Assembling the bedstead

I’ve been building this bedstead for an embarrassingly long time. My ever-patient customer will assemble at her house in the southwestern US. So I have compiled a how-to for that work. Some of you might like to see it also, so I made it a blog post. First off, this is NOT a period-correct bedstead. It uses construction that is perfectly within 17th-century range, (except the slats under the bedding) but I’ve not seen it on a bedstead. One of the hardest parts of my old job was “what was the bed like?” – there are no New England bedsteads that can be attributed to the 17th century. So I made this one up – with the idea being that it could easily be shipped across the country. And assembled without any particular skills. Our bed at home is done in a similar manner. We don’t bang our shins on the protruding tenons, so stop right now second-guessing my use of that joint.

There’s just a few major parts; the headboard and the footboard,

the headboard before the crest was attached

the two long rails, and eight wooden wedges. 

there’s really 8, only 6 got in the photo

I made two cradles to help hold the long rails up while inserting the tenons.

You only have to be able to count to two to ID the joints. I, II and ) and )) cut with a chisel or gouge. Joint ) on the headboard’s post, and the corresponding rail.

ID mark above the mortise in headboard
ID mark on top edge of rail

Set the far end of the rail in the cradle, then slide the tenon into the mortise. In the southwest, I bet the tenons will slide even more easily than they do here in the more humid northeast. If they get stubborn, there’s a dead-blow plastic mallet to knock the post onto the rail. Not vice-versa.

I can do it myself, but it’d be easier with help

Once both rails are in the headboard, then get the footboard and slide it in place. The cradles hold the rails up just a bit off the floor, to make it easier to get in place.

rails inserted in headboard

 

the footboard being eased onto the tenons

back and forth, use the plastic dead-blow mallet if necessary. I alternate hitting above and below the tenon to move the post into place.

(I couldn’t build a king-sized bed in this shop…)

Then drive wedges into the joints. The wedges, two per joint, are numbered and labeled “upper” and “lower” because each tenon has two wedges. The wedges point out toward the outside of the bed. The side that’s written on is the bottom, the angled bit engages the tenon. I use a hammer now, tap them, don’t bang them. The hammer is more precise than the big mallet. (I didn’t photograph driving the wedges at the headboard. those are behind the bed, and I couldn’t get back there. Same as here, just that because they are outside the headboard, they don’t show.) 

even with just one wedge, you’ll feel things tighten up

 

it might be the most fun part

Tap all eight wedges all around the bed. Then lift the footboard and knock the cradles out of the way. Throw them out. Or save them for reassembly sometime if you move. Same with the mallet – I don’t want to see it again. 

Now the real modern junk – a series of five slats across ledgers inside the bed. These get screwed down; probably don’t need to be fastened, but it doesn’t hurt.

the ugly bits. You only see them when you move.

I numbered them in pencil 1-5; one at the head, 5 at the foot. You’ll see scribe lines outlining where they go. Apply some beeswax or soap to the screw threads if they aren’t going in easily. I start the screw in the slat until it pokes through, then I can find the hole it goes in easier. This step is one thing I worry about, that the holes will close up as the timber dries further down there. I tried to make them generous. You can see the numbering if you click the photo to enlarge; they’re numbered on the slat, and on the ledger they sit on. Just on one side of the bed. 

The stick your bedding in place. I hope it fits right.

 

here it is as a slideshow/video – a little too quick on the captions, but there’s a pause button. I have little video-making tolerance.

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shop cleaning day

There’s often talk on Instagram & other sites about how people don’t present “real” life/work there – it’s all cleaned-up, perfect & presentable. I certainly do that on the blog and IG. I try to compose most of my photos so they show what I wanted to present. Here’s a photo shot with no thought, planning, etc – the camera was set up to shoot every two minutes, whatever was happening at the bench then.

It looks like I work in near-total darkness, which is just the opposite of how it is. If I had to get a shot of this process, I’d either wait til the sun was off those windows, or I’d cover them, to brighten the bench. I’d also bracket shots on the camera, etc.

Well, what could be more real-life than a complete (or nearly-so) cleaning of the shop? I photographed some of it, just in case something good happened. I didn’t shoot the complete “before” picture. Here, I’d already started sorting, so making a mess to clean up a mess. It either ends up on the benches or the floor for sorting.

I emptied the shelf under my main bench, and sorted these three boxes. Mostly it was dumping shavings out of them. These are tools I use nearly everyday (on the right) some of the time (middle) and rarely (left – I hate the tools in this box, mostly. Except the Millers Falls drill).

The everyday box up on the bench – (see, no planning for this photo) – hammer, carving mallet, chalklines, rulers, joiners’ saddles. I use these tools a lot. I’ve been planing some oak for joinery lately and the chalklines & saddles are key in that work.

I have some very straight, slow-growing red oak. Great stuff to plane.

I started planing up joined stool parts, and stuff for a wainscot chair.

Here’s some of that wood all planed or drawknifed. From here it needs to find a place to dry out some:

Under that bench when I was done – it won’t stay this tidy for long. All that belongs under there are those loose tools in boxes, then planes, bench hook, winding sticks, etc.

This stuff was under the other bench. Most of this got burned. A few bits & pieces went back under the bench. There’s an old plane I made that is all done. I salvaged the handmade iron and will make a new plane for it. But the cracked & broken body of that one will go in the stove.

Some views around the shop – this one for JoJo Wood –

This one is by Wille Sundqvist, it belonged to Jennie Alexander.

As I moved around the shop, sorting things here & there, I shifted these two boards for the settle I’m making next. It made a sort of white pine Rorschach test.

I had to clean up the shop to shoot photos for assembling the bedstead. that’s next.

Bedpost tops

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.

Squiggle paint; table done & gone

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.

thinking about chairs at the close of the year

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.

chair in ash & oak, hickory bark seat

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. 

I wrote a lot about that chair as I made it – https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/?s=bradford

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:

plain matted chair, PF

This style hung on over the centuries. Many years ago I wrote a post about old chairs some friends have collected, including this one:

sq post 1a

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. 

 

carving designs and river views

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.

 

small oak box, Dec 2018

 

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.

Image may contain: indoor
bedstead getting closer

Image may contain: indoor

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.

https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2017/08/30/carved-panel-designs/ 

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:

joined chest, made in 2003

 

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.

top for the square table

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.