I hate making jigs. I am not set up for it. I make almost all of my stock by hand, so getting lots of parts carefully dimensioned and then assembled is a pain. Screws? Glue? I stink with these things.
But I made a jig the other day to hold the turned seat rails for grooving them with the plow plane. I’ve done it free-hand with the plow’s fence before, but it has its moments that way. Most plow fences won’t reach very far down the turned stock’s side for support.
This cradle will hold either turned seat rail; those with turned tenons, or those with rectangular tenons. It’s just over 1 3/4″ inside, so I can hold rails that are either just a tad too thick, or thin. Or even those that are just right. If it can wiggle in there, I shim it with 2 wedges. It’s important to use 2, so I can keep the centerline of the rail centered within the jig. So one on each side of the rail.
The front end of the jig has a small block in it that supports the rectangular tenon at the right height for running the plow plane. There’s a hole bored in this for the turned tenon, then the block is sawn apart so it’s only 1/2 the height.
Here’s the rectangular tenon sitting on top of that front end:
And a turned tenon nesting in the half-hole, You can also see the centerline scribed along the top of the seat rail:
In use, the plow plane’s fence rides along the outside of the box/cradle. I had scribed a centerline down the length of the rail, and set the fence accordingly. The back end of the cradle is held under a holdfast to keep it steady.
A good result – the groove is perpendicular to the rectangular tenon, just as it should be.
For my pole lathe, the 4-foot long rear posts of this chair are the upper limit of what I can reach. Even then, it’s pushing things a bit. To get the roughed-out blank on the lathe, I prepare it by working it as straight and even as I can. In this first photo, I have the split-out billet, having shaved off the bark, I’m using a chalkline to begin layout. I’m aiming for a square about 2 1/2″ by four feet long.
I hew the two radial faces, trying to get them down to the chalkline. The better the hewing, the easier every step after this part.
Then the same steps on the tangential faces; chalkline, hewing and planing. Depending on my stamina levels, I will plane this square as evenly as I can, or I’ll get it close and figure to finalize it during turning. This one was in-between. Straight is more important than clean. At this next stage, I’ve propped the squared blank up on a joiners’ “saddle” which is a nice name for a block with a notch in it, to prop the squared piece corner-up. Now I can shave off the corners, leaving an octagonal-cross section ready for turning.
The main chunk of work is turning the cylinder. Here I’m using a wide deep gouge to get it round and down to size.
Then a nice sharp skew chisel to clean it off.
There’s lots of scribed lines turned on the stiles; and a small bead or two. But the finial is the real test. Here, a narrower gouge starts the cove in the middle of the finial.
A skew chisel begins to form the ball under that cove.
The camera/tripod was in my way at this point, so that’s the last shot I have of turning the finials. here’s the finished results. The top bit gets cut off.
Lots more to look at on this chair; cutting the rectangular mortise and tenon joints; plowing grooves, etc.
My travel schedule is a bit back-and-forth right now. But I was home all week, and spent much of it working on a few custom furniture projects, mostly turning chair parts for a copy of a 17th-century turned chair with a board seat. I’ll write more about that very soon…
But today was ladderback chair work. I have parts for a few of them underway, but started the day by shaving more; a set of rungs (a dozen-plus) and a set of red oak posts. I try to squeeze these parts out of oak that is nice and straight, but somehow or other just a step down from something ideal for joinery work. There was only 2” wide clear stock (on the radial plane – it came from a narrow log) so all it could be in joined work was joined stools’ parts, or stretchers for wainscot chairs. I have a lot of stools to make, but decided I could spare a few pieces for the chair. In these photos, I have Alexander’s chair beside me – I needed to photograph it last week, and it’s sat in the shop since then.
Shaving this green wood is a breeze. The chair needs its parts to be straight, but this straight is checked by eye, not by a straight-edge, winding sticks and jointer planes. “The eye is very forgiving” said Alexander many times.
Make it square, taper the bit above the seat, shave the corners to an octagon,
then cut the relief above the seat on the front of the rear post for bending.
