carpentry, carpentry, carpentry. I’m thrilled to be making my own workshop, but I’m sick of it. I decided that carpentry is a lot like joinery, just done in uncomfortable positions, and I drop stuff more in carpentry. I can’t wait to be back at the bench full-tilt.
Meanwhile, I got to go with Bob Van Dyke to the Yale Furniture Study recently in preparation for the joined chest class we’re doing at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking. I’ve been very fortunate over the years to get to handle a lot of period furniture; studying the details. It’s still always fun to go over these things. It sounds like an old cliche, but you really do see new stuff with each visit. The Furniture Study is a great place, one of my favorite stops on the early oak circuit. http://artgallery.yale.edu/furniture-study The staff there are very helpful, great scene altogether.
We focused on two chests, the one above and this probably related one.
Typical frame & panel format, all oak in both cases. No secondary wood. Here’s some details:
The panels and muntins on the first chest. Scratch-stock moldings; interrupted where the muntins meet the rails.
This one features a paneled lid. The long rails on the lid alternated how they meet the “stiles” – at the back of the lid, the rail is between the stiles, at the front, the stiles join into the rail. Trickier to layout than one that’s symmetrical.
Nobody spent much time working the backs of these chests. Hatchet, and a little bit of planing. Not much.
The other chest is quite similar, but has some distinctions too. Narrower framing parts for one. Here’s the interrupted molding again, and the panel carving using the S-scroll rather than the “double-heart” motif.
This lid is 3 boards, edge jointed together. Very heavy. 2nd set of hinges. Note the molding around the panels on the inside of the rear framing. You don’t see this once you fill the chest with linens. Till is missing, you still see the trenches and hole for it on our right…
I often find holes in the carved panels, which are presumed to be for nailing the panel down while carving it. (on the double-heart motif detail, if you click that photo to enlarge it, you can see some of these holes) This one has a broken-off nail still in it. See, something new all the time…
I have lots of new tricks I learned at Spoonfest and Täljfest, so come to Maine & we’ll explore all kinds of ideas. I also have some new spoons by outstanding makers to study, as well as a couple old ones.
This class is the best way to learn all the steps in making a joined chest with drawer.
This year, we’ll include a trip down to the Yale University Furniture Study, to examine the chest we’ll base ours on. Riving, hewing, planing, joinery, carving – the whole thing. One weekend at a time. First class is coming up, Oct 1 & 2.
Later in October, we’ll do the riving class with Plymouth CRAFT – right now we don’t have it listed yet, but a weekend in October, I think the 15/16 . (I’ll post it here, and Plymouth CRAFT will send out its email as well, if you’re not on their list, you want to be, even if it’s just for Greenwood Fest next year! http://www.plymouthcraft.org/ )
In this class, we split apart an oak log, learning how to “read” the log for best results. Then using a froe, we further break the stock down, and make garden hurdles. So, riving, hewing, shaving at a shaving horse, mortising – a busy weekend full of old techniques still applicable today.
THEN – Paula Marcoux reminded me about the spoon carving at Plymouth CRAFT on Dec 10 & 11, at Overbrook house in Buzzard’s Bay, Massachusetts.
The first half of his post follows the term, from Jarrod Stone Dahl, back to Robin Wood, who got onto it from an exhibition with that title by someone named Chris Eckersley. I won’t repeat all that here – it’s easy enough for you to read Klein, Stone Dahl & Wood to get the background. One thing I’ll start in with is that all three of these people are friends of mine…and I don’t usually get involved in this sort of stuff. But the heat has fried my brain, and I have a trip to prepare, so there’s stuff I’m avoiding.
Going back & reading Robin’s thoughts, his concentration is mostly about the use of machinery vs “hand” work. He chooses to skip past the “art vs craft” thing. Robin has spent a lot of time in recent years making spoon carving knives; so he knows the ins & outs of factory work…and has interesting thoughts on how work like that can be equally rewarding as handwork, as long as the machines do not take away the skill required by the workman.. I certainly won’t argue with the notions Robin puts forth. That sort of work holds no interest for me
The part I didn’t see discussed much is, if one thing is “real” craft, then something else must be “unreal” craft, or, perhaps, “fake” craft.
