It was 20 years ago today…

well, not really today, but I have been at the museum for 20 years. I moved my tools down there in April 1994…and since then have concentrated pretty much entirely on 17th-century style English and New England furniture. I love doing it, the stuff is great & there is a lot to learn still…formerly I made ladderback chairs, baskets, Windsor chairs and other “green woodworking” stuff. I set almost all that aside, except for the spoons (done mostly at home) and an occasional basket.

But in recent years, I have had a pull to make other furniture…the catch is at the museum, except in the off-season, I can’t have a bunch of non-17th-c furniture sitting around distracting attention. A further complication is that there is no shop at home. Here’s one reason why:

IMG_0139

There are restrictions about what we can build so close to the river. I have never pursued whether or not we can get permission – because I haven’t the time nor money to build anyway…and that’s not even mentioning the need for more room in the house with 2 growing-nearly-8-yr olds.

But these nagging furniture ideas keep coming up, a while back there was an exhibit at Winterthur of Pennsylvania furniture that had lots of stuff I liked. I sort of incorporated some of that into my tool box…but the paint was 17th-c English patterns.

I can't believe how long this takes
I can’t believe how long this takes

The variety bug has gotten stronger in recent months. A trip to Drew & Louise’s certainly helped it along. I always am drawn to this chair of Drew’s – my all-time favorite of his.

drew's lowback chair

I started one a few winters back, but botched the reaming of the leg mortises in the seat. Might be salvageable…

En route home from Drew’s, I stopped to see Curtis Buchanan…that didn’t stem any tide either.

There’s 4 of us in the household, and we have 4 chairs around the kitchen table.  It’s a small kitchen. Forget this trumped-up photo, it doesn’t really look this neat & tidy. We tuck 2 chairs where this stool is…and one at each end. 

kitched table overall b

Three of them are old windsors of mine, from the early 1990s. A bowback sidechair, a sackback armchair, and a continuous armchair. So chair # 4? Something like my wainscot chair is pure stupid for use at the table, when you actually have to use the table for other stuff between meals. Godawful heavy. So that’s out. I have one more windsor, but it’s a high back comback armchair. It’s in the way, so it sits here at my desk. I had a sort of oversized ladderback chair, and everyone here hated it. so the 4th person to the table always got stuck with it & complained. A Boston-style leather chair (see the photo)  is comfortable to me, but heavy – and the others don’t like it much. I have a large turned armchair in ash, hickory bark seat. Great chair, literally; but we need another side chair, not another armchair.

Then, a hickory log showed up at work. I thought, “it will bend” – so I decided to try another windsor. I used to really like the fanback sidechair, and I didn’t have one. I think they went to some grandchildren when my mother died. I forget. So I searched around the house & shop for my notes from before 1994. Found some paper patterns, seat shapes, etc for the fanback. but not the whole set.

Got to the shop, and remembered that I had tucked some windsor seat templates behind a bookcase in 1994. The bookcase in this most cluttered section of the shop:

gotta deal with this corner at some point
gotta deal with this corner at some point

I thought the stuff I wanted was in the corner, so I moved the bundle of rushes, and cleared some room, held my breath & tugged. Out came several plywood (I think you heard me right) templates based on designs Curtis gave me many years ago. Maybe 4 or 5 different chairs. The 7 spindle fanback was one of them. Great. All the angles recorded, spindle & post length. 

fanback seat template
fanback seat template

One night after work, I quickly split and shaved a batch of rough spindles. A breeze down memory lane, working at a shaving horse. Nothing better than good hickory. 

shaving hickory
shaving hickory

Now I have hickory for the spindles, comb, and rear posts. Just gotta shave, turn & otherwise get it together. i’ll figure out the legs & stretchers, but for the seat? I knew there was some chainsaw-milled elm around. Big huge beastly boards. Would require 2 people to sift that pile, dig out those monsters, cut them down to size, etc. I thought I still had a small piece of it around. Found it, but too narrow & cracked.  Back to the drawing board. Some 3” thick pine planks around. Seemed extreme.

Oh, well. I shifted my thoughts to the fan – I knew the hickory will make a great fan. But where’s the pattern? Maybe it’s behind the other end of the bookcase. (to the left in the photo) So I moved a huge pile of oak planks, and got near the back of the bookcase. Too dark to see. No flashlight. One of the young guys had a phone with a flashlight on it. Could see something back there, maybe it’s a bending form. Stretched, grunted & pulled. 

Out came a fanback sidechair seat – all carved, bored, reamed. WIth a tailpiece. 20+ years old. Older than the kid with the flashlight on his phone.

older than some co-workers
pine seat, c. 1993 or so

Curtis is sending the plans with the fan shape, bending form pattern.

Ol’ Daniel would say “It is providential”

much more to this story to come.

PS: There was a comb-back seat also all carved, bored, etc. 

LInks:

curtis’ DVDs

https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2013/03/15/how-to-make-a-comb-back-windsor-chair-w-curtis-buchanan/

http://www.curtisbuchananchairmaker.com/store.html

Drew Langsner’s Chairmaker’s Workshop book  http://countryworkshops.org/books.html

8 thoughts on “It was 20 years ago today…

  1. Hi Peter. This was a fun post to read; little cliff-hangers with every paragraph. I’m looking forward to the coming post on this fanback windsor. I’ve been collecting wood and tools to try my hand at one soon. This will probably be a fun change of pace for you.

  2. Thank s for sharing your inter workings, the restless spirit.

    I have done Windsors, but now want to make flat panels like you,
    The grass is always greener on the other side.
    PW

  3. I just took a fan back class with Curtis this summer. It was a great time. Fantastic chair, my favorite after the comb back.

    As to the change of styles, maybe it will only make you appreciate the 17th century stuff even more when you come back to it.

  4. Make brought home from the Goodwill for $3.00 a handmade fanback dated 2006 but not stamped by a pro, obviously made in a workshop. Extremely heavy. My problem with this design (and the NYC continuous arm chairs like the ones in Godfreys’ kitchen in Milwaukee is, that the posts or the hoop comes down to the seat too far forward and pinches me in my replaced or should-be-replaced hips. I’ll see if we took a picture before.

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