I was thinking about chair-making a lot lately, just had no time to do any. Now I do. First thing I did after cleaning the shop for 2 days was take this brettstuhl down from the loft and changed the outline of the seat. It used to look like this:
That seat shape was pretty close to what Drew Langsner wrote about when I first learned of these chairs back in the mid-1980s. When I started building them in the past couple of years, I used that same shape at first. Then the more I saw of antique examples (online, not in person…) I decided I like this shape better:
Then I went back to the chair I resumed work on the other day. An alternative to the chair above, this time with a 3-piece back.
Yesterday I chopped the mortises in the seat board – starting with a brace & bit. These mortises are 7/8″ x 1 3/4″. I do them in 2 steps, first in the seat board, then in the battens.
Once those are chopped, I laid out the trenches for the battens. I saw and chisel most of this, then clean it up with a router plane. I pretty new tool to me. These battens were extras from making a couple of these chairs last spring, so beveled, not dovetailed on their edges. That means you can use the batten to guide the saw’s angle. If you’re careful. I do most of this sawing with the heel of the saw, teeth I rarely use.
Then knock out the waste.
I use my large framing chisel to begin the cleanup.
I have done enough of these chairs now, and plan on more to warrant the addition of a router plane.
After I got the battens fitting & chopped the back’s mortises through those, I bored the mortises for the legs. These are 15/16″ diameter holes. Mine don’t exit through the seat – I made the legs a long time ago & the turned tenons weren’t long enough to do so.
I turned the now-dry tenons to their finished size, glued them & wedged them.
Some more fussing with the back, more mortising & wedging of the tenons through the seat. here’s where it stands now – some trimming here & there to finish it off tomorrow.
the cupboard is done. Photographing it for real tomorrow, with the proverbial help from my friends.
Last week I posted a video in the joined chest series. In it, I said I rarely true up the bottoms of my wooden planes. They just don’t wear as much as you might think… – words to that effect anyway. And then the next day I was planing up some leftover oak – and knocked a chip out behind the iron! I never saw that before.
I scribed a spot that would envelope the whole chip and using a chisel and router plane cut out a recess to take a patch. The router plane is maybe my newest tool – I’ve never used one until recently.
I had a piece of dry maple hanging around so used that to patch it. Because my plane’s soles get pretty damp planing so much green wood, I used yellow glue to set it in place. Used it a bit the next day. Seems alright so far.
I’ve seen planes patched in front of the mouth and even done a couple. But I don’t ever recall seeing one patched behind the iron. Something new every day…
Back to what I was doing. Part of my work over the past few days has been sorting some of the oak bolts in the yard. I planed up these boards – just random sizes, depending on what the log sections would yield. Some of this will be box parts or panels – 7″-8″ wide by 24″ long. Other bits will be framing parts; 3 1/2″-5″ wide. This & that lengths. This coming week includes a big shop clean-up, at which time this batch (& more to come) will get stacked & stickered.
Later I got out a chair I began months ago. At that point, I had made all of one piece – one of the uprights. So I made the other and the crest. Chopped the mortise & tenon joints and test fit them. Today I added some chip-carving. Butternut.
I forgot that I’m going to drawbore & pin these joints – right through these pinwheels. I’ll carve the pegs after I trim them…they’re soft enough in butternut. This chair is not going to be a copy of a specific chair. It’s based on some photos given to me and a small publication about German examples. I just don’t know what to call it – it’s not a brettstuhl (board chair) – and they’re German, Swiss, Italian, Austrian, French and more besides. I just know I like making them.
I’ll finish trimming the juncture between the upright & crest after pegging it.
Here’s one of the pictures Chris Schwarz and his chair-mad friends gave me – this chair is part of the inspiration for what I’m making now…
I shot a few photos today, a desk box going out to a customer and a new brettstuhl. I have updated the “furniture for sale” page – there’s not much there, 2 brettstuhls and one carved box. I was shooting the photos today because it was overcast – but the sun poked through for a dramatic effect for a minute when the new brettstuhl was in place…
I resisted as long as I could, but I finally caved & took a couple days for some chairmaking. I’ve had the parts for this brettstuhl hanging around since mid-summer, almost all made. Just needed to finish the carving, cut out the back, trim the seat board, cut the housings for the battens, chop the mortises for the back & wedges then put it together.
