Hickory bark seating video

hickory bark seat

I made a couple of chairs in late September/early October and shot a video of weaving the seat with hickory bark. There’s lots of information out in the world about chair seating. This video is just how I do it – no more than that. I learned hickory bark work from Jennie Alexander and Drew Langsner. I learned to use pretty thin bark. When I’ve worked with thicker bark, it’s felt clunky and I wasn’t able to get it as tight as I might like. So in this video a good chunk of the time is spent prepping the bark by splitting it in half or shaving it down.

To weave this seat, I used bark I harvested myself this past spring. I DO NOT KNOW WHERE YOU CAN BUY BARK. Sometimes you can find it online, but supplies are spotty.

In the recent revised edition of Alexander’s Make a Chair from a Tree we included what we could of harvesting hickory bark. https://lostartpress.com/collections/chairmaking/products/make-a-chair-from-a-tree But we had to use what photos we had available. I didn’t shoot enough new photos or video this past spring (the book was already in the can then) – was too busy cutting the bark. Here’s the blog post about that trip https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2021/06/21/hickory-bark-2/

From a few years ago, here’s shaving the outer bark to get to the useful stuff.

shaving outer bark

Then thinning that while it’s on the sapling before lifting it off. This can only be done in the spring & early summer.

What other materials work this way? Damned if I know. Drew Langsner has used the inner bark of tulip poplar (not a poplar tree actually, it’s Liriodendron tulipifera.) He describes its use in his revised book Country Woodcraft: Then & Now also from Lost Art Press. https://lostartpress.com/collections/green-woodworking/products/country-woodcraft-then-now 

So – onto the video. It’s lonnnggggg – sorry about that. We cut it down as much as we could. It’s not all that exciting either. Unless you really like seat weaving. Which I do. There’s times when I get in my own way and block the camera’s view. But it will show you most of what I’m doing.

When I work with hickory bark, I often think back to Mark Twain’s references to it. The first one I know is from the Autobiography, (the modern vol 1; for that matter the old volume 1 too) When describing his uncle’s farm in Missouri, he mentioned:

“Down the forest slopes to the left were the swings. They were made of bark stripped from hickory saplings. When they became dry they were dangerous. They usually broke when a child was forty feet in the air, and this was why so many bones had to be mended every year.”

In the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer is advising Huck Finn to get a sheet with which Jim will make a rope ladder in planning his escape. Huck has other ideas:

“Why, Tom Sawyer, how you talk,” I says; “Jim ain’t got no use for a rope ladder.”

“He has got use for it.  How you talk, you better say; you don’t know nothing about it.  He’s got to have a rope ladder; they all do.”

“What in the nation can he do with it?”

Do with it?  He can hide it in his bed, can’t he?”  That’s what they all do; and he’s got to, too.  Huck, you don’t ever seem to want to do anything that’s regular; you want to be starting something fresh all the time. S’pose he don’t do nothing with it? ain’t it there in his bed, for a clew, after he’s gone? and don’t you reckon they’ll want clews?  Of course they will.  And you wouldn’t leave them any?  That would be a pretty howdy-do, wouldn’tit!  I never heard of such a thing.”

“Well,” I says, “if it’s in the regulations, and he’s got to have it, all right, let him have it; because I don’t wish to go back on no regulations; but there’s one thing, Tom Sawyer—if we go to tearing up our sheets to make Jim a rope ladder, we’re going to get into trouble with Aunt Sally, just as sure as you’re born.  Now, the way I look at it, a hickry-bark ladder don’t cost nothing, and don’t waste nothing, and is just as good to load up a pie with, and hide in a straw tick, as any rag ladder you can start; and as for Jim, he ain’t had no experience, and so he don’t care what kind of a—”

“Oh, shucks, Huck Finn, if I was as ignorant as you I’d keep still—that’s what I’d do.  Who ever heard of a state prisoner escaping by a hickry-bark ladder?  Why, it’s perfectly ridiculous.”

turning & molding

bird’s eye view

I have the construction of the cupboard just about finished. Now it’s time for moldings and turnings, then color. And on & on. Turning the large pillars is a particular challenge, but photographing turning in my shop is more of a challenge. To get the shot above, I climbed up into the loft, set up the tripod and camera and hoped I had it aimed well. Then clambered back down and went to work. The pillars are about 4″-4 1/2″ in diameter. This set for the lower case are 13″ long. This stock is cherry – I couldn’t find any maple worth bothering with.

