William Savell, Sr. and his sons John & William

“To tables stooles chayres chests & wooden ware £08-04
to cart wheeles plow chaynes with joyners stuffe & ceder boults £19-03-06″

William Savell, Sr. probate inventory, 1669

Picking up the story of the Braintree chests I started in a previous post, here I’ll cover what we learned about the people who we think made them. The snippets of family histories pointed to the town of Braintree in Massachusetts Bay Colony as the place these works were made. Here’s the first post – https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2022/12/12/a-look-at-the-braintree-joined-chests/

I should take a moment to tell you where 17th-century Braintree, Massachusetts was – it’s much smaller now than then. South of Boston, a coastal town. Its northern end was nearly up to the south side of the Neponset River below Dorchester, down to Weymouth and its western edge was over near the Blue Hills in Canton. It encompassed the present towns of Braintree, Quincy, Randolph and Holbrook. 

So the search turned to who in Braintree might have made them. We did this research the old way – pre-internet. In the early years of this project I didn’t even have a computer. Took notes long-hand. I started by reading the town records – births, deaths, marriages – looking for any indications of someone who did woodworking. Then I read all the probate records for the town by browsing through bound volumes of them in the state archives. I made notes of any furniture forms and tools listed for anyone in Braintree. (the woodworkers got condensed into an appendix in the article Alexander & I wrote – https://chipstone.org/article.php/222/American-Furniture-1996/Seventeenth-Century-Joinery-from-Braintree,-Massachusetts:-The-Savell-Shop-Tradition

I forget the order in which we found stuff and most of my notes on this research are filed away in deep storage. An early discovery was this from the Braintree Town Records:

“John Savil Joyner died 19-9-1687”

It’s the only mention of a joiner in the town records for the 17th century. John Savell was born in Braintree in 1642,  the eldest son of William Savell and his wife Hannah (Tidd). In 1694, a note of a payment the town made for one of its poor citizens:

“five pounds to John Belcher’s widow’s maintenance, and thirty shilings to Thomas Revill for keeping William Dimblebee, and twenty-five shilings for the ringing of the bel and sweping the meeting-hous in the year 1694, and eight shilings for mending the pound, seven shilings to William Savill for dimblebe’s cofin, and eight shilings to constables for warning the Town, and five shilings for the exchang of a Town cow to Samuel Speer, and ten shilings to Thomas Bas for dept for ringing the bell formerly, this to be raised by rate.”

The William Savell who made Dimblebee’s coffin was the youngest son of William Savell. He was born in 1652 – (not 1650 as the town records cite.) So this family became a focus. What of William Savell, Sr.? He first shows up in New England records working on the “college” that later became Harvard University. In the Notebook Kept by Thomas Lechford is a petition of “William Savil, of Cambridge, joyner” essentially for under-payment for work done for Nathaniel Eaton, the first president of the college. The petition is undated, but seems to be from about 1641. 

No indication of a result was recorded by Lechford. The next we see of Savell is when John was born in Braintree just a year or so later. Why did he move from Cambridge to Braintree? No way to tell, but his sister Ann lived there, married to Samuel Bass. They had first lived in Roxbury, and were among the earliest people established in Braintree. 

William Savell lived there the rest of his life. He was married three times, first to Hannah Tidd, second to Sarah (last name unknown) and third to the widow Sarah Gannet, who was originally Sarah Mullins. William Savell’s death is listed in the Braintree records: 

“William Savill dyed the 2 mo. 6, 1669” 

Savell never held any office in the town, and there is no record of his receiving a grant or being made a freeman. However, he owned a considerable amount of property when he died in 1669. The total value of his estate was 798-17-00. On the 19th of February 1668, William Savell Sr. wrote his will. In it he left to his son John:

 “the whole House & barn & shop & tooles, stuffe as Timber pertaining to his trade…”

Included in the will is:

“my sonn William savel is to live as an Apprentice with his (i.e., William Savell, Sr.’s) sonn John Savel…until hee bee 21 years of Age”.

The inventory included:

the house and barn & a bitt of meadow                  £90-00-00
John’s house shop barn & land about 3 Acres      £120-00-00
Tables stooles chayres chests & wooden ware       £08-04-00
Cart wheels plow chaynes with joiners stuff & ceder boults         £19-03-06

Wm Savell’s inventory

The photo below is probably the first house William Savell lived in at Braintree.

Savell house, c. 1899

It was located on what is now School Street in Quincy, Massachusetts. Taken down in 1899 when they widened the street. That photo and this diagram both came from the Quincy Historical Society.

