a snowy day is perfect in the shop

We didn’t get as much snow as I hoped for; but beggars can’t be choosers my mother would say. I like being holed up in the shop or the house during a snowstorm, it keeps things nice and quiet out there. I haven’t shot any photos lately because I’ve made three boxes in a row that were essentially the same patterns. Here’s the 2nd yellow cedar box, done for a customer who missed out on the first one, so ordered one.

yellow cedar box # 2

These strapwork patterns vary only in the details, but generally follow a basic format.

box front detail

Earlier this year, I wrote about some of the background of this pattern https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2020/06/19/strapwork/

One thing I learned about using carved lids is that you have to line up the centerline of the lid with the centerline of the front. Another step when fastening the lid. I took to marking the center of the edge with a pencil then planing it off after assembly.

carving pattern on the lid

I make the back of these boxes in oak still, so the wooden pin that engages the cleat to form a hinge has the necessary strength. The cedar would probably be OK, but I know the oak does the trick.

That’s it for boxes for now, I have one more on order – in January. Meanwhile, I have some clean-up to do, a joined stool for a customer and some chairs to get back to. I’d like to thank all the blog readers for their support during this strange year – I’m grateful to you all.

Strapwork design & carving

Strapwork pattern in progress

I have this great piece of red oak; quartersawn, 12″ x 24″, clear, pretty straight (thanks, Rick) – and after seeing the carved lid on the cedar box the other day, I decided to try a large panel of a strapwork design again. Usually when I undertake these patterns, I only have a partial idea of what it will be. Much of it I work out as I go.

The top and bottom edges are easy, they’re always those linked arches. I divided up the space, put a circle in the middle and struck all the arches with gouges and a chisel. Then I knew that this time I wanted these long, vertical leafy things. You can see in the photo below that I carved one all the way before continuing. That way, if it didn’t work – I could quit, or flip the board over. Or plane it all away. (all extreme choices that rarely get employed.)

initial pattern

But I liked it, so I went on from there. Here, I’m setting a marking gauge to strike lines that will connect the right and left sides of the panel at the middle.

striking layout w marking gauge

Below – using a 3/4″ wide gouge to strike circles in some empty spaces around the middle.

using a gouge to define elements

This time the area where those left & right halves come together get volutes carved as the ends of each section. I strike their outlines with 3 different gouges.


These patterns usually flow outward from the center – up & down, left & right. Here I’m using a compass to mark the height of one element from the horizontal centerline. Then I’ll swing it around to hit the bottom of the same form.

compass work

Most of the work is striking out the design. Removing the background is easy, there’s just a lot of it.

background removal

But you only have to solve one-quarter of it when doing the design part. Then it’s a matter of flipping it over in your mind to “see” the other 3/4. This is as far as I got yesterday afternoon, but the fire’s now lit, so time to finish this carving.

strapwork carving designs

Sometimes I buy two copies of a book on purpose, other times it’s because I can’t find it, buy the replacement and then later find the first. So a while back I sent George Walker http://georgewalkerdesign.wordpress.com/ a copy of the 1981 journal “Furniture History” because it has an article by Anthony Wells-Cole about the “strapwork” design found on oak furniture in Devon, England and Ipswich, Massachusetts from the seventeenth century. Wells-Cole ran down the existing work in oak, then looked at possible sources for it, including stone monuments and print sources. The article is titled “An Oak Bed at Montacute: A Study in Mannerist Decoration.”

Hans Vredeman de Vries, 16th c
Hans Vredeman de Vries, 16th c

I’ve been prepping lately for my now-postponed carving class, so had the chance to review a lot of photos of various carving patterns. The strapwork one in the Wells-Cole study in particular always fascinates me. I have carved it umpteen times. Never the same twice.

strapwork boxes big & small

Based on markings still visible on the old ones, one method for layout seems to be horizontal and vertical centerlines, then spacing things outward from there in four directions according to the size of the timber, and the size & shape of the tools.

carved box, Thomas Dennis, 1660s-1700, Ipswich, Massachusetts
carved box, Thomas Dennis, 1660s-1700, Ipswich, Massachusetts


this next box has an abandoned layout partially struck on its inner face of the front board. I always get excited by this sort of evidence, march off & adopt it at my bench, then I pull up and think, “wait a minute, this is a mistake – that’s why it’s not done!”

Dennis - 193

dennis deed box

I usually work outwards from the center, and most often start with a circle there, then the bands/straps working east/west/north/south.

PF in process
PF in process

adding leaves inside the strapwork
adding leaves inside the strapwork

This time, I marked the pattern left and right, but only on the top half of the board. Then it’s easy enough to copy from there to the bottom half. Then remove the background. 

the second half
the second half

removing background
removing background

Depending on a number of factors, one of which might be whim, you can make the curved straps that run along the top and bottom margins either broad and shallow, or taller and tighter. Once you learn the vocabulary, you can combine these parts in a streaming run of designs, never to be repeated…

Here’s broad & shallow:

Dennis -broad layoutversus taller and tighter:

Dennis - 209

Those are both the same maker, Thomas Dennis again. Here’s more variations:


strapwork panel

winterthur top rail box HNE

hennock strapwork (2)


Then, don’t forget this one: https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2010/03/04/thomas-dennis-eat-your-heart-out-this-is-oak-furniture/

(The photos in tonight’s post run the gamut from my own, others from Trent, Rob Tarule, and a couple clipped from books. thanks to all…)