CONGRATULATIONS TO KAARE AND BILL

On July 8th at our Annual Trade Luncheon, Bill Pavlak and Kaare Loftheim received recognition for reaching individual milestones with Colonial Williamsburg.

Bill Pavlak achieved Journeyman status.

BILLJOURNEYMANKaare, the Anthony Hay Shop supervisor, congratulates Bill while Jay Gaynor looks on.  Bill’s “Initiation Hazing” will come later.

 Kaare Loftheim received recognition for 35 years of service.

KAARES]Which means Kaare has worked at the shop 10 years longer than the 18th century shop existed.

Anyone who has stopped by the shop will agree Kaare and Bill are tremendous assets. On a personal note, they make coming to work a pleasure.

All their bad jokes aside.

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Thanks again guys and here’s to many years to come.

Brian

 

 

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My, what big feet you have…

Foot of the 1707 Philadelphia Escritoire.

Foot of the 1707 Philadelphia Escritoire.

As I begin working on the 1707 Philadelphia Escritoire (the English also call this a scriptor, if you lack confidence in your French pronunciation), I am scrambling to find material of sufficient thickness.  The case parts on this are really heavy as are the bun feet.  At 4 1/2 inches in diameter, these feet have to come out of a substantial block of walnut.  Unfortunately, our inventory of seasoned walnut only goes up to 4 inch thick stock – we are not timber framers after all.  When Hurricane Irene shoved through Williamsburg three years ago we ended up with quite a bit of walnut to be sawn and seasoned.  At the time, Mack Headley decided that we ought to have a few heavy timbers  cut and set aside for those unusual projects that come along now and then.  So out there in the stacks are some really heavy boards (8 inches square) and some less heavy, heavy boards (5 inches square).  That is good news for my feet, but you know the rule for air drying lumber: one year for every inch of thickness.  Hurricane Irene was in 2011, it is now 2014, this board is 5 inches thick, and it has been at the bottom of the stack – raised off the ground, but next to the soggy Williamsburg earth nonetheless – sucking in moisture while it is losing moisture.

Well I think we’ll be able to use one of these five inch boards, but I need to treat things a little differently than usual.  Because the feet are independent of the case itself, it should be reasonable to work them somewhat green and have them get along with the more seasoned wood in the case.  I wanted to get this stuff inside and cut up as soon as possible then do something to retard the drying somewhat.  Here are some shots of how I am handling this.

The 5" square blank was lurking in the shadows at the bottom of this stack.

The 5″ square blank was lurking in the shadows at the bottom of this stack.

Just under 5" square this board was ready for rough planing and then cutting into three lengths.

Just under 5″ square this board was ready for rough planing and then sawing to length.  I cut enough for the four feet plus one extra, just in case.  I cut this up in three lengths: two which contain enough wood for two feet and one for the extra.

I think this is nicely quartered stuff, Brian says it looks really flat sawn.  Tilt your head Brian.

I think this is nicely quartered stuff, Brian says it looks really flat sawn. Tilt your head Brian.

Blanks with two faces squared and then corners knocked off.

Blanks with two faces squared and then their corners knocked off.

I sealed the end grain with leftover seed lac varnish (the nasty stuff at the bottom of the jar with all the dregs and dross.

I sealed the end grain with leftover seed lac varnish (the nasty stuff at the bottom of the jar with all the dregs and dross).

I packed the blanks in a box with shavings.  Hopefully this will allow them to dry, but slow things down enough to reduce the risk of checking, splitting, cracking...   We'll see how they look  in a few weeks.

I packed the blanks in a box with shavings (I was lacking a period appropriate container). Hopefully this will allow them to dry, but slow things down enough to reduce the risk of checking, splitting, cracking…
We’ll see how they look in a couple of months.

In other words, I got some material that looks sound and inherently stable.  I have roughed it out and will now leave it in the shop environment to adjust.  Because there is such a big risk of checking, I took steps to reduce it (sealing the end grain and packing them in shavings). If this doesn’t work, the odds are that I will find out when I take them out of the box and not after I have turned them…I hope.

