For my pole lathe, the 4-foot long rear posts of this chair are the upper limit of what I can reach. Even then, it’s pushing things a bit. To get the roughed-out blank on the lathe, I prepare it by working it as straight and even as I can. In this first photo, I have the split-out billet, having shaved off the bark, I’m using a chalkline to begin layout. I’m aiming for a square about 2 1/2″ by four feet long.
I hew the two radial faces, trying to get them down to the chalkline. The better the hewing, the easier every step after this part.
Then the same steps on the tangential faces; chalkline, hewing and planing. Depending on my stamina levels, I will plane this square as evenly as I can, or I’ll get it close and figure to finalize it during turning. This one was in-between. Straight is more important than clean. At this next stage, I’ve propped the squared blank up on a joiners’ “saddle” which is a nice name for a block with a notch in it, to prop the squared piece corner-up. Now I can shave off the corners, leaving an octagonal-cross section ready for turning.
The main chunk of work is turning the cylinder. Here I’m using a wide deep gouge to get it round and down to size.
Then a nice sharp skew chisel to clean it off.
There’s lots of scribed lines turned on the stiles; and a small bead or two. But the finial is the real test. Here, a narrower gouge starts the cove in the middle of the finial.
A skew chisel begins to form the ball under that cove.
The camera/tripod was in my way at this point, so that’s the last shot I have of turning the finials. here’s the finished results. The top bit gets cut off.
Lots more to look at on this chair; cutting the rectangular mortise and tenon joints; plowing grooves, etc.
I have a project underway that relates back to one of my earliest posts on this blog. I’m making a copy of a seventeenth-century turned chair with a board seat captured in grooves in the seat rails, rather than a woven seat around the seat rails. The chair I’m now building has four legs, back in July 2008 I wrote one of my first blog posts about a three-legged version. https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2008/07/05/three-footed-chair/
here’s an earlier version I did of this chair:
Its main feature to my eye is the construction of the seat rails. Because the seat is a panel captured in grooves, the seat rails need to all fall at the same height. With woven seating, the seat rails are staggered in height, so the joints don’t interfere. (usually the side rungs are higher than the front and rear rungs, maybe always) But with the board seat, the joints actually intersect. Often, like the chair I’m working on now, it’s a combination of a rectangular tenon pierced by a round tenon. One thing all this means is the parts are very heavy and thick. Here’s the rectangular tenon test-fit into one of the posts.
I’ve used the following photo a lot over the years, it shows the round tenon running right through the rectangular one. This is from a 3-legged version, but the effect is mostly the same for 4-legged ones. Easier geometry.
This chair is ash, (Fraxinus, usually around here Fraxinus americana) riven from a straight-grained log, hewn and prepared (either by planing or shaving with a drawknife) then turned on the lathe. The seat rails are 1 3/4” in diameter, the posts are 2 1/8”-2 1/4” thick. That’s heavy stuff. Good straight ash splits evenly and easily, it’s a real treat to use.
The original chair I’m working from is one of two by the same unknown maker, both at Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth Massachusetts. One belonged to Governor William Bradford,
the other to the church elder William Brewster.
Brewster died in 1644, Bradford in 1657. His inventory included lots if itemized and well-described furniture:
“a Court Cubbard £1-05, winescot bedsteed and settle £1-10,
4 lether Chaires £1-12, 1 great lether Chaire 10s, 2 great wooden Chaires 8s, a winscott Chist & Cubburd £1-05, 2 great Carved Chaires £1-04, a smale carved Chaire 6s, 1 great Chaire and 2 wrought stooles £1, a Carved Chist £1″
Well, we know this chair at Pilgrim Hall is not the “carved” chairs, nor is it leather. So it’s either one of the “great wooden Chaires” or just simply the “great Chaire” that was listed along with the “wrought” stools. Aren’t they all wooden chairs, you ask? Often the adjective describes the seating material – thus these could be referred to in the period as wooden chairs. “Great” is taken to mean either “large” or often, “with arms.” One thing about the Bradford inventory that vexes me is the value assigned to the 2 great wooden chairs – 8 shillings. If the chairs are equals, then 4 shillings isn’t a lot for a chair like this. If the 2 great carved chairs are also equal, they’re worth 12 shillings each. A pretty big difference, I’d guess this chair is as much work as a carved one, maybe more. The great chair listed with the 2 wrought stools is harder to estimate because of the stools. “Wrought” usually means “worked” in some way. In stools and chairs, it’s often considered upholstered.
The Bradford chair is in better condition than the Brewster. It’s missing some height, the bottoms of the posts are right at the stretchers. One thing I like about this wear & tear on this original object is it clearly shows the type of bit used to bore this mortise – a round-bottomed hole like that is the result of using what we now call a spoon-bit.
Here’s a spoon bit, showing the rounded tip that makes a hole like the one above:
The upper rear rail is thought to be a replacement, as is the board seat. Brewster’s is missing several spindles, a couple of stretchers, upper rear rail and has a leather seat wrapped around the rails.
I’ll post construction notes and photos as I go. Lots to see in this chair.
For some details about the chairs’ histories, see the page at Pilgrim Hall’s website about their furniture. If you’re near Plymouth, don’t miss the museum. They have great stuff. http://www.pilgrimhall.org/ce_funiture.htm
Since I moved into my new shop a year & a half ago, I have shuffled semi-finished projects in & out of the way as I worked. I have a chest that has no customer; I made it for photos I needed for my book. I kept thinking I’d find a spot for it in the house. Seemed unlikely, meanwhile it fit nicely under the lathe. So, out of sight, out of mind. Until I needed to turn something. In fact, fitting under there it collected lots of stuff inside it, then I even put boards across the top for more storage. Terrible idea.
