Make a Chair from a Tree – Plymouth CRAFT workshop May 2019

Well. Here goes. 2019 marks my maiden solo voyage in teaching students how to make Jennie Alexander’s ladderback chair. My version of it anyway. We’ll be following the general format I learned from JA and Drew Langsner, who together and separately taught this class for decades. I learned a lot from both of them about this chair; and assisted in classes at both Country Workshops and Alexander’s shop in Baltimore. In the early 1990s I worked with JA on the 2nd edition of the book Make a Chair from a Tree.

Riving, drawknife work, boring with a brace & bit, mortise & tenon joinery, steam-bending. Lots to cover in this class, it’s where I began as a woodworker in 1978.

boring mortises
chopping slat mortises

 

drawknife & shaving horse

We’re going to do it as a 6-day class with Plymouth CRAFT, just 6 students in the class. Dates are Friday May 3- Wed May 8th. 6 spots, so if you think you’d like to tackle this (and 6 days of Paula’s lunches) best sign up early.

https://www.plymouthcraft.org/ladderback-chairs-with-peter-follan

(Two things – I wrote “solo” but Pret Woodburn will be there to assist much of the time. He just never wants credit for all his helpfulness. And May? – what was I thinking? It’s the pinnacle of the birding year – right after this class, I’m going to Mt Auburn Cemetery to see warblers during their spring migration.)

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the week in pictures

Just photos, and some captions.

mortising a joined stool frame

 

I bore the peg holes to mark it “done”

 

shaving rungs for JA ladderback

 

Mortised these posts, then shaved with a spokeshave to finish them

 

joinery tested for the 2nd joined stool frame

 

some spoon carving at the end of a day

 

new old shop stool by JA; pre-1978

 

unrelated – two scrolled & molded table rails and two bed posts

 

stile for joined table; 2 3/4″ square

 

turning one of the stiles

Thinking about self-taught turning – “Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other.”

turning detail

 

Jones River this morning

 

Nice to see the sun today

PF versions of JA ladderback chair

I’ve been re-adjusting to life in the Northern Hemisphere after my trip to Australia. When I was in the airports and planes (almost 30 hours of “dead time” each way) – I had some good reading, including a draft of Jennie Alexander’s Make a Chair from a Tree, version 3. This book will be published next year by Lost Art Press.

When I got back up & running in the shop here at home, I assembled one of my JA chairs as my warm-up. After having read so much MACFAT it seemed the thing to do. Now I plan to get back into a rhythm and work on one of these each weekend; either seating, shaving & bending posts or assembly. Next weekend, it’s slats in this new frame. 

 

The first ones I made this year sold, and now I’ve got 5 more underway.

 

I’m going to begin taking orders for them now, and will begin shipping/delivering starting in late January. If you’d like to order one, I’m offering them for $1,200 each. I’ll take orders up to 10 chairs, beyond that I’ll start a waiting list. I’ll collect a deposit of $200 for each of the first 10 chairs. They are made of either oak (usually red, some white oak rungs or slats) and ash. It all depends on what’s on hand. Right now, it’s red oak and ash. Seating materials will vary between hickory bark (as long as I can get it), and natural rush seats. Optional seating is woven tape seats like Shaker tape. There’s a hemp version of a tape seat that JA really liked, I have yet to use it.

The chair is about 34” high, 18” wide (across the front) and 14” deep. Seat height is 18”.

Email me at peterfollansbee7@gmail.com if you’d like to get on the list. The deposit through paypal will be $206.

Hickory bark seat

Part of my re-discovery of the JA chair is a hickory bark seat. I know of nothing else that works, looks and feels this good. And the more you use the chair, the better the bark seat looks. I got a couple of boxes of bark coils JA had. (sorry, Nathaniel. That’s why you got the Jogge cabinet…)

Here in New England, I never get such long strips of bark as this. I think the bulk of this seat was 3 strips. After soaking the bark, the first thing I did was split each strip in half. The under-half goes on the seat, the upper half I save for lashing basket rims.

I tie the strip at the back rung, next to the post on my left. You can start on the other side, but this seems to be my habit. If I recall…

Under the front rung, back over the rear, laying over the tie. Then come back again…

and on & on…I pull it snug, but not tight. The bark soaked for over an hour and is quite pliable.

 

 

Starting to run out of this strip. I make sure the end where I will tie a new strip on is on the bottom of the seat.

Like that…

Once I’ve come around the corner, I start the weaving. This herringbone/twill pattern is over-2/under-2 for the first row.

Then over-one, under-2.

Row 3 is under 2-over-2.

I guess I didn’t shoot the next row – it’s under-1/over-2. The only skip is at the right-hand side. Otherwise it’s over-2/under-2…

The kids came out, they’d never seen me do this work before…tried their hand at it. Here’s Daniel’s turn:

 

And Rose’s.

 

Using a JA-made stick to shove the rows up tight.

 

The stick is tapered in thickness, so it can get under there to catch the weaver as it comes through. Next time, I’ll fill strips in the sides, and pack the top toward the back. I should get one more row up near the front rail.

Clean-up time at JA’s

a sea of chairs

Well, that was quite a trip. I usually take pictures when I travel, but this past weekend I was far too busy to get near the camera much. A group of us descended on Jennie Alexander’s home & shop to begin sifting and sorting the shop/woodworking-related books, papers, and what-have-you.  For me the absolute highlight of the whole weekend was a spontaneous 20-minute examination of about 25 chairs, maybe more. Me, Geli Courpas, the first “apprentice”, Nathaniel Krause, the last-apprentice and Bob Trent. “Which one’s older? Which one’s turned, versus shaved?” And more.

Geli Courpas, Nathaniel Krause & PF

JA & I sold off many of the “extra” tools many years ago. That’s a good thing, because there were so many books, magazines and papers it isn’t funny. But there still were a few tools to gather, then disseminate.

a few tools left

Trent did an amazing job sorting the stacks. Many of the notebooks, including the correspondence between JA & me, were donated to the research library at Winterthur Museum a while back. But there’s lots of stuff still there. I haven’t read the older notebooks, but I plan to next time I’m at Winterthur, Trent says they go back to 1973, five years before the book Make a Chair from a Tree.


I brought home lots of books, maybe 5 or 6 boxes. Many are ones I’ve known all these years. I spent lots of time in that study. Some are to keep, some are to sell here. I’m going to start right in. That hadn’t been my intention, but I have no place to store all of these, so the sooner I move half of them the better. We’ll do it like we did the tools, or the way I usually sell spoons, etc. I’ll post them here, you leave a comment of what you want, then we can make a transaction through paypal, or you send a check. International shipping is extra.

so – books for sale tomorrow night. Some of Alexander’s book, some oak furniture books, some tool history books. I’m going to do one box at a time. If you are interested, watch for tomorrow’s blog post.

 

now they know how many holes it takes to make the Bradford Chair

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.

Thanks to Pilgrim Hall for letting me copy their chair(s). https://www.pilgrimhall.org/ce_funiture.htm 

Here’s Scout the Cat. He sleeps like that.

 

Bradford chair; the groovy bits

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.