Bill Pavlak.

Posted in Casework, Turning, Wood | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Did somebody sign something in Philadelphia?

Drawing, Studying, Thinking...

Drawing, Studying, Thinking…


I have spent a good portion of this Independence Day thinking about something signed in Philadelphia in the eighteenth century.  No, it’s not what you think.  It’s Edward Evans, not John Hancock et al.  It’s 1707, not 1776. It is a walnut escritoire, the earliest documented signed and dated piece of Philadelphia furniture. (Note: if you click on that last link search 1958-468 to get our curator’s write up and photos of the piece.)

An escritoire made in Philadelphia by Edward Evans in 1707.  Here it is on display at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum at Colonial Williamsburg.

An escritoire made in Philadelphia by Edward Evans in 1707. Here it is on display at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum at Colonial Williamsburg (accession number 1958-468).

Here's the name stamp and date on the bottom of an interior drawer.

Here’s the name stamp and date on the bottom of an interior drawer.

I will be building and presenting this piece at the next Working Wood in the Eighteenth Century Symposium.  It looks like this coming year’s theme will be desks.  We are pretty excited about this really early piece of American cabinet work and another impressive example from our collection that we’ll reveal in the coming weeks.  Outside speakers and additional pieces are still being worked out, so look out for more information soon.

I look forward to sharing many interesting details about the escritoire with you online and at the symposium.  The construction techniques, workmanship, multitude of secret compartments, and design are all pretty fascinating and a bit different from the “normal” ways of working we like to imagine existed.  For now, I need to figure this thing out and start making some sawdust and shavings.  Really, I need to figure this out – I confess, I spent two full days with this behind the scenes and still managed to miss a secret compartment!

Here is my version of the piece so far:

You gotta start somewhere...

You gotta start somewhere…

Best wishes to all of you on this day of celebration and reflection.

Bill Pavlak.

Posted in Casework, Desks, Shop Happenings, Symposium | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

I love wood! (I mean that with sincerity and sarcasm)

You know those people who wear t-shirts with “I Love Wood” printed across the chest?  Perhaps you are one of those people – it’s okay, I’m not making fun.  Even if it is not a part of my wardrobe, I, and hopefully all woodworkers, share the sentiment.  Wood is great for a lot of reasons – of course.  The thing is, and this rarely gets expressed in t-shirt form, wood is also one of the most obstinate, frustrating, temperamental, and, well, horrible materials to work with.  Everybody knows that too.  Here is my little story about wood’s dual nature.

Back on Election Day of 2008 I began work on a pair of mahogany cradles for the 2009 Working Wood in the 18th Century Symposium (bedroom furniture was that year’s topic).  The idea was to take this beautiful piece of mahogany, 8′ x 20″ x 1 1/2″, and break it down into two 4′ lengths and then resaw each of those sections for the sides and ends of each cradle.

Here's the rough sawn mahogany board that was supposed to yield head, foot, and side boards for two cradles.  This board was well seasoned and had been in our inventory for about twenty years at this point.  Though rough in texture, it was remarkably free of cup, bow, and twist.

Here’s the rough-sawn mahogany board that was supposed to yield head, foot, and side boards for two cradles. This board was well seasoned and had been in our inventory for about twenty years at this point. Though rough in texture, it was remarkably free of cup, bow, and twist.

It took about two hours to resaw each of these four foot lengths – or roughly one half hour per foot.  We thought that was a pretty good speed – twenty inches is a lot of width to move the frame saw through and such wood is best not treated cavalierly.  This is marathon sawing, not sprinting.

Here former journeyman cabinetmaker and current joiner, David Salisbury and I resaw the first of two four foot lengths.

Here, former journeyman cabinetmaker and current joiner, David Salisbury and I resaw the first of two four foot lengths.  Notice the wedges to open up the kerf a little bit.

Almost there!  After making our way through a little over half of the board's length we flipped it end for end in the vise and started sawing from the other direction.  Things seemed to be going very well...