Here’s a shot from last time of the bending; just tying the cords around the ends. These posts sat in the form for 2 weeks and were in perfect shape when I took them out.
I had to make a 2nd bending form, because when I went to set up to bend this oak set of posts, I found a set of ash posts I made a week or two ago. Had forgotten about them. I can shave the pair of posts faster than I can make and screw together a bending form!
I cut a short section of ash for the rungs; this billet gave me 7 rungs. There were 3 rungs above the froe in this photo, and 4 below it. Splitting odd numbers like that only works for me in dead-straight stock, that’s pretty short. These rungs are only about 15″ long. I had a few scraps around that made up the remainder. I used to be able to shave a rung in a minute, today one took me almost two. Must be getting old.
In these chairs, the rungs are shaving oversize while green, then dried and shaved again to bring the tenons down to their final size. The notion is that the “super-dry” rung will a.) not shrink any, and b.) in fact absorb moisture from the slightly wetter posts and swell. This has come to be called “wet/dry” joinery. But – you gotta get the rungs all the way dry. Most chairmakers use a kiln…but I don’t have one. I used to put them in the oven, but our oven won’t go down low enough – under 140 F. Higher than that, you run the risk of making charcoal.
In the winter, I kept rungs in a batch stored near the furnace. I would take them out and weigh them periodically, and chart the weight. When they stop losing weight they’re dry.
In the meantime, I’ve kept this batch of rungs near the hot-water heater. Today, I weighed them (2 lbs 2.6 oz.) and then put them on the dashboard of my car while it was parked out front, where it gets lots of afternoon sun. Windows up. At the end of the afternoon – 2 lbs, 2.2 oz. I’ll put them back there each sunny afternoon this week. Hope to assemble a chair next week with ash posts and these oak rungs.
I was in the shop the other day, pinning a joined stool together. It’s not just ladderback chairs that make me think of Jennie Alexander. This joinery junket that I’ve been on since about 1989 is directly influenced by JA. I’ve told the story many times, and much of it is covered in our book we did with Lost Art Press, Make a Joint Stool from a Treehttps://lostartpress.com/products/make-a-joint-stool-from-a-tree
Here, I’m shaving the tapered pins that will hold the mortise and tenon joints together for all time.
And driving them in. All the while, I thought back over the years to all that Alexander & I did on this adventure.
It started with a slide lecture by JA, showing close-up details of dis-assembled mortise and tenon joints from early New England oak furniture. Really just one piece, a cupboard door. And mostly just one joint, in excruciating detail. JA never showed us the actual object, just the details & then extrapolated from that. Here’s my shot of the cupboard door, taken more than 20 years later. (Alexander’s shots were all slides, and I’ve only scanned some of them…I don’t have the detail shots inside the mortise…)
Here’s some JA shots from a trip we made to the Smithsonian to study a related chest I found published from their collection. This broken joint was endlessly fascinating to Alexander, and s/he probably shot a whole roll of slide film of just this one joint.
The detail. I remember Alexander requesting, and getting, a step ladder from which to photograph. (JA was about 5’4″ tall) Rodris Roth was the incredible curator there, more patient than anyone. She’s long gone now, but was often fondly remembered by Alexander. In particular, we were packing up our gear, then remembered one shot we failed to get. Rodris insisted we unpack and take the shot, this after a full day of shooting. JA never forgot that.
I’ve shown this piece of junk mail before -after hearing the initial lecture (either at Country Workshops or in Baltimore, depending on who’s telling the story) I had some questions. I wrote a letter to JA, and got this as part of the illustrated reply. This is the cross-section of a joined chest’s stile – Alexander coined the term “truncadon” to describe this tapered, riven chest post.
Now, to not repeat JA’s sins – here’s the full shot of the cupboard:
A great shot by JA of the upper rail’s carving:
And one of mine, showing the tapered cross-section of a chest’s stile:
I spent two days recently ferrying around Long Island with my friends Bob Trent and Mack Truax. We were researching furniture for a project there in Cutchogue. More later about that, but I wanted to get this picture out into the world.