1899 widening of School St Quincy, Massachusetts

 In an article of agreement in connection with the will, the sons of William Savell, Sr. agree that the widow, Sarah (Mullins Gannett) Savell shall have:

 “…her whole estate returned to her that she brought to Our ffather for her own use & to dispose of forever with a chest with drawers & a Cubbert…” 

The details of the will provide some useful information; namely the use of cedar as well as “joiner’s stuff”, (another name for oak) and the listing of the chest with drawers, plural. There are two examples of the Braintree chests with two drawers (see the previous post). About 20 years ago, I got to see a 20th century sideboard that included a pair of drawers salvaged from one of these chests. The piece descended in the Hayward/Baxter families of Braintree and Quincy. 

detail of one of 2 drawers incorporated in a 20th c sideboard

The cedar bolts could be for fences or for joinery work. Some of the Braintree chests have what I think are riven cedar floorboards and drawer bottoms. Atlantic white cedar and Northern white cedar both rive very nicely in straight sections. 

The note about his son William living as an apprentice with John is because the son William was only 16 or 17 years old at the time. In New England apprentices usually were at least 21 at the end of their term. 

John Savell died as noted above in 1687. His will leaves to his “only son John Savell all my housing both dwelling house shop & barn…formerly given me by my father…” We never found any indication that this John Savell practiced joinery. 

William Savell the younger did joiner’s work. As noted before, the town paid him for making a coffin for William Dimblebee. Any woodworker could be called upon to make a coffin. But Savell’s probate inventory taken when he died in 1699/1700 records some interesting things. 

a green carpitt & covers for chairs                            £01-08-00
a douzen painted chairs & a sealskin trunk              £01-18-00
a wainscott chest and a box                                      £01-01-00
a square table a wainscott chest and a bedstead       £02-12-00
tooles                                                                         £02-10-00
timber and weare begun                                            £03-00-00 

These are the only references in all the Braintree probate records I read that include the word “wainscot” – here to designate these chests as distinct from other chests. Usually meant to be a paneled or joined chest, usually in oak. Also the value assigned to the “wainscot chest and a box” is approaching the value of a dozen chairs and a trunk…so clearly a nice chest.

Like his brother John, William had a son who did not seem to follow in his trade. Back when we wrote the article, I added this: “Another joiner who was part of the Savell shop tradition is Joseph Allen (1672–1727). He probably trained with William, Jr., before marrying his master’s niece, Abigail, in 1701. Allen’s estate included “3 chists and one box,” two axes, a hand saw, and “joyner tools.” – I wouldn’t make the claim today that Allen “probably trained with Willliam…” too much speculation. He was a joiner, he married William’s niece. But beyond that…

Saffron Walden

Now – where did William Savell, Sr come from? Saffron Walden, Essex in England. There are records there of his baptism, his sister’s as well – and her marriage to Samuel Bass. The baptism record of William Savell in 1604/1605 in Saffron Walden lists his father as William Savill (1564-1639). 

24 february William the sonn of William Savill

William Savell married Margaret Parker in 1592. He died in 1639, by which time his son William was already in Cambridge Massachusetts. His daughter Ann was born in 1601. She married Samuel Bass in Saffron Walden in 1625 and they were first in Boston, then Roxbury, then Braintree. 

The Essex Country Record Office in England has a “counterpart lease for 20 years” dated 2 April 1623. The lease is from a list of people to “William Savell of Walden, joiner and w. Margaret.” So the assumption is that William of Braintree learned his trade from his father in England. Then taught his son John in Braintree and perhaps began the training of his son William. 

As we broke the surviving chests into three main groups, they fit a scenario like this:

The Winterthur cupboard and the Smithsonian chest we attributed to William Sr. These are, in our eyes, the most developed carvings. These two objects share a trait as well – board carcases with joined fronts pegged on.

attributed to William Savell, Smithsonian Institution

Interestingly, this construction is found in Saffron Walden specifically – but the chests from there look nothing like the Braintree chest. Just the board case/joined front combo. 

Below is a photo from Penny Rumble’s article “Some East Anglian Chests” in the 1991 edition of Regional Furniture. She illustrated two chests with this construction, one found “amongst deceased effects in Saffron Walden” and this one, her fig. 7 was in the church at Saffron Walden. I seem to remember more of these turning up after this article.

The body of chests that use the convex molding, the plain bottom front rail, drawer fronts with four pinwheels instead of 6 – those we attributed to John Savell. I think he’s a great carver. There’s some differences between these panels and those found on the previous two pieces – the main one being the spandrels around the arches. Simpler here. Start with what we think is the father – the Winterthur cupboard panel:

Winterthur panel, spandrel detail

Then a chest we think is John Savell:

attributed to John Savell

Then what we think is the younger William:

William Savell (1652-1700)

Then we come to the chests with the flat plow & cove molding, run on the bottom rail as well. 6 pinwheels between the rosettes on the drawer front. These we consider to be the work of young William. Why? Well, for one thing the carving is more stiff, less fluid. Spandrels again – somewhat willy-nilly. The “S” curves in the panels are abrupt. We offer the explanation that he didn’t train with his father – but with his brother. But we just also said his brother was excellent. So what does that mean? It means we’re guessing. But we have three joiners, we have three groups of furniture – all related. All three men worked for around 25-30 years here at their trade.  


