walnut joined stool assembled

It’s been ages and ages since I did any turning on a regular basis. I have a lot of it coming up this fall and winter, and in preparation for that work, I decided to start with some joined stools. The first one is in walnut instead of oak.

My lathe is the last piece in the workshop puzzle; as it is now, it’s been buried under/behind 2 chests, and all sorts of wood, projects, etc. So I shoved all that aside and turned these stiles recently. I started the first session with sharpening the gouges and skews, and turned one stile. So the next morning I did the other three. I’ve covered this stuff in the joined stool book and the wainscot chair video with Lie-Nielsen – but here’s some of it. First off, mark the centers on each end. I scribed the diagonal lines, then set a compass to see what size circle, and how centered it was (or wasn’t). I decided it needed a nudge a bit this way & that – so when I punched the center, I moved a little bit over.

Then rough out the cylindrical bits –

Then I use a story-stick to mark where to cut the various elements of the turnings, here one cove is cut and I’m lining up the stick to locate the other details.

 

I alternate between a skew chisel and narrow gouges to form the shapes.

 

Once I was finished with the turnings, time to bore the tenons for the pins, and assemble. Here, roman numerals ID the stretcher-to-stile.

 

Mark the joint, and bore the peg hole in the tenon.

 

No one, NO ONE, likes the way I shave pegs. I’ve done thousands this way, and it seems to work for me.


 

The peg-splitting & shaving tools; cleaver (riving knife) by Peter Ross; tapered reamer by Mark Atchison (for opening holes when the offset for drawboring is too severe), 2″ framing chisel.


Make a bunch of tapered pins and hammer them in one-by-one. I line it up over a hole in the bench so the pin can exit.

After assembling two sections, then knock in the angled side rails, and pin the whole thing.

 

Frame assembled, wants some walnut for the seat board. I have a wood-shopping trip coming up…I don’t have 11″ wide walnut around.

All the joined stool work is covered in detail in the book I did with Jennie Alexander – I have a few copies left for sale, (leave me a comment if you’d like to order one, $43 shipped in US) or get it from Lost Art Press – https://lostartpress.com/products/make-a-joint-stool-from-a-tree 

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Carved panel designs

final panel for bedstead

I just finished carving the 8th & final panel for the bedstead I have underway. There’s 4 patterns I used, each one repeats twice. most of them are patterns I made up, but drawn from a large body of work I have covered here a few times. The carvings that are the inspiration come from Devon, England and Ipswich, Massachusetts. I love these designs because they are so lively, and have so much variety.

Lately I’ve been trying to draw the designs – to try to learn how to talk about them – the parts, components and how they get combined. When I first saw these panels, I thought they must be the most involved carvings – but really they’re just busy…there’s very little background removed. Most of the impact is from the “horror vacuui” effect of covering every blessed surface with something. (This next one was a mistake – the board was 10″ wide, too narrow for the bedstead.)

Narrow panel

These patterns have a few common elements/motifs – most have an arch across the top of the panel. there are a few exceptions, but generally I carve the arch-top versions. All of these have an urn/vase/flowerpot just above the bottom/center of the panel. Then some leafy bits/leaves/flowers coming up and spreading out from this urn.   I tend to think of the designs being broken into thirds – though not necessarily even thirds.

Some wind up from the urn through the middle of the panel, then wind outward and reverse direction into the arch. Mostly these also bend downward, looping back toward the middle of the panel. In this case, there’s 3 tulip shapes inside this arc, then the big leafy bit that fills the bottom corner:

This pattern is easiest on wide stock, at least 10″ of carving space-width. This one, a chest I have copied a few times, the panel is 12 3/4″  wide x 15″ tall. Compare it to the narrow version above – I think it works better on the wide stock.

