a look at 17th-century New England cupboards

my first version of an Essex County (Massachusetts) cupboard

I’m past the half-way point on my 2nd version of this cupboard and it will pick up speed now. It should, anyway. I wrote so much about the project when I made the first version in 2021/22 that I have ignored this one pretty much. I haven’t been shooting many photos lately, so today I thought I’d have a look at other New England cupboards so you can see how this one is similar and how it’s different. 

First – what is it? A press cupboard, a wainscot cupboard, a joined cupboard, a court cupboard – those terms all can refer to something like these. Below is a 17th century one from Plymouth Colony – the area where I live – for most of the 17th century it was separate from Massachusetts Bay to the north. (photo from Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC)

Plymouth Colony cupboard

There’s a number of these Plymouth cupboards (and related chests with drawers)  – the common format for the Plymouth ones is a lower case with four drawers (2 in the top row and singles below) and a cupboard with doors in the upper case. It has a flat recessed front behind two large turned pillars that support the overhanging cornice. Some of the moldings are integral, others applied. Applied turnings also. To me, the most notable feature of these pieces is the large integral moldings in the lower cases. These are roughly 2” x 2” square and feature what we call a “lipped” tenon – a section in front of the tenon that is molded. (my repro of this joint below)

unassembled view of “lipped” tenon

At least one of the Plymouth cupboards is open below – a common feature in period cupboards of this type. A lower shelf for displaying “plate” – i.e. pewter, ceramics or better – silver. A drawer in the middle section for linens, and a cupboard above. (also the Metropolitan Museum of Art).

Plymouth Colony cupboard open below

New Haven Colony along what is now the Connecticut coast had some very distinctive large cupboards. Flat fronted – no overhang, no pillars. Carved decoration in addition to the applied geometric stuff. (Yale University Art Gallery)

Guilford or New Haven cupboard – Yale University Art Gallery

They also had the more typical format – a trapezoidal cupboard, pillars, overhanging cornice – etc. (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

From Wethersfield along the Connecticut River comes a large group of chests with drawers and cupboards – carved and applied decorations. Doors below, flat-fronted but with an overhanging cornice. To me, the most distinctive feature of these is they are built in a single, full-height case. Makes them trickier to move than the others, all of which are built in two sections so they can break down for moving. (this one from Yale University Art Gallery)

Wethersfield CT cupboard

The cupboard I’m copying is one of 12 or 13 from northern Essex County, Massachusetts – most likely Newbury. But in Salem, Massachusetts comes this cupboard – now at the Peabody Essex Museum there – similar decoration – elaborate molded decoration, lots of turned bits – arches on the upper panels. Three deep drawers in the lower case. The only overhang is the cornice. An excellent cupboard.

Salem cupboard, Peabody Essex Museum

But the joiners and turners who made the group of cupboards that I’ve been working from went further than any other New England joiners. First off, there’s a lot of their cupboards left for us to study. And each one is something different from the others – some are similar, but most are quite singular. The overhanging sections are one feature unique to this group. Remember this one at Winterthur Museum – Jennie Alexander used to call it the “lunar lander.”

Essex Co cupboard, Winterthur Museum

One more for today – don’t be fooled by this. Irving P. Lyon, writing in the 1930s called it a “cabinet in the court cupboard style” –

Perkins family “cupboard”

I don’t know what to call it – it only has drawers, so I’m inclined to call it a chest of drawers. But it no more looks like a chest than I do. The black & white photo is pre-restoration. Here it is now, part of the Chipstone collection.

1683 Essex Co “cupboard of drawers” restored

thoughts from an occasional dovetail-er

I can go years between dovetails – so it’s often as if I’m learning it again. Here’s some of what I did today cutting the half-blind dovetails for the bottom drawer on my cupboard. One nice thing about most 17th century English/New England drawers is that they have exactly one tail and one housing (I’ve never understood why it’s a “pin”.) I didn’t shoot the layout – so this section starts with just two saw cuts. I don’t know why I cut these with the board down on the bench. It was hard to see and uncomfortable too – should have propped the drawer front up vertically. I have one more drawer to go…so I’ll get a chance.

two saw cuts is all

Cut chopping the bulk of the waste out it has to be down on the bench. Step one:

freshly sharpened chisels help

And step two:

back & forth

It’s always discouraging to make a dovetail that’s too loose. But it’s easy to go too far the other way & make it too tight. In the case of an oak drawer side and front, that can mean splitting the drawer front. I stood the drawer front up vertically so I could see better and tested the joint.

easy does it

It’s so tempting to hit it harder and drive it together. But at this point, the drawer side still had a ways to go and it felt too tight.


