next video posted & a note from Drew

A couple of things. First is the next installment in the Joined Chest series on vimeo on demand is ready. It’s about some scratch-stock molding, then cutting mortise & tenon joints and plowing the panel grooves. Starting to look like chest parts now.

The next part is a note from Drew Langsner –

L-R Drew Langsner, Jogge Sundqvist, Louise Langsner, PF

back in August 2020 I posted a note about Drew’s medical scene at the time – well the good news is he’s recovered and was catching up on some old internet-reading recently. He didn’t see all the well-wishes that came his way at the time. So here’s what he wrote:

“Hi Peter-

Messing around with iPad I stumbled on your post of appreciation and hopes for recovery. And then came across all of the good wishes from so many friends. I wish I had seen and thanked everybody. Maybe it can still happen…

Thanks for the good thoughts and wishes! I’m doing well enough; and trying to do better. Taking care of our 100 acres is consuming much time and effort, But it’s where we want to be. My art project  has become a series of sculptures — This is Not a Chair. From old chairs that are hand made and the Habitat ReStore. Still shaving kindling  with a drawknife. This time of year -early May – I try for some small boat sailing once a week. With Covid lingering, climate change, and  age, I’m reluctant to get into an aluminum tube so the travel kit is in the attic. It was great working with Lost Art Press on the new Country Woodcraft: Then and Now. Come by for a visit If you’re in western North Carolina.
Drew”

Here’s a couple of Drew’s sculptures from the “This is Not a Chair” series:

oak, from a post & rung rocker
Elm, cherry, oak from a rustic windsor

More about Drew here – http://drewlangsner.com/Drew_Langsner__Art_With_Trees.html

And the re-done book here https://lostartpress.com/collections/green-woodworking/products/country-woodcraft-then-now

some joinery, some birds

chest parts cut

I’ve been working on the chest-video series lately. I haven’t made a chest in a couple of years so this is a lot of fun to do again. The past few days I’ve been catching up on the joinery – the video footage is shot but I had more joints to cut before I can shoot the next steps.

chopping mortises

I probably spent most of 2 days shooting various angles on mortising so once that was done it seemed easy to just go in and cut mortises. But as soon as I thought how nice it was to work without the camera, I realized I could use some still shots. So back to the tripod and camera angles, etc. But it was still fun and much easier to shoot stills than video. What I blather about doesn’t matter in still photos.

plowing panel grooves

Now I’ve got the whole front frame (and much of the two side frames) cut. Time to finish the videos on the front framing and then I go on to the front panels. Those I’ve never carved on video before. They’re in the book Joiner’s Work but this will give me a chance to delve more deeply into that pattern.

carving the panels

The only other thing is that it’s May. Bird migration has begun for real here in New England. I’ve made a few short trips with our friend Marie to see what’s coming in. Yesterday’s haul included this wood thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) He was hard enough to find and I couldn’t get him in any good light. His song is one of the wonders of spring in the woods.

wood thrush

And whenever we hear thrushes in the woods, we know we’ll also hear and hopefully see, ovenbirds and towhees. This ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla) looked me right in the eye (in the lens, I guess)

ovenbird

The eastern towhees (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) were all throughout the woods, as were the ovenbirds. Each spring lately I get what I call the “one-day towhee” here at the shop.

one day towhee

Our yard is not the right habitat for them, not enough woods. But last week, one came out from under the holly tree, as it does each year, for one day. Back & forth, scratching in the leaves and junk. Gone the next day.

And the Baltimore orioles (Icterus galbula) are everywhere. Including outside my shop window. And that means yet another camera in the shop, so I can be ready. Binoculars too for the far-away birds.

Baltimore oriole

Next video in the Joined Chest series

Carving the top rail

Well, after a slew of headaches and support-emails with the vimeo people, I have uploaded my most recent video “Carving the Top Rail” – part of the series on making a joined carved chest-with-a-drawer. Just to complicate matters, the trailer is on youtube. I don’t have the strength to suss it out otherwise.

It’s a lengthy video – almost 90 minutes, so I made a lengthy trailer. The video covers how to layout and carve the lunettes on the top rail, hopefully in enough detail to get you there. Here’s the trailer:

The video series is at vimeo.com/ondemand/follansbeejoinedchest – each of these videos (there’s 6 1/2 right now, totally almost 7 hours) is available separately or as part of the whole series. $100 for the full set, $15 per video.

I just got back from teaching a class in making Jennie Alexander’s chair – next up in the shop here is some more chairmaking, then the next video which will cover cutting the mortise & tenon joints, some plow plane & more…and in the meantime – spring migration.

