Once you have the undercarriage assembled, it really shouldn’t be able to then fit in the tapered mortises – but there is enough flex in the structure to pull the legs apart, so it can all go together.
I saw Elia Bizzarri wedge the chair legs with two wedges in the video series he & Curtis did of the side chair. First you open up the top edge of the mortise fore & aft, I used a round file. Just a bit. Then you split it twice and drive the wedges in. Easy does it though, you can shear off part of the tenon if you try to spread it too much. Below is a test joint I made a few weeks ago & cut open to peek inside. That hourglass shape won’t come back out.
It turns out I’m a lousy student – I changed the crest rail tenon – and I did the arm-to-rear post joint differently from Curtis’ plan too. I bored a tapered through mortise in the post, and put enough slop in the tenon on the back end of the arm so I could get it installed into the rear post and down onto the front arm post. Then wedged it from behind (& above.)
The nice thing about making Windsor-style chairs is you don’t have to wait to sit in them. As soon as they’re assembled, you’re done. Next week I’ll have to weave a seat on the ladderback.
I’m making windsor chairs. And re-reading Nancy Goyne Evans’ Windsor-Chairmaking in America: From Craft Shop to Consumer. Nancy read a staggering amount of period records in her research for her 3 volumes on American Windsor chairs. This is the 3rd volume.
Finishing up work on Jennie Alexander’’s book with Megan Fitzpatrick on JA chairs. Shooting some last-minute missing photos; so making a chair this week to do so.
And reading Claudia Kinmonth’s Irish Country Furniture and Furnishings 1700-2000. In chapter 1, Stools and Chairs, she writes about súgán chairs – what I know of as a ladderback chair, but with a straw (súgán) seat.
As I was looking at those chairs, I thought of our friend Masashi Kutsuwa – and I dug out his book Van Gogh’s Chair –
I can’t read Japanese, but Masashi gave me an English synopsis of his book. It involves Shoji Hamada, “one of the most famous Japanese potters”, Tatsuaki Kuroda, Japan’s first living national treasure woodworker, Soetsu Yanagi (author of The Unknown Craftsman) and a convoluted tale of chairs from Spain that look like a chair painted by a Dutchman in France 75 years earlier. The chair was introduced into Japan by Shoji Hamada in 1963, after his travels in Spain that year. A few years later, (1967) Tatsuaki Kuroda visited the same workshops, recording in photos and film some of the chairmaking process.
Masashi’s book also includes a photo series of making copies of this chair form. In his notes he writes: “I visited Spain in 2015 and met the chairmaker’s family who welcomed Tatsuaki nearly 50 years ago. I also visited the last chairmaking shop in Guadix.
The 1967 film is on youtube – I just re-watched it. Amazing. As far as I can tell, the chairmaker maybe uses 4 tools; a frame saw, a brace & bit, and a knife that he both pushes and pulls (thus not a “drawknife”) – I saw some more tools, but didn’t see him use them; the film isn’t the whole chair-making process I don’t think. The posts are pith-centered (I could see that in Masashi’s book too) and when he split a section to make rungs – he used his knife to split it.
Back to Kinmonth’s book, she writes “Similar designs are also found on the continent, particularly in Spain and Portugal, linking them to a wider Atlantic European tradition. One celebrated version features in Van Gogh’s painting “Bedroom in Arles (1888).” Below is a sketch of the bedroom at Arles.
The súgán chairs also reminded me of a chair I photographed at my friends’ house a few years ago. This chair was bought at Brimfield, the famous Massachusetts antiques fair. Around here, these are usually thought of as being from French Canada – but it certainly has much in common with those other chairs – except the bowed seat rails; particularly the square or rectangular posts and narrow slats. This one has through tenons on the rungs and slats though. So different, but quite similar.
The other day I posted a photo of some oak I’d planed for a joined stool, and mentioned that it was too slow-growing for chair work. I didn’t explain why, so this post will look at how oak’s growth rate affects its strength. This notion applies to ring-porous woods like oak, ash and hickory. Those are the ones I have the most experience with. I’ve used other ring porous woods like catalpa and sassafrass for various things, but I think of them as too soft for much furniture – certainly for chair work.
THESE NOTES APPLY ONLY TO RING-POROUS WOODS – THINGS LIKE MAPLE, CHERRY, ETC DIFFER. I DON’T KNOW HOW TO EVALUATE THEIR STRENGTH. SOFTWOODS ARE ANOTHER WHOLE STORY. MY BAG IS OAK, SOME ASH, ETC.
