Done. what a relief. Assembling this crazy chair is quite a test. One pair of hands is just barely enough. Earlier I had assembled the front and back sections. Now it was time to do the whole thing – sides and seat. Start by knocking the spindles in the rails. There are three sizes of spindles on the sides – longest under the arm, shortest under the seat and slightly longer than that above the bottom stretcher. Gotta keep them all together and ALL RIGHT SIDE UP. I hope none of mine are upside down.
Here’s one side unit driven into the rear post. I glued this chair, and wish I had bought a new bottle of glue. I was down near the bottom of this one, and it make horrible farting sounds as I squeezed it to get the glue out. I don’t use glue often enough to keep it fresh, or I would have used the liquid hide glue. My bottle of that went “off” due to neglect.
Test-ftting the front on to gauge the seat pattern. I didn’t drive this all the way on – that only happens once.
After much fiddling around, I made a seat template that I felt was close enough, then cut out and beveled the oak seat board.
and knocked things together. It took some heavy pounding, and eventually some bar clamps to pull things together.
I got it in the end – no calamity.
it’s funny to stand it beside the JA chair. Both icons. Both for adults, but you wouldn’t know it from this photo.
I think the answer is 112, but that counts the rectangular mortises too. Skip them it’s 108.
I hate making jigs. I am not set up for it. I make almost all of my stock by hand, so getting lots of parts carefully dimensioned and then assembled is a pain. Screws? Glue? I stink with these things.
But I made a jig the other day to hold the turned seat rails for grooving them with the plow plane. I’ve done it free-hand with the plow’s fence before, but it has its moments that way. Most plow fences won’t reach very far down the turned stock’s side for support.
This cradle will hold either turned seat rail; those with turned tenons, or those with rectangular tenons. It’s just over 1 3/4″ inside, so I can hold rails that are either just a tad too thick, or thin. Or even those that are just right. If it can wiggle in there, I shim it with 2 wedges. It’s important to use 2, so I can keep the centerline of the rail centered within the jig. So one on each side of the rail.
The front end of the jig has a small block in it that supports the rectangular tenon at the right height for running the plow plane. There’s a hole bored in this for the turned tenon, then the block is sawn apart so it’s only 1/2 the height.
Here’s the rectangular tenon sitting on top of that front end:
And a turned tenon nesting in the half-hole, You can also see the centerline scribed along the top of the seat rail:
In use, the plow plane’s fence rides along the outside of the box/cradle. I had scribed a centerline down the length of the rail, and set the fence accordingly. The back end of the cradle is held under a holdfast to keep it steady.
A good result – the groove is perpendicular to the rectangular tenon, just as it should be.
A reader asked if I cut the joinery before turning or after, thinking it would be difficult once the stock is round. I do cut it after, I bet you could do it lots of ways, but this is the way I’ve always done it, and with care you can get accurate joints this way. I learned some of these techniques way back with my predecessors at Plimoth Plantation, Joel Pontz and Ted Curtin. As always, it starts with careful layout. This seat rail is sitting in two “joiners’ saddles” – blocks with notches cut in them. I tend to position the stock with the growth rings running horizontally, this is probably over-kill. But it helps later on.
The reason the saddles are boosted up on that scrap board is because I’ve mis-placed my small square that I normally use to scribe the center plumb line across the end grain of this turning. I want the blade of the square right snug against the turning. Then I scribe a vertical line right through the center. Repeat on the other end.
These plumb centerlines become the basis for accurate tenon layout (same for mortises on the posts, actually). I scribe a line along the top of the turning connecting one end to the other. This line is only on the tenon, not along the seat rail itself. Then I can mark out from this centerline the thickness of the tenon – in this case 1/2″. Drop these down the end grain too. I highlighted these lines with a pencil so they show up.
Then it’s just a matter of cutting the shoulders and forming the tenon. I held it in the wooden bench hook, sawed with a backsaw. Careful to check that you’re coming down evenly. No need to hurry here.
Then I split the tenon cheeks. Once they’re both roughed out, check them with winding sticks so you know both tenons are in a plane. Then pare them flat.
Straight-grained ash splits like nobody’s business. Whatever that means…
Mortise layout is just the same. Then bore holes at the top and bottom end of the mortise. I use the square to help align the brace and bit. I have forsaken period accuracy for plain ol’ accuracy and am using auger bits instead of spoon bits. There’s 112 holes to be bored in this chair. One hundred and twelve. That’s a lot.
First – some business announcements – I planned on assembling one of my JA-ladderback chairs today. I only got half of it done, but had a good excuse. Pret, Paula & I spent the morning exploring details about Greenwood Fest 2019 – yup, you heard me right – it’s official, mostly. There will be GWF19. We pretty much knew there would be, but we actually all said it out loud today.
