a look at some favorite joined chests

a detail of a carving I did last year…

carving detail

Each time I’m at a museum to study furniture, I ask permission to post my shots of the objects here…some say yes, some say no. I feel like I’ve been very lucky to have so much access to 17th-century furniture, and I know many folks either haven’t got the time or inclination to go search it out. (it’s also heavily skewed to the east coast here in the US…)

I thought I could review some stuff that’s been over on the blog before, there’s always new readers, and it never hurts to see details – even ones you’ve seen before. The following objects are from a group that I studied many years ago with Jennie Alexander and Bob Trent. These were the first oak chests I ever learned about…so I always enjoy looking at them again.

This photograph from 1932 (I think, early ’30s anyway) I saw in the object files at the Gardner Museum in Boston back in the early 1990s. I eventually chased down this chest in a private collection in Maine. Alexander & I published it in our article in American Furniture in 1996. http://www.chipstone.org/article.php/222/American-Furniture-1996/Seventeenth-Century-Joinery-from-Braintree,-Massachusetts:-The-Savell-Shop-Tradition



When I think back on the leg-work to find this – staggering. I also searched for who might have been the original owners in the late 1600s. From our research, we knew the group of chests came from Braintree, Massachusetts, so I had to do some genealogical research stretching back from the 1880s to the 1680s – eventually found some likely candidates, it’s in the article somewhere.

Here’s the same chest, scanned from one of my color slides. Until this one, all but one of the joined chests we had seen had one (sometimes two) drawers underneath. I’ve built copies of this chest many times….


Here’s the other w/o drawer-chest, with brackets under the bottom rail. Lost some height of its feet, and has a horrible replaced lid.

joined chest, Jn Savell 1660-1690
joined chest, John Savell 1660-1690

One distinctive feature of these chests is the way the floor fits into the chest. Instead of a higher rear rail that the floor is nailed up to, these guys use a lower rear rail, and sit the floor on it. And nail it. Here’s one I restored, with some white pine floor boards, sliding over the lower rear rail, and fitting into grooves in the side and front rails. The back panel is not yet installed, making it easy to see what’s going on. Tongue & groove joints between the floor boards.

floor boards in chest
floor boards in chest

Same thing on a repro I did, better view of the lower rear rail. sorry for the garish light. (just think, when my new shop is done soon, only-daylight)

bottom boards, joined chest
bottom boards, joined chest

Then the back panel slides up from the feet, fitting into grooves in the stiles & upper rear rail. Here’s an overall view of one lying on its face. A white pine panel, (glued-up to get enough width to fill behind the drawer) – bevelled on its ends and top edge to fit the grooves. Slides behind the lower rear rail(s) – and is nailed to the bottom-most rear rail.


Here’s a detail. It requires some careful layout of the joinery for that/those rear rail(s).  The tenon is “barefaced” – it has only one shoulder. Fun stuff. rear-panel-detail

The same joiners made this desk box, missing its drawers in the upper section. I made one & 1/2 of these a year or so ago..shot it with Roy Underhill, then later at Lie-Nielsen. (Or vise versa, I forget) The Woodwright’s Shop episode is out now, the LN one hopefully before too long. http://www.pbs.org/woodwrightsshop/watch-on-line/watch-season-episodes/2016-2017-episodes/ 


Since the 1996 article there have been maybe 6 more of these chests that have shown up in auction houses. etc…I never saw this one, from James Julia Auctions in Maine. Clearly weird drawer pulls, something funny about the lid, but otherwise looks great.

John Savell, c. 1660s-1690
John Savell, c. 1660s-1690

and one with two drawers – we saw only two of those in our research, there might be four now

braintree chest w drawers
braintree chest w drawers

I’ve written about these chests and boxes many times…here’s a search for “Savell” (the name of the joiners who we think made them) https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/?s=Savell  – there’s other stuff mixed in there, but lots of stuff about the chests and the carvings.

