thinking about chairs at the close of the year

I’m not big on the New Year’s Eve situation, but I did turn on the third set from  the Closing of Winterland while I’m writing this post. 2018 has been quite a year from my perspective. Among lots of other projects and programs, the Australia trip was a stand-out, now that the horrors of the flights have passed. But Jennie Alexander’s death was the defining moment. If you’ve been following this blog a while, you’ll know that even before JA died, I had been putting a good bit of attention into re-learning how to make the iconic JA chair. I just put a hickory bark seat on one the other day, and a Shaker tape seat on one a couple of weeks ago.

chair in ash & oak, hickory bark seat

As I work these chairs, I’ve been thinking about chair-making, furniture history and the various forms of this post-and-rung chair over the years and across several cultures. When I first learned the chair from JA and Drew Langsner, I just assumed the shaved chair was the principal format. As I learned about furniture history, I found out that the turned chair version was more common historically than the shaved one. Regardless of the fabrication method, the construction is the same – dry rungs fitting into posts with some moisture still in them. Here’s a turned chair I made about 16 years ago, also ash with oak slats & arms. Several times heavier than the previous chair. 

I kept a lot of Alexander’s books, among them is “Handicrafts of the Southern Highlands” – it includes this paragraph about chairmaking:

“The posts for the chair frame, commonly maple…are cut and worked while green, but the rounds or rungs, usually of hickory, are well seasoned…as the green posts shrink over the ends of the already dry hickory rounds, they grip them in a vise “which will hold till the cows come home…”

There’s more to this joint than that, but it’s the gist of it. That was written in the 1930s. Over the years, as I specialized in 17th-century reproductions, I made lots of chairs. This year, in addition to about 6 of the JA chairs, I made the usual wainscot (joiner’s) chair, it has no relationship to the rest of these chairs tonight:

The only period-style post & rung chair I made this year was the Bradford chair; a board-seated chair with four legs. The joinery at the seat level is more complicated than the usual wet/dry joint, but all the other horizontal tenons are done just like on the smaller chairs. 

I wrote a lot about that chair as I made it – https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/?s=bradford

Back in my museum work. I used to also make very quick, rough shaved chairs with rush seats. These latter were mostly derived from one example I knew at first. Over time I got to see others too. Mostly they’re known from Dutch paintings and other artwork. One of mine from way back when, maple & oak:

plain matted chair, PF

This style hung on over the centuries. Many years ago I wrote a post about old chairs some friends have collected, including this one:

sq post 1a

I’ve seen these described as “birch” and being French Canadian. Not sure where that story comes from. Through tenons, rung-skipper (no middle rung in back. Very commonly done this way). These rear posts were sawn to that canted shape, not bent. Here’s that original post: https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2013/08/29/house-of-chairs/

Jennie Alexander often told the story of how s/he switched from turning chairs to shaving them. I always thought s/he never went back to a turned chair, but when we cleaned out the shop, our friend Nathaniel showed me this chair, a late-period JA chair turned on the lathe. I think it was a collaboration with Nathaniel. Thicker at the foot.

But in all of these, the concept of tenons drier at assembly than they will be in life, driven into mortises in wetter posts working together for a joint that will “hold till the cows come home…” is the common thread.

I finished my square table by mid-day on the last of the year, just under the wire. I’ll write about the squiggle paint soon. I have one leftover piece to finish before I start in on my 2019 projects, but there will be chairs. Count on it. 

 

Advertisements

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.)

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.

three things

A few things floating around. The first photo is not mine, nor my work. It’s Dave Fisher’s carved sign, made for Jennie Alexander. Finished just before JA’s death, so now what to do with it? I told Dave to keep it – but he had other ideas. Read on.

