essex-County,-Massachusetts,-Shop-

I can’t wait to start framing it; but for now the parts are stickered & drying some. I’m planing up the drawer parts now. Then on to some incidental bits – this oak log is going fast.

(pt 7 Essex County cupboard project 2021)