More thoughts on turning

When I was first learning about 17th-century furniture, Jennie Alexander used to send me titles of books to find or in some cases, the books themselves. And several of them I read over and over again. One was Benno Forman’s American Seating Furniture 1630-1730. As I’ve been at the lathe lately (not turning chairs, but the pillars for a cupboard) I was thinking about turners’ work. Forman cited some detailed records about chairmaking from the Boston area. 

Forman, ASF

One was about the number of chair frames a turner could produce. When Trent & I worked on an article about Boston furniture, I spent a lot of time reviewing Forman’s writings about Boston area joiners and turners. One turner he wrote about was Thomas Edsall. We had better genealogical reference materials than Forman did, he mistakenly identified Edsall as a London turner arriving here in the mid-1630s. He was a turner, just not necessarily from London and his first New England record is a marriage in 1652. He often appears in court records, which is good for us. I like when they all argue and go to court, it provides a source of details about the work. 

There’s several court records about a dispute between Thomas Edsall and Henry Harris, a turner who was contracted to work with him for a year. 

“This indenture witnesseth that Henry Harris doth covenant and promise to dwell with and serve Thomas Edsall in the art and trade of a turner, according to the best of his skill and his master’s instruction for & during one whole year, from the day & the date hereof. And the said Thomas Edsall doth for him ___ and his ____ and administrators covenant  to pay unto his said servant for the service aforesaid three pounds and to give him sufficient meate drink washing & lodging during the said [___] and the pay is to be made in one third part money (current?) in New England and one other third part in merchantable provisions and one other third part in English goods. And that the payments be made proportionally at the ends of every three months. In witness whereof the parties [_____] to their hands to these indentures this 19th day of March 1666/7″

But it didn’t work out that way. In April of 1673 Harris said Edsall owed him 40 or 50 shillings (out of 60 total) 

“The deposition of Henry Fane aged about 83 years

This deponent witnesseth that about a month [____] Henry Harris of Charlestown, turner wrought with this deponent in bottoming of chayres at which said tyme he the said Henry Harris was [____] of some difference that was likely [____] between his master Edsall [______] and [___] this deponent asked him what the difference was  and he the said Harris then said afterwards that he was a servant to the said Mr Edsall [____] further that the said Edsall had not payd all for his (year’s service?) to the value of about 40 or 50, but said that 40 or fifty shillings was still due to him and further this deponent sayeth not. Dated 25 of April 1673″

“Bottoming” chairs is weaving the seats, in most cases with rushes or flags – long-leafed plants found at the water’s edge. Like in my back yard.

photo by Rick McKee

In between the original contract and Fane’s deposition, there was a judgment in Edsall’s favor: 

“According to a covenant . . . dated the 19th day of March, 1666/7 . . . I judge and order the said Harris either to dwell with & serve the said Edsell eight whole weeks beginning on the 17th Day of this June [1672] & to make every of the said weekes fifteen chair frames [illegible] good and merchantable or else shall make one whole hundred and twenty such frames in the whole eight week [illegible] the said Edsell finding & allowing unto him the said Harris sufficient place, tooles & stuff to make them.”

So – fifteen chair frames a week – yikes. But it doesn’t tell us what the chairs look like. One thing I often cite is a London record that distinguishes between “turned matted chairs” and “plain matted chairs” – speculating what plain matted chairs might be. 

“20th February 1615 It was directed that the makers of chairs about the City, who were strangers and foreigners, were to bring them to the Hall to be searched according to the ordinances. When they were thus brought and searched, they were to be bought by the Master and Wardens at a price fixed by them, which was 6s per dozen for plain matted chairs and 7s per dozen for turned matted chairs. The effect of such an order…all chairs which came into London had to be submitted to the Company and if approved, were taken over at the fixed price. The Turners reaped the benefit by the removal of possible competition. (The Worshipful Company of Turners of London – Its Origin and History A.C. Stanley-Stone, (London: Lindley-Jones & Brother, 1925), p. 121)”

Here’s one of my versions of what I took to be a “plain” matted chair – made back when I was working in a museum, where it got a lot of use.  

plain matted chair, PF

I used to make a frame for those in a day, about 6 hours or so. But I couldn’t weave the seat quickly at all – never did it enough to get fast or good. Which brings us to rush seating. Rush seating is something I wish there was more of these days. In his book, Forman goes through some computations based on prices of chairs and “flags” (the rushes for seat-weaving) to arrive at how many seats a weaver could produce in a day. 

” …an efficient bottomer might have been expected to complete perhaps nine seats in a long, seventeenth-century working day. While we may assume that this sort of work could be done by anyone without particular skills, we know that at least in one instance an “old and decayed” turner, Henry Fane of Boston, was bottoming chairs in the year 1672 when he was 83.”

Forman was up a tree – there’s no way you can weave 9 seats in even a long day. And the notion that it could be done by “anyone without particular skills” is just plain offensive. Forman should have spoken to someone who had woven seats. Lawrence Neal does it exceptionally well – as did his father Neville Neal. https://www.instagram.com/lawrencejneal/?hl=en

Here’s Jan (or Caspar?) Luyken, 1690s showing a Dutch chairmaker’s shop, preseumably in Amsterdam. No way to tell from here if that seat-weaver is “old and decayed” – but fascinating to think about old Henry Fane in Boston weaving those seats at 83.

Luyken “Stoelemaaker”

One type of chair that I learned about from Alexander and Bob Trent is what we now call a “board-seated turned chair.” I showed one of mine here on the previous post. The seat is a beveled board that fits in grooves in the seat rails. Below I’m putting the seat in during the assembly of one in 2018.

assembly of PF copy of Bradford chair

A few things line up to make this happen. The seat rails are all at the same height, unlike the staggered-height rungs on turned chairs with woven seats. So those rails’ tenons intersect. Like this 3-legged version I did – a 3/4″ diameter round tenon piercing a rectangular tenon:

joinery on PF triangular chair

Another factor is the size of those seat rails – to accommodate those intersecting tenons, they’re beefy. The examples above are
1 3/4″ in diameter. Which in turn means the posts are bulky too, over 2″ in diameter. Furthermore, the groove for that seat –

plowing a groove in seat rails

I only know how to do that with a plow plane. No reason to think of another method. Except that turners (i.e. chairmakers) in London were not supposed to use the plow plane, by regulations established separating their work from joiners’ work.

1633   We have called before us as well the Master & Warden of the Compy of Turners as also the M & W of the Compy of Joyners. It appeareth that the Compy of Turners be grieved that the Compy of Joyners assume unto themselves the art of turning to the wrong of the Turners. It appeareth to us that the arts of turning & joyning are two several & distinct trades and we conceive it very inconvenient that either of these trades should encroach upon the other and we find that the Turners have constantly for the most part turned bed posts & feet of joyned stools for the Joyners and of late some Joyners who never used to turn their own bedposts and stool feet have set on work in their houses some poor decayed Turners & of them have learned the feate & art of turning which they could not do before. And it appeareth unto us by custom that the turning of Bedposts Feet of tables joyned stools do properly belong to the trade of a Turner and not to the art of a Joyner and whatsoever is done with the foot as have treddle or wheele for turning of any wood we are of the opinion and do find that it properly belongs to the Turner’s and we find that the Turners ought not to use the gage or gages, grouffe plaine or plough plaine and mortising chisells or any of them for that the same do belong to the Joyners trade.

Henry Laverock Phillips, Annals of the Worshipful Company of Joiners of the City of London, (London: privately printed, 1915) pp. 27, 28.   

