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Peter Follansbee, joiner's notes
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.
I did a couple of presentations last weekend at Fine Woodworking Live; a seminar put on by the magazine. It was a sold-out affair, and seems like everyone had a good time. With the magazine staff, the presenters and the attendees there were close to 300 people there. All trying to consume as much information about woodworking and furniture-making as possible.
My talks were 90 minutes, and it’s hard to cram everything I know into that time slot. Because my work is so closely based on studying period pieces, I tried to show some examples prior to my demonstrations. This blog post will flesh out some of what I was talking about.
Al Breed came to one of my sessions, and asked about the insides of the mortises; is there any indication that the joiners bored them first? My reading of the evidence is that these narrow mortises, typically about 5/16″, are just chopped. No need to bore them first. These shots (scanned from slides, thus not as sharp as they might be) show the inside of the top front rail of a chest from the Smithsonian. The chest was made c. 1640-1670. Oak. The joint is broken open near where the till parts fit. One of the nice things about oak is how well it splits, but that’s a drawback too.inner front rail, smithsonian chest
Here’s a detail of that joint, showing the chopped bottom of the mortise, in the first photo you can also see the angle of the mortise’s end grain cuts, and the trimming of the tenon’s edges.
This chest has a joined front fixed to board sides and back. So a blending of a board-chest and a joined chest. Two pieces built this way survive from this shop.
To me it’s not a surprise that this joint blew apart, the surprising part is that more didn’t. I have written before about how much wood is cut away right were all these parts converge – the mortises for the top rails, the grooves for panels on front & side, the notches for the till side and till bottom, and the mortise bored for the till lid. It’s like a game of connect-the-dots.
here is part of that earlier post:
First, the two mortises, for the front and side upper rails. These are 5/16″ wide by about 3 3/4″ high. The one for the front rail is about 1 1/2″ deep, the other about 1 1/4″ deep.
Each has two 1/4″ holes bored in them, those for the front rail go all the way through the stile.
There is a groove running along each edge, into these mortises, for the beveled panels.
Additionally there is a notch cut across the inner face of the stile for the till bottom. this notch is about 3/8″ wide and about the same depth. It is positioned so that the till bottom is flush with the bottom edge of the upper rails.
What is missing from this photo is one more assault on this piece of wood – the hole bored into the stile for the hinged end of the till lid. This hole is usually about 3/8″ in diameter and about 1/2″ deep, and right near what will be the top end of the stile, after the extra wood is trimmed off the top. It will be about 3/8″ away from the mortise for the side rail.
Another thing we discussed (I think this was a breakfast discussion…) was the backs of pieces. Chris Becksvoort was telling us about Shaker work, Al Breed about Newport 18th-century work – I chimed in with a group of chests and cupboards from Plymouth Colony from the 2nd half of the 17th century. Here’s the surviving section of a chest with four drawers; in “as found” condition.
Look inside, the inner face of the rear section is a bit firewood-like. (the strap hinges are replacements) Narrow oak panels, with muntins that have large torn-out sections from riving them:
And a knot in one, and panels with riven texture – not planed smooth.
Sometimes the insides have fully-formed moldings on the framing parts. These get covered up as soon as the chest is filled with textiles. Some Boston joiners did the same thing.
All the chests and cupboards from this large body of work use employ chamfers on the framing parts on the side elevations; usually stopped chamfers. You see it below on the lower edge of the horizontal rail:stopped chamfers
But they did it too on the rear elevation. Sometimes smooth transitions, sometimes stopped chamfers. This is the part of the cupboard or chest that gets shoved against the wall! Hard to understand the outside being so neat when sometimes the inside is just this side of firewood.
I’m getting ready to go over to Southbridge, Massachusetts for Fine Woodworking Live http://www.finewoodworkinglive.com/ but in the meantime, Lie-Nielsen just posted a preview of my new video on hewing wooden bowls. I copied it here, in case anyone would like to see what this video covers. I still have some available: https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/new-dvds-carved-oak-boxes-hewing-wooden-bowls-spring-2017/ and they have the rest https://www.lie-nielsen.com/nodes/4243/home-education-videos
I have been doing some carving lately…I have a number of half-finished (some 7/8 finished) stuff around. The oak I’ve been carving lately is intentionally half-finished, so I have stuff to demonstrate at the Fine Woodworking Live event this coming weekend.
