March. Hmm… it means two things to me right now. One is turn the page on the Yurt Foundation calendar, the other is to march, get going, quit fooling around. This is the month that my schedule picks up. So rather than just picking up whatever project happens to catch my fancy at any given moment, it’s time to knuckle down and get some stuff done.
I keep shifting back & forth. I have to ignore these spoons in the daylight right now, and get to work on my desk box, and the 2 chests with drawers I have underway. At least by having these spoons roughed out, I can carve them at night.
Daylight is for heavier bench work…so the goal for this week is to get the desk box all cut and ready to assemble, then work on cutting joinery and laying out carving for the chest with drawer that’s the focus of my class beginning later this month.
Some time ago, I wrote a column for Popular Woodworking and asked the question “what is green woodworking?” (December 2014, #215) I’m not going to repeat the article here, but want to look at the subject. The column stemmed from a talk I gave at Lie-Nielsen’s Open House last summer.
I used to know pretty clearly what “green woodworking” meant. But the older I get, the more I realize the less I know.
Making a carved spoon is a great example of green woodworking – you can make them from dry wood, (I wouldn’t) but the best ones come from trees, and are worked while the wood still has a high moisture content. More direct, easier to cut, exploiting the fibers of the riven/split form – all of these are hallmarks of green woodworking. Hewn bowls, and many turned ones fall into a similar category. But bowls and spoons are single pieces of wood. what about furniture, when you put stuff together?
When I first learned of this method of woodworking, it was Drew Langsner’s Country Woodcraft, Roy Underhill’s Woodwright’s Shop – and the book that coined the term for the modern day – Make a Chair from a Tree: An Introduction to Green Woodworking by John (now Jennie) Alexander. What puts the green in green woodworking? Is it moisture content? Is it riving the wood? Is it “country crafts” like the British books that inspired all of the authors listed above – Jenkins’ Traditional Country Craftsmen” and Edlin “Woodland Crafts in Britain”. Alexander felt left out of the “country” aspect of this traditional woodworking, living in the heart of the city. Hence her book’s subtitle has “green woodworking” – not country anything.
The ladderback style chair Alexander learned even got a great deal of its strength from the moisture content manipulation – dry tenons in wetter mortises. the mortise shrinks, the tenon swells. Presto! You’re a chairmaker and have never been to a lumberyard. The way I remember it, in the 1980s green woodworking was ladderback chairs, some bowl-turning (I remember folks used to turn them green, let them dry, the re-turn them round again!) and a few other disciplines. Timber framing comes to mind.
I think about coopering – is that green woodworking? Usually riven stock, worked with a hatchet, drawkinives, shaving horses – but the critical parts are either executed or at least assembled when the stock is bone-dry. Or else.
Windsor chairs? In America, these usually had, and have, softwood seats. Often white pine. That ain’t worked green. But the hardwood components are often riven from green stock. They’re selectively dried, like parts of Alexander’s ladderback chair, before assembly. Even the hardwood seats of British Windsors can’t be dead-green…
Some approach the “green” like the modern use of the term, renewable energy; careful use of resources, that sort of thing. Coppice crafts, are perfectly aligned with this idea. This work has long been very popular in the Old World, yet to my knowledge, never caught on here in the New World.
Starting in 1989, Alexander and I explored another furniture craft, seemingly more complex, until we got through with it & stripped it down – joiner’s work of the 17th century. It had riven stock, high moisture content – but some of it was not “country” in its format – some were very elaborate forms; with lots of decoration. This work has been my main focus since then. It does not fit the eco-groovy definition at all. I call it “Imperialist Swine” woodworking – you need a whole new forest to sustain it. The oak trees I want take 200 years to grow to size. And I will only use a small percentage of the tree. The rest goes in the fire.