Shelburne Museum square table


I’ve been lots of places in recent years, but somehow hadn’t made it back to Vermont since 2003. So I combined a family trip with a research visit to Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, VT to see this square table. The museum is great, Maureen and the kids saw more of it than I did, but what I saw I really liked. Hope to get back before 15 more years go by…

The table is a great example, all oak, all riven. The feet have been worn and/or cut down, and as you see the top is missing. But what is there is very nice.

One of the first features is the integral brackets on the aprons, and the corresponding central scroll. Here’s one of the brackets, set off nicely by the ogee molding run along the apron.


This is the part along the center of each apron, essentially a back-to-back bracket. The total height of the apron is about 4 3/8″. The brackets are about 1 3/4″ of that height.


You can see the inside shoulders of the rails cut away, leaving as the only contact point  the front shoulder. Makes a nice neat looking joint. Enlarge this photo and you can see some joint ID marks done with a narrow chisel, on the inside of the apron. This one is number IIII.


In addition so various peg holes, etc there are many channels dug by wood-eating insects. This damage was not done to the table, but to the timber before the joiner worked it. I think we found evidence of this on just about every part of the table. This view also clearly shows the brackets as integral to the rail, not attached with joinery and nails like many are…


The symmetrical turning on the stiles, a related but different turning is used on the stretchers.


All four stretchers are turned squares; some have the radial face forward, some have it upward. I was surprised by this…I expected them to all agree one way or another.


All four stiles are cut right through the joinery. There’s no step cut down on the tenon. Usually the mortise height here is not the full height of the apron. That configuration leaves the top of the stile “closed” so the joint doesn’t show. Once the top is fixed to the frame it doesn’t matter anyway. But another surprise. I expected otherwise…


another weird puzzle – what is this little block of riven oak nailed to one apron?


There’s several patched holes bored in the aprons’ upper edges. And there’s  mortises like this in three aprons. Yes, three, not four. They look like sure-’nuff mortises, presumably for tabs that attach to the underside of the top. Or are they later additions? There’s no holes I could see in the stiles.


My thanks to Tom Denenberg and Katie Wood Kirchhoff from Shelburne Museum, they were very helpful. And Rob Tarule came to help measure and examine the table, it was fun to look at stuff with Rob again, it’s been a long time…

two New Haven Colony chests at Yale

carpentry, carpentry, carpentry. I’m thrilled to be making my own workshop, but I’m sick of it. I decided that carpentry is a lot like joinery, just done in uncomfortable positions, and I drop stuff more in carpentry. I can’t wait to be back at the bench full-tilt.

Meanwhile, I got to go with Bob Van Dyke to the Yale Furniture Study recently in preparation for the joined chest class we’re doing at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking. I’ve been very fortunate over the years to get to handle a lot of period furniture; studying the details. It’s still always fun to go over these things. It sounds like an old cliche, but you really do see new stuff with each visit.  The Furniture Study is a great place, one of my favorite stops on the early oak circuit. http://artgallery.yale.edu/furniture-study  The staff there are very helpful, great scene altogether.

We focused on two chests, the one above and this probably related one.


Typical frame & panel format, all oak in both cases. No secondary wood. Here’s some details:

The panels and muntins on the first chest. Scratch-stock moldings; interrupted where the muntins meet the rails.


This one features a paneled lid. The long rails on the lid alternated how they meet the “stiles” – at the back of the lid, the rail is between the stiles, at the front, the stiles join into the rail. Trickier to layout than one that’s symmetrical.



Nobody spent much time working the backs of these chests. Hatchet, and a little bit of planing. Not much.


The other chest is quite similar, but has some distinctions too. Narrower framing parts for one. Here’s the interrupted molding again, and the panel carving using the S-scroll rather than the “double-heart” motif.


