I start each piece by cutting parts out of boards, or some times one board. It’s a stressful time in the process of making furniture. I have a limited amount of material and have to make the best decisions regarding grain and figure. I’ll be working on these parts for a while and when it’s finished the parts will be that way forever.
Then there is a point where the parts start to take shape. The goal is to make each part like it was made of the same piece of wood. The grain should do the same thing in the same place on every leg, post or crest rail. It’s hard to do. You have to be sure the growth rings are facing the same way when cutting out the shapes. Things start to happen quickly at this stage.
This is my favorite time at the shop. Joints have already been cut and can be assembled. The board starts to come back together again and look as if it is completely natural. I’m no longer making smaller boards, I’m making arms, legs, feet!
This is a box I made for my son Isaac’s Baby Book. It also has lots of room for keepsakes. It is based on a box pictured in Wallace Nutting’s Furniture of the Pilgrim Century. The box in the book is from 1670-1690 and held together with nails. I decided to use half-blind dovetails to join the front of the box and through dovetails for the back. Half-blind dovetails can only be seen from one side, so they don’t interfere with the carving on the front.
Inside the box is a till with its own lid, which can be used to prop the top open. There is also a secret compartment. This box belongs to my oldest son, Malcolm, and is pretty much filled up already. I tried make the boxes unique while keeping the design identical. The difference is all in the finish. Isaac’s is painted green over red milk paint with a coat of shellac, and Malcolm’s is red with most of the paint sanded off and a coat of linseed oil. Both boxes are made of sassafras, a local hardwood that is light, aromatic and closely resembles chestnut.
The carving is of a tulip vine, which for me symbolizes new life and continuing growth.
So, here’s a funny thing…you may have already seen this box. It was used as a prop in the John Adams mini-series on HBO! Here it is with Abigail Adams (Laura Linney) and George Washington (David Morse).
The first sign I made for the store was made of maple and basswood. It has a typical trade sign construction consisting of a frame with a board let into a slot cut into the top and bottom rail. The board is shaped at the top and bottom like a Chippendale looking glass frame. The sides have two different Queen Anne chair splat patterns cut out. The posts on either side are turned with different forms taken from William & Mary table legs as well as the drops at the bottoms. They are topped with flames in the styles of Philadelphia and Boston. I painted it with milk paint, a bad choice for something that lives outside.
I re-painted it a few years later with a phoenix bird in red. Taken from a finial on a famous Philadelphia chest-on-chest.
I was looking at some finial carvings from a Boston carver and was inspired to make a new sign. This one had a more eagle like beak but a wonderful long neck and tail feathers.
I carved the moulding around the frame with a water leaf pattern and gilded the Phoenix bird with gold leaf.
When I get the time and inclination something like this happens. Here is Moby Dick and Ahab, carved from a 16/4 chunk of poplar and painted with milk paint. What is it exactly? A toy, a weathervane, I don’t know, but it was inspired by both.
Here’s another piece, carved out of basswood and Spanish cedar. It is carved on both sides each with different faces.