strapwork carvings

I’ve been carving a lot of oak lately. Boxes and drawer fronts in this pile.

As I mentioned the other day, I have a box with a drawer underway; for a descendant of William Searle, one of the Ipswich joiners. These pieces get big and heavy – about 15″ tall, 26″ wide. Maybe 16″ deep.

I’ve only seen one & 1/2 period examples of this form, this one is based on the full example. The 1/2 example has lost its drawer; got cut in half at some point. Both were by the same maker(s); sometimes attributed to William Searle, sometimes to Thomas Dennis.

Lots of layout involved, and the outlines are struck with gouges and chisels, not cut with a V-tool. Centerlines, margins, arcs – all measured off with a compass. In this case, I’m trying to make a close copy, usually I make my own versions of this “strapwork” design.

 

But I got ahead of the story. While I had the box with drawer underway; I got an email asking if I would make a copy of the “other” one, the one that’s lost its drawer! And it had nothing to do with my having the first one on the bench. What are the odds that I’d get that note while working on a related box? I’ve got the first one to the point where all the hard parts are left – the drawer, applied moldings around the middle and base, and turned feet for underneath. Then the lid. I need to shoot some of that for the book I have underway, so rather than get involved in that right now, I got out a board to start carving the next box front.

It’s fun to see how the strapwork designs relate to each other, and how they are different. Scale is quite similar, about 5 1/2″ to 6″ high x 25″ wide.

 

I wrote in detail about strapwork back in 2013 – I found it by searching “strapwork” on the blog’s sidebar. https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2013/02/08/strapwork-carving-designs/ 

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Wainscot chair rear leg

I’m working on a few things at once; including another wainscot chair. Making the “rake” to the rear legs is the largest output of labor for a single piece of wood in my repertoire. And, the most conspicuous waste of material. But, it has to be done. I rived this white oak billet about 3 1/2″-4″ square, maybe 45″ long or so. I start then by hewing the tangential plane into something close to flat.

This is a departure from my standard practice – I usually always work the radial face first. It’s easiest to plane, and often rives quite flat. But in this case, I’m planing the side-plane of the rear post – so I can then layout the shape on this face. If you enlarge the photo below, you can see the growth ring orientation on the end grain.

Each wainscot chair I have seen is different in its angle/rake/cant – what ever we might call the shape hewn and planed above the seat. I like to align the top end with the grain – it makes plowing the panel groove easier. Chopping mortises too. But to do this, like in the photo below, it means the chunk of wood to give you this shape is pretty hefty. This particular chair isn’t raked all that much…some have a greater angle than this.

There have been times when I have shifted the template on the stock, to squeak the leg out of a thinner piece of wood. To do that, you bump it so the leg angles back both above and below the seat. Sometimes a riven piece of wood will have some blowout here or there so you have no choice but to do this. The downside is all the joinery is mis-aligned with the fibers of the wood. There’s no way around that to some degree, but the orientation in the first photo minimizes it.

After having determined the layout, I hew off the bottom/front and then bring the piece to the bench to plane the top front face. This is the radial face. On this chair, the surface will be carved.

 

Once I’ve planed the top and bottom front face (the top & bottom here are in relation to the seat height – above and below the seat.) Then I mark the thickness on the side view, and saw a relief cut from the back, at the point where the leg angles back. This is the same height as the top of the seat rails. But that’s later.

Now – depending on how straight the wood is, how tough your nerves are – you can rive off the bulk of that waste. I knocked the froe in, but left a chunk of wood for caution.

I jammed it in the riving brake, and it split as perfect as can be. It popped off right after I took this photo. Almost hit the camera.

 

I had left some wood that needed hewing; I did the top end first, that way if the hatchet slips it won’t hit the bottom end of the leg.

After hewing both ends, I set it up on the bench like this to shave each end in turn. There’s some fiddling around right where the angles diverge, but skewing the plane helps, and I got in there with a spokeshave too.

This is the finished planed leg. Once I do the other one, I’ll let them dry for a couple of weeks. At that point, I fine-tune the shape, matching one to the other more than to the template. As long as they’re close to the template, but closer to each other it will be fine. Then I cut the carving and joinery.

 


After lunch I worked on a carving for a box I’m making. A good day all around.

Carving a Wainscot chair panel

We’re up above the water here at the Jones River. Here’s the 2nd day’s high tide, a few feet less than the day before. The only other time it got this high was early January this year. That conifer in the foreground is on the river bank…

We did get a picnic table and Adirondack chair float in during the flood tide on the first day…so if you’re down river from us and lost them, come get ’em. I hate Adirondack chairs…and picnic tables for that matter.

Back to working oak. I carved the panel for a wainscot chair today. This is a copy of a New Haven chair I saw at Sotheby’s this winter. A couple of noteworthy things about this panel. I carved the forward half entirely before going across the centerline –

That’s because this panel, like the original, is glued-up from two boards. Totals 14 3/8″ x 17 3/4″. I dislike working glued-up stock. The backs of these two boards are not even, thus the panel doesn’t sit perfectly flat. So I clamped it to the bench, instead of pounding a holdfast down onto it; and carved it in halves. There’s very little layout. A centerline and margins as usual. Then large half-arcs at each end. And a small full circle inside those arcs. That’s it. I chalked a sketch of what I was carving. Again, a bit cautious – this is the only white oak I have to do this chair panel, so I wanted to be sure there were no mishaps.

Using a #5 Swiss-made gouge to remove the background. This is my standard tool for this work. It and the V-tool are the only tools I used for 99% of this carving.


The V-tool cutting in the veins in this leafy shape.

Another view of the background removal, now on the 2nd half.

Two gouges to cut 4 leaf-highlights – this is the only use of anything other than the V-tool and the shallow gouge for background. So 4 strikes from 2 tools…to do a tiny fraction of this panel.

It’s very shallow carving. Now to build a chair around it.

Here’s some Ipad video of the carving – until Paula Marcoux called about Greenwood Fest. Inverted by some Ipad/youtube business. I’m video-challenged.

 

Forgot about these November/December projects

Back in the late fall, I worked on some commission work that I kept off the blog. Didn’t want to let the cat out of the bag…these things being presents. Then I forgot to show them once the holidays were over. A Shakespeare enthusiast asked me to make a joined chest and joined stool, to commemorate 25 years of he & his wife reading Shakespeare together. Thus, the “WS” carved on the muntins.

As I was making the front of this chest, I wrote about the mitered joints for Popular Woodworking Magazine. The current issue (April 2018) has the whole run-down on cutting the joint. I think I added it to the upcoming book too. Here’s the layout of the tenon.

It’s one really leaned-over sawcut to get that mitered shoulder.

A marking gauge defines the bevel on each edge of this muntin. Then plane it down.

The tenon partway home, make sure the grooves line up, then the mitered shoulder slides over the beveled edge of the stile. Whew.

Then, to make matters even more complicated, I undertook a painting on the inside of the lid. I haven’t really done any painting since about 1981…What was I thinking?

The finished painting. I felt like Alec Guinness in The Horse’s Mouth – It never comes out like it is in my head.

When that was done, I got to make my own wife a present. A much-needed book rack, for library books used in home-schooling. It looks so Arts & Crafts; quartersawn white oak, through mortise & tenon joints…Look at that wild medullary ray pattern on those uprights. Who could dislike that?

Me. I couldn’t leave it like that. Too blank. Horror vacui.

period carvings; arches/arcading: what-have-you

That carving pattern I worked on the other day https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2018/02/19/carved-arcading/ is very common, except in my work & my photo files! I have rarely used it, but that will change; I’m planning to take a whack at a few versions of it. Here’s what mine was generally based on, a walnut box, made c. 1600-1610. London? This is the drawer front to the box…I’d say maybe 4″ high. Look how much detail is crammed into a small space.

arcading

This one was sent to me by a reader of the blog – I know, because I’ve never been to Suffolk. Simple version, cut very well.

Suffolk arcading

A few years back I had 2 workshops in England. Jon Bayes attended one, and this is his version of that carving in progress. https://www.riversjoinery.co.uk/workshop

 

Jon Bayes’ arcading

Here’s a row of it, over some nice spindles in a church in Great Durnford, Wiltshire.

Great Durnford, Wiltshire

A wainscot chair now in the Merchant’s House in Marlborough, Wiltshire. Even has the pattern upside-down.

wainscot chair Merchant’s House

One for the dish-people. V&A in London:

It’s as old as the hills. But so are all the other patterns I know…here it is from Sebastiano Serlio’s 16th century book on architecture:

Same book, different section. This time a fireplace/hearth:

I’ve seen it on boxes quite often, or the top rail of a chest. Here’s one more from a book called “A Discourse on Boxes of the 16th, 17th & 18th Centuries” by Andrew Coneybeare. Nice detail shots of carving in that book. Published in 1992 by Rosca Publications, Worcestershire. Like the first one, look at all the detail jammed into a tiny space. The other versions seem blank…

I remember learning its name as “nulling” but I see no reference to that anywhere. Harris’ Illustrated Dictionary of Historic Architecture had a definition of nulling with no illustration. Said it was part of a molding. Coneybeare cited just above calls it “fluting.” Makes some sense. I’ve called it “arcading” but my kids thought I was talking about the crazy places with video games and noisy rides. So now I don’t talk about it.