So I took it back apart & pared the rear edge of the tail –

paring the back of the joint

This way it only gets tight right as the joint is knocked all the way in. This joint below has some layout issues, but the joint is fine. All it will need at assembly is some glue and two wrought nails through the tail into the end of the drawer front.

I wish they were all like this

I took it back apart and planed the rabbet in the drawer front that the drawer bottoms tuck behind.

rabbet plane

Birds’ tails; in feathers & oak

black & white warbler doing the hop

Like this black & white warbler, I’ve been hopping back & forth between birding in the AM and cutting dovetails (how appropriate) in the afternoons. Starting the drawers for the lower case of the cupboard. Let’s look at them first, then the birds.

starting to fit the drawers

Above you see the two recessed drawers inserted (not finished, no bottoms, etc) – but cut & fitted. The bottom drawer is just the front at this point. First thing – some, but nowhere near most, New England 17th century drawers are dovetailed. Most are rabbeted and nailed. On this cupboard – the deep drawer uses through dovetails and the other 3 have half-blind dovetails. All but the carved drawer get mitered moldings applied to the drawer front – so could (and in the deep drawer will) cover through DTs…but these joiners only cut through dovetails on the deep drawer.

half-blind and through DTs on these two drawers

Why? I have no idea why. Years ago I wrote an article titled “Everyone who knows why is dead.” – and the flip side of that thought is that everyone who tells you why is speculating. I don’t mind people speculating as long as they admit they don’t know – but I try to stay out of it. In this situation, I’m just copying what’s on the period example. I have yet to put the bottoms in these drawers, 1/2″ thick oak panels running front-to-back and nailed up to the sides & rear. Toe-nailed into the rabbets in the drawer fronts.

For the three shallower drawers, all the stock is radially riven red oak. As close to perfect as I can find. In this case, I’d go ahead and call it perfect. Dead straight and clear. I split & planed these in early October. So dry as a proverbial popcorn fart right now. I had some 8″-10″ wide quartersawn straight oak for the deep drawer – it finishes as 7 1/4″ tall.

drawer sides’ stock

The dovetail angle I copied from the original cupboard. Seems pretty steep to me, I didn’t measure it. What do I know about dovetailing? All I know is that Roy Underhill told me that the dovetail holds very well in one direction – these will get nailed, so they’ll hold well in both directions. Below you can see the groove for the side-hung drawers to ride on runners set in the frame.

drawer side, dovetail and grove for side-hung drawer

The rear corners for the three shallow drawers are just rabbeted and nailed. The deep drawer has through dovetails at the rear corners. Why? I have no idea.

rear corner w temporary nails securing rabbet joint

Saw great birds this migration season. Most were hard to find – usually because they were flitting around 70′-80′ high, out of reach of my camera. Others, like this ovenbird, blend into their surroundings very well.


You’d think the scarlet tanager would stand out in the green leaves, but it takes some doing for me to get to him.

scarlet tanager

The black & white warblers are usually pretty easy to find. They’re pretty cooperative.

black & white warbler

And at home the Baltimore orioles are gobbling up navel oranges like crazy. This female got caught in the dramatic late-afternoon light outside the shop window.

female Baltimore oriole

Yes, I know the cherry is beautiful

turned pillar in cherry

Yes, I know the cherry is beautiful.

Yes, I’m painting it black anyway.

