finished my Curtis Buchanan chair

The two joined stools I’m making are mostly all cut, a little more carving to add to the small end aprons. Then I need to wait a few days before pegging them. So I took some time to continue my “finishing-leftover stuff” campaign. This time I went into the loft and dragged down my version of Curtis Buchanan’s democratic chair. (Well, it was a little beyond this point – the stretchers were in too.)

I had the seat, legs & stretchers all assembled. So what I had left was boring the posts for the crest rail, then test-fitting that,

and boring it for the spindles. Then just shaving the spindles and assembling. I say “just” – lots can go wrong in those few sentences. But as it happened, I made it through. Here I have the crest bored for the center spindle, and I shaved that & installed it. That stiffened things for boring the other holes in the crest. I set the other spindles in just to check their alignment, then moved them back out & bored it. 

I didn’t shoot any step-by-step photos, but I did set up the camera to shoot a sequence of the assembly. I set it for once a minute and just took what I got. Here I’ve marked the depth on the spindles’ bottom tenons, and I’m knocking them in place. Unlike Curtis’ video series, I glued this chair. 

After some alignment gymnastics, I am knocking down the crest onto the five spindles, then the posts come down into their tapered mortises in the seat. A lot has to happen. Hide glue next time, slower setting than the yellow glue. I got away with it…

Using a zig-zag ruler to check from seat to under the crest at both posts & center spindle.

Then splitting & wedging the joints.

Done. My first real chair of this construction since 1993. My lack of practice shows, but it will work fine for the shop. The ash legs split a bit as I drove the stretchers in. A few angles are off down under the seat. But I keep hearing Jennie Alexander’s voice back when I was making chairs with her – “The eye is very forgiving.” And when you sit in the chair, you can’t see it. 

You can make your own – Curtis posted step by step videos showing the whole thing. I think this link will take you to the whole set.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2DoQl6xBAUI&list=PLL_KlogKd1xf9GYjSfBVLKTp8KngC8q7j 

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Woodworking has taken me to some wonderful places, and I’ve met people who in very short order become great friends. And I’ve been thinking  recently of those I met down in Australia, particularly my friends in New South Wales. I was lucky enough to go there in the fall (their spring) of 2018. What a fabulous place, and such a terror to hear about these past few weeks & months. A benefit of social media is that it makes it easy to keep people posted about folks’ safety/situation, etc. It’s good to hear that so far they’re safe, but some have left their homes. Whether the houses will be there when they get back no one knows. Wish I could send all you folks some rain.

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/

Some 2020 classes and links

I’m off to teach one last class for the year, the carved oak box at Lost Art Press. Then home for a few months before 2020 season really kicks in. My teaching schedule for 2020 is a bit scattered. Several classes filled before I could even write about them, like the JA chair at Pete Galbert’s. He thinks it’s me – I know it’s the chair and his avid students. I’ll post here if any openings come up in that class.   

https://www.petergalbert.com/schedule/2020/7/13/make-a-chair-from-a-tree-with-peter-follansbee 

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THE JA CHAIR W PLYMOUTH CRAFT

 

 

Like we did in 2020, we’ll run that class at Plymouth CRAFT – I think twice, once in May, once in August. We’ve not put them on the site yet, but are very close to ready. If you’re signed up for our newsletter then you’ll hear about it the minute it happens. We rarely send out news, we’re too busy or distracted. I’ll also post here on the blog before registration opens. I expect it too will fill quickly, we keep it at 6 students so I can keep an eye on everything that’s happening. I don’t know how Drew Langsner did it all those years with 10 or 12 students. Here’s the link to sign up for the Plymouth CRAFT newsletter – https://www.plymouthcraft.org/contact

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MAKE A SHAVING HORSE WITH TIM MANNEY