Carolina wren

Making JA chairs

need more Wheaties

It’s like the old days – I feel like I just got back from one class and I’m preparing for the next. Worked today on a JA ladderback chair in preparation for teaching it at Pete Galbert’s shop next week. The parts are hickory, which means boring it is harder than it should be. I didn’t have enough Wheaties this morning for this work.

parts, jigs and tools

It’s a real nostalgia trip making these chairs. As I worked, I was thinking of all the Jennie Alexander chairs being made nowadays, and of the times I worked & carried on with JA. Many tools in my shop came from her, many ideas in my head came from her.

To take a break from boring that hickory, I went back & forth between boring and tenoning. Below is a set of 3 hickory rungs, ready for tenoning.

shaving rungs

I got the two side sections done, then picked away at this & that. Tomorrow I hope to bore & assemble the rest of the chair. I’ll bring it to class sans seat – sometimes it’s helpful to be able to see the frame without it.

opened the door & the sun came in

Since I got back from Lost Art Press last week, I’ve shot two videos for my joined chest series.

joinery layout

When I went to post the first of them – “Finish planing & layout of joinery” – it wouldn’t load to the site. And I found out that one I had posted a month ago (planes & green wood: care & cleaning, something like that) has sat there in limbo, its setting was marked “private” which meant no one could see it. I spent a ton of time the past couple of days with the Vimeo help people sorting it out. So if you’re one of the subscribers to that series, there’s 2 videos you haven’t seen yet. I’m halfway through editing the next one, which is carving the top rail’s lunettes. Hope to post that by the weekend. Here’s the link if you’d like to subscribe – it’s starting to get interesting now. Right now it’s at 5 1/2 hours of content – it’ll probably go way over my estimate of 12-15 hours. https://vimeo.com/ondemand/follansbeejoinedchest

sample lunette

Seems like spring is really getting here now. Saw this tree swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) this morning when I was out for a walk. Too involved in its preening to be bothered by me.

tree swallow

And an osprey flew over – they’re all around, setting up nesting…

osprey

the cupboard is gone, but it’s still on my mind

Here’s a look at the finished cupboard that took up much of the blog this past year. We had to haul it out of here to get far enough away to photograph it. Then off it went to the client’s home.

PF cupboard, 2021/2022

A detail view – the original has some floral bits in the middle & corners of the door. Done in brass maybe? I doubted they were from the period – so substituted the turned “button” for the middle. Maybe an incised date could have been there, who knows? Some of the related examples are dated. But I didn’t want to carve “2022” – too many curves.

detail of the upper case

A reader sent me a photo he took at the Henry Ford Museum – of a cupboard described as being part of the group I was studying. But it ain’t so – whoever made this one had seen some of the originals – or photos of them. Deep side rails at the top of the lower case, for instance. The overhang there is patterned after one of the cupboards at Winterthur. But the pillars are wrong – too plain. Most of the moldings are wrong – that heavy one around the bottom of the upper drawer section for instance. And the base molding. Drawers are dreadfully plain. Turned pendants under that overhang look like nothing else from this group. The door is framed opposite the way these guys did them. Here the stiles are tenoned into the rails – the 17th century ones the rails tenon into the stiles.

Henry Ford Museum cupboard

There were lots of these cupboards made in the 19th century. Some just “colonial revival” but others made to be passed off as “real” i.e. period pieces. I worked with Bob Trent on an article about both the period ones & the 19th century ones we had studied – published in the Dublin Seminar’s 1998 Rural New England Furniture: People, Place & Production.

Here’s the Winterthur one, with the overhang. Dated 1680. Jennie Alexander used to call this one the “lunar lander.”

Winterthur cupboard

Mine’s got my name stamped in it –

Follansbee

and is pretty well documented. About to be more-so. I’m more than halfway through writing a book about making it, to be published by Lost Art Press of course. But still, some unscrupulous person might misrepresent it a generation or two from now…who knows?

carved box details

carved box, 2006

I’m about to go out on my 2nd teaching gig in the past 2-plus years. Carved box class at Lost Art Press. I’ve spent a chunk of today sorting reference material and other junk for the trip. I’ve looked at a lot of box-photos today. I have a folder here that includes photos of over 109 boxes I’ve made, but I know there’s lots that got away sans-photos. (there’s 109 sub-folders, but some have more than one box in them.)

The carving above is copied from two boxes I’ve seen that were made in Braintree, Massachusetts c. 1660-1690. I have carved this design many times over the years. I tend to look closely at the originals as I learn a pattern, then once I feel I know it – I just go ahead and carve it. But I found out lately it’s good to go back & review the source material. Turns out I’ve done the layout wrong for ages.