All that really means is one of a few things. One possibility is these chairs were not made in London. Or they were, and people ignored the rules. Or the turners who made them paid a fine for using the plow plane (when caught) – or they jobbed that part out to the joiners. We’ll never know, nor does it matter. Interesting again that there’s a mention of a poor “decayed” turner, this time in joiners’ shops showing them how to turn parts.


Some brief background to these recent blog posts. For many years my work included lots of research and writing on the overall subject of 17th-century furniture and furniture-makers. And I loved it, the subject still holds my attention all these years later. I don’t do much of that research anymore – but I still have piles and piles of reference materials on the shelves and hard drives here. Usually my blog posts are written around photos I shoot in the shop, but lately I haven’t been taking many pictures. Mostly because I’m building the same cupboard I built last year so mostly have it covered. So I got on this string of posts lately and there’s lots of fodder for more. 

LINKS –

Jan and Caspar Luyken’s Book of Trades https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Het_Menselyk_Bedryf_(%22The_Book_of_Trades%22)

PF & Trent on Boston furniture https://chipstone.org/article.php/612/American-Furniture-2010/Reassessing-the-London-Style-Joinery-and-Turning-of-Seventeenth-Century-Boston

and with Alexander, on post & rung chairs https://chipstone.org/article.php/581/American-Furniture-2008/Early-American-Shaved-Post-and-Rung-Chairs

thoughts at the lathe

lower case pillar

I spent some time at the lathe recently, starting to turn the pillars for the lower case of my cupboard. (here’s a look at last year’s version to show you where these go https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2021/11/19/test-fitting-the-pillars/ )

While I was turning this pillar, I got to thinking about Nehemiah Wallington (1598-1658). I often prattle on about how we don’t know what period makers or users had to say about the furniture, the work – any of it. Except for Wallington. He was a turner in London, clinically depressed and obsessive about writing his thoughts in notebooks. Several of which have survived. Maybe 25 or so years ago I read a book called Wallington’s World: A Puritan Artisan in Seventeenth-Century London by Paul Seaver. Seaver pored through the available notebooks and captured a lot of Wallington’s thoughts. So at this point, all I have is Seaver’s filter – what he chose to capture and put in his book. He does sometimes touch on Wallington’s work – a little. A little is better than nothing. The first thing I remember is this – he didn’t care for it.

From Seaver’s book, my emphasis: On one occasion Wallington confessed: “At night after examination how I have spent the day, after a chapter read I went to prayer with my family; then I went into my shop to my employment more out of conscience to God’s commands than of any love I had unto it.”

Mostly Seaver makes note of Wallington citing hazards in the shop – another Seaver quote, partially quoting Wallington:

“…but the shop in particular remained a place of danger. On a Saturday late in November 1630, when all but the infant Samuel were in the shop – Wallington and his father, Grace and little Sarah, and the two apprentices, Obediah Seeley and Theophilus Ward – who was showing chairs in the back room, dislodged a heavy one with his “bustling” about, apparently one at the top of a stack, which crashed down into the shop through the doorway and demolished a powdering tub that Wallington was in the process of selling to another customer. “It was God’s great mercy that it hit none of us, for if it had, it would have maimed us, if not killed us.”

Well, I’ve made some heavy chairs that could kill if they fell on people.

PF copy of Gov Bradford’s chair

But I’d love to know more about Wallington’s – and what a stack of chairs looks like. They don’t stack well. And how about showing a customer a tub when all of a sudden a chair falls on it & destroys it? Pretty exciting shopping experience.

One more –

two years later while “my sweet child Sarah was playing in the shop, and as I was shewing of bed staves” to a customer, a huge ash log, propped against the wall, was dislodged and fell towards Sarah and “had I not by God’s providence caught hold of it – it would have knocked her down and killed her” 

Wallington’s father John was Master of the Turner’s Company of London for some years. Nehemiah entered the Company through patrimony, that is, his father was in the company so he in turn could be. He didn’t finish his apprenticeship, but once he settled down he remained working in his trade throughout the rest of his life. I was thinking about him selling a powdering tub – a term usually referring to a tub for salting meat – Randle Holme is probably being facetious when he describes a doctor’s tub as a powdering tub –

Doctor’s tub

…a Doctors Tub, (otherwise calle a Cleansing Tub,) Hooped. In this Pockifyed and such Diseased Persons, are for a certain time put into, to Stew, not to Boyl up to an height, but to Par-boyl); from which Diseases of Morbus Gallicus, Noli me tangere, Miserere mei, &c. and from such a Purgatory, Libera nos Domine; let it be the Prayers of all good people to be delivered from such a Poudering Tub.”

The bigger question there for me is what is a turner doing selling tubs? Assuming they’re coopered, I would think the coopers would have something to say about it. We know turners sold lots of goods not made in their shops. Wallington mentions several times buying wares from “chapmen” – who traveled into the city selling goods to shop-keepers.

The Turners’ Company ordinances of 1608 run down a lot of the possible items to be found in turner’s shops – not necessarily made there. These documents always sound like they’re written by lawyers – but they’re an interesting look at the period just the same:

“The Master & Wardens together with so many of the Assistants as they shall appoint shall four times in the year or oftener if necessary at convenient times, enter into the Shops, Sollars, Cellars, Booths and Warehouses of any person using the Misterie who shall make, buy, or sell anything thereunto apertaining within the City or suburbs, either Free or Foreign, there to search & survey all manner of Bushel measures, Wood Wares, Works, and also their Journeymen, Servants & apprentices and all their staffs & workmanship and if in their search they shall find any shovels, scoops, busheltrees, washing bowls, chairs, wheels, pails, trays, truggers, wares, wooden measures or any other commodities belonging to the Misterie slightly or not substantially & workmanly wrought with good and sound stuff or any other matter of abuse or misdemeanor, either in Master, Mistress, Apprentice, or Servants, it shall be lawful for those making the search, to seize and carry away the same faulty & deceitful wares, into their Common Hall, that the same may be considered & defaced if cause shall appear and the Master, Wardens & Assistants or the greater part of them may assess a reasonable fine upon the offender so as it exceed not 40 shillings for any one offence, so that others may be warned from making or selling deceitful ware to the discredit of the Misterie, and if any whether free or foreign, be found disobedient to the Master Wardens and Assistants or any three of them in any of their searches, he or they shall be fined not exceeding 40 shillings for every offence.”   (The Worshipful Company of Turners of London – Its Origin and History A.C. Stanley-Stone, (London: Lindley-Jones & Brother, 1925) pp. 264-5.

They left out pulleys and blocks – both of which were found in great quantities in London. Other records from the Company make frequent mention of block-makers/pulley-makers. A wood carving from Rotterdam in that period shows a block-maker’s shop

blockmaker’s sign, 1690s Rotterdam

And look – there above the lathe, the skew chisel

detail, blockmaker’s sign

Then I got to thinking about how guilty Wallington must have felt when he cursed after losing control of a skew chisel. All it takes is a fraction of a section’s inattention…shit, we’ve all done it.

skew finish

I got away with it yesterday.