Tim.jpg

While on the subject of Plymouth CRAFT though – we did just post Tim Manney’s first shaving horse class. Not using one, but making one. A 3-day class with Tim guiding you through the steps to build the horse he wrote about in Fine Woodworking, July/August 2017 (issue #262) – there you’ll see a quote from Curtis Buchanan, who estimates that in over 34 years, he’s spent 21,000 hours at a shaving horse. “The one (shaving horse) I’m using now was designed and made by Tim Manney and it’s the best I’ve ever used.” Need more than that? Sign up here: 

https://www.plymouthcraft.org/build-a-shaving-horse-with-tim-mann 

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Also, while I think of it, there’s still a few spots left in Plymouth CRAFT’s classes working on the Plymouth Tapestry –

 

https://www.plymouthcraft.org/plymouth-tapestry-registration 

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CARVED DECORATION 17TH CENTURY ENGLISH STYLE

Image of Wood Week

I do have a couple things coming in 2020 about carving oak – I’ll be back at North House Folk School out on Highway 61. I’ll teach carving oak patterns twice during “Wood Week” – a series of classes that run the gamut. This place is right on the shores of Lake Superior (it’s like an ocean, but different) – an astounding experience that I’m happy to repeat. Looks like there’s room in my two classes, (most of my others are full, so this might be the one shot – and the setting & surroundings are amazing) so come join us. 

 

https://northhouse.org/events/wood-week 

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CARVED OAK BOX

The other is Roy’s. April. Make a carved oak box. Whoops – filled instantly. Sorry I’m late posting this stuff, but Roy’s place is really popular. I think he just opened registration yesterday. Not my fault, really. A lot can happen between now & then, so the waiting list won’t hurt  – https://www.woodwrightschool.com/classes/waiting-list-wish-list

https://www.woodwrightschool.com/classes/carved-oak-box-w-peter-follansbee-2020 

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I’ll try to squeeze in one or two more, but it’s getting tight. I have some custom work to do, but always welcome more. I also have a student or two coming here for one-on-one work. You can email me if you have questions regarding private lessons or ordering furniture.

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MAUREEN’S FIBER ARTS

Closer to home, at home, in fact, my wife Maureen has kept up her knitting/felting/shibori scene and has a number of things in her etsy shop. Just like my wooden stuff, when you buy some it makes room for us to make more. https://www.etsy.com/shop/MaureensFiberArts

A couple of samples of her work; it keeps us warm all winter.

PF chair class at Pete Galbert’s chairmaking shop

I’m slowly getting my 2020 schedule together. Each year, I swear I’ll travel less but so far it still looks like about once a month I’m somewhere. I wish I could be in two places at once.

But this one’s easy – teaching chairmaking in a chairmaker’s shop. Not just any chairmaker, but Pete Galbert. July 13-18, 2020. Only 6 slots, they go on sale at Pete’s site Friday Oct 18 at 8am eastern time.

https://www.petergalbert.com/schedule/2020/7/13/make-a-chair-from-a-tree-with-peter-follansbee

 

Looking at some chairs

I first learned how to make ladderback chairs based on Alexander’s book, Make a Chair from a Tree. Then later, I studied a thin slice of furniture history from the perspective of those who made it. So what I know, or think I know, is pretty narrowly focused. There’s lots of kinds of chairs; generally I break them down into two forms – Joined chairs, like this one:

And turned chairs, like this one: 

turned chair, ash w rush seat

For now, I’ll concentrate on turned chairs.  Whether they have a board seat, fiber seat; spindles in the back, or slats – the common feature they all have is the round mortise & tenon joint. I think of JA’s chair as a turned chair that isn’t turned. Alexander’s earliest chairs were turned; here is a one-slat Alexander chair all in hickory, with a paper imitation rush seat. Made c. 1974. 