lower case pillar and rough hewn blank

The photo above shows a rough-turned pillar. Dead-green, I’ll let it dry some before finishing the details. It doesn’t have to be bone-dry. As it dries, the round becomes oval. I just want it to not be too oval so I’ll finish the turning when it’s lost some moisture.

turning the coves

As soon as I can I establish the narrower cove areas – by wrapping the cord around one of them I get more revolutions per tromp than when the cord was around the full 4 1/2″ diameter. For this shot, the camera was outside the shop on a temporary shelf out the window. And up a ladder to set it up…there won’t be many of these.

deep drawer decoration

I don’t work at the pole lathe all day. I try to split that work up into half-days. So I worked on decorating the deep drawer (the last of the four drawers). After the 2″ wide beveled strips that frame each half of the drawer comes these little maple triangles. They’re 1 3/8″ across the base and 1 5/8″ long. Centered on each end.

next step – long moldings

The two long moldings across the top and bottom of this area are easy. 45 degrees at each end. I miter one end, hold it in place and mark the length. Then miter that. I use a miter box I got from Alexander – a modern German one – at first I thought I’d get rid of it, but I’m so glad I kept it. It comes in handy.

now some scribing

Next I cut the moldings that surround the triangles. I marked a centerline along the field of the drawer front – from the point of one triangle to the other. Then held a piece of the molding in place against the maple block and marked where it hits that centerline. Then cut it. This one I cut freehand, after clamping the molding to a piece of scrap.

if all goes well

When it’s going well, it looks about like this. The last little bits are mitered on one end, and scribed to some weird angle on the other. I didn’t get photos at that point because by then I was gluing things in place as I cut them – you get better results that way. And with sticky, hide-gluey hands I didn’t want to mess up the camera.

So that will be a chunk of my work coming up – turnings part of the day, moldings the rest of the day.

(pt 21 Essex County cupboard project 2021)

Looking closely at chests and boxes

I’m way behind with the blog, mostly due to lack of good photos. I spent a week at Pete Galbert’s where we taught 6 1/2 people how to make the iconic Jennie Alexander style ladderback chair. My photos stunk, so Pete’s sending me some & then I’ll show you more about that later. 

chairmakers at Pete Galbert’s

One thing I had an eye on lately was an auction of chests, chairs, boxes and more that belonged to an antiques dealer that I was acquainted with. She passed away a year or so ago and much of her stuff was sold online recently. Seventeenth-century furniture is not terribly abundant, and it’s hard to find pieces that have survived 350+ years without some repairs or outright alterations. When such pieces do show up they command pretty high prices (for some people, all things being relative). But there are often problematic pieces – over-restored, refinished beyond recognition, and then there’s things that are made up of old (& new) pieces.

This collection had some of all of those, some from New England and many from old England. English pieces aren’t terribly expensive, especially over here.  I thought it might be interesting to look at a few of the items that caught my eye. It doesn’t matter what auction house it is – I’m not trying to pick on anyone, just to show what I look at when I see these things.

turned 3-legged stool

First is simple – a turned, 3-legged board-seated stool. Nearly ubiquitous in Dutch paintings of the period. But none have ever been discovered or identified as a 17th-century piece. This one had the following, pretty-accurate description – 

Turned Triangular Stool, probably England, 17th century style, with subtle incised and ball turnings to posts and spindles, ht. 21 1/4, wd. 21 in.”

Key phrase is “17th century style” which is their caveat that it was NOT made in the 17th century. But, it wasn’t made in England either – I made it in 2016. It was the first piece I made in my shop, before the windows were even in. Sold at the auction for $225 dollars – a bargain. I’d charge way more than that. 

look Ma, no windows
I sold it unfinished. A mutual friend colored it.

This one is a Plymouth Colony chest with 2 side-by-side drawers.

a Plymouth Colony chest with 2 drawers

It sold for $17,000 which isn’t a lot for what it is. There was a lot of damage to the back, drawers and floor – moisture and pests – but other than the lid much of what we see in this view is original. I imagine the finish is old, but not the original. A nice example of an interesting group of joined works. 

But this piece sold for almost as much – and is a real problem in my eyes. I’ll start with the photo and description – 

“Carved and Joined Oak Sunflower Cupboard, Wethersfield, Connecticut, or vicinity, 1675-1700, the molded top above a converted cupboard section with carved floral panels and turned applied ebonized half-baluster spindles, on a lower cupboard section with applied ornament, all on a molded base and turned feet, ht. 46, wd. 46 1/2, dp. 20 1/2 in.”