Some workshop offerings – then the woodworking part. There’s one or two openings in the spoon carving class coming up Saturday & Sunday Aug 11/12 with Plymouth CRAFT. A semi-new venue for us in Plymouth, the Wildlands Trust building on Long Pond Rd. https://www.plymouthcraft.org/spoon-carving
Same venue in September 14-16 for Jarrod Dahl’s Birch Bark Cannister class. That’s going to be a great class. I have had a 15-minute lesson from Jarrod on them once, so I’m looking forward to learning more about this material, and these ingenious containers.
Now – on to chairmaking. It’s been about 25 years since I made these chairs with any regularity. In that time, I have changed the way I make most any piece of furniture; and coming back to these chairs is funny. Things I used to sweat over are nothing to me now, and the parts I struggle with today I used to apparently do with some proficiency.
Slat mortising – chopping the narrow mortises in the rear posts for the bent slats. I remember first learning how to chop these from the book (MACFAT for short) back in 1978. Sitting on a low bench, the posts pinned between 3 pegs and a wedge, and driving the mortise chisel mostly with shoulder pressure. More like digging a mortise than chopping it.
Since then, I’ve chopped so many mortises in joined furniture that I can’t see the point of not using a mallet and banging away at it. One of the last emails I got from Alexander asked “how do you hold the posts when slat-mortising?” The answer, never given, is I now hold the chair post on the workbench, either with holdfasts or clamps. And chop the mortise while standing, using a mallet. JA got up off the low bench at some point too, I know in the DVD the post is clamped on the workbench.
JA’s slats are incredibly thin, about 1/8” mortises. She was always pushing to get the chair parts reduced as much as possible. I know those are plenty strong enough, but I like the slats a little more stout. To me, the thin ones feel a little uncomfortable in handling. My chisel, which is English, is 3 1/2-sixteenths. Must be some metric dimension…so I’m making a chair that I know JA would call “wooden.” It’s not a compliment!
After mortising, I shave the parts round-ish from the octagons that I had in the bending form and mortising steps. Spokeshave work, at the shaving horse. This work requires a lot of “feel” – knocking off corners of corners, etc.
I use a JA-designed rack to test the rear posts’ positions in the finished chair. This helps to see where to bore the mortises.
Alexander’s chair is built out of order – the sides are assembled first, then the rear and front section are bored and fitted to do the final assembly. Most post-and-rung chairs were/are build front and back first, then tied together by the side assemblies. My large turned chair I have underway will be done this way, so you’ll see that sequence in contrast to this JA method.
The reasoning for making the sides first is that is the direction of the most stress the chair experiences. So the front and rear rungs will just slightly intersect these side rungs, pinning them in place. A double-dose of “belt & suspenders” construction, on top of the wet/dry joint that holds it all together to begin with. After using the rack to “see” the orientation, then I propped the posts in the vise for boring. A long bit extender helps to see the angle I’m boring at, and a level taped to it helps keep things aligned as well.
I have a bit-depth guide clamped onto the bit extender too. Stanley #47 bit depth stop. It goes “twangggg” when it hits the right depth.
Once two posts were bored, I shaved the tenons on 3 rungs and knocked that section together. Then repeat. Then quit. Tomorrow is another day.
I’m really enjoying these ladderbacks, it’s so much fun to explore what for me was my beginnings as a woodworker 40 years ago. I had been planning to delve in this work this year, and talked with Jennie Alexander about it a lot. Then her death a few weeks ago really spurred me on. The ones I’m making now are already sold, but later this month I’m planning on taking orders for them if anyone’s interested. I’ll write details about that later in August, after a trip to begin sorting out JA’s shop.
On that subject, we posted a notice on Jennie’s site that we’ll keep everyone updated when we know more about the upcoming edition of the chair book, as well as ordering information for the DVD. Once we know what’s what, you will too. I’ll post it on JA’s site as well as here and everywhere else we can think of. http://www.greenwoodworking.com/
For my pole lathe, the 4-foot long rear posts of this chair are the upper limit of what I can reach. Even then, it’s pushing things a bit. To get the roughed-out blank on the lathe, I prepare it by working it as straight and even as I can. In this first photo, I have the split-out billet, having shaved off the bark, I’m using a chalkline to begin layout. I’m aiming for a square about 2 1/2″ by four feet long.
I hew the two radial faces, trying to get them down to the chalkline. The better the hewing, the easier every step after this part.
