I’ve been trying to finish off this chest with 2 drawers lately. I’m close, but have to go to North House Folk School soon, so the last bits will be in 2 weeks. Today I spent making the last 12′ of moldings – out of a total of over 45 feet! Rabbet plane first…
…followed by hollows & rounds….
Late in the day I still had some daylight. I have been using the last 30 or 45 minutes each day to hew some spoons for evening carving…but today I split some reject joinery-oak and started shaving the rear posts for some ladderback chairs. Must be because I’ve been thinking of Drew Langsner lately…
Here you can see the chest with a couple of clamps holding the drawer’s moldings in place. Shaving the chair posts was like old times…
Here’s the inspiration – one of the last chairs from Jennie Alexander’s hand…and Drew’s book The Chairmaker’s Workshop. I had to look up a few things to remind me of what I was doing.
The last time I made these chairs was some shrunk-down versions for when the kids were small, December 2009. These chairs are put away in the loft now, outgrown…
I hope to bend the posts Friday, then leave them in the forms while I’m away. Hopefully there will be some chairmaking going on in March…
Tim Manney is one of our returning instructors from the first Greenwood Fest for 2017.
If I had Tim’s talent with my ego, I’d take over the woodworking world. But Tim is very humble and quiet, which can sometimes fool you. There’s lots to learn from him. Last spring at the Greenwood Fest, he demonstrated his ladderback chairmaking techniques, along with teaching a class in making steam-bent spoons. Tim recently taught a sharpening class with Plymouth CRAFT that really took off; so much so that he’s slated to teach another 2-day class in sharpening before the festival.
In the sharpening class, he was able to help people re-grind hatchets to a shape more conducive to perfect slicing action, everyone worked at sharpening and honing their sloyd knives; tackled tricky shapes like gouges – there was nothing they wouldn’t take on. Many were beginners, but several (including me) had been around edges for ages…there was much to learn. It made us scramble around to find more things to sharpen – it was that good. So sharpening your tools with Tim before the festival will put you in the best position there is…perfect edges, ready for wood!
We had no sharpening topic in our first version of the fest, and there were times when people were left knowing their tools needed attention, but we had nothing to help them with. That’s fixed this time around, thanks to Tim.
Tim’s range of ability is broad – chair-making, tool making (reamers are a specialty of his, and his adze is really a beautifully simple tool), spoon carving and more. One additional idea he had was a demo of hickory bark seating. If you met Tim last year, or at one of his other appearances around the woodworking circuit, then you know how engaging his presentations are…if you have yet to meet him, this is your chance.
Back when I started green woodworking, chairs were my thing. I learned them first from John (Jennie) Alexander’s book Make a Chair from a Tree, then slightly later from Alexander first-hand. In that book is the incredibly amazing technique of stripping hickory saplings for the inner bark, to be used as a seat-weaving material. To me, the best seating material going – looks and feels better the more you use it. (the notion for this photo came from one Tim Manney did a few weeks ago – thanks, Tim)
Like pounding ash splints for basket-making, peeling hickory for the inner bark is a concept that amazes me every time I do it. I rarely get to harvest any hickory bark these days, but keep a stash of strips for basket work. I was lashing the rims onto some baskets the other day, and although I have some very fine smooth ash splints that are ideal for this work, I also have some leftover hickory bark. Unbeatable.
Working with it reminded me of two references to it in Mark Twain’s work – the first one I remembered is from the Autobiography, (the modern vol 1; for that matter the old volume 1 too) When describing his uncle’s farm in Missouri, he mentioned:
“Down the forest slopes to the left were the swings. They were made of bark stripped from hickory saplings. When they became dry they were dangerous. They usually broke when a child was forty feet in the air, and this was why so many bones had to be mended every year.”
In the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer is advising Huck Finn to get a sheet with which Jim will make a rope ladder in planning his escape. Huck has other ideas:
“Why, Tom Sawyer, how you talk,” I says; “Jim ain’t got no use for a rope ladder.”
“He has got use for it. How you talk, you better say; you don’t know nothing about it. He’s got to have a rope ladder; they all do.”
“What in the nation can he do with it?”
“Do with it? He can hide it in his bed, can’t he?” That’s what they all do; and he’s got to, too. Huck, you don’t ever seem to want to do anything that’s regular; you want to be starting something fresh all the time. S’pose he don’t do nothing with it? ain’t it there in his bed, for a clew, after he’s gone? and don’t you reckon they’ll want clews? Of course they will. And you wouldn’t leave them any? That would be a pretty howdy-do, wouldn’tit! I never heard of such a thing.”
“Well,” I says, “if it’s in the regulations, and he’s got to have it, all right, let him have it; because I don’t wish to go back on no regulations; but there’s one thing, Tom Sawyer—if we go to tearing up our sheets to make Jim a rope ladder, we’re going to get into trouble with Aunt Sally, just as sure as you’re born. Now, the way I look at it, a hickry-bark ladder don’t cost nothing, and don’t waste nothing, and is just as good to load up a pie with, and hide in a straw tick, as any rag ladder you can start; and as for Jim, he ain’t had no experience, and so he don’t care what kind of a—”
“Oh, shucks, Huck Finn, if I was as ignorant as you I’d keep still—that’s what I’d do. Who ever heard of a state prisoner escaping by a hickry-bark ladder? Why, it’s perfectly ridiculous.”