Another New England joiner came from Saffron Walden. Nicholas Disbrow was born there in 1613/14, the son of Nicholas Disberow. Starting with a 1610 will of William Disberowe of Walden, joiner” that mentioned his wife Katherine and “Nicholas Disberowe my son” – the next record is a marriage between this son Nicholas and Mary Gilbye in 1610 and four years later their son Nicholas was born. He’s the one who came to Hartford. 

The elder Nicholas Disberow was paid by the churchwardens of Saffron Walden for “mending of the pulpit & a seat” and for “mending of seats & for nails” in 1628 & 1629. 

The following is from:  Patricia E. Kane “The Joiners of Seventeenth Century Hartford County” in The Connecticut Historical Society Bulletin, v.35, #3, July 1970:

“NICHOLAS DISBROW is the first joiner known to have come to Hartford. He emigrated first to Dorchester, Massachusetts, and in 1635 to Hartford where, as a proprietor, he lived on a six-acre homelot in “the north side.” In 1660 the townsmen of Hartford allowed Disbrow to build a shop.  He was working as late as 1680 when he made a bedstead for John Talcott, a Hartford merchant.  The high price of £1-08-00 which he billed Talcott suggests that this was a wainscot bedstead, a form in American furniture which has not survived.

Disbrow’s inventory, taken after his death in 1683, is the single Hartford County seventeenth century joiner’s inventory in which his tools are enumerated.  They included:

plane stocks and Irons, seven chissells passer [piercerl betts and gimblets     £02-11-06
a parsell of small tools & two payer of compases & five handsawes —          £01-05-06
two fros, a payer of plyers, two reaspes a file, and a sett —–                 £00-10-06
two passer (piercer) stocks, two hammers, and fower axes                              £00-18-00
two betteles and fower wedges a bill and five augers                              £01-04-06
…two payer of Joynts & a payer of hooks and hinges
…Joyners timber and five hundred of bord.

I  dug out Kane’s dissertation and found that the bedstead reference is recorded in a notebook kept by the customer Talcott, a merchant. In New England furniture studies, Nicholas Disbrow is most well-known for something he did not do. A discovery in the 1920s of a chest  inscribed with the legend “Mary Allyns Chistt Cutte and joyned by Nich.  Disbrowe”  was shortly thereafter deemed a forgery (the signature, not the chest.) Although it has been dismissed as fake, the signature is sometimes still cited as the first piece of signed American furniture. See what happens when stuff gets in print?

Kane also recorded a bit from Cotton Mather about Disbrow:

“In the year 1683, the house of Nicholas Disbrow at Hartford, was very strangely molested by stones, by pieces of earth, by cobs of Indian corn, and other such things, from an invisible hand, thrown at him, sometimes through the door, sometimes thro’ the window, sometimes down the chimney, and sometimes from the floor of the room (tho’ very close) over his head; and sometimes he met with them in the shop, the yard, the barn, and in the field. There was no violence in the motion of the things thus thrown by the invisible hand; and tho’ others besides the man happen’d sometimes to be hit, they were never hurt with them; only the man himself once had pain given to his arm, and once blood fetched from his leg, by these annoyances’ and a fire, in an unknown way kindled, consumed no little part of his estate. This trouble began upon a controversie between Desbrough and another person about a chest of cloaths, which the man apprehended to be unrighteously detain’d by Desbrough; and it endured for divers months; but upon restoring of the cloths thus detain’d the trouble ceased.”

Well, that’s enough of that. There’s more excruciating details. But now my desk is covered with stuff that needs to go back in file cabinets. Here’s some old posts looking at the three types of carvings in the Braintree works.



a look at the “Braintree” joined chests

detail of my recent copy of a “Braintree” chest

Once this was going to be a slide-lecture included in the video series I did this year. As it is I spent almost 3/4 of a day working this blog post version up, and didn’t feel like doing more work on it to turn it into a video/slide lecture. But it’s a subject that I love and I hope it’s of some interest. It’s long – you’ve been warned.

