Sunday ladderback chairmaking

My travel schedule is a bit back-and-forth right now. But I was home all week, and spent much of it working on a few custom furniture projects, mostly turning chair parts for a copy of a 17th-century turned chair with a board seat. I’ll write more about that very soon…

But today was ladderback chair work. I have parts for a few of them underway, but started the day by shaving more; a set of rungs (a dozen-plus) and a set of red oak posts. I try to squeeze these parts out of oak that is nice and straight, but somehow or other just a step down from something ideal for joinery work. There was only 2” wide clear stock (on the radial plane – it came from a narrow log) so all it could be in joined work was joined stools’ parts, or stretchers for wainscot chairs. I have a lot of stools to make, but decided I could spare a few pieces for the chair. In these photos, I have Alexander’s chair beside me – I needed to photograph it last week, and it’s sat in the shop since then. 

shaving rear post in oak – first square it up

Shaving this green wood is a breeze. The chair needs its parts to be straight, but this straight is checked by eye, not by a straight-edge, winding sticks and jointer planes. “The eye is very forgiving” said Alexander many times.

Make it square, taper the bit above the seat, shave the corners to an octagon,

knocking the corners off

then cut the relief above the seat on the front of the rear post for bending.

shaving the relief on the front of the post

Here’s a shot from last time of the bending; just tying the cords around the ends. These posts sat in the form for 2 weeks and were in perfect shape when I took them out.

bending rear posts

I had to make a 2nd bending form, because when I went to set up to bend this oak set of posts, I found a set of ash posts I made a week or two ago. Had forgotten about them. I can shave the pair of posts faster than I can make and screw together a bending form!

3 sets of rear posts

I cut a short section of ash for the rungs; this billet gave me 7 rungs. There were 3 rungs above the froe in this photo, and 4 below it. Splitting odd numbers like that only works for me in dead-straight stock, that’s pretty short. These rungs are only about 15″ long. I had a few scraps around that made up the remainder. I used to be able to shave a rung in a minute, today one took me almost two. Must be getting old.

7 rungs; 3 above the froe, 4 below. Section is only 15″ long

In these chairs, the rungs are shaving oversize while green, then dried and shaved again to bring the tenons down to their final size. The notion is that the “super-dry” rung will a.) not shrink any, and b.) in fact absorb moisture from the slightly wetter posts and swell. This has come to be called “wet/dry” joinery. But – you gotta get the rungs all the way dry. Most chairmakers use a kiln…but I don’t have one. I used to put them in the oven, but our oven won’t go down low enough – under 140 F. Higher than that, you run the risk of making charcoal.

In the winter, I kept rungs in a batch stored near the furnace. I would take them out and weigh them periodically, and chart the weight. When they stop losing weight they’re dry.

 In the meantime, I’ve kept this batch of rungs near the hot-water heater. Today, I weighed them (2 lbs 2.6 oz.) and then put them on the dashboard of my car while it was parked out front, where it gets lots of afternoon sun. Windows up. At the end of the afternoon – 2 lbs, 2.2 oz. I’ll put them back there each sunny afternoon this week. Hope to assemble a chair next week with ash posts and these oak rungs.

temporary kiln

still a few spoons left from last time. And some furniture – make me an offer on the furniture items and we’ll see where we get. House is getting crowded. https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2018/07/01/spoons-and-furniture-for-sale-july-2018/ 

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5 thoughts on “Sunday ladderback chairmaking

  1. Hi Peter,
    I’m very much looking forward to when LAP issues v3 of Making a Chair from a Tree. I know it will be a while. From what I’ve read in the past few weeks, it sounds as if the book describes a method for making round stock for those without a lathe. I don’t own a lathe. Is there any chance you could provide a few words on how one does this? Many thanks.
    Sincerely,
    Joe

  2. it is indeed shaved not turned. Very easy to do, it’s what I showed above in fact. Make a square, then shave the corners off, then if you need round instead of octagons, keep shaving corners off…

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