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.

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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.

top for the square table

I worked today on the top for the square table I’m making. I have only made this form 3 times now; once many years ago, and two this year. It’s rare to find them in New England with their original top in place. I studied one back in the 1990s, and its cleats were seemingly just attached with a tongue and groove. I was never quite sure; without taking them off it’s hard to tell. All I have is an old slide that I scanned years ago –

I made one like that once, and was never happy with the cleats. Too fragile. When I made a few large tables for clients recently, I delved into conjecture and made cleats that are mortised to house tenons cut on the ends of the tabletop. That’s what I did today on the square table in progress. This time, I included a tongue-and-groove as well, to seal up any gaps that might show up between the tabletop and cleats. Here’s how I did it:

The finished top, including the cleats will be 43 1/2″ square. I have glued up 6 radially-sawn oak boards. These are the best quartersawn boards I had; growth rings perfectly perpendicular to the boards’ faces. That way they’ll stay flat. Or mostly flat. Here I’m going over the top with a finely-set plane across the board to get things reasonable.

checking with a straightedge.

Then I laid out what amounts to a 43 1/2″ wide tenon!

Sawing its shoulders is the most cumbersome part of the whole operation. This is the back shoulder, that surface is not done yet; but it doesn’t matter.

Because it’s very straight grained oak, I chose to split the cheeks off the tenon.

I then cleaned up that whole surface front & back with a rabbet plane.

I chopped 3 mortises in each cleat, but between the three tenons, I’ll leave a tongue that fits a corresponding groove between the mortises. Here I’m using a turning saw to cut down from the sides of the tenons to the tongue. The length of the tongue is just less than 1/2″.

This is the only time I plow grooves the same width as the mortises. In frame & panel work, the grooves are about 3/16″ wide, with mortises 5/16″. These are both 5/16″.

Here’s a test-fit underway. Lots of testing, trimming and more testing. I want it to go on pretty easily, but not sloppy. Too much slop in this joint could make the cleat droop down away from the top surface.

Here’s the test-fit all ready for drawboring, pegging & trimming. First I need to plane the underside, then scrape the top.

recent work

I’ve been in the shop most every day lately; though some have been more productive than others. Pret the other day said “Sometimes I can’t tell if it’s a day off, or an off-day.” Sounds about right.  I have another square table nearing completion. This one had a slew of turned bits.

two sections of the square table frame

They’re heavy items; posts and stretchers are I think 2 3/4″ square. Top rails are 5″ high…

detail square table

The top is glued-up now; soon I’ll finish planing it and then I can assemble the table. There’s two joined stools that go with it. These are unusual in that the legs are all plumb – no “rake” to the side view. The table and stools are all headed for the Old House in Cutchogue, N.Y. https://www.cutchoguenewsuffolkhistory.org/timeline/the-old-house/

Another project is wrapping up, it’s been around for far too long. These are the head-posts for a bedstead I’m making. They are sawn ash, replacing some oak that wasn’t quite up to speed.


Here’s the footboard. These are actually timed pretty well right now, they’re destined for Arizona. So assembly during the driest part of the year here will work out well. That’s my excuse for going so slowly on this one.

A while back the kids & I helped Maureen set up at a craft sale in Rhode Island. It was great to see all her recent work displayed in one spot. The leftover work is on her etsy site – https://www.etsy.com/shop/MaureensFiberArts 

and her Instagram site is https://www.instagram.com/maureenrichard30/?hl=en

 

 

I posted this little box I finished up for Maureen’s birthday on Instagram and it was a hit. Just something different I guess. It’s a real hybrid; Alaska yellow cedar used to make an ancient Scandinavian-style box with drawer. 5″ high, 6″ x 11″

Mine’s not a copy of anything in particular, just based the idea on some old boxes from around Scandinavia. I dovetailed the corners; and put a sliding lock down through the box front into the drawer front. This is because I have a similar box for my spoon carving tools I use with students; and its drawer is not secured. Carry it wrong, and it dumps the drawer out.

The pathetic part is that this box sat 80% done for well over a year, before I dug it out the other day, gave it 3 hours’ worth of work & was done.

Here’s the website I once used to search for things like this; this link is a search result I filtered a bit:  https://digitaltmuseum.se/search/?aq=owner%3F%3A%22S-NM%22+time%3A%221700+TO+1799%22&q=l%C3%A5da 

 

the week in pictures

Just photos, and some captions.

mortising a joined stool frame

 

I bore the peg holes to mark it “done”

 

shaving rungs for JA ladderback

 

Mortised these posts, then shaved with a spokeshave to finish them

 

joinery tested for the 2nd joined stool frame

 

some spoon carving at the end of a day

 

new old shop stool by JA; pre-1978

 

unrelated – two scrolled & molded table rails and two bed posts

 

stile for joined table; 2 3/4″ square

 

turning one of the stiles

Thinking about self-taught turning – “Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other.”

turning detail

 

Jones River this morning

 

Nice to see the sun today

Sunday ladderback chairmaking

My travel schedule is a bit back-and-forth right now. But I was home all week, and spent much of it working on a few custom furniture projects, mostly turning chair parts for a copy of a 17th-century turned chair with a board seat. I’ll write more about that very soon…

But today was ladderback chair work. I have parts for a few of them underway, but started the day by shaving more; a set of rungs (a dozen-plus) and a set of red oak posts. I try to squeeze these parts out of oak that is nice and straight, but somehow or other just a step down from something ideal for joinery work. There was only 2” wide clear stock (on the radial plane – it came from a narrow log) so all it could be in joined work was joined stools’ parts, or stretchers for wainscot chairs. I have a lot of stools to make, but decided I could spare a few pieces for the chair. In these photos, I have Alexander’s chair beside me – I needed to photograph it last week, and it’s sat in the shop since then. 

shaving rear post in oak – first square it up

Shaving this green wood is a breeze. The chair needs its parts to be straight, but this straight is checked by eye, not by a straight-edge, winding sticks and jointer planes. “The eye is very forgiving” said Alexander many times.