One thing Joshua cited was Eckersley stating that craft is “real” in the sense that it “occurs in the real everyday world, and not in a fine art studio, nor at a heritage site, nor as a hobby or pastime”. Well…that just hits me wrong. This week, we’ll have a short visit from our friend the painter Heather Neill as she comes north for her exhibition on Martha’s Vineyard. Why Eckersley thinks an artist’s (fine art) studio is not the “real everyday world” is not explained, at least in Joshua’s excerpt. Maybe it is in Eckersley’s exhibition. Heather works harder than me at her “craft” by a long shot. Her head is filled with decades’ worth of projects/paintings/ideas. And each year, she sits at her easel and produces astounding work. So because it’s what one curator once called “flat stuff” i.e. paintings, it’s not craft, it’s art. I guess. http://heatherneill.com/studio-blog/2016/07/18/granary-gallery-2016/
And “heritage sites” – I guess I worked for twenty years making furniture in one. It’s true that in that setting, I had the benefit of a regular paycheck that was not tied to my output. I had to be on the site, working, and explaining to the museum’s visitors what I was making. That kind of repetition and continuum gave me an experience it would be hard to replicate in Eckersley’s “real” world.
When I hear Jarrod talking about “real” craft on his blog or his Instagram postings, to me his use of the term sounds as if it is about marketing, I see him educating would-be customers about the quality and integrity of his work. (I’ve bought work from him, it’s good stuff.) And such a move makes perfect sense, Jarrod puts a lot of thought into marketing his work. I stink at marketing – it holds little interest for me. http://woodspirithandcraft.com/
When Joshua picks up the thread and brings his views into it, all kinds of fun begins. He “state(s) the obvious: craft implies tradition.” His words, his emphasis. I don’t necessarily understand why or how that’s obvious. Nor do I think it’s true. To me, craft/crafted means made by someone – the action of someone making things. Pretty broad definition.
“Traditional” is one of those terms that means one thing to one person, something else to another. I make 17th-century style furniture, using only hand tools – but some of mine are now/have always been, more modern versions of period tools. I know I have used the term “traditional” before, I might still. But I’m nowadays pretty careful with the use of words like that – because of their shifting and varying meanings. Or perceived meanings.
The whole hand-tool versus machine debate is a large part of Joshua’s writings on the subject. Another thing I stay away from. I don’t want to work wood with machines. I am writing this blog post on a machine – and I like to do that…but for me personally, I like working wood with hand tools. That includes hewing, sawing, planing, mortising – all the stuff that happens in the shop. I have a neighbor who came by every so often while my friend Pret & I were framing the shop. He kept saying to me, in all seriousness, “I have a tablesaw you can borrow..” and I don’t-know-what-other tools he had. I started to wonder if he thought I didn’t know about these tools, or was somehow too broke to acquire them, or what he might have thought about why I wasn’t using them. He couldn’t fathom that I enjoyed doing it this way.
I don’t own a chainsaw, but I really like it when other people cut the logs I want to length with one. Then I can take it from there. I have cut trees by hand, and done the whole job – felling, crosscutting, splitting & hauling. I have also used a chainsaw at my old job. When they are right, they are a great tool. When they are cantankerous, they are a nuisance. To me, damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I don’t cut a lot of logs in a year. I have a 14’ oak, now all split into sections, that should carry me well into next winter now. So a couple times a year, I prevail on someone…then it’s quiet. Joshua discusses the approach that uses machinery to rough out the wood, then handtools to produce the final surface. A lot of people work that way, and it’s none of my business. What other people do is up to them. Means nothing to me.
