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.

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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

Making JA chairs

need more Wheaties

It’s like the old days – I feel like I just got back from one class and I’m preparing for the next. Worked today on a JA ladderback chair in preparation for teaching it at Pete Galbert’s shop next week. The parts are hickory, which means boring it is harder than it should be. I didn’t have enough Wheaties this morning for this work.

parts, jigs and tools

It’s a real nostalgia trip making these chairs. As I worked, I was thinking of all the Jennie Alexander chairs being made nowadays, and of the times I worked & carried on with JA. Many tools in my shop came from her, many ideas in my head came from her.

To take a break from boring that hickory, I went back & forth between boring and tenoning. Below is a set of 3 hickory rungs, ready for tenoning.

shaving rungs

I got the two side sections done, then picked away at this & that. Tomorrow I hope to bore & assemble the rest of the chair. I’ll bring it to class sans seat – sometimes it’s helpful to be able to see the frame without it.

opened the door & the sun came in

Since I got back from Lost Art Press last week, I’ve shot two videos for my joined chest series.

joinery layout

When I went to post the first of them – “Finish planing & layout of joinery” – it wouldn’t load to the site. And I found out that one I had posted a month ago (planes & green wood: care & cleaning, something like that) has sat there in limbo, its setting was marked “private” which meant no one could see it. I spent a ton of time the past couple of days with the Vimeo help people sorting it out. So if you’re one of the subscribers to that series, there’s 2 videos you haven’t seen yet. I’m halfway through editing the next one, which is carving the top rail’s lunettes. Hope to post that by the weekend. Here’s the link if you’d like to subscribe – it’s starting to get interesting now. Right now it’s at 5 1/2 hours of content – it’ll probably go way over my estimate of 12-15 hours. https://vimeo.com/ondemand/follansbeejoinedchest

sample lunette

Seems like spring is really getting here now. Saw this tree swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) this morning when I was out for a walk. Too involved in its preening to be bothered by me.

tree swallow

And an osprey flew over – they’re all around, setting up nesting…

osprey

carved box class last week at LAP

Clint planing oak

I ventured a long ways from home last week to teach a carved box class at Lost Art Press. 6 great students, some of whom were new to hand tools and almost all new to carving. They did great work. We started with a stack of quartersawn oak boards, planed them up a bit and dove into carving.

seeing patterns in addition to carving them

I brought my usual pile of sample carvings & photos. We spent a day doing practice patterns then on the 2nd afternoon they were carving their box fronts for keeps. Often there’s a student who has their own ideas – unlike me, the copyist. Below is the box front by Peter from Boulder, CO. A little bit of everything.

I’ve never seen this before

When I first taught a carved box class many years ago I would not include the lidded till inside. Once I gave in & let them make tills all hell broke loose. Three little boards (bottom, side & lid) wreak such havoc with an assembly. This group aced them. Below Clint is chopping out the notches for his till.

till work

I told Gary the hardest part of using winding sticks is getting up & down. He did better than me, I didn’t hear him groan once.

winding sticks

He & Pat were neck-and-neck trimming the pegs that secure the glued rabbet joints. Being by the large front windows gets them in lots of photos.

bevel down

All in all a nice stack of boxes – by the end of the 5th day we heard all the lids go “plunk” just as they should. This photo was a bit before the last couple were done, one student had a flight to catch…

6 excellent oak & pine boxes

I don’t have any other classes planned yet for 2022 – might tuck something into the fall. May is for birding, summer’s too hot. We’ll see. I’ll post anything that comes up here on the blog. Thanks to Chris & Megan for making it happen. “Such a a long, long time to be gone & a short time to be there…”

carved box details

carved box, 2006

I’m about to go out on my 2nd teaching gig in the past 2-plus years. Carved box class at Lost Art Press. I’ve spent a chunk of today sorting reference material and other junk for the trip. I’ve looked at a lot of box-photos today. I have a folder here that includes photos of over 109 boxes I’ve made, but I know there’s lots that got away sans-photos. (there’s 109 sub-folders, but some have more than one box in them.)

The carving above is copied from two boxes I’ve seen that were made in Braintree, Massachusetts c. 1660-1690. I have carved this design many times over the years. I tend to look closely at the originals as I learn a pattern, then once I feel I know it – I just go ahead and carve it. But I found out lately it’s good to go back & review the source material. Turns out I’ve done the layout wrong for ages.

