The new John Brown book and dimensions

I feel right at home reading Chris Williams’ new book Good Work, about John Brown. I’m sure I first heard of John Brown from Drew Langsner; he taught at Drew’s school a couple of times. His book Welsh Stick Chairs is quite an inspiration. Today I was reading one JB’s columns reprinted in the new book, about his disdain for measured drawings and plans. His thrust is to learn to trust your eye(s); and have that as a guide while you make your chair.

I have similar feelings about drawings for the joined furniture I make. Once I had a job for the US government, making a few pieces of furniture for an historic house in Connecticut. The major stumbling block for me was the feds wanted measured drawings and specs. I asked if I could do the drawings after making the furniture. They didn’t understand. I got through it, but it wasn’t fun.

My joined furniture falls into two general categories; one is direct copies of existing pieces. Then I measure the original, and produce parts that will get me stock of the proper size to build that piece. The other is to make a piece based on period practices, using construction, decoration and proportions based on what I’ve studied in various collections. I have notebooks filled with detailed notes to draw from. Then I get to work making my version of a box, stool, chest, etc.

Here’s the next carved box underway. The determining factor for the size of this box was my suitcase! I took the white oak board for the box front to North House and carved the front as a demonstration. Then brought it back home and made the box sides accordingly. So this is not a reproduction of an existing box, but made in all the same manner as a period box.

My next joined stool is underway as well. The customer didn’t have any particular stool in mind, but we talked about stools from Connecticut and from Northern Massachusetts…so I climbed up on the ladder to look over the story sticks hanging in the shop. Here’s just a few of them; one problem is many are two-sided. That’s now one of those rainy-day projects, to copy any “backs” and make them all one-sided, so they’re easier to find.

I picked one from Essex County, Massachusetts – the first thing I do after prepping the stock is layout and cut the mortises.

But I wanted to change a couple of things. The previous stools I just did were a customer request for stools just a tad higher than usual. I liked that look, and wanted to make this stool just 1 1/2″ or so taller. So you see here I’ve bumped things up (to our right) to increase the foot for this stool. I’ll tinker with the foot shape when I get to the lathe. I also beefed up the stretcher from 1 3/4″ high to 2″ high. Slight changes, but this is the sort of thing John Brown was writing about.. and some of his thoughts on this subject “keep it simple”…”use the eyes” – good advice.  I drive some of my students crazy when they ask for specifics and my reply is “just a little bit more” or “about like that” with my fingers showing the amount. Rulers – bah!

 

Once I struck the dimensions on the first stool leg/stile, I put the story stick away and marked the rest from that existing stile. It became the standard for this particular joined stool.

In the book, I also saw a variation on a favorite quote – “Experience is the best teacher but the fees can be very high.” I learned it from Daniel O’Hagan, “Experience keeps a dear school but fools will learn from no other.” That version is often attributed to Ben Franklin. Citations are hard to come by. Apparently, if you go by the internet, everybody said everything. 

Get the new John Brown book, well, the Chris Williams book from Lost Art Press

Good Work: The Chairmaking Life of John Brown

They brought John Brown’s book back into print as well.

Welsh Stick Chairs <BR>by John Brown

 

trestle table frame

Time for my wife to start her flowers indoors. Last year, she started them on top of a chest I want to haul out to the shop to finish. So I made a trestle table frame to take its place. Looking at this photo, it looks crazy-out-of-whack. I had checked it before I left the shop and those two top rails seemed to be in a plane. We’ll see when I go to put a top on it.

It’s ash, quartersawn. 2″ x 3 5/8″. I had a few lengths of them laying around, leftover from something, I can’t even remember what. I wimped out and made the mortises by boring and chopping. They’re 1/2″ wide, by the width of the stock –  3 5/8″. Here, I need to lean a little to my right when I bore this.

Seven 1/2″ holes per mortise.

Then chop ’em out. This is how I first learned to make mortises way back before I learned joinery. It works. I chose this method because this was dry, sawn stock. Not as reliable as the riven stock I usually use. It’s mostly clear and pretty straight grained, but still more character than I usually use. 

Making tenons was just as usual, saw the shoulders, split the cheeks. More paring than on riven stock. But nothing too dramatic.

Paring with a large 2″ framing chisel. This is the long stretcher that runs between the uprights.

Chamfers and lamb’s tongues are typical for this sort of work. Saw the stop.

I chop back toward the stop with a chisel, held bevel down.

Then drawknife the chamfer. Carefully with the sawn grain. Wiggle here & there.