This lid is 3 boards, edge jointed together. Very heavy. 2nd set of hinges. Note the molding around the panels on the inside of the rear framing. You don’t see this once you fill the chest with linens. Till is missing, you still see the trenches and hole for it on our right…


I often find holes in the carved panels, which are presumed to be for nailing the panel down while carving it. (on the double-heart motif detail, if you click that photo to enlarge it, you can see some of these holes)  This one has a broken-off nail still in it. See, something new all the time…



the rest of my teaching schedule for 2016

An update about classes remaining for 2016, and slightly beyond.

spoons & bowl

First up is spoon-carving at Lie-Nielsen, on Sept 24 & 25 https://www.lie-nielsen.com/workshop/USA/126


I have lots of new tricks I learned at Spoonfest and Täljfest, so come to Maine & we’ll explore all kinds of ideas. I also have some new spoons by outstanding makers to study, as well as a couple old ones.


October begins with the opening of the full-tilt chest class at Bob Van Dyke’s Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking. http://www.schoolofwoodworking.com/class-schedule/29-speciality-weekend-classes/534-build-a-17th-century-joined-chest-with-peter-follansbee.html    We did this last year, one-weekend-a-month, for five months. One by one, students from last year have finished their chests, here’s one from Dwight Beebe:

This class is the best way to learn all the steps in making a joined chest with drawer.

This year, we’ll include a trip down to the Yale University Furniture Study, to examine the chest we’ll base ours on. Riving, hewing, planing, joinery, carving – the whole thing. One weekend at a time. First class is coming up, Oct 1 & 2.


Later in October, we’ll do the riving class with Plymouth CRAFT – right now we don’t have it listed yet, but a weekend in October, I think the 15/16 . (I’ll post it here, and Plymouth CRAFT will send out its email as well, if you’re not on their list, you want to be, even if it’s just for Greenwood Fest next year! http://www.plymouthcraft.org/  )

UPDATE: Here is hurdlemaking: http://www.plymouthcraft.org/?tribe_events=riving-now-two-days
We are excited to be returning to the wonderful venue we used for Dave Fisher’s bowl carving class in July. That massive marsh should be gorgeous in the autumn light.


In this class, we split apart an oak log, learning how to “read” the log for best results. Then using a froe, we further break the stock down, and make garden hurdles. So, riving, hewing, shaving at a shaving horse, mortising – a busy weekend full of old techniques still applicable today.

test fit

THEN – Paula Marcoux reminded me about the spoon carving at Plymouth CRAFT on Dec 10 & 11,  at Overbrook house in Buzzard’s Bay, Massachusetts.

stay tuned to Plymouth CRAFT for details… http://www.plymouthcraft.org/

UPDATE: And here is spoon carving: http://www.plymouthcraft.org/?tribe_events=spoon-carving-with-peter-follansbee
For this one we’ll be back at our beloved winter home, Overbrook House. Always cozy; always fun.

a lot of photos of the 3-legged stool assembly

the 3-legged/footed stool is done.


here’s some of how it went. I do the joinery in two halves. Here, the leg is propped in the “joiners’ saddles” (V-blocks) to hold it steady. Line up the centerline on the end grain with a square, and then fire away. Because the stretchers are at three different heights, you need to keep track of which one’s which. I tend to make the front stretcher the lowest one. the other two don’t matter which is which. Align the bit against the square propped on the bench.


My half-inch mortise chisel is packed away somewhere. I had to use this short firmer chisel. Makes it harder to steer, and can’t whack it as hard. I chop half-way, then turn the leg over & come in from the other side.


test-fit the rectangular tenons.

test fit

Sub-assemblies, ready for the next holes to be bored through the rectangular tenons. 