It started back in the summer, when I got it into my head to get a grathobel. Some help from some friends in Germany and I got one on the German ebay. An indulgence, but not a terrible one.
So back in July or so I made the legs, battens and started carving the back. Then let it sit. I finished the carving yesterday and cut out the shape of the back. Then started in on the housings under the seat for the battens. Sawn & chiseled, then got out a router plane to bring things down to a finished depth.
The battens are tapered in width – so the best way I found to fit them is to make them extra long and then test them, and make a mark where the front of the batten stops.
Then I take it out, and shave it some. Two or three shavings for a timid approach. Last thing I want is it to be loose.
Then it goes back and I knock it forward & make a new mark. And repeat until it drives all the way to the end. I crept up on it.
Then mortising for the back.
This time I cut the mortises in two steps. I had them in the walnut seat to begin with – it helped me locate where I wanted the battens. Now I’m boring through the battens – then follow this with chisels to finish the mortises for the back. It took a good bit of test-fitting & fussing. That’s what happens when months & months go by between chairs. For me, anyway.
I want to have to force the back through the seat, but not drive it with a mallet. I found out the hard way once that knocking that on its top end can connect the dots & split the whole back apart. I don’t want to learn that lesson again.
Then more boring & chiseling for the wedge mortises. Seems some old chairs use pegs instead of wedges. I decided I like the wedges. Might not make a difference.
The battens I’ll trim after assembly, might need to trim the wedges too. But by the time I got to this point, it was too late for the next step – boring the leg mortises. Tomorrow.
A couple of things for sale, brought down from the loft. If you’d like any of these, leave a comment and we’ll take it from there. Paypal or check is fine, I add the fees to the paypal charges. If someone beats you to it, I can always make these sort of things on order.
I’ll start with the box. I made quite a few boxes last year, particularly in the fall. This box is #12 of 11, or something like that. I made the body of it then, but didn’t finish it until a week ago or so. It’s quartersawn red oak, with a white pine bottom. The carvings are based on boxes made in Dedham, Massachusetts in the 2nd half of the 17th century.
My schedule is pretty full with the large cupboard I’m making and some stools and chairs. I know I’ll make more boxes this year but don’t know when. And there won’t be as many as last year.
H: 10 1/2″ W: 26 1/2″ D: 14 3/4″ $1,200 includes shipping in US
The till parts were scrounged from what was in the shop at the time, a walnut lid and red cedar bottom & side.
The boxes I make depart from “typical” period boxes in that the sides are carved in addition to the front. This is seen on some period boxes, but most are just carved on the front. I use wooden pegs and glue to secure the rabbets – same story – most period boxes are nailed there, some are pegged. And I use a wooden hinge, again, you see that sometimes, but more often iron hinges.
Ladderback chair Hickory rungs and posts, red oak slats, hickory bark seat.
There’s a story to this chair. I fumbled around a bit when I was re-learning how to make these chairs. This one I got the orientation of a rear post a bit off, resulting in what Drew Langsner calls a “windswept” back to the chair. Just a bit asymmetrical. It’s perfectly sound and sits fine. It’s just not a top-flight chair. But neither is it a “second.” I guess it’s a “second & 1/2.” When I assembled it, I saw the problem and stuck it in the loft and made another. Recently I got it out & decided it’s not that bad – so I put a hickory bark seat on it and took $200 off the price.
$1,000 including shipping in US.
You can see the post on our right is kicked out too far. Not fatal.
Here’s the hickory bark seat.
Kid’s size ladderback chair
H: 26″ W: (across front) 14 1/4″ D: (overall) 14″ Seat height 14″ $800 including shipping in US.
A colored chair? From me? Yup, it’s to hide another mishap. Bored a hole in the wrong spot, plugged it & carried on. But it was right in a front post. So I practiced coloring this one. Even with the plugged joint, the chair is perfectly sound. Here’s the plugged mortise, at the rung that’s running down to the right in this photo.
