the Arkansas Test

Many of you know I’ve been editing Jennie Alexander’s Make a Chair from a Tree for Lost Art Press. (yes, I know you want me to hurry…) At the same time, I’ve begun a meandering sort of research project that is only partially formed in my head. For a year or more now, I’ve referred to it as my “Craft Genealogy.” This is the first blog post on that subject. 

Much of this parallel project draws on the Jennie Alexander Papers, now housed at Winterthur Museum’s research library. JA kept notebooks from nearly the beginning of her chairmaking work, the earliest is dated 1973/4. There are other papers, notes and letters that I have here. Eventually, I’ll add these to the Winterthur collection. 

At North House, I gave a talk outlining some of it. It was mostly for me, but some of the audience claimed to like it. But they’re midwestern, they’re very polite. The focus of the talk was mostly about JA, Daniel O’Hagan and Bill Coperthwaite. All letter-writers. Many other people are involved – certainly Drew Langsner who is my connection to all of these folks.  While I was at North House, I stumbled onto a piece by surprise. 

In Daniel O’Hagan’s notes is a description of a stress-test Dave Sawyer used to apply to his ladderbacks, dated 1974: 

His chairs are so strong that he recommends what he calls the Arkansas test having learned it with other techniques from Arkansas craftsmen. The test is to tilt the chair on one leg and taking hold of a back post exert all one’s weight downwards on the chair which supports it all on one leg; by this any weak point will soon creak or break. ” 

The only Arkansas chairmaker mentioned so far in the Alexander letters was Charles Christian. More about him another time. JA eventually visited Christian, but I think had first  heard of him through Dave Sawyer. JA introduced himself to Sawyer in a letter dated May 1976 – but in an Oct 1976 letter to Sawyer, JA noted:

“It is a small world. I was going over my old notes the other day and saw that the Woody Brothers of Spruce Pine N. Car. had given me your name 2 years ago but I never got around to writing.”   

I don’t know how JA got onto the Woody Brothers of Spruce Pine, N.C. – Arval & Walter. Then-John and his wife Joyce had visited them in spring of 1974, and then traded a few letters back and forth. 

While at North House, I was browsing the bookshelves in one of the workshops. A variety of Scandinavian stuff, boatbuilding, timber-framing, etc. One little coffee-table National Geographic book “The Craftsman in America” (1975) – so I opened that, and found a photo that I recognized right away, but had never seen before. Arval Woody testing the chair just the way Daniel described Dave’s test. 

Chairmaking in the US is now is a small world, in the mid-1970s, it was even smaller. I see several explanations, none of which we really need. One is that Daniel mixed up Dave’s chairmaking friends, thus the Arkansas test might really be the NC test. Another is that the Woodys and Charles Christian knew each other, and they both did it. Another is that Dave is the transmission of this show-stopping demo – bringing it from the Christian shop to the Woodys. None of it matters. All I know for sure is when I opened that book at North House, and saw that photo, I knew right away I was on the right track. I heard Daniel O’Hagan’s voice say “It is providential!” 

PS:

I tried it yesterday and almost broke my neck.

I couldn’t balance, needed one hand on the bench. There’s plenty of weight on the chair still, I have enough to go around.

Brendan Gaffney got a better photo than I did; he’s still young & more nimble than me. 

 

PPS: The Woody’s Chair Shop is still going. https://www.woodyschairshop.com/

 

 

 

Pieces underway and a stool & box for sale

More goings-on in the shop. I took a dozen-plus chair rungs and set them in the kiln to “super-dry” them. I’m awful at things like making equipment, fixtures, etc. This kiln is bare-bones, insulation board and duct tape. cross-pieces poked through it to support the rungs, and a light bulb inside. Just a clip-light. The guts of it hang below the box, in the milk crate.

You can just see the rim of the light set in the bottom inside. The rungs are loosely piled in there.

145 degrees F.

The hickory rungs had been shaved months ago, and stored in the ceiling in the shop. When the batch went into the kiln, they weighed 3lbs/9.6oz. I weighed them repeatedly until they stopped losing weight – they finished at 3lbs/4.6oz. Once they kept that weight for a day or two, I then bored the chair posts and built the chair. The notion is that the chair’s rungs will only swell in time, they’ll never be this dry/shrunken again. The posts have a higher moisture content, not having been kiln-dried. They will shrink over time. Viola, a chair. Hickory, with white oak slats. I have yet to scrape and clean up the slats. It will get a hickory bark seat.

