Recent project from North Bennet Street School's Cabinet & Furniture Making Program. A low stool from the Georgian period with four different feet - a pad, slipper, trifid and a ball and claw, also with carved knees and an applied shell. Shown here in the finishing stages (two coats of linseed oil, garnet shellac to follow); all that is left is to upholster the slip seat.
After an entire year of waiting and one false start last summer I am finally underway with my dresser. I started planning and attempted to build this dresser last summer in anticipation of our second child but the actual arrival of our daughter and the lack of any bench space was a real obstacle to making any progress. I had thought that this would be the perfect project to get ready for my time at North Bennet Street School but it just didn't happen.
I've been excited about getting back to this and starting over from scratch but it is hard to describe the emotion that comes with wanting to do something for a year and then finally doing it. Not exactly a let down but a sort of letting go. As it happens it is the perfect project for the end of the first year at NBSS. It is essentially another toolbox with just a few changes and on a larger scale to make it a functional piece of furniture. There are not many people renting space at the school this summer and it's been a lot of fun to just work all day, every day.
The design is taken almost exactly from Making Authentic Shaker Furniture. The only changes I've made are to the layout of the drawers, the addition of a chamfer on the underside of the top and an open top to the carcase, which may or may not be a change. The "measured drawings" don't go into much detail. It's a new construction technique for me and I just didn't like the idea of screwing two solid pieces of wood together; it seems like a bit of a waste although the open construction definitely takes longer. When it comes time to finish I'll say more about my paint plans. As with all my projects since starting at NBSS I've used only Old Brown Glue.
So far there are 50 hand cut dovetails plus 12 more in the horizontal and vertical dividers. At least 75 more to come in the drawers. If you trimmed all the fat it's been about 85-90 hours.
Here are some shots of the build so far.*
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*To those whose eyebrows go up when they see the picture of laying out the vertical dividers: I'm doing things out of order. I got a bit ahead of myself on the day I fit the horizontal dividers and just glued them in at the end of the day. Walking the dog that night I realized that I definitely should have fit and glued the vertical dividers in first. As it turns out I think I prefer doing in the way that I did, but only because the drawers are wide enough that I was still able to use my router plane.
Carved panel blanket chest in quarter-sawn red oak with a solid aromatic cedar bottom. In a style commonly called Hadley although carved panel chests certainly predate those made in Hadley, Massachusetts and are found throughout Europe. Check out Peter Follansbee's blog for the real deal.
The only major difference between the chests of the 1700s and this one is that this chest is made of sawn and dried oak rather than split, riven and green timber. The joints are also pinned post glue up rather than assembled with a draw bore. Panels are carved by hand (no routers Tommy Mac!) so that the carving shape is in many ways determined by the sweep of the gouges. (To make my template I just pressed the chisels down on heavy paper in the right sequence.) The background is then stamped for texture and so that it takes the wax differently than the smooth top layer. Turned maple pins between the back legs and the battens make up the hinge. Finished with a 1:4 mixture of caranuba and beeswax which I then colored to my taste. All the joints are glued with Old Brown Glue Liquid Hide Glue.
I'm more than happy to answer any questions although I feel like Follansbee has that pretty much covered.
I'm noticing some splotches of color that I will fix this week before having it photographed by instructor Lance Patterson.
This particular chest is a anniversary present for my wife who has been instrumental in making my time at North Bennet Street School work.
This project wraps up my first year (of two) at North Bennet Street School. I have full size drawings of this, the toolbox I've posted about and other pieces. Those are still on the way.
Lots of progress on the tool box in the past two weeks. I'll let the pictures and captions do most of the talking. Feel free to ask any questions, I'm happy to answer them all. Scanned copy of plans is still in the works.
Only other thing of note that is not evident from the photos is that I have used Old Brown Glue's Liquid Hide Glue for all of the joints in this box. Everyone at school uses yellow PVA glue but I'm attracted to hide glue for a lot of reasons, mostly related to dis-assembly but in part the naturalness of it as well. I was introduced to OBG by Peter Galbert in his Continuous Arm class. He gave each participant a small bottle and I've been using it since. Christopher Schwarz said on his blog that he is in favor of liquid hide glue but from the photo he uses the tite bond brand. I'd love to hear opinions of liquid hide glue and different brands, for or against.
My first semester at North Bennet Street School is officially over. Once the tool box in complete I'll have three requirements: a table, a case piece and a Chippendale chair. That is the minimum, if all goes well I'll have plenty of time left over to build a few more pieces.