LINKS

Here’s the link to more about the carved sign https://museumrotterdam.nl/collectie/item/11320

Some of Wallington’s notebooks have been transcribed. The hardcover is too rich for my taste, I did get a kindle rental (I hate reading that way & have hardly ever done it) – and found no references to his work yet. I got the kindle rental through amazon. Here’s the hardcover https://www.amazon.com/Notebooks-Nehemiah-Wallington-1618-1654-Selection/dp/075465186X/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1671548053&sr=8-1

The manuscript notebook I got through here https://www.englishcivilwar.org/2011/11/diary-of-nahemiah-wallington-available.html and here https://luna.manchester.ac.uk/luna/servlet/view/search?q=wallington&os=0&pgs=50&res=1

William Savell, Sr. and his sons John & William

“To tables stooles chayres chests & wooden ware £08-04
to cart wheeles plow chaynes with joyners stuffe & ceder boults £19-03-06″

William Savell, Sr. probate inventory, 1669

Picking up the story of the Braintree chests I started in a previous post, here I’ll cover what we learned about the people who we think made them. The snippets of family histories pointed to the town of Braintree in Massachusetts Bay Colony as the place these works were made. Here’s the first post – https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2022/12/12/a-look-at-the-braintree-joined-chests/

I should take a moment to tell you where 17th-century Braintree, Massachusetts was – it’s much smaller now than then. South of Boston, a coastal town. Its northern end was nearly up to the south side of the Neponset River below Dorchester, down to Weymouth and its western edge was over near the Blue Hills in Canton. It encompassed the present towns of Braintree, Quincy, Randolph and Holbrook. 

So the search turned to who in Braintree might have made them. We did this research the old way – pre-internet. In the early years of this project I didn’t even have a computer. Took notes long-hand. I started by reading the town records – births, deaths, marriages – looking for any indications of someone who did woodworking. Then I read all the probate records for the town by browsing through bound volumes of them in the state archives. I made notes of any furniture forms and tools listed for anyone in Braintree. (the woodworkers got condensed into an appendix in the article Alexander & I wrote – https://chipstone.org/article.php/222/American-Furniture-1996/Seventeenth-Century-Joinery-from-Braintree,-Massachusetts:-The-Savell-Shop-Tradition

I forget the order in which we found stuff and most of my notes on this research are filed away in deep storage. An early discovery was this from the Braintree Town Records:

“John Savil Joyner died 19-9-1687”

It’s the only mention of a joiner in the town records for the 17th century. John Savell was born in Braintree in 1642,  the eldest son of William Savell and his wife Hannah (Tidd). In 1694, a note of a payment the town made for one of its poor citizens:

“five pounds to John Belcher’s widow’s maintenance, and thirty shilings to Thomas Revill for keeping William Dimblebee, and twenty-five shilings for the ringing of the bel and sweping the meeting-hous in the year 1694, and eight shilings for mending the pound, seven shilings to William Savill for dimblebe’s cofin, and eight shilings to constables for warning the Town, and five shilings for the exchang of a Town cow to Samuel Speer, and ten shilings to Thomas Bas for dept for ringing the bell formerly, this to be raised by rate.”

The William Savell who made Dimblebee’s coffin was the youngest son of William Savell. He was born in 1652 – (not 1650 as the town records cite.) So this family became a focus. What of William Savell, Sr.? He first shows up in New England records working on the “college” that later became Harvard University. In the Notebook Kept by Thomas Lechford is a petition of “William Savil, of Cambridge, joyner” essentially for under-payment for work done for Nathaniel Eaton, the first president of the college. The petition is undated, but seems to be from about 1641. 

No indication of a result was recorded by Lechford. The next we see of Savell is when John was born in Braintree just a year or so later. Why did he move from Cambridge to Braintree? No way to tell, but his sister Ann lived there, married to Samuel Bass. They had first lived in Roxbury, and were among the earliest people established in Braintree. 

William Savell lived there the rest of his life. He was married three times, first to Hannah Tidd, second to Sarah (last name unknown) and third to the widow Sarah Gannet, who was originally Sarah Mullins. William Savell’s death is listed in the Braintree records: 

“William Savill dyed the 2 mo. 6, 1669” 

Savell never held any office in the town, and there is no record of his receiving a grant or being made a freeman. However, he owned a considerable amount of property when he died in 1669. The total value of his estate was 798-17-00. On the 19th of February 1668, William Savell Sr. wrote his will. In it he left to his son John:

 “the whole House & barn & shop & tooles, stuffe as Timber pertaining to his trade…”

Included in the will is:

“my sonn William savel is to live as an Apprentice with his (i.e., William Savell, Sr.’s) sonn John Savel…until hee bee 21 years of Age”.

The inventory included:

the house and barn & a bitt of meadow                  £90-00-00
John’s house shop barn & land about 3 Acres      £120-00-00
Tables stooles chayres chests & wooden ware       £08-04-00
Cart wheels plow chaynes with joiners stuff & ceder boults         £19-03-06

Wm Savell’s inventory

The photo below is probably the first house William Savell lived in at Braintree.

Savell house, c. 1899

It was located on what is now School Street in Quincy, Massachusetts. Taken down in 1899 when they widened the street. That photo and this diagram both came from the Quincy Historical Society.

1899 widening of School St Quincy, Massachusetts

 In an article of agreement in connection with the will, the sons of William Savell, Sr. agree that the widow, Sarah (Mullins Gannett) Savell shall have:

 “…her whole estate returned to her that she brought to Our ffather for her own use & to dispose of forever with a chest with drawers & a Cubbert…” 

The details of the will provide some useful information; namely the use of cedar as well as “joiner’s stuff”, (another name for oak) and the listing of the chest with drawers, plural. There are two examples of the Braintree chests with two drawers (see the previous post). About 20 years ago, I got to see a 20th century sideboard that included a pair of drawers salvaged from one of these chests. The piece descended in the Hayward/Baxter families of Braintree and Quincy. 

detail of one of 2 drawers incorporated in a 20th c sideboard

The cedar bolts could be for fences or for joinery work. Some of the Braintree chests have what I think are riven cedar floorboards and drawer bottoms. Atlantic white cedar and Northern white cedar both rive very nicely in straight sections. 

The note about his son William living as an apprentice with John is because the son William was only 16 or 17 years old at the time. In New England apprentices usually were at least 21 at the end of their term. 

John Savell died as noted above in 1687. His will leaves to his “only son John Savell all my housing both dwelling house shop & barn…formerly given me by my father…” We never found any indication that this John Savell practiced joinery. 

William Savell the younger did joiner’s work. As noted before, the town paid him for making a coffin for William Dimblebee. Any woodworker could be called upon to make a coffin. But Savell’s probate inventory taken when he died in 1699/1700 records some interesting things. 

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 

These are the only references in all the Braintree probate records I read that include the word “wainscot” – here to designate these chests as distinct from other chests. Usually meant to be a paneled or joined chest, usually in oak. Also the value assigned to the “wainscot chest and a box” is approaching the value of a dozen chairs and a trunk…so clearly a nice chest.

Like his brother John, William had a son who did not seem to follow in his trade. Back when we wrote the article, I added this: “Another joiner who was part of the Savell shop tradition is Joseph Allen (1672–1727). He probably trained with William, Jr., before marrying his master’s niece, Abigail, in 1701. Allen’s estate included “3 chists and one box,” two axes, a hand saw, and “joyner tools.” – I wouldn’t make the claim today that Allen “probably trained with Willliam…” too much speculation. He was a joiner, he married William’s niece. But beyond that…

Saffron Walden

Now – where did William Savell, Sr come from? Saffron Walden, Essex in England. There are records there of his baptism, his sister’s as well – and her marriage to Samuel Bass. The baptism record of William Savell in 1604/1605 in Saffron Walden lists his father as William Savill (1564-1639). 

