chest of drawers, some background & history

 

More about the chest of drawers. The above photo shows how far I got this week. There’s a staggering number of pieces of wood in this thing, and several dozen more to come. Trent got me thinking about it in these terms, and I wasted a lot of time counting the individual bits – somewhere near 230 thus far. 

But, back to the chest of drawers itself, time for some background. This project was begun ages ago, and got stashed for an interminable period. The original that it’s based on was made in Boston, and is now at the Museum of Fine Arts. Mine’s not a direct copy, but its format, proportions and general overall look is taken from that piece. Here’s their photo: 

Years ago, I worked with Bob Trent on a long-winded article about chests of drawers, you can read it (and see most of the photos, but not all of them) here, http://www.chipstone.org/article.php/612/American-Furniture-2010/Reassessing-the-London-Style-Joinery-and-Turning-of-Seventeenth-Century-Boston 

A chest of drawers like this is a significant item in that period. The only way it could be “better” is if it had doors, like the related one at Yale University’s Art Gallery. The lower case is two square, or nearly square doors, with three drawers behind them. The upper case is much like the MFA’s; two shallow, side-by-side drawers above a very deep single drawer. Both feature various “exotic” woods; Spanish cedar, lignum vitae, rosewood, ebony, etc. 

Thankfully, I didn’t set out all those years ago to make a copy of the Yale one! The MFA one is involved enough. 

Long-time readers of the blog might remember my greatest hit, “Riven Cedrela” about the chest of drawers at the MFA:

https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2013/03/07/riven-cedrela-to-the-tune-of-on-top-of-old-smokey/

I have lots of research material we collected when writing that American Furniture article, mine mostly centered on identifying the men in Boston who followed the trades of joinery, turning, and some other woodworkers too. The joiners Henry Messinger and Ralph Mason seemed to be at the top of the heap, several of their sons followed them in the trade. Probate records for several of them survive and contain some high-style furniture forms. 

I’ll post inventories for Henry Messenger and his son Henry Messenger, Jr. here – the prices listed are pounds/shillings/pence. 12 pence to a shilling, 20 shillings to a pound. A tradesman’s wages in New England then might have been around 2 or 3 shillings a day…

Henry Messenger –

An inventory of the estate of Henry Messenger deceased taken by us whose names underwritten the 30 of April 1681

In the Parlor

A featherbed a boulster & too pillows a payer of blankets a coverlid & curtins & valling & bedstead £08:00:00

A framed bedsted a woolbed & boulster 2 coverlits 01:05:00

A press cubberd wth drawers

A table & seven joint stooles 01:10:00

A small round table five elbo chayrs 00:18:00

Two framde Elbo chayrs 00:08:00

Close stoole with a pewter pan in it & stone mortar 01:10:00

2 small boxes 1 case of quart bottles 10/ three stone juggs 1 Earthen 8/ 00:18:00

9 cushions & a warming pann 18/ A cote of Armes & Joynrs Armes 40/ 02:18:00

a parcel of glas & Earthen ware 12/ A silver spoon &  dram cup 10/ 01:02:00

A looking glass 2/6 Eight pr of sheets & five pr of pillobeers 7:10:00 07:12:06

Three dozn napkins of several sorts five small pillobeers & cupboard cloth 02:01:00

A Large diaper table cloth & three Linnen ditto 01:00:00

A pr darnick curtains & vallents 00:10:00

Two Darnick carpets and cupboard cuishion 00:12:00

A pr andirons fire shovel and tongs 8/ a Rapier & Childs blankett 10/ 00:18:00

In the Parlor chamber  

A feather bed, Boulster a pillow a pr sheets a pr blanketts Rugg and Bedsteed 04:00:00

Two Searge chaires a stand & pr of andirons 01:00:00

A small box of drawers a chest and looking glass 01:00:00

 