On this panel from the bedstead a single flower replaces the 3 tulips, same leaf at the bottom though:

Sometimes from the urn you get large shapes flowing almost horizontally out from the middle. these often have double-volute-ish scrolls where they hit the edges of the panel The one heading down then flows into a leaf shape that bends right against the bottom of the urn. This one is from the extra-wide muntin of the same chest –

Here’s the front of that chest – I copied the proportions and all the vertical bits from 2 examples I’ve seen in person, one other I know from a photograph. All were initialed & dated on the muntin; 1666, 1669 & 1682 for the dates. I substituted different (related) designs on the horizontal rails; and in this case added brackets underneath the bottom rail.

 

These carving often employ a three-part leaf, which is standard in the related S-scrolls – (seen here on a period box from Ipswich)

 

 

and on the panels this form is used again & again, inside spaces, between elements – it can be like this:

or like this part, just before it winds into the bottom of the arch:

 

Or along the side of the panel:

Hard to see it upside down, here it is from a period piece, the shape I’m thinking of is between the bottom of the arch and blends into the margin just above the large bottom leaves:

The bits flowing up from the urn that then turn down to the bottom corners can take several forms as well. The one I used at the top of this post is simple, big fat leafy shapes bending up then down. They split into three parts at the bottom – one to the corner, one to the feet/urn junction, and one between. Fill the spaces with gouge-cuts, and call it done.

as a drawing:

And carved:

I could go on forever, but this post has taken long enough. A few more panels of my work:

This one hangs in our kitchen, done in Alaska yellow cedar:

This oak panel was an experiment, I mostly like it, but rejected it for the bedstead:

This one took its place:

Here’s an example (a combination of 2 period carvings) of one of these panels without an arch:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

crest rail for headboard shaped & test fitted

I didn’t shoot the whole process of making the crest rail for the bedstead. But at the nearly-last minute I thought to get out the camera. The crest is a separate piece, sitting atop the integral top rail of the headboard.

I carved the design first. Then used a small bowsaw/turning saw to cut out the profile. I shot a couple photos during the clean-up of the sawn shape. The outline I cut with the V-tool as part of the carving. Then sawed pretty close to that.

I used whatever I could get in there with to smooth off the sawn bits and bring the profile to its final shape. A couple of spokeshaves, chisels and even a bent gouge.

Here it is test-fitted. The crest rail is 56″ long and 7″ high at the center.

 

And a detail:

I chopped two mortises in both the top rail and the crest rail, for floating tenons to help align and secure them. Part of the inspiration for it is the crest of a wainscot chair I have made a few times. I assembled the most recent version of this chair back in April, https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2017/04/26/wainscot-chair-assembly/  

I doubt (well, am damn-near dead certain) that the original chair(s) had no floating tenon between the top rail and crest. I have made and lost some crests by using the typical period construction (nails and sometimes a wooden pin between the parts) – so for the bedstead I have used what you see pictured in the chair photo here.

Bedstead panels

The bedstead’s headboard is moving along. Once I had the first free-hand panel carved, it was easy to carve the 2nd one. After marking out the margins and a vertical centerline, I used a compass to take a few markers – here noting where the S-scrolls at the bottom corner hit the vertical margins.

Then I chalked in a rough outline for that shape. This panel, like many from this grouping (and all 4 in this headboard) have a stylized urn at the bottom center of the panel. That shape I marked out with a square & awl to locate its top & bottom, and marked its width from the vertical centerline. The S-scrolls then fit between the urn and the bottom corner/margin.

My camera-boy (Daniel, 11 yrs old) came by & used the Ipad to shoot some Instragram stuff…here’s some leftovers. Carving this bottom corner S-scroll, in two snippets. (home-video caliber – no edits, shaky, etc – but worth a look.)

 

 

 

there are related S-scrolls across the top section of the panel. These reach from the corners to the vertical centerline. These top and bottom sections are the first things I block in with the V-tool.

 

then comes the stuff between. I sketch the vein in the larger leaf, it reaches from the centerline to the margin.

 

 

Then I carry on, doing first one side, then the other.


The whole thing is about filling in the spaces, and in this case, blending one shape to lay against another.


Here’s the V-tool outline almost all done.

