Project Update

I’m not quite as far as I’d like to be at the end of the weekend, but pretty close.  First the box was dovetailed together.  Its impossible to know exactly how the original was assembled, but I’m 99.9% sure the top and sides are a half-blind dovetail.  I could see evidence of over-cutting the pins which one would normally do if making half-blind pins.  It’s possible the case is all full-blind dovetails but it seems very unlikely to me. That’s a tricky joint and there’s no reason it would be necessary.  So the top of the sides have tails, and the top is half-blind pins.  For the bottom joint, it’s the opposite: the sides are half-blind pins and the bottom contains the tails.  It works nicely with the parts that are hidden by banding.

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Before gluing up the case, I needed to plow the dados for the drawer web frames (drawer blades).  See my prior letter to Mr. Schum(acher) who was a prior owner of the dado plane I used.  The interesting part about the layout was I played around and found that the hard measurements I took very closely matched the rule of thumb for graduated drawers, where each drawer is taller by the height of the drawer blade above.  So in this case, each drawer was 7/8″ taller than the one above.  I decided to use that layout method rather than the hard measurements – only a difference of about 1/8″ and I knew I had some inconsistencies because of the wear on the originals.

After gluing up (I used Old Brown and not hot hide) it was on to roughing out the canted corners.  I thought about making a jig to do it on the band saw.  The challenge is it’s a stopped cant, with a sweep to the hard corner.  I decided to try it with a draw knife, spoke shaves and planes.  It was easier than expected on a sample with really unruly grain.  I cut stop joints before the curve and then hogged off most of the waste with the grandpa’s old draw knife.  I wonder if he ever used it.  Then I carved the sweep with a chisel and cleaned it all up with a block plane, rounded spoke shave, and then a card scraper.

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Layout and Stop cut

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Roughing with a draw knife

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Nearly done, just need to clean up

Next up was to make the web frames.  There are four of them.  The front is exposed so that’s cherry.  The sides and back are poplar.  The frame is built with mortise and tenon.  The back has a groove plowed in which is aligned with the mortise.  I don’t know if the cherry front is also grooved, so I decided to to it.  I think they used the groove to locate the joinery – that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  The tenons are haunched on one side: I can’t tell if that’s what was done but seems like good craftsmanship.

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Before cutting off the horn

So here’s where we are.  I need to wrap up the back of the web frames (8 more mortises) and then trim them for the canted corners.  Those won’t go on until the inlay is done.  Next I’ll put on the back.  Then it’s on to the leg frame.

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Enough for tonight

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Dear F. Schum

Apologies if I got your name wrong.  It could be Schumacher I suppose if you abbreviated it, or maybe something altogether different.  Anyway, I have your 7/8″ Ohio Tool Co. Dado plane.  I wanted to you to know it went back into service today and performed very well.

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A few years ago I bought this plane from a tool dealer.  A 7/8″ dado seemed a useful size and I didn’t have one.  But it’s sat on my shelf, waiting to be used.  I can’t recall what I paid but I’m sure it was in the neighborhood of $40.  I’ve done a bit of research and it’s hard to say how long ago you bought this plane new, perhaps in the late 1800’s or even the first part of the 1900’s. It looks like it cost less than $2.00.

Greetings from 2017.

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To some it would be a surprise that anyone is using a wooden plane like this today.  In fact, it’s a bit uncommon for most people to build furniture at all.  Remarkably though, there seems to be and upswing in people making furniture, or at least we know about each other.  Maybe I’ll explain the internet some other time.  Some of us use electric power tools, some use hand tools, and still others use both.  I’m in the latter category for the most part.  I use power tools for some things, but more and more I’m using hand tools.

Another thing might come as a shock to you.  I make furniture for fun.  It’s pure speculation on my part, but I assume you made your living building furniture, casework, or performing carpentry.  We know that the furniture makers of the past were working for food; some think they were a few days from going hungry.  I don’t know if that describes you.  Today, we have time (sometimes) to pursue hobbies.  Woodworking and making furniture is mine.  Perhaps silly to you, but to me it’s enjoyable.  If you were around now, you would see that I could do worse things with my spare time!