24 february William the sonn of William Savill

William Savell married Margaret Parker in 1592. He died in 1639, by which time his son William was already in Cambridge Massachusetts. His daughter Ann was born in 1601. She married Samuel Bass in Saffron Walden in 1625 and they were first in Boston, then Roxbury, then Braintree. 

The Essex Country Record Office in England has a “counterpart lease for 20 years” dated 2 April 1623. The lease is from a list of people to “William Savell of Walden, joiner and w. Margaret.” So the assumption is that William of Braintree learned his trade from his father in England. Then taught his son John in Braintree and perhaps began the training of his son William. 

As we broke the surviving chests into three main groups, they fit a scenario like this:

The Winterthur cupboard and the Smithsonian chest we attributed to William Sr. These are, in our eyes, the most developed carvings. These two objects share a trait as well – board carcases with joined fronts pegged on.

attributed to William Savell, Smithsonian Institution

Interestingly, this construction is found in Saffron Walden specifically – but the chests from there look nothing like the Braintree chest. Just the board case/joined front combo. 

Below is a photo from Penny Rumble’s article “Some East Anglian Chests” in the 1991 edition of Regional Furniture. She illustrated two chests with this construction, one found “amongst deceased effects in Saffron Walden” and this one, her fig. 7 was in the church at Saffron Walden. I seem to remember more of these turning up after this article.

The body of chests that use the convex molding, the plain bottom front rail, drawer fronts with four pinwheels instead of 6 – those we attributed to John Savell. I think he’s a great carver. There’s some differences between these panels and those found on the previous two pieces – the main one being the spandrels around the arches. Simpler here. Start with what we think is the father – the Winterthur cupboard panel:

Winterthur panel, spandrel detail

Then a chest we think is John Savell:

attributed to John Savell

Then what we think is the younger William:

William Savell (1652-1700)

Then we come to the chests with the flat plow & cove molding, run on the bottom rail as well. 6 pinwheels between the rosettes on the drawer front. These we consider to be the work of young William. Why? Well, for one thing the carving is more stiff, less fluid. Spandrels again – somewhat willy-nilly. The “S” curves in the panels are abrupt. We offer the explanation that he didn’t train with his father – but with his brother. But we just also said his brother was excellent. So what does that mean? It means we’re guessing. But we have three joiners, we have three groups of furniture – all related. All three men worked for around 25-30 years here at their trade.  

————

Another New England joiner came from Saffron Walden. Nicholas Disbrow was born there in 1613/14, the son of Nicholas Disberow. Starting with a 1610 will of William Disberowe of Walden, joiner” that mentioned his wife Katherine and “Nicholas Disberowe my son” – the next record is a marriage between this son Nicholas and Mary Gilbye in 1610 and four years later their son Nicholas was born. He’s the one who came to Hartford. 

The elder Nicholas Disberow was paid by the churchwardens of Saffron Walden for “mending of the pulpit & a seat” and for “mending of seats & for nails” in 1628 & 1629. 

The following is from:  Patricia E. Kane “The Joiners of Seventeenth Century Hartford County” in The Connecticut Historical Society Bulletin, v.35, #3, July 1970:

“NICHOLAS DISBROW is the first joiner known to have come to Hartford. He emigrated first to Dorchester, Massachusetts, and in 1635 to Hartford where, as a proprietor, he lived on a six-acre homelot in “the north side.” In 1660 the townsmen of Hartford allowed Disbrow to build a shop.  He was working as late as 1680 when he made a bedstead for John Talcott, a Hartford merchant.  The high price of £1-08-00 which he billed Talcott suggests that this was a wainscot bedstead, a form in American furniture which has not survived.

Disbrow’s inventory, taken after his death in 1683, is the single Hartford County seventeenth century joiner’s inventory in which his tools are enumerated.  They included:

plane stocks and Irons, seven chissells passer [piercerl betts and gimblets     £02-11-06
a parsell of small tools & two payer of compases & five handsawes —          £01-05-06
two fros, a payer of plyers, two reaspes a file, and a sett —–                 £00-10-06
two passer (piercer) stocks, two hammers, and fower axes                              £00-18-00
two betteles and fower wedges a bill and five augers                              £01-04-06
…two payer of Joynts & a payer of hooks and hinges
…Joyners timber and five hundred of bord.

I  dug out Kane’s dissertation and found that the bedstead reference is recorded in a notebook kept by the customer Talcott, a merchant. In New England furniture studies, Nicholas Disbrow is most well-known for something he did not do. A discovery in the 1920s of a chest  inscribed with the legend “Mary Allyns Chistt Cutte and joyned by Nich.  Disbrowe”  was shortly thereafter deemed a forgery (the signature, not the chest.) Although it has been dismissed as fake, the signature is sometimes still cited as the first piece of signed American furniture. See what happens when stuff gets in print?

Kane also recorded a bit from Cotton Mather about Disbrow:

“In the year 1683, the house of Nicholas Disbrow at Hartford, was very strangely molested by stones, by pieces of earth, by cobs of Indian corn, and other such things, from an invisible hand, thrown at him, sometimes through the door, sometimes thro’ the window, sometimes down the chimney, and sometimes from the floor of the room (tho’ very close) over his head; and sometimes he met with them in the shop, the yard, the barn, and in the field. There was no violence in the motion of the things thus thrown by the invisible hand; and tho’ others besides the man happen’d sometimes to be hit, they were never hurt with them; only the man himself once had pain given to his arm, and once blood fetched from his leg, by these annoyances’ and a fire, in an unknown way kindled, consumed no little part of his estate. This trouble began upon a controversie between Desbrough and another person about a chest of cloaths, which the man apprehended to be unrighteously detain’d by Desbrough; and it endured for divers months; but upon restoring of the cloths thus detain’d the trouble ceased.”

Well, that’s enough of that. There’s more excruciating details. But now my desk is covered with stuff that needs to go back in file cabinets. Here’s some old posts looking at the three types of carvings in the Braintree works.

https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2009/04/23/three-hands/

https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2009/04/24/three-hands-carving-again/

a look at the “Braintree” joined chests

detail of my recent copy of a “Braintree” chest

Once this was going to be a slide-lecture included in the video series I did this year. As it is I spent almost 3/4 of a day working this blog post version up, and didn’t feel like doing more work on it to turn it into a video/slide lecture. But it’s a subject that I love and I hope it’s of some interest. It’s long – you’ve been warned.

Spending much of this year either making what I call a Braintree chest with a drawer (named for the town where they were made. Sometimes a Savell chest, named for the joiners who made them – but that’s next time) or working on the videos of that work got me thinking about my relationship to this group of 17th-century chests and boxes. I’ll try to tell the story without too many detours. Many of the photos here are from old 35mm slides. The video series about making one is available at this link  https://vimeo.com/ondemand/follansbeejoinedchest and plans for making one here https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/carving-drawings-plans/

It started with the door of the cupboard in Winterthur’s study collection.

door to Winterthur cupboard

The door was disassembled, maybe by Benno Forman, then a curator at Winterthur. Jennie Alexander used to show a slide lecture about the mortise & tenon joints in that door – somewhere around 1988 that was my introduction to oak furniture of this period. JA & I went around & around about it in the years that followed, I swear she never showed us the whole object. But I will.

Winterthur cuboard

The door is a simple frame & panel – moldings on the frame, a carved arch/leaf pattern on the panel. The cupboard is not original – its format is conjectural. But the construction is correct – a joined front attached to a board carcass. The front frame is attached to the edges of the board cupboard with 3/8″ square oak pins. We’ll see more of this later.

