White pine furniture

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I posted this one on Instagram recently; making some pitiful excuses for having brought those awful plastic clamps into the shop. It’s a settle that I’m test-assembling. About 5′ x 5′. It’s for the Old House in Cutchogue, Long Island. But I can’t build it here, I have to assemble it in the house. So I copped out & bought two of those pathetic tools to help hold it as I worked out the ship=lapped boards across the back. It’s all painted now, and stacked in the corner. I’m onto the next thing; a large dresser for the same house. This one’s even bigger – 6′ wide, and 7′ high. Shelves above, shelves, drawers & cupboard below.

The page below is from Russel Kettell, Pine Furniture of Early New England – this is not the dresser we studied as the basis for what I’m making, but it’s not much different. I’ve had this book almost as long as I’ve been a woodworker. It’s a wonderful book, somewhat dated now, but still excellent.

Here’s some work on it I did on mine today –

You can just make out that this is a 7′ high side board to the dresser. The scalloped bit just behind my back is the upper end, where the shelves for plates/dishes fit in.  I’m jointing the front edge, this will be the cupboard section. The board is held in the single screw, pinched against the bench. Resting on a holdfast in the near leg and a wooden pin in the far leg.

I don’t have a router plane; here I’m chopping a stopped dado for a vertical partition that is part of the cupboard. Using a chisel to chop out the waste, then cleaned up with a bevel-down chisel.

Test-fitting the partition in that dado. I’ve got the long shelf pinched onto the bench with 2 holdfasts and a strip of scrap pine.

I shoot most of my photos with a tripod and a remote shutter-release. I forgot to hold still for this one. I’m rip-sawing a 6′ piece to make the kick-plate that fits under the lowest shelf. I’m not sure I’ve ever pointed it out, but I keep a large open bag at the end of the bench. It doesn’t catch all the plane shavings, but it catches a bag-full.

I’ve started jointing the kick-plate and here I’m checking with one of the most accurate tools in our arsenals – eyeballs.

I don’t work from drawings. I do best when I get the piece started, then I can easily see where to go next. This is my end-of-the-day, “what was I thinking?” look. I’ve got one upright, the vertical partition and the mid-shelf mocked up across from my bench, and I’m trying to figure out the next piece to cut. The cupboard door is standing beside the bench. This picture is here because the camera was set to shoot every-so-many minutes. Building big stuff in this small shop, and setting up a tripod makes it tricky sometimes…so I just stuck it in the corner and got lots of photos to delete.




I’m really not a wood-collector

I can’t be a wood hoarder (or collector) – I don’t have room. But for someone who claims to not collect wood, I sure spent a lot of time lately gathering it. Much of my wood of choice is green wood. If your eyes get bigger than your stomach for green wood, you end up with stuff that goes bad one way or the other. Some green wood rots, like birch for spoons. Some gets insects if you don’t get the bark off. Like oak. Here’s former spoon wood that never got made:

Winter is the easiest time for a green woodworker; no insects to invade the stashed timber. I have this pile of riven oak bolts standing outside my shop; this time of year there’s no hurry to deal with them. These are between 5 and 6 feet long, a few shorter sections in there too. Most is oak, a few are hickory that just came in this week. 

I have started to split them up and rough plane them one by one. Removing the sapwood and the bark is critical, that’s where the creatures get in. I have some joined furniture coming up – 2 joined stools, a chest of drawers and a wainscot chair. But then I need a place to store the planed oak bits…here’s a small stack up in the edge of the loft. I’ve glued the ends so they don’t check. I often write the date on them too, helps me keep track of what’s what. These are drawer parts and frame stock for a chest of drawers that’s on my list. The chair rungs behind them are a bit too wiggly to be good enough; but too good to burn. For now…

Before most of that oak work, I have two large pieces to build for the Old House in Cutchogue, Long Island out of white pine. A settle that’s essentially 5 feet square and a dresser that’s 6 feet wide and 7 feet tall. Like much early pine furniture, the originals that we studied to base these on were made from wide white pine boards. The settle for instance – the narrow parts are 15” wide. The uprights are from an 18” board.

