Resuming joinery; take 2 or 3

incised strapwork pattern

I’ve been working in the shop lately, mostly half-days. I looked back at the blog posts for the past month-plus. In mid-August I thought I was recovering from Lyme disease. Boy was that wishful thinking. You don’t need the gory details, but I’m perhaps back on the mend. Again.

I did video work yesterday, carving a strapwork pattern. This is part 2 in a series that’s tied to the 2nd set of carving drawings. I’ll end up carving maybe 3 or 4 different related designs. This time it’s in Alaskan yellow cedar (Callitropsis nootkatensis) – I sometimes feel guilty using this wood, then I remember people make decks from it. At least my boxes can last lifetimes if cared for.

carved strapwork

I have the video shot now and have begun editing it. Should be done and posted here & youtube in a few days. Here’s the finished piece, with a finish and better light.

strapwork in Alaskan yellow cedar

Rick McKee’s been here a bit lately. https://www.instagram.com/medullary_rick/?hl=en He’s gone nuts for spoon carving and all I can do is talk about it with him. Not because I’ve been laid-up, just because I haven’t carved spoons in ages & ages. So during a break in the afternoon, I dug out my basket to see what’s in it – I didn’t carve these today so much as I picked away at them here & there. I might go looking for some crooks and take up spoon carving.

spoon carving throwback

And the oak furniture just looms over me. I have been sorting through whatever stock is in the shop and bit by bit making parts for the cupboard I’m building. And at the same time, checking the text I’m writing to see if there’s any photos I need to shoot. It’s hard to imagine I missed any last year, I must have shot thousands. But there’s always one or two…somehow I didn’t have one of the plow plane in action.

part of the back, part of the side
plowing a panel groove

And the joined chest video project – also in semi-limbo. This holdup is me. The next step is making the oak lid and I’m not quite there yet. It will be 3 quartersawn boards, ripped, planed, glued-up, then planed. All pretty physical. So it waits a bit longer. If you’re a subscriber to that series, no, I haven’t forgotten. It’s coming as soon as I can get to it.

joined chest still waiting for me

I did do a test-paint job recently, thinking about this project. 30 years ago I made my first version of this particular chest and I painted the carvings and loved the result.

early 1990s joined chest

And I’ve never been able to get the same results. I ruined a chest and a box or two in trying… I did a test piece a few weeks ago. Might try one or two more samples and see if I get up the nerve. The sample is close. Not quite there, but close.

getting close

here’s the carving drawings page – https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/carving-drawings-plans/

and the chest video series is here https://vimeo.com/ondemand/follansbeejoinedchest

First joinery for the next cupboard

I started cutting joinery for the next version of the Essex County cupboard.

part of the lower case’s end framing

I hate to use the word “unique” when describing particular antique furniture. But these northern Essex County cupboards from the 1680s or so have some features that we don’t see elsewhere in New England furniture of that period. The framing I cut in the past day or two (part of the end framing of the lower case) illustrates some of that distinction. Two very deep (or tall) end rails are the first feature that stands out – these appear in the cupboards and also in some of the joined chests from this unidentified shop. These two are each 7 1/2″ high. Below is the original cupboard now at the Massachusetts Historical Society

MHS cupboard detail

Those double tenons on the rails join a “normal” stile at the rear, but at the front they join separate square blocks that are connected by the large turned pillar. Behind that pillar is a recessed stile that frames the middle two drawers. This recessed section, or the overhang above and below it, is part of this shop’s signature approach to making large cupboards.

So what’s “normal” look like? Here’s another shop from Essex County, another elaborate cupboard (at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem). But look at the lower case, essentially a chest-of-drawers. All the drawer fronts are in the same plane – none of that overhanging “jetty” like the northern Essex County stuff. This is what most New England court/press/wainscot cupboards present for their lower case, whether it’s drawers or doors down there.

Symonds shop cupboard

Some of the overhangs are significant, some very slight. Here’s the one at Winterthur that Jennie Alexander used to call the “lunar lander.” Here the overhang is to the sides, not the front.