In the 7/8 finished department, there is this – what’s different? It’s maple. Slated to be a cutting board (the blank side, of course). I’ll cut out a handle at one end, with a hole for hanging it, carving-facing-out, when it’s not in use. Here’s one from before – (I thought it was pretty new. But 1 1/2 years have gone by since I made that one.)https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2015/11/20/why-did-this-take-so-long/
As I was sorting & organizing this shop, I squirreled away some walnut scraps leftover from a joint stool…and last week I started making this book stand. Just a little trimming here & there (the finials for instance), and pinning the joints left.
This chair frame is mostly done – maybe it’s less than 7/8s there, but it’s close. There’s a crest rail all carved, but it doesn’t go on until after assembly. I just have to cut the rear stretcher, then add two figures that get attached to the rear stiles, and the crest. Oh, and the seat. But that’s plain…
The past couple of days I’ve been cutting parts for the headboard of a bedstead I’m making for a very patient customer (thanks, Wendy!) This is what I will demonstrate on at FWW Live. I have 2 long rails cut, one is all carved. The other has enough of its pattern for people to see what it’s headed toward…so I’ll have some of that carving to do, and some mortises & tenons to cut. I fitted one muntin today, and planed & laid out another.
Closer view of the same grouping.
Here’s the muntin. All this work is in oak, as it should be.
A detail of the patterns on the two long rails.
some more prep work tomorrow. Then off to Southbridge MA on Friday for the event.
we started spring cleaning here yesterday. I spent the day in the back yard, burning the winter’s collection of brush/branches, etc. It’s a once-a-year chance to spend the entire day by the riverbank…with nothing to do but feed and watch a fire.
I saw lots of birds during the day’s fire. Didn’t get shots of most of them, but here’s a few. (I don’t know what this looks like on your end, but when I preview it, if I click on the photos, they get pretty large, makes them easier to see. sometimes 2 clicks.) There were ospreys around much of the day, but only briefly when I had a camera in my hands:
The cormorants were fishing; but they were quite skittish. Here they are high-tailing it away:
If I was sitting on the riverbank, the red-breasted mergansers paid no attention to me;
when I was standing they either went up the other side of the river, or flew off.
This week I have a few things coming up. Going out to answer a call “Do you want some wide red oak?” – pretty simple question to answer. So some log-splitting coming up. Then I have to plan out my demo/talk for Fine Woodworking Live http://www.finewoodworkinglive.com/ – it’s my first time working with them. Looks like it will be quite an event.
thanks for all the support from those who have ordered the new videos. I really appreciate it. My setup was a bit clunky, but I went in & made it so those ordering both titles are only paying one shipping fee. I refunded any who got caught in the earlier “double-shipping” debacle. https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/new-dvds-carved-oak-boxes-hewing-wooden-bowls-spring-2017/ I have some oak boxes underway, and some hewn bowls. I’ll shoot some of it soon & post some stuff here so any who have not seen the details can get an idea of what the fuss is about…
I just got a shipment from Warren, Maine – 2 boxes of new DVDs from Lie-Nielsen. We’ve had these in the works for a while, but better late than never. The first is Carving Oak Boxes.
This makes the 3rd oak project video; after the wainscot chest & the wainscot chair. I think this one is my favorite – it covers making 2 different boxes – one typical flat-lidded box, with wooden hinges and a till inside. The other is the slant-lidded “desk” box. This has 2 tills, a tray and 4 small drawers inside. The video also covers carving the designs on the desk box – patterns that I have done from the very beginning of my carving career, and have never put in the previous videos on carving.
Here’s the desk box –
The 2nd video is Hewing Wooden Bowls
Like spoon carving, a whole sub-culture of bowl-carving is gathering quite a bit of momentum. Who can blame them? Axes, adzes and gouges – what could be more fun? I was on a spree of hewing bowls a couple summers ago, and had done an episode of Roy Underhill’s show about this work. Then I went up to Maine to shoot this video shortly after that. Things got in the way, and my bowl-work got shelved for a while, but just lately I have started picking up my bowl-carving tools again. I think of this video as an introduction to this work; showing how I split, hew and plan out the shape. Then follow that work with gouges and other shaping. The whole reason I make them is to decorate them, and that is covered too.
