Spring trip to the Woodwright’s School

I poked around here all winter, then spring came (according to the calendar) and things got busy. Over 3 weekends between March 22 and April 9, I spent 6 full days driving. That’s getting a bit crazy. The 2nd leg of that trip was my annual trip to Roy Underhill’s Woodwright’s School. Like always, it was worth the long haul. Here’s pictures.

Because I’m going to be in the car for hours & hours anyway, I take the scenic route. I hate I-95, so here’s a leg-stretching stop among the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia.

The project was an oak carved box. We used quartersawn red oak, with white pine lids and bottoms. Here’s Paul, carving his box front. On his messy bench, like everyone else’s. It made me come home & clean my shop.

Another box front off to a great start. Carving the box fronts comes after a full day of practice carving.

 

Our host had some saw sharpening that needed doing. Plenty of light out here.

No trip to Roy’s is complete without a stop or two upstairs at Ed Lebetkin’s tool store. I got out mostly unscathed, I didn’t need a box to haul my tools out like many do.

A snippet of squares.

I warned them that fitting the till is the fussiest part of making this box. They were not disappointed. It was fussy.

Here’s Scott’s wild carving and a deep till.

I’ve had students come to class barefoot, in sandals, flip-flops, etc – but never in spurs. Something new…I had to look up where Montana is, it’s way up there.

All the times I’ve been down there, I’ve never made it out to Elia Bizzari’s shop. We rectified that. What a nice place, great setting. My renewed chair fixation got more inspiration… http://handtoolwoodworking.com/ and https://www.instagram.com/eliabizzarri/?hl=en

Things kept getting busier and busier as the week went on. That’s the point, I guess.

The mornings weren’t great for birding, but some nice views down the creek at one point.

Then back home, jumped into a Plymouth CRAFT demo. Now finishing some furniture, then off to Winterthur later this month. More box classes later in the year, at Lost Art Press’ storefront not-a-school, and at Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking. (I guess I better send Bob the photos & blurb…) – I think there’s one or two spaces still in the December version at Lost Art.  https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/pf-2019-teaching-schedule/

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A look at carved boxes

I’m getting ready to head down to Roy Underhill’s for the first carved box class of the season. It’s full, but there’s room in others at Lost Art Press, and later at Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking too – here’s the schedule https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/pf-2019-teaching-schedule/

The new joinery book features making three carved boxes in detail. There’s others shown incidentally in the carving section. But I’ve made over 100 of them I imagine. Here’s some from various years, most of these are not in the book. These are all scattered to the four winds; but I’m always happy to make carved oak boxes for customers.

This one is mostly made-up, but the carving pattern is copied from a walnut box in Victor Chinnery’s book Oak Furniture: the British Tradition. I really like this pattern, usually I do it on a pretty wide piece of wood, maybe 7″ high.

 

red oak box, fall 2008

I did it in walnut once, made a terrible mess of making that box, but the carving is OK when the light hits it right.

Two small boxes, one motif. These are only about 5″ high by 15″ wide or so. Same design, just aiming this way on one, the other one on the second example. Garish electric light, I don’t miss it.

small oak boxes

Just a raking-light shot of a box underway. A design I always like, based on an original from Braintree, Massachusetts, right next to where I grew up.

 

Another fairly large box; the carving is from a drawer front based on the same Braintree joinery. This box might be about 8″ high I’d guess; 20+” wide.

guilloche carving on oak box

This little one was one of my favorites; carving, molding, color and squiggles & dots. I plan on doing some carved & painted ones this spring.

 

Here’s one before the box lid was installed, showing the till inside.

 

 

Some of these pictures have been on the blog before; here are two views of the wooden pintle hinge. I use it most often on my boxes, although in the seventeenth century it’s the exception rather than the rule.

 

This one is from just last year or the year before, a carving sample re-used as a box. I assume that’s the inside of the front. I carve the samples over & over in classes and only need them at the moment. So sometimes they get recycled.

 

Red oak boxes with white pine bottoms and lids. Very distinct color and texture difference when new (on the left), but 10-15 years later (right) they blend quite well. Have patience.

 

a detail:

 

Joined chests

I’ve been reading through the pages of my new book “Joiner’s Work” https://lostartpress.com/collections/books/products/joiners-work recently, and was thinking about how many joined chests I have made over the past 30 years. I don’t have an exact number, but a careful guess is over 60 of them.

