turning & molding

bird’s eye view

I have the construction of the cupboard just about finished. Now it’s time for moldings and turnings, then color. And on & on. Turning the large pillars is a particular challenge, but photographing turning in my shop is more of a challenge. To get the shot above, I climbed up into the loft, set up the tripod and camera and hoped I had it aimed well. Then clambered back down and went to work. The pillars are about 4″-4 1/2″ in diameter. This set for the lower case are 13″ long. This stock is cherry – I couldn’t find any maple worth bothering with.

lower case pillar and rough hewn blank

The photo above shows a rough-turned pillar. Dead-green, I’ll let it dry some before finishing the details. It doesn’t have to be bone-dry. As it dries, the round becomes oval. I just want it to not be too oval so I’ll finish the turning when it’s lost some moisture.

turning the coves

As soon as I can I establish the narrower cove areas – by wrapping the cord around one of them I get more revolutions per tromp than when the cord was around the full 4 1/2″ diameter. For this shot, the camera was outside the shop on a temporary shelf out the window. And up a ladder to set it up…there won’t be many of these.

deep drawer decoration

I don’t work at the pole lathe all day. I try to split that work up into half-days. So I worked on decorating the deep drawer (the last of the four drawers). After the 2″ wide beveled strips that frame each half of the drawer comes these little maple triangles. They’re 1 3/8″ across the base and 1 5/8″ long. Centered on each end.

next step – long moldings

The two long moldings across the top and bottom of this area are easy. 45 degrees at each end. I miter one end, hold it in place and mark the length. Then miter that. I use a miter box I got from Alexander – a modern German one – at first I thought I’d get rid of it, but I’m so glad I kept it. It comes in handy.

now some scribing

Next I cut the moldings that surround the triangles. I marked a centerline along the field of the drawer front – from the point of one triangle to the other. Then held a piece of the molding in place against the maple block and marked where it hits that centerline. Then cut it. This one I cut freehand, after clamping the molding to a piece of scrap.

if all goes well

When it’s going well, it looks about like this. The last little bits are mitered on one end, and scribed to some weird angle on the other. I didn’t get photos at that point because by then I was gluing things in place as I cut them – you get better results that way. And with sticky, hide-gluey hands I didn’t want to mess up the camera.

So that will be a chunk of my work coming up – turnings part of the day, moldings the rest of the day.

(pt 21 Essex County cupboard project 2021)

Essex County cupboards – related examples

lower case test assembly

Working on this reproduction cupboard project this year is more fun than I can stand. As part of it, I’ve been reviewing the notes from about 1998-2001 when I worked with Bob Trent and Alan Miller to research our article on the group. I dug out a few photos; I mostly shot slides then and they have since been tossed. But I have a few photos or color photocopies from the slides. 

much of this cupboard is original, much is not

The cupboard above was on loan to the Historical Society of Old Newbury (Massachusetts) when we spent a day or two studying it. It’s like the Gates of Eden – “the princess and the prince discuss what’s real and what is not.” Easy – the door is later. Some of the drawers too, although the arrangement of drawers is original. In fact the whole concept of the framing is original. And that’s the real kicker. Below is a side view

stack upon stack

This shop tradition (we don’t know who the joiners were who made these) loved the notion of overhanging segments. In this cupboard they outdid themselves. I tried time & time again to understand the sequence and relationship among the sections. One of my drawings to help me suss it out is below

part of the lower case

Here’s a detail of that rear section

up & over up & over

The one below isn’t really a cupboard, it’s a weird chest of drawers. That looks something like a cupboard. This photo is from a 1999 auction catalog when it was for sale. It had been restored in the late 19th/early 20th century and has since been re-restored. Trent & I wrote the catalog entry for the sale. It’s a stunning piece of work.

Now it’s part of the Chipstone collection in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, restored by our other co-author Alan Miller and his shop. Here’s the photo from Chipstone’s site showing what Alan came up with for the informed conjecture as to its possible original configuration.

These two examples make the one I’m doing look tame. Anybody wants to hire me, I’m ready to make one of these two next year – I’ll be all warmed up!

more cupboard work; drawer bottoms

V-shaped tongue & groove joint

A while back I took the cupboard’s lower case apart and began painting the integral moldings black, as well as the carved drawer front. Carbon pigment in linseed oil. So they’ve been sitting & drying while I tended to some other stuff. Today I got out one of the drawers and shot some photos while I worked on it. I’ll start with the drawer bottoms.