With a lot of turned components coming up in my work, I had to finally deal with it. Spent several hours shuffling stuff around here & there – fitted the chest (still lid-less, still unsold) into the basement and cleaned up the shop. Now, all I need to do is re-learn turning.
Here’s a view from outside, through the open door. All that open space means I can get at the lathe when I need to. I have plans to make a shorter bed for it, so it takes up less floor space. But for now, I need the full-length for some long turning projects in the near future.
Prior to turning, I chop all the mortises.
Even bore the pin holes.
Mark the centers.
on a good day, I can make them look like this:
Here’s the square table frame, test fitted. Like an over-sized joined stool.
After this one, there’s a large turned chair coming up. That calls for ash. This is a five-footer, splits like it’s perforated. The rear posts will be 4′ long, 2 1/4″ in diameter. Whew.
Shaved octagonal with a drawknife, then mark the center and turn it.
The straight clear ash works like a dream. what a wood…
I’m getting nowhere sorting Greenwood Fest pictures, so will just post a few here & there rather than trying to write a comprehensive blog post about the event. The wood gets delivered in a dump truck. Easy to unload, but last year we just left a large jumbled heap for people to sift through. This time I asked for (& got) volunteers to sort and lay out the wood so it was less hazardous. Then – I kept worrying we’d run out. Doesn’t look like enough, but it was…
Here’s Curtis Buchanan on his way to work, no doubt some hijinks between him & Darrick Sanderson on the pole lathe there. It was a great pleasure to have Curtis join us this time…
Way back in my woodworking DNA I’m a chairmaker – and I kept going back to Curtis’ sessions to see what he was up to, and to admire his chairs. So much so that I bought this one – I never bought another chairmaker’s chair before.
Barn the Spoon. BOOM.
So much hands-on component, so much real-world connection.
This place was always busy.
The ladyslippers were in full bloom.
Robin Wood came over from England. He ran several sessions, this one, with JoJo (seated on the right), about their tool-making operation Wood Tools.
Our old friend Joel Pontz brought his tent, his borrowed dump truck and his eager help. Then he took Jane Mickelborough’s folding spoon class. Here he’s cutting the bridle joint that forms the hinge.
Stopped by Dave Fisher’s pre-fest course on carving bowls, to see just who the quickest ones were who got to sign up for that class. Under 10 minutes I think it took to sell out…
And Dave in a later session demonstrating how he does the finish work on one of his bowls.
Back in 2008 I started this blog; being inspired by a blog I read regularly then – that of Robin Wood. Sometime in the early/mid 1990s, my friend Ned Cooke sent me this postcard, showing Robin Wood turning a huge nest of bowls in beech on his pole lathe. I tacked it up in my workshop and it’s been there ever since. Even made the move to my new shop…
I had heard about Robin’s work and somewhere along the line Jennie Alexander traded letters back & forth with him back then. For a while there was a very active forum on the web called the Bodgers’ Ask and Answer forum. (it’s still there, going back quite a ways with lots of information. Some of it is quite good. https://www.bodgers.org.uk/BB/ ) Robin was a regular contributor there, and that’s where he & I started talking directly to each other. I can’t remember if I found his blog through the forum or vice-versa. Doesn’t matter now.
What matters to me is that Robin is perhaps THE person responsible for reviving the craft of turning wooden bowls on a pole lathe, using hook tools. Right now there are lots of people taking up this work – and I hope they recognize Robin’s contribution to its revival. (Somewhere in those years, I first met Roger Abrahamson http://www.rogerabrahamson.com/index.html when he appeared at my shop & introduced himself. His work parallels some of Robin’s very well. Roger is another story someday.)
We finally met in 2014, when I was a student in his first course at North House Folk School. (met Jarrod & JoJo there at the same time – 3 birds, one stone). With Barn the Spoon, Robin started another inspiration of ours – Spoonfest https://spoonfest.co.uk/ and that’s where he & I next met up. He’d invited me a couple of times and I begged off due to scheduling problems. Then in 2016 I decided I’d better go before the invites dried up.
I’m thrilled that Robin is coming to Greenwood Fest. He’ll be teaching a 2-day class in bowl turning on a pole lathe, with hook tools. Then during the fest, we’ll have him in various capacities; these days much of his time is spent making tools for spoon carving. We’re still working out the details of some aspects of the schedule. One piece we have planned with him is a slide talk/presentation about his various green woodworking exploits over the years. Worth seeing.
One of the hardest parts of Greenwood Fest planning for us is the instructor roster. Because our venue has a limit on the number of people allowed, the size of the Fest will not grow. And because we love all our instructors equally – it becomes difficult to work in new ones. To make space for Robin, Jarrod Dahl has kindly agreed to shift from Greenwood Fest this year to a course with Plymouth CRAFT later in the season – early to mid-September. BUT Jarrod & Jazmin plan on attending the Fest, so if you see Jarrod there, take it easy on him with the questions, it’s his vacation!
Greenwood Fest will be held in Plymouth Massachusetts June 5-10, 2018. Those dates include the pre-fest courses. Tickets on sale starting February 2, 2018 https://www.greenwoodfest.org/
People’s lives get busier every year. Ours too. Good thing we have all these time-saving devices…
today’s post is just a “save the date” sort of thing. Plymouth CRAFT’s Greenwood Fest will be early June again, same venue = Pinewoods Dance Camp, Plymouth, Massachusetts, USA.
Festival June 8-10; pre-Fest courses June 5-7. TICKETS GO ON SALE FEBRUARY 2, 2018. We will let you know details as we get it together – this is just so you can get the time off of work, quit your job, cancel graduation/wedding, etc and tell your family you’ll be in the woods.