This week I went to visit a friend of mine to get some of this white pine. We had to sort through a lot of pine boards, because there were too many 24-26” wide boards and we didn’t want to cut those down to 15” stuff. An interesting problem to have – boards that are too wide! I couldn’t leave all those two-footers behind, so a couple came here to be future chest lids. On the left is one of the settle’s uprights – it’s about 18″ wide, the board beside it is maybe 24″ wide. One or two small knots in the settle piece, the other board has none. 

I pulled one down from my loft that I’d been saving for a couple years, and cut it for a chest here in the house that has been wanting a lid for a while. So I can stash one board where that came from. But clearly it’s time to sort and clean out the loft and use it for real storage, not dead storage.

The next day found me helping some friends sawing out white pine boards, and some of them came back here too. These are green, just sawn. So their storage is easy, outside, stickered and forgotten til next year. Some 20” one inch boards, and one 2” thick plank; about 12 feet long. I’m in the midst of covering this small stack with leftover boards from building the shop. 

Then back to the first stop, where now there was a section of green hickory up for grabs. I split some out, about 6’ long. Chair parts, basket rims and handles. This needs pretty immediate attention, hickory has a lousy shelf life, and is best worked green. A detour, but a fun one. 

I disassembled my lathe to make room for all this oversized work; just finishing up the bedstead now, then will begin work on the pine pieces. You can see how tight it is in there. The long rails are just seen by the through tenons in the foot board’s posts. 

Here’s the wedged through tenon. After this photo, the wedges got trimmed a little, the tenon got chamfered on its corners.

After these large pieces, I’ll re-assemble the lathe. By then, it’ll be spring and I’ll start travelling and teaching. Better get to it.

a couple of New England 17th-century board chests

I have been reading about Chris Schwarz’ take on what he’s calling “Furniture of Necessity”, I’m interested particularly in the board chests. Here’s Chris’ post: http://blog.lostartpress.com/2012/11/04/help-build-the-furniture-of-necessity/#jp-carousel-5279

Chris & I corresponded a bit about these things, but I was no help really. I haven’t studied them much. I made a few for PBS’ show Colonial House many years ago, and a few others besides. Here’s one of my Colonial House chests, I have another here at the house, filled with kid’s junk. The color in this photo is off- I did paint is w iron oxide mixed in linseed oil, but it doesn’t really look like this.

PF board chest

So I have been digging through some old photos in my files. Here’s a couple of board chests, made in New England in the late 17th century. This first one might even be in Chris’ slide show he copped from auction houses. I had it here to make replacement brackets under the front board. (I see it was pre-kids, there’s no plastic toys in the photos, but was shot at the house.)

board chest, pine

One nit to pick is to say that these are un-decorated. This chest is covered with “crease” moldings run along all the front and end boards. I often see pine paneling in early New England houses decorated the same way.

board chest, foot cutout

If you want to cut out the feet in some simple scheme, here it is. No turning saw, bowsaw – just a handsaw.

closer shot of foot cutout

Most often in the New England examples I know best, there is a drawer or drawers under the chest carcass. Makes it more useful, but some fussing around to fit drawers in it. This one is part of a huge group of joined and boarded furniture attributed to Plymouth Colony. See Robert St. George’s book The Wrought Covenant for details about the whole show – but here it’s a pine chest w drawer. Dated on the till lid 1689. Drawer front carved. Applied moldings above and below the drawer. Punched & scribed decoration on the chest front. Replaced hinges. It’ s pretty big – H: 32″ W: 48″   D:  20″

board chest, Plymouth area, 1689
side view

One great thing about his chest is the surviving stick that locks the drawer from within the chest. (This batch was scanned from photos I shot 18 yrs ago, these are the best I have of this chest) – the sleeve is nailed to the inside face of the front board. There’s a mortise chopped through the chest bottom = and the oak stick slides down into a corresponding sleeve in the drawer.


sleeve & stick to lock drawer
inside the drawer

Notice that here, the joiner used front-to-back boards for the chest bottom and drawer bottom. Looks like the drawer had a divider in it once also. Here’s the drawer front, and the applied moldings.

carving detail

Here is the till. It’s a bit of a mess. Maybe always was. Horrible carving, but gives us the date just the same. Other Plymouth Colony chests have similarly awful carved dates.

the till

I have another, but am out of time. So more later.