I got it in my head that those inner arcs swept all the way out to the edges of the half-circle down at the bottom margin. (they mostly do on one other example) And often wondered why I had a hard time fitting all the detail inside the pattern! I fiddled around with the photo and a compass this morning – I’d go carve one but my tools are packed already. I used to strike a 45-degree line from the bottom center to locate the new centerpoint for the upside-down arcs. But now I think that centerpoint is not on a diagonal line, but just off it, tucked up under the top margin. Leaves more room inside.

possible layout

These joiners, William Savell and his sons John and William – always made lunettes with concave outlines – what Jennie Alexander called a “marble run.” But it never continued over the top of the design – it’s always broken. Here’s two examples, the front of a chest:

upper rail, joined chest c. 1660-1680

and the front of a box

carved box, John Savell 1642-1687

We often wondered where are the English examples that are the source for this work? The closest I have come is a tossed-off Instagram post showing something like their work – so a poor photo, grabbed from IG and cropped heavily. (I wrote to the antiques dealer whose photo it is & never heard back.)

But it has all the earmarks of the Savell/Braintree work –

  • Broken concave outline
  • Alternating upside-down/right-side-up V-shapes in that outline (seagulls)
  • Punched decoration – in the New England work a Maltese cross. Too indistinct to see here.
  • Alternating light & heavy chopped decoration with a gouge.

Many of these things happen in other 17th century carvings too, but combining them this way leads me to think there’s a connection. This detail from one of the New England chests shows some of those bullet points –

But the design between the lunettes on the English piece? What about that? It shows up on one of the New England chests – and a box too.

joined chest detail Smithsonian Institution

Well. It gives me something to think about while I drive from here to Lost Art Press. I’ll be making carvings of these lunettes as part of the joined chest I have underway – they’ll appear here on the blog and on the video series about the chest. But next post in both those places won’t be til the end of the first week of April.

a new chair

I was thinking about chair-making a lot lately, just had no time to do any. Now I do. First thing I did after cleaning the shop for 2 days was take this brettstuhl down from the loft and changed the outline of the seat. It used to look like this:

last year’s brettstuhl

That seat shape was pretty close to what Drew Langsner wrote about when I first learned of these chairs back in the mid-1980s. When I started building them in the past couple of years, I used that same shape at first. Then the more I saw of antique examples (online, not in person…) I decided I like this shape better:

that’s better

Then I went back to the chair I resumed work on the other day. An alternative to the chair above, this time with a 3-piece back.

chip carving

Yesterday I chopped the mortises in the seat board – starting with a brace & bit. These mortises are 7/8″ x 1 3/4″. I do them in 2 steps, first in the seat board, then in the battens.

ten degrees

Once those are chopped, I laid out the trenches for the battens. I saw and chisel most of this, then clean it up with a router plane. I pretty new tool to me. These battens were extras from making a couple of these chairs last spring, so beveled, not dovetailed on their edges. That means you can use the batten to guide the saw’s angle. If you’re careful. I do most of this sawing with the heel of the saw, teeth I rarely use.

white oak batten, butternut seat

Then knock out the waste.

bevel down

I use my large framing chisel to begin the cleanup.

it only reaches so far

I have done enough of these chairs now, and plan on more to warrant the addition of a router plane.

router, starting to get the hang of it

After I got the battens fitting & chopped the back’s mortises through those, I bored the mortises for the legs. These are 15/16″ diameter holes. Mine don’t exit through the seat – I made the legs a long time ago & the turned tenons weren’t long enough to do so.

boring leg mortises

I turned the now-dry tenons to their finished size, glued them & wedged them.

glued & wedged

Some more fussing with the back, more mortising & wedging of the tenons through the seat. here’s where it stands now – some trimming here & there to finish it off tomorrow.

butternut above hickory below

the cupboard & the joined chest videos

Well, the cupboard is apart again.

in pieces

This time for linseed oil over the paint. I’m most of the way through this step, then some final touches here & there. Nothing significant. Then haul it out for photographs. Then haul it back until the customer comes to pick it up. 

a stack of drawers

It’s been an amazing project – the customer couldn’t have been better. I remember our first conversation, he told me 3 things. “The money is fine, I just want it done right, and I want it well-documented.” Four things – “ It doesn’t matter how long it takes.” Imagine that!

the door

Meanwhile, in between painting & oiling, I’ve been working on the video series about making the joined chest based on those from 17th-century Braintree, Massachusetts. I’ve just uploaded the next video, 1 hour 45 minutes on planing the riven green oak. What planes I use, how I orient the boards, a short section about sharpening & cleanup of the tools – even a bit about what happens if you use metal-bodied planes on green oak. 

planing green oak

That also led to a separate 30-minute video about how I cleanup & sharpen the planes – something I’ve almost never talked or written about. There’s nothing I do that’s earth-shattering about sharpening, but you do have to clean these planes after using the green wood, so it seemed like I had to address the subject. 

