Winter light

I have 14 windows down in this small workshop, and here in New England as winter solstice is approaching, I can’t see well enough to do any significant work by 4:30 in the afternoon. By 4pm it’s getting dim, but I can sweep, sort stuff – can’t cut joinery or do carving. I  think about the joiners of the 17th century with the small (& few) windows in their buildings, how did they do any work in this light? Maybe they didn’t work much in the winter?

A notion that shows up in several 20th-century writings about 17th-century joiners is that they concentrated their joinery work in the winter; being too occupied with crops and livestock the rest of the year. That’s a quaint notion, and might even have some merit. One way to see if this is valid is to see tradesmen’s probate inventories to see if there’s work underway. There’s lots of reasons stuff might be un-finished…but it’s a start.

One bit of evidence in favor of this argument is the inventory of Edward Brown of Ipswich, Massachusetts, his inventory is from February 1659/60:

3 wheeles, finished lennen 13s6d, wheeles woolen & linnen not finisht £1-16  work done toward chaires 3s  &  15—ills 6s9d  shope tooles £3-6

John Symonds of Salem, Massachusetts also had unfinished work when he died. His inventory was presented in court 19:7:1671 – so September according to the old calendar.

will: “…to my son James Symonds…I do assigne my servant John Pease to him dureing the term of time expressed in the Indenture… Further I give all my workinge tooles belonginge to my trade to my son James Symonds…”

inv:  Joyners Tools benches and lare £5-5-6  2 Bedsteds almost finished £3  3 stools and one half of a Box 12s6d  1/2 Grindstone & windlass & a Small grindstone 5s  Timber planke & board £5-12

part of a Chest… 3 Chests 3 Boxes and a wooden Tunnil 14s  2 Tables a forum & Chayres 16s  a Vice and an old Hatchet 10s  nayles 10d  an Ax 6s10d   …a p of Jemmils…5 wedges…one half of a Crosscut Saw…  Timber in the Woods £1-2  an apprentice of 17 years old who hath 3 year and 9 moneths and 2 weekes to serve

George Cole died in 1675. His inventory is dated 30:9:1675, back when the 9th month was November…his work is not called “unfinished” but he had “work done in his shop…”

will:  “…I give to my master John Davis all my timber…”

3 saues 8s,  2 goynters & foreplaine 6s, 3 smothing plains & a draing knife 3s6d, 2 plans & 2 revolvong plains 10s,  4 round plains 5s, 3 rabet plains 4s,  3 holou plains 3s6d,  9 Cresing plains 10s6d,  6 torning tools 9s,  3 plaine irons & 3 bits 1s6d,  1 brase stok, 2 squares & gorges 1s6d,  1 brod ax & 1 fro 2s, holdfast 1s6d,  hamer 1s6d,  6 gouges 2s,  9 Chisels 5s,  2 ogers & 1 draing knife 3s,  1 bench hooks, 2 yoyet irons 1s,  a gluepot 1s6d,  for what work he has done in his shop £1-10

My notes include a date of “1676/7” for  Matthew Macomber  of Taunton, in Plymouth Colony. The double-dating falls between January and mid-March, so this is another one for the “winter” crowd.

a parsell of cooper’s tooles 9s  (illegible) hoopes not finished 10d  five hundred of cedar bolts att the swamp £1-10  hewen timber in the woods 8s9d  200 of cooper stuff in the woods 5s  more in tooles and arms £2-10

Another vote for winter is William Savell, of Braintree, Massachusetts. He died February 1, 1699/1700. Included in his inventory are:

a green carpitt & covers for chairs  01-08-00

a douzen painted chairs & a sealskin trunk  01-18-00

a wainscott chest and a box  01-01-00

a square table a wainscott chest and a bedstead  02-12-00

tooles  02-10-00

timber and weare begun  03-00-00

Well, here’s one more – what I always call “When Things Go Wrong”  – court cases sometimes shed light on period practice. John Davis was asked to make 4 chests, did so, and had them delivered. But it all ended up in court. All I can see is that Davis was both pissed and pissed off in May of 1681, and things got messy…but these depositions tell us exactly nothing about what time of year John Davis made these chests:

Writ: John Davis v. John Tolly; debt; for four wainscot chests made by his order and delivered to him in his house, dated June 23, 1681; signed by John Fuller, for the court and town of Lyn; and served by Richard Prytherch, constable of Salem, by attachment of the bed of the defendant, the summons being left with Mrs. Tauly.

Nathaniall Kirtland, aged about thirty-four years, deposed that he brought from John Davis’ shop at Lyn four chests and delivered them to John Tauly at his house in Salem. Davis told the deponent that Tauly had them to carry to Newfoundland. Sworn in court.

