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An Unplugged Woodworker

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17th-Century Utility Furniture & Mannerist Carving
Updated: 35 min 24 sec ago


Sun, 05/05/2024 - 11:01am

I realize it has been a while since last I posted anything, but rest assured, I am back in the saddle again! In my previous blog post, I had just returned from the Society of American Period Furniture Makers (SAPFM) Annual Conference in New Bern, NC, where I had the pleasure of attending a linenfold carving demonstration by Mary May. After a short visit to Seattle to visit my daughters and granddaughter, I set out to build another joined chest, this time with cherry linenfold panels.

With the oak stock for the front of the chest roughed out, I determined the width of the cherry panels. The oak legs are roughly 1-1/8 inches thick by 2-1/4 inches wide. The oak top and bottom rails are 4 inches / 3 inches wide, respectively, by 31-1/2 inches long and 3/4 inch thick. The oak muntins are 5-1/4 inches wide by 14 inches long by 3/4 inch thick. The overall chest (excluding the lid) is 34 inches wide by 15-1/4 inches deep by 24 inches high. Given that The panels rest in a 1/4 inch wide by 3/8 inch deep groove, the center cherry panel is 8-1/8 inches wide by 13-1/4 inches long by 3/4 inch thick. The left and right cherry panels are 6-3/4 inches wide by 13-1/4 inches long by 3/4 inch thick. Whew!

As with most joined chests, there are a lot of mortise and tenon joints. For the most part, I like to use a 3/8 inch thick barefaced tenon with the tenon slightly out of plumb. The tenons at the top and bottom of the muntins are but 1/4 inch, centered on the end of the board.

Now for some linenfold action. 

I started by cutting a 1-1/8 inch wide rebate around the perimeter of each panel, leaving about 1/4 inch thickness around the perimeter. 

Steps with rounded sides using a plow plane and a round molding plane gave the illusion of folded cloth. A hollow molding plane to the left and right of the panel center helped further the illusion.

At this point, out come the carving tools! (1) To carve the scrolls at the ends, I used a 10mm #41 V-tool, 20mm #5, 10mm #7, and 6mm #3 straight gouges, a 1-1/4” bench chisel, a mallet, a pencil, and a couple of rifflers. (2) Pencil in the scroll across the width of the raised area of the panel. (3) Bevel the end of the raised area as shown, curving down to the deeper fold. Redraw the scroll. (4) Note the red and blue lines. Using a V-tool, incise a line along the red lines. Make sure NOT to cut beyond the blue lines. (5) Make sure to leave the pencil line visible. Cut just to the side of it as shown. (6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11) Remove the center section using the V-tool, gouge, and chisel. Take this area all the way down to the level of the perimeter rebate. (12, 13) Using gouges, round the corners of the scroll, getting as close to the pencil line as possible. (14, 15) With a small gouge, hollow out the scrolls to form the folds. (16) Use a small gouge and perhaps rifflers to further clean and form the folds. (17) Most importantly, maintain an unbroken scroll.

The above is for the two side panels. The center panel uses the same techniques. I will let you decide how!

With the face frame complete, I turned the corner with some narrow spalted maple panels. I found this maple board in an antique store in Monroe, Georgia. It spoke to me.

For the back panel of the chest, I used a variation of a construction technique from the Savell Shop in 17th-century Braintree, MA. I learned of this technique through an article in a 1996 edition of American Furniture by Peter Follansbee and John Alexander (Seventeenth-Century Joinery from Braintree, Massachusetts: The Savell Shop Tradition). The back panel slides up from the bottom via grooves in the legs. An offset bottom rail helps secure the panel via pegs. Although the back bottom rail can be tricky, this has become my preferred method!

Here is a photo of the John Savell chest.

Here is my version of the joint at the back bottom rail.

Although the Savell method calls for a groove in the front bottom rail, please realize I am using 3/4 inch stock for my face frame. Therefore, I added a similar bottom rail just behind the face frame. The tongue and grooved floorboards sit atop these rails, secured with wooden pegs.

My panel has double bevels to mate with the 3/4-inch thick rails, as the rails, legs, and panel are all in the same plane. It should go without saying that the floor goes in before the back panels are slid into place and secured.

The lid overhangs the chest 1/4 inch in the back and 1 inch to the sides and front. 3/4 inch thick cleats help prevent any warpage. The lid is attached using snipe hinges.

I finished the chest with boiled linseed oil and turpentine (50:50), adding a few drops of shop-made walnut dye.

It may have seemed like a long wait, but I believe this chest was worth it. Thanks for your patience!