Spending much of this year either making what I call a Braintree chest with a drawer (named for the town where they were made. Sometimes a Savell chest, named for the joiners who made them – but that’s next time) or working on the videos of that work got me thinking about my relationship to this group of 17th-century chests and boxes. I’ll try to tell the story without too many detours. Many of the photos here are from old 35mm slides. The video series about making one is available at this link  https://vimeo.com/ondemand/follansbeejoinedchest and plans for making one here https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/carving-drawings-plans/

It started with the door of the cupboard in Winterthur’s study collection.

door to Winterthur cupboard

The door was disassembled, maybe by Benno Forman, then a curator at Winterthur. Jennie Alexander used to show a slide lecture about the mortise & tenon joints in that door – somewhere around 1988 that was my introduction to oak furniture of this period. JA & I went around & around about it in the years that followed, I swear she never showed us the whole object. But I will.

Winterthur cuboard

The door is a simple frame & panel – moldings on the frame, a carved arch/leaf pattern on the panel. The cupboard is not original – its format is conjectural. But the construction is correct – a joined front attached to a board carcass. The front frame is attached to the edges of the board cupboard with 3/8″ square oak pins. We’ll see more of this later.

Savell chest, joined front fixed to board sides

 Some digging showed a couple of well-known chests that use the same pattern on their panels. Wallace Nutting published one in his 1920s books Furniture of the Pilgrim Century and Furniture Treasury. This chest is part of the Nutting collection at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, CT.

Wadsworth Atheneum chest with drawer, Nutting collection

There’s two very similar chests in Boston, one at the Museum of Fine Arts and another at the Isabella Gardner Museum. 

MFA chest w drawer
Gardner Museum chest w drawer

All three of these chests have a single full-width drawer under the chest section. The Gardner has 6 lunettes across its top rail, as opposed to the 5 on the other two chests. All have 7 rosettes on the drawer fronts with 6 pinwheels between them. The rosettes are doubled-up versions of the lunettes. The construction and format are identical on all three chests. For instance, two vertical panels over one horizontal panel on the ends:

Gardner chest, end panels

And a single pine panel in back.

a related chest showing the pine panel in back

And none of those three have any recorded history. All were collected in the early 20th century. 

Henry Wood Erving, a contemporary of Nutting’s, had a similar chest, but with two drawers. He called it his “Windham” chest, having bought it in the eastern part of Connecticut. And so they all were considered Connecticut chests at that point. His was published as figure 17 in Luke Vincent Lockwood’s Colonial Furniture in America. (I’m looking at the 1913 edition – the book went through a few revisions. The chest is fig. 17 in all of them I think.) I think it’s now part of the Chipstone collection in Milwaukee. It has some differences from the others that make it stand alone to an extent. This photo is from an auction catalog when it was sold a few years back. Maybe quite a few now.

formerly Henry Wood Erving’s chest

In 1988 Sotheby’s had a similar chest offered for sale with a family history citing as the original owners John Bass and Priscilla Alden. They were married in Braintree, Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1657. This chest, now in a private collection, differs in a couple of minor ways from the three previously cited. A different molding runs on the framing parts – this one is the same molding shown on the Winterthur cupboard front. Bottom rail under the drawer is plain – the others are molded. The handling of the carving is different, but the exact same layout and format. Construction is the same. (this photo from the 1996 American Furniture article Alexander & I wrote.)

John Bass/Ruth Alden chest w drawer, private collection
convex molding with quirks from a related chest

With Bob Trent’s guidance, Alexander and I used the Sotheby’s chest’s history as a starting point and researched the group as best we could. That meant tracking down as many of the chests as we could and collecting any known histories attached to them. In addition, we measured every chest we visited. 

Although the Gardner Museum had no records about their chest, in their files was a 1930s photo of a similar chest with no drawer with a note from its then-owner, Cornelia Fiske, who lived nearby. I copied that photo and letter and began researching that chest. Where did it come from? And where did it go? I think I figured out the answers to both of those questions, but it took some time. The owner died in 1945 if I remember right. Searching her will, I made a list of names and began tracking those people. 

1930s photo Fiske chest

After many dead-ends, I made a cold phone call to information for anyone in such-and-such a town with the surname ______. (this was the early 1990s – no computer, just a typewriter and telephone) And I got one. Called the number and a very patient man listened to my long-winded explanation of my research project. After lots of back & forth, he asked me to describe the chest again. And so I did. He called me back the next evening & said he tried to contact the owner of the chest, but she was not at home. Turns out it was his mother, he told me “I’ve known that chest all my life.” I eventually met his mother, photographed the chest, got her story about it – a great result for months of searching.  

the Fiske chest, photo early 1990s

The chest was removed from a house in Medfield Massachusetts in the 1880s. Tracing the history of the family in that house showed several connections to Braintree – a town about 20-25 miles away. The chest is the first (of 2) that we saw that never had a drawer. It’s an excellent example, uses the same molding as the Winterthur cupboard and the Bass chest. 