Well, that’s carefully phrased. The “converted cupboard section” is a chest that’s been cannibalized into a cupboard. That happens – I’ve seen several that got that treatment. It’s always a shame. This one then got stuck on top of an unrelated cupboard – if in fact it’s a period piece of work. How we know the base is unrelated is that there are in fact “sunflower” cupboards – here’s one from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

photo from MFA.org

The base has the carved sunflower pattern – not the upper case. All the known “sunflower” cupboards look much like this one. 

Back to the converted one – see the two weird moldings between the upper & lower cases? One of those looks to be a shallow drawer – unheard of. This was the only picture in the catalog – and I can’t tell if it’s one case or two. It almost looks to be one. Which is in keeping with the sunflower cupboards. But it’s still not right. So part of this object comes from 17th century Wethersfield, but where & when the rest of it happened is an open question. 

This next one I can’t make up my mind about –

refinished chest

first off, rare as can be to find these Wethersfield sunflower chests with no drawers. This one does not seem to be cut down, though I’ve seen that before. What stands out here is how bad the carving is. I kept staring at it trying to figure out how it could be so awful. 

“sunflower” pattern

Here’s a good one for comparison. Note particularly the details in the flower’s petals. 

more like it

Well, the finish might be the answer. We know the chest is completely refinished – a common thing in the early 20th century to take them and clean them up to look new. So my theory – and it’s only a theory – is that the carved panel was planed down. I have taken carved bits before and planed them (needing a board more than a carved sample at the time) and to see the carving get shallower and shallower as the plane keeps swiping away shavings is interesting. The alternative (equally plausible) is that someone took a plain oak chest and did all the carving to make it look like a Wethersfield chest. I go back & forth between the two explanations. As I type this, I like scenario #2 more now.

One more, then I’ll finish with something positive.

pine chest

This pine chest was carved to look as if it was a framed chest – with carvings based on a group of chests always made in oak. I studied the actual chests way back when and they were the subject of the first publication I ever did, with Jennie Alexander – http://www.chipstone.org/article.php/222/American-Furniture-1996/Seventeenth-Century-Joinery-from-Braintree,-Massachusetts:-The-Savell-Shop-Tradition

I’ll eat my hat if someone could show me that this carving is original to the pine chest. When pine chests are decorated in early New England it’s with scratched, punched or incised carvings. Like this board chest with a drawer:

Now I’ll finish with my favorite piece in the auction.

carved box, Dedham Massachusetts 2nd half of the 17th century

Small Red-painted Pine and Oak Blanket Chest, possibly New England, 18th century, the facade with molded and carved details, on a molded cutout base, ht. 16, wd. 26 1/2, dp. 14 1/2 in.

It’s not 18th-century, it was made between about 1640-1700 in Dedham or Medfield Massachusetts. And it’s not a small chest, but a big box (26″ across the front.) It belongs to a large body of chests and boxes that have been well-documented. It’s an oak box with a pine lid – the silly base can be taken off & thrown away and you’re left with an outstanding example of that work. This one I saw in person some years back – it’s the best box from that group. I’ve dabbled at carving that pattern and will have another go at it this fall or winter.

storage

these have to go somewhere

Wood storage in a small shop is a challenge. When I brought home all that quartersawn oak last week, I had to dedicate some time to sorting and sifting it and tucking it out of the way so I could get back to work. I had a question about it, not a terribly exciting subject, but here’s how I tackle it.

First – I sort the piles into the best stuff, lesser so, etc. Some of the things I’m looking at is how straight is it? Is it quartersawn or riftsawn? Defects? Here’s two really wide boards, 15″ or more. About 5′ long. I need this sort of stock for the tops of both cases to the cupboard. These tops end up about 23″ x 50″ – I’ll glue them up from 3 or 4 boards. You can see in the photo that these two boards have large knots and cracks near the inner part of the log. I split that stuff off – I’m never going to use it, so why store it? Get rid of it now.

as they came off the saw

Here is one of them with its split section detached. The good stuff runs about 10″-11″ wide, straight & clear. That it tapers in width doesn’t matter. The glued-up top will be evened out, the individual bits don’t need to be.

better now

I do the same sort of culling on lengths too. Looking for knots, curved grain and other problems. The board below I crosscut before splitting off the inner wavy bit. A large knot an the end would make that splitting a hassle. So I cut it first, then split it. Got rid of the rough end cut too, where there can be checks and splits from when the board was stacked outside.

crosscut at the green line

so it goes on & on. There were 30 pieces I think. They had been cut to different lengths to fit in my car, I have no truck. Nor do I want one. I like to mark the position of the growth rings on the end grain so I can look in the stack and see right away the orientation of each board.