This is the lamb’s tongue. The photo is completely foolish. If I shot cutting it, you wouldn’t see anything. Bevel down, scoop as you strike with the mallet. The chisel handle is tilted up high to begin with, then quickly comes down as you knock it forward. I like it when the lamb’s tongue comes out just proud of the chamfer.

Then drawbore it & wedge it. The drawboring is nothing new. I use two pins per joint. These pin holes were 5/16″ or so.

The mortises for the wedges – I started with a 9/16″ hole, then chopped it beyond the layout line towards the shoulder. (this makes sure the wedges bears on the upright, not on the inside of the mortise) – Then the outside end of the mortise is chopped at an angle. very slight. Eyeballed, not measured.

Then make extra-long wedges, drive them until they stop, then you know where to trim them. I chamfer all the ends of the wedges, as well as the protruding end of the stretcher tenons.

Because this table will see some dirt, water and other debris – I’m just going to put three 1 x 8s on it for the top. If it ever becomes a real table somewhere, I can always add a true top to it. The frame is about 4′ long, the top will be nearly 6′. I think the whole frame was somewhere in the vicinity of 10 hours. It looks it. I could have made a bit neater job of it, but it wasn’t necessary. I wanted to get it done quickly, yet still have it strong & functional.

the next wainscot chair

I’ve been working on some blog-housekeeping lately, with more to come. I re-did some of the drop-down menus at the top of the blog. A couple new pages just show examples of things like carved boxes, wainscot chairs, chests, etc. On the side menu there’s a link to the page at Lie-Nielsen for the videos they produced of my work.  I think there’s 8 of them now, including the new one about making a shaving horse. I have some of the shaving horse one for sale still, or you can get them from LN.

Meanwhile, I’ve just started another version of the chair above. The wainscot chair isn’t in the book Joiner’s Work, but I did shoot a DVD with Lie-Nielsen about building one. Making the rear posts is as “un-green-woodworking” as you can get. The wood is fresh, wet, all that. BUT – it’s non-supportable in an ecological sense. The back posts are hewn and planed out of a large piece of oak. Most of which ends up as chips. Here’s a side view, showing what I’m after.

Here’s how I shaped them this week. The bolt I shape them from is about 4′ long, and initially maybe 6″x 6″. There’s one on the sawbuck in the right of this photo. I’m using a hatchet to remove the bark first.

This is a case where I work the tangential, or growth ring plane first. Now using a joiner’s hatchet to get a relatively clean surface to lay out the shape on.

I lay the chair stick on there, and shift it this way & that to get the orientation the best I can. There’s compromises happening with grain direction. I’d like the upper part to follow the fibers, but then I’d need an even bigger bolt to start with. So shift it some more.

Using a froe to knock some excess stock out of the way.

In the shop now, having planed the surface some, re-do the layout of the shape. But there’s one problem down at the foot. The riven shape falls away, so I had to shift the stick over some more.

The detail showing how the stock is tapered under that surface.

There’s a lot of back & forth between the planes, the hatchet and layout with the chair stick.

 

A chalk line to mark out the width of the stile – then hewing it to nearly that line.

I almost gave up this indoor chopping block. It’s in a tight space & I don’t often use it. But I’ve had this particular one since 2001 so I figure I’ve kept it this long…

checking the front face above the seat, I want it flat along its length. There’s going to be joinery in two planes there, and carving too.

The front face both above & below the seat level are mostly defined now, and I’ve laid out the back line to this post.

The easiest way to hew that rear section is to cut reliefs in the wood along the layout lines. These saw cuts go down to a depth, then I hew to them.

I’ve switched to a smaller hatchet, this one by Julia Kalthoff https://www.instagram.com/kalthoffaxes/?hl=en. I’m using it to knock out the blocks between the saw kerfs. Several saw kerfs takes most of risk out of this step. You can do it with one, right at the junction between up & down. But more kerfs helps.

I set it on the bench now on its face to work the back surface.

A holdfast grips it down to the bench, and I shimmed under the foot at the other end. Then went at it with the scrub plane. Flipped it end for end to do the same to the top end.

The first one took forever, because I was photographing it. The second one went more quickly. About halfway through the 2nd one, I switched from using the chair stick as reference to using the first post. More important that they match each other than getting them to agree to the stick. I timed the 2nd one and it was 1 hour & 5 minutes from the split-out section to the finished post. All the steps above included. Now these (and the other parts for this chair) will sit for a month to six weeks to begin drying at the surface. Then I’ll work them along, planning to work on this chair at Fine Woodworking Live in April. http://www.finewoodworkinglive.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.)