Back when I made furniture in a living history museum I got to practice all day long – a pretty good way to learn. Sometimes the chests I made there were based on careful examination of period examples, other times all I had to go by was a photograph & I had to fill in the details based on what I know of period practices. Lots of leeway. Here’s a few that aren’t in the book:

This one is loosely based on a picture in Chinnery’s book Oak Furniture: The British Tradition. I remember when Vic and Jan Chinnery came to visit, Jan was surprised to see this chest – the original was in their house!

oak chest, two panel front

This one is totally “made-up” in that it is not copied from any one source. I made it in 1997. All white oak. Probably pitsawn; I was younger then, we all were.

H:25” W:47 ¼” D:16 1/8”

joined chest

Here’s part of my inlay phase! Also made-up. Also pitsawn, or mostly so. These all got used hard, and for most years got a new coat of linseed oil every year. That’s part of why they darken so. Some of the secondary wood on this one is elm, the lid panels & the end panels. Maybe the floor boards too.

 

These photographs came about because I was forgetting which ones I had made or my co-workers made before me – so at one point I started shooting them each winter as I cleaned them and tried to catalog them. Some we shot when they were new – this one was late in my career there – I’d guess around 2004-2005, which is when I first saw chests with that wide center muntin.

a small oak chest

 

There’s one of these “5-panel” (really 14 panels!) chests in the book. This one I made for a PBS series called Colonial House in 2003. It’s a copy of two chests from Marshfield, Massachusetts…

 

One more from that Colonial House batch – I built four houses’ worth of furniture for that project.  I remember later working on the motif that’s carved on this top rail & muntins – thinking I had never done it before. Clean forgot about this chest!

H:29” W:47 ¾” D:19”

joined chest, oak & pine

 

There’s no measured drawings in the book, but it shows you how to make a chest, and how to figure out the dimensions. Each one’s different, as you can see in this sampling. So glad I don’t have to move them around and clean them every winter anymore…but I’m glad I have even these basic photos.

OK – one more. In process, April 2011 it says. This one’s in the book incidentally; some process shots show it underway.

wainscot chest

White pine furniture

Image may contain: indoor

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.

 

 

 

Assembling the bedstead

I’ve been building this bedstead for an embarrassingly long time. My ever-patient customer will assemble at her house in the southwestern US. So I have compiled a how-to for that work. Some of you might like to see it also, so I made it a blog post. First off, this is NOT a period-correct bedstead. It uses construction that is perfectly within 17th-century range, (except the slats under the bedding) but I’ve not seen it on a bedstead. One of the hardest parts of my old job was “what was the bed like?” – there are no New England bedsteads that can be attributed to the 17th century. So I made this one up – with the idea being that it could easily be shipped across the country. And assembled without any particular skills. Our bed at home is done in a similar manner. We don’t bang our shins on the protruding tenons, so stop right now second-guessing my use of that joint.

There’s just a few major parts; the headboard and the footboard,

the headboard before the crest was attached

the two long rails, and eight wooden wedges. 

there’s really 8, only 6 got in the photo

I made two cradles to help hold the long rails up while inserting the tenons.

You only have to be able to count to two to ID the joints. I, II and ) and )) cut with a chisel or gouge. Joint ) on the headboard’s post, and the corresponding rail.

ID mark above the mortise in headboard
ID mark on top edge of rail

Set the far end of the rail in the cradle, then slide the tenon into the mortise. In the southwest, I bet the tenons will slide even more easily than they do here in the more humid northeast. If they get stubborn, there’s a dead-blow plastic mallet to knock the post onto the rail. Not vice-versa.

I can do it myself, but it’d be easier with help

Once both rails are in the headboard, then get the footboard and slide it in place. The cradles hold the rails up just a bit off the floor, to make it easier to get in place.

rails inserted in headboard

 

the footboard being eased onto the tenons

back and forth, use the plastic dead-blow mallet if necessary. I alternate hitting above and below the tenon to move the post into place.

(I couldn’t build a king-sized bed in this shop…)

Then drive wedges into the joints. The wedges, two per joint, are numbered and labeled “upper” and “lower” because each tenon has two wedges. The wedges point out toward the outside of the bed. The side that’s written on is the bottom, the angled bit engages the tenon. I use a hammer now, tap them, don’t bang them. The hammer is more precise than the big mallet. (I didn’t photograph driving the wedges at the headboard. those are behind the bed, and I couldn’t get back there. Same as here, just that because they are outside the headboard, they don’t show.) 

even with just one wedge, you’ll feel things tighten up

 

it might be the most fun part

Tap all eight wedges all around the bed. Then lift the footboard and knock the cradles out of the way. Throw them out. Or save them for reassembly sometime if you move. Same with the mallet – I don’t want to see it again. 