Winterthur cupboard

And the most extreme example, even with its later additions/changes – the Currier Gallery of Art cupboard. It has double-jetties both to the sides and the front in the lower case. Framing that takes some head-scratching.

Currier Gallery of Art

The deep rails appear on the joined chests-with-drawers, usually as the bottom rail on the ends. Here’s just one example.

Wadsworth Atheneum chest with drawer

It’s fun to be back at this sort of work. Time for a new log so I can keep going.

a couple of new chairs

butternut chair 2022

I built this chair a while ago, but added a linseed oil finish lately and now it’s presentable. I’ve lost track but this might be about the 6th of these chairs I’ve made in the past couple years. I’ve written before about my introduction to them through Drew Langsner’s long-ago article about one he made with his mentor Ruedi Kohler, the Swiss cooper. Like Drew, another big influence on my work was Daniel O’Hagan (1923-2000). I met him through Drew’s classes back in the 1980s. When I met Daniel, I owned a tablesaw, jointer, drill press, electric lathe, circular saws, portable electric drills, etc. I came home after one week with him and made a couple of phone calls and all those tools left my shop at once. That was 1985. I’ve never missed them.

I’ve had the chance recently to read through his old notes. Daniel wrote about these chairs in his shop notes over the years. That’s what spurred me to revisit making these European style chairs. They’re great fun to make. Just the right combination of ease and complexity.

1969 notes about German style chairs

This one is butternut again. The carving is a mish-mash, I really wasn’t concentrating on it, I just wanted to quickly fill the blank spaces. Mixing chip carving and gouge-cut carvings is silly, but my goal was to get on with the chair itself.

through tenons where the legs meet the battens and seat

When I first made them, I was following the article by Drew. At that point, Ruedi Kohler had adapted his chairs to use blind tenons where the legs met the battens under the seat. I did the same for my first several chairs. On this one, I decided to go ahead and bore those mortises through both the battens and the seats. This invites the seat to split – the battens run 90 degrees to the seat’s long fibers. The minute I assembled this one, I liked it. The reason? It looks like the old chairs I see in museum collections, etc. Maybe it’ll split, we’ll see. Some do, some don’t.

butternut with ash legs

I’m going to do a couple more with this format – the 3-piece back. It’s 2 extra joints, but only needs some narrow stock. And I like the open space in the back of the chair.

I also finished an arm chair based on the plans developed by Curtis Buchanan and Jeff Lefkowitz.

shaved windsor armchair

Although I tinkered a bit with Curtis’ details, I’m a copyist when it comes to a chair like this. This one’s got red oak arms, white pine seat and the rest is hickory. The major change I made I’ve discussed here before, I used a rectangular tenon where the crest meets the posts. Curtis’ is a bored 3/8″ hole in the post and he shaves the crest down to fit. I wanted to keep the crest full-height across the chair. That means I can’t “crown” the crest like he does, in fact it tends to droop a bit in the middle. It’s a trade I like. The crowning is more important to Curtis than the ends of the crest.

shaved windsor 2022

This is my 2nd attempt at this arm chair, (I’m sitting in the first one here at my desk) and I’ve made maybe 3 or 4 of the side chairs. This one went the best – no hassles. All the joints were tight but not so tight as to split any of those parts. It went like it was supposed to. Finally. Maybe I really can re-learn how to make windsors. We’ll see.

Curtis’ plans are here – https://www.curtisbuchananchairmaker.com/store/c8/Plans_for_Arm_Chairs.html

Some of my posts about brettstuhls https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/?s=brettstuhl

back at the bench

I’ve been in the shop part-time lately, just hadn’t taken any photographs. I have been spending part of my time making chair parts from a section of hickory I brought home from my bark-trip in July. Still trying to relearn what I used to know 30 years ago. I can’t find stuff I had last week, but I knew just where the old plans for these chairs were. This is a comb for a comb-back armchair.

bent comb for Windsor chair

And an arm for it. Not the best bend, but the best I’ve done this past week. The few wrinkles will plane out when I go to use the arm.

off the form, but tied to keep its bend til I need it

But yesterday was my first day back to joinery in nearly a month. Started making the drawer parts for the joined chest video series. I cut the drawer front to fit the opening. Looks like it’s all done, but those are the drawer sides tucked under the chest.

looks like it has its drawer

I want the front to have some space all around it so it doesn’t stick. This is why I had business cards printed all those years ago.

checking the spacing

I plowed a groove in the drawer sides to match the runner that’s set in the drawer opening.