Winterthur’s files led us to a chest and a desk box at Aetna Insurance in Hartford. The chest is refinished, but just about the same as the Bass chest. Both the Aetna and the Fiske chest have the six lunettes instead of 5. We’d later find out this is, as far as we can tell, random. 

Aetna Insurance c. 1992

So we were beginning to divide them up into two sub-groups – based on the molding used and the handling of the carving. For example, the drawer fronts – those with the “Winterthur” molding have the three middle rosettes bumped together with no pinwheel between them. And a plain bottom front rail.

drawer front detail, no middle pinwheels

Those with the other molding alternate the pinwheels and rosettes all across the drawer front. And the bottom rail is molded. 

Wadsworth Atheneum chest detail

Another lead from Wintethur was the other “no-drawer” chest in a private collection. It had been re-worked badly – new lid, refinished. But it has some great features – one is brackets under the bottom rail. No other we’ve seen yet had these, though they are common enough in 17th century oak furniture. I have wondered about the paint on this chest. I’ve hoped it’s following a period treatment, but have no evidence one way or the other. It also had some history tying it to Braintree – the chest was a wedding present to Charles French of Braintree in 1915. His uncle found it in a barn in the town. 

“bracket” chest
detail of one of the brackets under the bottom rail
a panel from that chest

Somewhere along the line I picked up a general book about antiques that showed a photo of an assortment of antiques in a home. It included a carved chest that looked like one of these. Turns out it was in the Smithsonian, so Alexander and I went there to see it one day.

Smithsonian chest

And that chest was something new – sort of. A joined front attached to a mill-sawn oak carcass. Pegged on with square wooden pins. So this gave us a piece directly related to Winterthur’s cupboard front. It was collected in Medway, Massachusetts in the 1930s. 

We found another two-drawer example in Connecticut, it had been collected there in the 1890s. Refinished and some drawer bottoms and the lid replaced, but its construction was intact. It’s by the same joiner/carver as the MFA, Gardner, Wadsworth, etc. Not too long ago this chest was auctioned – I grabbed this photo from Doyle Auctions.

braintree chest w drawers

In 1996 our article was published in Chipston’s journal American Furniture. And since then, there’s been several more that have come to light. I bought a heavily (and incorrectly) restored example in 2005. Then there were maybe 3 or 4 more that have been sold at auction, one of which I got to replace the lid for.

Well that’s the chests. There’s a couple of obvious boxes – the MFA Boston has one, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY has the other.

Metropolitan Museum of Art box

And the desk box at Aetna. All are pegged, not nailed together like most 17th-century boxes. All have two lunettes across the front. The MFA & Met boxes have a single related lunette on the ends. The desk box has a large rosette on the end, plus some filler from the chest-panel pattern. 

desk box
PF copy of the desk box

Then there was a box I almost missed. Trent & I were studying a private collection one day in the late 1990s. Just before we were to leave, either he handed me this box, or I saw it on a table. It’s pegged with square wooden pins. The ends are carved similarly to the MFA & Met boxes.

“opposing lunettes” box
end carving of the box above

The front has a pattern very different from what we’ve seen thus far. But the treatment is similar. A few years ago the box was sold and I got to see it one more time in NY. Our thought is that this box  comes from the same hand as the Winterthur cupboard and Smithsonian chest. 

Next time I tackle this subject here I’ll write about the joiners we think made them. 

Chest plans available now

After a year of intermittent work on the plans for the Braintree Joined Chest, I’m happy to announce they are now available and ready for ordering. The chest featured is based on some examples I studied (and one I own) made in Braintree, Massachusetts between 1670-1700. I made them like the originals, with riven oak as the primary wood with white pine as the secondary wood. Substitutions are up to you. The finished chest is 35 1/4” high, 55 1/4” wide and 23 1/2” deep (front to back.) 

I’d like to include a word about Jeff Lefkowitz. If you’re not aware of his work, a little background. A chairmaker and teacher, Jeff first came to my attention through the plans he worked on for Curtis Buchanan’s Windsor chairs. As plans, they convey all the details you need when building the chairs. But they’re also just exquisite images. If I had wall space in my shop, I’d stick some on it. Jeff went on to do other plans you might have seen, Tim Manney’s shaving horse, Dawson Moore’s spoon mule, Jarrod Dahl’s pole lathe, chairs by Pete Galbert and Bern Chandley – I’m sure there’s more. And two sets of carving patterns he’s worked on with me. 