Last time I wrote about the drawers, I barely mentioned the bottoms. Thin oak boards, nailed to the bottom edges of the drawer sides & back. And in a rabbet in the front. At their adjoining edges, there’s a V-shaped joint that lets one board slip into the edge of its neighbor. Much like a tongue & groove; but not as precise. I have no idea how this was made in the 1680s – but I figured out a method that works pretty well. It starts with the V-groove. I made a scratch stock to create it.

scraping the V-groove

Here’s a bit closer shot of the cutter.

scratch stock

Then plane a bevel on both sides of the neighboring board.

beveling the edges of a floor board

Then test them with a scrap that has the groove in it.

good enough

I also worked on some of the applied moldings that decorate some of the drawer fronts. I had a custom molding plane made by Matt Bickford – https://msbickford.com/ I showed him some of the measurements and drawings from the cupboard & we settled on this plane. Its molding is on the drawer fronts, the side panels of the lower case and with some additional detail on the upper case as well. So I’ll get a lot of use out of this beautiful plane. What a joy to use a plane made so well. I would have taken days & days to fumble through a much-less-functional plane…

new molding plane & some of its result

First, I choose the best stock I can find for the applied moldings. Strength is not an issue – this is about looks and ease of working. I want slow-growing, straight-grained oak. The blank on the left below would be good if I was making chairs (that’s next month) – but I want the one on the right. Another reason for choosing that stock for this reproduction is that it looks like the oak I see in New England furniture of the 1600s.

fast & slow

The “fast” one has 7 growth rings in about 1 1/4″ width; the other over 30 rings in 1 7/8″ width. I ran the 5/8″ wide molding on each edge of this strip of oak. Thickness is 3/8″. I am holding it in a sticking board of sorts. I need all the help I can get, so I grabbed the blank with the holdfast to keep it steady.

molding the edge

Then once they both were done, I sawed the piece apart. This is very careful work. Lightly does it. Any extra pressure from the saw can split that thin stock, then I’ve wasted not only the work to make the molding but the work to make the blank to begin with. I ran that sawn edge across an upside-down plane to clean up that surface & bring it to the final width.

separating the moldings

Back when Jennie Alexander & I were selling off her extra tools, I tried to unload this miter box. And I am glad now I had no takers…

Ulmia miter box

Here’s the top drawer front, nearly done. 27 pieces of wood so far to decorate that drawer front.

(pt 20 Essex County cupboard project 2021)

Drawers

1680s cupboard, Massachusetts Historical Society

The lower case of the cupboard houses 4 drawers. I started making them in the last few days. They are all oak, some period drawers have softwood bottoms but these use thin oak boards running front-to-back. 

The drawer sides are 3/4” thick and join the fronts with a half-blind dovetail on three of the drawers.  At the back, a rabbet joint. Both joints are nailed. Yes, right through the dovetail. The bottoms tuck behind a rabbet in the drawer front. (I’ve yet to make the deep drawer, it has through dovetails front & back. Who knows why? Not me.)

These, like most 17th-century drawers in case furniture, are side-hung. Meaning there’s a groove in the outside faces of the drawer sides that engages a runner set between the front and rear stiles. First step after prepping the stock is plowing the groove in the sides for the drawer runner. Mine’s 1/2” wide, set roughly in the midst of the drawer side’s height. It’s about 5/16” deep. 

plowing the groove in the drawer side

Me showing step-by-step of dovetailling is absurd. Go see someone who actually does it more than every other year or two. After plowing the groove, I laid out the single dovetail on each drawer side. I estimated the angle based on photos of the originals. Steep. Then sawed that out,

single dovetail

and transferred it to the end of the drawer front. Chopped that out. 

Some back & forth fitting the joint. Below is good enough for me. All it needs is a rabbet in the drawer front, then nails through the dovetail.

Like this. Next step from here is installing the bottoms.