In the hall

A pr of andirons a fire shovel, tongs, a trammell pr of bellows 01:05:00

One cupboard, one chest and a screen 01:10:00

One table 3 joint stooles 4 chaires & a forme 01:00:00

Three framed chaires & 2 other chaire & one leather 00:15:00

A looking glass and a parcel of Earthen ware 00:05:00

Three Bibles and other bookes 00:10:00

A pr andirons tongs & fire shovel and tramell 01:05:00

A gridiron, fire Iron, toasting Iron and four Spits 00:15:00

Three Iron candlesticks and two frying pans 00:08:00

Five Brass kettles three skillets and a brass morter 02:10:00

Six pewter dishes, six pewter pots, two salts, three porringers a plate, 

seven small dishes and one chamber pot 02:05:00

Three dripping pans one sawce pan one funnell 00:07:00

A punch Bowle lign vitae 00:10:00

A parcel of wooden and Earthen ware & one piggin 00:10:00

Two pr scales and twelve pounds lead weights & meale barrel 00:10:00

In Kitchen chamber

Two spinning wheels a cradle, a table wth other lumber 01:10:00

In the Cellar

A powdering tubb with other tubbs and barrells 01:00:00

In the hall chamber

A flock bed and two feather pillows a pr blanketts a pr sheets two small pillows an old Rugg Bedsteed and a pillowbeer 02:10:00

In the middle room over the Hall  

Another flock Bed, one Bolster a pr blanketts a pr sheets a Rugg and 

Bedsteed 02:10:00

A feather bed a Bolster a pillow a pr blanketts a pr sheets a Rugg a Bedstead 05:00:00

One table three chests a small box a close stool wth Earthen pan 01:10:00

A parcel of glue and Nurces skins 02:10:00

In the shop chambr

A wicker glass case, a chest of drawers a large bedsteed and trundlebedsteed 02:10:00

In the shop

All sorts of Joyners Tools 05:00:00

A table and Chest of Drawers not finished 01:00:00

Timber within and without Doors wrought and unwrought 10:00:00

Two cows and hay 06:00:00

Land and housing in all 400:00:00

About 20 gallons of trayn oyl 01:00:00

John Fayerweather Edw Wyllys

Sarah Messinger Exec made Oath in Court 5 May 1681 that this is a just and true Inventory of the Estate of her late husband Henry Messinger decd to the best of her knowledge and that if more appears she will discover it. 

Attests Js Addington

 

Henry Messenger, Jr.

{PF: When Henry Messenger died in 1681, his sons Henry, John, Simeon and Thomas were all practicing joiners. The first of these, John, born in 1641, could have been working on his own from the early 1660s, thus his career and that of his father could have overlapped for almost 20 years. At the other end of the range, Thomas, born in 1662 might have just finished his apprenticeship by the time of his father’s death. 

The younger Henry Messinger died in 1686, just a few years after his father. His shop included at least two apprentices, based on his calling Benjamin Threeneedle his “eldest apprentice” in his will: 

“I give to my Eldest apprentice Benjamin Threeneedle the remainder of his time he hath yet to serve with me; and if his friends thinke he have not sufficient cloathing I would have my wife give him one suit of Apparell suitable for him.”]

Inventory of the Estate of Henry Messenger late of Boston, Joyner decd taken & apprized by us whose names are underwritten, 30th Nov 1686

Impr. His wearing Apparell, hatts, shoes, stockins, shirts etc 

and his Armes, given away by will amongst his Brethren

25:4:00

In the Halle:

1 doz. Russia Leather chaires at 11/8 6:12:00

2 Tables at 24s a ps 1:08:00

 

In the Chamber over the halle:

8 Turkey worke chaires at 14s 5:12:00

1 Chest of drawers 2:10:00

1 feather bed, boulster, pillows, ffurniture of coverings, curtains,

 vallents and bedestead 17:00:00

1 table 25s  1 looking glass & brasses 18 2:03:00

1 pr brasses for the chimney 20s 2 stands 8 1:08:00

In the Chamber over the Kitchin

One feather bed, furniture and bedstead 6-00-00

1 ???att table, one chest & deske and Trunke 1-10-00

In the Kitchin

1 Table (price) eight sedge bottom chaires (price) 1-12-00

1 Hamaker and Morings (price) one Chest 2-00-00

A dwelling house & garden and land the apprces 200-00-00

Timber, Boards, planks workeing tooles (etc) at the 

Shop, apprized by Mr Cunnibell and Tho: Warren, Joyners

At Eleven pounds 16/8 11-16-8

A parcel of glew -12-10

Money since the death of my husband for worke done for 

Some frenchmen 2-05-00

I spent a lot of time trying to determine if the joiners were all grouped in one area in the city. It seemed that several did live pretty close to each other, but whether this was just how things worked out or was intentional & somehow effected their work habits could never be established. One joiner, Jeremiah Bumstead, lived right next to Henry Messenger, Sr. But they weren’t exactly best friends, according to: 

“The testimony of Thomas Varrin, aged about 16 years… 

That he has heard Jerimyah Bumstead caull henery Messinger senior a wicked base mallitious fellow and the devill had set him a work and he would finish it for him and further testifyeth I have heard him call him a prateing Logarhed” 

I found the above testimony in an unpublished manuscript by Benno Forman, 

Boston Furniture Craftsman, citing Suffolk Superior Court Files 10:149. I don’t remember if I followed up & read the original record. 