Here’s one of the bowls:
I have some of each video for sale, price is $40 each, with $3.50 shipping in US. This page has them, with a paypal button for ordering: https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/new-dvds-carved-oak-boxes-hewing-wooden-bowls-spring-2017/
Contact me for shipping outside the US – we can figure out pricing. Peter.Follansbee@verizon.net
(I hope this works – I’m a bit clunky with the retail end of blogging. With my spoons, I usually send out an invoice – but there’s usually only a dozen of those at a time. I tried to set this up so it will take you right to payment – so I don’t have to send out invoices. If there’s a wrinkle, bear with me, and we’ll get it sorted. Fingers crossed.)
or you can order directly from Lie-Nielsen https://www.lie-nielsen.com/nodes/4243/home-education-videos
some of my older videos are available to purchase as streaming videos through Lie-Nielsen, instead of buying a physical disc. https://www.lie-nielsen.com/nodes/4228/peter-follansbee
I’m in-between spoon batches right now…just started a few new ones yesterday. Meanwhile, Maureen tells me she updated her etsy site, with “spring” colors. For those interested, here’s the site: https://www.etsy.com/shop/MaureensFiberArts
(what am I going to use as her next backdrop? These panels became a chest & a chair…)
on other fronts:
Did you see the piece about Dave Fisher from Fine Woodworking? http://www.finewoodworking.com/2017/04/07/motc-bowl-carver
It’s nice to see Dave getting such wide acclaim. We’re thrilled to have him as part of Plymouth CRAFT’s Greenwood Fest. If you’re in the area, come see some of his work at the opening of the exhibition on Sunday: http://fullercraft.org/event/living-traditions-the-handwork-of-plymouth-craft/ – the show runs til June 25th.
If you missed out on Greenwood Fest tickets, you can still be a part of the pre-fest scene, which will amount to about a 3/4 size festival! There’s still openings in Jane Mickelborough’s Folding Spoon class and Tim Manney’s Sharpening class. Jane’s spoons are really among the most exciting things happening in the spoon world right now. Rooted in local (Breton) tradition, a fascinating way to learn some history and craft at the same time.
Here’s some of the story: https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2017/02/24/jane-mickelboroughs-folding-spoons/
Tim’s sharpening class is a real eye-opener. We had it at Plymouth CRAFT one weekend, and people were running around asking “what else can I sharpen?” Sharpening is of course essential, but often gets short-shrift. But those who take the time to learn it have an edge over all the procrastinators…
Sign up for either of these here: https://www.plymouthcraft.org/greenwood-fest-courses
It’s going to be a busy weekend at the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton, Massachusetts. I’m heading there Saturday as part of the audience, to see Terry Martin & Zina Burloiu. http://fullercraft.org/event/deep-collaboration-demonstration-show-and-lecture-from-terry-martin-zina-manesa-burloiu/
I remember reading about Zina’s spoon carving and her chip carving, way back when in the old Woodwork magazine. I still have the article, it tells a fascinating story about her first trip from Romania to the US, where she took part in a turning conference. Must have been the 1990s, if I remember right.
The next time I saw her work in “print” was on Robin Wood’s blog about the first Täljfest at Sätergläntan. There she is, showing Wille Sundqvist her chip carving…and when I saw this, I remembered the Woodwork article.
Then, when our friends at Fuller Craft began talking to Plymouth CRAFT about an exhibition, I was barely paying attention – “yes, of course I’ll be a part of it…” Then my friend Denise Lebica mentioned that the same weekend, Zina Burloiu was going to be there. I jumped at the chance to see her & her work in person. It’s not just Zina’s work, of course. I don’t want to short-change Terry Martin, her collaborator for many years. Here is a link to Terry’s site, which includes the background of their collaboration: http://terrymartinwoodartist.com/new_direction.html
Terry kindly sent me a couple of shots of Zina’s chip carving:
Then on Sunday I’ll be back as a participant in the opening of the Plymouth CRAFT exhibition, “Living Traditions: The Handwork of Plymouth CRAFT” – http://fullercraft.org/event/living-traditions-the-handwork-of-plymouth-craft/
The day includes a reception and a panel discussion in the afternoon: http://fullercraft.org/event/opening-reception-for-living-traditions-the-handwork-of-plymouth-craft-and-ellen-schiffman-the-52-box-project/
So a couple of round trips to Brockton. I’m spoiled with my new commute of 15 steps outside the door. I’m going to have to get in the car for this…
The workshop is proving to be a pretty good blind for photographing the yard birds. and in between the rainy days, I’ve got a few walks in, to check up on spring arrivals.
Even with all the rain, this robin felt the need for a bath – (if you’re in Europe, think thrush. This is Turdus migratorius.)
This resting red-breasted merganser (Mergus serrator) shows the red breast pretty well. there’s been several around lately, chasing the smelt up the river.
Awake from his nap:
Downy woodpecker, (Picoides pubescens) male. The most common woodpecker around here, smallest too.
Here’s what buffleheads (Bucephala albeola) look like flying away from me:
The common grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) shows great color this time of year.
This male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) must have been wet, his crest is smooshed down…makes him look funny.
Across the river, two red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) sitting side-by-side. Another indication of spring, it’s a nesting/mating sign.