As I said, the bottoms run front-to-back (some 17th century shops ran them parallel to the drawer front). I rive out thin oak boards, aiming for 6″-9″ wide. I rough-planed them, then aired them out in the sun to dry for a couple of weeks. Then I re-planed the top/inside surface and hewed and scrub-planed the bottom surface until they were either 3/8″ thick or slightly less. The boards for the top & bottom drawers are about 20″ long. For the smaller recessed drawers about 16″ long. At this point, I just nailed boards to each end of each drawer – these serve to keep the drawer square & solid while I rive and plane more of this thin stock. Below I’ve lined up the board just inside the drawer side and bumped up to the rabbet in front. This board has not been squared off to its edges, so I set it in place and scribed the front end to trim it. Then I nailed it in place and trimmed the back end.

Here’s the top drawer in place. I’ve been recording some videos about the drawers – it’ll take a bit of doing. But in the end it will include the runners/grooves and the vee-shaped tongue & groove between the drawer bottoms.

Then I went & rived some more thin stock.

(pt 19 Essex County cupboard project 2021)

Carving Drawings, set #2

detail from set #2 Carving Drawings

I spent the day wrestling with the blog pages/posts. They changed it around to make it easier, which makes it harder. But I got mostly what I needed in the end, or something like it. I finally have the 2nd set of my carving drawings done – 8 months late at least.

This batch is 5 pages this time, the strapwork designs got their own page of step-by-step instructions. That was the hangup, Jeff Lefkowitz had already done his wizardry, then I added the 5th page. Back to Jeff for more layout, etc. But we’re done now.

Yesterday just as the wind began to blow around here, I crawled out of bed and shot an introductory video showing the contents of the pages. Not much action, but it’ll show you what’s what.

I’ll begin shooting videos to go with these in the next week or so. In between the cupboard bits…

To order the set, which is $75 plus $6 shipping in the US, see https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/carving-drawings-17th-century-work-from-devon-england-and-ipswich-massachusetts-set-1/ (disregard that the link says “set 1” – I finally gave up, close enough!) As it stands, set one is out of stock right now, but should be back before long. Really.

Earlier today, I posted a free PDF of the various gouge shapes I use regularly. It’s here https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/carving-gouge-chart/ – it’s part of the set of drawings, but also a stand-alone bit. You can print it out and it should be the right scale to show the various curves…

The Essex County cupboard project: recessed front stiles

Many irons in the fire. Between brettstuhls and other things, we spit out the next video for the cupboard project. This one’s about the short, wide recessed front stiles in the lower case. This photo below shows a partially-assembled end section to the lower case. On the bench is the rear stile, the two wide/tall rails we’ve seen before. Between them is the muntin in the middle, and near the top of the photo the piece I’m calling the “recessed front stile” (for lack of a better term, and that’s what it is.)

These stiles are, in New England furniture, unique to this shop’s production as far as I can remember. I started them by laying out and chopping the mortises for the drawer rails. These stiles frame a section that houses two drawers – the lower one about 7″ deep, the upper one about 4″. Between and above & below the drawers are narrow/short rails – 1 1/4″-1 1/2″. Once the mortises were cut, I laid out and cut the tenons that fit this stile between the rails.

The photo below is a bit dark, but you can see perhaps the layout of the near tenon. The odd thing about it to me is that it’s in the tangential plane. Most tenons are in the radial plane in stock like this – so I drew all over it with pencil. Didn’t want any more mishaps. You can see the pin holes bored in the stile’s face where I have the mortises chopped.

Now for the rear shoulder. Switched to a bigger saw and cut those shoulders down to the line. This opens up the top bottom mortises, turning them into what I think of as bridle joints. But these will never show regardless.

Then it’s just a matter of splitting off the waste & paring it, like I do for most of my tenons.

These stiles are chunky, 1 7/8″ x 4 7/8″ – so inside there’s still some moisture. I got some resulting checks on the newly-exposed end grain once I formed the tenons of the first one. (I cut one for still photos, one for videos and there might have been a day in between). Nothing fatal, but on the 2nd one I glued those ends after cutting it. Just to reduce the chance of a split carrying into the edge of the stile.

Below is the whole thing in a short 11-minute video. A new record for me, usually I go on & on. It shows how they all fit together, so might help make sense of this slightly-weird construction. I hope by the end of the month to be able to test-fit the bulk of the framing, both upper & lower cases.

