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.


here’s where I got this week

working on the shop this week. In this view, you can pretend it’s finished inside. Except if it was, I’d fill it with stuff.


looks done


I did take one day to re-assemble the lathe, and turn some chair stiles. I hadn’t turned ANYTHING in 17 months! Thus, it went slowly. But this is generally where the lathe will reside; yes – my back to the river view.

temp lathe setup

Here’s about the last time we’ll see this mistake-brace, until the shop is re-sheathed, or taken down.


carved brace evidence

We sheathed the corners, so the building wouldn’t float away when we did the roof. Spaces left so we can figure out which windows go where. sheathing begun

from below

Pret has a huge supply of various windows, seemingly all rescued from inevitable trips to dumpsters. so lots of head-scratching to figure which ones where & how.

window shopping

The shop space brings me closer to the birds – here’s one of the spring’s first catbirds in our yard.



and an un-flummoxed chickadee.


When he isn’t guiding me through all phases of building the shop, or helping every workshop at Plymouth CRAFT, or playing banjo in the band The Dinghys – Pret Woodburn is doing other stuff. This week, he built a bowl horse for Dave Fisher’s class at Greenwood Fest – just awaits tweaking directions from Dave now. You’ll see Pret at the Greenwood Fest – and you’ll be amazed. He’ll be working with Rick McKee – whom you know but might not know you know – https://blueoakblog.wordpress.com/

bowl horse


bowl horse detail


detail head etc



the wainscot chair panel & more

Some catch up about the wainscot chair underway. First off, the back of the panel is decorated, unlike most (all?) New England wainscots – in this case a raised/tabled panel. The raising is quite distinct, leaving a high rectangle (the table) that is then set off by scraping a molded edge to it. Here, I have the panel on the bench, pausing in mid-bevelling.

raised tabled panel

Here it is, test-fitted into the rear stiles & crest rail. The stiles still need moldings scraped along their long edges. This section is leaning against the front section, so you see the scrolled apron peeking through behind. I can’t wait to work in the new shop, where I hope to have some room for photos!

back of the back


The front of the panel has 4 “crop circles” (I had to give them some name…) – you might have seen an earlier post where I showed a couple of period examples of this decoration.

front of the back

I had no evidence regarding what tool might have made these shapes – I’ve only seen the circles a few times… so I made a tool much like a wooden brace, or “wimble” as it’s sometimes called. But instead of a boring bit in the bottom, I inserted a scraper, like we use on scratch stocks for molding.

crop circle wimble

Here’s the head. I left it loose, thinking I might like to use this head for an actual brace (that’s what I cut it for ages ago, was just lucky I could find it now, & thus didn’t have to make it)

head of wimble

Here’s the scraping profile, and the result. If I had time to spend, I would have rounded the end of the tool, and installed a ferrule to keep the cutter in place. I tried a screw like I use on scratch stocks, but it split the maple. So I temporarily clamped the end closed, cut the circles & moved on.

crop circle & cutter

Our neighbor Sara invited us to see Sara & Brad, fish monitors from the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries checking the smelt coming up the river. We had quite a time. Birds I know because they fly right around where you can see them, but the fish rarely poke their heads out of the water…

here’s the fyke net:

fike net

Here’s one of the smelt. I think I heard them say they caught 190 overnight, and over 400 in 4 days this week. They told us it has been the best year (out of 14 or so) they have had for smelt. they do the whole “record-them, measure them, toss them back” thing.


some chair making in between all the excitement


In between the raising and moving & stacking roughly 160 white pine boards I got some work in on the wainscot chair(s) I have underway. Soon, I’ll set up my lathe (yes, even before the shop is closed in) and get on with turning the front stiles in these chairs. But before that, I can do all the joinery and other decoration. There’s some rather pedestrian carving, some scroll work on the lower edge of the aprons, and top of the crest, and some scratched moldings on the rails and stiles.

The scroll work on the aprons is simply a matter of boring a few holes, connecting some dots with a turning saw, and clean-up with a chisel. One nice feature almost every time I see this detail is that the scroll work is cut into an angled rabbet on the bottom of the rail. This tilts the scroll work upwards to the viewer’s eyes, and thins out the piece to be pierced. Those old guys knew what they were about.

scrolled apron
One detail on the carved panel of the original chair is something I have only seen a few times before – these little round bits (bottom corners in this photo) – they look like turned decoration, but that’s nuts of course. They aren’t carved, that’s for sure. They seem to be made like “scratch stock” moldings, but around an axis.

back panel

Here’s a detail of some on an English box I saw years ago:

Carved box detail

After some head-scratching, I decided I’m going to make a wooden brace fitted out with a molding scraper, like a scratch stock. Now that the pine boards are all stickered, I can go back to working  on the chairs. If the brace does the job, you’ll hear about it

Next up it’s time to hide the frame

I really like the look of a timber frame against the sky; a giant wooden skeleton, all pegged together.

finished frame
finished frame

Pret designed this one with asymmetrical braces – often braces are at 45-degrees, but these are laid out two feet out from the vertical post, and three feet from the horizontal (either the tie-beam or the plate). He’s right, they look very nice, now that all the mind-crushing & teeth-gnashing is over and the joints all pegged.

It’s been fun this past week having the frame in our view. But this ain’t the old world, with its half-timbered framing tradition, wattle & daub and brick infill.

mythical or not – an attractive look

Here in New England the tradition is to cover the frame with sheathing – the frame only showing inside the building. Not as romantic, not as attractive; but I rarely mess with tradition. Thus, it’s time to cover that thing up.

Yesterday, Nathan Goodwin, a regular at some Plymouth CRAFT events, kindly hauled me in his truck and trailer down to East Freetown Massachusetts, to Gurney’s Sawmill to pick up our order of white pine sheathing/siding and floor boards.

