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.

Made room in the shop for turning

Since I moved into my new shop a year & a half ago, I have shuffled semi-finished projects in & out of the way as I worked. I have a chest that has no customer; I made it for photos I needed for my book. I kept thinking I’d find a spot for it in the house. Seemed unlikely, meanwhile it fit nicely under the lathe. So, out of sight, out of mind. Until I needed to turn something. In fact, fitting under there it collected lots of stuff inside it, then I even put boards across the top for more storage. Terrible idea. 

With a lot of turned components coming up in my work, I had to finally deal with it. Spent several hours shuffling stuff around here & there – fitted the chest (still lid-less, still unsold) into the basement and cleaned up the shop. Now, all I need to do is re-learn turning.

Here’s a view from outside, through the open door. All that open space means I can get at the lathe when I need to. I have plans to make a shorter bed for it, so it takes up less floor space. But for now, I need the full-length for some long turning projects in the near future.

 

Prior to turning, I chop all the mortises.

Even bore the pin holes.

Mark the centers.

Turn ’em.

on a good day, I can make them look like this:

Here’s the square table frame, test fitted. Like an over-sized joined stool.

After this one, there’s a large turned chair coming up. That calls for ash. This is a five-footer, splits like it’s perforated. The rear posts will be 4′ long, 2 1/4″ in diameter. Whew.

Shaved octagonal with a drawknife, then mark the center and turn it.

The straight clear ash works like a dream. what a wood…

Wainscot chair rear leg

I’m working on a few things at once; including another wainscot chair. Making the “rake” to the rear legs is the largest output of labor for a single piece of wood in my repertoire. And, the most conspicuous waste of material. But, it has to be done. I rived this white oak billet about 3 1/2″-4″ square, maybe 45″ long or so. I start then by hewing the tangential plane into something close to flat.

This is a departure from my standard practice – I usually always work the radial face first. It’s easiest to plane, and often rives quite flat. But in this case, I’m planing the side-plane of the rear post – so I can then layout the shape on this face. If you enlarge the photo below, you can see the growth ring orientation on the end grain.

Each wainscot chair I have seen is different in its angle/rake/cant – what ever we might call the shape hewn and planed above the seat. I like to align the top end with the grain – it makes plowing the panel groove easier. Chopping mortises too. But to do this, like in the photo below, it means the chunk of wood to give you this shape is pretty hefty. This particular chair isn’t raked all that much…some have a greater angle than this.

There have been times when I have shifted the template on the stock, to squeak the leg out of a thinner piece of wood. To do that, you bump it so the leg angles back both above and below the seat. Sometimes a riven piece of wood will have some blowout here or there so you have no choice but to do this. The downside is all the joinery is mis-aligned with the fibers of the wood. There’s no way around that to some degree, but the orientation in the first photo minimizes it.

After having determined the layout, I hew off the bottom/front and then bring the piece to the bench to plane the top front face. This is the radial face. On this chair, the surface will be carved.

 

Once I’ve planed the top and bottom front face (the top & bottom here are in relation to the seat height – above and below the seat.) Then I mark the thickness on the side view, and saw a relief cut from the back, at the point where the leg angles back. This is the same height as the top of the seat rails. But that’s later.

Now – depending on how straight the wood is, how tough your nerves are – you can rive off the bulk of that waste. I knocked the froe in, but left a chunk of wood for caution.

I jammed it in the riving brake, and it split as perfect as can be. It popped off right after I took this photo. Almost hit the camera.

 

I had left some wood that needed hewing; I did the top end first, that way if the hatchet slips it won’t hit the bottom end of the leg.

After hewing both ends, I set it up on the bench like this to shave each end in turn. There’s some fiddling around right where the angles diverge, but skewing the plane helps, and I got in there with a spokeshave too.

This is the finished planed leg. Once I do the other one, I’ll let them dry for a couple of weeks. At that point, I fine-tune the shape, matching one to the other more than to the template. As long as they’re close to the template, but closer to each other it will be fine. Then I cut the carving and joinery.

 


After lunch I worked on a carving for a box I’m making. A good day all around.

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.”

 

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: