Next chair

(as I’ve been working on blog posts lately, things have been a bit weird. When I preview the post, to see the photos larger, I have to click them twice – first they go tiny, then the 2nd click enlarges them. That’s all I can tell you – otherwise, you’re on your own.)

I’ve made lots of kinds of chairs over the years, but the chair I started today is only my third attempt at a “brettstuhl”. Six or more years ago, I did one in walnut with hickory legs. As soon as I got this one done, I saw the flaw – I tapered the legs the wrong way!

walnut & hickory, 2014

It’s funny looking at that photo now – the chair is sitting right where my shop is now. So today I started in at the beginning, working some beautiful ash – and tapering those legs DOWN to the feet. The instructions I’m using on making this chair are from Drew Langsner’s Fine Woodworking article “Two Board Chairs” in the July/August 1981 issue. Below you see one leg done, the other riven oversized. You can make these at the shaving horse, but I did them today at the bench. (I sat at my desk all day yesterday & didn’t feel like sitting.)

First step is to plane two faces, then bring the whole thing to about 1 3/8″ square. This is very fresh wood, just split open a week ago. I want it to finish about 1 1/4″ at the thick end.

Then mark out the tapered foot, and plane down to that. See the end grain of this stick, I’ve drawn a 1″ square as my target to plane down to.

The fresh green wood planes so easily. Dead-straight makes it easy too. I make the octagonal cross-section after tapering. The piece is sitting up in a v-block behind me, and that brings it “corner up.” First shavings here are whisper thin (narrow, really, but who says “whisper-narrow?”)

I start near the foot and take a few strokes, then begin backing up as I plane forward. After a couple of strokes, the shavings get wider and wider.

There – I’ve got that mistake from six years ago remedied. Now on to the back board. I made a half-template out of 1/2″ thick pine and just traced around it. The board is quartersawn butternut, 7/8″ thick.

I’m no master with a bowsaw/turning saw. I get close, then fine-tune the result. I make stop cuts here & there, and apply beeswax to the tiny little teeth. And I keep telling myself, “easy does it.” This saw I made years ago with the hardware from Tools for Working Wood.

Here, I followed some of the shape with a spokeshave.

Then I went over some of the detailed edges with a couple of carving gouges.

Here’s as far as I got – the holes I bored are to put the saw in to cut out the hand-hold. It was getting pretty low light in the shop, so I decided that was a good time to quit. Tomorrow’s another day.

9 thoughts on “Next chair

  1. The Moravian ones down here are consideed to be a big deal, but I never examined one until we illustrated one of Winterthur’s in the 2008 American Furniture article. The external through-pinning is someting like you did on your recent Windsor. My question is, what is the impact of the cleats under the seat through which the legs pass. I can’t access any books at Winterthur, but I’d imagine some of the better German chairs had those cleats installed with sliding dovetails.

    • Trent – the one Drew writes about was made in Switzerland. yes, it has sliding dovetailed battens. Tapered back to front in width. By 1980 when Ruedi Kohler showed Drew how to make it, much of the work was done on machinery. On many old ones, the legs penetrate both the battens and the seat. This often results in cracked seats. Ruedi used to do them this way, but his later ones the leg tenons only pierce the battens.

      • It’s kind of a composite structure. Ordinarily the idea of sliding dovetail cleats is to permit expansion and contraction, like on table tops or some chest lids, but the legs inhibit that. I guess it boils down to how wide or deep the seat board is and if it’s too wide to withstand the stress. Clearly Germanic wirkmen were extremely fussy, so they must have thought it out. Of course, the mortises for the back board mught weaken or stress the seat, as well. An analogous [sp?] stucture are the battered or tapered both ways Swiss tables, with sliding dovetail tops and may clever drawers. I’ve seen a few in person.

  2. “ I saw the flaw – I tapered the legs the wrong way!”……

    Olde saying:
    ‘A man on horseback would never see the difference’…

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