I didn’t see Paul at the mill, looks like he’s posing for the sign

I usually buy wood as a log – thus one piece, or a few boards at a time. But this framed building is the largest thing I eve made…so I need more boards than usual.

wow that's a load
wow – that’s a lot of boards for me…

I stacked and stickered the boards, and our next move will be to sheath around the corners of the building, to tie the frame to the sills. Then tackle sheathing the roof, which will then be covered with wooden shingles. And no, I am not making the shingles. There’s only so many hours in the day.

stack 1
stack one of two

If you’re around this area, try Gurney’s – they’re the nicest folks. It’s like stepping back in time… http://www.gurneyssawmill.com/

Did this one go twice?

Yesterday was the day we’ve been waiting for – frame-raising day. Pret & I laid out & cut joinery a little more than part-time for almost 3 months. So many friends gathered on Saturday here by the river, neighbors came to watch (& got roped into driving pins) – and we had a great time assembling & raising the frame.

Back when I did a lot of research into 17th century woodworking, I read M. Halsey Thomas, editor, The Diary of Samuel Sewall 1674-1729 2 volumes, (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1973). On page 11 I found: “Saturday, May 15. (1675) Brother’s house was raised, at the raising of which I was. Two Pins lower Summer. [footnote: Throughout the Diary, Sewall records driving nails or wooden pins in buildings under construction. This gesture of good will and voluntary association with the enterprise is traced by H. W. Haynes to Roman and Old Testament sources…]

I tried to include as many of the visitors as would be willingly led to the deck to drive pins. When else are they going to get a chance to do that? The first timber-frame raising I took part in was at Drew Langsner’s in the mid-1980s. Daniel O’Hagan was the instructor for that class…back in 1959 Daniel wrote a letter to the Catholic Worker newspaper which included this snippet:

“I went to a neighbor’s barn raising last week, and after the heavy beams had gone up and were pinned together, we stopped for a bite to eat. Most of the men were Mennonites, and most came by horse-drawn vehicles.

What an eye-opener and lesson in cooperation, to see 20 men walk over to an enormous oak timber and, after placing stout sticks under it, how gently, how quietly and easily, the great beam rose off the ground and was carried and laid at its destination! No shouting, no profanity, not rattling engines or gears grinding, not even an order to start heaving!

If only co-operation would be ingrained in us as competition has been!”

Yesterday, Maureen, the kids & I were delighted to be hosts to a large group of friends and neighbors, all working together and sharing a great experience. No nail guns or compressors could hold a candle to it!   

I’ll write more about it this week, here’s a gallery of photos, no particular order:

wainscot chairs, front stiles & side rails

Lincoln chair, red oak, walnut & maple
Lincoln chair, red oak, walnut & maple

In between working on the shop frame, I’ve been slowly working on 2 wainscot chairs. It’s been a while since I have made any of these, (the one above is now in the Hingham Massachusetts public library, so I’m told) – a long hiatus means they are again worth a look. The aspect to cover today is the shape of the front stiles, and the resulting configuration of the side rail’s tenon shoulders.

Wainscot chair’s seats are wider at the front than at the rear, so the side rails are angled. So – do you cut angled mortises? Tenons? Or what?

Some have front stiles with a square cross-section. In cutting the front rails’ tenons, it means nothing. 90-degree shoulders, and away you go. On the side rails – what to do? The ones I’ve studied closely have angled tenon shoulders, but the tenon itself is in line with the rail. This keeps the long fibers intact, making a strong tenon. Requires some geometry to get the angles right on those shoulders, I just scribe the whole chair seat full-scale on either the bench top, some clear wide piece of wood, or any other handy surface. Then take the angles from there with an adjustable bevel.

The real challenge is cutting the mortise at an angle. I’m spoiled by cutting most of my joinery in perfect straight grained wood, in which case mortising is easy. In this case, I have to chop the mortise at an angle, so across the fibers. Like those with ordinary wood. Aggghhh.

Back when I made the DVD with Lie-Nielsen on making these chairs, I made two sample joints. Here’s the square stile version, closed and opened.

sq stile angled rail

sq stile angled shoulder open

One hazard with the square stiles and angled mortises is the chance to bust your mortise out the side face of the stile. I’ve done it, and seen it on old chairs. Another way to do it is to plane the front stile to a weird cr0ss-section, and then your rails have 90-degree shoulders no matter whether they are front rails or side rails. And your mortises are parallel to the face they are struck from. Like this:

shaped stile

shaped stile joint open

Sorry that side rail is not quite in focus, but it’s not worth setting it up again! You get the gist of it, the shoulders on that rail are cut at 90-degrees. It’s a weird piece to plane, two corners are 90-degrees, and the others are not. The chairs I’m making now use this kind of front stile. I promptly forgot that & cut one side rail with angled shoulders! Out of practice, but now I’m getting more…

Here’s a somewhat poor shot from the chair I’m now copying, showing the side rail on our right, and the front rail across the top of the photo. You get an idea of the front stile’s cross-section, and the applied molding shows the general angle too.

seat angle

At the side-rail-to-rear-stile joint, it’s immaterial. You have to use an angled shoulder there, because the flat front face of the rear stiles is parallel to the flat front face of the front stiles. too confusing? When I make the rear stiles I’ll show some of that geometry .

The DVD on making wainscot chairs is available from Lie-Nielsen, and I have some copies for sale as well. It’s long, but in it I make parts for 2 chairs, showing both these arrangements. https://www.lie-nielsen.com/product/home-education-videos/17th-century-wainscot-chair-with-peter-follansbee?node=4243