Carving the next wainscot chair stile

I’ve got my joinery book just about finished, I have a few things to photograph, and a couple of paragraphs to write. This carving pattern came after I was done writing, so it goes here instead of in the book. It’s a rear stile for a wainscot chair, 3″ wide.

After striking margins and a centerline, I struck the outline of the diamond shape with a broad chisel & mallet.

The inner part of that design is outlined again with the chisel.

These half-circle bits get 2 strikes of this deeply curved gouge. These are stuck to the margin…

Next, I took a large #5 Swiss-made gouge and used it to outline the large rosette. These photos are too close to see, but just about all of this is mallet work.

After outline, then I use the same tool to relieve the bits right around the rosette. Then a smaller #5 to finish removing background.

Inside the rosette, a small circle right in the middle, defined with 3 strikes of a small curved gouge.

Then remove a chip right up against that incised outline to begin hollowing the shape.

Then I can step back and use a large tool to remove more of that hollowing. By cutting the bit right near the center first, I’ve decreased the chances of knocking the middle out with this gouge. 

Once that rosette is hollowed, I use a very narrow gouge to define the outline of the petals.

Then remove a chip behind the 2 cuts that form the intersection of 2 petals.

Then a straight chisel to connect the parts, to define the edges of the petals.

A narrower chisel makes a straight line through the petal, followed by a punch (a fine nailset in this case) at the tip. 

Here’s a short (amateur) video done with the ipad, warts & all. It shows me carving the diamond/lozenge part:

Advertisements

strapwork carvings

I’ve been carving a lot of oak lately. Boxes and drawer fronts in this pile.

As I mentioned the other day, I have a box with a drawer underway; for a descendant of William Searle, one of the Ipswich joiners. These pieces get big and heavy – about 15″ tall, 26″ wide. Maybe 16″ deep.

I’ve only seen one & 1/2 period examples of this form, this one is based on the full example. The 1/2 example has lost its drawer; got cut in half at some point. Both were by the same maker(s); sometimes attributed to William Searle, sometimes to Thomas Dennis.

Lots of layout involved, and the outlines are struck with gouges and chisels, not cut with a V-tool. Centerlines, margins, arcs – all measured off with a compass. In this case, I’m trying to make a close copy, usually I make my own versions of this “strapwork” design.

 

But I got ahead of the story. While I had the box with drawer underway; I got an email asking if I would make a copy of the “other” one, the one that’s lost its drawer! And it had nothing to do with my having the first one on the bench. What are the odds that I’d get that note while working on a related box? I’ve got the first one to the point where all the hard parts are left – the drawer, applied moldings around the middle and base, and turned feet for underneath. Then the lid. I need to shoot some of that for the book I have underway, so rather than get involved in that right now, I got out a board to start carving the next box front.

It’s fun to see how the strapwork designs relate to each other, and how they are different. Scale is quite similar, about 5 1/2″ to 6″ high x 25″ wide.

 

I wrote in detail about strapwork back in 2013 – I found it by searching “strapwork” on the blog’s sidebar. https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2013/02/08/strapwork-carving-designs/ 

Wainscot chair rear leg

I’m working on a few things at once; including another wainscot chair. Making the “rake” to the rear legs is the largest output of labor for a single piece of wood in my repertoire. And, the most conspicuous waste of material. But, it has to be done. I rived this white oak billet about 3 1/2″-4″ square, maybe 45″ long or so. I start then by hewing the tangential plane into something close to flat.

This is a departure from my standard practice – I usually always work the radial face first. It’s easiest to plane, and often rives quite flat. But in this case, I’m planing the side-plane of the rear post – so I can then layout the shape on this face. If you enlarge the photo below, you can see the growth ring orientation on the end grain.

Each wainscot chair I have seen is different in its angle/rake/cant – what ever we might call the shape hewn and planed above the seat. I like to align the top end with the grain – it makes plowing the panel groove easier. Chopping mortises too. But to do this, like in the photo below, it means the chunk of wood to give you this shape is pretty hefty. This particular chair isn’t raked all that much…some have a greater angle than this.