This test-fit is too tight. Needs a couple of shavings off the top edge of the drawer side.

too tight

Like this:

better

Next up is half-blind dovetails, rabbets and nails.

next video available: Carving the Drawer Front

I finished work on the next video in the Joined Carved Chest series. This one I’ve been looking forward to – Carving the Drawer Front.

detail of the drawer front carving

Some simple geometry and only about 5 or 6 carving tools combine to create a very full pattern across the drawer front. I’ve always liked this design and have used it as box fronts a number of times. I put together a lengthy sample (5 minutes) of what’s in the full 90-minute video. The video series is at vimeo.com/ondemand/follansbeejoinedchest

When Jennie Alexander and I studied these chests in preparation for our article about them, we sorted them into two main groups attributed to John Savell (1642-1687) and his brother William Savell (1652-1700). Our findings were that John used a different pattern than William – but only slightly different. This drawer, from the chest at Wadsworth Atheneum is, we believed (& I still believe), the work of William –

drawer attributed to William Savell

But the drawers from chests we felt were John Savell’s skipped the pinwheels around the middle of the drawer. A very small distinction, but one that requires some extra thought in the layout.

drawer attributed to John Savell

The video shows how to carve the one with fewer pinwheels, but it would be easy enough to adjust the geometry to do the other instead. Here’s one I did years ago for a chest I restored.

replacement drawer front on period chest

Starting the next one before this one’s done

tip of the iceberg

As usual. An hour or two here & there, a half-day yesterday and I’ve begun the next project. These perfect oak boards I rived, hewed and planed from some bolts leftover from the joined chest I’m building. These are the beginnings of another joined press cupboard/wainscot cupboard – whatever you call it. The same as last time, but now I’m all warmed up. Plus I don’t have to photograph every blessed step of the way. So later this summer into the fall (& probably early winter) the blog will look a lot like it did last year. If you’re new here, this is what I’m talking about. I made that one during 2021, finished in early 2022.

joined cupboard

For those who want to see the shop as it really is – not tidied up for photographs – here’s the shot right before cleanup yesterday after working about 3 hours on planing boards.

mayhem

While I was working, the chest sat where the camera is for this photo. Things got shifted into the chest and onto one bench while I worked at the other. Then it all got shuffled again so I could clean up. Seems the shavings pile is always bigger than the board-pile.

The chest got its first coat of linseed oil today. I always like the way the carvings get better definition from the finish.

oiled carvings

I spent a full day last week shooting video of carving the drawer front. So that will be the next installment in the chest-video-series. Probably a week away. https://vimeo.com/ondemand/follansbeejoinedchest

drawer front detail

While all that is happening Jeff Lefkowitz and I are plugging away at the drawings and plans for the chest.

Jeff’s work

That translates to I find stuff I missed and write to Jeff to tell him we (he, really) has to redraw this or that detail. And he does it without complaint. I don’t know how much you know about Jeff’s work, but it’s outstanding. He really puts a huge effort into these drawings, wanting them to be the best they can be. If you’re not familial with his work, he’s done plans for Curtis Buchanan, Pete Galbert, Tim Manney, Jarrod Dahl, Dawson Moore, Bern Chandley and others I’ve missed. And two series of carving patterns with me. He makes us all look good. He does this in addition to his own chair work and teaching. See Jeff’s sites here – http://www.jefflefkowitzchairmaker.com/ and https://www.instagram.com/jefflefkowitz/?hl=en

There’s no timetable for the plans. They’ll be ready when we’re done. But we’re getting closer. You’ll hear about it.

done

I finished the chair yesterday. Somewhere along the way I drew up this template showing the sightlines I use to bore the leg mortises. I tape it right to the battens, stick a block of scrap wood under it so the adjustable bevel will sit on it and set the bevel & bore away.

