Closing in on the end of this bedstead. It’s been ages; I have the best customers, so patient!
This week one of the tasks I did was cutting out the rosette-shapes on the tops of each bedpost. I carve the designs in them when the post is solid, then cut them out afterwards. The ash posts are 2″ x 3 1/2″. It starts with some saw kerfs:
Then chisel-work down to that saw cut:
Here’s a closer view of some of that work:
To clean up those chisel-cuts, I pare across the posts’ thickness with a very sharp paring chisel. This leaves a faceted surface. If this one is like our bedstead, these will get a great patina from handling them.
I bevel the backs too – just to remove any sharp corners.
Here’s one from the foot of the bed:
We’ve had very few winter ducks this season so far. Today in the afternoon, there was great light on a female common goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) so I snuck (or sneaked) down to the river to take a few photos.
I shot some photos as I painted the table frame last weekend. Above is a detail of the squiggles; these are based on a table at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; but squiggle painting appears on several pieces of furniture from late in the 17th century. First, I had to alter a brush to make a series of parallel stripes. I just snipped some of the bristles with a tiny pair of scissors. The brush below turned out to be no good, the bristles were too soft, so blended into a solid black line instead of a sequence of lines. But this is the idea. The brush is sitting on a photo showing a detail from the Met’s table.
This time I mixed the dry pigment in thinned hide glue. I needed to keep it warm, if the glue cools it gets too thick to paint with. I ended up with the glue/water/pigment mixture in a small glass jar sitting in dish of very hot water. Worked fine that way.
It’s a bit daunting painting this stuff – to look right, it needs a pretty free-hand flair. But it’s scary trying to just wing those curvy lines across all that blank oak. Below you can see the brush I switched to – it’s stiffer so does the trick better. I found I was getting about three passes with each charge of the brush. If I kept going past that point, the paint started to look too thin, instead of a bold vivid black.
The first side of the table was easy, but soon I needed to prop it up so I could get at it, without laying the freshly-painted surface on the floor. I found I could just lean it against the bench and carry on. By the time I was half-done I had the confidence to just paint quickly and freely.
This paint dries very quickly, but I still left it another day before working on it again. Then I installed the top. I set the top in place, adjusted it until I had the overhang the way I wanted it (just-about-even on every side in this case) and then clamped it in place. Then I cut strips of matboard to the same width as the overhang, and laid them on top of the table. This showed me where the stile/frame is. Then I could eyeball boring the holes for the pegs that fasten the top in place. There was too much sun to get a good picture; but you can see the matboard here. The cleats on the ends have not been trimmed yet.
I pegged into each stile, and also one peg in each rail. So eight altogether. With a quartesawn top, I don’t expect much movement, and none of consequence.
I moved the lathe out of the way, so I could shoot this table (& build the bedstead that’s next up for completion).
The table top is 43 1/2″ square, and the whole thing is about 29″ high. It’s heavy. Stiles and stretchers are 2 3/4″ square.
Here’s the table and two joined stools that Daniel & I delivered to Cutchogue, Long Island yesterday. These are part of a series of things I’m making for the Old House there. The stools are based on a Long Island example in a private collection. Straight in all views – no canted or raked angles on these stools. Unusual that way.
I’m not big on the New Year’s Eve situation, but I did turn on the third set from the Closing of Winterland while I’m writing this post. 2018 has been quite a year from my perspective. Among lots of other projects and programs, the Australia trip was a stand-out, now that the horrors of the flights have passed. But Jennie Alexander’s death was the defining moment. If you’ve been following this blog a while, you’ll know that even before JA died, I had been putting a good bit of attention into re-learning how to make the iconic JA chair. I just put a hickory bark seat on one the other day, and a Shaker tape seat on one a couple of weeks ago.
As I work these chairs, I’ve been thinking about chair-making, furniture history and the various forms of this post-and-rung chair over the years and across several cultures. When I first learned the chair from JA and Drew Langsner, I just assumed the shaved chair was the principal format. As I learned about furniture history, I found out that the turned chair version was more common historically than the shaved one. Regardless of the fabrication method, the construction is the same – dry rungs fitting into posts with some moisture still in them. Here’s a turned chair I made about 16 years ago, also ash with oak slats & arms. Several times heavier than the previous chair.