 

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This ain’t in the book

When I was working on the book Joiner’s Work, I started out thinking it was going to be a book about making a joined chest. https://lostartpress.com/products/joiners-work

Then it grew & grew, to include a slew of carving, several different boxes, the original idea of the joined chest, then a chest with a drawer. But not a chest of drawers. But…if you read the book, all you need to know about making a chest of drawers is in there. The chest of drawers I have underway right now is only the 2nd one I’ve ever built, a good reason to not include it in a book. Here it was a couple weeks ago – not much different from today.

Today I was making the drawers for the lower case. These have half-blind dovetails joining the sides to the front, but rabbets (with nails) joining the back to the sides. I didn’t shoot photos of how I cut dovetails; there’s qualified people for that. I’m strictly an amateur at dovetails. This photo shows the half blind joint on the drawer front, with the groove below for the drawer bottoms. The drawer is “side-hung” – it slides on runners inside the carcase. The drawer side has a groove plowed for this runner.  In this case, the groove is wide, 9/16″. At the back end of the drawer side, nothing. The rear board has a rabbet that will be nailed together. Typical drawer construction of the period.

 

 

This is looking into the lower case’s guts. I have started installing the drawer runners; the bottom & middle drawers are ready, you can see the notches for the upper drawer’s runner chopped into the front & rear stiles.

 

Now two of the drawers are tested into the case, and the drawer sides for the upper drawer are tested before I cut any joints in them.

The drawers have figured maple inserts, that will then be framed by Spanish cedar moldings. The whole effect will be to mimic two side-by-side drawers. Here’s a detail of one of the upper case drawers including a drawer knob of East Indian rosewood.

I got the middle drawer assembled & fitted, and the upper drawer glued up right at 6pm; but it was a tad out-of-square, so I threw a clamp across the corners & left the room. Tomorrow is another day. I’ll inset the maple in this drawer, then work on the cedar moldings for all three of them. Then on & on, more rosewood turnings, big moldings & small, more & more details. No carvings, but still no blank space.

still doing to-be-dones

In between teaching and other commitments, I’m still plugging away at unfinished projects. This morning I went out to the shop and had a look around. I’m back to working on this chest of drawers. The morning sun created a visual assault on the moldings and turnings.

I’ve been cutting the joinery in the lower case – it’ll be three drawers of just about equal height. Then the upper case (above) is technically three as well, but two shallow side-by-side drawers, over a very deep single drawer. The lower case is just about done framing now. I have two horizontal pine panels to make for the rear. Then it’s onto the drawers. The side panels are re-sawn Spanish cedar, to match the side panels of the upper case.

There’s mortises chopped into the top edges of the lower case’s upper side rails. Tenons will project above the rail to engage related mortises in the bottom edges of the upper case. This will keep the cases aligned. Gravity does the rest.

I’ve sort of made up the format of the drawer fronts. I stumbled across a quilted/rippled board of maple one day ages ago. So I’ve resawn it as well, making thin plaques that get housed flush in the drawer front. Then Spanish cedar moldings will frame around them. And I’ll have leftovers of both that I’ll make into small boxes…

Meanwhile, I’ve been following along with Curtis Buchanan’s democratic chair videos – https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLL_KlogKd1xf9GYjSfBVLKTp8KngC8q7j and I’m almost caught up. Next up is  boring for the stretchers and assembling the undercarriage.

For that I just got this Millers Falls 18″ bit extension – it fits both auger bits and the more modern straight-shank bits. (or the ones I’ve tried so far, at least.)

An auger bit and an old (30 year old?) Stanley power-bore bit, with the business end of the Millers Falls extension.