On our walks recently found a few things:
Turkey vulture, (Cathartes aura) a sign of spring around here
This red-tailed hawk is particularly tolerant of people. Probably not a good thing, but I often find him/her around the same area, un-skittish.
Out of range of my camera’s lens, but had to snap one of this coyote. They’re around here a lot, but usually out of sight.
I must have been right behind this raccoon, but didn’t see it anywhere.
There was a bunch of deer, (well, not by Minnesota standards) – looking at this it’s no wonder people think reindeer can fly.
Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) too – looks like he’s herding that Canada goose.
I’ve been slowly working my way through a pile of cherry spoon wood. All but one or two of this batch is from the same tree. And most all are crooks, bent/curved sections which lend the spoons their shape.
A couple of these got picked by people on a waiting list for spoons. I never intended there to be such a thing, but sometimes I get requests between postings of spoons for sale.
spoons listed are here https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/spoons-for-sale-march-2017/ or at the top of the menu on the blog’s front page. Leave a comment here (the page for some reason doesn’t accept comments…) if you’d like to order a spoon. Paypal is the easiest way, or you can send a check. Let me know which payment method you prefer. The price includes shipping in the US, otherwise, we’ll calculate some additional shipping costs.
All the spoons are finished with food-safe flax oil. If for some reason, anyone is not happy with their spoon, just contact me & we can do a return/refund.
thanks as always,
We got out early on the vernal equinox, to see the sunrise over the trees on the riverbank. While we waited, these red-breasted mergansers came along, chasing the fish along the river. The other fish-chaser, great blue heron left the scene, water was too high for him.
The sun hit the workshop before it hit us down at the river.
Inside, I’m a sucker for raking light.Now that I finished the chest with drawers, this one is next. Needs some trimming here & there, and fitting the lid. Then when someone buys it, initials carved in the blank area on the center muntin.
Here’s the first 2 (of 8) panels I carved for a bedstead I am making for a customer.
A couple of boxes underway. The front of this one was a carving sample for my recent class in North House Folk School.
Here it is, test-fitted. Next is to make the till parts, and assemble it.
we went to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston the other day. the kids are studying Greek myths, and we went to look at Greek art, mostly sculpture & pottery. I saw patterns everywhere. I probably hadn’t been in those galleries since the 1980s. Amazing stuff.
The next couple of weeks will feature some chairmaking here. As I said earlier, I’m revisiting the ladderback chairs I began my woodworking career with…I shaved some posts & rungs and chopped slat mortises – but shot no pictures. But today, I had some wainscot chair work to do; and what a world of difference. I had to fashion one hewn rear post for a wainscot chair like this:wainscot chair, side view
The “cant” or “rake” to the rear post is hewn, not bent like in Alexander’s ladderback. This post starts out as a split billet 3″ x 4″ x 48″. That’s a lot of oak. I hewed it oversized; a few weeks ago I worked one and it was too close to the finished size. When I was done hewing and planing, it came up “scant” – i.e. too small in cross-section to match the first one. Here, you see the template laying on the riven and hewn piece:
Thinking about the JA chairs – this one billet had enough wood to maybe make 3 or 4 posts for a JA ladderback. This is a rare case where I work primarily on the tangential face first. I want the front face of these posts to be the radial surface (it’s going to be carved, & I like carving that face better than this one). So the cant gets laid out on the growth-ring plane.
Once I hewed and planed that face pretty flat, I scribed the template and began to hew the shape. The front is easy enough to hew, because of the way you’re cutting down the grain. In this photo, I have the front faces planed, and I’m cutting the thickness of the post above the seat. I decided to saw, rather than split this, so I can use the piece that’s coming off – it will become either a stretcher or one of the carved figures that is applied to the side of the chair. I made a relief cut at the seat height, and am sawing down to that cut. In the photo, this saw cut is nearly done. Then the stuff below the seat will get hewn away, there’s nothing worth saving there, so hewing is quicker than sawing. Easier too. You can see relief cuts there too, I stood the piece up on its top end and hewed down to the mid-point.
Cleaning up these rear surfaces is pretty easy. They don’t have to be dead-flat or true. I shim under the end, and shove the post against my bench hook/planing stop. A holdfast keeps it in place. I’m only planing as far as the plane will fit. It gets close to, but not up to, the angled spot where the post leans back. I skew the plane to get close…
Then switch to a spoke shave. it’s one of the few times I use this tool in joiner’s work. That’ll sneak right up to that junction.
I have to let it dry out a couple of weeks, then I can cut the joinery in it & continue on with the chair. I have another to start in the meantime, so there will be more chair work on the blog soon.