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Here’s Little Ray, from the red oak.

carved and painted

Right before Christmas, I threatened to finish a carved box with an oak lid. I came close, but at the last minute decided to take a break instead and leave that box for 2020. Once I let it slide, I decided to add painted background to the carvings. It’s been a while since there’s been paint on the blog, so here goes.

To paint a box like this requires a tiny amount of paint. I poured a bit of linseed oil/mineral spirits mixture into this shallow dish. Then squeezed a dollop of some vermilion artists’ oil paint. Next I dipped a wood shaving into a jar of iron oxide dry pigment. The vermilion is just a touch to brighten up the iron oxide. By itself it can be too brick-ish. Red lead was often used in the 17th century, which would be brighter too. If you have some Japan drier that will help the paint/oil combo dry quicker than usual. Mixing in a bit of raw umber can help in the same regard…I had neither the day I decided to do this. So my paint will dry VERY slowly.

Then mush them all together. I often use a glass muller and a piece of plate glass (sort of a flat mortar & pestle) if I have a lot of paint to make. But with this small amount there’s no need to get too carried away. The iron oxide is ground so fine that it dissolves pretty well.

Then it’s like an oak coloring book. A narrow round brush, thin paint and easy does it.

I did all the red first, then shifted over to black for the other color. A standard color combination for that period. Easily sourced colors. The black can be bone-black, lampblack and other sources too. All charcoal/carbon derived.

It’s easy to over-think the paint scheme. It’s pretty casual, just alternating the black and red as much as you can. Without getting too picky about it. This is the front, painted and now waiting to dry.

The ends of this box are carved too, so I painted them at the same time.

Clean-up is a pain. Rather than find a way to dispose of leftover paint, I have been highlighting the carvings in the shop. I had some red leftover and got up on the ladder and painted part of this tie-beam above my bench. I only made it halfway across the room. So next time I’m using red paint I’ll get at the other end.

here’s some earlier clean-up work.

Many art supply stores carry dry pigments for people who want to mix their own paint. The web has plenty of them, I’ve used this site before https://www.dickblick.com/products/gamblin-artists-grade-pigments/

I painted that box on Dec 24 and it’s not dry yet. Patience. I made the oak lid today and will fit it next week. If the paint’s dry.

Jennie Alexander & I wrote a bit about making & using paint like this in our Joint Stool book. https://lostartpress.com/products/make-a-joint-stool-from-a-tree

 

 

Carved arcading photo sequence

Here’s the end of another year. This blog will keep chugging along, going into its 13th year. Today, carving an arcading pattern along the apron for a joined stool. I’ve never done this design in print or video. The rail in the photos is about 3 1/2″ high, with a small molding down on its bottom edge.

Here’s one of the carvings:


The layout is all done with a marking gauge, square & awl, and a compass. Oh, a ruler too. Then I do the chisel-work first. It probably doesn’t matter whether you do chisel or gouge work first.

The first set of strikes define the peaked area between the arches.

Then I come in with the chisel very low, and bevel up. Mallet work at first – to chop down to the depth I scored above.

Further along, showing the “peaks” defined now.

Now comes gouge work. This first one is a large #7 (according to the Swiss numbering system, but it’s an English tool.) Might be about 7/8″ wide.

After striking two arcs outside the arches, I then tilt the gouge over a bit and relieve behind the strikes.

Then with a narrower #7, I struck small, somewhat pointed arcs meeting at a centerline on the top margin, between the arches. Then relieve behind these cuts.

Now for inside the arches. A more deeply curved tool defining a small rounded button at the bottom margin, inside the arches.

Switched to a slightly wider gouge, again with more curve than the #7s – I just begin hollowing right near that incised mark, removing wood carefully.

Then I back up further, and go over what I just cut. One of the few times I carve little-by-little. Most everything I carve is to the full depth on one shot.

Now I concentrate on tilting the gouge over to cut along the scribed line. First on one side, then the other.

A little more…

Then the other side gets the same treatment.

Then I blend those surfaces by cutting down the middle of the arch.

Then there’s just a bunch of details; punches, chisel-incised marks, etc.

I shot a video of carving one of these aprons & was mostly pleased with how it came out. But, I continue to be video-challenged. I uploaded it to youtube so I could copy it here. But it looked like crap on youtube. The video itself here on my machine is quite sharp…I’ll try to figure it out & add it later.

PS: well, now it says “HD” – seems better. I don’t know what happened.
One camera, so sometimes my mallet or hands is/are in the way.