Take Some Ugly Pictures, Too

Late in 2015, Joshua Farnsworth(Wood and Shop) and I traveled to Hancock Shaker Village to film the openings of a couple videos. While there, I measured and photographed the two projects in detail with the intention of reproducing them as accurately as possible.

While I was holed up in the brick dwelling that day measuring and taking pictures of the projects, Josh wandered around the village taking pictures and video.

When we got back to the hotel that night we looked over the pictures we had taken. Josh’s stuff was great. He has a good eye, and Hancock is a beautiful place. My pictures, on the other hand, looked pretty lame in comparison. The photos were of the insides and undersides of the two projects. Mostly, tool marks of all kinds, intersections of joints, writing, mistakes (yes, the Shakers screwed up, too) nails, screws and layout lines. Most people would not even know what the pictures were of. I was trying to photograph how the pieces were made.

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An early 19th century Shaker chest of drawers at Hancock made of butternut and white pine that I documented in 2017.

As time goes on, I find these ugly photos provide more and more information on a project than I realized. Whenever I look back over these pictures I always see things I did not notice when measuring the actual artifact.

Today as I was reviewing the ugly pictures I had taken on my last trip to Hancock of a chest of drawers that I am preparing to build, a little tidbit of information showed up.

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This is a photo of one of the drawer joints from the chest above.

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Same joint as above zoomed in a bit. Look at the the two photos of the drawer joint, what do you see? Hint: Has to do with the order which the joint was cut.

I said all that to say this: If documenting a piece of furniture, take the time to measure accurately and take good overall photos of the piece. Most of all, take lots of high-resolution photos of the insides and undersides of the piece. When it comes time to build, you will find yourself referencing the ugly photos more than anything else.

— Will Myers

 

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13 Responses to Take Some Ugly Pictures, Too

  1. Richard Jones says:

    In answer to your question Will … tail’s first obviously. I wonder if the maker also included the common time saving practice of gang cutting pairs of sides, perhaps as many as two pairs in one go for the four top drawer sides. It’s interesting to note how far the worker diverged from the marked rakes of the tails. What’s the point of the mark if you’re not going to follow it pretty closely? If you’re going to miss the marks by that much it would probably be quicker to not bother marking at all and just ‘eyeball’ the job, ha, ha.

    • KKicker says:

      I saw the missed marks and assumed that indicated the maker cut pins first and the tail marks were for layout. That would have been a huge waste of time though, so, I guess I’m at a loss.

      • Will Myers says:

        The dovetails were cut tails first. The tails were laid out and cut close to the marks, the pins were then scribed from the tails. That’s why the joint fits well but is not cut to the layout lines.

  2. jfthomas70 says:

    Cutting to avoid the bad wood being in joint would have been my choice also.

  3. It’s interesting how his saw caught the edge of the drawer face when he was cutting the pins, yet he didn’t bother planing those marks, which would have been viable from outside the drawer, away.

  4. Please post more of your photos. I find them fascinating!

  5. Tom Schmanski says:

    I have never cut a dovetail so thats the reason for tis ignorant question: does it matter in the end if the tails or the pins are cut first?

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