Almost there! After making our way through a little over half of the board’s length we flipped it end for end in the vise and started sawing from the other direction. Things seemed to be going very well…

Sometimes with resawing, as with all sawing, things start to bind as tensions in the wood reveal themselves.  We noticed a little of this with the first board and placed wedges in the kerf to open things up (as is visible in the second photo above).  The second board seemed to have a good deal more tension.  When things really start binding and the saw seems to be fighting with me, I normally assume I am doing something wrong, or, with this saw, that the other person is doing something wrong (sorry other person, but you probably blame me too).  In truth this is one of the greatest difficulties with a two-person frame saw: if the two sawyers are not completely in synch, things start binding.  When this happens we troubleshoot the problem, make corrections, and saw forth.  If no corrective measures work then we start to worry about the board being ill tempered.  We drove our wedges deeper and kept cutting.

With the sawing complete and the boards given a few days to adjust to their new thickness, I commenced to plane them flat and smooth.  Head, foot, and side boards were all coming along nicely until I learned that it wasn’t bad sawing that caused all of that binding.  It was something in the wood.  Of the four boards produced by the resawing, three were beautiful and well behaved while one was decidedly difficult.  That 4′ x 20″ x 5/8″ board developed a horrible bow, cup and twist.  I planed as best I could, but there was no way to remove these defects and keep my thickness.  Before rejecting this piece – it was pretty enough for more effort – we decided to wet and over-clamp it in an effort to bring it back in line.  (N.B., this technique deserves a full explanation in a separate post.) This worked, but after a few days the board sprung back to its deformed state.  Perhaps more water and more clamping would do the trick.  Nope.  By this point we had decided extraordinary measures were needed to make this board flat.  If damp rags and over-clamping worked on occasion, perhaps it was time to make use of that stream that runs under the shop.  In early 2009 I pulled out a nonpartisan and timely pun to make this thing conform: water boarding.

Water boarding

We saturated this board by submerging it in the stream outside the shop for a day. Surely we could make it give up the bow, cup and twist.

After a week of aggressive over-clamping we had a much flatter board.  Over another week of waiting we watched some irregularity creep back in.  At this point, I decided to make a go of it and cut out two cradle sides.  They nested together in the board in this way:

The two cradle sides nested together in the board like this.

The two cradle sides nested together in the board like this.

Most of our trouble was in the middle of this board.  Some of it got cut out, but most of it came right back after the sides were sawn apart. For reasons other than this piece of wood, I decided that one cradle was enough and went back to worrying about cutting compound angled dovetails (more on that in a future post).  These two cradle sides have kicked around the shop for the past five years and in a flurry of spring cleaning I came across them again.  Here is the cradle that I made from this beautiful piece of mahogany:

Mahogany cradle constructed by the author (2009).

Mahogany cradle constructed by the author (2009).

Here’s the cradle I didn’t make out of that same beautiful piece of mahogany:

It was not supposed to be a Bombay cradle.

It was not supposed to be a Bombay cradle.

I bet someone can explain this scientifically, but for most of us this is the nature of our chosen material, indescribably beautiful and infuriatingly difficult.  The sides of the good cradle were cut from the same section of the original board as the bad sides: they were essentially book-matched.  How could one half of that thickness stay so flat while the other went so wonky?

I don’t know, but I do know to account for surprise.  It is part of the job.

I love wood!

Cradle

Yeh, I #@$!%& love wood.

This board has problems!

Maybe something like that last sentiment should be added to the back of those t-shirts…

Bill Pavlak.

Posted in Casework, Miscellaneous Forms, Shop Happenings, Symposium, Wood | 7 Comments

Inaugural Meeting of the Tidewater SAPFM chapter

The Society of American Period Furniture Makers has a new chapter catering to eastern Virginia and North Carolina.

First of all, a special thanks to Bill Caillet and the folks at the Norfolk Woodcraft for their hospitality and letting SAPFM use their classroom space. Also, getting woodworkers out of the shop can be a Herculean task, but thanks to Roger Hall, we had over 30 people.