I drew the seat plan full-scale on a piece of cardboard, then copied the angles from that. Set the adjustable bevel and tilt the inserted rail so that where I’m boring is plumb. Then go.

bore plumb

Same idea, different setup with the bevel.

bore plumb 2

beveling under the seat. Like a joiner’s beveled panel, feathered down to fit the grooves in the seat rails.

bevel seat

the front seat rail & stretcher have spindles between them. Knock this together, then insert one rectangular tenon into each post/leg.

sub assembly 2

Keep in mind the rectangular tenon is a through tenon, the stretcher is not. So the seat rail enters the post ahead of the stretcher. Here’s the front section on the saddles, don’t want the rectangular tenon to bump into the bench top.

v blocks

Here, catching the stretcher tenon before the seat rails get too far ahead. Gotta keep things open enough to install the seat. 
starting final assembly

I once was putting one of these together in front of a crowd, pounding away on the joinery, when my friend Ted leaned over & said “you forgot the seat!” Not this time…

tip seat in

Knock it together.

knock it together


Up to Lie-Nielsen and back home

Unloaded some photos off my camera today. Now I see where I’ve been.

After Greenwood Fest, I scooted up for a quick trip to Lie-Nielsen to teach a 2-day class in 17th-century carving. The project is/was a carved box. Most of the emphasis is on the carving.

They’ve moved the classroom there, now using benches back-to-back. Seems like a nice arrangement. 
double bench LN

Dwight got the “coolest shirt” recognition. 

dwight cool shirt

Bill brought an old  brace for show & tell. I have no way to know its age. 17th/18th century? who knows…it’s really well done, no matter when. 
hand forged brace



I dragged JoJo Wood along. Decorative carving is not her bag, but she took to it like gangbusters. 

jojo carves decoration

jojo carving decoration

She told me Edale is as far from the sea as you can get in England, so after all that time in the car, we had to see some Maine coast. Here’s Owl’s Head

owls head


Back home I have several things underway. I know this is stupid, but I assembled my workbench inside the unfinished shop. It’s stored here, was going to sit under a tarp, so why not have it assembled? we’ve never really looked at how it’s built – so here is the white pine top, approx. 4″x 17″ x 8′. On an oak frame. Wedged through tenons on the long rails. The frame runs 24″ deep. I have an oak shelf/plank that fills in the space to make up the rest of the bench top.

bench assembly

The front leg at my right hand-end. Holes for holdfast in the leg. A blind tenon at the top of the leg into a mortise in the underside of the bench. It just goes “thunk” and is done. Just 2 mortises in the bench top. It rests on the top edge of the side aprons behind the front legs.

bench end

Before I positioned the back shelf/plank. I have no recollection of why I framed the rear legs the way I did. But the loose block that rests between the back leg and the rear edge of the workbench top is a spacer to support the shelf. Weird, but it works. Once the shelf is in place, I never think about it again.

back leg

shelf is pegged down to the two spacers, and has one registration peg between it & the bench top.


The bench in situ. A sliding deadman occasionally gets some use. Chopping block moves to the left hand end of this view. Now to finish the shop around the bench & lathe.

in situ





wainscot chair

PF copy KP chair

I finished this wainscot chair and delivered it to the Martin House Farm in Swansea, Massachusetts yesterday. I should say I “completed” the chair, I applied no finish to it. They are looking into having it stained to look like the original. Speaking of  which…

side view chairs

I don’t often get to compare my results to the originals that I study. I sometimes don’t want to see the contrast. It can leave me feeling like I missed some obvious feature, muffed another one, etc. There’s a couple of things I’d do differently next time, but not too drastic.

chairs side by side

I added some height to mine, to bring the seat more level, or slightly canted to the rear. The original tilts forward now.

new & old

The original chair descended in the Cole family in Rehoboth and Swansea. Maybe dates from 165-1700. All oak. Some think it was made in Providence, some think it’s a Plymouth Colony joiner. Hard to say, there’s so little to go on. One very distinctive feature of this chair is the rear of the large panel. Instead of just beveling it to fit, the joiner made a tabled” or raised panel.  Here’s mine before assembly:

back of the back

Unusual in New England wainscots, but very common in Wiltshire, England. I have seen many wainscot chairs there done with a tabled panel in front, then the raised area carved. Here’s one from Salisbury, not a great photo but you can just make out the tabled/molded raised area, then carved.

Salisbury wainscot chair

A post about the raised panel, and the circular decoration on the carved side.