Here’s Dave’s story about this sign:

“I carved this sign for Jennie Alexander, author of the seminal book, Make a Chair from a Tree.  Since then, the leaves have fallen and the oiled oak has begun to take on a patina.  Although Jennie was able to see photos of the finished sign, she passed away before she was able to receive it.  After a lot of thought and talking with Jennie’s daughter and others close to her, I’ve decided to auction the sign and donate the money to the recently established Plymouth CRAFT Green Woodworking Scholarship.  Learn more about the scholarship here:  https://www.plymouthcraft.org/craft-green-woodworking-sch

This scholarship has already received some generous contributions, and they will allow many people over the coming years to participate in Plymouth CRAFT classes and events who would have otherwise been unable to.  I think that Jennie would have supported such an idea, especially considering the special relationship between her and Peter Follansbee, one of Plymouth CRAFT’s founders and most active instructors.

I’ll ship the sign to the winner of the auction, then I’ll donate all of the proceeds to The Plymouth CRAFT Scholarship Fund.  I will ship outside of the U.S., but will have to add accordingly to the shipping price listed.
There’s more information about the sign and the carving process in this post from my blog: https://davidffisherblog.wordpress.com/2018/07/11/greenwoodworking-in-white-oak/
The sign is 29 1/2″ x 7 3/4″.  The thickness tapers from roughly 1/2″ to 3/4″ from bottom to top as it was radially split from the tree.  The back side reveals marks from the riving.  White oak — Jennie’s favorite.”

Link to Dave’s auction  https://www.ebay.com/itm/Carved-Sign-in-White-Oak-Wood-greenwoodworking/302962380463

 

And that brings up Plymouth CRAFT’s new Scholarship Fund. We’ve been kicking around the idea for a while of creating scholarships so those for whom our tuition is a stretch might still have a chance to come to our workshops and events. We’re still working out how to implement it, but it’s now underway. First shot is for Tim Manney’s sharpening class coming up December 15 & 16. Here’s the blurb about applying for the scholarships – https://www.plymouthcraft.org/craft-green-woodworking-sch

And here’s the one about Tim’s class. I think this will be our third time with this class, other than when he’s led Greenwood Fest sessions on sharpening, and it gets better and better. https://www.plymouthcraft.org/an-axe-to-grind

Last for today, I have a new hatchet to try out. It came already sharp, so that’s a plus.

Julia Kalthoff sent me one of her small carving hatchets to see how I like it. (Yes, there was no invoice. I’ll use this hatchet with my students, as I do with hatchets that I have either bought or received over the years from Hans Karlsson, Robin Wood, and Svante Djarv). If I was shopping for a hatchet, I would gladly pay for Julia’s – from what I can tell after only using it briefly, it’s excellent and well worth her asking price. https://www.kalthoffaxes.se/

It feels like a cross between the Hans Karlsson hatchet and Svante Djarv’s “small Viking” hatchet. Thicker than Karlsson’s at the edge, giving it slightly wider bevels. This is similar to Djarv’s in that respect. Curved cutting edge. The specs are on Julia’s site – if I remember right, Beth Moen helped Julia work out the shape and size. All you carvers out there can now add another great axe to your axe-lust-list.

 

 

 

 

more books for sale from JA collection

I’ve still got a few boxes of books to sort through. Here’s the latest batch, some green woodworking/carving/American furniture, etc. Leave a comment, then I will follow up with paypal invoices, etc. The comments are time-stamped, so it solves the “who-was-here-first” issue. One copy of each of these titles. I’ll try to keep the page updated as things sell. Sorry for the clunky-ness, there must be a better way, but I don’t have time to suss it out. Prices include media mail in the US. Other shipping is extra.

—————-

UPDATE – 1:30 PM, ALL THAT’S LEFT RIGHT NOW ARE THREE FURNITURE BOOKS, LISTED JUST BELOW THIS NOTE. 

American Furniture in Pendleton House, RISD. This is a catalogue of the collection at Rhode Island School of Design’s museum. Softcover.

$30

 

——————–

American Furniture at the MFA Boston. Softcover. A nice overview of the collection published in the early 1960s or so.

$30.

——————

American Furniture, 1996. This is the annual journal put out by the Chipstone Foundation. Yes, it’s online. To get the full set of illustrations you need to view the actual books. This one includes the first article JA & I did for them, on the oak carved furniture from Braintree, Massachusetts.