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I’m building a chest of drawers, and on the original the frames between drawers look to have been 7/8″ thick.  I can’t tell if they were grooved into the sides, but it seems a safe bet and solid construction technique.  So, that’s what I’m doing.   I didn’t have to do much to get your plane working.  The body was nice and straight.  I spent about 15 minutes grinding and tuning the iron.  Another five minutes was spent on the nickers.  I ran a test piece and it worked like a champ.

When I got to the carcass sides, I nailed in a batten and went to work.  It didn’t take long to make the dadoes.  Today, most woodworkers would use a table saw with a dado blade or a router and guide (routers are a bit different than the router you would know).  I decided to do it this way and I don’t think it took much longer than with a router.  I knew if I made a mistake it wouldn’t be nearly as disastrous as with a power tool.  And it sure was quieter to use the dado plane.

Anyway, I thought you’d like to know this tool is still working a century or more after you bought it.

 

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Mason County Chest of Drawers – The Materials

Since beekeeping isn’t going to work out this year, we turn to the main hobby and hope for better results…

This early 19th C piece is almost entirely cherry, likely from the region.  According to the descriptions in The Tuttle Muddle exhibit catalog and my own observations, the sides and top are solid, single pieces of cherry.  The top is thick – nearly an inch and the sides just a little over 3/4″.  The top seems to have a long split but it’s quite intact and I don’t think it’s where two boards join.  The bottom, since it’s hidden, was two pieces.

So this is one of the first problems – where do I find 5/4 cherry better than 22″ wide?  My local sources ended up dry.  When Midwest Woodworking was closing down, the wide cherry had already been picked over (I did look).  That left me with the various lumber yards in PA, where the cherry grows on trees.  I looked on Irion Lumber‘s site and found a matched table top set at 7-ft long.  Perfect for what I needed to make a top, bottom, and two sides.  Not cheap, but it turned out a fellow woodworker was stopping at Irion soon after I put out the call. He saved me a trip I didn’t have time to make.

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The secondary woods seem to be poplar with a little cherry and even walnut hidden in places.  Poplar is my usual go-to drawer material, so that’s easy.  A trip to CR Muterspaw took care of that.

Now the hard part.  I have no machine that can flatten a 22″ wide board.  Of course there’s no way in hell I’m going to rip and reassemble as I’ve read some people have done.  So time for the Hand Plane Workout.  I’m pretty confident in my ability to four square a board with hand planes, but I’ve not done anything this big.

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This board – it will be the bottom due to a small, tight knot, had some cup but not much wind.  I started by working down the two edges.  I started with the Jack, but quickly realized the lighter Scrub plane was a better tool for the job.   All this is working across the board.  It didn’t take long to work up a sweat.  Too much sitting in my day job.

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Checking to see if I’ve removed all the wind in the board.  Look closely and you can see the scrub plane tracks.  I work the board across, and then on opposing diagonal strokes so I can see what I’ve removed and to sort of lower the board all together.

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Next comes the fore plane to level out the high spots, then the smoother to get a near-final surface.  So above it’s flat and ready to turn over to do the other side.   It feels good to the hand with no ridges.  Edges are marked all around with a marking gauge for the final thickness, then I use the same process to get to the gauged line.  In the end, the board should be of consistent thickness.

When I finished both sides of four boards the chip and shaving pile was impressive – more than a large contractor bag’s worth.  I should have no trouble starting fires for a while.

Just don’t bring a micrometer to check for flat – it’s close enough for wood.  This ain’t the Space Shuttle.

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We Need a Plan

The sad part of this project is there was more than a year between the time I measured the piece and the time I was able to draw it.  Then another 9 months before I cut any wood.  On the plus side I have lots of frequent flier miles and I’m Hilton Honors Diamond for another year.  Don’t let anyone tell you travel is glamorous.