Today I spent planing some green wood for boxes and a chest. But took a half-hour to start the next carved box. This piece of white oak was planed in November – it’s surface is just right now for carving. The pattern, inspired by some of the many pieces posted by Marhamchurch Antiques, is almost entirely free-hand. Layout is just a vertical centerline. I’m right-handed, and I carve most fluidly to my left. So I start a carving like this just to one side of the center. Then the hard part is matching that on the right. I ran out of time, so that’s for another day. Once I finish that V-tool work, the background and some small details will be a snap. Height is 7″ width is 21″.

I did scribe two circles with a compass, these will become flowers in the carving. Then I can locate the same circles on the right half, which will help orient things there.

[Marhamchurch Antiques is a great resource for oak furniture in England. Just amazing quantity and quality… https://www.marhamchurchantiques.com/  I never miss a post, and I follow them on IG too. ]

I’ll be out of the shop for a few days, with Plymouth CRAFT hosting Tim Manney’s shaving horse class. So I stood these freshly planed white oak boards up to air out while the shop is empty. These run about 9″-11 1/2″ wide, 20″-22″ long. Perfect for chest panels, I’ll have to trim them narrower for box fronts.

 

FOR SALE

Just two items right now, If you’d like to purchase the stool or box here, just leave a comment or write and we can go through paypal or a check… email is peterfollansbee7@gmail.com    I welcome custom work too, I often make boxes, chairs and more on order, Email me if you’d like to inquire about some custom work.

POST & RUNG STOOL

I showed this stool the other day – made during a photo shoot for Fine Woodworking Magazine. The nature of that work is to have extra parts on hand in case something goes wrong. I ended up with an “extra” frame, so stuck it up in the loft for awhile, then just put the Shaker tape seat on it last week.

H: 17″  W: 17″  D: 14″
$400 plus shipping

CARVED & PAINTED BOX  – SOLD

And this oak box is one I made in December, and put the lid on it this month. White oak box & lid, white pine bottom. Till inside. Wooden hinge, red & black oil paint highlighting the background of the carving.

H: 7 1/2″   W: 22 1/2″  D:  13 1/2″
$1,000 plus shipping

 

Here’s the post about painting it https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2020/01/03/carved-and-painted/

 

some random photos & a couple of projects

a few photos from this week. Just a month past the solstice and I see a big difference in the light in the shop. Some stuff caught my eye just because of the light. Carvings for one, but what else is new? There’s always carvings around here to catch the light.

I put linseed oil on my shaved Windsor chair. I’m patient and I know in time all those various woods will come into agreement. For now the pine seat is a snappy item.

I had just bored some holes for another one of these chairs; and even the brace jumped out in the sunlight.

Alexander gave me this Spofford brace decades ago, and in 1994 the pewter rings in the handle gave way. My friend Pret repaired it for me with waxed linen, and it’s held up all these years.

I was doing more than navel-gazing in the sunshine. I went up in the loft, found this stool and brought it down & put a Shaker tape seat on it. Done. It’ll be for sale/on sale soon.

Assembled these joined stools for a long-suffering customer. Next up is trimming them here & there, and finishing. White oak.

I am making some chairs this winter, and decided to spend some time making a new toolbox for some chair-making tools that have been gathering wood chips and dust. It’s not very large, maybe 28″ long. I forget how tall, 12″ or less. It’s overbuilt, but the tools & jigs that fit in it are heavy. Next up for it is yellow ochre paint & chip carving. Iron handles by Peter Ross.

I’ll store it under my 2nd bench, either on the shelf or the floor. So the handles will work well, dragging it out from under.

till inside for bits, levels and other small stuff. Braces and bit extenders fit in the long tray inside. And various gear for the JA chairs; blocks, holders, etc. I ran out of light, so didn’t fit the hinges today. Hopefully tomorrow. Sycamore till lid.

Planing up some red oak for a wainscot chair I’ll be building at the Fine Woodworking Live event in April. Here’s my equivalent of dust collection.

I wrote one day on Instagram about Big Ray, when I was planing some white oak. All the women go crazy when Big Ray comes to town. (It’s like a combination of The Same Thing by Willie Dixon and Panama Red by Old & In the Way.)

No photo description available.

Here’s Little Ray, from the red oak.

more Chester Cornett chairs

I’ve been home from my most recent Lost Art Press workshop-trip now for a week. I just made it into the shop for real today, but took no photos. Christmas presents. So photos later of those. Maybe.

But I started sorting photos from the past month or so. I made another field trip with the Boy Wonder, aka Brendan Gaffney https://www.instagram.com/burnheartmade/ to see more of Chester Cornett’s chairs.  This time we went to the Mathers Museum at Indiana University. I’ll just post photos with captions/notes. The lighting conditions were tough. So, horrid color, real high ISO. These photos aren’t going to win any prizes.

Here’s Brendan for scale, measuring a 3-slat high chair/bar stool. There’s one of these in Alexander’s book, but it’s not this chair. I think this one was sassafrass, very lightweight wood. Harder rungs, they might be hickory, I forget.