$30.

 

———————

UPDATE – 1:30PM. ALL BOOKS BELOW HERE ARE SOLD. THANKS FOR YOUR SUPPORT, SORRY THERE WEREN’T ENOUGH TO GO AROUND!

————–

Handmade, by Drew & Louise Langsner. SOLD

Paperback. The covers are a bit buckled, it’s an old paperback. Otherwise in fine shape. Signed by Louise & Drew…it’s their trip through parts of Europe looking into architecture, cooking, crafts, and more.

$12.

 

———————–

Woodcarving: Tools, Materials & Equipment, Chris Pye. SOLD

softcover. I really like this book, lots of great content about the tools, their use, shapes, sharpening. I keep my copy right next to Mary May’s book.

$20.

——————–

Wood and Woodworking in Anglo-Scandinavian Medieval York Carole Morris. SOLD

Archaeology books usually don’t interest me much, being mostly ceramics or metal. This one’s all WOOD! Great, great book. Large paperback, some browning on the edges of the pages, but it’s all intact and otherwise in fine condition. Now a pretty scarce book.

$100.

 

————————-

Another English book –

Suffolk Medieval Church Roof Carvings, by Birkin Haward. SOLD

Softcover. This one I come back to again & again. Not because I’m going to carve a church roof, but because it’s captivating. Great details.

$45

—————————

Making the Attikamek Snowshoe, Henri Vallancourt. SOLD

softcover

very well-regarded book about just that – making these snowshoes. I’m trying to picture JA in showshoes! But this book was in the collection because it’s about green woodworking with simple tools. Includes a note from Henri to JA.

$75

—————–

Folk Arts and Crafts of Japan – SOLD

hardcover. Nice study of the subject, textiles, ceramics, wood, paint –

$20.

——————-

The History of Chairmaking in High Wycombe, L.J. Mayes. SOLD

Hardcover. Includes a section about the old methods in Buckinghamshire, then goes into how the “craft became an industry…”

$20.

——————————–

The Cooper and His Trade, SOLD

Kenneth Kilby. Aptly titled book, I have a later paperback edition. This is the first edition, hardcover.

$20

————————-

Tage Frid, book 3: Furniture making. SOLD

Not green woodworking, not “all-hand-tools” but some chair design. That’s all I can figure as to why it was there.

$40

———————–

American Furniture 2008. SOLD

Same series as above, this time with a piece by JA, Robert Trent & I on “shaved post and rung chairs” –

[NOTE: I HAVE ABOUT 15 VOLUMES OF CHIPSTONE’S AMERICAN FURNITURE. SEND ME A NOTE IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A SPECIFIC VOLUME.]

$30.

——————-

 

Jennie Alexander’s chair

 

Alexander’s post-and-rung chair

On the Jennie Alexander chairmaking front – I worked with Alexander for years and years – and we made many of these chairs together. In the early 1990s we worked on a second edition of the book Make a Chair from a Tree and it included an afterword that described and illustrated the then-current updates to the chairmaking process from the original 1978 edition. Around that time, we shot a full-length video of the process, but JA was not satisfied with it, and scrapped the whole thing. Then later, while I was off in joinery-land, JA and Anatol Polillo produced an excellent video that shows the most current version of how to build this chair.

You probably already saw this news – but Lost Art Press announced yesterday that it’s got the video ready for streaming. Here’s the link:

‘Make a Chair From a Tree’ Streaming Video Now Available

My one comment – Chris doesn’t know what it’s called. It’s not a “Jennie” chair, it’s a JA chair. Always was.

Get it while you wait for the next (and best) edition of the book.

On the same subject, next year, I’m planning two classes on making these chairs. When I have the particulars sorted out, I’ll announce them here & elsewhere. I’ve made four of these chairs lately, and they’ve all sold – soon I’ll be taking orders for a small batch of my versions of these as well. Lots more about these chairs in upcoming posts.