Below is a piece of white ash (Fraxinus americana) – each growth ring has two sections; the early wood/spring wood is the open porous bits. Then the latewood/summer wood is more dense. Generally the spring wood is the same size in each ring – the summer wood can vary from year to year, depending on various factors – light, water/nutrients, competition and more.
Next photo is of two boards I’ve kept as samples to illustrate this concept for maybe 20 years. On the top is a fast-growing red oak; the bottom board is the slow-growing example. (these boards are in the opening view of this post too). Both came from southeastern Massachusetts, both are 6″ wide. One has about 13 or 14 rings, the other over 90. It becomes hard to see them near the right-hand edge.
For my joinery work, like this chest, I prefer the slow-growing wood. It’s much easier to plane and carve. The way the chest is constructed the lesser strength is not an issue. The stiles (corner posts) are nearly 2″ thick x 3 1/2″ wide, the rails are 1 1/4″ x 4″ or so. Drawbored mortise & tenons throughout. So no problem.
For this sort of chair – same story – huge parts, 2″ thick posts, 1 3/4″ thick seat rails. Slow-growing ash is fine for this.
But if you want to make a light but strong ladderback chair, like those I learned from Jennie Alexander and Drew Langsner – that stuff won’t work. The rungs on this chair are just over 5/8″ in diameter. The posts on mine are about 1 3/8″ thick – Alexander’s were thinner. So this is a case where you have to be sure your material is up for the stress placed upon it.
Here’s another end grain shot, of two green chair rungs I shaved very quickly this morning. The one on the left is that new log, 12 growth rings to the inch – deemed useless for chair making, but ideal for joiner’s work. On the right is something I pulled from the firewood pile – 6 growth rings to the inch. How nice that they worked out 12 versus 6. Easy comparison.
I shot a 2-minute video showing how you can test your chair parts (or possible chair parts)
Below is a shot of those two rungs – the top one is the fast growing one that bent quite a ways before de-laminating – if I had shaved it more carefully, it might have bent without its fibers pulling up like that. Then the bottom two sections are the shattered rung. On the bottom view you can see the year-by-year fracture.
Bruce Hoadley’s book Understanding Wood: A Craftsman’s Guide to Wood Technology is where I go to read about what wood is doing & why. The updated edition is from 2000. I see it’s still in print from Taunton Press – or wherever you buy books.
I decided today to assemble the undercarriage of the next Windsor chair in my pile of projects. My goal was (is?) to go through the process a number of times without great spans of time between efforts. We’ll see. Today turned bad even sooner than I thought. This was the 2nd mortise I bored:
I’ve made lots and lots of chair joints; ladderbacks & Windsors. As I have mentioned here, this recent re-introduction to Windsor chairs is after a hiatus of over 26 years. So I’ve been rusty at it. That’s what I suspected was behind me splitting the legs. The first 2 I made last year had splits in several of the joints, though none as bad as this. But today I decided I’m not that clumsy or “un-crafty”. It’s the auger bit – that’s what’s different.
I never used an auger bit for chair work before, and I was following Curtis’ recommendation. But I think this one’s not well-suited to this application. I switched to a bit I’ve used for ladderback chairs, and didn’t split a thing.
I got the bit above from Drew Langsner, I forget what it’s called. Maybe it’s a Stern bit, the ones JA switched to after the old Stanley Power-bore bits were discontinued. I’d have to sift through the pile to see, but instead I moved on and successfully bored my mortises, made 2 news legs – yes, 2. And got the thing together.
So someday, someone might look at this chair & wonder why one front leg is white oak, and all the others red. Because I blew up two legs and needed to make 2 new ones. Had only one piece of red oak that would work, and one piece of white oak. That’s why.
The title of this blog post is a quote I have kept with me for years. I used to work in a museum setting, demonstrating woodworking. In the same exhibit were potters, fiber artisans, sometimes a basketmaker, etc. One day a high school kid was watching one of the potters struggling with a new form. After a long quiet period, the kid looked at her & said “I thought you were supposed to be good at this…” – I just about fell over laughing.
Today it was my turn, the joke was on me. Tomorrow it could be you. It comes to us all at some point.
Well, I’ll end on a good note – today there was a flock of about 8 eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis) here for 15 minutes.
With them was a pine warbler (Setophaga pinus). Both a nice surprise.