This time I threw Jeff a challenge – working up detailed drawings for a joined chest with a drawer – something that to my knowledge he’s never seen in life. Or is certainly not familiar with. Very un-chair-like. We went back and forth over the past year. Picking the project up, then setting it aside now and then to come back to. Jeff fits these projects in between his chair-classes and his home life. Always in this project, it was Jeff pushing for more detail, better explanations. 

some of the carvings

The plans consist of 6 pages, 24” x 36”. The first four are the chest and its components and joinery, these are drawn by Jeff in his usual detailed and clear images. The last two pages are the carving patterns on the top rail, drawer front and panels, as well as diagrams of the geometry used in the layout for these carvings. Scaled drawings, a stock list and construction details throughout. There’s even some filler showing how to make it as a chest with two drawers, I was able to measure two of those when I did the research about these chests many years ago. 

interior and moldings

You could build the chest from the plans, but they  also serve as a companion to the series of videos I’ve been making on vimeo. That series is not yet done – I got laid up with lyme disease and missed 2 months of shop work. I’m getting back to it – there will be at least 2 more, maybe 3 more videos. The lid, some sharpening of carving gouges. Maybe installing a lock. 

One minor blip in the printing resulted in one drawing (bottom left image below) coming out lighter than the rest. Rather than scrap 600 pages of paper – I decided we could live with it. It’s still readable, just light.

The plans are $90 and come rolled in a cardboard tube. Shipping in the US is $9.00

International customers, I’ll send you a PDF and you can take it to be printed.  $70 for the PDF. Email me at Peterfollansbee7@gmail.com

Chest Plans; Braintree Chest with a drawer, 6 pages, 24″ x 36″
rolled in a cardboard tube, $90 plus $9 shipping in US.

Buy Now button

Here’s a short video showing what’s included in the drawings.

Carving Strapwork video: fixed. I hope.

UPDATE – Oct 5. Well, sorry about yesterday’s video mess-up. I was trying to be so smart that I knocked much of the soundtrack out-of-whack…I think it’s right now. So if you watched yesterday, I apologize. And if you’re watching today – I have my fingers crossed.

“Strapwork” carving is a name given to patterns like the one above.  

In 17th century New England work there’s only a few examples; all attributed to Thomas Dennis of Ipswich and/or his apprentices. There’s no know English records of him, but the objects that descended in his family, and the related ones attributed to him, closely relate to oak furniture from Devon, England. And there’s plenty of strapwork there.

detail of a box descended in the family of Thomas Dennis, now at Bowdoin College Museum of Art

I love carving them, they’re a very detailed pattern. Quite demanding. In my second set of carving drawings there are a few examples and I’ve finally got around to making a start on videos to go with those drawings. The first one was doing the layout and for the video I did it on paper so it would show up for the camera. This 2nd in the series shows carving a piece that I’ll eventually use as a box front. It’s about 6” high by something like 20” wide.

Strapwork carving is slower than working with a V-tool for outlining stuff. And making a video about strapwork carving is slower still…it took me about 1/2 a day to carve and shoot the stuff. But the edit took at least 2 more days. But now it’s done.

To order the carving drawings, use this link https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/carving-drawings-plans/

The 2nd set is the one with more than a full page of strapwork patterns. The drawings are 24” x 36” and come rolled in a cardboard tube. At this time (Oct 4, 2022) the first set is out of stock – I’m planning on reprinting it soon.


The previous video in this series is here – https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2022/09/03/new-carving-video-strapwork-layout/

And one of the many posts I’ve written about strapwork is here: https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2020/06/19/strapwork/

Otherwise, put “strapwork” in the search button and stand back.

I always keep an eye on what Paul Fitzsimmons posts about the oak furniture he sells. No one has seen more Devon furniture than him. https://www.marhamchurchantiques.com/

Resuming joinery; take 2 or 3

incised strapwork pattern

I’ve been working in the shop lately, mostly half-days. I looked back at the blog posts for the past month-plus. In mid-August I thought I was recovering from Lyme disease. Boy was that wishful thinking. You don’t need the gory details, but I’m perhaps back on the mend. Again.

I did video work yesterday, carving a strapwork pattern. This is part 2 in a series that’s tied to the 2nd set of carving drawings. I’ll end up carving maybe 3 or 4 different related designs. This time it’s in Alaskan yellow cedar (Callitropsis nootkatensis) – I sometimes feel guilty using this wood, then I remember people make decks from it. At least my boxes can last lifetimes if cared for.

carved strapwork

I have the video shot now and have begun editing it. Should be done and posted here & youtube in a few days. Here’s the finished piece, with a finish and better light.

strapwork in Alaskan yellow cedar

Rick McKee’s been here a bit lately. https://www.instagram.com/medullary_rick/?hl=en He’s gone nuts for spoon carving and all I can do is talk about it with him. Not because I’ve been laid-up, just because I haven’t carved spoons in ages & ages. So during a break in the afternoon, I dug out my basket to see what’s in it – I didn’t carve these today so much as I picked away at them here & there. I might go looking for some crooks and take up spoon carving.