(pt 14 Essex County cupboard project 2021)

Cupboard project: upper case rear stiles

The back of the cupboard’s upper case has an interesting detail in its construction. The frame consists of the two upright stiles, two long horizontal rails and one horizontal panel. Simple. Except for the details of the layout. The bottom rail is set in front of the panel (and ultimately under the floor of this section.) This requires some extra thought when laying out the mortises. It begins by laying out & cutting the mortise for the upper rear rail.

upper mortise

Then I lightly strike the beginnings of the panel groove. This is to give me the layout for the bottom mortise – it’s set inside this groove.

strike the beginning of the panel groove

This next photo is a bit confusing, for good reason. The stile on our left is a total disaster. I chopped mortises in the wrong face of one of the rear stiles, a fatal error – I had to rive out & plane a replacement. These things happen, my mind was on the next step, not on the very basic step of layout & mortising. So to concentrate on the correct stile, on our right below. The bottom mortise is closest to the camera – follow the panel groove and see that it’s in front of this bottom mortise and falls in the middle/toward the front of the upper mortise.

forget the one on the left

This construction allows the rear panel to be inserted after this frame is assembled. You slide it up from below, in front of the bottom rail, and tuck it up into the groove in the top rail. Then it’s nailed to the bottom rail from the back/outside. This small B&W photo is a related cupboard that uses this construction but with several vertical boards rather than one horizontal board.

back of related cupboard

The bottom rail uses a “barefaced” tenon, a tenon with only one shoulder, in this case the rear shoulder. Here’s the layout – penciled in after my great mishap. I was then taking no chances.

barefaced layout

And test-fitted in place.

in front of (or behind I guess) the panel groove

Here’s one more view

3/4 of the rear frame

I first saw this method in a group of chests I studied from Braintree, Massachusetts – here’s one on its back, showing the bottom rear rail – under the floor and with the panel outside it.

bottom of Braintree chest

A detail of the same chest –

rear rail under the floor and panel behind it

Trent showed me the same sort of construction on American kasten – the Dutch-style cupboards made in New York and New Jersey. There clapboards are often substituted for the back panel.

My pride is just about recovered from my blunder and when the replacement stile is ready, I’ll finish framing this rear section. Meanwhile, I moved onto the sides of the upper case, but that’s another post.

(pt 13 Essex County cupboard project 2021)

update on the Essex County cupboard project 2021

rear frame, lower case

For any new readers, or to re-cap for anyone – the major work I have underway for this year is a copy of a large 1680s press cupboard made in Essex County Massachusetts. The original is now at the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston. https://www.masshist.org/highlights/index.php#id=3231

My notes in the blog show that I first posted about the cupboard project in mid-February. At that point, I planed what oak I had on hand, which wasn’t much. Then in early March got a short log and began planing stock. And kept on, in between other projects. Now much of that planed stock has reached the point where I can take the next steps. So now it will begin to look like something. If you want to see what’s come before, I went back to the blog posts about it and added the line “Essex County cupboard project 2021” so a search on the blog for that phrase will get all the posts (except this one, because I’m still writing it) –  https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/?s=Essex+County+cupboard+project+2021

test fitting

I’m a little out of sequence between what’s happening in the shop and here on the blog. That’s due to a couple things; there’s more work in editing & sorting video than posting photos on the blog – and spring migration got me out birding a lot this month. But stuff is trickling out, and I cut a bunch of joinery on it yesterday. More coming today. 

Some questions I’ve got about the project. It’s for a private client, who will remain private. That’s all we need to say about that. As far as plans/drawings, specs – I can’t really publish those for a couple of reasons. First, the object I’m copying is in a museum collection here in Massachusetts. I got permission from that institution to make this repro. But I didn’t ask for, and won’t ask for, permission to publish all the specifics like a measured set of drawings. Regardless of how I see the “who owns these things” debate, I try to not run afoul of the museums & collections I study – I like to be invited back. So I try to play by their rules. Some institutions don’t like you copying their stuff. No sense arguing with them.