No, it doesn’t bother me in the least.

painting lower case pillars

The original 17th century New England examples are usually (maybe always?) maple – and always painted black. Some suitable cherry just about fell in my lap – so I went with that – (the upper case ones are going to be black birch – so there.) Knowing I was going to paint them, I didn’t worry about making these substitutions.

one down, one to go

I had several feet of moldings made and some paint mixed up, so I painted them while I was at it.

moldings for the lower case’s end frames

So while those bits dry, I can pin the main section of the carcass together and start making the two middle recessed drawers.

pinning the lower case

But half-days this week – the birds are starting to show up. I got lucky & caught this ovenbird in flight – now if he had only been in the light at the same time…

ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla)

Here he is just before he took off…

ovenbird pre-flight

more cupboard work

one of many test-assemblies

I spent another few hours working on the cupboard – it’s fun getting this thing going again. Above I am starting another test-assembly of the front section to the lower case. I’m setting the narrow shelf in place on top of the bottom drawer framing.

Then comes the pillars connecting to the top drawer.

lined up and dropped in place

Now that unit drops onto the tenons at the top & bottom side rails – I always keep saying this step (one of many) would be easier with a helper, but then I go ahead and do it myself. And it works out fine. This assembly was to test for and fit the soffit that snugs under the top drawer framing – to seal that overhang above the pillars.

knocked in place

Now a few things have to happen. I need to turn the feet for it and paint them and the pillars black. Once the pillars are painted and dry I can do the final assembly of this case – (the feet can go in after assembly) – here it is with the soffit in place – barely noticeable. It gets nailed down to the recessed upper rail after the actual assembly. This time it fits in a rabbet in the top drawer’s bottom rail.

nearly ready for assembly

Here’s a view from the previous cupboard, showing installation of that soffit. In that case, it’s beveled to fit in a groove in that forward drawer rail. This time the framing didn’t work out to include a groove, so it’s just snugged into a rabbet in that rail. It will be lightly toe-nailed up to that rabbet and then down to the recessed rail. Both soffit arrangements work just fine.

previous cupboard’s soffit

To round out the day, I started making some strips of molding for decorating the lower case. I’m using a plane made for me by Matt Bickford – https://msbickford.com/ it works great. I tend to plane blanks to the thickness I need, run a molding then rip them to width. Then joint the new edge and run another molding. Some prep the blanks to the desired width first. Both methods work.


Here’s where I quit for the day.

a good start

Still waiting for spring migration to bring the birds up here from the south. It’s not happening today, that’s for sure. But soon…here’s a white-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) who posed nicely last week. They’re here year-round, but nice & bright now that spring is here. To impress, of course.

white throated sparrow

One more – a cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) from last week as well. Down in Plymouth.

cedar waxwing

Rainy day desk work

Monday I begin teaching a JA chair class at Pete Galbert’s in New Hampshire, so most of my shop-time lately has been in preparation for that. But I spent some time here at the desk sorting more photos of my furniture archive. It’s not complete by any means, lots got away before getting photographed. When I filed the recent photos of the joined chest I counted 33 folders marked “chest” – but one of them has 17 chests in it. So that’s close to 50 chests – with I-don’t-know-how-many that got away. I then looked at more of my collection of period writings – court records, letters, probate inventories – I was looking for descriptors for chests. One of my favorites was an English inventory from 1602   “a joined chest next in bigness to the biggest…”

In our house, this one is the “yarn chest”

Some records from Yorkshire cite a “Panneld chest” (as opposed to a board chest) a “Plaine chest” (could be un-decorated, or a board chest) a “longe chest” – just that – longer than usual. 

is this a “plain” chest? a “paneled” chest?

Typical references are to “smale chestes” (small chests), and “Great chest” – not magnificent, but large, and of course a “Joyned chest” followed by another “Playne chest.” One of the New England records I copied was about work someone did to disassemble a chest to move it into a house – 

“[Salem, Mass; June 1673] Richard Rowland, aged about fifty-five years, and Mary, his wife, aged about forty-six years, deposed that Erasmus James did one day’s work at said [James] Smith’s house, which was to “take abroad” a great chest that would not go into his door and put it together again, etc. Sworn, 21:2:1673”

I interpret “take abroad” to mean “take apart.” And that got me browsing through lots of court records I copied – these have great details sometimes – I always lump these under a category “when things go wrong…” – this one mentions what might be a tool chest (a work-chest belonging to a joiner) but more likely a chest made of joiners’-work – a clumsy way of saying a joined chest.