Then the same steps on the tangential faces; chalkline, hewing and planing. Depending on my stamina levels, I will plane this square as evenly as I can, or I’ll get it close and figure to finalize it during turning. This one was in-between. Straight is more important than clean. At this next stage, I’ve propped the squared blank up on a joiners’ “saddle” which is a nice name for a block with a notch in it, to prop the squared piece corner-up. Now I can shave off the corners, leaving an octagonal-cross section ready for turning.
The main chunk of work is turning the cylinder. Here I’m using a wide deep gouge to get it round and down to size.
Then a nice sharp skew chisel to clean it off.
There’s lots of scribed lines turned on the stiles; and a small bead or two. But the finial is the real test. Here, a narrower gouge starts the cove in the middle of the finial.
A skew chisel begins to form the ball under that cove.
The camera/tripod was in my way at this point, so that’s the last shot I have of turning the finials. here’s the finished results. The top bit gets cut off.
Lots more to look at on this chair; cutting the rectangular mortise and tenon joints; plowing grooves, etc.
I have a project underway that relates back to one of my earliest posts on this blog. I’m making a copy of a seventeenth-century turned chair with a board seat captured in grooves in the seat rails, rather than a woven seat around the seat rails. The chair I’m now building has four legs, back in July 2008 I wrote one of my first blog posts about a three-legged version. https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2008/07/05/three-footed-chair/
here’s an earlier version I did of this chair:
Its main feature to my eye is the construction of the seat rails. Because the seat is a panel captured in grooves, the seat rails need to all fall at the same height. With woven seating, the seat rails are staggered in height, so the joints don’t interfere. (usually the side rungs are higher than the front and rear rungs, maybe always) But with the board seat, the joints actually intersect. Often, like the chair I’m working on now, it’s a combination of a rectangular tenon pierced by a round tenon. One thing all this means is the parts are very heavy and thick. Here’s the rectangular tenon test-fit into one of the posts.
I’ve used the following photo a lot over the years, it shows the round tenon running right through the rectangular one. This is from a 3-legged version, but the effect is mostly the same for 4-legged ones. Easier geometry.
This chair is ash, (Fraxinus, usually around here Fraxinus americana) riven from a straight-grained log, hewn and prepared (either by planing or shaving with a drawknife) then turned on the lathe. The seat rails are 1 3/4” in diameter, the posts are 2 1/8”-2 1/4” thick. That’s heavy stuff. Good straight ash splits evenly and easily, it’s a real treat to use.
The original chair I’m working from is one of two by the same unknown maker, both at Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth Massachusetts. One belonged to Governor William Bradford,
the other to the church elder William Brewster.
Brewster died in 1644, Bradford in 1657. His inventory included lots if itemized and well-described furniture:
“a Court Cubbard £1-05, winescot bedsteed and settle £1-10,
4 lether Chaires £1-12, 1 great lether Chaire 10s, 2 great wooden Chaires 8s, a winscott Chist & Cubburd £1-05, 2 great Carved Chaires £1-04, a smale carved Chaire 6s, 1 great Chaire and 2 wrought stooles £1, a Carved Chist £1″
Well, we know this chair at Pilgrim Hall is not the “carved” chairs, nor is it leather. So it’s either one of the “great wooden Chaires” or just simply the “great Chaire” that was listed along with the “wrought” stools. Aren’t they all wooden chairs, you ask? Often the adjective describes the seating material – thus these could be referred to in the period as wooden chairs. “Great” is taken to mean either “large” or often, “with arms.” One thing about the Bradford inventory that vexes me is the value assigned to the 2 great wooden chairs – 8 shillings. If the chairs are equals, then 4 shillings isn’t a lot for a chair like this. If the 2 great carved chairs are also equal, they’re worth 12 shillings each. A pretty big difference, I’d guess this chair is as much work as a carved one, maybe more. The great chair listed with the 2 wrought stools is harder to estimate because of the stools. “Wrought” usually means “worked” in some way. In stools and chairs, it’s often considered upholstered.
The Bradford chair is in better condition than the Brewster. It’s missing some height, the bottoms of the posts are right at the stretchers. One thing I like about this wear & tear on this original object is it clearly shows the type of bit used to bore this mortise – a round-bottomed hole like that is the result of using what we now call a spoon-bit.
Here’s a spoon bit, showing the rounded tip that makes a hole like the one above:
The upper rear rail is thought to be a replacement, as is the board seat. Brewster’s is missing several spindles, a couple of stretchers, upper rear rail and has a leather seat wrapped around the rails.
I’ll post construction notes and photos as I go. Lots to see in this chair.
For some details about the chairs’ histories, see the page at Pilgrim Hall’s website about their furniture. If you’re near Plymouth, don’t miss the museum. They have great stuff. http://www.pilgrimhall.org/ce_funiture.htm
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 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,
then cut the relief above the seat on the front of the rear post for bending.
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.
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!
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.
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.