Finished the chest of drawers

The chest of drawers is too large to photograph in the shop, I was outside the front door to shoot this one. And I see I left a can of WD-40 in the window. Oh well. It feels good to have this done. Forget the notion that I started it 10 years ago; I feel like I was working on it forever this summer & fall. But, I can tell roughly how long I worked on it, thanks to Chris Becksvoort. I bought his book Shaker Inspirations from Lost Art Press https://lostartpress.com/products/shaker-inspirations. Not because I care about Shaker furniture, not because I want to convert my shop to a mixture of hand & electric tools. Not because of any reason except I really admire Chris’ dedication and skills and was sure there’d be stuff in there that’s useful, regardless of his minimalism and my horror vaccui. In that book, he notes that he keeps records of all his time on a given piece. Careful detailed notes…

I used to many years ago write on a calendar what I worked on each given day, roughly how much time, etc. When I was in the museum world, the most common question we ever got, no matter what, was “how long does that take?” I realized the question was not going to go away, so in the winters, I would carefully keep track of my time for making a piece, a joined carved chest – 75-85 hours; joined stool, 12-14 hours. And so on. 

But after a while, I got out of the habit. After reading Chris’ book, I started at least writing what work I did each day, and roughly how much time I was in the shop. So  I was able to go back and calculate that I worked on the chest of drawers 14 full days and 17 partial days this year. Some of those “partial” days were 1/2 days – in other cases, I listed three or four projects I flipped back & forth on a given day, so might just be an hour or two. But let’s call them all half-days to simplify the math. That comes out to 8 1/2 more days. So just over 3 weeks to make the lower case entirely; and finish work on the upper case. Umpteen zillion pieces of wood. Plenty of mistakes, poor miters, irregular moldings – but no blank spaces to speak of.

A slew of photos; with captions.

The cedar base molding mitered and applied to the end rail.

And pegged w a square peg. I did this to all the large moldings.

this turning blank is the first of many steps to make the final 2 pieces of decoration – 2 oval applied turnings. 3/8″ thick rosewood glued to sacrificial oak.

On the lathe, you just turn beads of various proportions; here’s the initial shaping. Ordinarily, I’d apply thin pieces to every face of the oak & end up with lots of these things. I just needed 2, so I got on with it.

You see them taking shape now.

I turned a few so I’d have some to choose from…

Not the best skew work, but it will do.

The rear of the lower case. Pine panels, oak frame.

End view of the lower case – Spanish cedar panels, resawn, bookmatched. Same wood for the moldings.

Lower case, empty. East Indian rosewood turnings.

 

Looking into the empty lower case. Tenons in end rail engage mortises in lower edge of upper case to keep the two pieces aligned.

Drawer construction. Side hung, half-blind dovetails at front, nailed rabbets at rear. Pine bottoms, ship-lapped. Beveled at front into groove in drawer front. Nailed up to drawer’s bottom edges.

First two drawers inserted, the only carving thus far, a recycled box-front-as-drawer-side.

The lower case, filled w drawers now.

The upper case. Empty. Here’s the oval turnings applied on the top end rails.

Bottom edge of upper case. Mortises for those tenons to align the cases. Another recycled carving, as drawer runner for side-by-side upper drawers. I left out a dust board that should be in rabbets in the lower front & side rails. I ran out of 1/2″ pine boards, so let it go.

the WD-40 shot again.

The sunlight on the rosewood is something else. I had heard nightmare stories about using this wood. Too hard, allergic reactions, etc. I got lucky, had no problem. It turns like nothing I’ve ever seen.

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.

 

a few period details in oak

I didn’t take any photos in the shop this week. So I sat down & looked at folders that I haven’t seen in ages. There must be stuff there we can look at.

Here’s a scan I made from a book that fell part – the Gate on the Stairs at Haddon Hall, Derbyshire. this picture is from Henry Tanner’s book “English Interior Woodwork of the XVI, XVII & XVIII Centuries” Batsford, London, 1903.

Here’s the actual item, I shot this at Haddon Hall over 10 years ago.