In the end, I decided I don’t think of myself as a “green woodworker” although probably three-quarters of my stock is riven from green logs, and primarily worked up while it has a high moisture content. Trees are wood, I’m a woodworker. Sometimes I use stock fresh from the log, other times I need stuff that’s air-dried. I work the wood at various stages between wet & dry. Most of my furniture is a combination of the two. I think that’s a traditional approach….
I finished making the two carved boxes I’ve been working on. The first one is this yellow cedar “sampler” box for my class in Alaska. Jonathan and the rest of the Alaska Creative Woodworkers Association sent me some Alaska yellow cedar so I could test it out before we ordered it for the class. The wood will work fine, and I carved this one with a range of patterns – hence “sampler.” The side, and the pintle hinge:
The inside of the lid:
What’s weird about it is the proportions. Not weird really. Just ugly. there’s a reason you don’t see 17th century boxes this size – because they’re both ugly and stupid. But it maximized what I got out of the boards they sent down. overall size is 6 1/4″ H, 11 1/2″ W and 7 1/2′ D. So I made a proper oak and white pine box, just to make me feel less unsettled.
Someone yesterday commented that this design reminded them of Northwest coast work – well, it is northwest – but northwest of Boston Massachusetts, c. 1680s/90s. Look at the side I carved = even more so. This one is H: 7″ W: 17″ D: 11″
Here are some of the period carvings I was following somewhat
I’ll paint mine, but maybe not right now. I have to send them by dogsled to Anchorage – whoops – we have more snow than them. I’ll use UPS I guess. Here’s the two side-by-side.
In the class, we will delve deeply into the period chest we’re studying/copying, but will also look at numerous variations. These chests (Wethersfield/Windsor/Hartford area of CT) often have one large horizontal panel over 2 vertical panels. the upper panel is glued up in every one I’ve seen and made notes on… but the students will be making single-drawer versions. So that changes how we format the end view. I’ll offer them 2 versions & they can decide which to use.
There is no typical arrangement – but there are several that we see over & over. Like these:
a joined chest, one large horizontal panel on the ends. This panel is about 14″ wide (top to bottom) It requires a tree in the range of 36″ in diameter, straight as can be.
One way around that issue is to divide the end with a muntin, and use two narrower vertical panels. Two more joints, but not a big deal. I do this most commonly. Note here the side top rail and the front top rail are different dimensions.
This next one is a chest with a single drawer. So two side-by-side panels above a single horizontal panel. In some cases, these panels all end up the same width – nice & neat for stock preparation.
Here’s a chest of drawers, and I have found this arrangement on chests with 2 drawers too – two sets of vertical side-by-side panels. or 2 over 2 if you want to phrase it that way. You can cover a lot of ground this way.
How these side views relate to the front view and more interestingly, to the rear view is a study in itself. Come take the class – we’ll be able to really explore joined chests in excruciating detail. You’ll be well-versed in joined chests by the end. The End.
Today I spent a good deal of time on my hands & knees. I was with Bob Van Dyke, Will Neptune and Christina Vida collecting information for the joined chest class we’re doing at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking this year. (to read the class description, follow this link,
We’re building a version of this Connecticut chest with drawers. For the class, it will be “chest w drawer” - it’s a crazy enough undertaking as it is.
Here’s some of the materials, Michael Doherty took me to the wall of wood. These were maybe 12′ high, I’d say 10′ long logs, maybe longer.
Some of the larger oaks had been pulled out for us already. Michael had picked out more too. I’ve never ordered wood for so many full-sized chests before. But if we need more, it’s there. Below are some of the oaks (the red cedar top right is Michael’s):
So if you want to see how to turn those logs into a chest, sign up to take the class. It’s a time commitment; one weekend a month for 5 months. But you’ll get to go through the whole process, and learn all the details of a chest like this. (our plan is to start with a field trip – we’ll go to the woodyard, and work the logs in the picture just above – the students will split the logs apart to begin gathering rough stock).
