My Next Chair

I was going to call this one “twas in another lifetime…” just in case MR is still out there reading along. Thirty years ago I made this comb back Windsor chair. I got the details from Curtis Buchanan, I’m pretty sure it’s Dave Sawyer’s design.

1992 comb back armchair PF

I loved it then, I like it still. But a few things bother me about it. One – it survived (barely) some rowdiness that was a.) not mine and b.) part of a different phase of my life, best left in the past. I fixed it, but the fix was a bit hasty. The other points are the usual nonsense that we all engage in – pointing out the flaws of our work. Legs are too bulky and I wanted them kicked out more. But it’s still very comfortable – so one of those chairs that mocks me. I always wished I would made a new one. Well, the time has come, the time is now. I got the undercarriage assembled a couple of days ago. Ash legs, stretchers in maple & ash. White pine seat.

half way there

I bent and carved a couple of crests – doesn’t hurt to have an extra around.

white oak & ash crests

I tried to take my time with the turnings. This was air-dried ash. Slow going but I like turning ash – it’s a lovely wood.

ash legs

Here’s Curtis’ arm post in a continuous arm chair I inherited from Jennie Alexander – I aimed for this drama in my arm posts, but my pole lathe wasn’t having it. The stuff gets too whippy in the pole lathe when I try to take it so thin. But what I knew nothing about 30 years ago was old Windsors – and what I have found is the shapes/thicknesses and patterns are quite varied. So I relaxed and left my arm posts thicker than Curtis’.

Curtis’ arm post
PF maple arm posts

I’m planning on making the top half of the chair this week. White oak arm, hickory spindles. Fingers crossed.

now just stick em together

A trip down memory lane

My kids, as part of an on-line history class, are watching the PBS series Colonial House. I keep interrupting to say “I made that [chair/chest/stool/table/bench/bed]” etc. The museum where my wife & I (& most of our friends) used to work collaborated on the project – the period carpenters built the houses, I made the furniture – that sort of thing. I think we worked on it in 2002/3.

screen capture from Colonial House

I’ve been sorting through old files here at the same time – and have run into some turned chair photos from 15 or more years ago. The chair above (with a servant sitting in it, while the head of the household sits on who-knows-what) is made from ash, with oak slats and a rush seat. Here it is when I photographed it back at the museum – after the series was done shooting. I “made it up” – by that I mean it’s not a copy of any particular chair from the early 17th century. I measured chairs when I could, studied a lot of Dutch art – and then came up with something plausible.

Ash & oak turned chair

It’s made using techniques I learned when making chairs with Jennie Alexander and Drew Langsner – some basic principles still apply. All the wood is riven and then turned green. I used to dry the rungs near the potters’ kilns then – and I bent those slats before they went in the chair. Below is a typical press or form for bending slats. JA didn’t use this setup because the slats of her chairs each have a different bend.

slat-bending press

This is a different chair – but here I’m boring it vertically – with a spoon bit. Those large-diameter posts are an easier target than JA’s 1 1/4″ posts. More room for forgiveness.

boring with a spoon bit

Assembled the front & back first, then bored & fit the sides together. That top rung (in my hand) is not turned, but just shaved. The seating will cover it.

knocking the front section together

The other extreme is the shaved chair pictured here – another screen shot – same notion; using techniques from working with JA I often made these simple chairs – shaved & hewn posts, left square. Mortises made with a spoon bit and tenons shaved at a shaving horse. Rush seat. At this fellow’s right foot is something that never seems to have actually made it to New England – a three-legged board-seated turned stool. I got real interested in making them and the chairs with the same construction. But probably shouldn’t have. For whatever reason, they don’t seem to have been made here. The 3-legged turned chairs are found a lot in England – but not New England.

a “plain” chair with a rush seat

Four-legged versions are found in New England – some years ago I made this copy of a famous one at Pilgrim Hall in Plymouth. Ash with an oak seat. Heavier than all get-out. Pilgrim Hall has a couple of them – worth a look when you’re in town – https://pilgrimhall.org/

PF copy of Gov Bradford’s chair

I hope this photo below is a test-fit to get the size of the seat. The seat is a beveled panel that fits in grooves in all four seat rails, so it has to go in during assembly.

test-assembly

And for scale – here’s one of my JA chairs beside my copy of Bradford’s chair. Yes, that JA chair is the standard-size, 34″ tall. Note the seat height of both is about the same.

two chairs, 2018

Chair video uploads are done

My upload allowance renewed today, so I posted the rest of the videos for Making the Jennie Alexander chair. It’s now at 8 hours & 41 minutes. That’s a lot to get through, but less than a 6-day class. And the comfort of your own home, as they say.

scoring the first strip of hickory bark

I put the hickory bark harvest as an appendix of sorts – well, it’s the last video anyway. Not everyone has access to harvesting their own bark – and I touch on alternative seating materials in the seat-weaving section. Drew Langsner reminded me of his short description of making and using inner bark of the tulip poplar tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) – it’s in his updated book Country Woodcraft: Then & Now. Tulip poplar is more readily available than hickory in some places.

