some joinery, some birds

chest parts cut

I’ve been working on the chest-video series lately. I haven’t made a chest in a couple of years so this is a lot of fun to do again. The past few days I’ve been catching up on the joinery – the video footage is shot but I had more joints to cut before I can shoot the next steps.

chopping mortises

I probably spent most of 2 days shooting various angles on mortising so once that was done it seemed easy to just go in and cut mortises. But as soon as I thought how nice it was to work without the camera, I realized I could use some still shots. So back to the tripod and camera angles, etc. But it was still fun and much easier to shoot stills than video. What I blather about doesn’t matter in still photos.

plowing panel grooves

Now I’ve got the whole front frame (and much of the two side frames) cut. Time to finish the videos on the front framing and then I go on to the front panels. Those I’ve never carved on video before. They’re in the book Joiner’s Work but this will give me a chance to delve more deeply into that pattern.

carving the panels

The only other thing is that it’s May. Bird migration has begun for real here in New England. I’ve made a few short trips with our friend Marie to see what’s coming in. Yesterday’s haul included this wood thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) He was hard enough to find and I couldn’t get him in any good light. His song is one of the wonders of spring in the woods.

wood thrush

And whenever we hear thrushes in the woods, we know we’ll also hear and hopefully see, ovenbirds and towhees. This ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla) looked me right in the eye (in the lens, I guess)

ovenbird

The eastern towhees (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) were all throughout the woods, as were the ovenbirds. Each spring lately I get what I call the “one-day towhee” here at the shop.

one day towhee

Our yard is not the right habitat for them, not enough woods. But last week, one came out from under the holly tree, as it does each year, for one day. Back & forth, scratching in the leaves and junk. Gone the next day.

And the Baltimore orioles (Icterus galbula) are everywhere. Including outside my shop window. And that means yet another camera in the shop, so I can be ready. Binoculars too for the far-away birds.

Baltimore oriole

Next video in the Joined Chest series

Carving the top rail

Well, after a slew of headaches and support-emails with the vimeo people, I have uploaded my most recent video “Carving the Top Rail” – part of the series on making a joined carved chest-with-a-drawer. Just to complicate matters, the trailer is on youtube. I don’t have the strength to suss it out otherwise.

It’s a lengthy video – almost 90 minutes, so I made a lengthy trailer. The video covers how to layout and carve the lunettes on the top rail, hopefully in enough detail to get you there. Here’s the trailer:

The video series is at vimeo.com/ondemand/follansbeejoinedchest – each of these videos (there’s 6 1/2 right now, totally almost 7 hours) is available separately or as part of the whole series. $100 for the full set, $15 per video.

I just got back from teaching a class in making Jennie Alexander’s chair – next up in the shop here is some more chairmaking, then the next video which will cover cutting the mortise & tenon joints, some plow plane & more…and in the meantime – spring migration.

Carolina wren

a week of chairmaking

assembling a sample chair

Time to pack up for a week of chairmaking at Pete Galbert’s. Well, every week there is a week of chairmaking. But for me, it’s a shift in focus. This is only my 3rd class since the pandemic began. I used to travel frequently for teaching, not sure how much of it I’ll do going forward. One thing is constant – I know I’ve packed too much stuff, same as always. I’m bringing parts made by the previous class (filled in some with stock I prepped) and the students will make new ones to replace these – here’s 10 chairs’ worth of back posts in a bucket, with some filler added.

back posts for 10 chairs

I’ll bring one of the last chairs JA made (on the left below) and one I made last year.

JA left, PF right

So we’ll shave green parts, bend them in these forms and move onto the stuff that’s ready to go.

back post bending forms

I didn’t have enough rungs dry ahead of time. So I made 10 dozen and we’ll set these in Pete’s kiln. These all came from some oak bolts that I had rejected for the cupboard I built. But the wood was fine for these.

red oak rungs

The hickory chair I was making came out fine. I’ll use it for the slat-demo, maybe seat weaving too. Depends on timing.

hickory chair

Well, that’s been my week mostly. Time to stuff it in the car, class begins tomorrow morning.