I kept a lot of Alexander’s books, among them is “Handicrafts of the Southern Highlands” – it includes this paragraph about chairmaking:
“The posts for the chair frame, commonly maple…are cut and worked while green, but the rounds or rungs, usually of hickory, are well seasoned…as the green posts shrink over the ends of the already dry hickory rounds, they grip them in a vise “which will hold till the cows come home…”
There’s more to this joint than that, but it’s the gist of it. That was written in the 1930s. Over the years, as I specialized in 17th-century reproductions, I made lots of chairs. This year, in addition to about 6 of the JA chairs, I made the usual wainscot (joiner’s) chair, it has no relationship to the rest of these chairs tonight:
The only period-style post & rung chair I made this year was the Bradford chair; a board-seated chair with four legs. The joinery at the seat level is more complicated than the usual wet/dry joint, but all the other horizontal tenons are done just like on the smaller chairs.
Back in my museum work. I used to also make very quick, rough shaved chairs with rush seats. These latter were mostly derived from one example I knew at first. Over time I got to see others too. Mostly they’re known from Dutch paintings and other artwork. One of mine from way back when, maple & oak:
This style hung on over the centuries. Many years ago I wrote a post about old chairs some friends have collected, including this one:
I’ve seen these described as “birch” and being French Canadian. Not sure where that story comes from. Through tenons, rung-skipper (no middle rung in back. Very commonly done this way). These rear posts were sawn to that canted shape, not bent. Here’s that original post: https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2013/08/29/house-of-chairs/
Jennie Alexander often told the story of how s/he switched from turning chairs to shaving them. I always thought s/he never went back to a turned chair, but when we cleaned out the shop, our friend Nathaniel showed me this chair, a late-period JA chair turned on the lathe. I think it was a collaboration with Nathaniel. Thicker at the foot.
But in all of these, the concept of tenons drier at assembly than they will be in life, driven into mortises in wetter posts working together for a joint that will “hold till the cows come home…” is the common thread.
I finished my square table by mid-day on the last of the year, just under the wire. I’ll write about the squiggle paint soon. I have one leftover piece to finish before I start in on my 2019 projects, but there will be chairs. Count on it.
The last few months I haven’t done much carving. The tables I’ve been making have turnings and moldings, but that’s it for decoration. I have just started splitting some great oak that has some sections perfect for boxes. I just started one the other day from some short remnants of white oak.
I did carve the stiles for a long-awaited bedstead. In ash. Here’s the topper for the headboard’s stiles:
I think I had a chunk of this bedstead on the blog recently, but here is the headboard & footboard nearly done. Right after shooting these photos for Instagram, I started the plain paneling to go under the carved bits of the headboard. After that comes the long rails.
Thinking about carving has me looking at patterns/designs – whichever they are. I had written once about the elements of some panel carvings I often use – it must have been when I was carving the bedstead parts.
From time to time, I’ve been putting various designs in drawing books. I’ve done them lots of different ways, sometimes shaded in showing the background and shaping. Other times just line drawings. Here’s a page from one of those notebooks, showing the components of what looks like a complicated design.
But when you break this pattern down, it’s three elements, running one into the next. In this next drawing, that fleur-de-lis pattern on the right gets wedged between the other two to form the design.
the most recent time I used this design was 2 years ago when I was building my shop. I carved it on some braces; once on the wrong side. This one won’t be seen again until the shop is re-sheathed, or taken down:
I had forgotten that I carved a variation on it years ago on top rail and muntins of this chest. This is the only photograph I have of this one:
Christmas 2017 we saw two foxes during the day, across the river. This Christmas I happened to look out the window around 7:30 am, and there were two foxes in the yard. I startled this one when I opened the back door to shoot a picture.
I know winter is settling in when these two hawks start hanging around side-by-side, just above the river.
We’ve had some great light these days. This is the mouth of the river, down on the Duxbury/Kingston line:
And – one more. Back up river at our place. I like this winter light.
I worked today on the top for the square table I’m making. I have only made this form 3 times now; once many years ago, and two this year. It’s rare to find them in New England with their original top in place. I studied one back in the 1990s, and its cleats were seemingly just attached with a tongue and groove. I was never quite sure; without taking them off it’s hard to tell. All I have is an old slide that I scanned years ago –
I made one like that once, and was never happy with the cleats. Too fragile. When I made a few large tables for clients recently, I delved into conjecture and made cleats that are mortised to house tenons cut on the ends of the tabletop. That’s what I did today on the square table in progress. This time, I included a tongue-and-groove as well, to seal up any gaps that might show up between the tabletop and cleats. Here’s how I did it:
The finished top, including the cleats will be 43 1/2″ square. I have glued up 6 radially-sawn oak boards. These are the best quartersawn boards I had; growth rings perfectly perpendicular to the boards’ faces. That way they’ll stay flat. Or mostly flat. Here I’m going over the top with a finely-set plane across the board to get things reasonable.
checking with a straightedge.
