revisiting an old favorite

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…





10 minutes, 20 dollars. An ideal shopping experience

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. 

plain chair no seat yet

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. 

ready to work

But before I get to have fun like that, it’s boxing & shipping – for me & Maureen. She still has stuff on her site; even on sale!

I have a couple of things left, if you want to send me back to the post office –

House of Chairs


black finial

My family & I took a quick trip to visit friends in Maine. No class, no workshop, lecture, etc.  Just plain fun. Scattered about the self-proclaimed “house of chairs”  is a great mis-mash of ladderback chairs. When I began woodworking in 1978, I started with this book.

MACFAT cover


It showed how to make a “shaved” chair. Same format as a turned chair, but no turnings.

Here’s a turned Shaker chair –

shaker rocker



Many years later, I learned some about furniture history & found references to “plain matted chairs” and “turned matted chairs” – matted referring to the woven seats. (See American Furniture, 2008 for an article on shaved chairs – “Early American Shaved Post and Rung Chairs” by Alexander, Follansbee & Trent. )

Here’s a nice $15 version, from French Canada. Through mortises all over, rungs & slats. Probably birch. Posts rectangular, not square. Did they shrink that way, or were they rectangles to begin with? 



sq post 1b

sq post 1a


Rear posts shaved, not bent. 


sq popst side

sq post rear


Tool marks, sawing off the through tenon, hatchet marks from hewing the post. 


sq post tool marks


Small wooden pins secure the rungs in the post. Did not see wedges in the through tenons. Tool kit for a chair like this is pretty small, riving & hewing tools – drawkinfe, maybe a shaving horse? – tools for boring a couple of sizes of holes. what else? A knife? a chisel for the slat mortises…


sq posat thru t


Here’s an armchair – also shaved.  Big. the curved rear posts angle outwards. the arms meet the arris of this post…one front post has a nice sweep to it. I forget if the other does…

sq post armchair

It was a tight spot that had enough light…so I had to tilt to get the whole chair in this shot. 

sq post armchair overall

The side seat rungs and the arms both have this bowed shape…

sq post armchair overall rear above

Although the arms have been moved down in the rear stiles. 

sq post armchair mortise in rear

I couldn’t get high enough to really capture the shape of the rear stile… I’d guess these stiles are bent this time, not shaved. 

sq post armchair rear stile

The front stile, swept outwards. 



sq post armchair front post


You should see the cheese press. A masterwork of mortise-and-tenon joinery.  Next time I’ll empty it and shoot the whole thing. 

cheese press detail


cheese press detail 2


Xmas chairs, done

got 'em done

I finished the chairs today. Did the second hickory-bark seat, a few pins for slats, and some general scraping & smoothing.  It was funny making this style of chair again after many years. This type of chair was the first woodworking I really did, and I made quite a few of them over the years. As many of you know, I first heard of this chair when Taunton Press published John Alexander’s Make a Chair from a Tree in 1978. In 1980 I met Alexander when he taught his 2nd class at Country Workshops. Years later, when Alexander did an afterward for the 2nd edition of Make a Chair from a Tree, (Astragal Press, 1994) I was fortunate enough to be able to help a bit. At that time, the point of the afterward was to cull the un-necessary parts out of the original text, and in a sense simplify the task. I make a long-haired cameo in the afterward.

 Ultimately, Alexander went even further when it came time to make the DVD that is now the record of that process. The DVD is quite detailed, and really nails the chair. Jennie still sells it through the website: – there are clips there as well:

Alexander's post-and-rung chair


By the time the DVD was made I was somewhat removed from making Alexander-style chairs. For the past 20 years I have mostly concentrated on the seventeenth century stuff, including some turned chairs, like this:

turned chair, ash w rush seat


Another sort that I have made is what we call “plain” chairs, i.e. those with shaved parts instead of turned. We latched onto the term “plain” chair for these shaved period examples from a record I found from the Worshipful Company of Turners of London:

“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.”  [from A.C. Stanley-Stone, The Worshipful Company of Turners of London – Its Origin and History (London: Lindley-Jones & Brother, 1925) p. 121.]

 This chair is in essence related to Alexander’s; but done in the simplest manner…

plain matted chair, PF

Typically a turner using riven stock would hew or shave the stuff prior to turning it on the lathe. This is how Alexander started making chairs ages ago, then just dropped the turning part. Some chairs (the plain matted ones) just omit the turning, presumably making a slightly cheaper product. The few surviving oldies are still quick heavy & thick…

plain chair, MFA Boston

As I was making these chairs this week, I kept thinking about how this or that step would be easier/quicker on the lathe, something I never imagined thirty years ago. I still use techniques I learned from Alexander when making the turned chairs, but certainly the most distinct difference is the bulk of the parts. In general the rungs on the turned chair above are about 1” in diameter, with ¾” tenons. I think Alexander’s rungs are just a hair over the 5/8” tenon. Even my kids’ chairs from this week are beefier than Alexander’s adult chairs!  

 In the end, I think of the shaved chair designed by Alexander as a modern chair, with its origins in the many traditional examples made down the ages. Alexander engineered a construction principle that is probably more meticulous than most early chairmakers bothered with. But it works great…makes a very strong, extremely light chair.

Antique shaved chairs are rare survivors. Last year Jennie & I worked with our friend Robert Trent on an article for American Furniture 2008 called Early American Shaved Post-and-Rung Chairs. There’s a slew of chairs in it, worth seeing if you like this sort of chair.