This one was maybe the same trip, a row of spindles above panelling – a church at Great Durnford, Wiltshire. The arcading carving is what I was after today; but then I noticed there’s a row of punch marks just above the spindles, between the dentil carvings. Shows how many teeth the punch had…(but I didn’t measure the impression.)

That reminded me of this detail from a New England chest, showing the punch used on the background, also used as a decorative accent on the solid. That one is about 1/4″ x 1/2″ maybe a bit fatter, 5/16″?

From a related New England chest, here it’s on its head showing the bottom boards. They fit into a groove in the front rail (top of the photo) and the side rails (on our left) and are nailed up to a higher rear rail. Riven oak, tongue & groove between the boards. Note the sawmarks where they trimmed these boards after installation. Also visible are the layout lines locating the mortises on the faces of the stock.

chest bottom 

This next one is a rear rail of a chest, missing its drawer runner, thus the empty notch. That’s a side lower rail coming down into this stile. It features a barefaced tenon – no rear shoulder. Stock needs to be accurately planed to thickness. But fun to do sometimes…

rear stile 

One more – scribed layout lines remaining on a Lake District carved panel.

 

 

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.

chest of drawers, some background & history

 

More about the chest of drawers. The above photo shows how far I got this week. There’s a staggering number of pieces of wood in this thing, and several dozen more to come. Trent got me thinking about it in these terms, and I wasted a lot of time counting the individual bits – somewhere near 230 thus far. 

But, back to the chest of drawers itself, time for some background. This project was begun ages ago, and got stashed for an interminable period. The original that it’s based on was made in Boston, and is now at the Museum of Fine Arts. Mine’s not a direct copy, but its format, proportions and general overall look is taken from that piece. Here’s their photo: 

Years ago, I worked with Bob Trent on a long-winded article about chests of drawers, you can read it (and see most of the photos, but not all of them) here, http://www.chipstone.org/article.php/612/American-Furniture-2010/Reassessing-the-London-Style-Joinery-and-Turning-of-Seventeenth-Century-Boston 

A chest of drawers like this is a significant item in that period. The only way it could be “better” is if it had doors, like the related one at Yale University’s Art Gallery. The lower case is two square, or nearly square doors, with three drawers behind them. The upper case is much like the MFA’s; two shallow, side-by-side drawers above a very deep single drawer. Both feature various “exotic” woods; Spanish cedar, lignum vitae, rosewood, ebony, etc. 

Thankfully, I didn’t set out all those years ago to make a copy of the Yale one! The MFA one is involved enough. 

Long-time readers of the blog might remember my greatest hit, “Riven Cedrela” about the chest of drawers at the MFA:

https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2013/03/07/riven-cedrela-to-the-tune-of-on-top-of-old-smokey/

I have lots of research material we collected when writing that American Furniture article, mine mostly centered on identifying the men in Boston who followed the trades of joinery, turning, and some other woodworkers too. The joiners Henry Messinger and Ralph Mason seemed to be at the top of the heap, several of their sons followed them in the trade. Probate records for several of them survive and contain some high-style furniture forms. 

I’ll post inventories for Henry Messenger and his son Henry Messenger, Jr. here – the prices listed are pounds/shillings/pence. 12 pence to a shilling, 20 shillings to a pound. A tradesman’s wages in New England then might have been around 2 or 3 shillings a day…

Henry Messenger –

An inventory of the estate of Henry Messenger deceased taken by us whose names underwritten the 30 of April 1681

In the Parlor

A featherbed a boulster & too pillows a payer of blankets a coverlid & curtins & valling & bedstead £08:00:00

A framed bedsted a woolbed & boulster 2 coverlits 01:05:00

A press cubberd wth drawers

A table & seven joint stooles 01:10:00

A small round table five elbo chayrs 00:18:00

Two framde Elbo chayrs 00:08:00

Close stoole with a pewter pan in it & stone mortar 01:10:00

2 small boxes 1 case of quart bottles 10/ three stone juggs 1 Earthen 8/ 00:18:00

