the start of something big

It’s the sort of call you can’t believe you’re having. “I’m fine with the price – my main concern is that it’s done right, and well-documented. If it takes all year, it takes all year.” I’m the luckiest joiner you know. I’ve been wishing for something complex and now I’ve got it. The cupboard above is what I’m going to tackle, it’s at the Massachusetts Historical Society. I took that photo in 1998 when I was there, studying it for an article I did with Bob Trent and Alan Miller. http://www.chipstone.org/article.php/554/American-Furniture-2001/First-Flowers-of-the-Wilderness:-Mannerist-Furniture-from-a-Northern-Essex-County,-Massachusetts,-Shop-

As soon as the fire was lit this morning, I got to work. I only had a couple short bolts of oak left, so that’s what I started with. That surface that’s facing up is a split! It’s as perfect as it can be. This piece is about 8″ wide and 18″ long – destined for the panels on the ends of the lower case.

a perfect bolt of red oak

It might as well have been perforated it split so well.

Snowy weather is ideal for green woodworking – no worries about the heat & sunlight causing unwanted splits.

ready to go inside

Then some skimming with the planes to make one face flat. I try to get the shavings into the basket, but there’s too many.

warming up

Then I scootch down and check the face with winding sticks and proceed.

These cupboards (the one pictured is one of 12-13 related cupboards) are the most complex pieces I know of from early New England. It’s more than I can keep track of in my head, so I began a checklist of which part is planed. These are the first 8; four panels, 2 muntins and 2 cornice rails.

if they could only keep that color

I marked each one of the framing parts on its end. Dated too. They’re planed slightly oversized, they’ll shrink a little.

names & dates

I cleaned up & sharpened the planes after that – the tannic acid made a mess of them. Then had a little time to figure out the angles I’ll need to plane up the upper case stiles. I never use drawings for joined chests, stools – even the wainscot chairs. But this upper case is a bit more complicated. I won’t need a drawing for the other parts – just to get those funny-shaped stiles. Now to find the next oak log.

maybe the only drawing I’ll need

Here’s the link to the Massachusetts Historical Society’s page about the cupboard – https://www.masshist.org/database/viewer.php?item_id=3231&pid=36

Joined stool video, back to the beginning almost

Well, I finally made a video that is short enough to actually watch. Back last year, when I began shooting the video series on making a joined stool, I got the idea for video after I had begun making the stool. So that series starts in the stock all prepped. I made a stool a month or so ago and got around to shooting some of the splitting-through-planing process.

This one is splitting with some wedges, a bit of froe-work, and some hatchet work. I shot the planing at the bench, that’s next on Daniel’s to-be-done list.

The video series is a “playlist” on the youtube channel. It’s here, I think – https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLB2LcmbKpkcZic8bc96QKMno2CdpFsNFX

(I don’t know what that will look like on your end. It might tell you that I watched them all…which was a painful experience.)

This is not a box…

stool stick

I think I made about 6 carved boxes in the last month. I love making them, but some variety is nice too. So it was fun to go into the shop today and pick out some squared stock for a joined stool I have coming up next. At the end of the bench you can see 4 of 5 blanks for the stiles. I’m checking the first one against the story stick for the stool I’m making. I’ll pick the best 4 of the batch, and put the 5th one back in the pile.

truing it up

Some of these 2″ squares were planed from green wood in late September and they are just right now for working further. Not bone-dry, not sopping wet. In the photo above, I’m truing up the two outside faces. I called them 2″ squares, but they’re initially planed a bit over that, 2 1/8″ or so. That leaves room for this step, getting them nice & straight, with the outside faces at 90 degrees to each other.

checking w the square

After I like those two faces, I mark the 2″ dimension, and plane down to that.

marking gauge

From there, I go ahead to layout and mortising. I didn’t shoot any photos of that today. I’ve covered that at length here, in the book with Jennie Alexander and in the video series I shot last spring on making a joined stool.

Here’s the real thing I want to talk about – case hardening. I might be the only woodworker you’re going to hear extol the virtues of case-hardened oak. I trimmed about 2″ off the end of this stile – and could clearly see the darker middle of the blank, surrounded by lighter-colored, drier outer edges. A nightmare for some, heaven for me.

optimal condition for me

The next step for me is to chop four mortises in this piece – two of them 5/16″ wide by 3 1/4″ long, the other two only 2″ long. About 1 1/2″ deep. I can chop mortises in dry stock, but it’s easier when that stock has more moisture in it. (Usually a mortise takes me about 4-6 minutes – unless I get distracted by action out at the birdfeeders.) In this stock, I’ll quickly chop past the drier wood into the slightly wetter interior.