The back of a joined chest with drawer. Never touched by a plane at any spot, it’s all riven or hewn. And the hatchet had a run-in with some iron object, chipping the cutting edge. Blow the photo up and you can “read” each stroke of the hatchet based on the tracking made by the notch in the edge. This surface is not un-heard-of; but is a somewhat extreme example. Rougher than most…I love it.
Here’s a detail from the front. The arch fits in like a framed panel, then below it the columns, with their capitals and bases, are thicker, reaching back behind the plane of the arch/panel. (the column/base/capital on our right is original, the others replaced). THEN – the carved bit with the leafy-flower shape is nailed from inside to the backs of the frame. A pretty involved series of moves to create a great deal of depth. Needs a thick bottom rail.
Shooting in the tight spaces was hard, I didn’t even try to shoot inside the chest with the camera. Used an Ipad to shoot this grainy photo, but it gives you the idea of what is going on.
Not the craziest thing I’ve ever seen, but it’s not far off.
Bonus item was this New Haven box, with S-scrolls running all one way, rather than opposing/symmetrically. Trent files this under “Plan ahead!”
I’ve got my joinery book just about finished, I have a few things to photograph, and a couple of paragraphs to write. This carving pattern came after I was done writing, so it goes here instead of in the book. It’s a rear stile for a wainscot chair, 3″ wide.
After striking margins and a centerline, I struck the outline of the diamond shape with a broad chisel & mallet.
The inner part of that design is outlined again with the chisel.
These half-circle bits get 2 strikes of this deeply curved gouge. These are stuck to the margin…
Next, I took a large #5 Swiss-made gouge and used it to outline the large rosette. These photos are too close to see, but just about all of this is mallet work.
After outline, then I use the same tool to relieve the bits right around the rosette. Then a smaller #5 to finish removing background.
Inside the rosette, a small circle right in the middle, defined with 3 strikes of a small curved gouge.
Then remove a chip right up against that incised outline to begin hollowing the shape.
Then I can step back and use a large tool to remove more of that hollowing. By cutting the bit right near the center first, I’ve decreased the chances of knocking the middle out with this gouge.
Once that rosette is hollowed, I use a very narrow gouge to define the outline of the petals.
Then remove a chip behind the 2 cuts that form the intersection of 2 petals.
Then a straight chisel to connect the parts, to define the edges of the petals.
A narrower chisel makes a straight line through the petal, followed by a punch (a fine nailset in this case) at the tip.
Here’s a short (amateur) video done with the ipad, warts & all. It shows me carving the diamond/lozenge part:
I’ve been carving a lot of oak lately. Boxes and drawer fronts in this pile.
As I mentioned the other day, I have a box with a drawer underway; for a descendant of William Searle, one of the Ipswich joiners. These pieces get big and heavy – about 15″ tall, 26″ wide. Maybe 16″ deep.
I’ve only seen one & 1/2 period examples of this form, this one is based on the full example. The 1/2 example has lost its drawer; got cut in half at some point. Both were by the same maker(s); sometimes attributed to William Searle, sometimes to Thomas Dennis.
Lots of layout involved, and the outlines are struck with gouges and chisels, not cut with a V-tool. Centerlines, margins, arcs – all measured off with a compass. In this case, I’m trying to make a close copy, usually I make my own versions of this “strapwork” design.
But I got ahead of the story. While I had the box with drawer underway; I got an email asking if I would make a copy of the “other” one, the one that’s lost its drawer! And it had nothing to do with my having the first one on the bench. What are the odds that I’d get that note while working on a related box? I’ve got the first one to the point where all the hard parts are left – the drawer, applied moldings around the middle and base, and turned feet for underneath. Then the lid. I need to shoot some of that for the book I have underway, so rather than get involved in that right now, I got out a board to start carving the next box front.
It’s fun to see how the strapwork designs relate to each other, and how they are different. Scale is quite similar, about 5 1/2″ to 6″ high x 25″ wide.