Cedrela odorata

We took a few days for a trip to Maine; went to the Common Ground Fair and generally bumped around. Now back in the shop, I am getting ready for the next round of workshops, mine & otherwise. Connecticut Valley, Plymouth CRAFT and then Connecticut Valley again. But I squeezed in some time on the chest of drawers before our Maine trip and again yesterday.

Here’s before, from the previous blog post:

And now after making and installing a slew of moldings on the lower case. Makes a huge difference:

 

All these moldings are made from Spanish cedar, which is not from Spain and isn’t a cedar tree. Its scientific name is Cedrela odorata and it’s part of the same family as mahogany. Spanish cedar, or Cedro, grows in Central and South America. It’s not even a soft wood, although it is very soft. It’s a deciduous tree, losing its leaves during the dry season. Cedrela is semi-ring-porous:

Some of the stock in the period chests in Boston was riven, see the lower rail inside this chest of drawers:

Riven Cedrela

I typically use local woods; oak, ash, white pine, a few others. I am using Cedrela here because of the study I did of the Boston chests of drawers that used it back in the 17th century. It’s amazingly nice wood to work, but is considered “threatened” – the next step on that chart is “endangered.” https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/32292/68080590 – so I won’t be buying it again. This whole project is an environmental time bomb – next up on this project is another troubled timber – East Indian rosewood, a dalbergia species. Yikes.

Now, onto the work I just did on the lower case. When I have a few feet of molding to make, like on a typical joined chest, I use a scratch stock. When I have dozens and dozens of feet and many different profiles, I get out Matt Bickford’s book and go to town. https://lostartpress.com/products/mouldings-in-practice

Matt’s work breaks down any molding into a series of rabbets and chamfers as guides for hollows and rounds. It’s a very methodical approach that works very well, with some patience. The bulk of the work is preparation; the hollows and rounds come in right near the end for all the glory. Here, I’m using a fillester plane to begin setting out some rabbets to remove the bulk of the stock.

It’s hard to see with all those shavings on the bench, but the molding is pressed against a long board that is fixed in place by a holdfast. Maybe 2.

I missed photographing the chamfer that set out the bearing for running this hollow plane. Now the molding is pressed into a “sticking board” – a ledger strip with a stop at one end (in this case, a screw that can be driven higher or lower to stop the molding from shifting forward under the plane.)

this is the base molding for the lower case, it’s 2″ thick by maybe 2 1/2″-2 3/4″ high. A whole series of rabbets provides support for running a large round plane to make a sweeping concavity.

here’s the round plane working down those rabbets until it blends the whole series together.

You can see some of those moldings on this lower case; I have yet to make the base molding for the sides. One more drawer rail molding will go in between the middle and upper drawer next time I work on this project. They’re glued on right now, and the larger ones will get square wooden pins driven through them as well.

A few more moldings to go, then comes turnings.

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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. 

 

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.

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 

sooner or later one of us must know

I interrupted myself today to take care of a long-put-off task. Earlier this year, I took my lathe apart so I could build a trio of over-sized projects; a queen-size bed, a 7-foot high dresser and a large settle. My intention was when I finished those projects, I’d put the lathe back. Sooner or later.

A  couple of months went by…til today. I was enjoying having some extra floor space in the shop, but the plan all along was to make a new, shorter bed for it. This one is ash and fits 30″ between the centers, so I can turn joined stool parts, the front stiles of a wainscot chair and any small stuff I might need, like tool handles, etc.

The original bed is stashed up in the loft. It fits 50″ between centers, so takes up considerable room in the end of the shop. I’ll switch them around when I get occasion to turn those giant 17th-century style chairs.

This next photo shows the upright that forms the “headstock” if a lathe like this has one. The bed is fixed to the uprights by large iron bolts with washers & square nuts. All the hardware; these bolts, the centers, and the tool rest brackets were made by Mark Atchison back in 1994 when I was first working at my old shop in the museum.

Here’s the moveable “poppet” with its tool rest bracket inserted through it. You can see the wedge just below the bed that fastens the poppet in place.

The tool rest propped in the brackets.

I have no turner’s work coming up, so for now the lathe is shoved back against the rear wall. It fits 2 JA chairs tucked under it; waiting to be finished. And junk collects on the chair seats, an unfinished basket in this case. The foot treadle is stashed behind the lathe, and the spring pole is up in the peak of the ceiling.

For the time being, there’s easy access to the notebooks and other reference works. Many of you didn’t even know there was a bookcase in the shop probably.

Also important is access to the window looking out over the garden and the river. One day last week we looked out from the house and a great blue heron was under the bird feeders. He spooked and took off, but shortly after that came back & hung around the garden. Wouldn’t want to be a chipmunk that day…

 

A couple of years ago, Maureen planted milkweed to attract monarch butterflies. Today she found a caterpillar on one of the plants…

Box week

It was going to be bowl week. But I think it turned into box week. I don’t know what happened. Some of it stems from the great, not-quite-finished loft cleaning of spring 2019.

When I make a carved oak box they can go one of two ways. Some are reproductions/copies of existing boxes, as close as I can get them. This desk box is an example of that work. The measurements, decoration, construction are all based on an examination of a late 17th-century example.

This is one of the projects in the new book Joiner’s Work https://lostartpress.com/collections/books/products/joiners-work 

Here’s a look inside, showing one of two lidded tills, in front of a long tray at the back of the box. There’s four of those small drawers above.

When I’m just making boxes without any specific model, then I do things just a little differently. All the carvings are still derived from period work, as are the construction techniques. For instance, most New England boxes (& English ones) are joined with rabbets at the corners, not dovetails.

Unless I’m making a strict reproduction though, I tend to use glue and wooden pins to secure the rabbet, instead of the more common nailed rabbets. Just saves some handmade nails. There are some period boxes that are glued and pegged, but they are the exception rather than the rule. Here I’m driving the wooden pins into the box front-to-side joints.

In this next photo you see the square oak pegs, and then the finishing touches of gouged decoration along the ends of the box front. I saw this on a few boxes, but I usually put it on all of mine.

In these two new boxes you can see the extended pintle at the top rear corner. This becomes part of a wooden hinge. Again, I’ve seen this on period boxes, but it’s pretty rare, compared to iron hinges.

Here’s the cleat, attached to the underside of the lid, engaging that pintle. If you’re looking at details, you’ll see this box is sawn stock, not riven.

I’m teaching the carved box class a couple more times this year, the first Lost Art Press box class (late July) just sold out last week. After that is a week long class at Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking – October 12-16 https://www.schoolofwoodworking.com/class-schedule/29-speciality-weekend-classes/635-make-a-carved-oak-box-with-peter-follansbee.html 

Then the finale for the year back at Lost Art Press’ storefront in December – https://www.eventbrite.com/e/make-a-carved-oak-box-with-peter-follansbee-december-2019-tickets-54260677146

The class features lots of carving; a full day of practice, followed by a day carving the front and sides for the box. Here’s 7 of the 9 boxes the Australians carved last fall when I was there in the spring:

(The desk box shown above is also covered in the video I shot a few years ago with Lie-Nielsen about making boxes)  https://www.lie-nielsen.com/product/home-education-videos/carved-oak-boxes-with-peter-follansbee?node=4243