Making this video has brought up a lot of memories for me. I’ve been researching for a few years a piece that will be about the people who taught me green woodworking – and Alexander features prominently in that work. It’s a long term project, but I picked away at some of it recently. And found confirmation for what I have known for years – a note in which Alexander admits she loved hickory bark and hated hickory bark work! “TEDIOUS TEDIOUS TEDIOUS” was how she put it. Funny how some people take to one aspect of the work, and others are put off by it. I really like working with bark – both the harvest and weaving with it.

one of JA’s chairs – bark seat by Nathaniel Krause

I have some sorting & cleanup to do, but I’m going to make a couple more of those chairs while they’re on my mind.

assembly

Here’s the link again to the video series – https://vimeo.com/ondemand/jachairpf

some of my Jennie Alexander archives

Jennie Alexander early 1990s

Having spent a chunk of time lately working on the chair-making video, JA has been on (or in) my mind a lot lately. After she died I ended up with lots of photos, notes, drawings, etc – even after we had sent decades’ worth of notebooks to Winterthur Museum’s library. That shaving horse above is an in-between version – here’s the 1970s version below – its origin story is in the 3rd edition of the book. https://lostartpress.com/products/make-a-chair-from-a-tree That first one was beastly heavy. I made one when the book came out. Huge drawknife too. Things change.

JA with 1970s version of the shaving horse

Alexander used to mostly bore her early chairs at a drill press. But for public demos – and maybe the earliest classes – it was done at a knee-high bench with a brace & bit. One of many ways to hold the posts for boring was a 3-peg & wedge arrangement. This is an ancient method – somewhere in the notebooks (I’m not going to look it up now, I’d get lost in there) is an entry of where & when JA got onto this method. Alexander went through many different holding systems, some more Rube-Goldberg-esque than others. But she really wanted to do horizontal boring – feeling it allowed for easier sighting to see if the angle is right. Very soon after she began teaching with Drew Langsner at Country Workshops, that became the standard.

boring at a low bench

It’s funny – the horizontal boring idea came from using the AA Wood hollow auger, a tool that gave JA & friends of hers fits back in the mid-1970s. She soon dumped the hollow auger but kept the notion of boring this way.

horizontal boring

This photo of the chair below is in the 3rd edition of the book – but I don’t think we explained it. In the late 1990s, Alexander was designing a chair to be made in some program in Costa Rica – I forget why the chair was painted this way. There must have been a reason. Maybe because the posts were ash? I used ash a lot in my chairmaking & only heard JA complain about it. Recently I got an email from Larry Barrett, who worked closely w/JA while I was off in carved-oak land – and they made chairs from ash in the first class Larry was involved in. It must have been free is all I can think.

JA’s “CR” chair

Here’s the specs if you’d like to make one – not to scale for some reason.

CR chair #2 by Jennie Alexander

Below is a low bench that was one of JA’s favorite designs – the “captured” stretcher. It’s a variation on the H-stretcher system featured in American Windsor chairs. JA filled notebooks with ideas about how to make the under-structure of a Windsor chair. She only ever made one Windsor chair, in the first class Curtis Buchanan taught at Country Workshops in 1987. But she never stopped thinking about, and monkeying with, the 3-stretchers/4 legs arrangement of the Windsor chair. This bench stemmed from that work. Here, though, the center stretcher has holes bored at each end and the side stretchers slide through it. The side stretchers fit into the legs with a round mortise & tenon – then the legs are fit into tapered holes in the bench.

JA’s best low bench design

Here’s one that still makes me cringe. In this version JA had a large tank made of plywood & fiberglass – tight enough to hold water. In went the oak sections, to be stored so they wouldn’t dry out. And some sat in there so long (years) they got hideously slimy & disgusting. I finally told her I would never reach into that tank again. I’d rather work air-dried oak than deal with that stuff.

