Review: '17th Century New England Carving' with Peter Follansbee - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Review: '17th Century New England Carving' with Peter Follansbee

 In Chris Schwarz Blog, Personal Favorites, Shaping, Woodworking Blogs

never cared for carved furniture until I saw some 17th-century American
chests in Wallace Nutting’s “Furniture of the Pilgrim Century.” (A
low-resolution GoogleBooks version is available here.)
The book’s first chapter is about carved chests, and as soon as I saw
them, I knew I had to build one (especially the example on page 10).

joinery in these chests is no problem – lots of mortise-and-tenon work
plus a few nails. But the carving always intimidated me. Actually, it
wasn’t the carving as much as the layout for the carving. I could see
that many of the shapes were simple geometric forms, but how they were
stitched together had me flummoxed.

So I’ve been chomping at the
bit to see Peter Follansbee’s “17th Century New England Carving” from
Lie-Nielsen Toolworks. The DVD is due any day now, but the Lie-Nielsen
folks took mercy on me and burned me an advance copy of the disc.

watched it through a couple times this weekend and am energized to now
tackle this project. Follansbee’s instruction on layout, body stance and
moving the tools answered all my questions about how these gorgeous
carvings are executed.

The DVD begins with some nice footage at Plimoth Plantation,
where Follansbee is the joiner. You get to see some of the furniture in
period-appropriate settings. And you get to see Follansbee splitting an
oak and riving it into blanks.

The real heart of the DVD is a
series of exercises that Follansbee demonstrates that get you familiar
with the gouge and V-tool to make some of the foundation shapes. Then he
moves on to showing you how to execute several patterns, each one a
little more complex, and introducing a new technique or tool.

the while, Follansbee also instructs you in how his body is moving and
shifting as his tools sweep over the work, including tips on footwork –
often a neglected area of the craft.

For me, the coolest stuff
was the layout. I know that sounds boring. It’s not. Once you see how
almost all of the layout is done with a compass, awl, square and the tools
themselves, the carving patterns make a lot of sense, and they become
even more exciting to the eye.

The other nice feature of this DVD
is that as Follansbee works, a floating “toolbar” appears on the screen
that shows you which of the five profiles he’s wielding in that
shot. That’s helpful, especially when he starts switching to the
shallower gouges to remove the background of the more complex carvings.

on the DVD: a nice pdf that shows the exact gouge sweeps and size of
the V-tool used in the DVD, which you can print out and take to the
store or antique shop when looking for the correct tool set. There also
is a pdf that shows all the layouts of the designs that Follansbee
executes in the DVD. These are not to be pasted down on the work (that
would be really slow). They are for reminding you of all the lines that
need to be laid down with the compass and tools.

I think that
17th-century furniture doesn’t get enough attention among woodworkers.
That is, in part, my fault as well as that of my fellow woodworking
journalists. I hope we can change that in the coming months and years,
and I think that this excellent DVD will fuel the enthusiasm of many
woodworkers. Case in point, Managing Editor Megan Fitzpatrick has
already begun pestering me to borrow this DVD.

You can place your order with Lie-Nielsen Toolworks.

— Christopher Schwarz

Other Good 17th-century Resources

Peter Follansbee’s blog should be on your list. He’s always exploring
something interesting, whether it is some old work, or a reproduction he
is working on:

• Jennie Alexander’s site is another great source of information on the furniture and techniques of the 17th century:

Rob Tarule, who built the Roubo-style workbench in “The Workbench
Book,” has an interesting site filled with photos of furniture he

Adam Cherubini writes about 17th- and 18th-century techniques in the
Arts & Mysteries column. A collection of his writings is available
on CD: “The Arts & Mysteries of Hand Tools.

“Seventeenth Century Joinery from Braintree, Massachusetts: the Savell Shop Tradition” at

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Showing 3 comments
  • james

    I think that 17th-century furniture doesn’t get enough attention among woodworkers.

    I agree, it’s really a wonderful furniture form that demonstrates how much can be done with so little in the way of tools. Perhaps thats one reason why many of todays woodworkers are not into it, not enough BUZZ in the tool department.

    In any event, we are fortunate to have guys like Peter carry on this important work.

  • Eric R

    I think that DVD is going on my Christmas wish list.
    Thanks Chris.

  • MikeZ

    I’ve been following Peter’s blog for some time now and am looking forward to getting my hands on this new DVD. I hope to build up the confidence to one day attempt some carving on my own projects.


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