Bill of cost 3£

Eleaser Lenesey, aged about thirty-five years, deposed that Davis looked at a chest in Tawleay’s house and the latter told him to make two or three as good as that for 25s. each. Sworn in court before William Browne, assistant, and owned in court.

Richard Croade, aged about fifty-two years, testified that, on May 7, 1681, he heard Mr John Tally read from his book his account with John Davis, and the latter did not disown it. Sworn, May 11, 1681, before William Browne, assistant.

Samll Blyghe, aged about twenty-two years, deposed that, being in the house of Mr Wing of Boston in company with John Tawly of Salem and Joseph Cawly, he heard Tawly ask John Davis, joiner, of Lynn, to make the chests, saying he would rather Davis have his money than any one else, at the same time giving him 5s. Sworn, June 23, 1681, before William Browne, assistant.

John Longley, aged about forty-two years, testified that on May 6, 1681, he heard Davis at Taulely’s house call the latter a cheating knave, with many other absurd expressions, challenging him out of his own house to fight, threatening him. He also took hold of a wainscot chest in the room, threw it up and down the room, breaking several pieces of the front of the chest, etc. Davis was very much in drink. Elizabeth Tawley testified to the same. Sworn, June 28, 1681 before Bartho Gedney, assistant.

Joseph Calley, aged about thirty-seven years, deposed. Sworn, June 7, 1681, before John Richards, assistant.

Eleazer Lenesey, aged about thirty-five years, testified that, being in John Davis’ house at Line, after he had brought home the cloth, a whole piece of kersey, he said he had bought it of John Tawleay of Salem. Sworn before William Browne, assistant.

Mary Ivory, aged about forty-two years, deposed that she was at Taulie’s house when he received the chests. Sworn in court.

Samuell Ingols, aged about twenty-seven years, and Nathanil Willson, aged about nineteen years, deposed that the chests were worth 30s. each. Sworn in court.

John Longley, aged about forty-two years, and Thomas Eleat, aged about twent-six years, deposed concerning the assault and that neither Tawley nor his wife could have any peace while Davis was in the house. Sworn. May 9, 1681, before Bartho Gedney, assistant.”

 

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Carved panel designs

final panel for bedstead

I just finished carving the 8th & final panel for the bedstead I have underway. There’s 4 patterns I used, each one repeats twice. most of them are patterns I made up, but drawn from a large body of work I have covered here a few times. The carvings that are the inspiration come from Devon, England and Ipswich, Massachusetts. I love these designs because they are so lively, and have so much variety.

Lately I’ve been trying to draw the designs – to try to learn how to talk about them – the parts, components and how they get combined. When I first saw these panels, I thought they must be the most involved carvings – but really they’re just busy…there’s very little background removed. Most of the impact is from the “horror vacuui” effect of covering every blessed surface with something. (This next one was a mistake – the board was 10″ wide, too narrow for the bedstead.)

Narrow panel

These patterns have a few common elements/motifs – most have an arch across the top of the panel. there are a few exceptions, but generally I carve the arch-top versions. All of these have an urn/vase/flowerpot just above the bottom/center of the panel. Then some leafy bits/leaves/flowers coming up and spreading out from this urn.   I tend to think of the designs being broken into thirds – though not necessarily even thirds.

Some wind up from the urn through the middle of the panel, then wind outward and reverse direction into the arch. Mostly these also bend downward, looping back toward the middle of the panel. In this case, there’s 3 tulip shapes inside this arc, then the big leafy bit that fills the bottom corner:

This pattern is easiest on wide stock, at least 10″ of carving space-width. This one, a chest I have copied a few times, the panel is 12 3/4″  wide x 15″ tall. Compare it to the narrow version above – I think it works better on the wide stock.

On this panel from the bedstead a single flower replaces the 3 tulips, same leaf at the bottom though:

Sometimes from the urn you get large shapes flowing almost horizontally out from the middle. these often have double-volute-ish scrolls where they hit the edges of the panel The one heading down then flows into a leaf shape that bends right against the bottom of the urn. This one is from the extra-wide muntin of the same chest –

Here’s the front of that chest – I copied the proportions and all the vertical bits from 2 examples I’ve seen in person, one other I know from a photograph. All were initialed & dated on the muntin; 1666, 1669 & 1682 for the dates. I substituted different (related) designs on the horizontal rails; and in this case added brackets underneath the bottom rail.