JA with green wood storage

Well, now I’ve got to go eat breakfast. I’ll try to shake that memory off my mind. Here’s the link to my video – https://vimeo.com/ondemand/jachairpf

Chair video available now

Here’s the story on the chairmaking video. I got almost all the clips sorted (I have yet to finish editing the Harvesting Hickory Bark section) and uploaded. Turns out that I can’t post it all in one week anyway – I have a 20gb limit. From what I can tell on the vimeo-on-demand gig, for me to upgrade the price jumps from $240 a year to $600 a year. That was an easy decision – I’ll post the last few sections next Monday January 23. 

So if you want to have at it, there’s about 18 “chapters” posted now. If I did it right…(so far, it seems like it went all right. I’ll iron out any kinks if you run into them…) It’s 5 1/2 hours now – and about 3 more to come. Or 3 1/2 – I had an idea for a conclusion this morning when I woke up.

A short trailer – that tells you almost nothing about what’s in the video series. I hope that its title will indicate what its contents are. The trailer, such as it is, is below. It’s more of an introduction to the introduction. (whoops – I hit “publish” too soon on this post, the trailer won’t be ready til 7am – fifteen minutes from now. Go have breakfast.)

The video series is on vimeo-on-demand, like the joined chest project. It’s $75 – you can stream it, download it and I don’t know what else. I’ve spent a lot of time clicking buttons lately, time to make some shavings. Here’s the link:

vimeo.com/ondemand/JAchairPF

Finishing up my chairmaking video

spokeshaved posts

I’ve been working full-time lately on finishing the videos for my series that I’ve now titled “Making a Jennie Alexander Chair”. And I’m finally ready to admit that I am, in fact, a windbag. When I used to make videos with Lie-Nielsen Toolworks, Thomas Lie-Nielsen came to me one day & asked if it was possible for me to make one shorter than Ben-Hur. I just looked it up, that movie was only 3 hours and 32 minutes. Paltry.

red oak growth rings and medullary rays

I used to talk for a living when I worked in a museum – and what I talked about was woodworking. So now, since Pete Galbert made his long-form video on chairmaking, I ran with his idea. My joined chest series was over 20 hours. But making that joined chest is about 80 hours of work.  

joined chest with drawer 2022

This one is maybe half of that and it’s still long. As I’ve been editing it, I see that all I did was turn on two cameras and babble incessantly as I worked. Some of it is what I’m doing, some of it is what Alexander did, how this part came about – changes and even things that I don’t know why they were this way or that way…but a class in making this chair is 6 days – so an 8-10-hour video is still a drop in the bucket.

weaving a hickory bark seat

If all goes well, it should be finished this week. It’ll be on vimeo, available for streaming or downloading – $75. I’ll shout when it’s ready.

rear posts in bending forms

a reminder & some wainscot chair photos

Yesterday I went shopping for some quartersawn oak for my carving class this spring at Lost Art Press – this is the reminder that tickets for that go on sale tomorrow, Thursday Jan 12 at 10am eastern time. https://www.tickettailor.com/events/covingtonmechanicals/827443/#

Today I’ve been shifting those boards around trying to find space to store them in the shop. More of that tomorrow. By mid-afternoon I had enough and turned to some housekeeping in my photo files. I was trying to organize the folder “chairs” – I think I have “boxes” mostly sorted. I found a chair I totally forgot about that has some carvings on it that might show up in that class.

detail PF chair 2013

This is a chair I “made up” = in that it’s not a copy of any particular 17th century wainscot chair. I took the measurements from a surviving chair, but super-imposed carvings on it from here & there. I made this back when I worked in a local living history museum, but have no memory of what it was for, where it went, etc. It’s certainly the last one I made there.

PF wainscot chair 2013

The format of the chair was taken from one I copied some years before that. Made in Hingham, Massachusetts, descended in the Lincoln family – this is my copy of that chair – now in the public library there. You can go sit in it if you like.

Lincoln chair, red oak, walnut & maple

That carving in that chair is unlike most others – most of it is done with just a V-tool. Maple & walnut inlay for the barber pole accents.

carved panels and crest rail Lincoln chair

These chairs are beastly to sit it. Worse to lump around the house, they weigh a lot. I made one in 2020 that I kept here, much to my family’s chagrin. It’s the best carving I’ve ever done – so I’m hanging on to it. This one is almost a verbatim copy of 2 chairs attributed to Thomas Dennis – one at Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts and the other at Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Brunswick, Maine. I have made 4 versions of it – this time I made up the rear panel and changed the crest rail’s pattern a bit.