[Salem, Nov 1673] Execution, for possession to foreclose mortgage, dated June 5, 1673, upon the house, shop and ground of Abraham Allen, in Marblehead, to be delivered to Mr William Browne, sr., of Salem, according to mortgage, also to satisfy judgement granted said Browne at Salem court, 25;4:1672, signed by Hilliard Veren for the court; and served by Henry Skerry, marshal of Salem, by attachment of the house, shop, land and a joiner’s work chest of Allin’s, which were delivered by turf and twig, also the chest given to Nathaniel Myhill, by order of said Browne. 

Transporting large bulky (and heavy) finished pieces is a bit of a nuisance – imagine it in 1600s New England. This next case is lengthy & convoluted – 

[Salem, Nov 1674] Writ of replevin, dated Nov 18, 1674, for a steer of Samuel Simons now detained by Robert Aimes, signed by Thomas Leaver, clerk, and served by Jeremiah Elsworth, constable of Rowley.

Samuel Simons’ bill of cost, £3-8

Robert Andors, aged about twenty-eight years, deposed that Edman Bredges hired him to carry a parcel of corn and a cupboard to Salem for him in the middle of September last and deponent asked him if the cupboard were made. Bridges said it was and that he had already paid Samuel Simonds for it in a good pied steer which was at John Commens’s. Further that the deponent brought the cupboard to Salem. Sworn, Nov 24, 1674, before Samuel Symonds.

Willam Smith, aged about forty years, deposed that Goody Bridges asked her husband how he paid for the ox and said she hoped he had not put away the steer he bought of John Lettilhaell, which was at John Cominses house and that said Simons was to pay for him in “joynery work.” Sworn, Nov 23, 1674

 John Pabody, aged about thirty-two years, deposed that he was at Edmond Bredges’ shop when Bridges and Simons were making a bargain about the boards of the shop, and Simons said if he had the boards that said Bridges should not deprive him of the steer, etc. Sworn in court.

John How, aged about thirty-three years, deposed that he saw Robert Ames drive the steer, etc. 

[Salem, Nov 1674]  Zachaeus Curtious, jr., testified that he and Walter Farfeeld being at Mr Gedney’s sometime in October with Samuel Symonds, heard the said Symonds own that the bargain he had made with Edmond Bridges, jr., about some joinery work which he was to do for him, was to be paid in a steer of the work was done by Sept 1. Further that Symonds said the work had not done because his man had gone away and had stayed longer then he ordered him, etc. Sworn, Mar 26, 1674…

Seems that  Samuel Symonds agreed to do some joinery work, a cupboard, in exchange for a steer. Lots of people involved – Robert Andors to move the cupboard from Rowley to Salem – Bridges paid for the cupboard with a steer that was at John Commens’ – and he, Bridges, had bought it, the steer, from John Lettilhall. Not only all that – but Symonds was late with the work (I can relate to that) – because his man was gone – I gather this man was working for him in some capacity. The court records had no more than this – so that little snippet is as much as we get. 

The papers of the Winthrop family have great details sometimes as well. A letter from John Winthrop, governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony to his son in Connecticut:

John Winthrop to John Winthrop, Jr

28th of the 1 mo: 1636

“…you shall receive of mr Hodges the key of one of his Chests where the seeds are, the key of the other cant be found, so you must break it open, there is in one of them a rundlett of honey…”  

Another from the Winthrop Papers, not about a chest but about workmen riving stock for pipe staves: (a pipe is a large barrel, splitting & riving staves for these was a common employment)

Hugh Peter and Emmanuel Downing to John Winthrop

Salem 13-11-40

“Wee are bold to intreat your furtherance in counsell and other helpe for the suppressing pipe staff rivers and clabords in our towne; because wee have 2 or 3 ships building. wee desire that within 2 or 3 miles neere any river they may not fell great timber fit for shipping; for they may as well cut it further of it being so portable, and ship-timber being so heavy. your letter to Mr Endecott by this bearer will helpe us very much…These men cut downe but halfe of the tree for their use, & the rest lyes rotting & spoyles our Comons, with many more inconveniencyes then wee nam…”

quarters into eighths

Chest photos

I emptied half the shop today (with Daniel’s help) so I could shoot photos of the joined chest I made for that video series. It’s going to a customer soon, so I wanted to get proper-enough shots of it. Who knows if I’ll make it again?