I still have two brettstuhls here, Alpine chairs, board-chairs – whatever you might call them. It’s funny to think about me making Alpine chairs down here at sea level. They might seem like quite a departure from my normal work, but with carved decoration, mortise & tenon joinery and a long tradition, they are right up my alley. If anyone is interested in one, send me an email at PeterFollansbee7@gmail.com
I’ve been making a few chairs & sticking them up in the loft. Now that space is full and I want to keep making chairs. Time to sell this batch off and start another. The way I tend to do this is I post them here and if you decide you’d like one, leave a comment claiming the chair. Then we can sort payment either through paypal or by check in the mail. Shipping in US included. If you’re near southeastern Massachusetts you can pick them up.
UPDATE – well, the ladderback chairs sold right off the bat. You won’t see the comment claiming them because the buyer has asked that his name not be published there…
If you were hoping for one of those chairs and missed out I can always make you a chair. Just email me & I can put you on the list.
Ladderback chair, red oak with hickory rungs, hickory bark seat – SOLD
H: 33 1/4″ W: (across the front posts) 17 1/4″ D: 17 1/2″ (seat depth is 12 1/2″) SH (seat height): 17 1/2″ $1,200
This chair is one of the first in which I re-oriented the rear posts to show the radial face as the front of that post. A small change to the standard JA chair, for fanatics only. Means nothing otherwise. But I like the look of it. I also left these rungs generally octagonal, except where they enter the posts.
Below is the hickory bark seat on this chair – I had a mixed pile of bark, some from one tree, some from another. Over time the use will burnish the bark to a nice polished surface. Hickory bark makes the best seat I know.
Ladderback chair, red oak with white oak slats, hickory bark seat – SOLD
Below you can see the more “normal” orientation of the rear posts – so a different pattern on the wood depending on how it’s oriented. I assemble the chair frames, then poke around to see what I have on hand to make slats from – that’s how this red oak chair got white oak slats.
and its hickory bark seat. This was thick bark that I split in half, and used the inner part of that split for the warp (front-to-back) and the outer part for the weft.
Something I used to make as a regular offering, but this is the first since my re-entry into chairmaking. (I made some in 2009 for my kids when they were small, but that’s it.) Ash with white oak slats, hickory bark seat.
Everything about it is the same as the full-size JA chair, but just scaled down. Harder to see in ash, but again these rear posts have the radial orientation. I’m leaning towards making that the way I do these now.
Next up is something new. I was thinking this year I’d concentrate my chairmaking on the ladderbacks and the shaved windsor chairs. Then I got detoured into making some of these brettstuhls or board-chair or Alpine chair. I’m not sure what to call these. They’re fun chairs to build, simple but challenging. The two chairs here are close to what I’m after. I’m going to keep tinkering with these chairs for a little while anyway, I have walnut left to do three more.
The seat and the back are butternut, the battens underneath are white oak and the legs are riven ash. The legs tenon into the battens and the battens are captured by the back’s tenons – which are in turn wedged below. It’s a brilliant system. At the end of this post is a video showing how to assemble these.
Another view under there, showing how these parts connect.
After I used up the wide butternut I had on hand, I went out & got a 16″-18″ wide plank of black walnut. Air drying for years & years, it was perfect for what I wanted. This is the first chair from that plank. I’ve begun to change things a bit from Drew Langsner’s 1981 article that I started with – here I’ve trimmed the front corners off the seat, I’ve seen photos of historic examples with this pattern. Also a thumbnail molded edge instead of just a simple chamfer like the butternut chair above.
In this view you can see the shape of this seat
On the backs, I’ve just echoed the scrolled shape with a V-tool on both of these chairs.
here’s the underneath of this one. Same as before, white oak battens and ash legs. The battens are 1 3/8″ thick, quartersawn.
The brettstuhls I’m planning to ship partially un-assembled – here is a video showing how to put one together (first how to take it apart…) – it’s really quite simple. You need to be able to tell right from left and count to 2. A mallet for most of the persuasion, some light taps from a hammer for the last bits.
Another piece about the brettstuhls – it seems as if their feet stick way out beyond the chair itself. I thought so at first until I stood one up beside a Windsor chair I made. There’s several factors at play here; the spacing of the seat mortises for the legs, the rake & splay of the legs and to some extent the length of the legs. Here’s the butternut chair beside the Windsor and they aren’t all that different in the footprint.
