Joiner’s Work available for ordering from Lost Art Press

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Well, I guess I’m not writing a book anymore – Chris just posted last  night that “Joiner’s Work” is available for “pre-publication order.” (Not “pre-order” – ask Roy Underhill about “pre-drilling” a hole sometime…) https://lostartpress.com/collections/books/products/joiners-work

Like most of my work, there’s a story behind this book. For eons, Jennie Alexander & I worked on “the book” – our collaboration about making a joined stool. It was to serve as “an introduction to joinery”. We spent so long on it that I used to drop out for years at a time, “you finish it” I’d say. Then JA’s health got dicey and s/he said “When I go to the boneyard, promise me you’ll finish the book.” Gladly, says I, knowing it’d be easier that way…

One thing led to another, and I wanted to write a book about making joined chests; complete with carving…but first, I had to get Alexander’s book out of the way. The plan was that I would provide the text and photos for the joined stool book, then JA could do with it as s/he pleased. Chris Schwarz has told the story of how one night after some woodworking show, he held court in a local pizza joint – “trying to start a publishing empire” I think was his recent quote. I was about starved to death, and was just looking for someone to have dinner with, but that meal really opened up a new world for me.

I had never written a how-to book before; I had been published a good bit, but it was all academic furniture history stuff. When Chris told me how LAP worked, I was thrilled with the idea of being a part of it – so I went down to Baltimore, wrestled with Alexander and we ended up finishing the Joint Stool book finally.

Then I went back to the carved chest book; and all kinds of hell broke loose. Somewhere in there, I started teaching, which meant I traveled. For someone who’d never driven a car until age 24 or so, I started to get around some. I ended up in places I’d never even heard of – imagine that Australia is actually real. Also mixed in there, I quit the job I never imagined I’d leave. So at that point, I had to figure out where I was going to set up shop. My good friend Ted Curtin lent me his for a while, then Pret Woodburn & I built mine here…so this book, like the first one, had a long gestation period. Lots of interruptions. But now it’s done.

I was splitting out parts for ladderback chairs yesterday afternoon, and there was one piece that was too good for chairs – dead-flat radial plane, 6” wide by three feet long – so today I’ll begin planing that stuff and in May I’ll make a box from it. The trees talk to Jögge Sundqvist. I get it. They make decisions for me sometimes. I might want one thing, but the tree has another thing in mind. It’d be stupid to not listen.

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White pine furniture

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I posted this one on Instagram recently; making some pitiful excuses for having brought those awful plastic clamps into the shop. It’s a settle that I’m test-assembling. About 5′ x 5′. It’s for the Old House in Cutchogue, Long Island. But I can’t build it here, I have to assemble it in the house. So I copped out & bought two of those pathetic tools to help hold it as I worked out the ship=lapped boards across the back. It’s all painted now, and stacked in the corner. I’m onto the next thing; a large dresser for the same house. This one’s even bigger – 6′ wide, and 7′ high. Shelves above, shelves, drawers & cupboard below.

The page below is from Russel Kettell, Pine Furniture of Early New England – this is not the dresser we studied as the basis for what I’m making, but it’s not much different. I’ve had this book almost as long as I’ve been a woodworker. It’s a wonderful book, somewhat dated now, but still excellent.

Here’s some work on it I did on mine today –


You can just make out that this is a 7′ high side board to the dresser. The scalloped bit just behind my back is the upper end, where the shelves for plates/dishes fit in.  I’m jointing the front edge, this will be the cupboard section. The board is held in the single screw, pinched against the bench. Resting on a holdfast in the near leg and a wooden pin in the far leg.


I don’t have a router plane; here I’m chopping a stopped dado for a vertical partition that is part of the cupboard. Using a chisel to chop out the waste, then cleaned up with a bevel-down chisel.

Test-fitting the partition in that dado. I’ve got the long shelf pinched onto the bench with 2 holdfasts and a strip of scrap pine.

I shoot most of my photos with a tripod and a remote shutter-release. I forgot to hold still for this one. I’m rip-sawing a 6′ piece to make the kick-plate that fits under the lowest shelf. I’m not sure I’ve ever pointed it out, but I keep a large open bag at the end of the bench. It doesn’t catch all the plane shavings, but it catches a bag-full.

I’ve started jointing the kick-plate and here I’m checking with one of the most accurate tools in our arsenals – eyeballs.

I don’t work from drawings. I do best when I get the piece started, then I can easily see where to go next. This is my end-of-the-day, “what was I thinking?” look. I’ve got one upright, the vertical partition and the mid-shelf mocked up across from my bench, and I’m trying to figure out the next piece to cut. The cupboard door is standing beside the bench. This picture is here because the camera was set to shoot every-so-many minutes. Building big stuff in this small shop, and setting up a tripod makes it tricky sometimes…so I just stuck it in the corner and got lots of photos to delete.

 

 

 

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.

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.

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.

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bedstead getting closer

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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.