Carving the next wainscot chair stile

I’ve got my joinery book just about finished, I have a few things to photograph, and a couple of paragraphs to write. This carving pattern came after I was done writing, so it goes here instead of in the book. It’s a rear stile for a wainscot chair, 3″ wide.

After striking margins and a centerline, I struck the outline of the diamond shape with a broad chisel & mallet.

The inner part of that design is outlined again with the chisel.

These half-circle bits get 2 strikes of this deeply curved gouge. These are stuck to the margin…

Next, I took a large #5 Swiss-made gouge and used it to outline the large rosette. These photos are too close to see, but just about all of this is mallet work.

After outline, then I use the same tool to relieve the bits right around the rosette. Then a smaller #5 to finish removing background.

Inside the rosette, a small circle right in the middle, defined with 3 strikes of a small curved gouge.

Then remove a chip right up against that incised outline to begin hollowing the shape.

Then I can step back and use a large tool to remove more of that hollowing. By cutting the bit right near the center first, I’ve decreased the chances of knocking the middle out with this gouge. 

Once that rosette is hollowed, I use a very narrow gouge to define the outline of the petals.

Then remove a chip behind the 2 cuts that form the intersection of 2 petals.

Then a straight chisel to connect the parts, to define the edges of the petals.

A narrower chisel makes a straight line through the petal, followed by a punch (a fine nailset in this case) at the tip. 

Here’s a short (amateur) video done with the ipad, warts & all. It shows me carving the diamond/lozenge part:

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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.

 

Lots of oak furniture in New York this week

I went to another world the other day. Attended part of Americana Week at Sotheby’s in New York. I was there to give a talk, but I got to see some great oak furniture offered for sale this week…and got to see some friends and colleagues I haven’t seen in quite a while. Here’s the link to the auction listings; http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/2018/important-americana-n09805.html#

Auction previews are great – unlike museums, here you can open stuff and peek inside. Lot #723 is a New Haven wainscot chair that has people all excited. (Some of these photos I shot hand-held in the galleries; the best ones were given to me by Sotheby’s) 

A detail of one of the arms.

and of the carvings;  I need the detail shots because I’m going to make one of these chairs this year.

I got to look this chair over with my friend Bob Trent – and neither of us had ever seen a groove like the one cut in the outside of the stile

I saw this box in 1998, now lot 727, on another research trip with Trent. And as soon as we started looking it over, we realized it was part of the group of boxes and chests by William Savell and his sons John and William from Braintree, Massachusetts. Even though we hadn’t seen this particular pattern before.

 

Many things connect this box to the others – square wooden pins instead of nails to secure the rabbets. Gouge-chopped accents here & there are direct quotes from the others. And the scribed lines above and below the carving; with diagonal chisel cuts zig-zagging across the box. Maltese cross punched inside the zig-zag.


Here’s the side of a related box at the MFA in Boston. You can see the zig-zags clearly here.

 

Jn Savell box, side carving

The box now at Sotheby’s again – look especially at the area outside the arches –

Now from a chest at the Smithsonian – this exact same motif outside the lunettes from the top rail

lunette, William Savell Sr 1590s-1669

and above & below the opposing lunettes is a pattern from the panels on these chests – look at the very bottom of the panel:

panel, joined chest, c. 1660-1680s

Then back at the box front –

I don’t know what’s the story behind these till trenches. If it’s a till w a drawer, why does the vertical notch extend below what would be the till bottom? There is no hole for a till lid…

Inside, it stops just short of being labelled “This end up”.

Lots more stuff in the sale; a Boston chest of drawers, walnut and cedrela

a chest with drawers, Wethersfield, CT

And – me. Poor Mark Atchison gets no glory for all the hard blacksmith work he did back when we made a slew of these cabinets. Trent had us make this one as a gift to his friends Dudley & Constance Godfrey – and now a foundation they started is selling it, and several of these items as a fund-raiser for educational programming at the Milwaukee Art Museum… I didn’t do the coloring…

We’ll see Summer come again…

the title is for Michael Rogen, just to let him know I’m thinking of him. I like that summer’s gone. Fall is a beautiful time of year here. I am especially enjoying seeing how the light in the shop changes now. Today the light caught my eye a number of times. If I’m not careful, I’ll take as many photos as Rick McKee https://www.instagram.com/medullary_rick/ 

I used some auger bits this past weekend, and again today. I had the box of them out on the bench…

I’ve started the next project recently, and two carvings for it were standing up out of the way…

Today I got to work some in the shop, after teaching for 7 days straight (a student here for a week, and Plymouth CRAFT for the weekend). Time to finish off some stuff, first up is the wainscot chair. For this seat, I do use a template, in this case to map out the square mortises chopped in the seat board so it slips over the stiles. Here’s the seat board with its template off to the left. Complete with dust in the sunlight..

I’ve done lots of these, but it’s always worth it to go slowly – you have to get the holes just right, or they have gaps, or worse, the seat splits at the very narrow area beside the stile. Once I’m satisfied with the template’s fit, I scribe the locations of the mortises on the seat. That short grain right between the upper right hand corner of this mortise and the end grain is the fragile part. I’ve split them there, and seen them split on old ones.