It was April 10th when I wrote here on the blog about the previous assembly of one of these chairs. I was too busy in May with the Essex County cupboard project and birding to spend much time chairmaking. So it wasn’t until today that I assembled the next one – 6 or 7 weeks apart. That’s a long enough gap to un-learn things for me.
One thing I changed this time is the seat – a thumbnail molded edge instead of just a bevel. And the front corners snipped off – something I saw scrolling through photos of antiques and museum pieces online.
I bored the mortises for the rear legs with the back in place – an attempt to keep the rear leg from bumping into the through-tenon of the back under the seat. It almost worked – I must have wiggled on one of them. But a minor wiggle.
I turned the leg’s tenons to their final dimension (in this case 15/16″ x 1 3/8″ long), Then sawed a kerf in them for a wedge and knocked them into the battens. With glue too. The batten is lifted off the bench top so the tenon can protrude through the top of the batten.
My notes from last time said “make the tenons longer so they all exit completely.” A combination of the angle the mortise is bored at and the length of the tenon can leave the tenon either through like this one, or not quite all the way through like some of the others today. Oh well. Not the end of the world. I still wedged them and they glue helps too.
Driving in the tapered beveled battens is pure fun. They’re very loose for a good stretch, then all of a sudden they get as tight as can be. Brilliant concept.
Then I insert the back in its mortises through the seat and the battens. I don’t use a mallet, it’d be easy to split that back right in half. I’ve done it, a very discouraging move. After it’s all the way in, I scribe for the wedge mortises in the through tenons.
I consulted the previous chair when I laid out the mortise for this wedge. I made it 5/16″ wide and just eyeballed cutting out the wedge angle. Then I used the wedge to lay out the angle of the mortise.
Knocking the wedge in from the back. I drive it in, mark where I want to trim it front & back, then knock it out, trim it & put it back.
Here’s today’s walnut one beside April’s butternut example. These chairs are a great combination of challenging and fun.
The impetus for this diversion into these German/Austrian/Italian/Swiss etc chairs was first of all Drew Langsner’s article “Two Board Chairs” in the Jul/Aug 1981 issue of Fine Woodworking. At first, I felt skittish making them because I’ve never studied an old example. But 2020 blew that notion out of the water anyway. So I started in, figuring I’d make some blunders here & there, some changes to Drew’s instructions and find my way into them. One thing I have seen online is the wedging that fastens the back under the seat is usually a pin, not a wedge. I like the wedge idea that Drew learned in Switzerland, but I run mine from the back toward the front – not side-to-side like the way Drew learned. All those options work of course. I have enough walnut boards to make three more. But they’ll take me some time. There’s that cupboard to get back to…
First of all, it’s May. That means migratory birds should be returning here to (& through) New England. I’ve been out for some practice trips w Marie but the real show should begin next week. An eastern towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) – I like these birds a lot, I liked them better when they were called “rufous-sided towhee.”
and a wood thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) for starters.
The good news lately is the resumption of in-person classes is in the works. The bad news is right now I’m only scheduling three of them, and 2 of those are full of hold-overs from 2020. The one that will be open to registration is a carved box class at Lost Art Press in Covington, KY in November. I’m hoping 2022 will have a full schedule of classes, with a focus on the JA ladderback chair and the carved box.
And as I write this post, one comes in from Chris Schwarz who hosts the classes there – in his home – about vaccinations. https://blog.lostartpress.com/2021/05/07/classes-vaccinations/ – if you’ve been to a class there, you can easily see that all Chris really gets out of it is disruption as we overwhelm the shop for a week. So let’s be good guests, now – OK?
I’ve started cutting joinery for my cupboard project and I’m two videos ahead of Daniel now. So we’ll have more & more of that coming up as blog posts & videos – in between birding.
I also went out and paid actual money for some boards – 16″-18″ wide clear air-dried walnut. I started cutting out the next brettstuhl – decided to carve it first, then cut out the scrolled shape.
There must be more, but that’s enough for now. An orchard oriole (Icterus spurius) showed up outside the shop yesterday afternoon. This is the male, the female was there too, but she wouldn’t come out for a picture.
Before I dive into splitting & planing a new oak log, I figured I’d take today to finish up the brettstuhl that was 3/4 done.