First off, nice going to those who pitched in to help that Vermont school teacher with the fundraiser to buy spoon tools. They met their goal quite easily, I think thanks to you blog readers here. These on-screen connections can be alienating sometimes, but at times like this one, it truly is a community feeling. I really do appreciate the feedback I get from this blog, it means a lot.
Tomorrow I’ll deliver this chest with drawers to the Fuller Craft Museum for the exhibition about Plymouth CRAFT. http://fullercraft.org/event/living-traditions-the-handwork-of-plymouth-craft/
I did the bulk of the last-minute junk last week, and a good thing too. Just been knocked out with a flu-ish thing for 5 days. All 4 of us have had it in various forms – so it’s felt like a long time since we’ve had our heads above water.
After watching all the bowl turners at North House a couple of weeks ago, I wanted to come home & turn bowls. But instead, I turned drawer pulls in white oak.
The drove them through the hole I bored in the drawer front, and split the tenon with a chisel.
and drove an oak wedge into the resulting split.
Here is the wedged tenon, just prior to trimming.
These pulls are about 1 1/4″ in diameter.
I made some adjustments to the drawer runners. These things are always fussy…they fit into notches in the stiles, and often I toe-nail through them into the stile. You can see one of those nails out at the rear stile in this shot:
Here you can see one of the drawer runners in the drawer opening above, and the groove in the drawer side below. When all goes well, this is a nice way for a drawer to slide. Especially these heavy oak drawers. There will be a pine panel behind these drawers, but that will have to wait til the exhibit is over. Mid-June I think. After Greenwood Fest…
I got an email from Tara Alan, pointing me towards a crowd-sourcing fundraiser that seems a worth cause. A school group looking to raise money for spoon carving tools! I’m not involved in any way – I don’t know the people, etc… But Tara thought my readers might be willing to help. There’s worse ways to spend a few dollars…
here’s the blurb –Pre-Industrial Spoon Carvers!
I have an amazing group of students! They are curious, hard working, and love hands on projects. We live in a small Vermont town in the Connecticut Valley. My students farm, build race cars, and play basketball so they no strangers to hard work. We study the Industrial Revolution in 8th grade and are fascinated with how people lived prior to the machine age. They made everything! If you needed a chair- you made it, if you needed a spoon- you carved it.
Kids these days get their spoons too easily.
People used to have to carve them by hand! I want to teach my students how to be spoon self-sufficient. I’d like for them to understand and appreciate how much work goes into making things by hand.
Most kids don’t think twice about grabbing a plastic spoon to eat their lunch and then tossing it in the garbage when they’re done. I want to teach my students to appreciate the spoon and how much work used to go into making them.
We often overlook the smallest things that make us human.
We are tool makers and users. I want to teach my students the practical and timeless skill of carving spoons.
They will learn how to select the right wood, practice safe tool use, and come to appreciate the value of doing things by hand, the slow way.
Your donations will pay for spoon carving knives and finger guards to keep them safe. Your donations will also get us a couple of books that will inspire us to create beautiful spoons.
We have an outdoor classroom in the woods near our school that will serve as a source of wood and a place where we can sit and carve together.
Just follow the link if you’d like to help… https://www.donorschoose.org/project/pre-industrial-spoon-carvers/2470192/?givingCartId=5653247
I’ve been wiped out with the flu this week, so it felt nice to find some uplifting item in today’s inbox. Good luck to all involved…
I only have a few photos for this post – I was too busy to shoot much…
I just got back from teaching two classes at North House Folk School in Grand Marais, Minnesota. http://www.northhouse.org/index.htm Being thrown into an immersion experience like that at North House reminds me of my beginnings at Country Workshops in the 1980s.
One focus at North House is community, and it is quite palpable. The legendary pizza night, centered around the large wood-fired oven, and finely honed through years of practice is a memorable experience. The classes I was there to teach were part of “Wood Week” which as you can imagine means all the classes offered that week (8 in all) were woodworking. Other disciplines at North House include fiber arts, blacksmithing, food, boatbuilding and more.
All the students in my first class were named Tom. I think. Made it easier…
With three classes at the first session, and five the next, there was no shortage of inspiration, nor of comrades. The evenings were spent in large and small groups exploring spoon and bowl carving, looking at and trying out new tools, techniques, benches and materials. It seems that almost everyone (except me) also plays a musical instrument, so the spoon carving circles were on the periphery of the old-timey music circles. There was much overlap. The best nights ran much later than I could handle.
All the while, Lake Superior was right there, outside the shop windows, and lapping at the courtyard between the buildings. It’s a pretty big lake, I hear. Looked it.