So why not just chop those joints back in September when it was sopping wet? I used to do so, but it’s a bit trickier. Really wet wood is a bit fuzzy to cut, the fibers mush around more so than cutting cleanly. And that touches on the really great feature of this in-between material. After mortising, I’m going to turn these stiles on the lathe – and that drier, outer wood cuts more cleanly – allowing more crisp detail (as much as you can get in red oak) than if the wood were just out of the log. (here’s a photo from way back when I was working on the book w JA )

turning a cove

Case-hardened stock in sawn boards might present a problem – here I’m using riven, straight-grained oak. Nearly perfect material. For more about case-hardening, you can read this https://www.fpl.fs.fed.us/documnts/fpltn/fpltn-213-1952.pdf

to make a joined stool – there’s a whole book – https://lostartpress.com/collections/green-woodworking/products/make-a-joint-stool-from-a-tree

and a series of videos – https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLB2LcmbKpkcZic8bc96QKMno2CdpFsNFX

I’m going to go back and add a couple of videos to that, I never shot the beginning…

Country Woodcraft: Then & Now

In 1978, I had never even been to the country. I was born & raised in the suburbs. When I was little, we had to come in when the streetlights came on…so what was I doing reading a book called “Country Woodcraft” by Drew Langsner? Unknowingly, I was re-directing my just-dropped-out-of-art-school life.

then on the left, now on the right

Drew’s updated version of this book is now available through Lost Art Press, and what a brilliant move to update it rather than just reprint it. Now we get the culmination of 40 years’ worth of workshops held at Drew & Louise’s Country Workshops. I wrote a bit of an introduction to go with this book and in it I mentioned how often you’d hear the words “life-changing” regarding students’ reactions to their experiences there. Fits me to a tee. I’ve written many times over the years about my experiences there; and the impact Drew & Louise have had on my life and career. The book was the seed of that, along with Jennie Alexander’s Make a Chair from a Tree (the 3rd edition of which is in the works at LAP, don’t worry.) 

spoon carving

First off, the new one won’t fall apart – I have 2 broken paperbacks of the 1978 book. For the spoon-crazies – this is where America first heard of Wille Sundqvist and carving spoons with axes and knives. 9 pages in the old book, 43 pages now, something like that. Similar story with the “half-log bowls” as they are called in the new edition. And on & on – I’ve just got it this week, and am looking forward to reading both the old and new parts again & again. 

bowl carving

And my connection to Drew & Louise is only part of this heap-o’-praise. I’m completely biased, having worked with Lost Art Press now for quite a few years. They have done their usual great job – read Chris’ blurb about the book, including how LAP & Drew both agreed to keep the price of the book accessible for beginners & students – did you ever hear a publisher/author say that? Get it here

title page

Strapwork design & carving

Strapwork pattern in progress

I have this great piece of red oak; quartersawn, 12″ x 24″, clear, pretty straight (thanks, Rick) – and after seeing the carved lid on the cedar box the other day, I decided to try a large panel of a strapwork design again. Usually when I undertake these patterns, I only have a partial idea of what it will be. Much of it I work out as I go.

The top and bottom edges are easy, they’re always those linked arches. I divided up the space, put a circle in the middle and struck all the arches with gouges and a chisel. Then I knew that this time I wanted these long, vertical leafy things. You can see in the photo below that I carved one all the way before continuing. That way, if it didn’t work – I could quit, or flip the board over. Or plane it all away. (all extreme choices that rarely get employed.)

initial pattern

But I liked it, so I went on from there. Here, I’m setting a marking gauge to strike lines that will connect the right and left sides of the panel at the middle.

striking layout w marking gauge

Below – using a 3/4″ wide gouge to strike circles in some empty spaces around the middle.

using a gouge to define elements

This time the area where those left & right halves come together get volutes carved as the ends of each section. I strike their outlines with 3 different gouges.

volutes

These patterns usually flow outward from the center – up & down, left & right. Here I’m using a compass to mark the height of one element from the horizontal centerline. Then I’ll swing it around to hit the bottom of the same form.

compass work

Most of the work is striking out the design. Removing the background is easy, there’s just a lot of it.

background removal

But you only have to solve one-quarter of it when doing the design part. Then it’s a matter of flipping it over in your mind to “see” the other 3/4. This is as far as I got yesterday afternoon, but the fire’s now lit, so time to finish this carving.