—————

PS: If you’re a subscriber to my vimeo chest-building project. I’m working on it steadily. But I’ve run into glitches with vimeo and the support staff there are on it, trying to guide me through some wrinkles. Sorry for the delay, I’ll announce it here when new content (carving the top rail) is up & running.

top rail to a joined chest

the cupboard is gone, but it’s still on my mind

Here’s a look at the finished cupboard that took up much of the blog this past year. We had to haul it out of here to get far enough away to photograph it. Then off it went to the client’s home.

PF cupboard, 2021/2022

A detail view – the original has some floral bits in the middle & corners of the door. Done in brass maybe? I doubted they were from the period – so substituted the turned “button” for the middle. Maybe an incised date could have been there, who knows? Some of the related examples are dated. But I didn’t want to carve “2022” – too many curves.

detail of the upper case

A reader sent me a photo he took at the Henry Ford Museum – of a cupboard described as being part of the group I was studying. But it ain’t so – whoever made this one had seen some of the originals – or photos of them. Deep side rails at the top of the lower case, for instance. The overhang there is patterned after one of the cupboards at Winterthur. But the pillars are wrong – too plain. Most of the moldings are wrong – that heavy one around the bottom of the upper drawer section for instance. And the base molding. Drawers are dreadfully plain. Turned pendants under that overhang look like nothing else from this group. The door is framed opposite the way these guys did them. Here the stiles are tenoned into the rails – the 17th century ones the rails tenon into the stiles.

Henry Ford Museum cupboard

There were lots of these cupboards made in the 19th century. Some just “colonial revival” but others made to be passed off as “real” i.e. period pieces. I worked with Bob Trent on an article about both the period ones & the 19th century ones we had studied – published in the Dublin Seminar’s 1998 Rural New England Furniture: People, Place & Production.

Here’s the Winterthur one, with the overhang. Dated 1680. Jennie Alexander used to call this one the “lunar lander.”

Winterthur cupboard

Mine’s got my name stamped in it –

Follansbee

and is pretty well documented. About to be more-so. I’m more than halfway through writing a book about making it, to be published by Lost Art Press of course. But still, some unscrupulous person might misrepresent it a generation or two from now…who knows?

carved box details

carved box, 2006

I’m about to go out on my 2nd teaching gig in the past 2-plus years. Carved box class at Lost Art Press. I’ve spent a chunk of today sorting reference material and other junk for the trip. I’ve looked at a lot of box-photos today. I have a folder here that includes photos of over 109 boxes I’ve made, but I know there’s lots that got away sans-photos. (there’s 109 sub-folders, but some have more than one box in them.)

The carving above is copied from two boxes I’ve seen that were made in Braintree, Massachusetts c. 1660-1690. I have carved this design many times over the years. I tend to look closely at the originals as I learn a pattern, then once I feel I know it – I just go ahead and carve it. But I found out lately it’s good to go back & review the source material. Turns out I’ve done the layout wrong for ages.

I got it in my head that those inner arcs swept all the way out to the edges of the half-circle down at the bottom margin. (they mostly do on one other example) And often wondered why I had a hard time fitting all the detail inside the pattern! I fiddled around with the photo and a compass this morning – I’d go carve one but my tools are packed already. I used to strike a 45-degree line from the bottom center to locate the new centerpoint for the upside-down arcs. But now I think that centerpoint is not on a diagonal line, but just off it, tucked up under the top margin. Leaves more room inside.

possible layout

These joiners, William Savell and his sons John and William – always made lunettes with concave outlines – what Jennie Alexander called a “marble run.” But it never continued over the top of the design – it’s always broken. Here’s two examples, the front of a chest:

upper rail, joined chest c. 1660-1680

and the front of a box

carved box, John Savell 1642-1687

We often wondered where are the English examples that are the source for this work? The closest I have come is a tossed-off Instagram post showing something like their work – so a poor photo, grabbed from IG and cropped heavily. (I wrote to the antiques dealer whose photo it is & never heard back.)

