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.


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.


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.


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.

20170129 Mason Co COD PSanow

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.


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.



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.


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.


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….


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!


Overall View


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.


Routed groove for banding


Banding laid in before scraping off glue


Sketched out branches


Branches laid out


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


More flippin’ leaves


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


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


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


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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Phase One of Fireplace

Phase One is complete and there will be a hiatus before I can get to the marquetry at the top of the panel.  Lots of other priorities, including 1) vacation, 2) work, 3) prep for an upcoming presentation for Cincinnati Woodworking Club with a working title of”Dovetails: put away that router”, and 4) building Tevye’s house as a centerpiece for an upcoming HHS SRO benefit – theme of “Fiddler on the Roof”.  Not necessarily in that order.


This looks so much more finished to me after looking at that awful brick monstrosity for so many years.

The wood is all poplar, painted of course.  The upper panel is temped in and has no finish yet; I will remove it to do the marquetry later.  The LEDs are from Lee Valley, with a dimmer.  I’m not crazy about the glare directly below the LEDs and may need to see if I can take some of the gloss off.  The really bizarre part was the lower brick section wasn’t wide enough for this concept to work, so I “extended” brick by a course on either side with wood, covered it with Durham’s Rock Hard Water Putty (this stuff is amazing), formed up some mortar lines and it blends right in.  I’m a theatre guy so a little fakery is OK…If they can’t see it from the first row…..

The design is my own.  I used my design training with a refresher from George Walker and Jim Tolpin’s excellent books from Lost Art Press.  I stayed away from the computer, using pencil, dividers and a drafting table to come up with the proportions and layout.  I’m not displeased.  It was never going to be really fancy – I wanted it to be a little casual – the marquetry panel will (I hope) give it just the right touch.

I think Maryanne’s clock has a much better home now.

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I hate my fireplace


When we bought this house nearly eight years ago, I knew I hated this fireplace.  It was poorly executed.  The brick work is pretty poor, with chipped bricks along the edges.  The insert is OK and certainly does heat the room.  The mantle was a rough timber that was twisted a little and held on with two drywall screws and fender washers.  Appalling to say the least.  First world problems for sure, but I wanted something better.

Finally, I had enough and I thought for a long time about what to do about it.  I thought about just adding a nicer mantle and trying to hid the brick supports somehow.  That evolved into covering most of the brickwork – first with panels, then an integrated bookcase.  Then an idea struck me as I was working on some marquetry.

So the fireplace will be painted casework, with some lights in a new cornice.  Above the fireplace, replacing the cheapo art print, will be a large marquetry panel depicting a branch of our beloved/cursed sweet gum tree.  OK, we have two sweet gum trees and we kind of hate the spikey “SDB” (Stupid Damned Balls – of Stupid Dumb Balls to our daughter).  The tree is also sort of fragile too, losing limbs in the slightest breeze.  But, it provides shade and we’ll never have such a large tree in our front yard in our lifetimes if we take it down.  One of the things we loved about the street was the shade provided by all the mature trees.  Sadly there aren’t as many as there used to be, so I’m determined to hang on to this as long as we can.

In a few days I’ll reveal the end of phase one (when it’s done).  It’s all constructed of poplar.  The LEDs are on a dimmer and light the upper panel nicely.  The panel – which will contain the marquetry in phase two – will come along probably this fall.   I found a piece of rotary cut birds eye maple plywood which should pop nicely when finished. Stylistically it will be close to the ambry marquetry work.

So stay tuned

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Ambry on Stand Final


Ambry on Stand

St. Catherine of Siena Church

Fort Thomas KY

Maple, Cherry and Black Walnut.  Shellac and wax finish

Donor: Anonymous


I installed the piece last Tuesday when all involved had a small window of opportunity.  Fr. Stef was there and seemed pleased and was a big help unloading and installing.  My patron was very happy too, though it wasn’t the first time he/she saw it.  Had a bit of a scare with the stand but it turns out the terrazzo isn’t completely level (whew!).  We were in such a hurry I ran out of time to take a photo of the interior.  The interior door is below, during finishing:


All in all this was an interesting and rewarding project.  It was a long road and a lot of fun too.  I was able to exercise my design muscles a little bit.  Here’s where we started last November, though in reality this project started many months before, developing the concept.


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