I thought it said No 3; but I put my glasses on and see that it’s No 35. I think they came in other sizes too, 24″ maybe…

and last, this amount to just about my entire summer’s worth of spoon carving – 3/4 done rhododendron spoon. I’ll add it to the “to be finished” stuff.

where do I get logs?

It’s a very common question. I usually suggest small sawmills, firewood dealers, tree-cutters, etc. For many years, my friends & I have worked with the folks at Gurney’s Sawmill in East Freetown, Massachusetts. They’re very patient with us, I am extremely picky when it comes to oak logs, and am never buying more than one at a time…

Pret & I went there yesterday to shop for Plymouth CRAFT’s ladderback chair class coming up in August. Here’s the first pile we saw; but there was another pile just before it.

 

 

For once, I’m not looking for the largest diameter log I can find; for many reasons. The heaviest parts of the JA chair are just 1 3/4″ or less in diameter when we split them. So straight & clear were more of a priority than wide. Straight & clear is always a priority. The logs in this pile were 12-footers (over 3.5 meters for some of you). I didn’t think to take the camera out until after they plucked our log off this pile, but it was near the front, on top. That NEVER happens. They’re usually buried under lots of other logs.

 

The crew at Gurney’s moved the log to a spot where we could split it into pieces we could manage. Here’s a clean cut on the end; showing just how centered this log is, nicely round. Even growth rings – looks great.

The log was 12 feet long, about 20″ in diameter. Pret cut it into two five-foot sections, with the remaining 2 feet in the swelled butt of the log. Here’s the wedges driven into the end of that first cut.

 

Honestly, I did work at splitting too – he just doesn’t work the camera. It’s OK, I don’t like to work the chainsaw, so we’re even. Using a peavey to lever apart the first split.

Hard to read in this photo, but Pret’s using a slick to get in there & snip the crossed fibers in the red oak. I’m sorry I didn’t get a better shot of this. It’s quite an innovation to use that wide chisel this way. We’ve always used a hatchet or small axe for this, but he came up with the slick for it. The cutting edge is just where you want it for this job. The hatchet can bounce around in there, the slick doesn’t.

We first thought we’d load the quarters in the car. Then came to our senses and split them into eighths. Took one five-foot section in this load. Will return for the rest later. Total time splitting was just under an hour probably. 165 board feet in the log and I paid .75 per board foot. I hope this section will make the six chairs we need for the class, with a few extras. We’ll see in August. But first, I’m off to Lost Art Press for box-making.

This one’s for McKee – when I’m back 2nd week of August. If you can handle the program….

chair seat, basket find, carved oak

Some snippets of odds & ends. Last week, I worked for a time on hollowing the seat for my version of Curtis Buchanan’s democratic chair. His video series on this chair is here https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLL_KlogKd1xf9GYjSfBVLKTp8KngC8q7j

The plans are here https://www.curtisbuchananchairmaker.com/store/p31/Full-Scale_Drawings%3A_How_to_Make_a_Democratic_Side_Chair.html 

I often hear people say to me, or about me, “he makes it look easy..” and that’s how I feel about Curtis’ video – but of course he makes it look easy, he’s done it for 35 years or so. It’s fun to delve into something that I don’t know all that well anymore. I saw Pete Galbert last week & told him “don’t lay off Windsors for 25 years and then think you can just fall back into it…”

That’s about where I got in one session. I need to really hone the inshave better, then finish the hollowing before I start in on shaping the exterior.

I had the distinct advantage of having Curtis’ model on hand. I bought one of the prototype versions of this chair. When I measure it against his plans, it’s different. Makes me feel better.

On my way to Lie-Nielsen’s Open House last week, I stopped at an antique mall & found this inexpensive black ash basket. It’s a beauty. It’s maybe 15″-18″ in diameter.

The handle detail.

The base. Each upright is split in two about halfway out from the center. Makes a tighter weave. At first I thought it was every other one, but it looks like all of them. Very fine work. It’s pretty tattered, but still quite nice.

I worked oak at the Open House, took no photos at all. (swiped this one from LN’s Facebook page – where they have several photos of the event. https://www.facebook.com/lie.nielsen.toolworks/

Image may contain: one or more people, people sitting and beard

If you’ve never been to LN’s open house, it’s great. Maybe 30 demonstrators. Go next year. I’ll see you there. This is the layout and initial carving of one of the box fronts I made (I started 3 of them; finished this last one at home yesterday.)

Here it is finished.