sightlines

It works pretty well. The auger bit chews up the oak battens some because it’s canted over pretty far – 25 degrees. Having the back’s uprights in place helps keep the legs from hitting those through tenons coming down from above. The back edge of the template is 4 3/4″ from the seat’s back edge. It worked perfectly, the legs miss the tenons by about 1/4″ or more.

boring leg mortises

Usually on the old chairs, the leg tenons come through both the battens and the seat. This cross-grain construction – the battens run perpendicular to the seat – almost guarantees that the seat will crack. Except sometimes it doesn’t. In all of my previous versions of this sort of chair I did the joinery so the leg tenons only penetrated the battens. This time I made the leg tenons long enough to come all the way through. So I threw the switch in my head that told me not to do it – and bored the mortises through the battens and seat. And glued and wedged the legs in place.

in for a penny

I didn’t think I’d like the tenons poking through the seat board, but I do. It’ll show up better when I put a finish on the chair. Then decades from now it will be harder to see again. Ash legs, butternut seat and back.

July 2022 brettstuhl

I’m going to tinker some more with these 3-piece backs, but I do have some wide walnut waiting to be brettstuhls. And one more ash bolt to rive. Better get to it.

Sneaking a chair into the mix

In between long sessions trying to get video of the heron striking chipmunks and even longer sessions working on the videos for the joined chest series, I’ve begun another Alpine chair/brettstuhl/stabelle/what-do-you-call-’em chairs. I found a couple more boards of butternut for the seat and back(s) and have some ash legs I roughed out a while ago.

The shape of these uprights & crest pieces is derived from a photo Chris Schwarz and his Chair-Chat friends Rudy & Klaus sent me. The carvings I made up – and it’s weird to have chip carving mixed with gouge-cut carvings. But I wanted to fill the spaces as quickly as I could. So that’s what I ended up with.

back assembly

This time the battens are dovetailed with a plane. My notebook tells me it was 7 months ago when I last did one this way. So some head-scratching coming up to cut the housings accurately. I guess the problem is laying them out accurately. Once that’s done cutting them shouldn’t be that big a deal.

using the Ulmia dovetail plane

I bore the waste out of these mortises for the back. First in the seat itself. Then once I’ve cut the housings, I’ll insert the battens and finish boring & cutting those mortises. Clunky approach but it helps me get cleaner results.

13/16″ auger bit & Spofford brace

Today I posted the next video in the chest series. Making the floor boards. 5/8″ white pine, tongue & grooved edges. It’s always a fun part of making the chest.

test-fitting the floor

The tongue & groove is a funny one. Not made with matched planes. Nor is it just a rabbet on the top & bottom face – for some reason they rabbeted the top and beveled the bottom to make the tongue. So that’s what I did.

tongue & groove

I didn’t bother with a trailer, I was tired of computer work & wanted to go work on the chair. There’s plenty of trailers for other episodes if you would like to see what the videos look like. You can find the trailers here https://www.youtube.com/user/MrFollansbee/featured

And the full series – now at 11 episodes and 13 1/2 hours. With lots more to come. vimeo.com/ondemand/follansbeejoinedchest

I went to the end of the shop for a tool & spooked the heron the other day. A relief for the chipmunks. Got a couple of flight shots, which I rarely get in focus.

gone for now but back before you know it

Gotta go see if he’s out there now.

Carving Panels video available

one of these panels I carved some time ago

I just uploaded to vimeo-on-demand the most recent video in my series on making a carved joined chest. This one is carving the panels. It’s about 90 minutes long and took me a ridiculous amount of time to put together. These chests have 4 panels of the same pattern across the front. So I shot video of carving 3 of them. On 2 cameras. And had a crazy number of clips (over 80!) to choose from, trying to get just the right angle, just the right detail, etc. 

joined chest w drawer, 1660-1690

I always say this, but these chests are my certified favorites. Back in the late 1980s when Jennie Alexander first hooked me into studying 17th-century oak furniture, the subject was a cupboard by these joiners – William Savell and his sons John & William.

one of JA’s slides of the Winterthur cupboard

Well, we didn’t know that part then, all we knew was there was this cupboard fragment at Winterthur and some related chests here & there in public collections. So we began a long journey to study about 12 of them and research their history. The result was a 1996 article in Chipstone’s American Furniture. https://www.chipstone.org/article.php/222/American-Furniture-1996/Seventeenth-Century-Joinery-from-Braintree,-Massachusetts:-The-Savell-Shop-Tradition

Since then, I’ve acquired and restored a beat-up one and seen a few other beauties. 