this is only part of it

I’m so glad I don’t have a bigger shop, I’d only have a bigger mess. As for the photos, I shoot them almost every single time with just daylight. Sometimes too much, sometimes not enough.

front view

I shot almost all of them from outside the shop. One or two through an open window, the others through the door.

open drawer

The front panels of this chest are white oak, all the other hardwood bits are red oak (except the drawer pulls, those are white also). White pine floor, drawer bottoms and rear panel.

inside – the floor & rear panel

The till has a red oak lid and side, red cedar bottom.


The drawer front has a pattern I never tire of carving.

detail, drawer front

Same is true of the panels – that panel opening is about 8 3/4″ x 13 1/2″.

panel detail

Here’s the shot I like the best, I added a small light from our right just to throw some shadows – the daylight was shifting this way & that. Shot it through the open window behind the stove.

carved & joined chest w drawer, 2022

Everybody’s tired of hearing about it, but just in case some of the new readers missed it – there’s a whole video series showing how I made this chest. You can buy the whole thing – over 20 hours – or pick & choose episodes – details here – https://vimeo.com/ondemand/follansbeejoinedchest and 6 pages of plans for the chest, drawn by Jeff Lekowtiz – I’ve been too battle-shy to go in & change the price back to its non-sale price…so… https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/carving-drawings-plans/

a detail from Jeff’s drawings

Leftover chair, leftover video

A couple of things – I finished that Windsor chair I made – painted red & black, all the rage w/ modern Windsor chairs. Takes more patience than I have. Next time I might do oil paint & be done with it. But…now that it’s done, it’s my new favorite chair.

comb-back, 2023

It was great fun to re-visit making Windsor chairs. I hope to make a few more this year. We’ll see what I can fit in between other projects.

side view

And I edited a little bit of video that I shot when I was carving that painted drawer front for the reproduction 1680s cupboard that’s underway. The execution of the carving is just the same as before – it’s just the visual impact is immediate because the “finish” is done first.

The previous version of this video is much longer, more detail. Even more repetition. Some of you might have seen it last year – but for anyone who wants to see more of the above – here it is

And one day a week or so ago we had some hooded mergansers (Lophodytes cucullatus) on the river. They don’t often show up here, just every once in a while. Usually winter…

hooded mergansers

Painted & carved drawer front

Last year I made this carved & painted drawer front the other way ’round. Carved first, painted after. I tried the reverse this time.

painted, then carved

Most 17th-century carvings I’m familiar with that include paint have it as the background. So it’s like a 3-D coloring book. Carve out the recesses, then paint them. Like this English box:

carved box, Devon; detail

But the cupboard I’m making has only one carving on it and its foreground is painted black. Here’s a detail from the original.

detail 1680s cupboard, Essex County, Massachusetts

Prepped the oak board a few months ago. Trimmed it to size, then painted it black with dry pigment mixed in linseed oil/thinner/fast-drying medium. Then laid out the pattern with a compass, marking gauge, awl & square.

the layout

When that step was just a concept, I was concerned that the layout would be difficult to see. But the tools scratched right through the paint so the lines were bright. BUT – if you do this, make sure you have worked out the geometry first. I made a layout error and had to re-paint and wait til the new coat of paint dried. Just a day or two with that drier added, but a stupid mistake that could have been easily avoided.

This carving uses no V-tool for the outlines. I struck the shapes with a few different gouges and chisels.

striking the outline w a gouge

Then using a very shallow, narrow gouge, began removing the background. This particular carving is pretty shallow.

it’s like sgraffito

Here’s a detail showing that background. Eventually it will get a coat of linseed oil so the oak behind will not be so stark. That’s much later though.

some background done

Whether you carve first or paint first, you must be careful at various points. There’s touch-up regardless of the method. This approach certainly makes the painting easier – and the carving is not any more difficult. So maybe it’s the way to go…

done for now

Here’s a post, including a video, from last year when I carved the same drawer front. Pre-painting. https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2021/08/18/the-cupboard-project-carved-drawer-front/

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. 


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