Late in 2016 I dug out the notes, photos, and story sticks I created from my trip to MESDA and started to create a drawing.  It was a great opportunity to recall what I saw and figure out how it’s constructed.

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Drawer runner blades with applied stops.  Too bad I couldn’t take it apart.  It would have been much easier to figure it out.  For some things, I’ll just have to use typical construction techniques.

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Inside of a drawer.  See the evidence of refinishing.  Also Calvert seems to over-cut his pins too.  At least I’m in good company.

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Looking inside, on close examination the over cuts of the dovetail pins in the top show how the top is attached.  Lots of half-blind dovetails in my future.  Also it looks like there’s a dado and mortise in the back drawer runner with a tenon into it.  It’s hard to tell how the runners fit into the sides.  My inclination is a dado.

After a few evenings of looking at the photos and measurements, I produced a drawing.  No CAD for this one.  It was fun to use vellum and pencil again.

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Next up, finding wide cherry.

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Now a Kentucky Piece

I’ve lived in the Bluegrass state for more than 20 years but have never necessarily felt like it was part of me (or I was part of it).  Yes, I vote and I love my little town, but I sure don’t bleed Wildcat Blue.  I’m here because of family and proximity to downtown Cincinnati.  Really I’m a Buckeye in the Bluegrass State.

The furniture I like to build is not really of this region.  I like to build late 18-th C. to early 19th C. stuff; let’s face it – this area was not especially well populated at the time (at least compared to the east).  There is Cincinnati Art Carved furniture from the mid-19th C. that’s heavily influenced by the region’s German artisans.  That stuff doesn’t appeal to me as a maker, even if it is amazing.  Here in Kentucky there’s the Berea area, where the Shakers made very neat and tidy pieces.  I’ve done a little Shaker and I like it.  Then I discovered something from this state that is altogether different.

After my first SAPFM MidYear Conference at the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA) in late 2012, I saw a Facebook post from the museum noting they had acquired a “Masterpiece of Kentucky Furniture”.  As soon as I saw the single image of that chest of drawers, I knew I had to make it.   At the time I was hot to build a Roxbury clock (completed 2014), so I waited a bit.  It would be there when I was ready.

Sometime later, maybe in early 2014, I contacted Daniel Ackermann at MESDA.  That’s when I found out the chest of drawers was on loan to Colonial Williamsburg for an extended period while MESDA created a new exhibit.  I was out of luck until 2015.  I did find out there was a museum catalog from an exhibit at the Headley-Whitney Museum (Lexington) in 1997.  I managed to get a copy of the catalog on inter-library loan (until I found a copy on Ebay or abebooks.com some time later).  That further whetted my appetite.

In October 2015 finally I got to visit the piece.  It was a very significant week for me because the day before the visit, I made the connection that led to my current consulting gig.  It was a very good week (all the better was it was a vacation with my wife!).

Daniel met me at the appointed time.  The exhibit was not yet open and wouldn’t be for another week or two as they finished the lighting and signage.  So I had all the time I needed to measure, photograph, and record the chest of drawers.  It was fantastic.  The only disappointment was it had to remain on it’s stand, so I couldn’t clearly look at the back.   But otherwise I had full access.  We took the drawers out and I all but crawled inside it.  I was there for more than 4 hours.

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Chest of Drawers, attributed to Gerrard Calvert (1765-1840), Mason County, KY.  Cherry with Poplar secondary woods, light and dark inlays.  Circa 1795-1800

The 1997 exhibit catalog suggests it was the the best of a series of “bandy-legged” chests of drawers and sugar chests from the Maysville, Kentucky area.  All are attributed to a shop that included three makers: Calvert, Tuttle and Foxworthy.  The attribution of these pieces is based on one simple marking of “P. Tuttle” in one piece, their similarities. and historical records from the period.  We don’t know a lot about these guys.  Read more in The Tuttle Muddle if you can find a copy.  But considering the area – even if Maysville was a happening place – this was high style furniture.