I got it in my head that those inner arcs swept all the way out to the edges of the half-circle down at the bottom margin. (they mostly do on one other example) And often wondered why I had a hard time fitting all the detail inside the pattern! I fiddled around with the photo and a compass this morning – I’d go carve one but my tools are packed already. I used to strike a 45-degree line from the bottom center to locate the new centerpoint for the upside-down arcs. But now I think that centerpoint is not on a diagonal line, but just off it, tucked up under the top margin. Leaves more room inside.

possible layout

These joiners, William Savell and his sons John and William – always made lunettes with concave outlines – what Jennie Alexander called a “marble run.” But it never continued over the top of the design – it’s always broken. Here’s two examples, the front of a chest:

upper rail, joined chest c. 1660-1680

and the front of a box

carved box, John Savell 1642-1687

We often wondered where are the English examples that are the source for this work? The closest I have come is a tossed-off Instagram post showing something like their work – so a poor photo, grabbed from IG and cropped heavily. (I wrote to the antiques dealer whose photo it is & never heard back.)

But it has all the earmarks of the Savell/Braintree work –

  • Broken concave outline
  • Alternating upside-down/right-side-up V-shapes in that outline (seagulls)
  • Punched decoration – in the New England work a Maltese cross. Too indistinct to see here.
  • Alternating light & heavy chopped decoration with a gouge.

Many of these things happen in other 17th century carvings too, but combining them this way leads me to think there’s a connection. This detail from one of the New England chests shows some of those bullet points –

But the design between the lunettes on the English piece? What about that? It shows up on one of the New England chests – and a box too.

joined chest detail Smithsonian Institution

Well. It gives me something to think about while I drive from here to Lost Art Press. I’ll be making carvings of these lunettes as part of the joined chest I have underway – they’ll appear here on the blog and on the video series about the chest. But next post in both those places won’t be til the end of the first week of April.

a new chair

I was thinking about chair-making a lot lately, just had no time to do any. Now I do. First thing I did after cleaning the shop for 2 days was take this brettstuhl down from the loft and changed the outline of the seat. It used to look like this:

last year’s brettstuhl

That seat shape was pretty close to what Drew Langsner wrote about when I first learned of these chairs back in the mid-1980s. When I started building them in the past couple of years, I used that same shape at first. Then the more I saw of antique examples (online, not in person…) I decided I like this shape better:

that’s better

Then I went back to the chair I resumed work on the other day. An alternative to the chair above, this time with a 3-piece back.

chip carving

Yesterday I chopped the mortises in the seat board – starting with a brace & bit. These mortises are 7/8″ x 1 3/4″. I do them in 2 steps, first in the seat board, then in the battens.

ten degrees

Once those are chopped, I laid out the trenches for the battens. I saw and chisel most of this, then clean it up with a router plane. I pretty new tool to me. These battens were extras from making a couple of these chairs last spring, so beveled, not dovetailed on their edges. That means you can use the batten to guide the saw’s angle. If you’re careful. I do most of this sawing with the heel of the saw, teeth I rarely use.

white oak batten, butternut seat

Then knock out the waste.

bevel down

I use my large framing chisel to begin the cleanup.

it only reaches so far

I have done enough of these chairs now, and plan on more to warrant the addition of a router plane.

router, starting to get the hang of it

After I got the battens fitting & chopped the back’s mortises through those, I bored the mortises for the legs. These are 15/16″ diameter holes. Mine don’t exit through the seat – I made the legs a long time ago & the turned tenons weren’t long enough to do so.

boring leg mortises

I turned the now-dry tenons to their finished size, glued them & wedged them.

glued & wedged

Some more fussing with the back, more mortising & wedging of the tenons through the seat. here’s where it stands now – some trimming here & there to finish it off tomorrow.

butternut above hickory below

now what?

the cupboard is done. Photographing it for real tomorrow, with the proverbial help from my friends.

joined cupboard

Last week I posted a video in the joined chest series. In it, I said I rarely true up the bottoms of my wooden planes. They just don’t wear as much as you might think… – words to that effect anyway. And then the next day I was planing up some leftover oak – and knocked a chip out behind the iron! I never saw that before.

chipped behind the iron

I scribed a spot that would envelope the whole chip and using a chisel and router plane cut out a recess to take a patch. The router plane is maybe my newest tool – I’ve never used one until recently.

