some seating furniture

Took some photos today. First turn was Daniel’s – shooting some of his recent LEGO builds.

Daniel at work
Rivendell

Then mine was shooting semi-proper shots of the recent spate of seating furniture. A couple of things come to me as I sorted these photos. Among them is that I actually do have to go have my camera’s sensor cleaned. I’ve been putting it off due to the pandemic, figuring it’s not that important…but I’m sick of all these spots all over the photos.

This chair is one I assembled either in late December or early January. I forget. I’m mostly happy with it, but I look forward to the next one. Those rear posts are ash, one heartwood, one sapwood. Give them time and they’ll blend together. I didn’t feel like painting it. Now it goes to the kitchen to replace the very first version of this chair that I did.

“democratic” arm chair

Below is the arm-chair version. Both of these are Curtis Buchanan’s design, with my change to the crest rail joint. And on the arms, I made a through tenon into the rear post – which you can’t really assemble unless you put some intentional slop in that joint. It’s glued & wedged. I’ll let you know how it holds up. I did some like it in the early 1990s that have held up.

crest rail joint

The crest rail joint is a 3/8″ wide tenon, made by just tapering the crest’s thickness. There’s no tapering top & bottom. The mortise I made by boring a couple of holes, and paring it with a chisel. Then it’s pinned through the post. You could just as easily wedge it from outside post too.

first joined stool of the year

Then going back and making a joined stool was a walk in the park. Red oak stool, white oak seat. On this subject, I’ve been splitting out stock for more of these – which gave me a chance to shoot some videos of the beginning of that process. When I did the youtube series about joined stools last year, I got the idea when I was already underway. So now I’ve backed up to shoot the beginning. They’ll be ready soon. Daniel is coming back as video-editor – he’s broke and wants some money.

First ladderback of 2021

I had to make a chair so I could shoot some missing photos for Jennie Alexander’s Make a Chair from a Tree. Red oak with hickory rungs. Hickory bark seat. Megan just sent me the most recent set of corrections, so now I go over them again – then we see where we are. We really are getting closer, you’ll see.

two chairs assembled

ladderback & Windsor

I got two chairs assembled recently – a couple of days ago it was the ladderback on the left – for some photos we needed for JA’s book. Today’s was the arm chair version of Curtis Buchanan’s Democratic chair. https://www.curtisbuchananchairmaker.com/store/p40/Full-Scale_Drawings%3A_How_to_Make_a_Democratic_Arm_Chair.html

this shouldn’t work

Once you have the undercarriage assembled, it really shouldn’t be able to then fit in the tapered mortises – but there is enough flex in the structure to pull the legs apart, so it can all go together.

double wedges

I saw Elia Bizzarri wedge the chair legs with two wedges in the video series he & Curtis did of the side chair. First you open up the top edge of the mortise fore & aft, I used a round file. Just a bit. Then you split it twice and drive the wedges in. Easy does it though, you can shear off part of the tenon if you try to spread it too much. Below is a test joint I made a few weeks ago & cut open to peek inside. That hourglass shape won’t come back out.

May be an image of woodwork

It turns out I’m a lousy student – I changed the crest rail tenon – and I did the arm-to-rear post joint differently from Curtis’ plan too. I bored a tapered through mortise in the post, and put enough slop in the tenon on the back end of the arm so I could get it installed into the rear post and down onto the front arm post. Then wedged it from behind (& above.)

The nice thing about making Windsor-style chairs is you don’t have to wait to sit in them. As soon as they’re assembled, you’re done. Next week I’ll have to weave a seat on the ladderback.

test drive

this is the chair that didn’t want to happen – but I kept at it. https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2021/01/11/i-thought-you-were-supposed-to-be-good-at-this/

And here’s the crest rail joint, on a side chair I made earlier – down in the middle of this post – https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2021/01/10/some-shop-work-today/

Chairs are next

I’m back home now; earlier this week I was one of the presenters at Winterthur Museum’s “Furniture Up Close” – it was a great time there; I love re-connecting with the museum world; it’s where I learned so much about furniture. Got a preview of spring while I was down in Delaware, back here it’s still the future. Spring is an amazing time at Winterthur – the full name is Winterthur Museum & Gardens for a reason.

But after a month of near-constant travel or preparation for travel, I’m glad to be here for a while. A long string of large projects; the queen-sized bed, the dresser and settle; is now behind me. Now I’m going to make small stuff; carved boxes and ladderback chairs. I shot almost nothing at Winterthur and did shoot nothing at Cutchogue when Pret & I installed the dresser and settle…

Next up is the chair-making class with Plymouth CRAFT. My latest JA chair, with a bark seat mostly done by Rose – I’ll add the last filler strips this week.

 

I started in yesterday on either making or gathering a few of the bits & pieces we’ll need for 6 of us to be working on this stuff. I use a gauge like this for sizing the rough-shaved posts and rungs. 1 3/8″ on one notch, 3/4″ on the other.

