Each time I’m at a museum to study furniture, I ask permission to post my shots of the objects here…some say yes, some say no. I feel like I’ve been very lucky to have so much access to 17th-century furniture, and I know many folks either haven’t got the time or inclination to go search it out. (it’s also heavily skewed to the east coast here in the US…)
I thought I could review some stuff that’s been over on the blog before, there’s always new readers, and it never hurts to see details – even ones you’ve seen before. The following objects are from a group that I studied many years ago with Jennie Alexander and Bob Trent. These were the first oak chests I ever learned about…so I always enjoy looking at them again.
When I think back on the leg-work to find this – staggering. I also searched for who might have been the original owners in the late 1600s. From our research, we knew the group of chests came from Braintree, Massachusetts, so I had to do some genealogical research stretching back from the 1880s to the 1680s – eventually found some likely candidates, it’s in the article somewhere.
Here’s the same chest, scanned from one of my color slides. Until this one, all but one of the joined chests we had seen had one (sometimes two) drawers underneath. I’ve built copies of this chest many times….
Here’s the other w/o drawer-chest, with brackets under the bottom rail. Lost some height of its feet, and has a horrible replaced lid.
One distinctive feature of these chests is the way the floor fits into the chest. Instead of a higher rear rail that the floor is nailed up to, these guys use a lower rear rail, and sit the floor on it. And nail it. Here’s one I restored, with some white pine floor boards, sliding over the lower rear rail, and fitting into grooves in the side and front rails. The back panel is not yet installed, making it easy to see what’s going on. Tongue & groove joints between the floor boards.
Same thing on a repro I did, better view of the lower rear rail. sorry for the garish light. (just think, when my new shop is done soon, only-daylight)
Then the back panel slides up from the feet, fitting into grooves in the stiles & upper rear rail. Here’s an overall view of one lying on its face. A white pine panel, (glued-up to get enough width to fill behind the drawer) – bevelled on its ends and top edge to fit the grooves. Slides behind the lower rear rail(s) – and is nailed to the bottom-most rear rail.
Here’s a detail. It requires some careful layout of the joinery for that/those rear rail(s). The tenon is “barefaced” – it has only one shoulder. Fun stuff.
Since the 1996 article there have been maybe 6 more of these chests that have shown up in auction houses. etc…I never saw this one, from James Julia Auctions in Maine. Clearly weird drawer pulls, something funny about the lid, but otherwise looks great.
and one with two drawers – we saw only two of those in our research, there might be four now
I’ve written about these chests and boxes many times…here’s a search for “Savell” (the name of the joiners who we think made them) https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/?s=Savell – there’s other stuff mixed in there, but lots of stuff about the chests and the carvings.
I’ve been lots of places in recent years, but somehow hadn’t made it back to Vermont since 2003. So I combined a family trip with a research visit to Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, VT to see this square table. The museum is great, Maureen and the kids saw more of it than I did, but what I saw I really liked. Hope to get back before 15 more years go by…
The table is a great example, all oak, all riven. The feet have been worn and/or cut down, and as you see the top is missing. But what is there is very nice.
One of the first features is the integral brackets on the aprons, and the corresponding central scroll. Here’s one of the brackets, set off nicely by the ogee molding run along the apron.
This is the part along the center of each apron, essentially a back-to-back bracket. The total height of the apron is about 4 3/8″. The brackets are about 1 3/4″ of that height.
You can see the inside shoulders of the rails cut away, leaving as the only contact point the front shoulder. Makes a nice neat looking joint. Enlarge this photo and you can see some joint ID marks done with a narrow chisel, on the inside of the apron. This one is number IIII.
In addition so various peg holes, etc there are many channels dug by wood-eating insects. This damage was not done to the table, but to the timber before the joiner worked it. I think we found evidence of this on just about every part of the table. This view also clearly shows the brackets as integral to the rail, not attached with joinery and nails like many are…
The symmetrical turning on the stiles, a related but different turning is used on the stretchers.
All four stretchers are turned squares; some have the radial face forward, some have it upward. I was surprised by this…I expected them to all agree one way or another.
All four stiles are cut right through the joinery. There’s no step cut down on the tenon. Usually the mortise height here is not the full height of the apron. That configuration leaves the top of the stile “closed” so the joint doesn’t show. Once the top is fixed to the frame it doesn’t matter anyway. But another surprise. I expected otherwise…
another weird puzzle – what is this little block of riven oak nailed to one apron?
There’s several patched holes bored in the aprons’ upper edges. And there’s mortises like this in three aprons. Yes, three, not four. They look like sure-’nuff mortises, presumably for tabs that attach to the underside of the top. Or are they later additions? There’s no holes I could see in the stiles.
My thanks to Tom Denenberg and Katie Wood Kirchhoff from Shelburne Museum, they were very helpful. And Rob Tarule came to help measure and examine the table, it was fun to look at stuff with Rob again, it’s been a long time…
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.