brettstuhl #2 done

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.

brettstuhl #2

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.

dry bones

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.

sightlines for mortising

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.

boring with adjustable bevel as guide

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.

rear legs

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.

#1 on our left, #2 on the right

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.

#2 beside my version of the democratic 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…

works in progress

some recent chairs

I haven’t taken many photos lately, which is why there’s been no posts. I have been working, though. As I wait for the oak I planed up to dry some before I begin framing the cupboard, I’ve been making chairs. And I have a few more to do – I am shopping for a new oak log to finish prepping the cupboard stock, but started another brettstuhl, a joined stool and some more ladderback chairs. Below are the next three- each waiting for the next step.

next 3

The joined stool parts are at the end of the bench. Joinery is all cut, but I’m letting them dry a little more before I do the turned decoration. Maybe a week.

Then the brettstuhl – that one’s next. Right now, the oak battens are drying in the kiln, and later today I’ll begin shaping them & fitting them to the seat board. So that one will be done in the next three or four days. (longer if I find an oak log Friday…)

The ladderback chair in the front of this pile – its rungs need to go in the kiln now. There, they’ll dry a few more days and I can then bore & assemble that chair.

Someone asked about how I store bits & pieces for many projects at once. In my small (12′ x 16′) shop, it’s tricky. The chair parts are easiest – they get split & shaved, then tucked up in the ceiling/floor joists above my head.

chair parts drying

The stuff for the joined cupboard I’m doing is difficult, in part because the parts are big, but mainly because there’s so many – maybe 60 pieces in the frame. Here’s part of them, stickered & sitting on the loft floor.

stacked & stickered

The absolute worst storage, if you can call it that, is this one – a heap standing in the corner.

storage or out of control wood pile?

I think I’ll tackle this heap first today. The bent chair posts can go into some racks between the rafters. Then I’ll sort out the cupboard parts here, and stack them somewhere. some of this is bound to become firewood – so that can go outside. And on & on.

Brettstuhl assembled

Spent the day fitting the brettstuhl together.

Brettstuhl assembled

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.

legs & 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.

chamfer w drawknife

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.

one good use of too much bulk

From there, I scribed the baseline for the mortises in the back’s tenons. Then back out it comes.

scribing for mortises

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.

more boring

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.

brettstuhl side view

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.

brettstuhl batten-fitting, etc.

two boards, no legs

I worked all day, but you wouldn’t know it. I felt like I was moving in slow-motion. But I was being extra careful – I want this chair to come off without a hitch. The photo above is where I quit. I’ll show you what I did to get to that point.

The day started off laying out the housings for the two oak battens under the seat. Drew’s plans in the old FWW said the battens were 2 1/2″ in from the edges of the seat. I marked that line, then used an adjustable bevel to layout the angle from the beveled batten.

adjustable bevel & awl

But the battens are tapered in width, in addition to being beveled on their edges. So another adjustable bevel to find the inside edge of the batten-housing.

Lots of layout

After double-checking this layout, I began by sawing the edges of the housings, as far as I could. They stop about 1 3/4″ from the front. After a while, I was tilting the saw up a bit, and using the teeth just under the handle – the teeth you hardly ever use.

saw as much as I can

I chopped out what I could get at near the back of the seat. Just breaking out the waste between the two saw kerfs.

chisel work begins

Then more chisel work.

Then even more chisel work.

paring with a long wide chisel

There’s no need to see the whole blow-by-blow. That’s probably too much already. Check the depth…

I aimed for 3/8″ deep

Then tested the battens, made adjustments, and tested them again. I had to give these some pretty good whacks to get them in there. Satisfied.

Mortising was long & slow – after the layout, I bored two 7/8″ holes in each mortise. The bevel helps aim the brace & bit.