By 1976, Alexander’s chairs parts were shaved with a drawknife rather than turned. There is a long tradition of “un-turned” turned chairs, some reaching back to the 16th & 17th centuries. One helpful reference I found when studying London records was this, from the Company of Turners:

“20th February 1615 It was directed that the makers of chairs about the City, who were strangers and foreigners, were to bring them to the Hall to be searched according to the ordinances. When they were thus brought and searched, they were to be bought by the Master and Wardens at a price fixed by them, which was 6s per dozen for plain matted chairs and 7s per dozen for turned matted chairs. The effect of such an order…all chairs which came into London had to be submitted to the Company and if approved, were taken over at the fixed price. The Turners reaped the benefit by the removal of possible competition.” – this quote is from The Worshipful Company of Turners of London – Its Origin and History A.C. Stanley-Stone, (London: Lindley-Jones & Brother, 1925)

My italics. If “plain” matted chairs are distinct from “turned” matted chairs, then I conclude they aren’t turned. “Matted” refers to the fiber seat, usually rush. Paintings & prints are helpful to a degree in seeing what sort of chairs were in use at a given time. There’s loads of examples. This painting by Cornelius Decker (1618-1678) shows a 2-slat shaved chair in the lower right corner. 

Looking at it in detail, I see a few things. Square posts (well, sometimes they’re rectangular, but not round, thus “square”). Only 8 rungs, and the lower ones are quite close to the seat rungs. Doesn’t offer much strength that way. Either the chair has wracked so the rear posts are now canted back, or it was bored to achieve that. Rush seat. Moving those lower rungs down would strengthen the chair.

 

Meeting in a tavern, by De Jongh (1616-1679)

The chair in the lower right hand corner, has some perspective problems. But we can see several details. Might be 12 rungs, it’s at least 11; through mortises; a cushion; square posts.

this detail from Michiel Sweets’ (1618-1664) “The Academy”: 8 rungs, through mortises, rush seat, 3 slats. No bend to rear posts. Small chair.

Sweerts, The Academy

A mezzotint by Wallerent Vallaint (1623-1677). This is a detail; all we can tell is the chair has square posts, round side rungs, through mortise for a very tall slat. Either intentionally bored to cant the rear posts back, or wracked to just-about-falling-down.

Same artist, different chair. Note the raked rear post, clearly shown here. I’m of the opinion this is intentional to give the chair a bit more comfort than if it were bored so the rear posts were plumb. This time, two rear rails, with turned spindles between them. Discard any notion this chair was shaved/square posts because there was no lathe! Very low seat, allows you to work easily in your lap. Only 8 rungs. Rush seat.

Vallaint, boy in the studio

I made lots of shaved chairs in the years when I wasn’t making JA style chairs – mine were more like these period-style chairs. I could make the chair frame in a day, maybe 6 hours. The rush seat took me as long or longer! This one is maple posts and white oak slats. Rungs might be white oak or ash. Rear posts hewn above the seat to cant them back just a bit.

plain matted chair, PF

more of this sort of stuff here; Alexander, Trent & I (mostly Trent driving this article) on shaved chairs – http://www.chipstone.org/article.php/581/American-Furniture-2008/Early-American-Shaved-Post-and-Rung-Chairs

Plymouth CRAFT’s class making the JA chair

Sorted some photos from Plymouth CRAFT’s recent class in making the Jennie Alexander chair. We held this class at the wonderful Wildlands Trust property in Plymouth, Massachusetts; great venue for us. https://wildlandstrust.org/

Pret & I brought the red oak to the site in eighths of a log, 5′ long. Then the students took it from there. Here is some froe/riving brake work.

I think we based this brake on one in Pete Galbert’s book Chairmaker’s Notebook https://lostartpress.com/products/chairmakers-notebook 

Might be an adaptation from the whole bunch of those Windsor chairmakers; Sawyer, Curtis Buchanan & Pete…maybe Elia too?

6 students, 6 days, 6 shaving horses. Here’s three of them anyway. We made a lot of shavings. They started with the front posts, then moved onto shaving the rear posts.

After shaving the rear posts, they go in a steambox to soften them for bending on the forms. Here’s Nathan limbering a post prior to bending it for real.

Image may contain: 1 person, standing, shoes and indoor

The posts bent on forms, they’ll stay in the form for a couple of weeks. The students were then issued a set made by the previous class.

And rungs. Dozens of them.