It’s November here now, no time for harvesting any bark. But come spring, I’m going to keep my eyes out for a good hickory sapling. My stash is getting low.
At my house, the carved joined stuff is in every room. I have tried many times, and always failed, to count the pieces of furniture in this 4 1/2 room house. You’d be amazed at how much stuff you can cram in here. (I’m in the kitchen right now – 9 pieces of free-standing furniture, 3 hanging on the wall, and all the built-in cupboards above the counters)
This week, I have been making this little, big rush-seated chair. Little because it’s a low seat, generally small-size chair. Big because it’s not subtle – the posts are almost 2” square, the rungs fit in holes that are 15/16” in diameter. So little big chair. It’s based on 17th-century chairs that we mostly know from Dutch artwork, more-so than from surviving examples. (next up for it is trimming the posts here & there, weaving the seat…) These are ancestors of the ladderback chairs that I first learned back in the late 1970s/80s. Here’s one that I did about 1984 or so. A more recent kid’s version too.
I began as a chairmaker. Made ladderbacks, rockers, Windsors – then got into the 17th century & made wainscot chairs, 3-legged & 4-legged. Turned chairs ditto. Leather chairs. Chairs w boxes in the seat. Kid’s chairs, high chairs. My semi-latest chair was the walnut brettstuhl.
But at our kitchen table, the chairs we use at every meal and then some are Windsor chairs I made 20-25 years ago.
At my desk too. I once had one of those stupid office chairs, then I came to my senses & remembered that I am a chairmaker. Windsors are lightweight, comfortable, attractive. Sturdy. Fun and challenging to build; carving, turning, shaved work, sculpted seats. good all around projects. And so much variety.
Two things happened this week to remind me of how much I like good Windsor chairs. Lost Art Press announced the release of Pete Galbert’s long-awaited book on Windsor chairs. You already know about that…
One of the days that the mail got through here, I received Curtis Buchanan’s next installment in his printed plans for his chairs, this one a fanback side chair, one of my favorites.
I learned Windsors from Curtis, starting in 1987. I really like his approach, both to his chairs and to his life. If you’ve seen his youtube series on making a Windsor chair – then you’ve seen Curtis’ style, very human, simple, direct – and he makes especially beautiful chairs. This set of plans is 4 pages; some 1/2 scale, some full scale. Two different turning patterns, bending forms, seat profile & plan. Boring angles – a course in Windsor chair making in 4 pages. I’m ordering Pete’s book, but I’m keeping Curtis’ plans too – you never know when I might reach into my past & make some more chairs. We must be able to squeeze one or two more in here…
I have another chair to make, like this one. I thought I photographed this one with its rush seat, but I can’t find it.
People often ask “where can I get green wood?” – one thing I tell them is for short lengths/small projects, check with firewood dealers/tree cutters…we’re home-schooling our kids this year, but they attend a 2-day program about a 15-minute drive from here. On the way is a yard where some tree folks cut & split their firewood. I stopped today, needing some maple for the next chair. Maple doesn’t store well as a log, you gotta use it up quickly, so I never have it on hand. I found a very helpful fellow in this yard, explained what I needed & why, we looked over the newest pile, picked one out, he crosscut it to about 3 1/2 feet, loaded it in the car & away I went.
I hate shopping. Avoid it like the plague. But this was a great shopping experience – 10 minutes, 20 dollars – we both were happy. I saw lots of other nice wood for small stuff – bowls, spoons & more. I’m all set for much of that sort of thing right now…but I’ll be back when things run low.
Everything is relative of course, but for me, I traveled a lot this past year. Had great times in various locations, but one of the best parts is that several trips took me near enough to the Conewago Creek that I/we got to visit with our great friends Heather & Pat. These days Heather is living a dream, working as a full-time artist. (see web http://www.heatherneill.com/ & blog http://hnartisan.wordpress.com/) – But back when the world was younger, in Cambridge, she learned chairmaking by watching me make a few. She went on to make way more ladderback chairs than I ever did; here’s the kids monkeying around in some of her oldies.
I have often made Alexander-style ladderback chairs for kids in my life, but much like the proverbial shoemaker’s kids, mine have no home-made chairs. I started to fix that not too long ago, and worked on one of them today. This is modern-woodworking for me; a power-bore bit, held in a Stanley universal brace – I even used a pencil today on wood.
It’s been over 8 years I think since I have made one of these chairs. Jennie still sells the DVD for those who want to take on these chairs. You could also take a class at Country Workshops, which is where I met Alexander & Drew Langsner back in 1980. I simplify the methods I learned from them; just because I am only making two of these, and barely have room & time for those. Before we really got entirely involved in joiners’ work, I was working pretty closely with Alexander; but my ladderbacks were always just serviceable, they didn’t really click like many other chairmakers that went through Alexander & Langsner. Thankfully joinery came along with my name on it…
A few quickly-taken shots of the shaving horse. I recently saw some folks saying they need a work surface higher than the “bodger’s horse” – but the one developed by Alexander has a hinged work surface…problem solved.
I’ve been sick this week, so I only lasted a half-day today…so I got one chair partially assembled. Then I inserted a scrap of matboard to test for the slat curvature. It’ll work, but I’m no threat to the modern-chairmakers…