Another reason is that this particular body of work is not solely my research. I collaborated with two groups when studying these pieces 20 years ago – I have mentioned & linked the article I worked on with Robert Trent and Alan Miller – here it is again http://www.chipstone.org/article.php/554/American-Furniture-2001/First-Flowers-of-the-Wilderness:-Mannerist-Furniture-from-a-Northern-Essex-County,-Massachusetts,-Shop-

The other angle I came at these cupboards is through my friends Rob Tarule and Ted Curtin. In 1999 they were making a copy of a related one for the Saugus Iron Works, and included me in the project. I don’t have a photo of that cupboard, but it used to be on view there, and if I remember right, there was a film about us making it. Ahh, found a corner of it on their website   https://www.nps.gov/sair/index.htm

c. 1999 Tarule/Curtin/PF cupboard at the edge of the photo

The article above has lots of photos, but they’re now 20 years old. Some of these cupboards are posted on the web, two at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston – they have good photos of one in particular – https://collections.mfa.org/objects/44557/court-cupboard

(they had more photos last time I looked. That cupboard is accession #51.53   and the other is #32.226)

This one from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY was also in our article, at that time it was in a private collection. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/20612  – the Met’s photos are public domain, how nice.

Cupboard, Oak, maple, yellow poplar, with oak and pine, American
Metropolitan Museum of Art cupboard

——————-

So where’d I get yesterday? Started the joinery for the lower case. Framed the back (photo at the top of the post), which is very straight forward – two upright stiles, two horizontal rails and a vertical muntin. This frame has chamfers and bevels on its outer face (the muntin needs molded edges still) – but the corresponding upper case frame is not decorated. Everyone who knows why is dead. 

Then I got to start in on the side framing, which is where the fun begins. Lots of little joinery – four 2” long mortises.

double mortises for double tenons

Double tenons on the wide rails.

the bottom rail almost fitted

I got one set done, tested the framing and quit for the day. The next set will take a bit more time because I’ll shoot video of it. So extra fumbling around. But it’s fun. 

panels next, then the front section(s)

(pt 11 Essex County cupboard project 2021)

Splitting & planing video

new red oak log

First off, my thanks to my friend Rick McKee https://www.instagram.com/medullary_rick/ for helping me at Gurney’s Sawmill last week – we picked out & split up a red oak log & hauled it home. Now I’m back in the thick of planing stuff for the cupboard I’m building. I shot some video & photos there & here at the shop, showing how we split it, then how I choose & plan one of the pieces…

There’s noise at the sawmill (imagine that…) and wind like crazy here, so some caveat emptor with this video. There’s more in the works.

some seating furniture

Took some photos today. First turn was Daniel’s – shooting some of his recent LEGO builds.

Daniel at work
Rivendell

Then mine was shooting semi-proper shots of the recent spate of seating furniture. A couple of things come to me as I sorted these photos. Among them is that I actually do have to go have my camera’s sensor cleaned. I’ve been putting it off due to the pandemic, figuring it’s not that important…but I’m sick of all these spots all over the photos.

This chair is one I assembled either in late December or early January. I forget. I’m mostly happy with it, but I look forward to the next one. Those rear posts are ash, one heartwood, one sapwood. Give them time and they’ll blend together. I didn’t feel like painting it. Now it goes to the kitchen to replace the very first version of this chair that I did.

“democratic” arm chair

Below is the arm-chair version. Both of these are Curtis Buchanan’s design, with my change to the crest rail joint. And on the arms, I made a through tenon into the rear post – which you can’t really assemble unless you put some intentional slop in that joint. It’s glued & wedged. I’ll let you know how it holds up. I did some like it in the early 1990s that have held up.

crest rail joint

The crest rail joint is a 3/8″ wide tenon, made by just tapering the crest’s thickness. There’s no tapering top & bottom. The mortise I made by boring a couple of holes, and paring it with a chisel. Then it’s pinned through the post. You could just as easily wedge it from outside post too.

first joined stool of the year

Then going back and making a joined stool was a walk in the park. Red oak stool, white oak seat. On this subject, I’ve been splitting out stock for more of these – which gave me a chance to shoot some videos of the beginning of that process. When I did the youtube series about joined stools last year, I got the idea when I was already underway. So now I’ve backed up to shoot the beginning. They’ll be ready soon. Daniel is coming back as video-editor – he’s broke and wants some money.

First ladderback of 2021

I had to make a chair so I could shoot some missing photos for Jennie Alexander’s Make a Chair from a Tree. Red oak with hickory rungs. Hickory bark seat. Megan just sent me the most recent set of corrections, so now I go over them again – then we see where we are. We really are getting closer, you’ll see.