Savell chest, joined front fixed to board sides

 Some digging showed a couple of well-known chests that use the same pattern on their panels. Wallace Nutting published one in his 1920s books Furniture of the Pilgrim Century and Furniture Treasury. This chest is part of the Nutting collection at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, CT.

Wadsworth Atheneum chest with drawer, Nutting collection

There’s two very similar chests in Boston, one at the Museum of Fine Arts and another at the Isabella Gardner Museum. 

MFA chest w drawer
Gardner Museum chest w drawer

All three of these chests have a single full-width drawer under the chest section. The Gardner has 6 lunettes across its top rail, as opposed to the 5 on the other two chests. All have 7 rosettes on the drawer fronts with 6 pinwheels between them. The rosettes are doubled-up versions of the lunettes. The construction and format are identical on all three chests. For instance, two vertical panels over one horizontal panel on the ends:

Gardner chest, end panels

And a single pine panel in back.

a related chest showing the pine panel in back

And none of those three have any recorded history. All were collected in the early 20th century. 

Henry Wood Erving, a contemporary of Nutting’s, had a similar chest, but with two drawers. He called it his “Windham” chest, having bought it in the eastern part of Connecticut. And so they all were considered Connecticut chests at that point. His was published as figure 17 in Luke Vincent Lockwood’s Colonial Furniture in America. (I’m looking at the 1913 edition – the book went through a few revisions. The chest is fig. 17 in all of them I think.) I think it’s now part of the Chipstone collection in Milwaukee. It has some differences from the others that make it stand alone to an extent. This photo is from an auction catalog when it was sold a few years back. Maybe quite a few now.

formerly Henry Wood Erving’s chest

In 1988 Sotheby’s had a similar chest offered for sale with a family history citing as the original owners John Bass and Priscilla Alden. They were married in Braintree, Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1657. This chest, now in a private collection, differs in a couple of minor ways from the three previously cited. A different molding runs on the framing parts – this one is the same molding shown on the Winterthur cupboard front. Bottom rail under the drawer is plain – the others are molded. The handling of the carving is different, but the exact same layout and format. Construction is the same. (this photo from the 1996 American Furniture article Alexander & I wrote.)

John Bass/Ruth Alden chest w drawer, private collection
convex molding with quirks from a related chest

With Bob Trent’s guidance, Alexander and I used the Sotheby’s chest’s history as a starting point and researched the group as best we could. That meant tracking down as many of the chests as we could and collecting any known histories attached to them. In addition, we measured every chest we visited. 

Although the Gardner Museum had no records about their chest, in their files was a 1930s photo of a similar chest with no drawer with a note from its then-owner, Cornelia Fiske, who lived nearby. I copied that photo and letter and began researching that chest. Where did it come from? And where did it go? I think I figured out the answers to both of those questions, but it took some time. The owner died in 1945 if I remember right. Searching her will, I made a list of names and began tracking those people. 

1930s photo Fiske chest

After many dead-ends, I made a cold phone call to information for anyone in such-and-such a town with the surname ______. (this was the early 1990s – no computer, just a typewriter and telephone) And I got one. Called the number and a very patient man listened to my long-winded explanation of my research project. After lots of back & forth, he asked me to describe the chest again. And so I did. He called me back the next evening & said he tried to contact the owner of the chest, but she was not at home. Turns out it was his mother, he told me “I’ve known that chest all my life.” I eventually met his mother, photographed the chest, got her story about it – a great result for months of searching.  

the Fiske chest, photo early 1990s

The chest was removed from a house in Medfield Massachusetts in the 1880s. Tracing the history of the family in that house showed several connections to Braintree – a town about 20-25 miles away. The chest is the first (of 2) that we saw that never had a drawer. It’s an excellent example, uses the same molding as the Winterthur cupboard and the Bass chest. 

Winterthur’s files led us to a chest and a desk box at Aetna Insurance in Hartford. The chest is refinished, but just about the same as the Bass chest. Both the Aetna and the Fiske chest have the six lunettes instead of 5. We’d later find out this is, as far as we can tell, random. 

Aetna Insurance c. 1992

So we were beginning to divide them up into two sub-groups – based on the molding used and the handling of the carving. For example, the drawer fronts – those with the “Winterthur” molding have the three middle rosettes bumped together with no pinwheel between them. And a plain bottom front rail.

drawer front detail, no middle pinwheels

Those with the other molding alternate the pinwheels and rosettes all across the drawer front. And the bottom rail is molded. 

Wadsworth Atheneum chest detail

Another lead from Wintethur was the other “no-drawer” chest in a private collection. It had been re-worked badly – new lid, refinished. But it has some great features – one is brackets under the bottom rail. No other we’ve seen yet had these, though they are common enough in 17th century oak furniture. I have wondered about the paint on this chest. I’ve hoped it’s following a period treatment, but have no evidence one way or the other. It also had some history tying it to Braintree – the chest was a wedding present to Charles French of Braintree in 1915. His uncle found it in a barn in the town. 

“bracket” chest
detail of one of the brackets under the bottom rail
a panel from that chest

Somewhere along the line I picked up a general book about antiques that showed a photo of an assortment of antiques in a home. It included a carved chest that looked like one of these. Turns out it was in the Smithsonian, so Alexander and I went there to see it one day.

Smithsonian chest

And that chest was something new – sort of. A joined front attached to a mill-sawn oak carcass. Pegged on with square wooden pins. So this gave us a piece directly related to Winterthur’s cupboard front. It was collected in Medway, Massachusetts in the 1930s. 

We found another two-drawer example in Connecticut, it had been collected there in the 1890s. Refinished and some drawer bottoms and the lid replaced, but its construction was intact. It’s by the same joiner/carver as the MFA, Gardner, Wadsworth, etc. Not too long ago this chest was auctioned – I grabbed this photo from Doyle Auctions.

braintree chest w drawers

In 1996 our article was published in Chipston’s journal American Furniture. And since then, there’s been several more that have come to light. I bought a heavily (and incorrectly) restored example in 2005. Then there were maybe 3 or 4 more that have been sold at auction, one of which I got to replace the lid for.

Well that’s the chests. There’s a couple of obvious boxes – the MFA Boston has one, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY has the other.

Metropolitan Museum of Art box

And the desk box at Aetna. All are pegged, not nailed together like most 17th-century boxes. All have two lunettes across the front. The MFA & Met boxes have a single related lunette on the ends. The desk box has a large rosette on the end, plus some filler from the chest-panel pattern. 

desk box
PF copy of the desk box

Then there was a box I almost missed. Trent & I were studying a private collection one day in the late 1990s. Just before we were to leave, either he handed me this box, or I saw it on a table. It’s pegged with square wooden pins. The ends are carved similarly to the MFA & Met boxes.

“opposing lunettes” box
end carving of the box above

The front has a pattern very different from what we’ve seen thus far. But the treatment is similar. A few years ago the box was sold and I got to see it one more time in NY. Our thought is that this box  comes from the same hand as the Winterthur cupboard and Smithsonian chest. 

Next time I tackle this subject here I’ll write about the joiners we think made them. 

Maureen’s shop update & some white pine work

This might have been a couple of blog posts, but I didn’t get to it. So folding them into one.Sometimes I catch these carvings in light that reminds me they were originally made to be seen in natural light. And as that light changes in the day or in the year, so too the effect of the decoration changes. It’s fun to think about.

late in the year, late in the afternoon.