There have been times when I have shifted the template on the stock, to squeak the leg out of a thinner piece of wood. To do that, you bump it so the leg angles back both above and below the seat. Sometimes a riven piece of wood will have some blowout here or there so you have no choice but to do this. The downside is all the joinery is mis-aligned with the fibers of the wood. There’s no way around that to some degree, but the orientation in the first photo minimizes it.

After having determined the layout, I hew off the bottom/front and then bring the piece to the bench to plane the top front face. This is the radial face. On this chair, the surface will be carved.

 

Once I’ve planed the top and bottom front face (the top & bottom here are in relation to the seat height – above and below the seat.) Then I mark the thickness on the side view, and saw a relief cut from the back, at the point where the leg angles back. This is the same height as the top of the seat rails. But that’s later.

Now – depending on how straight the wood is, how tough your nerves are – you can rive off the bulk of that waste. I knocked the froe in, but left a chunk of wood for caution.

I jammed it in the riving brake, and it split as perfect as can be. It popped off right after I took this photo. Almost hit the camera.

 

I had left some wood that needed hewing; I did the top end first, that way if the hatchet slips it won’t hit the bottom end of the leg.

After hewing both ends, I set it up on the bench like this to shave each end in turn. There’s some fiddling around right where the angles diverge, but skewing the plane helps, and I got in there with a spokeshave too.

This is the finished planed leg. Once I do the other one, I’ll let them dry for a couple of weeks. At that point, I fine-tune the shape, matching one to the other more than to the template. As long as they’re close to the template, but closer to each other it will be fine. Then I cut the carving and joinery.

 


After lunch I worked on a carving for a box I’m making. A good day all around.

Carving a Wainscot chair panel

We’re up above the water here at the Jones River. Here’s the 2nd day’s high tide, a few feet less than the day before. The only other time it got this high was early January this year. That conifer in the foreground is on the river bank…

We did get a picnic table and Adirondack chair float in during the flood tide on the first day…so if you’re down river from us and lost them, come get ’em. I hate Adirondack chairs…and picnic tables for that matter.

Back to working oak. I carved the panel for a wainscot chair today. This is a copy of a New Haven chair I saw at Sotheby’s this winter. A couple of noteworthy things about this panel. I carved the forward half entirely before going across the centerline –

That’s because this panel, like the original, is glued-up from two boards. Totals 14 3/8″ x 17 3/4″. I dislike working glued-up stock. The backs of these two boards are not even, thus the panel doesn’t sit perfectly flat. So I clamped it to the bench, instead of pounding a holdfast down onto it; and carved it in halves. There’s very little layout. A centerline and margins as usual. Then large half-arcs at each end. And a small full circle inside those arcs. That’s it. I chalked a sketch of what I was carving. Again, a bit cautious – this is the only white oak I have to do this chair panel, so I wanted to be sure there were no mishaps.

Using a #5 Swiss-made gouge to remove the background. This is my standard tool for this work. It and the V-tool are the only tools I used for 99% of this carving.


The V-tool cutting in the veins in this leafy shape.

Another view of the background removal, now on the 2nd half.

Two gouges to cut 4 leaf-highlights – this is the only use of anything other than the V-tool and the shallow gouge for background. So 4 strikes from 2 tools…to do a tiny fraction of this panel.

It’s very shallow carving. Now to build a chair around it.

Here’s some Ipad video of the carving – until Paula Marcoux called about Greenwood Fest. Inverted by some Ipad/youtube business. I’m video-challenged.