This one’s white oak. A 3-slat chair. Chester often bent the rear seat rung to mimic the bent slats. JA wrote to never include sapwood and heartwood in the same stick. Chester didn’t learn chairmaking from a book.

Same chair. Side view.

 

 

You can tell this is a 3-slat chair because Chester wrote 1, 2, 3 on the slats.

Another little 3-slat chair. Painted, probably by the owner, Chester didn’t paint them. I like how the paint wore away & highlighted the drawknife work.

 

A 6-slat rocker. I think this one was sassafrass again. Side view – a real nice chair, his drawknife work was excellent.

All that detail is knife-work. The faux turnings, the giant finials, all the pegs.

Maybe if you click this photo to enlarge it, you’ll see the numbers 1-6 on the slats.

The numbers are in this view too. The layout for the slat mortises is pencil too.

The details on all those rungs, even the rear ones.

The bookcase rocker. What a monstrosity. I’ve built some ugly, heavy chairs in my day. But nothing like this.

Brendan for scale again. The chair is smaller than you might think. The shelves are maybe 6/4 stock. The shelves just above the seat are hinged to access compartments on each side.

 

“Old Kentucky made buy…

 

…Chester Cornetts Hands”

 

Thanks to Brendan for hauling me around & showing me these iconic chairs. Here’s our first trip from this past summer – https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2019/08/06/chester-cornett-chairs/

Some 2020 classes and links

I’m off to teach one last class for the year, the carved oak box at Lost Art Press. Then home for a few months before 2020 season really kicks in. My teaching schedule for 2020 is a bit scattered. Several classes filled before I could even write about them, like the JA chair at Pete Galbert’s. He thinks it’s me – I know it’s the chair and his avid students. I’ll post here if any openings come up in that class.   

https://www.petergalbert.com/schedule/2020/7/13/make-a-chair-from-a-tree-with-peter-follansbee 

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THE JA CHAIR W PLYMOUTH CRAFT

 

 

Like we did in 2020, we’ll run that class at Plymouth CRAFT – I think twice, once in May, once in August. We’ve not put them on the site yet, but are very close to ready. If you’re signed up for our newsletter then you’ll hear about it the minute it happens. We rarely send out news, we’re too busy or distracted. I’ll also post here on the blog before registration opens. I expect it too will fill quickly, we keep it at 6 students so I can keep an eye on everything that’s happening. I don’t know how Drew Langsner did it all those years with 10 or 12 students. Here’s the link to sign up for the Plymouth CRAFT newsletter – https://www.plymouthcraft.org/contact

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MAKE A SHAVING HORSE WITH TIM MANNEY

Tim.jpg

While on the subject of Plymouth CRAFT though – we did just post Tim Manney’s first shaving horse class. Not using one, but making one. A 3-day class with Tim guiding you through the steps to build the horse he wrote about in Fine Woodworking, July/August 2017 (issue #262) – there you’ll see a quote from Curtis Buchanan, who estimates that in over 34 years, he’s spent 21,000 hours at a shaving horse. “The one (shaving horse) I’m using now was designed and made by Tim Manney and it’s the best I’ve ever used.” Need more than that? Sign up here: 

https://www.plymouthcraft.org/build-a-shaving-horse-with-tim-mann 

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Also, while I think of it, there’s still a few spots left in Plymouth CRAFT’s classes working on the Plymouth Tapestry –

 

https://www.plymouthcraft.org/plymouth-tapestry-registration 

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CARVED DECORATION 17TH CENTURY ENGLISH STYLE

Image of Wood Week

I do have a couple things coming in 2020 about carving oak – I’ll be back at North House Folk School out on Highway 61. I’ll teach carving oak patterns twice during “Wood Week” – a series of classes that run the gamut. This place is right on the shores of Lake Superior (it’s like an ocean, but different) – an astounding experience that I’m happy to repeat. Looks like there’s room in my two classes, (most of my others are full, so this might be the one shot – and the setting & surroundings are amazing) so come join us. 

 

https://northhouse.org/events/wood-week 

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CARVED OAK BOX

The other is Roy’s. April. Make a carved oak box. Whoops – filled instantly. Sorry I’m late posting this stuff, but Roy’s place is really popular. I think he just opened registration yesterday. Not my fault, really. A lot can happen between now & then, so the waiting list won’t hurt  – https://www.woodwrightschool.com/classes/waiting-list-wish-list

https://www.woodwrightschool.com/classes/carved-oak-box-w-peter-follansbee-2020 

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I’ll try to squeeze in one or two more, but it’s getting tight. I have some custom work to do, but always welcome more. I also have a student or two coming here for one-on-one work. You can email me if you have questions regarding private lessons or ordering furniture.