Before I went up to Maine, I finished another carved and painted box; I’ll post this for sale in the next couple days.

Now I’m back to the chest of drawers. I’m on the lower case now, but here’s one of the drawer pulls on the deep (10″) drawer. East Indian rosewood.

applied decoration; Triglyphs

Part of my loft-clean out goal has been to finish building a chest of drawers I started eons ago. I searched this blog, and saw I was assembling the upper case (all I’ve got so far) back in March 2013. And it never got further than that…til now.

I started the lower case, I had one front stile made & mortised, and I chopped its mate the other day. Then I began planing rail stock for it. Meanwhile, I glued up some quartersawn oak for the upper case’s top, and did some fussy fitting of the side-hung drawers.

Late yesterday I worked on some small details; making and trimming some of the applied decoration; in this case pieces furniture historians call “glyphs.” This row of glyphs decorate a small muntin between the two side-by-side upper drawers.  They’re usually “trigylphs” in architecture, mine are corrupted no doubt. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triglyph 

Here’s a set from a chest made in Boston mid-to-late 17th century:

I made some for a box in the new book Joiner’s Work. https://lostartpress.com/products/joiners-work  There, I planed the beveled shape on the edge of a board, then ripped the bits off that board. It’s a real nice way to make these, one length can get a whole slew of them, depending on the board’s length.

planing edge

For this set of glyphs, I started with some short offcuts that were good for nothing else. These are Spanish cedar, not a wood I have on hand in any considerable quantity.  I cut out the blanks 3/4″ wide, 3/8″ thick, they’re just under 6″ long. Then I beveled them by holding the plane still and sliding the blank across the plane’s iron. You have to give this work your full attention, or you pay with your fingertips’ blood.

The various stages with this method; the blank on the left, a piece trimmed to size just above the ruler and some planed and trimmed.

I need 14 of them about 2 3/4″ long, I was getting 2 per length from this stock.

Here’s a short video showing how I trim the ends with a chisel.

Now to practice a little turning; find that rosewood up in the loft and make the drawer pulls. Then I can fasten the top and finish the applied bits later, when it’s too hot for any real work. No carving at all, but still “no blank space” is the goal.

It’s staggering for me to think about the time that has gone by since I began work on this piece. In studying museum furniture and other period works, we often speculate about why this piece or that piece looks the way it does. I remember often hearing “maybe the apprentice did this part, the master came in & did that part…” and other theories about variations in a given work. Someone might look at this one day and have plenty to puzzle over. I wonder if they will come up with “Maybe his job changed, he quit, put things in storage, waited a couple years, built his own shop & never had time to pursue this till several years later he went on a cleaning binge and cleared out the loft…”

Just a box of rain

Well, it’s Friday of box week, which started out as bowl week. I don’t know how it got to Friday so quickly, but I managed to finish fitting bottoms and lids on two boxes yesterday. Some of it spilled into this morning.

 

I usually use white pine for bottoms and lids; many New England boxes from the period did just that. Otherwise, oak lids. I tend to save the oak for more carved parts, i.e. the next box. Thicknessing and flattening white pine is pretty easy; I don’t even use a hatchet. The scrub or fore plane is effective enough at quickly removing excess material. It comes to me usually a full inch thick. Flatten one side. 

Then, having laid out the intended thickness, I start in on the 2nd face. At first, just a wide bevel all around down to just above the scribed line.

For this work, I use a plane that has its iron re-ground to a wide curve. Set to take a thick shaving. You can see the bevel planed on this board, just under the back end of the plane.

Then I can go right across the board, using the bevels as a sighting aid. This quickly removes the excess thickness.

Shoot one edge, then trim to size.

And it goes on & on. Some lids get thumbnail moldings around their edges, some just a bevel. The bottom boards are beveled where they extend beyond the box to form a base.

These boxes mostly started life as a carving demonstration. then got stashed until I had time to make them into boxes. So I finished assembling two of them this week, some painting to finish up on this one from a week or so ago, but that has to wait for the rain to quit. Then it’s onto the next thing, which really is hewn bowls. The loft is crawling with them. You’ll see that next week.

One more box class that has space in it, at Connecticut Valley School of woodworking. October 12-16. Last I’ll speak of it… https://www.schoolofwoodworking.com/class-schedule/29-speciality-weekend-classes/635-make-a-carved-oak-box-with-peter-follansbee.html