9 cushions & a warming pann 18/ A cote of Armes & Joynrs Armes 40/ 02:18:00

a parcel of glas & Earthen ware 12/ A silver spoon &  dram cup 10/ 01:02:00

A looking glass 2/6 Eight pr of sheets & five pr of pillobeers 7:10:00 07:12:06

Three dozn napkins of several sorts five small pillobeers & cupboard cloth 02:01:00

A Large diaper table cloth & three Linnen ditto 01:00:00

A pr darnick curtains & vallents 00:10:00

Two Darnick carpets and cupboard cuishion 00:12:00

A pr andirons fire shovel and tongs 8/ a Rapier & Childs blankett 10/ 00:18:00

In the Parlor chamber  

A feather bed, Boulster a pillow a pr sheets a pr blanketts Rugg and Bedsteed 04:00:00

Two Searge chaires a stand & pr of andirons 01:00:00

A small box of drawers a chest and looking glass 01:00:00

 

In the hall

A pr of andirons a fire shovel, tongs, a trammell pr of bellows 01:05:00

One cupboard, one chest and a screen 01:10:00

One table 3 joint stooles 4 chaires & a forme 01:00:00

Three framed chaires & 2 other chaire & one leather 00:15:00

A looking glass and a parcel of Earthen ware 00:05:00

Three Bibles and other bookes 00:10:00

A pr andirons tongs & fire shovel and tramell 01:05:00

A gridiron, fire Iron, toasting Iron and four Spits 00:15:00

Three Iron candlesticks and two frying pans 00:08:00

Five Brass kettles three skillets and a brass morter 02:10:00

Six pewter dishes, six pewter pots, two salts, three porringers a plate, 

seven small dishes and one chamber pot 02:05:00

Three dripping pans one sawce pan one funnell 00:07:00

A punch Bowle lign vitae 00:10:00

A parcel of wooden and Earthen ware & one piggin 00:10:00

Two pr scales and twelve pounds lead weights & meale barrel 00:10:00

In Kitchen chamber

Two spinning wheels a cradle, a table wth other lumber 01:10:00

In the Cellar

A powdering tubb with other tubbs and barrells 01:00:00

In the hall chamber

A flock bed and two feather pillows a pr blanketts a pr sheets two small pillows an old Rugg Bedsteed and a pillowbeer 02:10:00

In the middle room over the Hall  

Another flock Bed, one Bolster a pr blanketts a pr sheets a Rugg and 

Bedsteed 02:10:00

A feather bed a Bolster a pillow a pr blanketts a pr sheets a Rugg a Bedstead 05:00:00

One table three chests a small box a close stool wth Earthen pan 01:10:00

A parcel of glue and Nurces skins 02:10:00

In the shop chambr

A wicker glass case, a chest of drawers a large bedsteed and trundlebedsteed 02:10:00

In the shop

All sorts of Joyners Tools 05:00:00

A table and Chest of Drawers not finished 01:00:00

Timber within and without Doors wrought and unwrought 10:00:00

Two cows and hay 06:00:00

Land and housing in all 400:00:00

About 20 gallons of trayn oyl 01:00:00

John Fayerweather Edw Wyllys

Sarah Messinger Exec made Oath in Court 5 May 1681 that this is a just and true Inventory of the Estate of her late husband Henry Messinger decd to the best of her knowledge and that if more appears she will discover it. 

Attests Js Addington

 

Henry Messenger, Jr.

{PF: When Henry Messenger died in 1681, his sons Henry, John, Simeon and Thomas were all practicing joiners. The first of these, John, born in 1641, could have been working on his own from the early 1660s, thus his career and that of his father could have overlapped for almost 20 years. At the other end of the range, Thomas, born in 1662 might have just finished his apprenticeship by the time of his father’s death. 

The younger Henry Messinger died in 1686, just a few years after his father. His shop included at least two apprentices, based on his calling Benjamin Threeneedle his “eldest apprentice” in his will: 

“I give to my Eldest apprentice Benjamin Threeneedle the remainder of his time he hath yet to serve with me; and if his friends thinke he have not sufficient cloathing I would have my wife give him one suit of Apparell suitable for him.”]