good ones

I also took off the sapwood edge, it can be buggy and rotten. Same principle applies, I don’t want to store something I’m not going to use. I don’t have the room.

got my exercise

Then where does it go? Some went in the loft, stickered. Some was even labeled for its use. I don’t like to add too much weight up there, most of these will get used within a couple of months. This wood was sawn well over a year ago, but has been outdoors all that time. And it was wet in southeastern New England this summer. So these need some time to settle before I use them.

first stack

Over near the eaves of the building, but in the loft, I store dry wide stuff on edge. Some walnut up there, some wide pine that just came in and some leftover butternut.

dry stuff

The worst place to stack some is under the 2nd bench in the shop – but it takes up no floor space. This will be boxes later in the year and next winter.

under the bench

I lied. That’s the 2nd worst place. The worst is standing in the corner. I’m guilty of that too, but I’ve got it down to one corner this summer. That’s progress.

some recent work

In between rounds on the cupboard I have got some other joined and carved things done. And now with the cleaned sensor on my camera, photographing them is a treat.

carved box, butternut & oak

This one is a box that is headed tomorrow to New Hampshire as part of an exhibit/gallery show at The Two Villages Art Society called “Into the Woods” https://www.twovillagesart.org/into-the-woods a new venture for me. Dave Fisher, Kenneth Kortemeier, Dan Dustin and many others have submitted pieces as well. Worth a look if you’re in the area, opens Sept 17.

A couple of joined stools for a patient customer –

red oak joined stool

The other – he asked for two stools that didn’t have to be a pair. Good thing…

red oak joined stool

This box you’ve seen here before, I shot a video of carving its front. Now it’s done & delivered. It was a retirement gift for a curator I’ve known for eons – Dean Lahikainen at Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. It’s based on a box in their collection.

carved & painted box, oak & pine

That box and the tops of the two joined stools finished off my stash of quartersawn oak. So today I ventured out into the world to get some more. Thanks to Rick for letting me be so picky. Sunday is white pine day for the same reason – my larder is empty. I guess Monday is stacking & stickering day. Then it’s back to the cupboard full-time. Assembly is on the horizon.

30 pieces of quartersawn oak random lengths & widths

Drawers

1680s cupboard, Massachusetts Historical Society

The lower case of the cupboard houses 4 drawers. I started making them in the last few days. They are all oak, some period drawers have softwood bottoms but these use thin oak boards running front-to-back. 

The drawer sides are 3/4” thick and join the fronts with a half-blind dovetail on three of the drawers.  At the back, a rabbet joint. Both joints are nailed. Yes, right through the dovetail. The bottoms tuck behind a rabbet in the drawer front. (I’ve yet to make the deep drawer, it has through dovetails front & back. Who knows why? Not me.)

These, like most 17th-century drawers in case furniture, are side-hung. Meaning there’s a groove in the outside faces of the drawer sides that engages a runner set between the front and rear stiles. First step after prepping the stock is plowing the groove in the sides for the drawer runner. Mine’s 1/2” wide, set roughly in the midst of the drawer side’s height. It’s about 5/16” deep. 

plowing the groove in the drawer side

Me showing step-by-step of dovetailling is absurd. Go see someone who actually does it more than every other year or two. After plowing the groove, I laid out the single dovetail on each drawer side. I estimated the angle based on photos of the originals. Steep. Then sawed that out,

single dovetail

and transferred it to the end of the drawer front. Chopped that out. 

Some back & forth fitting the joint. Below is good enough for me. All it needs is a rabbet in the drawer front, then nails through the dovetail.

Like this. Next step from here is installing the bottoms.

As I said, the bottoms run front-to-back (some 17th century shops ran them parallel to the drawer front). I rive out thin oak boards, aiming for 6″-9″ wide. I rough-planed them, then aired them out in the sun to dry for a couple of weeks. Then I re-planed the top/inside surface and hewed and scrub-planed the bottom surface until they were either 3/8″ thick or slightly less. The boards for the top & bottom drawers are about 20″ long. For the smaller recessed drawers about 16″ long. At this point, I just nailed boards to each end of each drawer – these serve to keep the drawer square & solid while I rive and plane more of this thin stock. Below I’ve lined up the board just inside the drawer side and bumped up to the rabbet in front. This board has not been squared off to its edges, so I set it in place and scribed the front end to trim it. Then I nailed it in place and trimmed the back end.