I’ve been disinclined lately. No work, no photos, no writing. I’ll leave it at that. Started in some today. I got word that Michael Burrey had some free wood for me. Most free wood is not worth it, but his is.
He had a butt-section of red oak, about 26″ long. Dead straight, it included the felling cut. So some shorter than this. The section in the photo above is about 9″ wide across that radial face. I had planned to use it for chairmaking – it could make all the parts (except the seat) for Curtis’ democratic chair – but when I looked closely at it, I saw one problem. It grew too slowly to have the strength required for chairmaking. This piece, a stile for a joined stool, has about 25 or more growth rings in 2″.
Other sections out closer to the bark had 20 rings to the inch! Below is a 1 1/8″ piece – now a reject chair part – some of the rings are quite indistinct.
So it’ll only be fit for joined stools, maybe some box parts from the wider bits. Here’s a set of stiles, with a new year marked on them –
There was also a few bits of leftover hickory slabs from sawing something or other. Also, dead-straight. This is about 28″-30″ long. I split one section up into spindle blanks, 3/4″ square, tapering to the top. Splitting & shaving hickory is as much fun as you can have at a shaving horse. A piece like this one will make about 18 spindles or more. I might make chair rungs from some of it for ladderbacks.
Here’s my most recent modern attempt at Windsor chairmaking. I’m mostly happy with it – I need to get the inshave sharper for one thing. But all in all, this one is fine. If you’ve been watching Elia Bizzarri and Curtis Buchanan make this chair recently or have seen Curtis’ youtube videos about it, you’ll notice I changed the crest rail.
I decided to try a different joint there – Curtis shaves the crest rail down to a 3/8″ diameter tenon to enter a mortise bored in the posts. I bored 2 holes in the post, pared the walls and ends of the resulting mortise, and shaved the crest down only on two faces; front & back. Leaving its height intact.
Showed it to Curtis – he didn’t mind the joint, but said “you added a tool!” (turns out I added two – I used a narrow chisel on the end grain, and a wider one to pare the walls.) Another thing this joint means is that you can’t pitch the crest up at the middle, like Curtis likes. Or you can’t do it easily. So mine’s pretty much flat on top. But I like it, and think I’ll do it on the next one too.
Planing that fresh red oak makes a mess of your tools. It’s important to leave enough time (& daylight in my shop) at the end of the afternoon to clear this crap off the irons. I can’t say “brass bristle brush” without tripping over the words – but that’s what I use. And WD40 – learned it from JA. I keep a thin wretched piece of plywood for these cleanup tasks, and some sharpening steps too. The only plywood in the place, except for the stuff that supports the under-floor insulation.
Friday I was over at Michael’s and we dug out some more of the butternut. The four on the left are 7′ long, 20″+ wide in places. That 3rd one from the left I split in half – and there’s some 9″-10″ wide quartersawn stuff in it. Wait til you see the box it becomes.
While I’ve been on this chairmaking kick lately (you’ll see more about it soon) – in addition to Elia & Curtis’ recent series, I watched the stuff Pete Galbert posted recently. He calls it a foundation course and that’s a good name for it. If you watch this, and pay attention, you’ll learn a great deal about wood, wood selection, chairs, seating and more. I’ve made chairs for 40 years and learned stuff. Highly recommended. https://www.petergalbert.com/videos
I’m going to try the online class routine in January. Not that it will be that hard a stretch, I’ve opted to go with the most relaxed task-master going – Elia Bizzarri. He & Curtis Buchanan struck a pretty casual pose in their chair class, which I learned a lot from.
It will be 2 sessions, on Saturday afternoons. Then usually Elia makes the video of it available shortly thereafter. So you can watch it live, watch it later or both. One nice feature they’ve cooked up is the “pay what you can” notion. Details here: http://handtoolwoodworking.com/online-classes/
All of my commute is in this photo, minus about three steps. I have a joined stool cut out, but waiting for the turned parts – some of the wood is still too green for crisp detail at the lathe. So while I wait for that, I thought I’d take a vacation and work on the windsor chairs I’ve been picking away at.
These are Curtis Buchanan’s “democratic” chairs (I’m making one side chair, and one arm chair – I hope) – so shaved, not turned. In the photo above, I bored & reamed a test hole, scribbled inside it with a soft pencil and tried the shaved tenon in the hole. Bumps and high spots get smeared with the graphite, to show you where to shave next.
