The colors, man, the colors...

You might remember my post entitled "Who says the 18th century was dark and boring", in which I outlined my plan to recreate this c. 1700 - 1720 joined chest of drawers from Western Massachusetts.
photo from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

I mentioned how colorful it would be when finished. Based on the dimensions, internal photos, and chemical analysis provided by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I was able to build this model in Sketchup. I ordinarily wouldn't go to this trouble, but I wanted to see what it should look like before moving forward.

Iso view of dresser
Side view of panel
The ground painting of this piece is wildly poly-chromatic. Add in the faux graining, faux oystering on the sides, and the vine and floral motifs on the drawers and you have a wild piece. I love it.

I've been busy working on the front of the piece. Rip sawing out legs and stretchers before laying everything out. The trick to a piece like this is to lay out the joinery on all four legs simultaneously, as this will help you produce a square case.  Here are a few pics of the tooling I used to produce this work.

Ripsawing with a vintage 8pt Disston

Rough planing with my trust Mathieson fore plane

Finish planing the stock with my shop built jointer plane

The top and bottom stretchers fitted into their mortises, I am beginning the lay 

 This project will be featured in detail in my upcoming book.

How do you know when your tools are sharp?

The necessity of having a sharp chisel or plane iron with which to do your work is almost universally recognized (a very rare thing in the world of woodworking!). Sure, you can muddle through a job with half-sharp tools, but sooner or later a dull-ish tool will negatively impact your work (or your finger!) as you try to force the tool to do work for which it is not prepared.

I won't engage in the ad nauseum debate over sharpening systems or the use of honing guides that is so prevalent in the woodworking media as a whole. That topic has been beat to death and resurrected so many times that I seriously consider packing a zombie apocalypse bug-out bag every time I venture to an online forum. Pick a system, learn it, use it. I use oil stones freehand because that works for me. It might work for you. It might not. End of topic.

The faces of the sharpening thread apocalypse
My concern here today is knowing when your tool is sharp enough for woodwork. With all the discussion of which system to buy, to what level must a tool be honed, and what stone can I buy to make my edges better (remember, its the archer not the arrow...), there is very little attention paid to the idea of knowing when a tool is actually sharp enough to do the job.With a simple tool like a chisel, it is no big deal to finish honing, try the tool on your work piece, and rework the edge if necessary. However, with a plane, it can be a real pain to sharpen the iron, reassemble the tool, set the iron, and then test the tool only to find out that the edge needs more work. What is a woodworker to do?

My solution to this problem is to obtain a piece of the softest, nastiest white pine you can find. With this wood, the faces and edges are stupidly easy to plane and pare cleanly, but the end grain can be a challenge. The wood is so soft that it simply tears out ahead of a dull-ish tool rather than being cut cleanly, as you can see the following pictures of my sharpening test block after a few cuts with a dull W. Butcher chisel. Please note that this chisel will still shave the hair on my arm and will take a fingernail shaving, two of the much-bandied-about ways to test an edge.

This will not be a good edge for woodwork.

Torn up early wood. 
As you can see, there is significant tearing of the soft early wood in this piece of white pine. This chisel is not currently sharp enough for fine work, but it is sharp enough to cause a serious injury to the user should the chisel be forced to do work, based on the equation Dull Edge x Force = Blood. No exceptions. It gets all of us at one point or another.

It doesn't have any chips in the edge, as I caught this edge before it started to degrade, so it will not need serious attention. After less than 30 seconds of honing on my translucent Arkansas (not an endorsement of a sharpening system, this is just what I use) and about 5 swipes on a strop, this is the same chisel cutting the same piece of pine. Note that the cut is clean as a whistle with no torn up early wood. The effort required to make this cut was virtually non-existent; the chisel wants to do the job!

This is much better.
So, no matter what you use to sharpen your tools. I encourage you to try the "paring end grain white pine" test on a chisel that you consider to be sharp. I've never found a chisel or plane iron which passed this test and then failed to do good work for me in my actual workpiece.

Who says the 18th century was dark and boring?

I'm planning to construct a reproduction of this c.1700 - 1720 Massachusetts chest of drawers. If I'm lucky you might get to see this in print form as well... But in the meantime, I thought you might like a quick look at what is going to be on my bench.