These V-blocks we use when boring the posts; the thick ones came from JA’s shop, I made a set yesterday, but had no thick stuff. Should work fine anyway. The other little frames on the right are for temporary mock-up of the rear posts, for alignment purposes. And some various bits; 20th & 21st century-style.

I shaved these rungs here & there – these will be issued AFTER the students split & shave replacements for them.

 

Same is true of these posts. In practice, each class prepares the material for the next class. Thus I started it off, now it’s on them.

I was taking these shots this morning; and thought of Rick McKee and his chicken-scratching obsession recently. https://www.instagram.com/medullary_rick/

I see those pinwheels/daisy wheels and just think it’s someone too scared to finish carving it. This is the door to the axe-cupboard.

And this a box with gouges – someday I’ll finish it.

 

I’m going to make another few chairs – the Shaker tape one here is available, the bark seated ones sold; but can be ordered. Here’s a slightly out-dated page about the chair project – https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/pf-ladderback-chairs/

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.)

Nostalgic Chairmaking: 40 years

 

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my start in woodworking. Forty years ago I made my first “real” pieces of furniture; ladderback chairs from John (Jennie) Alexander’s Make a Chair from a Tree. The book came out in 1978, I remember when I first opened that package. The chairs I made then, from that book, would really make me cringe now – but that’s not the point. (thankfully, I have no idea where those chairs are, but I have this drawing of one saved in an old sketchbook. That chair was made before I met Alexander and Drew Langsner in 1980.)

For years, I made these chairs, and then Windsors – before I made any oak furniture. Then once I started on the oak joined furniture, those chairs sort of fell by the wayside. I made a couple kid-sized JA-style chairs when my children were small, but that was it.

Otherwise, large oak carved chairs or turned (also large) chairs – all that 17th-century stuff. We saw one of my wainscot chairs displayed in the Hingham Massachusetts Public Library the other day. I made it based on an original made in Hingham in the 17th century.

But I’ve been planning for a while to “re-learn” how to make JA ladderbacks. These chairs are more demanding than my wainscot chairs – the tolerances are much tighter, less forgiving. I made a couple attempts recently that I wasn’t happy enough with to finish – so today I took the day off from joinery and worked on one of these chairs. First thing I did was to review Jennie’s DVD about making the chair. If you are interested in these chairs, I highly recommend that video. http://www.greenwoodworking.com/MACFATVideo 

(yes, Jennie & Lost Art Press are working towards a new edition of the book – but get the video in the meantime. It covers every detail of making this chair.)

The part I had to re-learn is how to orient the bent rear posts while boring the mortises. That’s what I went to the video for; the rest I still had. Included with the video are drawings for a couple helpful jigs to aid in those tricky bits. This morning I made several of those jigs – but didn’t photograph any of that. I didn’t get the camera out until I was boring mortises…

In this photo, I’m boring the mortises for the side rungs into the rear post. If you get this angle wrong, you might as well quit now. I forget now who came up with this horizontal boring method – but I learned it from Jennie & Drew Langsner. They worked together many summers teaching classes to make this chair. The photo is a bit cluttered (the bench is cluttered really) so it’s hard to see. But the bent rear post needs to be oriented carefully. But once you have it right, then it’s just a matter of keeping the bit extender level and square to the post. there’s a line level taped to the bit extender. Eyeball 90 degrees.

Alexander’s non-traditional assembly sequence is to make the side sections of the chair first. So after boring the rear & front posts for the side rungs, I shaved the tenons in the now-dried rungs. Mostly spokeshave work.

I bored several test holes with the same bit, to gauge the tenons’ size. Chamfer the end of the tenon, try to force it into the hole. Then shave it to just squeeze in there. No measurements.

Once the tenon starts in that hole, you get a burnished bit right at the end. That’s the guideline now. Shave down to it.

Yes, glue. I don’t often use it, but this is a case where I do. The chair would probably be fine without it, but it doesn’t hurt. Belt & suspenders. Knocking the side rungs into the rear post.

Make sure things line up, and the front post is not upside-down.

Then bang it together. Listen for the sound to change when the joints are all the way in.

Then time to bore the front & rear mortises. This little angle-jig has the unpleasant name of “potty seat” – I wish there was another name for it. But there’s a level down on the inside cutout – so I tilt the chair section back & forth until that reads level. Then bore it.

 

It’s hard to see from this angle, but that chair section is tilted away from me, creating the proper angle between the side and rear rungs.

Then re-set for the front mortises.

I was running out of daylight – and any other task, I’d just leave it til tomorrow. But with glue, and the wet/dry joints, I wanted to get this whole frame together this afternoon. Here I’m knocking the rear rungs in place. That’s a glue-spreader (oak shaving) in the front mortise.

Got it.

Expect to hear a lot more from me this year about making these chairs; their relationship to historical chairs, and also about the people who taught me to make them. It’s been a heck of a trip these past 40 years.

TOOLS FOR SALE: DRAWKNIVES

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