I taught a chest class at Roy Underhill’s last year, but it was a scaled-down simple frame & panel chest. This one is full-size, carvings and molding. All the bells & whistles. There will be at least one field trip to examine the original chest in detail. (Hopefully a 2nd trip to see other 17th-c chests at Windsor Historical Society…) I’m not going into detail on the whole chest now; but it has a lot of interesting features. Of course the carving is a big part of it – almost no blank space at all.
It’s been about 6 months that I’ve been “out on my own” (I think Roy Underhill called it “free at last”) but I still haven’t really settled into a woodworking routine like I once had…Today, I picked up where I left off over a year and a half ago – finishing a small joined chest I made for Roy’s show in 2013… http://video.pbs.org/video/2365021510/ and http://video.pbs.org/video/2365079634/
I’ve only had it kicking around for I don’t know how long, and it took all of an hour to finish it off. Needed to drive four nails, trim the floor boards, and set one hinge.
How stupid that I left it so long! It’s been on the blog in pieces a number of times, I even took it back to Roy’s this past summer, where it was the model for our week-long chest class. Now – it’s done. I copied its proportions from some English examples, it’s quite small. 30″ w x 20″ h x 17″ d. A mixture of sawn and riven oak, with pine floor boards and rear panel. No decoration other than the bevels around the panels. Paneled lid, interior till. It’s for sale if anyone’s interested; send an email if you’d like to talk about it. $2,000 plus shipping. or pick it up.
I finished this carved rail for the upcoming wainscot chair – started this carving as a museum demonstration at Historic New England in early December – at least it’s not waiting around 18 months. I’m working now on getting that chair moving along steadily; doing some joinery on it tomorrow. The panel is mostly carved, that should be done tomorrow too.
well, I never really was a true monoculture anyway. But close. Mostly oak, lots of white pine, ash. some maple (mostly turned), but there’s even mention in the back pages of this blog of Spanish cedar, East Indian Rosewood, Atlantic white cedar – and the spoons are a range of woods that never include oak. That’s where you’ll see me use cherry and apple – not in furniture.
But my recent foray further into walnut is really out of this world, for me anyway. Riven, radial, high moisture content. Now I have run the gamut with this wood, from my first experience with that awful kiln-dried randomly sawn lousy stock, to air-dried straight-grained clear stuff – now to the true beast – riven radial stuff. Wow. Hewing it is so much fun I almost just chopped it all up just for the thrill. It’s going to be a joined stool, which I need like a hole in the head – but the book needs joined work that’s not oak. And…the walnut was a gift. Thanks, Michael D.
Here are the stool parts, planed. Why 5 aprons & only 3 stretchers? Because I had just a little bit of extra wood. This way, I’ll make the aprons. If all goes well, apron #5 will get chopped down to a stretcher. Something goes haywire, I make #5 an apron & return to the wood pile to hopefully scrounge a stretcher. Timid, I know. But I don’t usually have riven walnut around. This is New England, not the mid-west.
Part 3 of the “what happened to my monoculture” is really out of this world – this wood was like nothing I have ever seen. I got a sampling of it in the mail – to test it for a carving class. 11 1/2” wide quartersawn stuff – with over 360 growth rings!
We’re hopefully using this for the box class I’m teaching in Alaska next spring. Thanks to the guys up there for sending it down…
It carves very well, planes to a beautiful finish, except for some tearout difficulties. I’m mesmerized by it. Density is a bit softer than the black walnut; specific gravity is .42, as compared to the walnut at .51. I did much of the carving without the mallet. Once all the V-tool outlining was done, I used hand pressure for a great deal of this design.
But I have been working up some oak stock recently to replenish what I have used. I only have about 6 or 8 more of this crazy-wide oak panels to prep…the offset handle on this hatchet is especially useful when working wide stuff. this one’s 14” wide. That’s knuckle-scraping wide if you’re not careful.
over at Plymouth Craft – if you’re thinking of the spoon class, it’s about half-full now. So don’t delay… http://plymouthcraft.org/ (3PM – Eastern time, that website is having a problem. We’ll get on it, or it will fix itself miraculously…)