Roger Hall opens the meeting.

Kaare Loftheim answers questions about the Benjamin Seaton Tool Chest. In the background to the left you can see the full chest with saw till. The chest is on permanent display in the Hay shop and if you’re interested, Jane Rees’ book on the Seaton tool chest can be purchased through The Tools and Trades History Society, www.taths.org.uk.

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Ben Hobbs of Hertford, North Carolina and the 2011 Cartouche Award winner brought 2 chairs. He discussed the process of measuring a chair and important measurements used to build templates.  Mr. Hobbs has a bespoke furniture business and conducts workshops at his shop in North Carolina on building these chairs, hobbsfurniture.com 

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Mr. Hobbs’ Reproduction of an Edenton, North Carolina Armchair, 1745-1765 MESDA and Colonial Williamsburg both have versions of the 18th century chair.

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Kaare and I brought a van full of furniture made by the Hay shop over the years. I’m showing a drawer pulled from the Gentlemen’s writing Desk from the Hay shop wareroom.

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Ray Journigan demonstrates the layout for a flame finial that sits atop a tall case clock he’s built. Ray also discussed the process of carving a swan neck pediment and matching it to the side molding. Ray teaches classes on these subjects at the Woodcraft in Norfolk.

 

Ray’s Clock.

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Shawn Nystrom brought in his 19th century cabinetmaker’s tool chest complete with tools. It proved these things were not lightweight and portable. Forgive the comparison, but it was like a circus clown car. Tools kept coming out of this box. In the photo to the left, there are 4 trays packed with drill bits, chisels and small hand tools.

The mission of SAPFM is to pursue the following goals:

  • To create a forum for the understanding, education, and appreciation of American period furniture.
  • To develop and encourage the use of standards and ethical practices in the reproduction and conservation of period furniture
  • To offer membership to all with an interest in period furniture
  • To assist members with the identification and location of resources including people or organizations having specialized expertise
  • To conduct public exhibitions for the recognition of members’ work.

If you’re interested in information on SAPFM, goto their webpage: www.SAPFM.org 

Brian

 

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Every Piece Has a Story

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Our Gracious Hosts

Several weeks ago we had the opportunity to visit the home of a friend. I had understood  that he had a significant collection of period furniture, but we were unprepared for what we saw.  After his wife treated us to a cup of coffee, fresh fruit and a delicious piece of sweet bread we started to explore. The walnut drop leaf table in the dining room had rails and legs very similar to tables attributed to the Anthony Hay shop in Williamsburg.

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A Williamsburg Table?

“And those side chairs next to it. Aren’t they from the ‘Walker school’”.

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Walker Side Chair

We weren’t out of the dining room yet and there were still more Virginia pieces. On the other side of the dining table stood a Thomas Miller side chair from Fredericksburg, Virginia. I replicated a more ornate version of the same chair more than twenty years ago. I was really starting to feel at home.

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Miller Side Chair

We moved into the living room.  More surprises to come. Two  beautiful Philadelphia side chairs with shell carved crest rails and trifid feet. The tilt top table between the chairs looked familiar; our host confirmed that it was Norfolk, Virginia.

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Norfolk Tilt Top and Philadelphia Chair

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On the other side of the room stood another very familiar piece. If you have ever been by our shop in Colonial Williamsburg you’ve seen it just inside the door, a John Seldon chest of drawers. The original that we replicated seventeen years ago has been at Shirley Plantation since the 1770′s, and here was another almost identical to it. This case piece has the same pull out under the top with scratched cock bead, the same progression of drawer heights with applied cock bead, the same drawer construction, etc., etc.. I felt like I was back in Colonial Williamsburg.

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John Seldon Chest of Drawers

We all enjoyed the exploration.  Here, Brian is looking at a nineteenth century New York sewing table, and Bill and Ted are inspecting an early stretcher base table.