Next I take a #5 gouge, in this case about 1″ wide or slightly less, and chop out between the V-tool lines, to begin removing the background.

 

Some beveling, some shaping. With a narrow #5.


People ask about the background punch. Mild steel, filed to leave these pyramidal points.

accents with a few #7 gouges.

And a narrow chisel. Bevel towards the waste when chopping like this.

Then pare down to the chopped mark.

Trim to length. 

Bevel the back, first with a hatchet.

Then 2 planes. Feather down to nothing.

Here’s the headboard thus far. There will be plain panels below this, and a carved crest rail above. And of course, two vertical posts.

Closer.

 

 

carving some oak

I have several days, even weeks maybe, to work on oak furniture now. Some carving yesterday & this morning. here’s a quick photo tour of cutting one lozenge/diamond shape, with tulips in it.

After laying out a diamond shape on horizontal & vertical centerlines, I strike an inner diamond with a small gouge, approximately a #7 sweep. Maybe it’s a 1/4″ wide. Just connect the dots, hitting the vertical & horizontal centerlines with the corners of the gouge.

Then I use the same gouge to “echo” this making an outline around it, these do not connect.

A more deeply curved gouge now comes off these outlines, beginning to form the undersides of the flowers.

Then the same gouge reverses, making an “S”-curve going out to the border. Or just about out to the border…

When you repeat this step on all four quadrants, your negative shape becomes quite prominent – it reminds me of those Goldfish snacks small children eat –

 

Now a larger gouge, approximately a #8 – reverses again, forming the tops of the lower flower petals.

 

Then a #7 about 3/4″ wide does more connect-the-dots – reaching from where I left off to the borders. that’s the whole outline. This one is quite small, the piece of wood is 6″ wide, and there’s a 3/4″ margin on both edges. You can use the same pattern on a panel, then some of this outline is cut with a v-tool instead of struck with the gouges.

 

Then I cut out the background. In this case, it was tight quarters in there, so I used a couple different tools, depending on where I had to get..

The end result. about 15 minutes of carving for the lozenge/diamond. This is going to be one of three muntins for the footboard of a bedstead I’m making.

Here’s the top rail I started back at the Lie-Nielsen Open House…they always show up better once they’re oiled.

another view.

Yesterday I started painting a desk box I have underway; but found out I was out of red pigment (iron oxide) – ordered some, and did the black for starters.

Oak furniture from Dedham & Medfield Massachusetts

For a number of reasons, I was looking through some photo files here tonight. During the past year I have had a couple of chances to revisit some old favorite piece of oak furniture, and saw a couple related fragments for the first time. There is a group of chests and boxes made in Dedham and Medfield, Massachusetts during the 17th century. Years ago they were the focus of a study by Robert St. George, culminating in his article “Style and Structure in the Joinery of Dedham and Medfield, Massachusetts, 1635-1685” Winterthur Portfolio; vol. 13, American Furniture and Its Makers (1979), pp. 1-46. You can join JSTOR and read it here – https://www.jstor.org/stable/1180600?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

But like all oak of the period, our friend Robert Trent was all over them too – thus several examples were featured in the exhibition New England Begins at the Museum of Fine Arts too.   (Boy, did that set come down in price – https://www.amazon.com/New-England-Begins-Seventeenth-Century/dp/0878462104  -If you don’t have it, and you like the furniture and decorative arts of the period, get it. Used to be way more than $90…)

This chest is in a private collection, I had it years ago to make a new oak lid for it. Typical for this group, 3 carved panels, moldings on the framing parts. Not great work, but real nice. Black paint in the backgrounds, originally bright red on the oak, dyed with logwood or brazilwood dye.

This one was made for the Fairbanks house in Dedham, was illustrated in a late 19th/early 20th century article about that house. For many years it was MIA – then the Fairbanks Family was able to buy it at auction either late 1990s or early 2000s…I forget which. Has the only oddball center panel. (see the detail, top of the blog post) Refinished.

