Meeting Peter Folansbee


Other side of the fence

I have followed Peter’s excellent blog posts for some years, so it was an exciting prospect to be meeting up with him in he carriage house at Plimoth Plantation MA.  I can’t see the point of being on holiday if there is no contact with the natives, and woody natives are the best.  For those few who do not know, Peter recreates  17th century furniture from mainly green, riven oak.  Many items of his work can be seen around the houses in the Museum, darkened by wood smoke and slowly rotting away from the feet up as they sit on earth floors.  It was a blast to chat with Peter, and a little bizarre to be on the other side of the fence with the public, asking dumb questions like the others.


Peter showed me his stock of wood butts outside, beautiful straight-grained white oak is his favourite, and it is clear to see why from the quality of work he produces.  I had a quick lesson in the differences between red and white oak and English oak.  Of course I’ve read about the differences, but there is nothing like hands on experience.  There is English oak available in New England as the English navy used to plant acorns (see  Footnote 1).  Red oak is  only rarely grown in the UK, and mainly in arboreta.

On raw wood, Peter kindly gave me a couple of pieces of hickory for chisel handles, I’m looking forward to working these up.

I’d acquired a couple of books from Brattle second-hand book shop (more later) in Boston and we had a pore over them, as well as several that Peter bought off his bookshelf.


In the above we are discussing over-turned chairs and the thrown three-legged stool as often seen in Pieter Brueghel’s paintings e.g.In The Fight between Carnival and Lent, there are a couple such being carried aloft in top right background (the image will enlarge if you click on it).

But those ones have backs!  Peter tells me the 3 leggers never seem to pop up in inventories, so they are rather a mystery.  There is an excellent film here, of PF and the irrepressible Roy Underhill putting such a stool together.  I made one when I was just setting out, but I made mine up as I went along, and missed out on making the interlocking jonts.  It’s still in one piece despite that.

I hope to attend one of Peter’s carving classes, sometime soon, but in the meantime I have two of his DVDs on 17th century carving,  a heap of photos from  The Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC) and a whole country of English carved furniture to study.  Then yesterday I acquired the entire tool chest on a pattern-maker which has increased my collection of gouges by about tenfold (more later).

Drool, drool:


Admiral Collingwood, Rotheram's commander at T...

Admiral Collingwood, Rotheram’s commander at Trafalgar, who considered his subordinate “stupid” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Footnotes:1. Dudley Pope relates an aspect of Collingwood at the beginning of chapter three of his Life in Nelson’s Navy: “Captain Cuthbert Collingwood, later to become an admiral and Nelson’s second in command at Trafalgar, had his home at Morpeth, in Northumberland, and when he was there on half pay or on leave he loved to walk over the hills with his dog Bounce. He always started off with a handful of acorns in his pockets, and as he walked he would press an acorn into the soil whenever he saw a good place for an oak tree to grow. Some of the oaks he planted are probably still growing more than a century and a half later ready to be cut to build ships of the line at a time when nuclear submarines are patrolling the seas, because Collingwood’s purpose was to make sure that the Navy would never want for oaks to build the fighting ships upon which the country’s safety depended.”

4 thoughts on “Meeting Peter Folansbee

  1. I think your distribution of the Quercus varieties is incorrect. The USDA Forest Service shows that both white and red oak (Q alba and Q rubra) are common in New England. Red Oak is certainly dominant here in midcoast Maine.
    You may also find English Oaks (Q robur, now Q penduculata) in the region from deliberate and accidental plantings. It is dominant at Jamestown for example but the distribution is spotty.
    There are numerous hybrids and other varieties, not all in New England.
    There is a significant difference between Q rubra and Q robur. I know because I am originally from Oakham in Rutland (UK).

    • Hi Richard,

      My fault, I lost part of the text while I was writing it, and some garbage resulted. I meant to say red oak is not grown in the UK. I’ve amended the post now. Thanks for spotting the error.
      No wonder you take such an interest in oak, coming from the Royal Forest of Leighfield renowned for it’s English oak trees. And though small I bet Rutland compares well with Maine!

  2. Hey Richard, how far west did you get while over here? My family and I will be heading east next summer with stop to visit Peter. Great post.

    • Hey Jarrod, good to hear from you! We were only here for two weeks and the nearest we got to any point West was here The piles from a wrecked pier on The Hudson NYC.

      Must try to get across to Wisconsin some day.

      Kindest regards,


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