First off – Maureen let me know she’s done the next update to her Etsy site – thanks again to those who help support the other half of our craft-world here. Here’s what she sent: “Newly added items include: wide shibori-style print silk scarves, that can even be worn as a shawl and frame-ready matted botanical eco prints dyed from late summer garden flowers and foraged plants.  There are also a few new knitted items as well as wool felted ornaments. Thanks for supporting my handwork!” https://www.etsy.com/shop/MaureensFiberArts

one of Maureen’s recent scarves

Now to what’s happening out in the shop. I had the cupboard’s lower case test-assembled so I could layout the notches for the drawer runners.

marking drawer runner notches

Because the two middle drawers are not as long as the top & bottom drawer, transferring the layout from the wider front stiles to the narrower rear stiles is a bit tricky, but manageable. Then comes sawing & chopping those notches. The photo below is the finishing touches – I can tell because the piece is not held down to the bench with the holdfasts.

drawer runner notches

Next I put the rear frame together to get the dimensions for the rear panels.

test fitting the lower case’s rear frame

Recently my friend Ted Curtin forced me to take a bunch of wide pine boards he’d been saving for 30 years. By the time they were in my shop for one day I had them all designated for different projects. I don’t have much room to store boards, plus I don’t have 30 more years.

Ted’s gift

Some ended up as the rear panels of this cupboard- first I planed one edge –

planing one edge

Then I ripped it to width before cutting it in two.

ripping to width

But that was late in the day, so the light was fading. Then I quit & worked outdoors sorting firewood for next year. The next day I finished the panels. For just one weak moment, I thought wouldn’t it be nice to build something with plain pine panels like that – then I got over it. This is the back after all. But it is a favorite wood of mine. These panels are 18 1/2″ wide. About 21″ tall/long.

clear wide pine

Some of Ted’s pine is going to be a table top for Heather’s new studio that’s underway. The wider of those boards is 21″ wide. Both are over 6′ long. This is next, after the cupboard is done. Here’s her studio underway – https://heatherneill.com/studio-blog/

HN table

The table will be something like our kitchen table. Which never ever looks like this. It usually has a cat on it. And lots of other stuff. This photo is make-believe.

kitchen table

After I got those rear panels fitted, I switched gears back to Xmas presents long over-due. More pine, the bottom & lid to this butternut box. In better light.

RF box

Back at it today, leap-frogging from one project to the next. Some chairs, the cupboard, the boxes. I can think of worse ways to spend my time.

a new bird & a loft sale

raking light

I continue to get notices of new subscribers, maybe more lately than a short while ago. This is very encouraging – I had worried that maybe blogs were falling by the wayside. Glad to see continued interest in this one. I have an Instagram page or feed or whatever-you-call them – but I’ve run out of steam with it. I’ll keep it for a while at least, but won’t give it much of my attention. I much prefer the blog – so thanks to all who’ve stuck with it and welcome to any newcomers.

For those newcomers, you wouldn’t know it lately, but often there’s birds on this blog – and finally today I got one I’ve been waiting 22 years for. This female evening grosbeak (Coccothraustes vespertinus) appeared yesterday – first time ever in our yard. But I couldn’t get a photo. It came back today & I managed to sneak a few shots. When I was first learning about birds in the 1970s these birds were common around here in winter, showing up in flocks of 20 or more. This is only the 2nd time I’ve seen one since the early 1980s. Now if only the male would show up – https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Evening_Grosbeak/overview

female evening grosbeak

Another thing that sometimes happens here is I pull things out of the loft and offer than at a reduced price. Some are there because they’re not quite “right”, others just didn’t sell & went up there. Or I never offered them for sale. There’s one of each from those categories now. From the “just didn’t sell” category – two – a box and a chair.

If you’d like to purchase any of these, send me an email or leave a comment here. You can pay with a check or paypal – I’ll tack $35 on for paypal – my email is peterfollansbee7@gmail.com

CARVED OAK BOX
H: 8″ W: 24″ D: 13 1/2″

white pine lid & bottom
$1,400 includes shipping in US. Now $1,200 SOLD

I KEEP WHITTLING THE PRICE DOWN ON THIS – HERE’S THE LAST SHOT AT IT – $1,000 – SAME GIG, SHIPPING IN U.S. INCLUDED.

oak box spring 2022
end view oak box spring 2022

The inside features a lidded till. The sides and bottoms of tills are made from what I find around the shop. In this case, a black walnut till side.

till

—————————

The other from this category is a ladderback chair with Shaker tape seat.

LADDERBACK CHAIR – SOLD 11/29
red oak posts & slats, hickory rungs. Shaker tape seat
H: 33 1/4″ W: (across front posts): 17 1/4″ D: (from rear post-tops to front posts): 16″ Seat height 17 1/4″
$1,200  NOW $1,000 including shipping in U.S.

This is one of my chairs patterned after Jennie Alexander’s chair. Mine’s a bit heavier in its parts (& overall) than JA’s. But hers were the lightest of all.

red oak & hickory chair

front view

front view ladderback chair

——————–

From the “not quite right” category – another ladderback chair. This one is asymmetrical – the only damage is to my pride, the chair is sound. Just a little off-kilter. One rear post is angled out more than its neighbor. Or less, depending on how you look at it. Tight, strong – everything about it is OK except that. Sits fine. Will outlast us all. A hickory chair with white oak slats, hickory bark seat. (In the photo below you can see the post on our left angled out more than that on the right.)

Dimensions about the same at the chair above.

LADDERBACK CHAIR – SOLD 11/30


Hickory posts & rungs, white oak slats. Hickory bark seat.
dimensions approx. H: 33 1/4″ W: (across front posts): 17 1/4″ D: (from rear post-tops to front posts): 16″ Seat height 17 1/4″
$1,000 includes shipping in U.S.

hickory & white oak chair

Another view.

hickory & white oak chair

Ah! the “never-offered” category didn’t get photographed. It’s one of the brettstuhls/board chairs. I’ll shoot it tomorrow or Friday – I’ll post it here later in the week.

chest with drawer

This chest is also available, but no discount, not an impulse buy. Contact me if you’re interested. You can always make your own, from the video series – https://vimeo.com/ondemand/follansbeejoinedchest or the plans – both of which are on sale now as well. https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/carving-drawings-plans/

chest plans by Jeff Lefkowitz & PF

My wife tells me she’ll have an update to her etsy shop soon. I saw her dyeing stuff just now, busy busy. https://www.etsy.com/shop/MaureensFiberArts

That’s enough commerce for now. I hope the make evening grosbeak shows up tomorrow.

sifting through two new logs

looking at the end grain of a red oak

Rick McKee & I went to the sawmill not too long ago & got 2 new oak logs. One red, one white. The red one’s for joinery, the white one’s for chairmaking. The past two weeks I’ve started sifting through them making them into parts of things.

starting the split

We split them at the mill, I have no way to get the whole log down to my backyard & shop. The white oak was an 8-footer, and I only bought 6′ of the red oak, leaving the mill 12′. Eighty cents a board foot. Neither of them were the best logs, but they were the best we could find in some small piles of oak logs. And they’re both working out very well, better than expected even.

short term storage

With winter coming on, storing the green wood is easier. No insects to be concerned with. Above are six-foot sections standing against a ivy-covered stone wall/embankment. Their bottom ends are not in the dirt, but standing on some reject oak sections. The greyer ones are pieces from previous collections that for one reason or another never got used. They become firewood. I like this vertical storage because it’s easier to select the next piece to work from. Rather than having to lift them from a pile, I just tilt them out and bring them down one at a time to be split further into parts. (at the top of that view is the road, just below out of sight is the riving brake, then the shop. That’s why you hear so much traffic in some of my videos).