using a chisel to remove the bulk
router plane

I had a piece of dry maple hanging around so used that to patch it. Because my plane’s soles get pretty damp planing so much green wood, I used yellow glue to set it in place. Used it a bit the next day. Seems alright so far.

new patch

I’ve seen planes patched in front of the mouth and even done a couple. But I don’t ever recall seeing one patched behind the iron. Something new every day…

Back to what I was doing. Part of my work over the past few days has been sorting some of the oak bolts in the yard. I planed up these boards – just random sizes, depending on what the log sections would yield. Some of this will be box parts or panels – 7″-8″ wide by 24″ long. Other bits will be framing parts; 3 1/2″-5″ wide. This & that lengths. This coming week includes a big shop clean-up, at which time this batch (& more to come) will get stacked & stickered.

replenishing oak stock

Later I got out a chair I began months ago. At that point, I had made all of one piece – one of the uprights. So I made the other and the crest. Chopped the mortise & tenon joints and test fit them. Today I added some chip-carving. Butternut.

chair back

I forgot that I’m going to drawbore & pin these joints – right through these pinwheels. I’ll carve the pegs after I trim them…they’re soft enough in butternut. This chair is not going to be a copy of a specific chair. It’s based on some photos given to me and a small publication about German examples. I just don’t know what to call it – it’s not a brettstuhl (board chair) – and they’re German, Swiss, Italian, Austrian, French and more besides. I just know I like making them.

raking light by the window this morning

I’ll finish trimming the juncture between the upright & crest after pegging it.

chip carved detail

Here’s one of the pictures Chris Schwarz and his chair-mad friends gave me – this chair is part of the inspiration for what I’m making now…

1777 chair

the cupboard & the joined chest videos

Well, the cupboard is apart again.

in pieces

This time for linseed oil over the paint. I’m most of the way through this step, then some final touches here & there. Nothing significant. Then haul it out for photographs. Then haul it back until the customer comes to pick it up. 

a stack of drawers

It’s been an amazing project – the customer couldn’t have been better. I remember our first conversation, he told me 3 things. “The money is fine, I just want it done right, and I want it well-documented.” Four things – “ It doesn’t matter how long it takes.” Imagine that!

the door

Meanwhile, in between painting & oiling, I’ve been working on the video series about making the joined chest based on those from 17th-century Braintree, Massachusetts. I’ve just uploaded the next video, 1 hour 45 minutes on planing the riven green oak. What planes I use, how I orient the boards, a short section about sharpening & cleanup of the tools – even a bit about what happens if you use metal-bodied planes on green oak. 

planing green oak

That also led to a separate 30-minute video about how I cleanup & sharpen the planes – something I’ve almost never talked or written about. There’s nothing I do that’s earth-shattering about sharpening, but you do have to clean these planes after using the green wood, so it seemed like I had to address the subject. 

Here’s a trailer to show you some of what these videos look like. I shoot them myself, with 2 Nikon cameras. I’ve about caught up now with the clips I had before I launched the series, so from here on out the quality should only get better. Should is the key word…. 

Today is Monday March 7, on Wednesday March 9 the price for the series will go up from $85 to $100. The videos by themselves are $15 each. The link is vimeo.com/ondemand/follansbeejoinedchest 

You won’t see this view again

This is the last we’ll see this view in this lifetime. It’s the upper case before the top goes on.

upper case sans top

I think of the top as if it’s a giant joined stool seat. Same approach. Plane it, cut it to size, make the molded edge. Then peg it on. I had glued up three quartersawn oak boards a while back and rough-planed them. At this point, the fussy planing happens. Get one side flat enough, then work the thickness.

trimming it to thickness

I make the thumbnail molding with a rabbet plane followed by a smooth plane. Here, a batten works as a fence for the rabbet plane. Depth by eye.

rabbet first

On the cupboard, this is just below eye level, so it all shows. No place to hide.

meet me at the corner

To bore the holes (and to peg it after) I needed a boost. This low bench was perfect, like first-time drivers sitting on a phone book.

just enough room

3/8″ square pegs in round holes. I used 8 altogether, 3 in each end, one in the middle of each long rail.