I’m liking these large-group gatherings. Last year I went to three of them, Greenwood Fest in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Spoonfest in Edale, UK and Täljfest at Sätergläntan in Sweden. This one had a smaller crowd, but that lent it an intimacy that was nice. I still missed stuff – I got no photographs of the other classes, and few of my own.
Tom Dengler kept distracting me with his woodenware:
one of the oak carvings the students did…
I caught up with some old friends, and made some new. Like the other events, this one is run by many hands, including a group of young interns. Nice to see these young people exploring some type of creative outlet involving natural materials. There were a smattering of young people in the classes too, but no group gets higher marks than Spoonfest for adding youth and women to the woodworking community.
These creatures were more common than squirrels.
I had a day off early on, and took a long walk in a state park about half-an-hour away. If this tree were closer to the school, someone would have nabbed it by now…
North House is celebrating their twentieth year – get on their mailing list so you can be a part of their 2nd-double-decade.
Some of the many people there, apologies for not including everyone – there was a lot happening:
Jarrod Dahl, https://www.instagram.com/jarrod__dahl/
Roger Abrahamson, https://www.instagram.com/rogerabrahamson/
Fred Livesay, https://www.instagram.com/hand2mouthcrafts/
Phil Odden & Else Bigton http://www.norskwoodworks.com/
Dawson Moore https://www.instagram.com/michigansloyd/
Tom & Kitty Latane https://www.facebook.com/thomas.latane
Tom Dengler https://www.instagram.com/twodengler/
The oak furniture I make is based on 17th-century examples made in my general neighborhood – the first batch of chests & boxes I learned about were made maybe 10 miles from where I grew up. My spoons are a different story – literally. I learned spoon carving from Jögge & Wille Sundqvist, and Drew Langsner…so my spoons are rooted in the Swedish style – as are many other modern-day spoon carvers.
One thing I keep in mind when looking at inviting instructors for Greenwood Fest is simple – I would like to spend time getting to know these people, and learning woodworking from them. (I get to do the former, but I’m too busy to really learn much during the event…)
I met Jane Mickelborough last summer at Spoonfest and Täljfest – and was very happy when she said she’d come to Greenwood Fest. Jane is currently engrossed in making some decidedly-non-Swedish style spoons. Her recent work is based on historical spoons from Brittany, where she lives with her husband Peter. I wanted to know more about her spoons, and how she got on this Breton-folding-spoon-kick, so I asked her. I thought readers might like it too, so below is a series of questions I sent Jane and she kindly answered more than I asked. Jane will be teaching a 2-day class Carve a Hinged Spoon, and demonstrating wax inlaid decoration in the pre-fest courses https://www.greenwoodfest.org/course-details
PF: Somewhere along the line in your woodworking, you learned spoon-carving. Then began to see/study/copy particular spoons that were historically made in Breton. How did this come about? Was it thought-out, or stumbled-upon?
JM: I stumbled-upon spoon-carving by complete accident about five months before the first Spoonfest. I found the famous Martin Hazell on Facebook (via a friend of a friend) having known him in real life about 30 years before. And on his site were these amazing wooden spoons! I was immediately smitten and determined to have a go myself. I haven’t got fed-up with them yet. I only discovered Breton spoons quite a lot later. People at markets would tell me about Breton wedding spoons, and I (wrongly) assumed these would be like the highly-ornamental but essentially non-functional spoons that were made in Wales to commemorate a wedding. So I ignored them. When i finally took a look at them I was completely blown-away by what was an incredibly strong, popular and local tradition, and by the wonderful spoons themselves.
PF: Care to tell us something about these spoons? I know you’re going to present some of your research, etc when we’re in Plymouth, but how about a teaser? I know you’ve learned to recognize regional variations in spoons…
JM: Breton peasants had precious few paid holidays, a very monotonous diet but an obvious love for a good party. Everyone would turn-out for a local wedding – more than a thousand guests over three days was common. If you could afford to, you contributed some food or drink, while those that could not were nonetheless welcome. Providing a thousand spoons was out of the question in the days before hire companies and party organisers. Each guest was expected come dressed-up in his or her best clothes and to bring their own spoon (which would always have been made of wood) and it appears that the tradition of decorated spoons arose from the very human desire to show off! These so-called wedding spoons were specifically made to be used as party spoons, spoons for best, or show-off spoons and they are highly decorated and often inlaid with coloured wax or even pewter.