The butternut’s easy, then comes the oak battens

More chisel work, more test-fitting.

paring the mortises

That seemed to take a long time. But it was then past mid-afternoon & I was getting tired. That’s a good time to slow down, not speed up.

testing some more

It’s in place, I need to trim the shoulders of the tenons – I had cut them square, forgetting they compliment the angle of the back. Next time, some wedges for these through tenons, then the legs.

the brettstuhl continued

began carving the back

I worked some in the past week or so on the brettstuhl, or board chair. I didn’t want to copy my first carving exactly, so I just drew up part of it and dove in. The butternut carves like…well, butter. This board is quartersawn which makes it even more cooperative.

halfway there

In the photo above, I’ve made it halfway up the back. The designs and elements are taken from my 17th-century studies of oak furniture, just super-imposed on a different form. I didn’t shoot any photos beyond this one til I got one of the finished carving.

the carved back

Then I switched over to turning the leg tenons. I left them oversized and will turn their final dimension when they are dry.

roughing out

I followed that gouge with a skew chisel.

skew forming the tenon surface

I made eight of these legs, so if all goes well I’ll make another chair after this one. If all goes poorly, I have some extra legs just in case. Here’s set # 1. They’re in the kiln now.

oversized and ready to dry

So while those tenons dry, I got out some very long-stashed 6/4 white oak to make the battens that slot into the seat board. There’s two options (at least) for these – one is a shouldered sliding dovetail, and one is just a long bevel to form the sliding dovetail. I’ve opted for the bevel. Below I set the batten between bench dogs and tilted it over so the planing was pretty much just as it normally is.

beveling the batten edges

Here’s one edge done. Next time I work on this chair, it’ll be time for the bottom board – to make the tapered, beveled housings for these battens.

checking the angle

a little snowfall, some chair & stool stuff

It is January, so it should look like this. And now, for a little while, it does.

Down by the river. It’s not much snow, but at least it’s something.

I’ll go light the fire, and pretend to work – while really I’ll be watching the bird feeders. This joined stool is ready for assembly, I guess I can fit that into my busy day.

Masashi Kutsuwa sent me a link to another video of the Spanish chairmakers. This one is more recent, and has amazing detail of some of the process. That push knife and spoon bit action is out of this world. The chair work starts at about the 11:00 mark.

from Masashi’s note: “The young chairmaker in the video, who made and assembled those chairs at incredible speed, is Mr. Manolo Rodriguez, who I met at Guadix in 2015! He appears in my book P132-135. (I realized the young man on youtube was Manolo after my book was published!) “

Masashi also tells me that Amazon JP does international delivery. So if you’re interested in his book about the “Van Gogh” chair – that’s one way to get it.

https://www.amazon.co.jp/-/en/%E4%B9%85%E6%B4%A5%E8%BC%AA-%E9%9B%85/dp/4416516061/ref=sr_1_5?dchild=1&keywords=%E3%82%B4%E3%83%83%E3%83%9B%E3%81%AE%E6%A4%85%E5%AD%90&qid=1611621775&sr=8-5

two chairs assembled

ladderback & Windsor

I got two chairs assembled recently – a couple of days ago it was the ladderback on the left – for some photos we needed for JA’s book. Today’s was the arm chair version of Curtis Buchanan’s Democratic chair. https://www.curtisbuchananchairmaker.com/store/p40/Full-Scale_Drawings%3A_How_to_Make_a_Democratic_Arm_Chair.html

this shouldn’t work

Once you have the undercarriage assembled, it really shouldn’t be able to then fit in the tapered mortises – but there is enough flex in the structure to pull the legs apart, so it can all go together.

double wedges

I saw Elia Bizzarri wedge the chair legs with two wedges in the video series he & Curtis did of the side chair. First you open up the top edge of the mortise fore & aft, I used a round file. Just a bit. Then you split it twice and drive the wedges in. Easy does it though, you can shear off part of the tenon if you try to spread it too much. Below is a test joint I made a few weeks ago & cut open to peek inside. That hourglass shape won’t come back out.

May be an image of woodwork

It turns out I’m a lousy student – I changed the crest rail tenon – and I did the arm-to-rear post joint differently from Curtis’ plan too. I bored a tapered through mortise in the post, and put enough slop in the tenon on the back end of the arm so I could get it installed into the rear post and down onto the front arm post. Then wedged it from behind (& above.)

The nice thing about making Windsor-style chairs is you don’t have to wait to sit in them. As soon as they’re assembled, you’re done. Next week I’ll have to weave a seat on the ladderback.

test drive

this is the chair that didn’t want to happen – but I kept at it. https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2021/01/11/i-thought-you-were-supposed-to-be-good-at-this/

And here’s the crest rail joint, on a side chair I made earlier – down in the middle of this post – https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2021/01/10/some-shop-work-today/

Chairs, chairs, chairs

or is it “books, books, books”?