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If drafting is considered a form of hazing then the toolbox is a rite of passage. Every student that goes through the Cabinet & Furniture Making Program is required to make the toolbox.
The toolbox is the first large project that is designed to the student's practical and aesthetic choices. There are size and drawer number parameters, and wood species recommendations, but students are able to measure their own tools and plan the tool box accordingly.
I'll try to get the plans up for the toolbox at some point. For now I have some shots of the start of work on the carcass. It's a dovetailed box that will have stopped dadoes for the drawer divider frames. A lapped back and frame and panel lid (in the front) will enclose the box.
I settled on cherry for the primary wood and will be using pine for the drawer parts and poplar for the secondary wood in the divider frames and lapped back. I purchased the cherry from a fellow student, Timm Schlieff, and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was unlike any cherry I had ever seen. As it is an anomaly, I don't really think it would be appropriate for some other projects so I'm glad to be able to use it on the toolbox.
_Almost two full months of drafting make up the first part of the NBSS curriculum. Starting with a simple edge joint the lessons progress to more and more complicated joinery and culminates in full scale drawings of a desk-on-frame and a Chippendale chair. After these exercises students are required to include full scale drawings with their project proposals for the rest of their time at North Bennet.
The drawings shown here are just a few of those that I completed. I'll try to get the full scale drawings up as soon as I can. Note that as a part of the exercise we draw ALL of the visible and hidden lines which is much more than is really practical or even helpful.
we start simple:
and get increasingly complex:
this is one of the last drawings we do before moving on to drafting whole pieces of furniture:
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It's hard to describe what it's like to go to the North Bennet Street School every day. To leave the house, get to the front door, say Good Morning to Lillian, walk up the stairs past the Bookbinding, Piano and Jewelry departments and stop when I get to my bench. I have looked forward to this walk since I started the Three Month Intensive offered by North Bennet and would wonder, what is it that happens on the fourth floor? And since I have been honored to start here as a full time student this walk has lived up to all of my expectations. It doesn't seem like much, does it? Despite the straight forward routine, it is the surroundings that make this everyday event something special.
The atmosphere on the fourth floor, one that permeates the bench rooms, seeps from the demo room where a full wall of sample chair and table legs, in various stages of completion, is displayed, from the binders with photos of completed work by students past and present, from the floor boards as they creek in the same way that they have since students first started walking on them, from the four instructors who are either helping a student of consulting one another as to how best to demonstrate a technique and lastly from the benches and the students standing over them. The atmosphere is one of excellence. It makes the air thick and demands that you slow down as you walk through it.
So what have I done to participate in or contribute to this excellence? Well, I've been flattening this board:
In this photo you can see the difference between using the hand plane across the grain (on the right) which is easier but yields a rough surface and with the grain (on the left) which, with a well tuned plane, can leave behind a glassy, polished surface.
Traditionally a cabinet or furniture maker would have another, larger plane plane for srubbing across the grain but a No. 4 can be used to the same end. Next we'll joint an edge, progress aground the six sides and finally we'll thickness the board. Of course I didn't get it quite flat by the end of the day Friday so I'll probably have to start over on Monday.
Although most milling will occur on the jointer and planer in the future this exercise is a valuable one for learning how to use a hand plane (setting it up to cut and checking that the blade has been sharpened properly) and as an introduction to the way wood works.
In the four weeks leading up to the hand plane exercise the thirteen of us who began this semester have been drafting. Lots of drafting lap joints, dovetails, splined mortises, tapered dovetails, wedged tenons and more. At some point soon I hope to get my drawings scanned so that I can post them here.
I spent thirteen hours at the school today to get the chair finished. I have a new baby coming next week and I knew that if not today then not for a long, long time.
As busy as I was I did try to take a bunch of photos.
Today was devoted to assembling the stool or the lower half of the chair. We drilled holes in our legs for the stretchers and holes in our stretchers for the cross piece. With the "H frame" dry fit we double check the fit in the legs and seat.
After a deep breath we glued up our joints and drove the wedges home.
If yesterday was devoted to the curves of the sitter today was devoted to curves designed to complement the work we did yesterday. As far as comfort goes probably could have stopped with the shaping yesterday but that would have left the rest of the seat looking flat and angular, not exactly the most inviting look.
We also spent some time in the morning taking measurements for the stretchers, the horizontal elements that run between the legs.