Inventory of the Estate of Henry Messenger late of Boston, Joyner decd taken & apprized by us whose names are underwritten, 30th Nov 1686

Impr. His wearing Apparell, hatts, shoes, stockins, shirts etc 

and his Armes, given away by will amongst his Brethren

25:4:00

In the Halle:

1 doz. Russia Leather chaires at 11/8 6:12:00

2 Tables at 24s a ps 1:08:00

 

In the Chamber over the halle:

8 Turkey worke chaires at 14s 5:12:00

1 Chest of drawers 2:10:00

1 feather bed, boulster, pillows, ffurniture of coverings, curtains,

 vallents and bedestead 17:00:00

1 table 25s  1 looking glass & brasses 18 2:03:00

1 pr brasses for the chimney 20s 2 stands 8 1:08:00

In the Chamber over the Kitchin

One feather bed, furniture and bedstead 6-00-00

1 ???att table, one chest & deske and Trunke 1-10-00

In the Kitchin

1 Table (price) eight sedge bottom chaires (price) 1-12-00

1 Hamaker and Morings (price) one Chest 2-00-00

A dwelling house & garden and land the apprces 200-00-00

Timber, Boards, planks workeing tooles (etc) at the 

Shop, apprized by Mr Cunnibell and Tho: Warren, Joyners

At Eleven pounds 16/8 11-16-8

A parcel of glew -12-10

Money since the death of my husband for worke done for 

Some frenchmen 2-05-00

I spent a lot of time trying to determine if the joiners were all grouped in one area in the city. It seemed that several did live pretty close to each other, but whether this was just how things worked out or was intentional & somehow effected their work habits could never be established. One joiner, Jeremiah Bumstead, lived right next to Henry Messenger, Sr. But they weren’t exactly best friends, according to: 

“The testimony of Thomas Varrin, aged about 16 years… 

That he has heard Jerimyah Bumstead caull henery Messinger senior a wicked base mallitious fellow and the devill had set him a work and he would finish it for him and further testifyeth I have heard him call him a prateing Logarhed” 

I found the above testimony in an unpublished manuscript by Benno Forman, 

Boston Furniture Craftsman, citing Suffolk Superior Court Files 10:149. I don’t remember if I followed up & read the original record. 

 

This ain’t in the book

When I was working on the book Joiner’s Work, I started out thinking it was going to be a book about making a joined chest. https://lostartpress.com/products/joiners-work

Then it grew & grew, to include a slew of carving, several different boxes, the original idea of the joined chest, then a chest with a drawer. But not a chest of drawers. But…if you read the book, all you need to know about making a chest of drawers is in there. The chest of drawers I have underway right now is only the 2nd one I’ve ever built, a good reason to not include it in a book. Here it was a couple weeks ago – not much different from today.

Today I was making the drawers for the lower case. These have half-blind dovetails joining the sides to the front, but rabbets (with nails) joining the back to the sides. I didn’t shoot photos of how I cut dovetails; there’s qualified people for that. I’m strictly an amateur at dovetails. This photo shows the half blind joint on the drawer front, with the groove below for the drawer bottoms. The drawer is “side-hung” – it slides on runners inside the carcase. The drawer side has a groove plowed for this runner.  In this case, the groove is wide, 9/16″. At the back end of the drawer side, nothing. The rear board has a rabbet that will be nailed together. Typical drawer construction of the period.

 

 

This is looking into the lower case’s guts. I have started installing the drawer runners; the bottom & middle drawers are ready, you can see the notches for the upper drawer’s runner chopped into the front & rear stiles.

 

Now two of the drawers are tested into the case, and the drawer sides for the upper drawer are tested before I cut any joints in them.

The drawers have figured maple inserts, that will then be framed by Spanish cedar moldings. The whole effect will be to mimic two side-by-side drawers. Here’s a detail of one of the upper case drawers including a drawer knob of East Indian rosewood.

I got the middle drawer assembled & fitted, and the upper drawer glued up right at 6pm; but it was a tad out-of-square, so I threw a clamp across the corners & left the room. Tomorrow is another day. I’ll inset the maple in this drawer, then work on the cedar moldings for all three of them. Then on & on, more rosewood turnings, big moldings & small, more & more details. No carvings, but still no blank space.

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.

 

—–

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

 

 

—————————

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