But it has all the earmarks of the Savell/Braintree work –

  • Broken concave outline
  • Alternating upside-down/right-side-up V-shapes in that outline (seagulls)
  • Punched decoration – in the New England work a Maltese cross. Too indistinct to see here.
  • Alternating light & heavy chopped decoration with a gouge.

Many of these things happen in other 17th century carvings too, but combining them this way leads me to think there’s a connection. This detail from one of the New England chests shows some of those bullet points –

But the design between the lunettes on the English piece? What about that? It shows up on one of the New England chests – and a box too.

joined chest detail Smithsonian Institution

Well. It gives me something to think about while I drive from here to Lost Art Press. I’ll be making carvings of these lunettes as part of the joined chest I have underway – they’ll appear here on the blog and on the video series about the chest. But next post in both those places won’t be til the end of the first week of April.

waiting for some paint to dry

I’ve been doing a couple different things as I wait for this oil paint to dry on these pillars. This is the second coat, put on today. So these should be ready in 2 or 3 more days.

upper case pillars

I spent today planing oak panels for the joined chest project and shooting video about cleanup & sharpening of the wooden planes after working green oak.

newly ground bevel on smooth plane

I hate talking about sharpening, but it has to happen. In for a penny, in for a pound – when I get to editing the video from today about sharpening I’ll write a blog post for here too. I’ve never done one in all these years. Maybe bits & pieces, but not a full-blown discussion of what I do.

The video clips will be for the joined chest series I started last month. Yesterday was going to be the day I upped the price, but I’ll keep the introductory price ($85 – about to be $100) for the rest of this week anyway. I’m finishing up the next video, which is the beginning of planing the riven pieces into chest parts. I plan on posting it on the weekend. If you’d like to know more about the video series, here’s the post where I introduced it. https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2022/02/07/joined-chest-video-series/

most of 2021’s carvings

Last year was probably the least amount of oak carvings I’ve done since 1994. That photo above is easily 90% of the output for the year! I have my first carved box class in 2 years coming up the end of March. So I’ve got to get practicing. I carved this one yesterday –

back at carving

but totally ruined the first attempt, then planed it off & carved this. Not terrible, but not great either.

I will get back to the Youtube videos that accompany the carving drawings – I have several more to do for the 2nd set of drawings. Those all got interrupted by the cupboard. I see that at least one of the carvings above was done as a video/drawing. https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/carving-drawings-17th-century-work-from-devon-england-and-ipswich-massachusetts-set-1/

Tulip pattern drawing
tulip pattern as a box front

The class I mentioned is at Lost Art Press – and is one of only two classes I have scheduled for 2022. The other is a JA chair class at Pete Galbert’s in April. When I figure out if and where I’m adding more, I’ll be sure to post about it here first. I want to see how these two go first, then take it from there.

Sometime recently I dug out this old sackback of mine to repair it. I made it in 1989 and used it for years & years. Its form is from Curtis Buchanan’s sackback, which is from Dave Sawyer’s – but I shaved the legs, stretchers and arm posts instead of turning them. A mish-mash of woods – tulip poplar seat, ash arm, hickory spindles, white oak bow and cherry for the understructure & arm posts.

old PF sackback

Over time the spindles poked through the bow – they must not have been dry enough at assembly. So I knocked them about some, split them with a chisel & drove in new wedges. Then trimmed them flush with the bow.

double wedges

A bigger problem was a break in the back of the arm. It hadn’t popped apart but threatened to. I had seen old Windsors with braces attached outside fractured bends – so figured I had nothing to lose. Scrounged up in the loft for something I could cobble together. Raided some cheap hardware-store hinge, a bit of hacksaw work (I like it less than sharpening…) and two screws. Not beautiful, but you can’t see it when you sit in the chair.