Then I bore around the perimeter of the mortise with an auger bit.

Then chop with the chisel to bring the mortise to the proper shape. I scored the lines with a knife and/or awl. Very careful work with the chisel.

Once I have the mortise squared off, I bevel underneath, paring the walls of the mortise so it’s undercut. I only want the mortise tight on the stiles right at the top where it shows. I’ve never checked the underside of this joint on a period chair – but I like the idea of under-cutting it & beveling it. It relieves any un-necessary pressure there.

Then slip the seat down to test it.

Then I do the molding around the front and sides. Sides (end grain) first. A rabbet plane followed by a smooth plane. In this case, a moving filletster and the LN low angle jack plane.

I scored the line ahead of the filletster so I got a clean shoulder to this rabbet. The nicker on that plane is defunct. Then I used this Lie-Nielsen plane to round over the corner of the rabbet to create the thumbnail molding.

I work the front edge after the two ends, to clean up any tear-out. This seat is a nice clear radially-riven oak, two boards edge-glued together. Works great.

Then for good measure, I threw the arms in place, so I could test it out. The seat will be pegged into the three rails; square pegs in round holes.

These chairs are smaller than they look. They’re so imposing because of all the decoration, the bulk of the parts – but they’re really pretty snug chairs.

Here’s the important view – looks pretty tight around the stiles. Whew.

If you made it this far, thanks. 15 pictures – for me that’s over 2 weeks of Instagram. I like IG, but the blog is my favorite way to show what I’m up to…more detail, more depth. More work – but it’s fun. thanks for keeping up with me…

“I got it second-hand…”

I keep showing up on the second-hand market! I started making furniture between 1978-80. That’s closing in on 40 years…which is a lot of furniture. During the past few years, I have heard of/seen a number of chairs I made showing up in antique/collectibles shops, auctions, and even one at…well, you’ll see. Here’s a couple examples –

This continuous arm settee I made back in 1992. A friend bought it not too many years ago, along with a windsor rocking chair, in a house-moving/divorce sale (I think). I wish I had known, I’d love to have this settee – I doubt I could make it again…but I know it’s appreciated where it now resides.

 

This next one I did buy, and sold again. I had it in my shop for years, a fellow called me up one day asking if he could buy it & he did. Then a couple years later, another friend called me to say one of my carved chairs was in an auction in Maine. I eventually got it through the auction, and called a couple who has collected several of my carved pieces. I offered them this chair at a reduced price, and they said they’d love to, but were out of room. An hour later, they called back & said they made space.

wainscot chair

 

Another wainscot had a slightly sad story to it. I made it at the museum as an award (I was the awards department for quite a while) – for our former co-worker Karin Goldstein. Sadly, Karin died quite young, from cancer. Just shy of 50 maybe. When she died, she had no local family, and some of her stuff ended up in a local shop. Another friend saw this, called to confirm it was my work, and ended up buying it for his wife, a good friend of ours, and of Karin’s. So a semi-happy ending.

This week I got a note from another friend who found a chair “made by the guy at Plimoth Plantation” – well, sort of. I was there for 20 years, but I made this chair well before that – I’d say late 1980s, maybe into 1990/91. She got it for $45. Even I could afford that!

The last one in this batch has the best story. Found at the swap shop in the Hingham, Massachusetts town dump! $5.00. A friend got it after some tussling with other dump-shoppers, and gave it to us.

I made a lot of chairs, but way more carved boxes – where are my carved boxes? Maybe they’ll be out on the 2nd-hand market in a few more years…

wainscot chair assembly

I assembled the frame of the wainscot chair the other day. First, I had a few tenons to fine-tune. This step includes beveling the ends with a large framing chisel.

Then inserting each tenon, marking it for drawboring, removing it & boring the hole. 18 joints, 2 pins each, I get 36 holes.

Here’s an old look at drawboring – it looks like some of that is from the book I did with Jennie Alexander, Make a Joint Stool from a Tree. https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2009/01/25/drawbored-mortise-and-tenon/

This picture is a little hard to read, but it’s a step called “kerfing” the joint. In this case, the rear shoulder was in the way, keeping the front shoulder from pulling up tight. So you go in there with a backsaw, and re-saw the rear shoulder. Sometimes it takes a single pass, sometimes more.

Then you knock it all together again, I have already pinned the front section and rear section separately. I was looking to get a general overall photo…but this wasn’t it.

I went to the other end of the shop, and that’s the angle. Better anyway.

Then I went higher.

Here’s the frame. This one gets a crest, two applied figures one on each side of the rear posts, then seat, then arms.

Here’s the crest, with conjectural attachment. It gets nails through the ends, down into the integral crest rail. But I never felt like those were enough to hold it in place. So I added a loose tenon between the two crests. I chopped one mortise in the wrong spot, so you see it runs wide/long.

This is as far as I got yesterday.