a chairmaking detour


All of my commute is in this photo, minus about three steps. I have a joined stool cut out, but waiting for the turned parts – some of the wood is still too green for crisp detail at the lathe. So while I wait for that, I thought I’d take a vacation and work on the windsor chairs I’ve been picking away at.

tenoning the legs

These are Curtis Buchanan’s “democratic” chairs (I’m making one side chair, and one arm chair – I hope) – so shaved, not turned. In the photo above, I bored & reamed a test hole, scribbled inside it with a soft pencil and tried the shaved tenon in the hole. Bumps and high spots get smeared with the graphite, to show you where to shave next.

testing depth

Once I had the legs’ tenons ready, I reamed the seat. Here, I’m testing the depth – according to the plans Curtis drew up – that stretcher location should be something like 9 3/4″ above (below, really) the seat. This one is for the arm chair version.

Got ’em where I mostly liked them. Then measured for the stretchers. Because I’ve been fumbling around at these chairs, I hadn’t made the stretchers yet. Here, I’m back on the side chair – making its stretchers out of a mix of dry-ish wood and green wood.

shaving center stretcher

Once I got them where I liked them, I put them in the kiln to dry the tenons, and will go back to finishing the arm chair’s seat while those get to the right moisture content.

I think you can still get the videos that Curtis & Elia Bizzarri did over the past couple of months – http://handtoolwoodworking.com/democratic-chair-online-classes/

One reason to see these versus (or in addition to) the ones Curtis already had on youtube is because he has changed things over several versions of making this chair. I think he said he’s done a dozen of them. I saw some things that were either changed, or more detailed in this set of videos.

AND – then there’s Pete Galbert https://vimeo.com/ondemand/galbertfoundations – I can see I’m down a rabbit hole. Pete’s a great teacher, so I’m planning on getting that video series as well – but right now I have to have breakfast, then go light the fire. Or vice-versa.

more Chester Cornett chairs

I’ve been home from my most recent Lost Art Press workshop-trip now for a week. I just made it into the shop for real today, but took no photos. Christmas presents. So photos later of those. Maybe.

But I started sorting photos from the past month or so. I made another field trip with the Boy Wonder, aka Brendan Gaffney https://www.instagram.com/burnheartmade/ to see more of Chester Cornett’s chairs.  This time we went to the Mathers Museum at Indiana University. I’ll just post photos with captions/notes. The lighting conditions were tough. So, horrid color, real high ISO. These photos aren’t going to win any prizes.

Here’s Brendan for scale, measuring a 3-slat high chair/bar stool. There’s one of these in Alexander’s book, but it’s not this chair. I think this one was sassafrass, very lightweight wood. Harder rungs, they might be hickory, I forget.

This one’s white oak. A 3-slat chair. Chester often bent the rear seat rung to mimic the bent slats. JA wrote to never include sapwood and heartwood in the same stick. Chester didn’t learn chairmaking from a book.

Same chair. Side view.



You can tell this is a 3-slat chair because Chester wrote 1, 2, 3 on the slats.

Another little 3-slat chair. Painted, probably by the owner, Chester didn’t paint them. I like how the paint wore away & highlighted the drawknife work.


A 6-slat rocker. I think this one was sassafrass again. Side view – a real nice chair, his drawknife work was excellent.

All that detail is knife-work. The faux turnings, the giant finials, all the pegs.

Maybe if you click this photo to enlarge it, you’ll see the numbers 1-6 on the slats.

The numbers are in this view too. The layout for the slat mortises is pencil too.

The details on all those rungs, even the rear ones.

The bookcase rocker. What a monstrosity. I’ve built some ugly, heavy chairs in my day. But nothing like this.

Brendan for scale again. The chair is smaller than you might think. The shelves are maybe 6/4 stock. The shelves just above the seat are hinged to access compartments on each side.


“Old Kentucky made buy…


…Chester Cornetts Hands”


Thanks to Brendan for hauling me around & showing me these iconic chairs. Here’s our first trip from this past summer – https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2019/08/06/chester-cornett-chairs/

Sharpening w Tim Manney at Plymouth Craft

here’s how I know Tim Manney’s sharpening class at Plymouth Craft was a success – I can’t wait to go sharpen stuff!


I wasn’t taking the class, but I got to hang around enough to get caught up in the excitement of “knowing what sharp is…” as one of the students put it. We hadn’t run this class before, so it was hard to describe. But I knew it would be a winner. And it was, in spades. Tim started them off with one of the hardest tools to sharpen – the sloyd knife. Sandpaper adhered to tiles – I’m not usually a fan of this method, but Tim sold me pretty quickly. No mess whatsoever – no water, no oil. here’s his proper posture, and he’s working the knife perpendicular to the long axis of the “stone.” Sort of jabbing it in & out.



a strop. 