not hidden at all

closer still…

a big step closer

First off – if you’ve read this blog for a while, you know this cupboard has consumed my every-waking moment for a while now. But when it’s done (in 3 weeks, I figure) I’ll be back to some usual blog stuff, including the carving videos that accompany the sets of carving drawings. I never finished the 2nd set of videos, there’s panels and strapwork to carve. Maybe more, I’ll have to check. But I haven’t forgotten them. Just shelved them & chairmaking til this behemoth is out of here. Now to the recent progress on the cupboard. It’s been a long time coming to this point. It’s not done, but it’s very close. 

sticking in the feet

There’s been a bunch of small tasks; gluing and pinning the feet in place. I bored a 3/16” hole through the side of the stile to just catch the foot’s tenon then drove in a wooden pin. Not on the original, but it costs nothing. Belt & suspenders. 

nailing drawer bottoms in

Some drawer bottoms. These are on-going as the oak panels dry. V-shaped tongue & groove. Nailed to the drawer sides, back and in a rabbet in the front. 

not mine

Initials. The original cupboards are often initialed and/or dated. This one just has initials. Practiced first, I don’t often carve letters. One more turning fits between the C and the I. Its paint is drying now. 

thinner button shapes

I re-did a bunch of the turned applied buttons. I found a better way to turn them and got the shape closer to what it should be. Also painted & drying. These all go on the upper case, 6 on the panels and a dozen on the upper stiles (replacing those on the upper stiles’ front faces right now.)

maple pillar

Then the pillars. Turning and installing those upper case pillars was a rare nerve-wracking bit of woodworking. I don’t usually shy away from the “next step” – in any project as you near completion, you have more to lose. These pillars are such a prominent part of the cupboard – they’re up front & up top. You can hide mistakes here & there in such a busy piece – but you can’t hide one here. 

at some point you just go ahead & bore it

I went through a bunch of rigamarole to locate the holes in the lower case’s top for the pillars’ bottom tenons. And double & triple checked it. And thought about what I would have to do if I bored it in the wrong place. (Tear off that top, rip off the offending board. Plane & joint a new one, glue it on. Plane the whole thing. Molding on the front edge. Paint it. Pin it back in place.) I felt very wimpy being so timid, but got the holes right where they need to be. The tenons are 3/4” and the holes are 13/16” – no need to make that a tight fit. Gravity keeps them in place. 

turning tenons

I rough-turned that maple pillar last March! It was the only one I got from a horrible maple log. So I turned it, went searching for more. Took months and finally settled on some cherry for the others. Turned the others in November & December. For this upper case, I roughed out three. One died on the vine – had a blown-out chunk from riving and checked badly. So these two had to make it. Yesterday I did the finish turning, very light cuts with freshly sharpened tools. And determined the final, actual shoulder-to-shoulder length from a test-fit. 

time to paint some more

Got ‘em as close to perfect as my shop produces. “I’m so happy” to quote Jögge Sundqvist. 

(pt 33 Essex County cupboard project 2021/22)

Next video in the Joined Chest series posted

1/4s into 1/8s

I took some time out from the cupboard to sort & edit video clips for the next installment in the new series about making a joined chest. The video is a bit under 90 minutes and now at least there’s some action. It’s about splitting open the log and then riving out various parts with a froe. I also show how I use a hewing hatchet to further prep the riven stock prior to planing it to size. You’ll see some snippets about choosing a log, details on splitting a great log and a look too at working a below-average one as well. The video is available separately or as part of the whole series, which I expect to be about 12-15 hours overall. $85 for the whole series, $15 per video.

I’m looking forward to concentrating more on this project. I’ve added a new external microphone and a better #2 camera. Lots of juggling around to get at it, but most of the rest of the series will be in the shop, except some hewing here & there.

Next installment in 2 weeks will begin planing the stock. I’ll show how my bench works, some wooden planes and even some metal-bodied planes. Using them with green wood is like a science experiment! But you can do it…

I also added a video I shot last year about sharpening the hatchet, but that’s free on youtube already too. I plan on adding short extras here & there – first one will be about some of the history of these chests and how they compare to other 17th century New England chests. Sort of a slide lecture, but not boring I hope.