square peg round hole

(pt 34 Essex County cupboard project 2021/22)

closer still…

a big step closer

First off – if you’ve read this blog for a while, you know this cupboard has consumed my every-waking moment for a while now. But when it’s done (in 3 weeks, I figure) I’ll be back to some usual blog stuff, including the carving videos that accompany the sets of carving drawings. I never finished the 2nd set of videos, there’s panels and strapwork to carve. Maybe more, I’ll have to check. But I haven’t forgotten them. Just shelved them & chairmaking til this behemoth is out of here. Now to the recent progress on the cupboard. It’s been a long time coming to this point. It’s not done, but it’s very close. 

sticking in the feet

There’s been a bunch of small tasks; gluing and pinning the feet in place. I bored a 3/16” hole through the side of the stile to just catch the foot’s tenon then drove in a wooden pin. Not on the original, but it costs nothing. Belt & suspenders. 

nailing drawer bottoms in

Some drawer bottoms. These are on-going as the oak panels dry. V-shaped tongue & groove. Nailed to the drawer sides, back and in a rabbet in the front. 

not mine

Initials. The original cupboards are often initialed and/or dated. This one just has initials. Practiced first, I don’t often carve letters. One more turning fits between the C and the I. Its paint is drying now. 

thinner button shapes

I re-did a bunch of the turned applied buttons. I found a better way to turn them and got the shape closer to what it should be. Also painted & drying. These all go on the upper case, 6 on the panels and a dozen on the upper stiles (replacing those on the upper stiles’ front faces right now.)

maple pillar

Then the pillars. Turning and installing those upper case pillars was a rare nerve-wracking bit of woodworking. I don’t usually shy away from the “next step” – in any project as you near completion, you have more to lose. These pillars are such a prominent part of the cupboard – they’re up front & up top. You can hide mistakes here & there in such a busy piece – but you can’t hide one here. 

at some point you just go ahead & bore it

I went through a bunch of rigamarole to locate the holes in the lower case’s top for the pillars’ bottom tenons. And double & triple checked it. And thought about what I would have to do if I bored it in the wrong place. (Tear off that top, rip off the offending board. Plane & joint a new one, glue it on. Plane the whole thing. Molding on the front edge. Paint it. Pin it back in place.) I felt very wimpy being so timid, but got the holes right where they need to be. The tenons are 3/4” and the holes are 13/16” – no need to make that a tight fit. Gravity keeps them in place. 

turning tenons

I rough-turned that maple pillar last March! It was the only one I got from a horrible maple log. So I turned it, went searching for more. Took months and finally settled on some cherry for the others. Turned the others in November & December. For this upper case, I roughed out three. One died on the vine – had a blown-out chunk from riving and checked badly. So these two had to make it. Yesterday I did the finish turning, very light cuts with freshly sharpened tools. And determined the final, actual shoulder-to-shoulder length from a test-fit. 

time to paint some more

Got ‘em as close to perfect as my shop produces. “I’m so happy” to quote Jögge Sundqvist. 

(pt 33 Essex County cupboard project 2021/22)

the end is near, the beginning is underway

joined stool

The cupboard is really coming to an end. It’s in sight at least. While some paint was drying, I finished this joined stool that had been waiting in the wings. All but one leg & the seat was done months ago. Here’s a detail view – we’ve never found a New England example with carved aprons, but I like to do them. Lots and lots of English ones were carved. Why not the New England ones? Maybe they were, and just don’t survive. There’s only a small number of NE joined stools as it is…

carved apron

I sussed out the middle of the cupboard door last week. Here it is mocked-up. I had tried a horizontal oval turning in the middle, but didn’t like the way it looked. The original has what I think is a 19th-century ornament added smack in the middle. Some have the date carved on the door, that would have worked also.

door just needs oiling & polishing

I did three of these turnings the other day. They’re halves with a strip in between. They decorate the side panels. The toughest thing to turn on the pole lathe, very, very slender. 5/16″ at the small end, 3/4″ at the greatest. About 7 1/2″ long. I’m glad they’re done. Painted now & drying.

“drumsticks”

Soon I’ll get to the part where I finish-turn these pillars for the upper case. First the base molding & feet get attached this week.

pillars

At the desk lately, I’ve been working on the next video in the new vimeo series – about splitting the chest parts from the log. So this video will at least have some action to go with all the blather. The link is now on the sidebar to sign up for that series. I hope to finish this video later this week.

half in half again

Every day in the shop is a good day, but snowy days are even better. Off I go.

the river this morning