spoon carving throwback

And the oak furniture just looms over me. I have been sorting through whatever stock is in the shop and bit by bit making parts for the cupboard I’m building. And at the same time, checking the text I’m writing to see if there’s any photos I need to shoot. It’s hard to imagine I missed any last year, I must have shot thousands. But there’s always one or two…somehow I didn’t have one of the plow plane in action.

part of the back, part of the side
plowing a panel groove

And the joined chest video project – also in semi-limbo. This holdup is me. The next step is making the oak lid and I’m not quite there yet. It will be 3 quartersawn boards, ripped, planed, glued-up, then planed. All pretty physical. So it waits a bit longer. If you’re a subscriber to that series, no, I haven’t forgotten. It’s coming as soon as I can get to it.

joined chest still waiting for me

I did do a test-paint job recently, thinking about this project. 30 years ago I made my first version of this particular chest and I painted the carvings and loved the result.

early 1990s joined chest

And I’ve never been able to get the same results. I ruined a chest and a box or two in trying… I did a test piece a few weeks ago. Might try one or two more samples and see if I get up the nerve. The sample is close. Not quite there, but close.

getting close

here’s the carving drawings page – https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/carving-drawings-plans/

and the chest video series is here https://vimeo.com/ondemand/follansbeejoinedchest

new carving video: Strapwork Layout

strapwork design

Well, it’s been ages and ages since I did a youtube video tied to the carving designs project. But I have all along intended to get back to them. I’m still not quite ready to resume shop work yet, but getting closer all the time. But I did sneak in there, figuring I could do a video about the layout of a strapwork carving. I like to do this on paper for the camera – it shows up better than scratches from an awl or marking gauge.

I anticipate shooting several videos about strapwork – the next one will be cutting the pattern I laid out in this one. Then there’s numerous variations, and one I expect about how to design a pattern rather than just copying the measurements from an existing one.

Meanwhile, I’m working on the page where these patterns are sold, with an eye toward offering the option for downloads versus buying the paper versions. I’m only marginally capable at that end of the blog so it will take me some tinkering.


Along those same lines, I have to get with it because the plans for the joined chest are nearly finished. Jeff Lefkowitz has done an amazing job. When I first approached him about this project, he had never seen one of these chests, but he quickly caught on and has out-done himself.

back at the bench

I’ve been in the shop part-time lately, just hadn’t taken any photographs. I have been spending part of my time making chair parts from a section of hickory I brought home from my bark-trip in July. Still trying to relearn what I used to know 30 years ago. I can’t find stuff I had last week, but I knew just where the old plans for these chairs were. This is a comb for a comb-back armchair.

bent comb for Windsor chair

And an arm for it. Not the best bend, but the best I’ve done this past week. The few wrinkles will plane out when I go to use the arm.

off the form, but tied to keep its bend til I need it

But yesterday was my first day back to joinery in nearly a month. Started making the drawer parts for the joined chest video series. I cut the drawer front to fit the opening. Looks like it’s all done, but those are the drawer sides tucked under the chest.

looks like it has its drawer

I want the front to have some space all around it so it doesn’t stick. This is why I had business cards printed all those years ago.

checking the spacing

I plowed a groove in the drawer sides to match the runner that’s set in the drawer opening.

This test-fit is too tight. Needs a couple of shavings off the top edge of the drawer side.

too tight

Like this:


Next up is half-blind dovetails, rabbets and nails.

next video available: Carving the Drawer Front

I finished work on the next video in the Joined Carved Chest series. This one I’ve been looking forward to – Carving the Drawer Front.

detail of the drawer front carving

Some simple geometry and only about 5 or 6 carving tools combine to create a very full pattern across the drawer front. I’ve always liked this design and have used it as box fronts a number of times. I put together a lengthy sample (5 minutes) of what’s in the full 90-minute video. The video series is at vimeo.com/ondemand/follansbeejoinedchest

When Jennie Alexander and I studied these chests in preparation for our article about them, we sorted them into two main groups attributed to John Savell (1642-1687) and his brother William Savell (1652-1700). Our findings were that John used a different pattern than William – but only slightly different. This drawer, from the chest at Wadsworth Atheneum is, we believed (& I still believe), the work of William –

drawer attributed to William Savell

But the drawers from chests we felt were John Savell’s skipped the pinwheels around the middle of the drawer. A very small distinction, but one that requires some extra thought in the layout.

drawer attributed to John Savell

The video shows how to carve the one with fewer pinwheels, but it would be easy enough to adjust the geometry to do the other instead. Here’s one I did years ago for a chest I restored.

replacement drawer front on period chest

Starting the next one before this one’s done

tip of the iceberg

As usual. An hour or two here & there, a half-day yesterday and I’ve begun the next project. These perfect oak boards I rived, hewed and planed from some bolts leftover from the joined chest I’m building. These are the beginnings of another joined press cupboard/wainscot cupboard – whatever you call it. The same as last time, but now I’m all warmed up. Plus I don’t have to photograph every blessed step of the way. So later this summer into the fall (& probably early winter) the blog will look a lot like it did last year. If you’re new here, this is what I’m talking about. I made that one during 2021, finished in early 2022.

joined cupboard

For those who want to see the shop as it really is – not tidied up for photographs – here’s the shot right before cleanup yesterday after working about 3 hours on planing boards.