 

Back in the shop

First off – my holdfast is bigger than yours. Being back at Colonial Williamsburg last week reminded me of my previous visit there 11 years ago. I was using the 18th-century style holdfasts, and made an off-hand comment along the lines of “boy, these high holdfasts get in the way…” Ken Schwartz, the head blacksmith offered to make me a low one like I use at home…but I said “No – don’t go to all that trouble..”  – then I guess I made another comment about the height of the holdfast. So after lunch, Ken came on stage and presented me with a custom-made holdfast.

He & I met up again last week, both remembering that event. Seems we’ve both told the story many times – but I’ve never posted the holdfast before. I find it a couple times every year during deep cleaning of the shop.

I finished a carved box for a customer today. One of my “usual” boxes; oak with a pine lid & bottom. Wooden hinges.

I have a number of custom pieces to build this year, so I’ll be doing a lot of furniture work. I get questions sometimes about “do you take commissions?” – and the answer is yes. I have a list right now that will take me through the first half of the year, but this box is an example of something that can jump the queue – I can usually work one of these into my schedule pretty easily. As it happened in this case, the box was made, I just had to finish the lid & bottom.

Finished this walnut book stand today too – which was just the finish; linseed oil. This one is spoken for, but there’s another right behind it.

One of the custom pieces I’m working on now is a chest of drawers. This one is not based on any particular period example, it will be carved and have moldings between the four drawers. I don’t want to use applied moldings in this case (it’s going to a very dry climate, compared to here by the ocean) so I have opted to adapt this “lipped tenon” seen in Plymouth Colony work of the 17th century. In this shot, you see the joint halfway home, leaving a piece about 7/8″ thick riding over the stile’s face. That section will get the molding cut in it.

Here’s how I cut it. Pencil layout for the camera’s benefit. This blank is laying on its face, that will be the molding.

I’ve made the rip cut that sets off the molding, and cut the tenon to length. Now I’m cutting the rear shoulder.

Splitting the waste off. 

Sawing the other cheek of the tenon.

Then chopping the end grain between the tenon and the molding.

The joint once it’s cut & pared.

Fitted into the mortise. There’s 3 rails like this, the other two will have scratched moldings. I’ll shoot more of this project soon.

Colonial Williamsburg Working Wood conference

I got home yesterday from my trip to Colonial Williamsburg’s Working Wood in the 18th Century conference. Or was it a symposium? This was the 20th year, quite an accomplishment. I had previously attended in 2007; I was especially pleased to be back. Lots of old friends, lots of familiar faces both on stage and in the audience. I took a few lousy photos, but found many on the facebook site from https://www.facebook.com/CWhistorictrades/ – so I “borrowed” many from them. Go to the link to see their whole pile of photos; they got good ones.

First thing I noticed upon loading my gear into the auditorium was that I had left my green wood billets at home. If there is anyplace you can go & expect to get green wood upon asking, Williamsburg is it. One of the carpenters’ crew found me some white oak that was so good that it needed no hewing when I split it. So I showed the camera just how flat the good stuff is when it splits:

 

 

The Williamsburg woodworking crowd; Kaare Loftheim, Bill Pavlak, Ted Boscana, Garland Wood, and my old cohort Brian Weldy all had presentations. Here’s Brian & Bill during the tool chest presentation…

And Kaare Loftheim showing the saw till under the lid of a tool chest the crew worked on several years back:

Ted Boscana and his crew of apprentices went through the steps to make some architectural moldings, including some crown/cornice molding. I didn’t get a shot of it, but there was a great demo of the apprentices pulling Ted through the air as he provided the weight to push down on the plane.

Ken Schwartz, the master blacksmith, led a presentation showing through slides and video how a drawknife and axe were made, then he had members of the coopers’ and wheelwrights’ shops briefly show the tools in use. Here’s a shot showing the axe “bit” and the eye/head:

For me, one great highlight was seeing W. Patrick Edwards’ presentation on Sunday morning.