The cover and the box

It was 1976. I was eighteen years old. My father had died the year before, and among his effects that came to me by default (I still lived at home) was a tablesaw & jointer, drill press, router, lathe, hand-held “power” tools and an assortment of handtools. I was an art student, aspiring to be a painter. I learned from a neighbor how to use the tablesaw and began to make picture frames for my paintings. Somehow made a bookcase, surfaced with a belt sander. 

That summer I accompanied my mother on a trip to Doylestown, PA to visit her childhood friend. We did the tourism routine there, including the Mercer Museum – so I saw rooms full of antique woodworking tools, but have no recollection of it. I have a vague memory that we visited Nakashima’s showroom – but I might have imagined that. But one thing I know for certain – on that trip someone showed me an early issue of Fine Woodworking magazine. And I subscribed when I got home. Back then, information trickled out, unlike today’s barrage. I used to read every word in each issue, several times in many cases. I still have many of those old copies. And I know many people who tell a similar story. It was through Fine Woodworking that I got onto John Alexander and Drew Langsner. 

The other day, Dave Fisher wrote to me to congratulate me on being on the cover of the new issue. I hadn’t seen the email from FWW and although I knew my box article was in the works, I had no idea it was going to be the cover. I remember when Pete Galbert wrote his version of this blog post – and now it’s my turn. Thanks to everybody at the magazine for making it  happen, I appreciate it. 

Barry Dima came up here in the beginning of this year to shoot the article about making the carved box. Because the whole world flipped upside down shortly after that, I forgot about it. Every now & then it would come up again and I’d be surprised. Recently I was sorting photographs and saw that box & couldn’t place it. Then I remembered I had sent the box down to them to photograph – now they’re done with it, so it’s available for sale. 

Approx dimensions are H: 8 1/2”  W: 24” D: 12 5/8”

Red oak box, pine lid and bottom. Till inside. SOLD
$900 includes shipping in US. Leave a comment or send an email if you’d like it. Check or paypal ($927 through paypal.) Or when the magazine comes out, you can make your own.

Make a Joint Stool from a Tree

2012. That’s when the Joint Stool book appeared with Lost Art Press. I forget, but I think it was one of their first “outside” books, i.e. authors other than Chris/or reprints. It is a book that is near & dear to me, representing 20-plus years of my collaboration with Jennie Alexander – I learned so much in that period it’s always fun to look back on the whole ride. 

Chris wrote to me recently, saying it’s time for the 2nd printing, and would I write something about JA for it. So I added a new short intro – that’s all that’s changed for content. Chris made some changes in paper choice, and we switched it to a board cover. The aim was to lower the price of it from here on out. 

But there’s still some hardcover copies left, and they have put them on sale to move them ahead of the new printing coming in. So if you want the original hardcover – now’s the time to get it for $27 – I think it was $43, so not insignificant. Have at it.  https://lostartpress.com/collections/books/products/make-a-joint-stool-from-a-tree 

In my back & forth with Chris, I mentioned that I had wanted to add a shaved baluster instead of a turned one. But never had the time. So I said maybe we could do it as a blog post – then I searched & realized we had already done it! I knew it was a good idea.

 https://blog.lostartpress.com/2012/07/02/joint-stools-without-a-lathe/

My most recent box and my first one from 1994

carved box, Nov 2020

Today I’ll finish this box by adding cleats under the lid; they’ll form part of the hinges too. As I’ve worked on it, I’ve thought about my first carved box. Between 1989 & 1994, I was a chairmaker/basketmaker learning joinery in my spare time. Now it’s flipped around just the other way. My first joinery projects were carved chests and then joined stools and a wainscot chair. I didn’t make a box until I got the job at Plimoth Plantation in 1994. They had an original box and one of my first projects was to study it & make a copy to use there. Flatsawn white oak, Mark Atchison made the hinges and nails. I hadn’t yet made a background punch, so I textured the background by repeatedly striking a nail into the recessed ground. 

my first box, 1994

I kept looking for a scheme to the layout of the design. I tried striking segments of arcs here & there, combining them this way & that. It wasn’t until I carved this design a few times that I realized it’s just freehanded. It was Victor Chinnery who told me that this box belonged to the overall group of carved works from Devon England – the material that New England works done in Ipswich, Massachusetts by Thomas Dennis and William Searle stems from. 

carved box, Devon; detail

Jump ahead quite a few years and enter Paul Fitzsimmons and Marhamchurch Antiques. He specializes in oak furniture in general, and the Exeter/Devon works specifically. https://www.marhamchurchantiques.com/

He’s been great about posting photos of his finds and I don’t miss a post from him. Over the years he’s handled a number of related boxes to this one – and nearly every one of them is different, but clearly the same general elements/composition. 