[there’s lots of comments on Joshua’s post, including one from Jarrod about “continuum” – a nice take. Jarrod emphasizes utilitarian function – which some might hear the wrong way and think it excludes decoration. I know in Jarrod’s case that’s not true, (I’m expecting delivery any day now of one of his birch cannisters, decorated with punches and pigments). When reading about furniture, I am always keeping my ears up for the “utilitarian = no decoration” crowd!]
I keep going back to what is un-real craft? I thought of a much-hated example, cute little paintings on old handsaws. What could be worse? Lots of things, but it’s a pretty bad example that will do for now. So one thought is that my hand-made, museum-quality reproduction furniture is “real” craft, and the painted handsaw is unreal craft. My outlook on these things is a bit different. I don’t care what other people do. It could be that the handsaw-painting artisan is achieving a near blissful state of Buddha-hood while engrossed in their work for all I know. In which case, who am I to say my work is real and theirs is not? To me it’s about the process, and more importantly, about how I want to spend my days. Which brings me back to Henry David Thoreau by way of Bob Dylan.
I’ve told this story many times, but here goes again. Once, back at my old job, I had a young kid, maybe 10 years old, come into my shop and ask me “Do you have anything here that’s 3D?” The room was crammed with piles of wood, tools, furniture in various stages of completion. As far as I could tell, everything in the room was three-dimensional. I told him I didn’t quite understand, and asked if he could ask his question another way. “You know, it looks really real” he said. Which took me back to the existential days of the ‘60s – when Dylan sang “the princess and the prince discuss what’s real and what is not…” (I didn’t get to it til the 70s, but no matter). So I was thinking the other day about what’s real and what is not, and I pulled up Bringing It All Back Home, and listened – and heard another line from the Gates of Eden – “I try to harmonize with songs the lonesome sparrow sings…”
Dylan’s line about harmonizing reminded me of this section seen on the blog before (when discussing Jarrod, interestingly) from Thoreau.
“One-eyed John Goodwin, the fisherman, was loading into a hand-cart and conveying home the piles of driftwood which of late he had collected with his boat. It was a beautiful evening, and a clear amber sunset lit up all the eastern shores; and that man’s employment, so simple and direct, – though he is regarded by most as a vicious character, – whose whole motive was so easy to fathom, – thus to obtain his winter’s wood, – charmed me unspeakably. So much do we love actions that are simple. They are all so poetic. We, too, would fain be so employed. So unlike the pursuits of most men, so artificial or complicated. Consider how the broker collects his winter’s wood, what sport he make of it, what is his boat and hand-cart! Postponing instant life, he makes haste to Boston in the cars, and there deals in stocks, not quite relishing his employment, – and so earns the money with which he buys his fuel. And when by chance, I meet him about this indirect and complicated business, I am not struck with the beauty of his employment. It does not harmonize with the amber sunset.”
I’ll take either one, the sparrow’ song, or the amber sunset. I don’t care what people call my craft, or theirs. What I care about is how I spend my days. I try to harmonize…
Just a pointer to go read about Terence McSweeney’s visit to Tamás Gyenes’ house in Hungary. Terence & I met last year when he came to a box-making class I taught in Somerset, England. I was thrilled to hear he made it over to Hungary. What an experience that must have been! I swiped his photo above…but for the real thing, just go see his write up. It says part 1, which implies there’ll be a part 2…thanks, Terence & Tamas.
My days have shifted some, from a focus on the workshop to now a focus on preparation for Greenwood Fest. Time to get some tools & projects together, and after the weekend, time to start moving wood, benches, tools & finally people into the site. The photo above is a carved panel, and one to-be-carved panel for my work at the Festival. I’m going to be working on a joined chest (just the front of it, I expect). Like this one:
I have some great red oak for it, the other day I carved one panel, and the wide center muntin. I’ll carve the rails, stiles and one panel at the event.
