Monday, August 4, 2014

A real c.1780 Pennsylvania slant top desk

I was lucky enough to win a c.1780 stained maple desk from Skinner a couple of weeks ago. I had the desk shipped UPS Freight and, despite the best efforts of the truck driver who rolled the box end over end up to my porch, it it arrived undamaged on Friday. I couldn't be happier to own a legitimate piece of American history.

My desk in my library. That chair is an early 19th century Windsor which I re-seated.
This piece exhibits showcases many characteristics of typical period work. The joinery on the case bottom, even accounting for wood shrinkage, would not pass muster in most shops today. 

The case bottom. Missing one glue block.

Get the truck boys, plenty of room here.

This side is slightly better but still plenty of "errors" in the work.

The slant lid shows significant tearout that has been there for 230 years without people worrying about it.

Oh no! Tearout!!

The case is 42-in high, so you can see how wide the backboards are.

Overall, it just has the right feel for the time period, which is exactly what I try to replicate in the pieces of furniture I make. It clearly has had some repairs which I will document as well, but overall it is a very nice piece.This will be of great use to me in my home, and will be an outstanding reference piece for my furniture work.

If you would like to see more, let me know. Just for kicks, I may build a copy of it, so I may make measured drawings available if there is enough interest.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

MWTCA meet at Tillers International THIS SATURDAY 7-12

Just a heads up that MWTCA Area C is having their annual tool swap meet at Tillers International this Saturday. Starts at 8:00am and runs through lunch (which is provided for the cost of admittance and is usually some of the best barbecued chicken you'll ever have). You have to be a member (or the guest of a member) to attend. The cost is about $15.

For those of who you have never been to Tillers, here is a little about them (from the Tillers website):

Tillers International is a 501(c)3 IRS non-profit organization for international rural development, specializing in farming with oxen. Based in Scotts, Michigan, USA at our Cook's Mill Learning Center, Tillers offers classes in appropriate technology farming techniques, draft animal power, blacksmithing and metal work, timber framing, woodworking, cheesemaking, and many other farming and artisanal skills. Tillers also hosts interns, both international and domestic, and international guests for intensive periods of hands-on training. Whether you're looking for a new hobby, a new land or skill-based livelihood, or an opportunity to contribute your knowledge and skills to an international project, Tillers welcomes you and offers myriad unique, educational opportunities. 

They have a working blacksmith shop, small tool museum, a great woodshop full of hand tools, and they will sometimes get the oxen out for cart rides while MWTCA is there. In connection with the meet, there will be guys selling and trading tools, usually about 10-15 of us will have large tables full of everything from Stanley #1s, infills, wooden planes, chisels, etc. It is a great place to score good quality user tools at a steep discount from the antique stores.

I highly suggest you make it up to Scotts, MI for this meet this Saturday. If you're going to make it, let me know and I'll give the meet organizer a heads up. And if you need a member to sponsor you, just comment here or email me.

Hope to see you Saturday.


Monday, June 23, 2014

Quick half-blind dovetails... the hard part

A large number of 18th century furniture pieces I have studied exhibit deep saw overcuts on the drawer fronts. Some of these extend an inch beyond the baseline and are quite deep into the face of the drawer. They aren't simply to release the outside corner as some posit... they are far deeper than required for that task.

Given our lack of actual written "how to-s" from the period, my interpretation of these marks is that the original maker oversawed the baseline and then continued to saw down to release the inside corner of the waste. This makes waste removal nearly as simple as it is for a through dovetail.

I holdfast my pin board to the bench, face down, for sawing.
Just a demo, so no protective block on the holdfast
This allows me to saw the whole pin face by simply oversawing the baseline. To start, I simply tilt the toe of my saw up, and saw as deeply as I can to the end grain line. After that, I level the saw out and take shorter strokes with the toe of the saw to release all the waste down in the corner. 

Do this on both sides, pick up your chisel (I prefer to use a narrow chisel as this assists in breaking out the grain rapidly with less force needed. 

Once you have most of the waste chiseled on the inside face, put the board vertically in your face vise. Split down with a chisel to remove large chunks of the waste, leaving just a bit of wood to pare out down to your lines.

A couple of final paring cuts and you have a finished socket. Total time for this process in walnut is about 30 seconds (longer in this example because I had to keep stopping to take pictures). This is a fast and repeatable way to make these simple joints.

Bear in mind I'm a hard-core traditionalist and care very little for modern opinions and methods. Those saw cuts are evidence to me, not flaws. The men whose work I seek to understand did their jobs with speed and job-specific knowledge. The modern idea of "every surface is a show surface" is anachronistic to the period in which I have interest. The inside of a drawer front will never be seen by the end user and a true period craftsman would not lavish attention on such a surface when simply oversawing a short distance would speed the process.

You may wish to try this in your own work. Remember, though, the reason I do this is out of fidelity to the past. If you are doing modern work, I would caution you that many see this technique as a "shortcut" or as somehow less valid than spending 20 minutes chiseling with special-purpose tools to achieve a pristine inner surface. I have very little use for those people, but just keep this in mind.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Channel moldings

Channel moldings are commonly seen on seventeenth and early eighteenth century furniture.  They are very simple to do, yet add a nice shadow line that helps to break up an otherwise plain surface, which in this case is the four side rails for my poly chrome bevel molded dresser.

The channel molding is made up of a groove with molded features flanking either side of the groove. Ovolos, cavettos, ogees, and simple roundovers are seen.  These are usually done with a scratch stock and can be done after assembly if so desired. On my piece, the channel molding is a very simple roundover.  It doesn't require a custom scratch stock to make, only a few basic hand tools. I have considered making it just a bit fancier, which can still be done later with a scratch stock should I decide it is required.

Shown here are my Gabriel plow, a Gabriel #5 hollow, a chisel which will be used as a scraper, a mortising gauge, and my work holding setup for this piece.

These Gabriels are genuine 18th century. Very cool!
First I defined the location of the molding with the mortising gauge. In this instance, the channel will be 1/2" wide, 1/4" deep, and 1 1/2" in from the inside edge of the side rail. Take your time and make several light passes with the gauge. Do not try to make a deep line with one pass; you will most likely make a pair of ugly, twisty lines that will not serve their purpose.

With the groove laid out, I then set up my plow plane to make the appropriate cut. For more information on plow planes and how to use them, see my article The Care and Feeding of the Wooden Plow Plane.

Given that a plow is a joinery plane that isn't expected to make attractive surfaces, the bottom of the groove needed a little dressing up. To do this, I grabbed a 1/2" chisel and, using it bevel up at a high angle by dragging it backwards, I scraped the bottoms of the grooves smooth. This has the added benefit of helping to clean up any stray wood fibers from the sides and bottom corners of the grooves. You can see a little chipout in the very end of the groove caused by a marking gauge line that wasn't deep enough. It will not be a problem as this area is exactly what will be molded later on.

Using a chisel as a scraper is a great technique. They dull quickly this way especially in white oak.

Once you have the groove plowed and cleaned up, simply round over the top corners of the groove with an appropriately-sized hollow plane. I used my #5. You could use a chisel if you don't have hollows and rounds.

How it looks against the stiles.

This extremely simple technique adds a nice look to the piece. All four moldings were done in less than 30 minutes. A scratch stock molding wouldn't take much more (if any) time at all, outside of making the tool. I hope you can find a use for this easy technique in your own work.