But some green wood is in piles.

more green wood

On the north side of the shop, on timbers to keep it off the ground, is a small pile of odds & ends. One chunk of the white oak, but only four feet long. Some turning stock, maple & cherry and a longer piece (the last one) of this year’s hickory harvest. In my experience, those cheap tarps are awful at keeping things dry but they excel at keeping things wet. Now that I have the white oak for bending chair parts, I’ll soon cut up the remaining hickory and make it into Windsor chair spindles. The turning stock is for the cupboard I’m making.

planing long rails in red oak

I have framed much of that cupboard, but had a few small, but long, rails to prep. Then onto drawer fronts and backs. These parts are around 40″ long. I start by planing a clear radial face, getting it flat & true. Then hewing off the two tangential faces back outside. Then back to planing. Then back to hewing & back to planing. Not the most efficient, but a nice rhythm to it. One I’m quite familiar with.

hewing red oak

The cupboard has so many parts, more than 40 just for the frame, I label them as I make them.

drawer fronts and backs begun

But I don’t spend the whole day processing stock. I do that for the first half, then onto something else after lunch. So I got out the short square blocks that make some of the front stiles to the lower case & cut the mortises in them. These small (1 1/4″ to 1 1/2″ long) mortises are a pain. I have a hard time chopping them like a real mortise, so I bore them with an auger bit then clean them out with a chisel. So it takes twice as long. These blocks are 9 1/8″ long and 3 1/4″ square. There’s 4 of these in the lower case, and two shorter ones in the cornice. These two frame the top drawer to the lower case.

lower case front stiles

The white oak is for chair making. I’m only making one chair right now, the JA ladderback that I’m making as a video. I bent the posts for that a week ago. I don’t often get white oak – I’m a little leery of it for my joinery because I have a harder time drying it than red oak. But for chairmaking I love it. Bends like nobody’s business.

JA ladderback rear posts

Here’s a reject chair post that checked a day or two after I shaved it. It was close to the middle of the tree and pretty wiggly. That’s what I didn’t bother bending it. I just stuck it in the corner and a few days later saw the checking. The ones I used, further out in the tree, are fine.

checking in a reject white oak chair post

One chair I want to try to make this winter is Curtis Buchanan’s comb back – his “new” one which he’s been making for decades now. I needed a large chunk of thick stock to make the bending form & found some fake beams someone was throwing away at the dump. Nearly 3″ thick white pine. Perfect. This comb is 31″ long or so.

new comb back crest bent

That’s much of what I’ve been up to. Soon I’ll have the cupboard framed and begin making the parts for the moldings, etc. If you were here last year you saw that same cupboard in great detail – here’s a link to a whole big pile of blog posts about it

https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/?s=Essex+County+cupboard+project+2021

I got that by searching for “Essex County cupboard project” – the search button often can help you find stuff I’ve blathered on about for the past 14 years or so. But the organization of the material is not great. You might get swept down some rabbit holes.

Maureen’s Fiber Arts & my carving/chest plans sales

Most of you old hands here already know this, but for the new followers/readers – it’s not just me in this household who spends their time making things – my wife Maureen has been waggling her fingers away at knitting for longer than I’ve known her and took up dyeing, eco-printing and felting somewhere in the last 10 years or so.

Every so often I feature links to her work here – and with the you-know-what season fast approaching, she’s been busy. The link to her Etsy shop is https://www.etsy.com/shop/MaureensFiberArts

Here’s her note about what’s posted recently:

“I recently did some indigo dying with one of our friends who wanted a clothing update before a trip. It was fun to get into a dye vat again. From this batch I have added various indigo dyed shibori silk scarves to the shop. 

I also added –  botanical eco print wall hangings matted and ready to be framed or displayed as is. I enjoyed this botanical dying during the end of the summer and early autumn while there were still lots of green leaves and plants. These prints are a memory of this fleeting time of year. (photo up top)

Rose and I have been needle felting in the afternoons listening to some early Christmas music, relaxing and creating ornaments for Christmas trees. We hope you enjoy them. (PF adds – I can’t believe I’m posting this picture!):

In the shop you will also find – felted bowls, hand dyed silk scarves and knitted items. There will be another shop update the first week of December – shibori organic cotton scarves, knitted items and more felted ornaments, and maybe a few surprises! Thanks for your support and interest in my work.”

To which I will add my emphatic thank you as well – it always makes me feel good when she tells me she got an order from readers of the blog here – I greatly appreciate the support you all send our way.

————————

Chest Plans, Carving Drawings & Vimeo Series on Sale

Maureen’s way ahead of me getting ready for holiday sales. I doubt I’ll ever get there really. I do have a couple of things in the loft to dig out & discount just to make room up there. It’s supposed to be storage for wood and projects…but in the meantime I have gone through some paypal-button hoops and reduced the prices on two sets of drawings – https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/carving-drawings-plans/

I reduced the chest plans and the 2nd set of carving drawings by $10 each. These sale prices will be for the rest of 2022. And yes, this is a loft-space saving move as well. Lots of rolled drawings in tubes up there.

chest plans carving page

At the same time, I’ve put the chest-build video series on sale as well. It is just about all done – I keep saying I owe one carving-tool sharpening video. And I’m close to making that one, so I’ll add it before the year is out.

One more horrible plug – if you buy the video series, there’s a further discount on the plans. Spend more to save, just like the advertising always says. This video series has been a fun undertaking for me – although it’s a lot of desk work. My son Daniel left me holding the bag doing the editing (I don’t blame him, it ended up at 21 hours of video, which means a lot of time watching [for him] pretty boring videos.) – but I got a lot of practice shooting & editing video. So the next one is underway, the Jennie Alexander chair. That one I’ll shoot & edit the whole thing before I release it – no more serial woodworking video gig for me.

OK – next post is back to woodworking in the shop. Or the yard.

shaved rungs
cutting pine panels for the cupboard

Angled stiles

I’ve been working on the joinery for this cupboard I’m making. Having just done one of these last year makes this one a snap. But I couldn’t find the notched blocks I made last year to hold the stiles for mortising. They must have ended up in the stove. So I made new ones.

fitting side rails in rear stiles

But that got me to thinking about the surviving cupboards from this group. I think there’s 11 or 12 of them. I have measurements from several when I studied them with Bob Trent and Alan Miller for our 2001 article. I wondered if they used the same angles every time – I remembered that the components’ dimensions varied a little. So I drew some scaled half-plans of the upper cases.

Here’s the one I’m making, same as last year. The angle between the back edge and the side is 50 degrees. Makes a roomy cupboard inside.

MHS 50 degrees

I don’t have measurements for all of them, but checked the ones I do. Three of them came out at 45 degrees, like this one.

BHS 45 degrees

On those three, the shoulder-to-shoulder dimensions of the side rails are 14″, 14 1/4″ and 15 3/8″. Front shoulder-to-shoulders vary as well, 15″, 15 1/4 and 13 5/8″. Stiles vary only slightly – 2 3/8″ or 2 1/4″.

This cupboard is the shallowest of the ones I measured. Forget the glass door and some other oddities, those happened later. But they didn’t change the format of the piece.

restored/altered cupboard, 1680s

Its upper case is pretty shallow. Angle comes out to 35 degrees.