 

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Bill and Ted

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New York Sewing Table

You might have recognized the corner cupboard at the beginning of the blog.  That was the first of several eastern shore pieces that we had the opportunity to see.

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Inside the Eastern Shore Corner Cupboard

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The Paint History of Another Eastern Shore Piece

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Paneled Six Board Chest

After a delicious lunch served by our gracious hostess, there was more to come. Being in the business of replicating eighteenth century work, we were especially interested in period tools.

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There were examples of just about every category of woodworking tool,

Claw Hammer

Claw Hammer

Wedge arm Plough

Wedge arm Plough

 

 

 

 

Wooden Brace

Wooden Brace

and some that completely stumped us. Any ideas?

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What is it?

There was much more, but I’ve got to stop somewhere. Museum collections are just a big tip of the iceberg. Get out there and explore period homes, private collections, auctions. You never know what you will find.  For me, it’s the story behind the pieces that I find so interesting. Material culture is not dead. Every piece has a story!

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 Kaare

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Symposium Aftermath

Hay Shop in Winter Clothes

Now that the 2014 edition of the Working Wood in the Eighteenth Century Symposium is over and all of our attendees are (hopefully) back home safe, sound, and ready for another year of period furniture making, we thought we should probably get to work finishing up those pieces we demonstrated on stage. Before we do that though, we wanted to offer up a sincere expression of our gratitude to all who attended.  It’s great to see so many familiar faces along with some new ones as well.  A lot of work goes into preparing these conferences, but the period furniture makers family reunion atmosphere you all help create makes the effort more than worth our while.  We thank you and hope to see you all again next year – that includes you too, readers who could not make it.  We’ll let you know when we have a theme for next year worked out.

Turnings

Cabinetmaker Brian Weldy is just moments away from final assembly on the gate leg table.

I mentioned to folks that the end of the Symposium effectively marks the beginning of the new year for us in the Hay shop.  Here’s our collective resolution: to be more active bloggers.  That means we’ll keep you up to date on our progress with the early gate leg table, the Buckland and Sears sideboard, all the other shop projects underway, and any random musings about eighteenth century cabinetmaking we might have.

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Bill Pavlak and Kaare Loftheim are progressing with work on the Buckland and Sears Sideboard. Here’s where we are on the front rail There is still a lot to do!

We would like to extend our congratulations to W. Patrick Edwards, the recipient of Society of American Period Furniture Maker’s 2014 Cartouche Award for lifetime achievement.  Patrick has spent the last 45 years studying and building pre-industrial furniture with period appropriate tools and techniques – a man after our own hearts.  Whether or not you are familiar with his work and writing, I encourage you to look him up: his blog, his website, and The American School of French Marquetry, which he runs.  For what it’s worth, his example was a real inspiration in my own decision to head down a path of historically informed cabinetmaking about a decade ago.  It was real pleasure for all of us here to meet Patrick and his wife and “talk shop.”

The Symposium also gave us the opportunity to work closely with MESDA and its gracious staff, especially Robert Leath and Daniel Ackermann.   We were also pleased to have Steve Latta back at the conference this year, as any opportunity to watch him present and teach is always welcome indeed.  Steve’s willingness to expand his presentations to accommodate a last minute schedule change was more than kind and we’re so grateful.  Our own Colonial Williamsburg joiner Ted Boscana also deserves a mountain of thanks for expanding his program at the last moment.

Finally, my drawings for details of the Buckland and Sears sideboard table came out quite poorly in the Symposium handout.  I apologize for that and have included them here for everyone.  I would also like to direct you to Tim Killen’s SketchUp blog for Fine Woodworking where he has included a digital version of the egg and dart molding.  Tim has been a steadfast supporter of the Symposium through his blog for the past several years and we’re quite grateful for that.

Here’s to a great 2014!

Bill Pavlak.

Egg and Dart

Buckland and Sears Egg and Tongue/Dart Pattern

Foot

Foot Design for Buckland and Sears Sideboard Table.

Posted in Shop Happenings, Symposium, Tables | 8 Comments