I’m making windsor chairs. And re-reading Nancy Goyne Evans’ Windsor-Chairmaking in America: From Craft Shop to Consumer. Nancy read a staggering amount of period records in her research for her 3 volumes on American Windsor chairs. This is the 3rd volume.

Finishing up work on Jennie Alexander’’s book with Megan Fitzpatrick on JA chairs. Shooting some last-minute missing photos; so making a chair this week to do so. 

MACFAT

And reading Claudia Kinmonth’s Irish Country Furniture and Furnishings 1700-2000. In chapter 1, Stools and Chairs, she writes about súgán chairs – what I know of as a ladderback chair, but with a straw (súgán) seat. 

As I was looking at those chairs, I thought of our friend Masashi Kutsuwa – and I dug out his book Van Gogh’s Chair

Masashi Kutsuwa’s Van Gogh’s Chair

 https://www.seibundo-shinkosha.net/book/art/20106/

I can’t read Japanese, but Masashi gave me an English synopsis of his book. It involves Shoji Hamada, “one of the most famous Japanese potters”, Tatsuaki Kuroda, Japan’s first living national treasure woodworker, Soetsu Yanagi (author of The Unknown Craftsman) and a convoluted tale of chairs from Spain that look like a chair painted by a Dutchman in France 75 years earlier. The chair was introduced into Japan by Shoji Hamada in 1963, after his travels in Spain that year. A few years later, (1967) Tatsuaki Kuroda visited the same workshops, recording in photos and film some of the chairmaking process. 

Masashi’s book also includes a photo series of making copies of this chair form. In his notes he writes: “I visited Spain in 2015 and met the chairmaker’s family who welcomed Tatsuaki nearly 50 years ago. I also visited the last chairmaking shop in Guadix. 

The 1967 film is on youtube – I just re-watched it. Amazing. As far as I can tell, the chairmaker maybe uses 4 tools; a frame saw, a brace & bit, and a knife that he both pushes and pulls (thus not a “drawknife”) – I saw some more tools, but didn’t see him use them; the film isn’t the whole chair-making process I don’t think. The posts are pith-centered (I could see that in Masashi’s book too) and when he split a section to make rungs – he used his knife to split it. 

Back to Kinmonth’s book, she writes “Similar designs are also found on the continent, particularly in Spain and Portugal, linking them to a wider Atlantic European tradition. One celebrated version features in Van Gogh’s painting “Bedroom in Arles (1888).” Below is a sketch of the bedroom at Arles.

Van Gogh letter to Gauguin

(I read about the painting(s) – watch those chairs, in one version the chair on the left gets its rear feet kicked backwards – or one of them at least. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bedroom_in_Arles )

The súgán chairs also reminded me of a chair I photographed at my friends’ house a few years ago. This chair was bought at Brimfield, the famous Massachusetts antiques fair. Around here, these are usually thought of as being from French Canada – but it certainly has much in common with those other chairs – except the bowed seat rails; particularly the square or rectangular posts and narrow slats. This one has through tenons on the rungs and slats though. So different, but quite similar. 

“I thought you were supposed to be good at this…”

I decided today to assemble the undercarriage of the next Windsor chair in my pile of projects. My goal was (is?) to go through the process a number of times without great spans of time between efforts. We’ll see. Today turned bad even sooner than I thought. This was the 2nd mortise I bored:

a re-creation of the moment of doom

I’ve made lots and lots of chair joints; ladderbacks & Windsors. As I have mentioned here, this recent re-introduction to Windsor chairs is after a hiatus of over 26 years. So I’ve been rusty at it. That’s what I suspected was behind me splitting the legs. The first 2 I made last year had splits in several of the joints, though none as bad as this. But today I decided I’m not that clumsy or “un-crafty”. It’s the auger bit – that’s what’s different.

thick lead screw

I never used an auger bit for chair work before, and I was following Curtis’ recommendation. But I think this one’s not well-suited to this application. I switched to a bit I’ve used for ladderback chairs, and didn’t split a thing.

slower, but less exciting

I got the bit above from Drew Langsner, I forget what it’s called. Maybe it’s a Stern bit, the ones JA switched to after the old Stanley Power-bore bits were discontinued. I’d have to sift through the pile to see, but instead I moved on and successfully bored my mortises, made 2 news legs – yes, 2. And got the thing together.

why is one front leg white oak?