I first spotted this chest of drawers in American Furniture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Early Colonial Period. (which is worth every penny, by the way). I was struck by its proportions and its absolutely vibrant paint scheme.

photo from the Metropolitan Museum of Art
 Just imagine how this would have looked when newly constructed with fresh paint that hasn't aged for 300 years. The ground for the beveled molding on the top and bottom drawers was yellow ochre, with iron red faux graining (the technical term for "paint squiggles". The inside molding for these drawers was a bright orange. 

Remnants of the old orange paint on the interior molding - photo from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Yellow ochre was also used for the fielding on the two short drawers in the middle. The interior moldings around those short panels were originally copper green! Add in the floral work and the vines, as well as the faux "oyster shell" paint treatment on the side panels, and you've got a piece that will really stand out.

I'm making this on speculation, but will be heavily documenting the construction process... just in case my book proposal is picked up. 

What would you say, my dear readers? Would you like to see a book detailing the construction of early 18th century pieces, some like this, others more simple, entirely by hand and written by yours truly? If so, please comment that you would buy that book if it were offered for sale. Thank you!


Another wall-hung box for sale

Sorry to bombard this space with wall hung boxes, but I have another one that I need to rehome.

I bought this one at the Utica Antique Show back in 2010. Unfortunately, it looks like a fair number of the original tools were lost before I found her. There were no chisels in the box and only one small Henry Disston and Sons backsaw with a round handle. The metal planes are all in really great shape, with only very minor surface rust on the castings. They include a Stanley 5 1/2C, a Ohio Tool No 06 corrugated fore plane, a Stanley 10 rabbet bench plane and a Tower and Lyon 9" smoothing plane. The wooden horned planes do have most of the wedges and irons, they are stored in the lower right side drawer. There is a nice 9" I and IJ White draw knife. In addition, there is a carriage makers router draw knife. Lots of miscellaneous small tools in the drawers.

The Ohio metal planes are outstanding workers, as they have nice thick blades. The Stanley 10 isn't broken and should be worth $150 on its own. And the Tower and Lyon smooth is pretty rare. I think the whole lot, box and all, should be worth $750. I'll take best offer, but again this is pick-up only. Call at 517-231-3374 or email me at

Here are the pics I took back in 2010.

SOLD - Wall hung tool chest for sale - SOLD

I bought this a couple of months ago, simply because I couldn't stand to have it left in an antique mall cold and alone... or see it become some "decorative" piece. But, I really can't justify hanging on to it any more. 

Solid mahogany, absolutely beautiful. Most of the tool hanging provisions were gone when I picked it up so it is a completely blank slate on which to engineer your tool solution.  Stunning fretwork swinging arm on which to hang measuring tools, fret saw, etc. And a really cool saw till built into the mirrored door. 

Someone took their time with this thing. Top quality hardware. My guess is that it is late 19th century, perhaps early 20th century.  This box can and should be a real stunner. First $500 OBO takes it. Pick up only. Email me or call me at 517-231-3374 to discuss.

Update: this box has sold. I'm seriously contemplating listing one other similar box. It isn't as decorative but comes with a large number of tools. 

The 2014 Early American Life Directory of Traditional American Craft

I was juried into the Early American Life Directory of Traditional American Craft for 2014. This is a huge honor and one that means a lot in the American decorative arts community. My work will be listed in the Formal / Painted category in the June issue of EAL.

EAL is an incredible resource for anyone interested in the decorative arts. They cover not only furniture, but silver, pottery, glassware, architecture, cooking, the fiber arts, and just about anything else you can think of along those lines. I would encourage anyone who reads my stuff to check out an issue, or save yourself time and just subscribe. You won't be sorry.

Finally, here is what Megan Fitzpatrick of Popular Woodworking Magazine had to say about my inclusion...

I've got some exciting projects coming up. I'm just finishing a Federal-style huntboard for my wife, then it is right back to early styles, including a reproduction of a desk owned by Chief Justice John Marshall, a faux-burl blanket chest and a c.1760 Massachusetts dresser. Plus whatever work comes my way between now and then. And I should have another article or two coming soon, in a couple of different places. So, lots to do and lots to write. Keep an eye on this space for more details.

Till next,