 

A reader sent me these photos once, shot at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY. These boxes are often pretty tall – maybe 9″ high. Pine lids and bottom, oak box. I made a copy of this one for a descendant of one of the joiners credited with this work, John Thurston of Dedham and elsewhere.

Now it gets really wiggy. I cropped this shot from an overall of a chest in a museum collection. Notice the panels on the left & right. They look good, right?

Here’s one – then compare it to its cousin below…

The other. Amazing what your eyes & brain can tolerate and still accept as a repeating pattern. I’ve carved this design a lot, and I can carve a panel about 10″ x 14″ or so in under an hour. I bet this guy was flying right along. Or old and infirm. Or somehow incapacitated, or compromised. Or something. Notice too the holes in the corners where I presume the panel was nailed down to hold it still for carving. I nail mine to a back board, and fasten that to the bench with holdfasts. That way I don’t have to move the holdfasts – they’re out of the way.

A related, but dead-simple version. Why all that blank margin? No applied molding, the framing is beveled around the panel. Ahh, everyone who knows why is dead.

These next two are the lynch pins for the attribution to John Houghton, joiner. These are fragments from a meetinghouse in Medfield from 1655/6. The town records cite a payment made to Houghton for work on the desk, a table and more. The “deske” in the records is the pulpit. These panels are believed to be part of that pulpit. This panel is about 6 5/8″ x 14″.

a detail of the  rectangular panel.

This diamond-shaped panel is nailed to a piece of oak that looks like some framing stock – but it tapers in width. Tradition says that these pieces were saved when the 1655/6 meeting house was demolished in 1706.

One more – this one’s in Nutting’s books, now at Wadsworth Atheneum. “Refreshed” paint, or completely re-painted. I forget which. Really nicely carved.

Carving today before I carve this weekend

I am working on another desk box; an oak box with a slanted lid. Mainly I need this for the photos, for an article in the works. The annoying part is that the photos I needed to shoot were the slots/dadoes/what-have-yous on the inside faces of the box’s end boards. But…I don’t like to do the carving after cutting voids into the board. So first, I had to carve them.

This time, I made up the design, drawing from my research (and others’) into the varied carvings coming out of Devon, England. The same style appeared in Ipswich, Massachusetts during the last 3rd of the 17th century. I carve this stuff more than any other grouping, mostly because of its variety. Once you learn the “vocabulary” it’s easy to make up designs willy-nilly.

The desk box ends are weird shapes though. Took a little sketching with some chalk, and some wiping away with a damp cloth – but I got something I like. So then the front board is simple enough – a plain ol’ rectangle. There are three boxes from Devon that seem to be the same carver, or the same general pattern anyway. One of these I photographed back when I worked at Plimoth Plantation, the other two are from a website I subscribe to, Marhamchurch Antiques – http://www.marhamchurchantiques.com/ Paul Fitzsimmons there is a magnet for this Devon/Exeter oak furniture.

I’m going to carve the box front at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston on Sunday July 9. from noon to 3pm. I’ll be demonstrating the carving, and some joinery and other oak-y stuff.  http://www.mfa.org/programs/gallery-activities-and-tours/early-american-furniture-carving

 

Here are a few details from the Devon boxes that were the inspiration for my sketch – (the first two from Marhamchurch Antiques, thanks Paul, the 3rd is my photo).

This one had a later escutcheon on it, covering up the pattern. I took it off, so we could see the shape. At that time, I had never seen the previous two.

 

But before I go to Boston to work  on Sunday, I’m off to Maine for the Open House at Lie-Nielsen Friday & Saturday. https://www.lie-nielsen.com/hand-tool-events/USA/146

These events are legendary; the lineup this summer is killer. I try to do this show every July…it’s like old home week, seeing all my friends from the hand-tool circus. I guess I was there last summer – found my picture on their Facebook page –

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, shoes and outdoor

This time I’ll mostly be carving oak for a bedstead I’m working on. But I have a talk on Saturday about green woodworking, so I’ll do some spoon carving too. See you there I hope.