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.

https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/carving-drawings-plans/

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:

better

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.

mayhem

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 

next episode in Joined Chest series posted

ladderback chairs

In between some lackluster birding outings this month, I’ve been building some ladderback chairs and weaving hickory bark seats. And working on my “Making a Joined Carved Chest” video series. Last week I uploaded the most recent episode, “Joinery Test-Fit pt. 1. 

chest parts

This one’s about test-fitting the joinery for the front and ends of the chest. Some plow plane work, paring the tenons, keeping track of what goes where. It’s “Joinery Test-Fit, part 1” because the rear section of these chests is a subject all its own. So that’ll be part 2.

So far there are 8 or 9 videos in the series, most are around an hour long, some 1 1/2 hours. After the first introductory episode they are:

Splitting, Riving & Hewing

Planing Riven Green Oak

Planes & Green Oak: cleaning & sharpening

Finish Planing & Layout of Joinery

Carving the Top Rail

Cutting Joinery

Joinery Test-Fit.

There’s also one about Sharpening the Hewing Hatchet.

Still to come are two more on carving – the arched panels and the drawer front. One about sharpening the carving tools.

panel, joined chest, c. 1660-1680s

Cutting & fitting the till, same for the floor. Making & fitting the drawer. The lid, hinges & cleats. Making the pins and assembly. There’s probably more to it than that. 

Right now it’s just under 10 hours. I had estimated about 15 hours, but I was way off. Now I guess it’s more like 20. It’s a lot to plow through for both me & the viewer. But if you’re interested in how these chests are made, all of it will be covered in detail. 

Below is a 5-plus minute trailer of the newest episode. This can give you an idea of what the videos look and sound like. The videos themselves are at vimeo.com/ondemand/follansbeejoinedchest – there you can buy the whole series or individual videos.

some joinery, some birds

chest parts cut

I’ve been working on the chest-video series lately. I haven’t made a chest in a couple of years so this is a lot of fun to do again. The past few days I’ve been catching up on the joinery – the video footage is shot but I had more joints to cut before I can shoot the next steps.

chopping mortises

I probably spent most of 2 days shooting various angles on mortising so once that was done it seemed easy to just go in and cut mortises. But as soon as I thought how nice it was to work without the camera, I realized I could use some still shots. So back to the tripod and camera angles, etc. But it was still fun and much easier to shoot stills than video. What I blather about doesn’t matter in still photos.

plowing panel grooves

Now I’ve got the whole front frame (and much of the two side frames) cut. Time to finish the videos on the front framing and then I go on to the front panels. Those I’ve never carved on video before. They’re in the book Joiner’s Work but this will give me a chance to delve more deeply into that pattern.

carving the panels

The only other thing is that it’s May. Bird migration has begun for real here in New England. I’ve made a few short trips with our friend Marie to see what’s coming in. Yesterday’s haul included this wood thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) He was hard enough to find and I couldn’t get him in any good light. His song is one of the wonders of spring in the woods.

wood thrush

And whenever we hear thrushes in the woods, we know we’ll also hear and hopefully see, ovenbirds and towhees. This ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla) looked me right in the eye (in the lens, I guess)

ovenbird

The eastern towhees (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) were all throughout the woods, as were the ovenbirds. Each spring lately I get what I call the “one-day towhee” here at the shop.

one day towhee

Our yard is not the right habitat for them, not enough woods. But last week, one came out from under the holly tree, as it does each year, for one day. Back & forth, scratching in the leaves and junk. Gone the next day.

And the Baltimore orioles (Icterus galbula) are everywhere. Including outside my shop window. And that means yet another camera in the shop, so I can be ready. Binoculars too for the far-away birds.

Baltimore oriole

Next video in the Joined Chest series

Carving the top rail

Well, after a slew of headaches and support-emails with the vimeo people, I have uploaded my most recent video “Carving the Top Rail” – part of the series on making a joined carved chest-with-a-drawer. Just to complicate matters, the trailer is on youtube. I don’t have the strength to suss it out otherwise.

It’s a lengthy video – almost 90 minutes, so I made a lengthy trailer. The video covers how to layout and carve the lunettes on the top rail, hopefully in enough detail to get you there. Here’s the trailer:

The video series is at vimeo.com/ondemand/follansbeejoinedchest – each of these videos (there’s 6 1/2 right now, totally almost 7 hours) is available separately or as part of the whole series. $100 for the full set, $15 per video.

I just got back from teaching a class in making Jennie Alexander’s chair – next up in the shop here is some more chairmaking, then the next video which will cover cutting the mortise & tenon joints, some plow plane & more…and in the meantime – spring migration.

Carolina wren

a week of chairmaking

assembling a sample chair

Time to pack up for a week of chairmaking at Pete Galbert’s. Well, every week there is a week of chairmaking. But for me, it’s a shift in focus. This is only my 3rd class since the pandemic began. I used to travel frequently for teaching, not sure how much of it I’ll do going forward. One thing is constant – I know I’ve packed too much stuff, same as always. I’m bringing parts made by the previous class (filled in some with stock I prepped) and the students will make new ones to replace these – here’s 10 chairs’ worth of back posts in a bucket, with some filler added.

back posts for 10 chairs

I’ll bring one of the last chairs JA made (on the left below) and one I made last year.

JA left, PF right

So we’ll shave green parts, bend them in these forms and move onto the stuff that’s ready to go.

back post bending forms

I didn’t have enough rungs dry ahead of time. So I made 10 dozen and we’ll set these in Pete’s kiln. These all came from some oak bolts that I had rejected for the cupboard I built. But the wood was fine for these.

red oak rungs

The hickory chair I was making came out fine. I’ll use it for the slat-demo, maybe seat weaving too. Depends on timing.

hickory chair

Well, that’s been my week mostly. Time to stuff it in the car, class begins tomorrow morning.

—————

PS: If you’re a subscriber to my vimeo chest-building project. I’m working on it steadily. But I’ve run into glitches with vimeo and the support staff there are on it, trying to guide me through some wrinkles. Sorry for the delay, I’ll announce it here when new content (carving the top rail) is up & running.

top rail to a joined chest