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.

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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.

 

Bradford chair: joinery

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.

Chopping out between those holes is much like when we make hurdles with Plymouth CRAFT, just tighter tolerances. https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2015/10/11/riving-hewing-drawknife-at-plymouth-craft/

A finished mortise.

 

Test-fitting the tenon. 

Pilgrim Hall’s web-page about their collection: http://www.pilgrimhall.org/ce_our_collection.htm 

Sunday chairmaking

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.

The format is an intro session Friday night for 2 hours, then a 2-day class Saturday & Sunday. https://www.plymouthcraft.org/birchbark-canisters

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.

chopping mortises for the slats

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.

from 1978 showing JA using shoulder pressure to mortise

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!

mortise chisel, just under 1/4″

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.

spokeshave work to round down the posts to final shape

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.

checking the rear post alignment

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/  

Bradford chair: rear posts

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.

hewing

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.

corner-up, ready to be an octagon

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.

Pilgrim Hall’s web-page about their collection: http://www.pilgrimhall.org/ce_our_collection.htm