Nathan & Elijah hunkered over slat-mortising.


Despite my near-constant ridicule, this “mortise-cleanout tool” from Jennie Alexander proved popular. Rubbish, I say.

Jon, Job & Nathan boring their posts in preparation for the first sub-assembly.

and here is the final bit of that assembly – stubborn joints get driven the last bit by a clamp. Job & Nathan.

One day Daniel came with me, I got him involved prepping rungs with the spokeshave. I think he did 3, then focused on eating biscuits.

Then onto boring for the front & rear rungs.

What we don’t see here is forming the tenons, we used a spokeshave to get them to size. Then more assembly.

Part of  any class like this is being ready to tackle problems. Let’s say for example, someone’s front rung breaks under pressure from the clamp (next time make the tenons tight, but not TOO tight…) There ain’t no getting it out, that’s for sure. So cut it off. Pare the posts smooth again. Transfer the center of that mortise around to the outside of the post – bore an 11/16″ mortise from outside – right through the tenon that’s stuck in there. Then in the other post do the same, only 5/8″ like the original joint. Then shave a long, tapered rung from dry hardwood and tap it in from outside the wider mortise. Glue the 5/8″ mortise if you like (I did, we glued all the joints. Belt & suspenders.) Trim the rung a 1/2″ or so beyond both ends outside the chair. Split the tenons, drive a dry wedge in there, & trim. Done, chair saved. I had done this once before, and was pretty sure it would work. Takes some careful alignment to get it right.

Marie Pelletier always says we have to have a class photo – she took it just after lunch, so a few slats short still, but here it is. The chair I have is an oldie I made for Daniel when he was little.

Image may contain: 7 people, including Peter Follansbee, people smiling, tree, grass, child, outdoor and nature

I was trying to make a chair for my demos, but along about day 4 I abandoned it. Daniel & I finished assembling it the other day, after unpacking. I got the slats & seat in it today, but no photos. Next time.

I’m sure we’ll do this class again next year – this was the 2nd one we did this year and it seems to be a hit. I’ll be sure to post about it here, but for the belt & suspenders approach to hearing about it, sign up for Plymouth CRAFT’s newsletter. We only send out stuff when we mean it, so it’s not like we’ll assault your inbox. https://www.plymouthcraft.org/contact 

Chairs on the brain

One of JA’s last chairs

 I spent a lot of time wtih Brendan Gaffney while I was at Lost Art Press last week, and chairs were our main subject. He’s gone bananas over Alexander’s (& Chester’s) chairs. https://www.instagram.com/burnheartmade/  

Earlier I posted a bit about a visit I made with Brendan to see a few of Chester Cornett’s chairs at the Kentucky Folk Art Center in Morehead KY. He gave me a copy of an exhibition catalog produced there called “Chester Cornett: Beyond the Narrow Sky.” I see now it’s available online so for those of you who can tolerate reading stuff on-screen here’s the link:
https://scholarworks.moreheadstate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1012&context=kfac_exhibition_catalogs

After the carved box class at Lost Art Press, I came home & finished up a couple of boxes, then launched into preparation for the JA ladderback chair class starting tomorrow with Plymouth CRAFT. I’m looking forward to shaving up some nice fresh red oak, should be fun. Smelly, but fun. 

While on the subject of JA’s chairs, after all these years I’ve been published in Taunton’s Fine Woodworking magazine.  https://www.finewoodworking.com/ 

Issue #277, Oct 2019 features an article I worked on about making a rectangular stool with a hickory bark seat. The focus is on the wet/dry joint so critical to this construction. It was Taunton Press that first published JA’s book back in 1978 that led to me being a woodworker in the first place. I’ve worked with FWW a few times, appearing at some of their events and it’s a thrill to now be presented in their magazine. Thanks to all on staff there that made it happen. It was an extra surprise to get a nice book review for Joiner’s Work from them as well, in the same issue. Thanks, Barry. 

If you need the book after reading the review, it’s here:  https://lostartpress.com/products/joiners-work