 

These carving often employ a three-part leaf, which is standard in the related S-scrolls – (seen here on a period box from Ipswich)

 

 

and on the panels this form is used again & again, inside spaces, between elements – it can be like this:

or like this part, just before it winds into the bottom of the arch:

 

Or along the side of the panel:

Hard to see it upside down, here it is from a period piece, the shape I’m thinking of is between the bottom of the arch and blends into the margin just above the large bottom leaves:

The bits flowing up from the urn that then turn down to the bottom corners can take several forms as well. The one I used at the top of this post is simple, big fat leafy shapes bending up then down. They split into three parts at the bottom – one to the corner, one to the feet/urn junction, and one between. Fill the spaces with gouge-cuts, and call it done.

as a drawing:

And carved:

I could go on forever, but this post has taken long enough. A few more panels of my work:

This one hangs in our kitchen, done in Alaska yellow cedar:

This oak panel was an experiment, I mostly like it, but rejected it for the bedstead:

This one took its place:

Here’s an example (a combination of 2 period carvings) of one of these panels without an arch:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

moldings

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?

moldings detail

a chest with drawers, Plymouth Colony. This large molding (2″ tall) is integral to the rail, not applied.

molding details, Plymouth Colony chest
molding details, Plymouth Colony chest

Inside one of the Plymouth Colony chests, moldings on the rails and muntins:

interior, Ply Col chest w drawers
interior, Ply Col chest w drawers

Here’s a panel detail from Plymouth Colony. This is a common profile for the period, technically an ogee with a fillet, I think:

molding-details

This one’s from Chipstone’s website – a Boston chest panel:

cf-chest-middle-panel-just-moldings

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…

molding

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:

center panel_edited-1

A lousy photo, but if you squint at the ruler’s shadow, you can see the profile of this molding. Dedham Massachusetts chest.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Also Dedham, different chest:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Back to Connecticut, more Wethersfield, Windsor, etc.

vine-carving-3

a drawer from a Woburn, Massachusetts cupboard:

molding-detail

An ogee on the bottom edge of a table’s apron. Maybe this square table is Boston?

ogee-and-bracket

 

old drawings I just found again

I feel like I’m moving. I guess I am…I’ve been sifting through boxes of stuff that I stashed almost 3 years ago when I moved out of my old shop. The new one is nearing completion, so I keep sorting boxes…

 

english-paneling

People give me stuff every now & then, and somewhere along the line I got these small drawings. I forget who gave them to me. I scanned a few of them tonight. I don’t usually work from this sort of drawing, but I appreciate the skill that it takes to make them. They’re quite nice.

this first batch are all (except the cane chair) about 5″ x 7″ – but they’re not from one notebook, so the sizes vary. one seems like it says “drawn by C. M. Bill. I scanned them & darkened them a little…some are marked either “Albert & Vic” or “Al & Victoria” – thus the V&A in london…others are unmarked as to what collection they’re drawn from…

overmantel

table-base

v-a-childs-chair

the cane chair drawing is 6 3/4″ x 10 1/4″.

cane-chair

There’s about 10 more. I’ll scan those some point soon.

get Moxon

If you have read much of this blog, or listened to me or Alexander at any length, eventually you hear us come around to Moxon.  For those who are not familiar with his name, Joseph Moxon (1627-1691) was a printer in London, and in the last quarter of the seventeenth century he wrote a book called Mechanick Exercises, or the Doctrine of Handyworks. Chapters covered include joinery, turning, carpentry, as well as blacksmithing, “bricklayery” and Mechanick Dyalling (the making of a sun-dial).

Moxon's Mechanick Exercises

 

Moxon won’t teach you how to build a piece of joined furniture; but he illustrates and discusses the tools necessary for the work, and describes the techniques of making a mortise and tenon joint, how to plane the stock, etc. The book has been out of print again for the past few years; after going thru several reprints in the 2nd half of the 20th century.

Now Gary Roberts of Dedham, MA has brought it back again, in a facsimile edition. About a year or so ago, Gary released a CD version; I got that too, then when the book came along recently, I grabbed that as well. I already have a couple of editions (modern ones, not antiques!) and Alexander has others I don’t have. But better to have too many, than not enough. It’s not like there’s a lot of 17th c books on the subject.

If you don’t have a copy, bop over to Gary’s site & get one. cheap and clean. If you have one, maybe you need a shop copy in addition to a shelf copy.

http://shop.toolemera.com/shopmechanickexer.html

(all that disclaimer stuff – I have never met Gary, tho we have exchanged some emails. I have no interest in this gig, and I paid for my copies…so there. If it stunk, I would have said little or nothing. It’s worth getting.)

If you have Schwarz’ version of Moxon, http://www.lostartpress.com/product/da5ef04d-4805-4b1e-aed4-9bfc84c19591.aspx  you still need this one, that one is only the chapter on joinery.