Once I had the legs’ tenons ready, I reamed the seat. Here, I’m testing the depth – according to the plans Curtis drew up – that stretcher location should be something like 9 3/4″ above (below, really) the seat. This one is for the arm chair version.
Got ’em where I mostly liked them. Then measured for the stretchers. Because I’ve been fumbling around at these chairs, I hadn’t made the stretchers yet. Here, I’m back on the side chair – making its stretchers out of a mix of dry-ish wood and green wood.
Once I got them where I liked them, I put them in the kiln to dry the tenons, and will go back to finishing the arm chair’s seat while those get to the right moisture content.
One reason to see these versus (or in addition to) the ones Curtis already had on youtube is because he has changed things over several versions of making this chair. I think he said he’s done a dozen of them. I saw some things that were either changed, or more detailed in this set of videos.
AND – then there’s Pete Galbert https://vimeo.com/ondemand/galbertfoundations – I can see I’m down a rabbit hole. Pete’s a great teacher, so I’m planning on getting that video series as well – but right now I have to have breakfast, then go light the fire. Or vice-versa.
I first learned about Beethoven through Peanuts and Huntley/Brinkley. I was awake in the night last night, and thought of this wonderful video – I first saw it 6 years ago, and posted it then at Christmastime. It has nothing to do with Christmas, but that doesn’t matter. We could all use a little joy today no doubt.
I think I made about 6 carved boxes in the last month. I love making them, but some variety is nice too. So it was fun to go into the shop today and pick out some squared stock for a joined stool I have coming up next. At the end of the bench you can see 4 of 5 blanks for the stiles. I’m checking the first one against the story stick for the stool I’m making. I’ll pick the best 4 of the batch, and put the 5th one back in the pile.
Some of these 2″ squares were planed from green wood in late September and they are just right now for working further. Not bone-dry, not sopping wet. In the photo above, I’m truing up the two outside faces. I called them 2″ squares, but they’re initially planed a bit over that, 2 1/8″ or so. That leaves room for this step, getting them nice & straight, with the outside faces at 90 degrees to each other.
After I like those two faces, I mark the 2″ dimension, and plane down to that.
From there, I go ahead to layout and mortising. I didn’t shoot any photos of that today. I’ve covered that at length here, in the book with Jennie Alexander and in the video series I shot last spring on making a joined stool.
Here’s the real thing I want to talk about – case hardening. I might be the only woodworker you’re going to hear extol the virtues of case-hardened oak. I trimmed about 2″ off the end of this stile – and could clearly see the darker middle of the blank, surrounded by lighter-colored, drier outer edges. A nightmare for some, heaven for me.
The next step for me is to chop four mortises in this piece – two of them 5/16″ wide by 3 1/4″ long, the other two only 2″ long. About 1 1/2″ deep. I can chop mortises in dry stock, but it’s easier when that stock has more moisture in it. (Usually a mortise takes me about 4-6 minutes – unless I get distracted by action out at the birdfeeders.) In this stock, I’ll quickly chop past the drier wood into the slightly wetter interior.
So why not just chop those joints back in September when it was sopping wet? I used to do so, but it’s a bit trickier. Really wet wood is a bit fuzzy to cut, the fibers mush around more so than cutting cleanly. And that touches on the really great feature of this in-between material. After mortising, I’m going to turn these stiles on the lathe – and that drier, outer wood cuts more cleanly – allowing more crisp detail (as much as you can get in red oak) than if the wood were just out of the log. (here’s a photo from way back when I was working on the book w JA )
We didn’t get as much snow as I hoped for; but beggars can’t be choosers my mother would say. I like being holed up in the shop or the house during a snowstorm, it keeps things nice and quiet out there. I haven’t shot any photos lately because I’ve made three boxes in a row that were essentially the same patterns. Here’s the 2nd yellow cedar box, done for a customer who missed out on the first one, so ordered one.
These strapwork patterns vary only in the details, but generally follow a basic format.
One thing I learned about using carved lids is that you have to line up the centerline of the lid with the centerline of the front. Another step when fastening the lid. I took to marking the center of the edge with a pencil then planing it off after assembly.
I make the back of these boxes in oak still, so the wooden pin that engages the cleat to form a hinge has the necessary strength. The cedar would probably be OK, but I know the oak does the trick.
That’s it for boxes for now, I have one more on order – in January. Meanwhile, I have some clean-up to do, a joined stool for a customer and some chairs to get back to. I’d like to thank all the blog readers for their support during this strange year – I’m grateful to you all.