So someday, someone might look at this chair & wonder why one front leg is white oak, and all the others red. Because I blew up two legs and needed to make 2 new ones. Had only one piece of red oak that would work, and one piece of white oak. That’s why.

The title of this blog post is a quote I have kept with me for years. I used to work in a museum setting, demonstrating woodworking. In the same exhibit were potters, fiber artisans, sometimes a basketmaker, etc. One day a high school kid was watching one of the potters struggling with a new form. After a long quiet period, the kid looked at her & said “I thought you were supposed to be good at this…” – I just about fell over laughing.

Today it was my turn, the joke was on me. Tomorrow it could be you. It comes to us all at some point.

Well, I’ll end on a good note – today there was a flock of about 8 eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis) here for 15 minutes.

bluebirds, female on left, male on right

With them was a pine warbler (Setophaga pinus). Both a nice surprise.

pine warbler, male

some shop work today

I’ve been disinclined lately. No work, no photos, no writing. I’ll leave it at that. Started in some today. I got word that Michael Burrey had some free wood for me. Most free wood is not worth it, but his is.

red oak bolt

He had a butt-section of red oak, about 26″ long. Dead straight, it included the felling cut. So some shorter than this. The section in the photo above is about 9″ wide across that radial face. I had planned to use it for chairmaking – it could make all the parts (except the seat) for Curtis’ democratic chair – but when I looked closely at it, I saw one problem. It grew too slowly to have the strength required for chairmaking. This piece, a stile for a joined stool, has about 25 or more growth rings in 2″.

stile for a stool

Other sections out closer to the bark had 20 rings to the inch! Below is a 1 1/8″ piece – now a reject chair part – some of the rings are quite indistinct.

So it’ll only be fit for joined stools, maybe some box parts from the wider bits. Here’s a set of stiles, with a new year marked on them –

first set for 2021

There was also a few bits of leftover hickory slabs from sawing something or other. Also, dead-straight. This is about 28″-30″ long. I split one section up into spindle blanks, 3/4″ square, tapering to the top. Splitting & shaving hickory is as much fun as you can have at a shaving horse. A piece like this one will make about 18 spindles or more. I might make chair rungs from some of it for ladderbacks.

Here’s my most recent modern attempt at Windsor chairmaking. I’m mostly happy with it – I need to get the inshave sharper for one thing. But all in all, this one is fine. If you’ve been watching Elia Bizzarri and Curtis Buchanan make this chair recently or have seen Curtis’ youtube videos about it, you’ll notice I changed the crest rail.

I decided to try a different joint there – Curtis shaves the crest rail down to a 3/8″ diameter tenon to enter a mortise bored in the posts. I bored 2 holes in the post, pared the walls and ends of the resulting mortise, and shaved the crest down only on two faces; front & back. Leaving its height intact.

crest rail tenon

Showed it to Curtis – he didn’t mind the joint, but said “you added a tool!” (turns out I added two – I used a narrow chisel on the end grain, and a wider one to pare the walls.) Another thing this joint means is that you can’t pitch the crest up at the middle, like Curtis likes. Or you can’t do it easily. So mine’s pretty much flat on top. But I like it, and think I’ll do it on the next one too.

cleanup time

Planing that fresh red oak makes a mess of your tools. It’s important to leave enough time (& daylight in my shop) at the end of the afternoon to clear this crap off the irons. I can’t say “brass bristle brush” without tripping over the words – but that’s what I use. And WD40 – learned it from JA. I keep a thin wretched piece of plywood for these cleanup tasks, and some sharpening steps too. The only plywood in the place, except for the stuff that supports the under-floor insulation.

scrubbing

Friday I was over at Michael’s and we dug out some more of the butternut. The four on the left are 7′ long, 20″+ wide in places. That 3rd one from the left I split in half – and there’s some 9″-10″ wide quartersawn stuff in it. Wait til you see the box it becomes.

butternut

While I’ve been on this chairmaking kick lately (you’ll see more about it soon) – in addition to Elia & Curtis’ recent series, I watched the stuff Pete Galbert posted recently. He calls it a foundation course and that’s a good name for it. If you watch this, and pay attention, you’ll learn a great deal about wood, wood selection, chairs, seating and more. I’ve made chairs for 40 years and learned stuff. Highly recommended. https://www.petergalbert.com/videos