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/

Basket making video Handles & Rims; drawings next

OK – a few things. A couple of chairs & boxes are left, those things are selling in dribs & drabs. I can always make more, too… https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/ladderback-chairs-oak-boxes-for-sale/

Daniel & I finally sat down & finished the next basket video; Handles & Rims.

I’m sorry it’s taking so long with this set of videos. When I shoot them, I’m both cameraman and subject. On something at the bench, that’s not difficult to do; but with the baskets, I’m always picking them up, shifting them this way & that…so there’s a lot of editing involved. Sometimes, I just don’t have the shot we need to get the point across – and it’s too late to go back & shoot more right now. So caveat emptor.

There’s still a couple of baskets left for sale too. Email me if you are interested, and I’ll send photos & specs.

The drawings of carving patterns arrived yesterday.

Now to sort them, roll them into mailing tubes and set up the page for it. There will be a blog post and a video very soon showing what these are, and what they aren’t. I’ll get on it right away. I have no idea how to gauge how these will sell, so I started with 50 sets…means there’s maybe 46 or so to sell…but I can get more if we need them.

the Havoc of Displacement

This is the first chest of drawers I made – in 2003. Made it as a wedding present for my wife.

The new one bumped it upstairs. Before we moved it, I took a picture, pretending that our house was clean/clear and spacious. And that you could move around in it. Which is a complete lie.

We have an old 4 1/2 room house. There’s 4 of us living in it, and we’re home all the time. And we have so much stuff it isn’t funny. So me building  a chest of drawers that’s something like 46″ wide and nearly 60″ high is just plain stupid. It’s one thing to build that large chest of drawers. It’s another to make room for it in the house. The house leans toward the river, but not as much as this photo makes it seem. The new one fit in the same spot just fine. Just as before, I took a few lying photographs before things all went to wrack & ruin.

Here it is, with more oak junk on top.

To give you some idea of the mayhem, when we move one thing in this house, it ripples all through the house. So this day we moved three large pieces to shuffle things around enough to fit. I shouldn’t show this to anybody, but I took photos of the Havoc of Displacement.

And Maureen catching her breath after the move from one chest to the next.

 

Here’s the old one, now installed on the upstairs landing. The moving-stuff-around necessitated some yarn storage switcheroo. Still working that out.

Somewhere in there, I made a carved picture frame for the print Heather gave me of the painting she did of me. https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2019/07/16/im-speechless-if-you-can-imagine-that/ Hanging that did the same thing on the walls that moving the furniture did on the floors.

Scout didn’t want to miss any of it, but he also wanted to be safely out of the way. He found just the spot on a railing upstairs.

 

it depends who you ask…

 

Here’s how I make these applied turnings. Other people use other methods. I did not devise this method, but I think a few of us came to the same conclusion at the same time. I first stumbled onto this method in the mid-1990s, and I recall discussing it with Alan Miller back 20 years ago when he, Trent & I wrote a long article about Essex County (Massachusetts) cupboards that use lots of applied decoration. 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 concept is: How to get a pair of turnings that consist of just under-half-cylinders. There’s lots of ways to get there, but when using period style tools, including a pole lathe, there are challenges. Some turn a solid, saw it in half, then clean up the flat backs with a plane. That’ll get you there, but how to hold the piece for sawing & planing?

I do it this way. My first step is to glue up a turning blank with a spacer between the two halves. The spacer’s true function is to provide a solid material for the lathe’s center points. Without it, the centers are driven right into the glue line, and acting like a wedge, they can split the piece apart too soon. I know this for a fact. Remember, “Good Judgement is the Result of Experience, and Experience is the Result of Poor Judgement.”

I don’t use hide glue enough to bother keeping a glue pot running. The past week or so there have been some damp and some cool mornings, so I lit a fire in the stove. Perfect, I’ll heat up some glue while I’m at it.

Once the piece is glued up, I mark the center in the middle of that strip, in this case oak. Then scribe a circle.


Next, I make it octagonal; these short ones I find it easiest to hold them between bench dogs in the cabinetmaker’s bench. I’ve done them loose on my joiner’s bench, but this way is easier.

and then turning. I used to do some turning every day at my old museum job. Visitors to the museum would want to see the lathe work, so I’d stop what I was doing and show them. Now, weeks can go by without me touching the lathe…makes for rusty skills. I can see why people would like turning rosewood, it takes detail very well, and burnishes like no native wood I know.

But like I said, I’m out of practice. These two are OK, but need to go back on the lathe to be thinned down. For their length, (6 1/4″ long) they’re too chunky. Makes their proportions out-of-whack.

 

Cedrela odorata

We took a few days for a trip to Maine; went to the Common Ground Fair and generally bumped around. Now back in the shop, I am getting ready for the next round of workshops, mine & otherwise. Connecticut Valley, Plymouth CRAFT and then Connecticut Valley again. But I squeezed in some time on the chest of drawers before our Maine trip and again yesterday.

Here’s before, from the previous blog post:

And now after making and installing a slew of moldings on the lower case. Makes a huge difference:

 

All these moldings are made from Spanish cedar, which is not from Spain and isn’t a cedar tree. Its scientific name is Cedrela odorata and it’s part of the same family as mahogany. Spanish cedar, or Cedro, grows in Central and South America. It’s not even a soft wood, although it is very soft. It’s a deciduous tree, losing its leaves during the dry season. Cedrela is semi-ring-porous:

Some of the stock in the period chests in Boston was riven, see the lower rail inside this chest of drawers:

Riven Cedrela

I typically use local woods; oak, ash, white pine, a few others. I am using Cedrela here because of the study I did of the Boston chests of drawers that used it back in the 17th century. It’s amazingly nice wood to work, but is considered “threatened” – the next step on that chart is “endangered.” https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/32292/68080590 – so I won’t be buying it again. This whole project is an environmental time bomb – next up on this project is another troubled timber – East Indian rosewood, a dalbergia species. Yikes.

Now, onto the work I just did on the lower case. When I have a few feet of molding to make, like on a typical joined chest, I use a scratch stock. When I have dozens and dozens of feet and many different profiles, I get out Matt Bickford’s book and go to town. https://lostartpress.com/products/mouldings-in-practice

Matt’s work breaks down any molding into a series of rabbets and chamfers as guides for hollows and rounds. It’s a very methodical approach that works very well, with some patience. The bulk of the work is preparation; the hollows and rounds come in right near the end for all the glory. Here, I’m using a fillester plane to begin setting out some rabbets to remove the bulk of the stock.

It’s hard to see with all those shavings on the bench, but the molding is pressed against a long board that is fixed in place by a holdfast. Maybe 2.

I missed photographing the chamfer that set out the bearing for running this hollow plane. Now the molding is pressed into a “sticking board” – a ledger strip with a stop at one end (in this case, a screw that can be driven higher or lower to stop the molding from shifting forward under the plane.)

this is the base molding for the lower case, it’s 2″ thick by maybe 2 1/2″-2 3/4″ high. A whole series of rabbets provides support for running a large round plane to make a sweeping concavity.

here’s the round plane working down those rabbets until it blends the whole series together.

You can see some of those moldings on this lower case; I have yet to make the base molding for the sides. One more drawer rail molding will go in between the middle and upper drawer next time I work on this project. They’re glued on right now, and the larger ones will get square wooden pins driven through them as well.

A few more moldings to go, then comes turnings.