While I was working, the chest sat where the camera is for this photo. Things got shifted into the chest and onto one bench while I worked at the other. Then it all got shuffled again so I could clean up. Seems the shavings pile is always bigger than the board-pile.

The chest got its first coat of linseed oil today. I always like the way the carvings get better definition from the finish.

oiled carvings

I spent a full day last week shooting video of carving the drawer front. So that will be the next installment in the chest-video-series. Probably a week away. https://vimeo.com/ondemand/follansbeejoinedchest

drawer front detail

While all that is happening Jeff Lefkowitz and I are plugging away at the drawings and plans for the chest.

Jeff’s work

That translates to I find stuff I missed and write to Jeff to tell him we (he, really) has to redraw this or that detail. And he does it without complaint. I don’t know how much you know about Jeff’s work, but it’s outstanding. He really puts a huge effort into these drawings, wanting them to be the best they can be. If you’re not familial with his work, he’s done plans for Curtis Buchanan, Pete Galbert, Tim Manney, Jarrod Dahl, Dawson Moore, Bern Chandley and others I’ve missed. And two series of carving patterns with me. He makes us all look good. He does this in addition to his own chair work and teaching. See Jeff’s sites here – http://www.jefflefkowitzchairmaker.com/ and https://www.instagram.com/jefflefkowitz/?hl=en

There’s no timetable for the plans. They’ll be ready when we’re done. But we’re getting closer. You’ll hear about it.

Carving Panels video available

one of these panels I carved some time ago

I just uploaded to vimeo-on-demand the most recent video in my series on making a carved joined chest. This one is carving the panels. It’s about 90 minutes long and took me a ridiculous amount of time to put together. These chests have 4 panels of the same pattern across the front. So I shot video of carving 3 of them. On 2 cameras. And had a crazy number of clips (over 80!) to choose from, trying to get just the right angle, just the right detail, etc. 

joined chest w drawer, 1660-1690

I always say this, but these chests are my certified favorites. Back in the late 1980s when Jennie Alexander first hooked me into studying 17th-century oak furniture, the subject was a cupboard by these joiners – William Savell and his sons John & William.

one of JA’s slides of the Winterthur cupboard

Well, we didn’t know that part then, all we knew was there was this cupboard fragment at Winterthur and some related chests here & there in public collections. So we began a long journey to study about 12 of them and research their history. The result was a 1996 article in Chipstone’s American Furniture. https://www.chipstone.org/article.php/222/American-Furniture-1996/Seventeenth-Century-Joinery-from-Braintree,-Massachusetts:-The-Savell-Shop-Tradition

Since then, I’ve acquired and restored a beat-up one and seen a few other beauties. 

Braintree chest restored

The first carvings I learned to do were the lunettes and panels in these chests. And I’ve carved them here & there ever since. There’s a section in my book on carving them – but I’ve never carved the panels on video until now. 

leaf tips

When I started this video series last winter, after seeing Pete Galbert’s series, I expected it to run about 12 videos and maybe 20 hours. RIght now this is the 11th video and it’ll be up to about 12 1/2 hours thus far. So much for my estimates – the chest isn’t even assembled yet. Videos to come include cutting & fitting the floor (next time), ditto the till, fitting the rear panel, then assembling the chest. Making, carving & fitting the drawer. Making & hinging the lid. I’m sure I’ve forgotten one or two. Sharpening carving tools – I can’t believe I agreed to that, but it’s about time I dealt with it. 

Meanwhile here’s today’s trailer about the Panel-Carving video. The video is available as a stand-alone (each episode is) for $15 or as part of the whole kit and caboodle for $100. See vimeo.com/ondemand/follansbeejoinedchest 

There is a condensed video that’s a different chest. Years ago I shot a video with Lie-Nielsen. It’s just under 4 hours https://www.lie-nielsen.com/products/joined-chest-stream?path=home-education-videos&node=4243

Pete Galbert’s Foundation of  Chairmaking is the piece that got me on this path. I bought it, it’s excellent.  vimeo.com/ondemand/galbertfoundations