Then, cut the end grain of white pine. A non-forgiving material – but if you cut it cleanly, then you’re ready.


His axe grinding method was great too –


the students dove right in & took a wide range of tools. Axes, drawknives, knives, chisels, gouges – it was infectious.


this class will happen again, sometime in 2017. Next time, I bet the spaces will fill up, so when you hear about it -get on it. You’ll be glad you did. If you get on the newsletter, you’ll be notified of all Plymouth Craft’s offerings – http://www.plymouthcraft.org/


One thing Jennie Alexander knows is drawknives for chairmaking. After a brief stint at turned chairs many many years ago, JA switched to shaving chairs at the shaving horse. Like this:

I don’t know the date when the turned chairs were done, & shaved chairs begun, but it pre-dates the 1978 release of Make a Chair from a Tree. And all the students (me included in 1980) made them that way…

When Tom Lie-Nielsen was researching drawknives to make for sale, he got a hold of Alexander. Jennie sent some Witherby 8″ knives up to Maine for testing – and now look at the drawknives Lie-Nielsen makes. They are based on the Witherby drawknife courtesy of JA. 

We have a small batch of drawknives for sale, these are not your ordinary antique clunkers, neglected in barns and garages for decades. These tools are in great shape. Tuned & sharpened for the most part…so go get the DVD on chairmaking, grab one of these knives and off you go….

the video is here:   http://www.greenwoodworking.com/MACFATVideo

the drawknives are here:   https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/tools-for-sale-drawknives/  or the menu at the top of the blog

some shaving horse thoughts

According to the statistics that WordPress compiles for this blog, the shaving horse entry I did when I first started is still the most-viewed posting I have ever done (2,627 views). Must be a lot of people who want to know about shaving horses.

 Having some hickory handles to make, I decided it was finally time to fix the shaving horse. It wasn’t broken, just a bit run-down. Once it was my primary work surface; but now I only use it sparingly. But when I have drawknife work, it’s the way to go.

 I have seen lots of discussion about the English style horse that I learned from Jennie Alexander versus the German style horse that I know from Drew Langsner’s examples. Both work fine. Some say the clamping power of the English example is limited – I think this is silly, really. Some English versions I have seen stink, principally because they have virtually no means to adjust the work surface, and that is key. Many years ago, Alexander improved the shaving horse first presented in the book Make a Chair from a Tree; and I then copied that new version. Plans and details can be found on www.greenwoodworking.com     http://www.greenwoodworking.com/ShavingHorsePlans

 I needed new front legs for mine this week, the old ones sagged a bit, and the treadle scraped on the floor. So I took to setting the front feet on a block of wood; but it really called for a re-working. So I finally did it. While I was at it, I fixed a few other things at the same time.

 One repair was the wedge that I use to attach the pivot block. It had busted, so I made a new wedge. I then tweaked that block too, based on a suggestion Alexander made when I first showed this shaving horse on the very first post on this blog back in 2008.

Here’s the the notched work surface, the pivot block it fits on, and its wedge.

fittings for shaving horse

 The real benefit to this type of shaving horse is the adjustable height to the work surface. The pivot block fits through a mortise in the bench; the work surface slips over the squared head of that block, and is hinged with a wooden pin.

The work surface is adjusted by slipping the wooden block/shim under the work surface, and it moves up, slide the block back towards you & it drops down to accommodate thicker stock. So the trick is to keep the work surface at a height so that you need to only shove your foot a little bit to apply the pressure to hold things tight. If you have to extend your leg further, the height needs adjusting. Notice in these photos that my leg is in about the same position in both, but the thickness of the stock is quite different. Simple. Here’s a few more pictures.

pivot hinge work surface

shaving thin stock

shaving thick stock

It’s really important to learn to slice with the drawknife as well. The cuts are not just pulled straight towards you; I start with the knife all the way to one side, and as I bring it to me, I slide it sideways too. This way, I get a slicing action, and also use the entire length of the blade. Here’s the beginning and ending of one slice.

beginning of cut


end of cut

Hopefully this helps some. If the workpiece slips a lot, just wet the work surface of the shaving horse. Or fix a strip of inner tube rubber to one face of the crossbar at the top. I have never done the latter, and rarely have done the former. But they work.