Carved arcading

I spent the weekend at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking, teaching 13 students to carve oak patterns…but I forgot my camera. One design I hoped to include, but ran out of time for, is this “nulling” or arcading pattern. It’s very common, there’s lots of variations on it. This is my recent version, in walnut instead of oak. This example is only about 3 1/2″ between the bottom and top margin.

Here’s how I carved a section of it today, after unpacking. This pattern has no free-hand aspect of it, very different from my usual work. All the elements are struck first with an awl, square and marking gauge. Spacing is marked off with a ruler and compass/dividers. Once I know the spacing (that’s some trial & error, based on the size of your stock, and the tools available) – I strike the chisel work to define the spaces between the arches.

Then I use my #7, 3/4″ wide gouge to strike the tops of the arches and the peaked leaf that falls behind them. 3 strikes of the gouge outline the tops of the arches. There’s a marking gauge line at the top & bottom of these, so they all line up properly.

This leaf tip that fits behind them starts about 1/2 way up one side of the arch, and hits a centerline struck through the chiseled portion.

Once the outlines are struck, I use the chisel with its bevel down to chop these sections. Sometimes I have to go back & forth between the vertical strikes and the beveled ones to get the chip out.

Then comes some background removal. I use the #7 to chop behind its original strikes.

Then a #5, about 1/2″ wide to smooth off this background. It leans down from the top margin to the arches/leaves.

Then I hollow the leaves with the #7.  Makes them look like they fall behind the arches a bit.

Now to hollow the arches. I start with a narrow, deeply-curved gouge. (old, no before they were numbered. It’s between a #8 & #9.) Two strikes  define the bottom of the hollow. Previously I struck inner margins for this hollow.

I chop right behind this to remove a chip. This will help protect the bottom solid bit when I finish hollowing.

Now a larger gouge hollows out the whole thing. This takes a few cuts. I don’t go to the full depth in one go. In the end, I want this tool to hollow all the way to the outlines I struck.

Here is the pattern after the shaping. But it looks pretty blank…

Gotta fill all the blank spaces. Start with a small #7 to chop details in the leaves.

A straight chisel to highlight the peaked bits.

A large gouge just strikes an incised line around the top of the arches. A punch fills in other spaces.

This really narrow gouge chops little patterns inside the hollows.

 

I always like to see what they look like after applying some linseed oil –

 

(I’ve 

I’ve heard it called “nulling” but my copy of Cyril Harris’ Illustrated Dictionary of Historic Architecture is out in the shop. That’s where I would check the name. Maybe I’ll remember tomorrow.

Installing a lock on a joined chest

I installed the 2nd lock the other day. The first one was here – https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2018/02/08/locks

This one was easier because I was fitting it in a chest, not a box. I don’t often do these so I cut an entire housing in a piece of scrap first.

After taking some measurements from the lock, I scribed a centerline and then located the keyhole. When I bored it, I used a square to help align the bit.

One step I forgot on the box lock the other day was the housing on the top edge of the rail/box front. Here I marked it out with a chisel, then chopped & pared it. This notch is quite shallow, but helps snug the lock down into place.

Next comes sawing, chopping and paring to cut the multi-tiered housing for the lock and its moving parts. I scribed the limits with an awl & square, and marking gauge.

When chopping, I braced my hip/gut against the chest front to support it while knocking against it. I wish I had cut this when the parts were un-assembled…but if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

It’s easy to cut the depth of this housing un-even. I kept chopping and then paring across the grain.

This is the housing just about done – it needs to go lower to reach down to the scribed line.

At this point, I got the lock ready to install, but first had to extend the keyhole. I scribed about the bottom of the key, and bored & chopped the rest.

Still not installed; I get it this far – then scribe the rectangle where the staple from the lid will fall into the lock. That wood needs to be cut away.

At this stage, I’ve nailed the lock in place, and added the escutcheon too. Its nails are quite short, if they are too long, they can interfere with the lock. Once it’s done, I lock the staple in place and mark the underside of its plate with a Sharpie/felt marker – then close the chest lid. And lean on it.

That leaves some impressions in the underside of the chest lid. Two divots from the feet of the staple. And a smudgy black rectangle showing where to pare the lid to engage the plate. I took a small carving gouge to hollow out a spot for the staple’s feet.

A benefit of a pine lid is that this operation is easily done. Well, still awkward up in the air, but it’s not oak at least.

Once I had it where I wanted it, I bored pilot holes for the nails. Reamed those holes, and drove the nails.

Then, test the lock & key. If all goes well, then you clinch those nails on top of the lid.

I wanted to see how the lock worked from the inside. But it’s very dark in there. If you’re going to be locked inside for any duration, I suggest bringing a light.