His introductory story about an abrupt change of career early on in his life made me grin from ear to ear. If you get a chance to see Patrick as a presenter, jump. http://wpatrickedwards.blogspot.com/2017/09/the-risk-of-living-as-process-of-life.html

Don Williams de-mystified finishing on Sunday – (yes, it finished with finishing) – Don made it so accessible that I wanted to try some, instead of my usual cop-out linseed oil. http://donsbarn.com/the-barn/  His demonstration of the winding sticks-with-feet was especially good.

 

Jane Rees is often a fixture at the Williamsburg conference,and it was great to catch up with her again. So many historic tool questions were diverted from the audience to the stage, then down to the front row with “I don’t know, let’s ask Jane”  http://www.reestools.co.uk/books/

Jane understood when she heard I ducked out for half a day to go see eagles on the James River.

and then there was Roy Underhill. Do I have to say anything? Keynote speaker, moderator of a discussion panel, all around helpful schlepping on & off stage, native guide around CW; and poker-of-sacred-cows. When Roy is around, I stick close, because something worth seeing is going to happen.

My presentation was sponsored by EAIA; other sponsors were SAPFM and Fine Woodworking. My thanks to them for helping make it happen.

On any of my southerly trips, I try to get over to see my greatest friends; Heather Neill and her wife Pat. It’s always too much fun in too short a time when we visit. Here’s a sampling of Heather’s work, both painting & writing:  http://heatherneill.com/studio-blog/2017/07/18/in-my-element/ 

Her Instragram is here https://www.instagram.com/hnartisan/

I woke up to this idyllic sight today. Won’t make it to working in the shop today…but tomorrow I will.

Lots of oak furniture in New York this week

I went to another world the other day. Attended part of Americana Week at Sotheby’s in New York. I was there to give a talk, but I got to see some great oak furniture offered for sale this week…and got to see some friends and colleagues I haven’t seen in quite a while. Here’s the link to the auction listings; http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/2018/important-americana-n09805.html#

Auction previews are great – unlike museums, here you can open stuff and peek inside. Lot #723 is a New Haven wainscot chair that has people all excited. (Some of these photos I shot hand-held in the galleries; the best ones were given to me by Sotheby’s) 

A detail of one of the arms.

and of the carvings;  I need the detail shots because I’m going to make one of these chairs this year.

I got to look this chair over with my friend Bob Trent – and neither of us had ever seen a groove like the one cut in the outside of the stile

I saw this box in 1998, now lot 727, on another research trip with Trent. And as soon as we started looking it over, we realized it was part of the group of boxes and chests by William Savell and his sons John and William from Braintree, Massachusetts. Even though we hadn’t seen this particular pattern before.

 

Many things connect this box to the others – square wooden pins instead of nails to secure the rabbets. Gouge-chopped accents here & there are direct quotes from the others. And the scribed lines above and below the carving; with diagonal chisel cuts zig-zagging across the box. Maltese cross punched inside the zig-zag.


Here’s the side of a related box at the MFA in Boston. You can see the zig-zags clearly here.

 

Jn Savell box, side carving

The box now at Sotheby’s again – look especially at the area outside the arches –

Now from a chest at the Smithsonian – this exact same motif outside the lunettes from the top rail

lunette, William Savell Sr 1590s-1669

and above & below the opposing lunettes is a pattern from the panels on these chests – look at the very bottom of the panel:

panel, joined chest, c. 1660-1680s

Then back at the box front –

I don’t know what’s the story behind these till trenches. If it’s a till w a drawer, why does the vertical notch extend below what would be the till bottom? There is no hole for a till lid…

Inside, it stops just short of being labelled “This end up”.

Lots more stuff in the sale; a Boston chest of drawers, walnut and cedrela

a chest with drawers, Wethersfield, CT

And – me. Poor Mark Atchison gets no glory for all the hard blacksmith work he did back when we made a slew of these cabinets. Trent had us make this one as a gift to his friends Dudley & Constance Godfrey – and now a foundation they started is selling it, and several of these items as a fund-raiser for educational programming at the Milwaukee Art Museum… I didn’t do the coloring…