See www.vimeo.com/ondemand/follansbeejoinedchest/

closer every day

lower case

Well, let’s see. Need to wedge the drawer pulls. One turning to go on the bottom drawer & 2 initials flanking it. Some touch-up color here & there, then oil it. Most recent additions were the feet and the base molding.

JA’s miter box

When I got this miter box from Jennie Alexander I tried to sell it. I’m so glad it didn’t work. It’s heavy & bulky and I rarely use it. But when I do, I’m glad I have it. That’s the front piece of molding for the base. I was kicking myself for not making an extra full-length piece. I kept thinking “if I cut this too short, I have to rive a new piece. plane it, dry it, cut the molding, then paint 2 coats of black on it.” I cut it the right length. Whew.

nailing it on

It’s glued & nailed. I don’t know why I glued it too – just been gluing so many things on I guess. Some of the original cupboards from this shop never had a base molding. They look better with it. Right now the feet are just fitted in, it was late in the day & the shop was getting cool, so I didn’t want to glue them until the next time the stove’s running. Another session I shifted to the upper case. I turned new versions of the pilasters that flank the door. The first set would have worked, but they were a bit heavier than these. I’m glad I re-did them. A lot of work, but worth it.

front pilasters

Then the small turned “drops” – these are also glued & “sprigged” on. I used 7/8″ cut nails instead of handmade iron sprigs. I even snipped them shorter. They just prick into the panel. There are 1″ round button shapes coming to go under these 3 spindles.

adding turned decoration

Today I was sorting oak panels for the drawer bottoms. When I made the drawers I just put some of the bottoms in place, mostly to keep the drawers square. So now begins the task of filling them in. I need about 150″ of width. 2 drawers at 39″ wide, 2 at 36″. The panels vary from about 7″ wide to just over 10″. Many taper in their width. so it’s a bit of a puzzle. They finish about 3/8″-7/16″ thick. First thing tomorrow is plane sharpening.

sorting drawer bottom stock

(here’s more detail on the drawer bottoms – in that post I made the same comment about the miter box!)

(pt 32 Essex County cupboard project 2021/22)

Joined Chest video series

picture it with a drawer instead of those brackets

Well today’s the day. 

In December 2020 I subscribed to a series of videos Pete Galbert was releasing called Foundation in Chairmaking. I knew right away I wanted to do the same with a joined chest. And now I have. Or started it anyway. 

what to do with this?

I got a great red oak log that’s perfect for joiner’s work. I didn’t have any particular work scheduled that needed it, so I decided to begin a video series like Pete’s. For the project, I chose to copy a chest that means a lot to me, the first group of joined carved chests I ever studied, starting back in 1990. You’ve maybe seen bits and pieces about them in my work over the years. Here’s one I saw in New York a couple of winters ago. 

chest by John Savell 1660-1687

The chests were made in Braintree, Massachusetts by a joiner named William Savell and his sons John & William, between 1640 and 1700. The video series is open-ended; I don’t know how long it will be (Galbert’s ran about 15 hours) – but my previous chest-video with Lie-Nielsen is 4+ hours. This will be MUCH longer than that. There will be room for much more detail and background. I have just posted the introduction, which looks at a restored version of one of these chests and then a segment in the shop introducing the material and some alternatives. That video is about 45 minutes, I expect the shop videos to be an hour to an hour & a half. If a subject runs longer than that, I’ll probably split it in 2. I’ll get to talk about and show you various joined chests and how these Braintree chests are similar and different. And there’s carving. Of course. 

top rail lunette, c. 1670-1700

The introductory price is $85 for the whole series. On March 1, 2022 that price will go up. Readers have asked for the option to buy individual segments, so I put that there at $15 per video. Below is a trailer and you can follow that to purchase it. 

I have shot much of the splitting and riving, hewing and planing. So as I finish up my cupboard I’ll be working on getting the next video posted – hopefully about two weeks from now. 

And Jeff Lefkowitz and I are working on a set of drawings/plans for one of these chests. Subscribers to the whole series will get a discount on those plans when they are ready. I have no timetable for that but we’re working on them.