Some of what I tackled today. First, make sure the legs are dry. The scribbling on them is their weight in ounces over the past couple of weeks. They’ve been in a kiln made of insulation board, heated by a single light bulb. Kept at about 140 degrees.
Then figure out the placement of the mortises and the angles of the legs. I built the first one based on Drew Langsner’s 1981 article “Two-Board Chairs” about a chair he built with his teacher/mentor Reudi Kohler. But here & there, I changed a few things. And on this one, I changed them some more. Drew sent me some notes on his chair, measured the angles for rake & splay, etc. But I’ve been looking at images online from various sources too. Often these chairs seem to have an exaggerated degree of rake & splay. So that’s what I aimed for this time.
After some mock-ups I laid out the sightlines on paper, then taped that in place because the battens and underside of the seat do not form a plane to easily lay things out on. I had to nip off the corners of the paper so I could bore the mortises. I have no mind for math, I used the “chairpanzee” contraption made available by Lost Art Press – https://lostartpress.com/products/the-chairpanzee-analog-computer to figure these angles.
It’s all well & good to figure all those cool angles, but you still have to bore them on the money. I got close, but could have been better in a couple instances. These mortises are 15/16″ in diameter, 1 3/8″ deep.
And there’s the problem – the far leg here bumps into the back’s through tenon below the seat. Not fatal, I just trimmed that tenon some. Only my pride was hurt, and I’m used to that.
I like the looks of the new one much better. More lively. But as I viewed it beside the previous example, I thought I’d over-done the angles. Figured those feet would trip people up walking by the chair.
Then I began to measure it against a version I made of Curtis’ democratic chair (another post later…) and they both are about 17″ across the front of the seat, with footprints of 21 3/8″ (the brettstuhl) and 20 3/4″ (the democratic chair). So both of these chairs’ front feet jut out beyond the seat a bit. I guess the thing to do is use the new one some & see what happens. And go measure some of the other chairs around here…
I had put the ash legs in a kiln powered by one light bulb. Over time I weighed them, and they stopped losing weight a couple of days ago. Hence, dry. I didn’t get photos of the first half of today’s work, boring the mortises in the battens for the legs. I had the battens in place in the seat, and bored from below. Used 2 adjustable bevels to set the rake & splay. Here’s photos of the rest of the day. First a front & rear leg fitted into a batten. Through-wedged tenons, 15/16″ in diameter. Ash legs, white oak batten.
Before fitting the battens into the seat, I chamfered the edges of the front & sides of the seat. This could be a molded edge (it is in Drew Langsner’s article I used to build from) – but a chamfer works too.
Once I had the two battens fitted with their legs, time to knock them back into the seat. They are not interchangable. I marked them inside the housing.
Then slide/heave/push, but don’t pound the back into the mortises cut in the seat & battens.
From there, I scribed the baseline for the mortises in the back’s tenons. Then back out it comes.
I bored these mortises, then pared with a chisel. I felt the butternut was a somewhat fragile wood, and it’s tight quarters in there for chopping a mortise. So brace & bit and paring chisel work. Make sure the top end of that mortise is ABOVE the baseline scribed. The wedge needs to bear on the batten’s surface, not the end grain of this mortise.
The other end is angled some, maybe 6-8 degrees or so. Too steep is less likely to grab.
then I pared the end grain and the walls inside that mortise. It’s 5/16″ wide. Centered on the tenon’s thickness, which is about an inch. Then I planed some wedge stock, I used hickory in this case. I just wanted something harder than the butternut. Not sure it’s necessary. I always chamfer the ends of wedges like this – both ends. That way if you ever have to adjust them, you can knock them this way & that without beating them to bits.
Then put the thing back together & drive the wedges in. These next two photos are a bit out of order – the wedges are still extra-long, and not yet chamfered. And the batten too is extra long. I took the wedges out to trim their length, then chamfered them. Took the back out so I could easily trim the battens flush with the back edge of the seat.
Then put it all back together. This is an earlier test-assembly. One nice thing is there’s no hurry and you can take the back in & out to make whatever adjustments you need.
Here’s the other view of the finished chair.
I want to do another one soon, otherwise everything I learned doing this one will go out the window & I’ll have to learn it again. Next time, more taper to the legs. More rake & splay.