Nearly all Breton decorated spoons are made of box wood and something like half of the existing spoons have hinges. These two facts may be related, as box doesn’t grow well here in wet and windy Brittany. You can make a spoon using smaller pieces of less-than-perfect wood if you make it in two halves (this I have tried). Sprigs of box were the foliage that Breton peasants took to church on Palm Sunday (palms don’t grow well here either). The story goes that these box sprigs would be put into the roadside banks on the way home after church, so that they would grow into more box bushes. Frankly, this doesn’t sound like an ideal propagating technique to me, but who knows now?
Before the first world war, not many Breton peasants travelled very far from home and this resulted in very localised styles in everyday stuff like clothing, music, dance, household furniture and even spoons. There are two (possibly three) main regional styles of breton decorated spoons that can be fairly easily recognised. What is beyond question is that by the 19th century they were mainly made by very skilled craftsmen who tended to make sets of near-identical spoons in a local style, rather than just making occasional one-offs. I’m currently trying to track-down records of some of the actual spoon makers, to clarify this, but this is going to take me quite a while yet…
PF: Can you describe some of your recording methods when you study these in collections? I know how to record furniture pieces, but what information are you specifically looking at in spoons? Tracings, templates, measurements?
JM: Basic information like measurements and a description are available from the museums housing the collections. I mainly rely on my trusty iPhone to take photos from every angle so that I can make observations on the spoon shapes and decorations in my own time. Museum reserve collections are rarely kept in over-heated buildings and it can be a very cold day’s work to get a collection looked-at and photographed.
Getting my hands on the spoons allows me to see exactly how the hinges are made, how well they work, why they sometimes break, and the modifications that were made to get the spoon to fold properly (or indeed, to fold at all!). There’s a satisfaction in seeing that someone before me has already made ALL the mistakes I’ve made while trying to get a spoon to fold, plus some mistakes I haven’t tried yet. You really can’t get this from pictures.
Seeing them up-close has also given me some clues about the decorating techniques that are too subtle to see in pictures. What happens when the inlay wax is overheated, exactly how some of the chip-carving has been done, how the metal inlay has been applied… Its also possible to see the subtle signs of wear, that confirm that many of these spoons were regularly used for eating. Then comes the trial & error in making both folding spoons & wax inlay.
PF: Want to tell us something about the challenges in these related but distinct spoon carving disciplines?
JM: Oh my – take a look online at recipes for old-fashioned sealing wax. There are hundreds, and no two are the same. I had a long chat with a friend who is an antique dealer and restorer who gave me some ideas as well. Then I started stinking the house out with melting various combinations of wax, rosin, shellac, turpentine and different pigments – I hate to think what our fire-insurance people would have thought of it all! Just like making home-made milk paint, I have found that different pigments affect the resulting wax in different ways, but even this is not consistent. Factors like how fast the ingredients are melted, or whether it’s stirred during or after melting seem to be important too. The waxes I’m currently using work quite well, but I haven’t nearly finished experimenting yet, but I suspect I never will. This is definitely an art rather than a science! It turns out that pewter inlay is a common technique used by musical instrument makers here in Brittany and I have been able to talk to a few of them about this technique. I still haven’t tried it seriously, but I’m saving it for a later day. One thing at at time!
here’s Jane’s Instagram feed – https://www.instagram.com/janespoons/
I’ve been trying to finish off this chest with 2 drawers lately. I’m close, but have to go to North House Folk School soon, so the last bits will be in 2 weeks. Today I spent making the last 12′ of moldings – out of a total of over 45 feet! Rabbet plane first…
…followed by hollows & rounds….
Late in the day I still had some daylight. I have been using the last 30 or 45 minutes each day to hew some spoons for evening carving…but today I split some reject joinery-oak and started shaving the rear posts for some ladderback chairs. Must be because I’ve been thinking of Drew Langsner lately…
Here’s the inspiration – one of the last chairs from Jennie Alexander’s hand…and Drew’s book The Chairmaker’s Workshop. I had to look up a few things to remind me of what I was doing.
The last time I made these chairs was some shrunk-down versions for when the kids were small, December 2009. These chairs are put away in the loft now, outgrown…
I hope to bend the posts Friday, then leave them in the forms while I’m away. Hopefully there will be some chairmaking going on in March…
I keep hearing bits and snatches of news about things down near Marshall, N.C. – home of Country Workshops. In his newsletter from the last part of 2016, Drew Langsner mentioned that things were slowing down. For 2017 there are only 2 tutorials this summer. So I wrote to Drew, asking “Is this it?” “Yup”, came the answer.Drew showing bowls
End of an era is an understatement. All those years, all those classes, trooping into their house and home. I think it started about 1977 or so. I first went there in 1980, to learn ladderback chairmaking from then-John Alexander. By the mid-80s, I was a regular attendee, and in 1988 a summer intern, ending that season with a large class in timber-framing where we built the “new” barn. Once I got a museum job in the mid-1990s, I didn’t get down to Drew & Louise’s for a while, then went back as an instructor and once a student in 2010. My earlier post about Drew & Louise, and their Country Workshops saga is here https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2012/11/13/how-did-i-get-started-country-workshops-the-langsners-is-how/
This summer will be the end, both of the workshops and the tool store. But Kenneth & Angela Kortemeier,will take up some of where Drew & Louise are leaving off – their new school, in mid-coast Maine, is starting up the same time Country Workshops is winding down. Kenneth has quite a resume, including stints as Drew’s intern, and a period living with John Brown making chairs in Wales.