Here’s the top drawer in place. I’ve been recording some videos about the drawers – it’ll take a bit of doing. But in the end it will include the runners/grooves and the vee-shaped tongue & groove between the drawer bottoms.

Then I went & rived some more thin stock.

(pt 19 Essex County cupboard project 2021)

Carving Drawings, set #2

detail from set #2 Carving Drawings

I spent the day wrestling with the blog pages/posts. They changed it around to make it easier, which makes it harder. But I got mostly what I needed in the end, or something like it. I finally have the 2nd set of my carving drawings done – 8 months late at least.

This batch is 5 pages this time, the strapwork designs got their own page of step-by-step instructions. That was the hangup, Jeff Lefkowitz had already done his wizardry, then I added the 5th page. Back to Jeff for more layout, etc. But we’re done now.

Yesterday just as the wind began to blow around here, I crawled out of bed and shot an introductory video showing the contents of the pages. Not much action, but it’ll show you what’s what.

I’ll begin shooting videos to go with these in the next week or so. In between the cupboard bits…

To order the set, which is $75 plus $6 shipping in the US, see https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/carving-drawings-17th-century-work-from-devon-england-and-ipswich-massachusetts-set-1/ (disregard that the link says “set 1” – I finally gave up, close enough!) As it stands, set one is out of stock right now, but should be back before long. Really.

Earlier today, I posted a free PDF of the various gouge shapes I use regularly. It’s here https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/carving-gouge-chart/ – it’s part of the set of drawings, but also a stand-alone bit. You can print it out and it should be the right scale to show the various curves…

The Cupboard project; carved drawer front

carved drawer front finished

I worked on the only carving in the whole cupboard just about. This is the front of the 2nd drawer from the top – of the lower case. Here’s the original –

It’s 3 repeats of one pattern – here’s the pattern isolated:

I made a video of the work, it’s chopped with a gouge rather than cut with a V-tool. So something a bit different.

But one of the first things I said in the video is a lie – turns out I found afterwards measurements of the carved bits. Partial measurements anyway. I came close to what I measured in 1999 – close enough.

(pt 18 Essex County cupboard project 2021)

Heather Neill’s paintings

We all miss somebody these days. Well, many somebodies. One I miss in particular is my friend Heather Neill. But every year about this time there’s a daily dose of Heather’s paintings as she prepares for her show at the Granary Gallery on Martha’s Vineyard. And lo and behold, I made another appearance. I had completely forgotten posing for this one.

The bookbinder Heather Neill

To see more of Heather’s work, and to read the stories behind each one, see her blog with its “painter’s notes.” https://heatherneill.com/studio-blog/

a video and some blog upkeep

carved box front

The carved box front above is the subject of the most recent video. It’s a mostly-free-hand drawing/carving. Some basic centerlines, then jump in from there. The video runs about 80 minutes and shows just about the whole process. I’ll insert it at the bottom of this blog post. I tried to post it yesterday & this morning to youtube, but the file I was uploading was incomplete. Hopefully it will be corrected now.

The Blog

I rarely tinker with the blog and it shows. Too often there’s out-of-date pages left up and then it seems that WordPress changes stuff on me. Recently (really months ago) the title & header of the blog became unreadable against the photo – so I spent what felt like an eternity trying to change the font color on the title – finally gave up & changed the background photo to a drawing of a carving. I hope I don’t have to mess with it again for a while.

Right now I have several custom pieces to make, but often have stuff ready-made too. So while I was housekeeping in the blog, I created a page “Furniture for Sale” – there I’ll stick the stuff I have kicking around that’s available for purchase. The link to it is up in the header or here https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/furniture-for-sale/

The Drawings

strapwork pattern

It was months & months ago that I said set #2 of the carving drawings was almost ready. But then I hesitated. The then 4-page set contained some drawings of strapwork designs and I decided they needed some step-by-step explanations. So I waffled around a bit, then drew them up step-by-step. Jeff Lefkowitz and I then went back & forth with captions, etc. At the same time, we monkeyed with the gouge-ID stuff. All of which is to say we’re just about done now, and have sent the set out for some test-prints. Once we see those, Jeff makes whatever last-minute changes we need, then I’ll have them printed & available. For real this time. This set will be 5 pages, 24″ x 36″ – details soon. Should be later this month I hope.

The video – Carving a box front.

I hadn’t done much carving lately at all, then got an order for a carved box. Perfect time for a carving video. I had some trouble uploading this, so broke it into two parts. I call them part 1 and part 2. Here’s part 1

and part 2