Make it square, taper the bit above the seat, shave the corners to an octagon,

knocking the corners off

then cut the relief above the seat on the front of the rear post for bending.

shaving the relief on the front of the post

Here’s a shot from last time of the bending; just tying the cords around the ends. These posts sat in the form for 2 weeks and were in perfect shape when I took them out.

bending rear posts

I had to make a 2nd bending form, because when I went to set up to bend this oak set of posts, I found a set of ash posts I made a week or two ago. Had forgotten about them. I can shave the pair of posts faster than I can make and screw together a bending form!

3 sets of rear posts

I cut a short section of ash for the rungs; this billet gave me 7 rungs. There were 3 rungs above the froe in this photo, and 4 below it. Splitting odd numbers like that only works for me in dead-straight stock, that’s pretty short. These rungs are only about 15″ long. I had a few scraps around that made up the remainder. I used to be able to shave a rung in a minute, today one took me almost two. Must be getting old.

7 rungs; 3 above the froe, 4 below. Section is only 15″ long

In these chairs, the rungs are shaving oversize while green, then dried and shaved again to bring the tenons down to their final size. The notion is that the “super-dry” rung will a.) not shrink any, and b.) in fact absorb moisture from the slightly wetter posts and swell. This has come to be called “wet/dry” joinery. But – you gotta get the rungs all the way dry. Most chairmakers use a kiln…but I don’t have one. I used to put them in the oven, but our oven won’t go down low enough – under 140 F. Higher than that, you run the risk of making charcoal.

In the winter, I kept rungs in a batch stored near the furnace. I would take them out and weigh them periodically, and chart the weight. When they stop losing weight they’re dry.

 In the meantime, I’ve kept this batch of rungs near the hot-water heater. Today, I weighed them (2 lbs 2.6 oz.) and then put them on the dashboard of my car while it was parked out front, where it gets lots of afternoon sun. Windows up. At the end of the afternoon – 2 lbs, 2.2 oz. I’ll put them back there each sunny afternoon this week. Hope to assemble a chair next week with ash posts and these oak rungs.

temporary kiln

still a few spoons left from last time. And some furniture – make me an offer on the furniture items and we’ll see where we get. House is getting crowded. https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2018/07/01/spoons-and-furniture-for-sale-july-2018/ 

me, Alexander and Joinery

I was in the shop the other day, pinning a joined stool together. It’s not just ladderback chairs that make me think of Jennie Alexander. This joinery junket that I’ve been on since about 1989 is directly influenced by JA. I’ve told the story many times, and much of it is covered in our book we did with Lost Art Press, Make a Joint Stool from a Tree https://lostartpress.com/products/make-a-joint-stool-from-a-tree

Here, I’m shaving the tapered pins that will hold the mortise and tenon joints together for all time.

And driving them in. All the while, I thought back over the years to all that Alexander & I did on this adventure.

It started with a slide lecture by JA, showing close-up details of dis-assembled mortise and tenon joints from early New England oak furniture. Really just one piece, a cupboard door. And mostly just one joint, in excruciating detail. JA never showed us the actual object, just the details & then extrapolated from that. Here’s my shot of the cupboard door, taken more than 20 years later. (Alexander’s shots were all slides, and I’ve only scanned some of them…I don’t have the detail shots inside the mortise…)

Here’s some JA shots from a trip we made to the Smithsonian to study a related chest I found published from their collection. This broken joint was endlessly fascinating to Alexander, and s/he probably shot a whole roll of slide film of just this one joint.

The detail. I remember Alexander requesting, and getting, a step ladder from which to photograph. (JA was about 5’4″ tall) Rodris Roth was the incredible curator there, more patient than anyone. She’s long gone now, but was often fondly remembered by Alexander. In particular, we were packing up our gear, then remembered one shot we failed to get. Rodris insisted we unpack and take the shot, this after a full day of shooting. JA never forgot that.

I’ve shown this piece of junk mail before -after hearing the initial lecture (either at Country Workshops or in Baltimore, depending on who’s telling the story) I had some questions. I wrote a letter to JA, and got this as part of the illustrated reply. This is the cross-section of a joined chest’s stile – Alexander coined the term “truncadon” to describe this tapered, riven chest post.

Now, to not repeat JA’s sins – here’s the full shot of the cupboard:

A great shot by JA of the upper rail’s carving:


And one of mine, showing the tapered cross-section of a chest’s stile:

For more detail of our joinery study, see our article from American Furniture 1996: http://www.chipstone.org/article.php/222/American-Furniture-1996/Seventeenth-Century-Joinery-from-Braintree,-Massachusetts:-The-Savell-Shop-Tradition