The box I made the past few days is one of my versions of these designs. I had a photo of one from Paul’s site and switched things around here and there to come up with a “new” design.

V-tool outline, over chalk
chopping a flower with a gouge

The variations depend on the scale of the board I have, and what I plan to improvise in the middle – the old ones always had locks there, and a big part of the upper middle of the design got covered. On my first take above I hadn’t yet removed the lock plate on the old box, so didn’t know what design was under there. 

Here’s a later version I did of that first box. I have no idea when this was – photo stamp says 2008. Pine lid this time, that means the museum was selling it – I kept the oak lids for use in the recreated period houses.

PF version, Devon box

This one was earlier this year. I’ve carved it a few times since Paul first posted his photo of the original.

carved box, 2020

When Pret & I built the shop, we scabbed framing in to mount the windows. I didn’t want to look at that framing all the time, so I dug out a box of carved samples and nailed them up all over the shop. From time to time, I paint them – mostly to use up extra paint I’ve mixed. Here’s some box fronts mounted now vertically.

This box is from 2013 back when I was still at the museum. Might be the last one I made there. It was for an EAIA raffle, I think. Or auction.

carved box, May 2013

It’s funny, I never drew any carving designs when I was learning them. I always worked from photos (still do mostly). But several years ago I started drawing them. These pages show a couple of these designs; the top one done as a 1/2 box front full-scale and the full box front half-scale. If that makes sense…

notebook


Floral panel, pt. 2

As promised, this one’s back to woodworking. It’s the 2nd part of the video about carving the floral panel.

Might as well stick the first part in here again too.

Links below – the youtube channel (I think most of them get copied here though) and the page where you can order the drawings.

https://www.youtube.com/user/MrFollansbee

https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/carving-drawings-17th-century-work-from-devon-england-and-ipswich-massachusetts-set-1/

Sash making

Quite some time ago, my friend Rick DeWolf posted a window he’d made for his barn. I was astounded, wondering “How did he do that?” So I wrote to him & asked “How did you do that?” and he told me he watched Roy Underhill make one. 

I have several windows that have seen better days, long ago. I wanted to tackle making new ones, but never thought I could do it. I have a vague memory of working on some with Michael Burrey – way back in 1994. My tools, and my skills, were not sharp enough for softwood. I dropped it for decades. It seemed so complicated. Roy offered to show me how, but we never found the time…

But 2020 seems to offer me lots of time with nothing to do. So I decided this is it – time to learn how to make these things. I watched Roy’s episode, read Lost Art Press’ reprint of Doormaking & Windowmaking. I even browsed some on the web – there I found a nice video of Ted Ingraham making sash. I used to run into Ted here & there in the tool/museum world.  

So here goes. Lots of pictures again. I can chop mortises – that’s easy. These are 3/8″ wide – the longest is under 2″. For these, a typical mortise chisel seemed like overkill, so I just used a bench chisel. I have a “sash mortise” chisel that I dislike for my oak joinery. Too light. They’d be great here. I don’t have a 3/8″ one…

One thing that Roy did is to intentionally overcut the front cheek of the tenons. This helps when you cope it to meet the molded edge.

I added one step to Roy’s sequence. I scribed a line on the end grain of that front shoulder, that’s where the coping cuts begins. Or ends, depends on how you look at it. But I keep that narrow shoulder square. Roy didn’t need that step because he used a coping plane, I used a gouge. The block on our left is to keep the stock from blasting apart as I pare across it.

And here is the gouge, starting to cut that coped shoulder. It’s more forgiving than I thought…

After coping the shoulders, I ran the molding & rabbet – but didn’t shoot any photos of it. Here is the plane cutting both edges – in this case, after mortising the stiles.

The plane is by J & L Denison, brothers who worked in Saybrook, Connecticut circa 1830s.

After chopping mortises, cutting tenons, running moldings, it’s time for some test-fitting. Once I had the stiles and horizontal rails tested together, I scribed the length of the vertical muntins. Or are they mullions? Whichever they are, I made them more stout than many – decided I didn’t need the extra challenge of thin muntins on my first go-round.

Knocking it together here & there. Some test-fit, some adjustments. Nothing major.

I checked it. Flat & square & 1/8″ oversized. I got right out of there before I messed anything up.

Here’s the links of stuff I mentioned up above.

https://www.instagram.com/rgd62/?hl=en

https://www.pbs.org/video/woodwrights-shop-double-casement-window/

https://woodandshop.com/the-house-jointer-make-sash-windows/