Currier angles

It doesn’t mean much – especially because I didn’t get those dimensions from the whole group. For comparison, I checked the side framing of the lower cases – to see how much variation there is. First of all, here’s the format I’m looking at:

PF cupboard 2021/2022

But it might be hard to visualize with all that junk applied to it. Here it is before assembly, before the pillars and applied decoration.

PF cupboard test assembly

The dimensions of the one I’m making are this:

I have measurements for four of these. They vary here and there – the shoulder-to-shoulder of those deep rails run from 14 3/4″ to 16 3-8″. These panels are 5 1/8″ wide, the others are 4 1/8″, 4 1/4″ and 4 7/8″. The part that’s interesting to me is the space between the recessed stile and the blocks/stiles that frame the top & bottom drawers. Here it is slight – 1 1/8″. One has a 2″ space there, one at 1 7/8″ and 1 3/8″. But the final overhang, from the recessed drawer/face to the top & bottom drawer faces is quite consistent – 4 3/8″, 4 3/8″, 4 5/8″ and one at 5 1/4″.

The one with the greater overhang is the one at the Metropolitan Museum of Art –

Cupboard, 1680–85 American, Oak, maple, tulip poplar with oak and pine; 58 1/4 x 49 1/2 x 20 3/4 in. (148 x 125.7 x 52.7 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Rogers Fund; Sage Fund, by exchange; Sansbury-Mills Fund; Anthony W. and Lulu C. Wang Gift, in honor of Morrison H. Heckscher; and Friends of the American Wing Fund, 2010 (2010.467a–p) http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/20612

There’s no conclusion to all this looking at these measurements. Other than they didn’t have a standard size/angle to work with or from. And I can’t imagine I’ll be making a third one of these – but I’ll hang on to those blocks just in case.

plowing panel grooves

Crease moldings

scratch-stock molding in oak

Today I was making some moldings on the faces of framing parts for the cupboard I’m making. I can’t remembe when I last showed these, so thought I’d add this post. I call them “crease” moldings – from 17th century references to molding planes. There’s mainly three kinds of moldings I see – applied moldings (I’ll skip them for now) and two sorts of integral moldings. Those on the edge of a board and those that run down the center of the stock. While lots of moldings were probably made with creasing planes, some were not. I make the ones down the middle with a plow plane and a scratch stock/scraper.

Here’s just a couple of references to start off – these are probate inventories from New England. 

1661 Jonathan Proudfoot, Cambridge

2 frameing Sawes 6s,  a Handsaw 3s,  3 axes 10s,  a 2 foote rule 12d, 5 chessels & a gouge 2s6d,  2 Squares 3s6d,  Twibell 3s,  an ads 2s,  an Holdfast 12d,  2 Hamers 2s,  5 planes 9s,  a plow to draw boords 2s,  a stocke shave 1s,  9 creasing planes 8s, a peece Sole leather 12d,  a grindstone & winch 8s,  10 peeces of Square Timber 1£,  pine boords 12s

Another reference, this time from Essex County

1675,  Georg Coall (Cole)

 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

Interesting that in George Cole’s case the planes are distinct from the hollow & round planes listed before them. Revolving planes – goodness knows. Might be a mis-transcription too, I’ve never seen the original of this document, only a transcription. 

So some moldings are made with planes for certain. But for many of mine, I use a scratch-stock (a profiled scraper in a wooden stock). Why? Well, in addition to the inventory references, there’s the evidence on surviving furniture. Look at this wiggly molding on a small joined chest from Dedham Massachusetts:

detail, chest from Dedham Massachusetts

And another from the same shop – here the molding on the top and middle rails fades out before reaching the end of the stock. 

detail chest with drawer, Dedham Massachusetts

I think both of these results are hard to get with a plane. And another argument for scraping some moldings is this chest from New Haven Colony – its molding has its full profile then in a very short distance it fades to almost nothing. Again, I can’t see how you can cut that with a typical molding plane with a body of any reasonable length. 

detail joined chest, New Haven Colony

It’s especially significant over the middle panel – in that case the whole run of molding is only about 10″ long.

detail over middle panel, New Haven chest

The ones I was cutting today come in two steps. First I plow a groove 1/2″ wide down the length of the stock.

plowing a groove first

Then I use a scraper/scratch stock I made to scrape the profiles on each side of the plowed groove.

scratch stock

We have no idea what the scraper/scratch stock of the 17th century was called or what it looked like. So mine’s just what works easily. I made it like a marking gauge, adjusted by a wedge fence. The scraper slips into a saw kerf in the beam. then pinched in place with a screw.

scratch stock

Joseph Moxon describes a tool on a trammel which he calls a “sweep” for making moldings on arches. It’s hard to tell if his scraped or cut the moldings like a plane does…but it’s the closest I’ve come in 17th century writings to describing a scratch stock. And it ain’t close really.

Moxon’s sweep

Moxon on the turner’s sweep,

Of laying Moldings either upon Mettal, or Wood, without fitting the Work in a Lathe

I Had, soon after the Fire of London, occasion to lay Moldings upon the Verges of several round and weighty pieces of Brass: and being at that time, by reason of the said Fire, unaccomodated of a Lathe of my own, I intended to put them out to be Turned: But then Turners were all full of Employment, which made them so unreasonable in their Prizes, that I was forc’d to contrive this following way to lay Moldings on their Verges.

I provided a strong Iron Bar for the Beam of a Sweep: (For the whole Tool marked (D) in Plate 16, is by Mathematical Instrument-makers called a Sweep) To this Tool is filed a Tooth of Steel with such Roundings and Hollows in the bottom of it, as I have intended to have Hollows and Roundings upon my work: For an Hollow on the Tooth, makes a Round upon the Work; and a Round upon the Tooth makes a Hollow upon the Work; even as they do in Molding-plains Joyners use. Then I placed the Center- point of the sweep in a Center-hole made in a square Stud of Mettal, and fixed in the Center of the Plain of the Work, and removed the Socket that rides on the Beam of the Sweep, till the tooth stood just upon its intended place on the Verge of the Work, and there screw’d the Socket fast to the Beam.

To work it out, I employ’d a Labourer, directing him in his Left Hand to hold the Head of the Center-pin, and with his Right Hand to draw about the Beam and Tooth, which (according to the strength) he us’d, cut and tore away great Flakes of the Metall, till it receiv’d the whole and perfect Form the Tooth would make; which was as compleat a Molding as any Skillfull Turner could have laid upon it.

Having such good Success upon Brass, I improv’d the invention so, as to make it serve for Wood also. And make a Plain-Stock with my intended Molding on the Sole of it, and fitted an Iron to that Stock with the same Molding the Sole had.

Through the sides of this Stock I fitted an Iron Beam, to do the Office of the Beam I used for the Sweep, viz to keep the Plain always at what position I lifted from the Center (for thus the Iron in the Plain wrought about the Center, even as the Tooth in the Sweep (before rehearsed) and to that purpose I made a round Hole of about half an Inch Diameter near the end of the Iron: then in the Center of the Work I fixed a round Iron Pin, exactly to fit the said round Hole, putting the round Hole over the pin, and fitting the Iron onto this Stock commodious to work with. I used this Plain with both hands, even as Joyners do other Plains: For the Iron Pin in the Hole of the Beam kept it to its due distance from the Center; so that neither hand was ingaged to guide it.

But note, The Stock of this Plain was not straight (as the Stocks of other Plains are) but by Hand cut Circular pretty near the size of the Diameter of the intended Molding; And yet was made to slide upon the Beam, farther from or nearer to the Center, as different Diameters Verges might require.