The piece itself seems a bit beat up.  In the 1997 exhibit photos, both the front knee corner blocks are missing, so there’s been some repairs (and nicely done).  On close examination, the left front leg was badly damaged.  The veneer is chipped and repaired in places.  The stringing/banding is missing or replaced in various areas.  I’m not sure I buy the “original” finish argument, though a well-alligatored clear finish can be seen. Some of the hardware is crooked.  There used to be locks on every drawer.  It’s an honest piece but all in all intact.

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I can’t wait to build it.

 

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Ten Long Months

It’s been about 10 months since I’ve last spent time on this blog.  I’ve been experiencing a serious woodworking lapse since I finished the fireplace.  It’s not for lack of trying, and there have been a few small projects.  None of it fine woodworking though!  A real day job sure does put a cramp on a hobby.

In January I built bee hives.  Because I don’t have enough to do, I decided to start raising bees here in our back yard.  Of course I didn’t want to buy all the woodenware.  I did buy the frames, but built the hive boxes and related stuff.  The bees seem to be doing well, but no honey this year.  They seem to be strong as we head towards fall, and that’s all I can hope for.

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Above, the homes of Regina (right) and Lucy (left).  Just to show how things have been going, here’s what it looks like on the inside.

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We also went though a major back yard renovation.  It started when I rolled the mower on the hill one day.  After that I knew it was time to fix the grade and perhaps change things around.  Like every other home renovation project, it developed into a great big “what if…” exercise.  Soon there was a fire pit and retaining wall in the plan.   So of course we needed some chairs to go around that fire pit….

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Yes, there are two different designs with subtle differences.  Think of it as a design refinement.  Its tough to find plans for a curved back Adirondack Chair, the design came from Fine Woodworking but there really weren’t any detailed drawings other than an overall concept.  They are very comfortable and we look forward to using this as summer turns to fall.  The fire pit makes great ‘smores.  Props to our landscaper John at Our Land Organics and his subcontractor that built the great dry laid retaining wall.

In August I spent a weekend with Don Williams at www.donsbarn.com.  We spent the time learning historic finishing techniques.  Don’s a great guy who is very smart about finishing and furniture.  Fascinating stuff.  It’s really remarkable what one can do with beeswax (yes, there IS a theme today) and shellac.  The techniques I learned will be invaluable.  I’m now a shellac evangelist.

There’s some light at the end of the tunnel with work I think, so it’s time to start on the next project.  It’s a project I’ve been planning to build for years.  I managed to measure a piece about 2 years ago in a major museum.  With their permission of course!  I drew it early last winter and have been trying to find time to make the piece.  I’m gathering materials.  Hopefully chips will be flying soon.

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Fireplace Complete!

As always I intended to put up some process shots as I went but again I just never got around to sitting down at the computer.  Maybe its because I spend so much time in front of a computer.  Maybe it’s because at some points a marquetry panel is not very photogenic!

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Overall View

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Panel Detail

A few shots are below showing the process of building up the marquetry panel.  It started with a nice piece of rotary cut bird’s eye maple plywood I picked up.

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Routed groove for banding

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Banding laid in before scraping off glue

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Sketched out branches

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Branches laid out

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Sawing out lots and lots of leaves (not only am I raking the damned things, I’m cutting them out too!)

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More flippin’ leaves

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Gotta make Sweetgum balls too.  These are three layers, with the top layer made like a fan so they “radiate” from the center.

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The first leaves (which is roughly what the tree looks like outside…)

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Cutting in more leaves.  Lots of glue and cleanup still to do.

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The panel before adding stems to the leaves, veining, and cleanup.

Finish is Super Blond Shellac and wax.

This was a fun project.  Started at the beginning of July and finished by my deadline (Thanksgiving – barely…).  We even had a fire on Turkey Day and it was just, pleasant.

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