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MAUREEN’S FIBER ARTS

Closer to home, at home, in fact, my wife Maureen has kept up her knitting/felting/shibori scene and has a number of things in her etsy shop. Just like my wooden stuff, when you buy some it makes room for us to make more. https://www.etsy.com/shop/MaureensFiberArts

A couple of samples of her work; it keeps us warm all winter.

PF chair class at Pete Galbert’s chairmaking shop

I’m slowly getting my 2020 schedule together. Each year, I swear I’ll travel less but so far it still looks like about once a month I’m somewhere. I wish I could be in two places at once.

But this one’s easy – teaching chairmaking in a chairmaker’s shop. Not just any chairmaker, but Pete Galbert. July 13-18, 2020. Only 6 slots, they go on sale at Pete’s site Friday Oct 18 at 8am eastern time.

https://www.petergalbert.com/schedule/2020/7/13/make-a-chair-from-a-tree-with-peter-follansbee

 

Chairs, stools, boxes – for sale; some on sale

The house is full, the shop is pretty full as well. So I went up in the loft and here goes a few things for sale, a couple on sale. Some prices include shipping, in the smaller and/or lighter stuff. Heavier & bigger, shipping is additional. Come pick them up if you’re nearby.

If you’d like something, leave a comment. I can send a paypal invoice, or you can send a check.

thanks, PF

Ladderback chair

The latest version of my JA chairs; this one I started last month during Plymouth CRAFT’s chair class & finished it up right after. Red oak, some ash rungs. Hickory bark seat.

H: 33 1/2″ seat is 17″ wide at front, 13″ deep. Seat height about 18″
$1200 plus shipping; which runs around $150 here in the US.

 

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Post & rung stool

Related to the above; I made this for a recent article in Fine Woodworking; when that photo shoot was over I stashed it in the loft & promptly forgot about it. Found it today in a pile of chairs and things. I own a John Alexander version of this item; so this one’s extra. The bark seat will last decades; but it’s just a step or so off from what it should be – strips vary a bit too much in width; and are spaced a bit too far apart. There – I’ve told you what’s wrong with it; but it’s a perfectly fine stool really. I’ve priced it to reflect my take on it –

seat height:  18″ frame is 14 1/4″ x 17″
$500 plus shipping

 

 

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Joined stool; oak with red wash – SOLD

H: 20 1/2″ top is 14″ x 15″
I had it at $850; now $750 plus shipping

This stool is like a pair I made recently for an historic house museum in that the stiles/legs are plumb, not canted in one direction like many joined stools. I added carving to the aprons of this one; two different, but related patterns from Connecticut.

 

Single-board quartersawn oak top.

Carved oak box; pine lid & bottom  – SOLD

I made this box earlier this summer; took it with me to Lost Art Press when I taught my first box class there. It’s not a copy of an existing box, but the carvings are based on some work from Connecticut.

It got a bit battered in transit; then back here in the shop something fell on the pine lid & scarred it. So a ding or two. It’s either make a new lid or lower the price. This one works just fine, and now you don’t have to worry about banging it around. Been done for you..

H: 6 1/2″  W: 18 3/4″  D: 12″
was $850, now $750  including shipping

 

Below are the two main detractions on the lid – right dead center on the end molding something fell on it. Looks like it was a chisel! Out along the back edge is some minor denting…

Desk boxSOLD

This one’s been around the block a few times. Most recently it’s featured in my book Joiners’ Work – (get the book here & make your own desk box, https://lostartpress.com/products/joiners-work )

I really like this box, but am seriously jammed for room in the house. Plus I have a very large chest of drawers to bring in the house soon, so I’d be pushing my luck to get this & that in. It’s a copy of one I saw many years ago, made in Braintree, Massachusetts about 1670-1700. Red and white oak, white pine bottom. Hand-made iron hinges. 4 drawers inside, two tills and a tray. Great thing about it is your family can’t pile anything on top of it, so you can get at its contents easily.

H: 11 1/2″ W: 24 1/2″  D: 16 1/4″  height at the front is 6 1/2″

Was $2,000. Now $1,600 plus shipping.

 

 

Carved panel; Alaskan Yellow cedar – SOLD

I’ve said it before, but this is really & truly the last piece of this wood that I have. Working this wood was like nothing I’ve ever seen or felt before. Or since. There wasn’t enough wood to re-saw and make a small box, so I carved this large panel with a design found in a room at the Victoria & Albert Museum. The room came from Bromley-by-Bow; maybe early 1600s.

If you’d like, I can put some screw eyes & wire on the back, or you can decide on how to display it when you get it.

H: 21 3/4″  W:  10 1/2″
$450 including shipping