Here’s a trailer to show you some of what these videos look like. I shoot them myself, with 2 Nikon cameras. I’ve about caught up now with the clips I had before I launched the series, so from here on out the quality should only get better. Should is the key word…. 

Today is Monday March 7, on Wednesday March 9 the price for the series will go up from $85 to $100. The videos by themselves are $15 each. The link is vimeo.com/ondemand/follansbeejoinedchest 

You won’t see this view again

This is the last we’ll see this view in this lifetime. It’s the upper case before the top goes on.

upper case sans top

I think of the top as if it’s a giant joined stool seat. Same approach. Plane it, cut it to size, make the molded edge. Then peg it on. I had glued up three quartersawn oak boards a while back and rough-planed them. At this point, the fussy planing happens. Get one side flat enough, then work the thickness.

trimming it to thickness

I make the thumbnail molding with a rabbet plane followed by a smooth plane. Here, a batten works as a fence for the rabbet plane. Depth by eye.

rabbet first

On the cupboard, this is just below eye level, so it all shows. No place to hide.

meet me at the corner

To bore the holes (and to peg it after) I needed a boost. This low bench was perfect, like first-time drivers sitting on a phone book.

just enough room

3/8″ square pegs in round holes. I used 8 altogether, 3 in each end, one in the middle of each long rail.

square peg round hole

(pt 34 Essex County cupboard project 2021/22)

closer still…

a big step closer

First off – if you’ve read this blog for a while, you know this cupboard has consumed my every-waking moment for a while now. But when it’s done (in 3 weeks, I figure) I’ll be back to some usual blog stuff, including the carving videos that accompany the sets of carving drawings. I never finished the 2nd set of videos, there’s panels and strapwork to carve. Maybe more, I’ll have to check. But I haven’t forgotten them. Just shelved them & chairmaking til this behemoth is out of here. Now to the recent progress on the cupboard. It’s been a long time coming to this point. It’s not done, but it’s very close. 

sticking in the feet

There’s been a bunch of small tasks; gluing and pinning the feet in place. I bored a 3/16” hole through the side of the stile to just catch the foot’s tenon then drove in a wooden pin. Not on the original, but it costs nothing. Belt & suspenders. 

nailing drawer bottoms in

Some drawer bottoms. These are on-going as the oak panels dry. V-shaped tongue & groove. Nailed to the drawer sides, back and in a rabbet in the front. 

not mine

Initials. The original cupboards are often initialed and/or dated. This one just has initials. Practiced first, I don’t often carve letters. One more turning fits between the C and the I. Its paint is drying now. 

thinner button shapes

I re-did a bunch of the turned applied buttons. I found a better way to turn them and got the shape closer to what it should be. Also painted & drying. These all go on the upper case, 6 on the panels and a dozen on the upper stiles (replacing those on the upper stiles’ front faces right now.)

maple pillar

Then the pillars. Turning and installing those upper case pillars was a rare nerve-wracking bit of woodworking. I don’t usually shy away from the “next step” – in any project as you near completion, you have more to lose. These pillars are such a prominent part of the cupboard – they’re up front & up top. You can hide mistakes here & there in such a busy piece – but you can’t hide one here. 

at some point you just go ahead & bore it

I went through a bunch of rigamarole to locate the holes in the lower case’s top for the pillars’ bottom tenons. And double & triple checked it. And thought about what I would have to do if I bored it in the wrong place. (Tear off that top, rip off the offending board. Plane & joint a new one, glue it on. Plane the whole thing. Molding on the front edge. Paint it. Pin it back in place.) I felt very wimpy being so timid, but got the holes right where they need to be. The tenons are 3/4” and the holes are 13/16” – no need to make that a tight fit. Gravity keeps them in place. 

turning tenons

I rough-turned that maple pillar last March! It was the only one I got from a horrible maple log. So I turned it, went searching for more. Took months and finally settled on some cherry for the others. Turned the others in November & December. For this upper case, I roughed out three. One died on the vine – had a blown-out chunk from riving and checked badly. So these two had to make it. Yesterday I did the finish turning, very light cuts with freshly sharpened tools. And determined the final, actual shoulder-to-shoulder length from a test-fit. 

time to paint some more

Got ‘em as close to perfect as my shop produces. “I’m so happy” to quote Jögge Sundqvist. 

(pt 33 Essex County cupboard project 2021/22)