The oak I used for the desk box responded well to the 50:50 treatment of linseed oil to turpentine. This is the finish that Peter Follansbee swears by on his 17th Century reproduction pieces. What made my desk box different than Follansbee’s work is that I used some flat sawn stock and I had some issues with moisture content. I did that for obvious reasons, to conserve my supply of riven oak. In that regard, it really helped to use a spray bottle of 50:50 water to isopropyl alcohol when using the moving fillister plane on cross grain and in some carving situations. It also helped when burying the cutoff nail heads that are bent over on the small drawers. The result is that once driven into the grain, they look like staples and better correspond to 17th century drawer construction. The only negative I had to using the alcohol to water mixture was some iron staining that I removed mostly by sanding.
When I have the opportunity to work again with an oak log, it will be great to be thinking about carving 17th century boxes. Besides looking for Windsor chair parts, I will be thinking of stock for carved sides and panels when I’m using wedges to split the log. Thanks to Follansbee, Jennie Alexander, and John Fiske, and others, I have learned a lot about what to look for in designing and building 17th century furniture. I can appreciate the fact that the oak stock can have some variations in thickness and it is part of the charm of 17th century construction. You don’t have to waste as much also. I can definitely appreciate the comment “the eye is very forgiving” after my experiences of grain related variations in my chisel work. So far, I’ve faced more challenges in keeping my carving lines continuous or straight in oak than when working in other woods like basswood. But I am not discouraged, as part of that relates to my getting used to using the mallet along with oak being a harder wood to carve when it is dry.
If you work with 5/8″ stock for the case work, 1.5″ forged nails are all you need to attach the bottom, the cleats, and for the hinges. A shorter nail could be used for the hing you want enough nail to clinch it. I also found that a hand reamer was indispensable for dealing with the taper of the nails. Follansbee uses a reamer quite often in his DVDs. Sizing the pilot hole for the forged nails was quite important, but the reamer was helpful. I couldn’t find a four sided reamer as Follansbee, but I obtained a reamer (General) at a hardware store that worked quite well. I have a bit reamer for a brace, but I can see that a reamer with a T shaped handle is better. FYI, you need 20 nails for the hinges and cleats, and another 9 to attach the bottom. The hinges and nails were made blacksmith Peter Ross.
I may apply the linseed oil mixture on the inside of the box, but I can see why Follansbee doesn’t. It is kind of like not painting the bottom of a Windsor chair seat. It seemed wasteful in the 1700s and still unnecessary now. So as the oil dries it will give me time to think about whether I really want to seal the carved surfaces with shellac or another coating. The challenge of course is to make sure that an addition doesn’t take away from the charm of the carved surfaces. That is why I use spray satin polyurethane when finishing my chip carvings. If I use shellac I’ll make sure it is a lighter cut, probably closer to 1/2 lb.