Braintree chest restored

The first carvings I learned to do were the lunettes and panels in these chests. And I’ve carved them here & there ever since. There’s a section in my book on carving them – but I’ve never carved the panels on video until now. 

leaf tips

When I started this video series last winter, after seeing Pete Galbert’s series, I expected it to run about 12 videos and maybe 20 hours. RIght now this is the 11th video and it’ll be up to about 12 1/2 hours thus far. So much for my estimates – the chest isn’t even assembled yet. Videos to come include cutting & fitting the floor (next time), ditto the till, fitting the rear panel, then assembling the chest. Making, carving & fitting the drawer. Making & hinging the lid. I’m sure I’ve forgotten one or two. Sharpening carving tools – I can’t believe I agreed to that, but it’s about time I dealt with it. 

Meanwhile here’s today’s trailer about the Panel-Carving video. The video is available as a stand-alone (each episode is) for $15 or as part of the whole kit and caboodle for $100. See vimeo.com/ondemand/follansbeejoinedchest 

There is a condensed video that’s a different chest. Years ago I shot a video with Lie-Nielsen. It’s just under 4 hours https://www.lie-nielsen.com/products/joined-chest-stream?path=home-education-videos&node=4243

Pete Galbert’s Foundation of  Chairmaking is the piece that got me on this path. I bought it, it’s excellent.  vimeo.com/ondemand/galbertfoundations 

Like Riding a Bike

Easier, even. Last week some friends came by for a long-delayed visit with a distinct focus. Lately, Rick McKee https://www.instagram.com/medullary_rick/?hl=en & Justin Keegan have been carving spoons a lot and they came over to see a pile of them for ideas & inspiration. Pret came too, but he’s got a slew of spoons at his house that parallels my pile. I haven’t carved any spoons for over a year so I wasn’t sure what I had to add other than access.

PF, Justin & Pret
some of that heap

We spent quite a bit of time looking at examples from makers known & unknown. Tip of the iceberg. In the course of things, Justin found one he really loved and asked who made it. “Oh, an English carver named Adam Hawker.” He about flipped out – has apparently been stalking Adam’s spoons on the web. https://www.instagram.com/adamhawker1/?hl=en

Justin freaks out over Adam’s spoon

What I didn’t expect is that I’d be inspired as well. Their excitement got me to dig through my basket & carve an old dry cherry spoon, then I got out some fresh apple & hewed & carved another the next day. It remains to be seen if I finish either of them – but at this point I still like them. Why risk that by finishing them?

cherry on top as they say

I’ve been working away on the joined chest video series. I made the floor boards last week – white pine, tongue & grooved.

Test fitting the floor boards

Then yesterday I carved the first 2 of four panels.

two of four

Hopefully next week I’ll cut the till parts and do the assembly. Meanwhile, I added a video yesterday to the site – cutting the joinery for the rear section and fitting panels in the ends. I hope to have these next 2 videos (the floor and the carvings) next week as well. There’s a link in the sidebar – for some reason I can’t make it link in here today. Instead it throws in this trailer for the overview of the project…

One more thing – one of the carved boxes from the other day, but there’s still the chair and an oak box. I moved them to a page “furniture for sale, June 2022” – link is in the header and here https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/furniture-for-sale-june-2022/

and a couple of birds – a female common yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) down by the river

and a great crested flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus) that almost flew into the shop last month

great crested flycatcher

And while I hate, loathe & despise smart phones, I like the ipad. I loaded the Merlin app on mine, stick it in the window & let it listen for what birds are out in the yard. What fun…

listening