Then I laid out what amounts to a 43 1/2″ wide tenon!
Sawing its shoulders is the most cumbersome part of the whole operation. This is the back shoulder, that surface is not done yet; but it doesn’t matter.
Because it’s very straight grained oak, I chose to split the cheeks off the tenon.
I then cleaned up that whole surface front & back with a rabbet plane.
I chopped 3 mortises in each cleat, but between the three tenons, I’ll leave a tongue that fits a corresponding groove between the mortises. Here I’m using a turning saw to cut down from the sides of the tenons to the tongue. The length of the tongue is just less than 1/2″.
This is the only time I plow grooves the same width as the mortises. In frame & panel work, the grooves are about 3/16″ wide, with mortises 5/16″. These are both 5/16″.
Here’s a test-fit underway. Lots of testing, trimming and more testing. I want it to go on pretty easily, but not sloppy. Too much slop in this joint could make the cleat droop down away from the top surface.
Here’s the test-fit all ready for drawboring, pegging & trimming. First I need to plane the underside, then scrape the top.
I’ve been in the shop most every day lately; though some have been more productive than others. Pret the other day said “Sometimes I can’t tell if it’s a day off, or an off-day.” Sounds about right. I have another square table nearing completion. This one had a slew of turned bits.
They’re heavy items; posts and stretchers are I think 2 3/4″ square. Top rails are 5″ high…
The top is glued-up now; soon I’ll finish planing it and then I can assemble the table. There’s two joined stools that go with it. These are unusual in that the legs are all plumb – no “rake” to the side view. The table and stools are all headed for the Old House in Cutchogue, N.Y. https://www.cutchoguenewsuffolkhistory.org/timeline/the-old-house/
Another project is wrapping up, it’s been around for far too long. These are the head-posts for a bedstead I’m making. They are sawn ash, replacing some oak that wasn’t quite up to speed.
Here’s the footboard. These are actually timed pretty well right now, they’re destined for Arizona. So assembly during the driest part of the year here will work out well. That’s my excuse for going so slowly on this one.
A while back the kids & I helped Maureen set up at a craft sale in Rhode Island. It was great to see all her recent work displayed in one spot. The leftover work is on her etsy site – https://www.etsy.com/shop/MaureensFiberArts
I posted this little box I finished up for Maureen’s birthday on Instagram and it was a hit. Just something different I guess. It’s a real hybrid; Alaska yellow cedar used to make an ancient Scandinavian-style box with drawer. 5″ high, 6″ x 11″
Mine’s not a copy of anything in particular, just based the idea on some old boxes from around Scandinavia. I dovetailed the corners; and put a sliding lock down through the box front into the drawer front. This is because I have a similar box for my spoon carving tools I use with students; and its drawer is not secured. Carry it wrong, and it dumps the drawer out.
The pathetic part is that this box sat 80% done for well over a year, before I dug it out the other day, gave it 3 hours’ worth of work & was done.
Well. Here goes. 2019 marks my maiden solo voyage in teaching students how to make Jennie Alexander’s ladderback chair. My version of it anyway. We’ll be following the general format I learned from JA and Drew Langsner, who together and separately taught this class for decades. I learned a lot from both of them about this chair; and assisted in classes at both Country Workshops and Alexander’s shop in Baltimore. In the early 1990s I worked with JA on the 2nd edition of the book Make a Chair from a Tree.
Riving, drawknife work, boring with a brace & bit, mortise & tenon joinery, steam-bending. Lots to cover in this class, it’s where I began as a woodworker in 1978.
We’re going to do it as a 6-day class with Plymouth CRAFT, just 6 students in the class. Dates are Friday May 3- Wed May 8th. 6 spots, so if you think you’d like to tackle this (and 6 days of Paula’s lunches) best sign up early.
(Two things – I wrote “solo” but Pret Woodburn will be there to assist much of the time. He just never wants credit for all his helpfulness. And May? – what was I thinking? It’s the pinnacle of the birding year – right after this class, I’m going to Mt Auburn Cemetery to see warblers during their spring migration.)