PF wainscot chair 2020

Here’s the panel.

panel, PF wainscot chair, 2020

One of the exercises in that class in April will hopefully be strapwork – the carvings with the connective bands running through them – like the vertical panels in the first chair – or the top rail of this chair

strapwork carving on top rail, crest rail above that

But for a comfortable wainscot chair, nothing beats this next one – another chair I made a few times. I guess I made this one about 20 or more years ago. Bob Trent showed me the original it’s based on and that led to me writing an article about it once. https://chipstone.org/article.php/347/American-Furniture-1998/A-Seventeenth-Century-Carpenter%E2%80%99s-Conceit:-The-Waldo-Family-Joined-Great-Chair

But the carving on this is nothing to speak of – the others have so much space to fill. This one is different in many ways.

3 legged wainscot chair

First one for 2023

UPDATE – this chair sold. If you missed it & you want one, let me know. I have more in the works.

First chair done this year – but it’s from parts made last year. So I don’t know if it really counts. But this is the chair I’ve been making as I shoot the how-to video. That video is getting nearer to being done, it’s harder work than making the chair. The chair has white oak posts & slats, hickory rungs and hickory bark seat. That’s Jennie Alexander’s favorite mix of materials.

PF ladderback January 2023

I was shooting photos of it today to use in the video titles – and to file in my archive of made-stuff. I’ll never know how many chairs I made – so many got away before I started keeping close track. I don’t make a lot of chairs – but over the years, I’ve made lots of kinds of chairs – turned, joined, Windsors, brettstuhls, and these ladderbacks. After a long hiatus during which I made a slew of big heavy 17th century style chairs, I started making these again in 2018, the 40th anniversary of Jennie Alexander’s book. It’s been a lot of run revisiting this chair – this time I’m going to keep at them…

white oak slats & posts

And a hickory bark seat. This one’s from the bark I harvested with Brendan Gaffney – it took 2 strips of bark to weave the seat. No splicing! A couple of odd strips here & there to tuck into the side spaces, but those don’t count.

hickory bark seat

This one’s available if someone’s interested. $1,400 including shipping in US. Leave a comment or send me an email if you’re interested in purchasing the chair – Peterfollansbee7@gmail.com

side view

Carving class at LAP in April 2023

UPDATE – Got a note from Megan, they’ll announce it on their blog tomorrow (Thursday Jan 5th) and sales will go live on Thursday January 12th at 10am eastern time.

I just sent Megan the details on a 4-day carving class I’m going to teach at Lost Art Press in Covington, KY starting on Monday April 17th. She’s going to post it soon on their blog – (maybe later today) so watch that space if you’d like to come bang around on a bunch of oak. https://blog.lostartpress.com/

Space is limited to 6 students. This class will allow us enough time to delve into some stuff that I usually don’t get to – maybe you want to try strapwork like that above – or a panel like this one below:

carved panel

We’ll cover a lot of ground in that time – I’ll have my usual pile of reference materials and carving samples. Some will want “ear defenders”! Details to come on https://blog.lostartpress.com/

Video trailer and drawings-sale extended

I knew Jennie Alexander for almost 40 years and worked closely with her for 30 of them. About 10 years ago I started making versions of her chair again and then after her death in 2018 I collaborated with other friends as Lost Art Press put together the 3rd edition of her book Make a Chair from a Tree. As she would say, “It’s been quite a journey.”

I’m planning a vimeo-on-demand series about making the chair and today put together a draft of an introductory section on the chair and some of JA’s ideas and techniques. Not sure how much of this will end up in the video itself – once I get talking I tend to go on & on. Right now I have rough edits of about 4 1/2 hours. Today I’m going to the shop to hopefully do the full assembly of the chair.

shaving chair parts

I’ll post updates on the progress, my goal is to have the full video done and available for purchase in the 2nd half of January. I expect it’ll be somewhere around 8-10 hours. I’ll have it all done at once, unlike my chest series that came out in dribs & drabs. Here’s the intro draft

CHEST PLANS & CARVING DRAWINGS

The chest plans and carving drawings have been on sale at a discounted price – as well as the video series on building the joined chest. I’m going to extend those prices til January 15. Details for the drawings are here https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/carving-drawings-plans/ And for the video series – here https://vimeo.com/ondemand/follansbeejoinedchest

JA’s book is here https://lostartpress.com/products/make-a-chair-from-a-tree

The evening grosbeak and her allies are wolfing down the birdseed, so the proceeds will help keep my feeders full.

evening grosbeak, female