Work on the shop has slowed down now as part of this shift in priority. We got a lot of the sheathing up, leaving openings where the windows will go:
The front will have a window on each side of the door, and a pair of them just above. so we did almost no sheathing there yet…just enough to keep it connected to the sills.
This side has several windows along it, the one on our left is actually wider than this present opening, we’ll cut some of that sheathing away when the windows go in.
Here’s a better view of the front. When things settle down a bit, it will be up on the roof – to install red cedar shingles. Right now, the place reeks from these piles of cedar.
I want to take a moment to thank all of you who donated towards my building project – with your help I was able to get all the sheathing & shingles to help keep this project moving along. It means a lot to me, the way folks have responded to this work. I can see the inside of the shop in my head, and I can’t wait to show it to you here on the blog.
The sheathing is locally sawn white pine, from Gurney’s, our favorite sawmill down in Freetown Massachusetts – http://www.gurneyssawmill.com/ – sixth generation of a family owned & operated sawmill.
I finished this wainscot chair and delivered it to the Martin House Farm in Swansea, Massachusetts yesterday. I should say I “completed” the chair, I applied no finish to it. They are looking into having it stained to look like the original. Speaking of which…
I don’t often get to compare my results to the originals that I study. I sometimes don’t want to see the contrast. It can leave me feeling like I missed some obvious feature, muffed another one, etc. There’s a couple of things I’d do differently next time, but not too drastic.
I added some height to mine, to bring the seat more level, or slightly canted to the rear. The original tilts forward now.
The original chair descended in the Cole family in Rehoboth and Swansea. Maybe dates from 165-1700. All oak. Some think it was made in Providence, some think it’s a Plymouth Colony joiner. Hard to say, there’s so little to go on. One very distinctive feature of this chair is the rear of the large panel. Instead of just beveling it to fit, the joiner made a tabled” or raised panel. Here’s mine before assembly:
Unusual in New England wainscots, but very common in Wiltshire, England. I have seen many wainscot chairs there done with a tabled panel in front, then the raised area carved. Here’s one from Salisbury, not a great photo but you can just make out the tabled/molded raised area, then carved.
A post about the raised panel, and the circular decoration on the carved side.
Some catch up about the wainscot chair underway. First off, the back of the panel is decorated, unlike most (all?) New England wainscots – in this case a raised/tabled panel. The raising is quite distinct, leaving a high rectangle (the table) that is then set off by scraping a molded edge to it. Here, I have the panel on the bench, pausing in mid-bevelling.
Here it is, test-fitted into the rear stiles & crest rail. The stiles still need moldings scraped along their long edges. This section is leaning against the front section, so you see the scrolled apron peeking through behind. I can’t wait to work in the new shop, where I hope to have some room for photos!
The front of the panel has 4 “crop circles” (I had to give them some name…) – you might have seen an earlier post where I showed a couple of period examples of this decoration.
I had no evidence regarding what tool might have made these shapes – I’ve only seen the circles a few times… so I made a tool much like a wooden brace, or “wimble” as it’s sometimes called. But instead of a boring bit in the bottom, I inserted a scraper, like we use on scratch stocks for molding.
Here’s the head. I left it loose, thinking I might like to use this head for an actual brace (that’s what I cut it for ages ago, was just lucky I could find it now, & thus didn’t have to make it)
Here’s the scraping profile, and the result. If I had time to spend, I would have rounded the end of the tool, and installed a ferrule to keep the cutter in place. I tried a screw like I use on scratch stocks, but it split the maple. So I temporarily clamped the end closed, cut the circles & moved on.
Our neighbor Sara invited us to see Sara & Brad, fish monitors from the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries checking the smelt coming up the river. We had quite a time. Birds I know because they fly right around where you can see them, but the fish rarely poke their heads out of the water…
here’s the fyke net:
Here’s one of the smelt. I think I heard them say they caught 190 overnight, and over 400 in 4 days this week. They told us it has been the best year (out of 14 or so) they have had for smelt. they do the whole “record-them, measure them, toss them back” thing.