Now the real modern junk – a series of five slats across ledgers inside the bed. These get screwed down; probably don’t need to be fastened, but it doesn’t hurt.

the ugly bits. You only see them when you move.

I numbered them in pencil 1-5; one at the head, 5 at the foot. You’ll see scribe lines outlining where they go. Apply some beeswax or soap to the screw threads if they aren’t going in easily. I start the screw in the slat until it pokes through, then I can find the hole it goes in easier. This step is one thing I worry about, that the holes will close up as the timber dries further down there. I tried to make them generous. You can see the numbering if you click the photo to enlarge; they’re numbered on the slat, and on the ledger they sit on. Just on one side of the bed. 

The stick your bedding in place. I hope it fits right.

 

here it is as a slideshow/video – a little too quick on the captions, but there’s a pause button. I have little video-making tolerance.

Bedpost tops

Closing in on the end of this bedstead. It’s been ages; I have the best customers, so patient!

This week one of the tasks I did was cutting out the rosette-shapes on the tops of each bedpost. I carve the designs in them when the post is solid, then cut them out afterwards. The ash posts are 2″ x 3 1/2″.  It starts with some saw kerfs:

Then chisel-work down to that saw cut:

Here’s a closer view of some of that work:

To clean up those chisel-cuts, I pare across the posts’ thickness with a very sharp paring chisel. This leaves a faceted surface. If this one is like our bedstead, these will get a great patina from handling them.

I bevel the backs too – just to remove any sharp corners.

Here’s one from the foot of the bed:

We’ve had very few winter ducks this season so far. Today in the afternoon, there was great light on a female common goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) so I snuck (or sneaked) down to the river to take a few photos.

Two boxes for sale

 

Two boxes start off the year for me. I’m about to start a few large projects;  but in cleaning up the shop after delivering the square table I came across some wood that wanted using up. The bottom one is a box made of quartersawn black walnut. The top one a dovetailed box with sliding lid and drawer in catalpa. Both of these boxes are available if anyone would like them. Email me if you’re interested; new address is peterfollansbee7@gmail.com

Both of these showed up on Instagram as I worked them, but I still favor the blog – more room for details and text. I have had the catalpa hanging around as two thin boards for over 2 years. I used some 2 1/2″ thick catalpa when I built the shop, seen here as the carved spandrels around the doors:

CATALPA BOX:  SOLD
5″ high, 6 3/4″ x 15″ overall. White oak bottom; riven, quartered. Drawer is 2″ high.
$600 plus shipping.

The box is loosely based on Scandinavian examples; but only in a very general sense – the carving patterns and the basic format; I never studied any originals in detail. It’s

Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) is a very interesting wood – not native to New England but it grows here easily. Ring-porous; splits easily, very decay resistant. Very light weight. The tiniest band of sapwood in the log. A friend sawed up this log, it was the straightest either of us had ever seen of catalpa. Usually the trunk is curved, twisted, knotty, etc. I think that’s why it’s rarely sawn at all.

I made the sliding lid from the best piece of the batch. But when I got to rabbeting it for the tongues that slide in the box’s grooved sides, I was concerned that it wouldn’t hold up. And I was right. So I made an oak sliding lid, and planed down the catalpa carving and glued it to the lid. Best of both worlds sort of thing.

The drawer is locked by a little ash pin that slips down through a hole in the box front that relates to a hole in the drawer front. There’s a notch in the pin to sneak your fingernail in to slip it up & out.

It was getting pretty dim in the shop when I shot these photos; this is a better representation of the color:

WALNUT BOX:  SOLD
H: 6 1/2″  W: 16 3/4″  D: 12 3/8″
$900 plus shipping.

The walnut one is a pretty straight-forward 17th-century style box. I re-sawed all the walnut from 3 pieces that were 1 1/4″ thick; but nice & straight quartersawn material. I sharpened the saw first. A good way to warm up on a cold morning.

The box is glued & pegged at the corners; the bottom is nailed on. Top is hinged with wooden cleats and pintles. Arcading design on 3 sides; carved, punched & incised decoration on the lid. An ogee across the front edge.

Inside is a till made from walnut, oak & American sycamore. Every piece of wood in this box is quartersawn – except the till bottom, which is better – it’s radially-split oak.

A detail showing the side carving and the lid’s cleat that forms part of the hinge.

Linseed oil finish on both of them, I just need to add a 2nd coat next time I’m in the shop.