Here’s the fledgling website, a new place to watch. http://www.mainecoastcraft.com/ Drew told me that part of what Kenneth & Angela will be doing up there in Maine includes taking over some tool sales involving the great tools by Hans Karlsson and Svante Djarv that Drew has helped bring to the US. And more…l-r Dave Fisher, Drew Langsner, Louise Langsner
BUT – one other part of this story. This June, Drew & Louise are coming to Plymouth to be our special guests at Greenwood Fest. I’ve asked Drew to put together a slide history of Country Workshops, and they’ll be around for the festival to meet up with old friends and meet new ones. This is a chance to thank them in person for all the work they’ve done for decades. Many green woodworkers in America and beyond can trace their roots to Drew & Louise, even if they don’t know it…
For I-don’t-know-how-many-years this household did a lot of research into 17th-century topics. Mine of course, was focused on furniture and woodworking; Maureen was a generalist. She left the museum field before I did, about 9 years ago now. We were cleaning & sorting through some boxes today and found some books that someone might like. I listed them on Amazon – but…if anyone out there is interested, we can sort it out. Sorry there’s no woodworking or furniture – I kept all those. you never know when I might get back to writing furniture history…
Paragons of Virtue: Women and Domesticity in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Art, Wayne E Franits, Cambridge University Press, 1995, softcover. $40
Findings Material Culture of Needlework and Sewing, Mary C Beaudry, Yale University Press, 2006. hardcover $40
Trumpets from the Tower: English Puritan Printing in the Netherlands, 1600-1640, Keith Sprunger, E.J Brill, 1994, hardcover – $60
Painting and the Market in Early Modern Antwerp, Elizabeth Alice Honig, Yale University Press, 1998. Hardcover $90
The New Draperies in the Low Countries and England, edited N. B. Harte, Oxford University Press, 1997, hardcover. $60
Normal woodsy bits back soon…
This past weekend was the wrap-up to the joined chest class at Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking. http://www.schoolofwoodworking.com/ One weekend a month, for five months, with homework is a tall order.Matt’s chest front assembled
In addition to the outlay of cash, these students made the commitment of time – that is really striking to me. I appreciate them signing on for this class, and Bob Van Dyke for making it possible. We had some struggles, mostly related to wood supply; and also had a lot of fun making these chests. When I was a student many years ago, Jennie Alexander used to have us all make the same ladderback chair in the class, there was no deviation. I remember once JA suggested just making the chairs, piling them in a heap, and each student taking one home. That didn’t fly, but it illustrated the general notion of a class project.Rick doing more carving
My workshops are usually nothing like that. I seem to be dumb enough to say to each student, yea – you could add this or that, make this change – why not carve the side frames and panels – so there’s a lot of variation in these projects. And because of the amount of work involved, each student was at a different point in their chest. The way the class worked, I’d cover two topics each weekend, – layout, joinery/carving, decoration/tills, floors, etc.
Then I’d wander from bench to bench to see where the students were, and what they needed. In between classes, I’d often send them blog posts that served as notes for what we just did, or what was coming up. When it ran smoothly anyway…here’s pictures. Some awful. some ok.molded edge, peg holes. panel
A pile of chest parts; ready for test-fitting
White balance out the window – but framed now, & panels cut to size.
Stock prep. Dwight lays his planes on their sides, I see.
what are these guys doing rooting around in my chest?
Oh, trying to suss out the till lid scenario.
Tidy bevels on panels.
Rick’s tool box – dynamite from 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
Pine lid installed
Back home in daylight again. Started linseed oil. A few moldings left, some drawer pulls & done. then it goes to Fuller Craft Museum for the exhibition about Plymouth CRAFT.
I have two more oak classes at CVSWW – a weekend of carving in May, and later in the fall, a 4-day class in making a carved oak box. Link at the top. Box dates aren’t set yet, but I think it will be late September or early October. I forget…