rear post for a wainscot chair

The next couple of weeks will feature some chairmaking here. As I said earlier, I’m revisiting the ladderback chairs I began my woodworking career with…I shaved some posts & rungs and chopped slat mortises – but shot no pictures. But today, I had some wainscot chair work to do; and what a world of difference. I had to fashion one hewn rear post for a wainscot chair like this:

wainscot chair, side view

The “cant” or “rake” to the rear post is hewn, not bent like in Alexander’s ladderback. This post starts out as a split billet 3″ x 4″ x 48″. That’s a lot of oak. I hewed it oversized; a few weeks ago I worked one and it was too close to the finished size. When I was done hewing and planing, it came up “scant” – i.e. too small in cross-section to match the first one. Here, you see the template laying on the riven and hewn piece:

Thinking about the JA chairs – this one billet had enough wood to maybe make 3 or 4 posts for a JA ladderback. This is a rare case where I work primarily on the tangential face first. I want the front face of these posts to be the radial surface (it’s going to be carved, & I like carving that face better than this one). So the cant gets laid out on the growth-ring plane.

Once I hewed and planed that face pretty flat, I scribed the template and began to hew the shape. The front is easy enough to hew, because of the way you’re cutting down the grain. In this photo, I have the front faces planed, and I’m cutting the thickness of the post above the seat. I decided to saw, rather than split this, so I can use the piece that’s coming off – it will become either a stretcher or one of the carved figures that is applied to the side of the chair. I made a relief cut at the seat height, and am sawing down to that cut. In the photo, this saw cut is nearly done. Then the stuff below the seat will get hewn away, there’s nothing worth saving there, so hewing is quicker than sawing. Easier too. You can see relief cuts there too, I stood the piece up on its top end and hewed down to the mid-point. 

Cleaning up these rear surfaces is pretty easy. They don’t have to be dead-flat or true. I shim under the end, and shove the post against my bench hook/planing stop. A holdfast keeps it in place. I’m only planing as far as the plane will fit. It gets close to, but not up to, the angled spot where the post leans back. I skew the plane to get close…

Then switch to a spoke shave. it’s one of the few times I use this tool in joiner’s work. That’ll sneak right up to that junction.

I have to let it dry out a couple of weeks, then I can cut the joinery in it & continue on with the chair. I have another to start in the meantime, so there will be more chair work on the blog soon.

wainscot chair

PF copy KP chair

I finished this wainscot chair and delivered it to the Martin House Farm in Swansea, Massachusetts yesterday. I should say I “completed” the chair, I applied no finish to it. They are looking into having it stained to look like the original. Speaking of  which…

side view chairs

I don’t often get to compare my results to the originals that I study. I sometimes don’t want to see the contrast. It can leave me feeling like I missed some obvious feature, muffed another one, etc. There’s a couple of things I’d do differently next time, but not too drastic.

chairs side by side

I added some height to mine, to bring the seat more level, or slightly canted to the rear. The original tilts forward now.

new & old

The original chair descended in the Cole family in Rehoboth and Swansea. Maybe dates from 165-1700. All oak. Some think it was made in Providence, some think it’s a Plymouth Colony joiner. Hard to say, there’s so little to go on. One very distinctive feature of this chair is the rear of the large panel. Instead of just beveling it to fit, the joiner made a tabled” or raised panel.  Here’s mine before assembly:

back of the back

Unusual in New England wainscots, but very common in Wiltshire, England. I have seen many wainscot chairs there done with a tabled panel in front, then the raised area carved. Here’s one from Salisbury, not a great photo but you can just make out the tabled/molded raised area, then carved.

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Salisbury wainscot chair

A post about the raised panel, and the circular decoration on the carved side.

https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2016/03/31/the-wainscot-chair-panel-more/

the wainscot chair panel & more

Some catch up about the wainscot chair underway. First off, the back of the panel is decorated, unlike most (all?) New England wainscots – in this case a raised/tabled panel. The raising is quite distinct, leaving a high rectangle (the table) that is then set off by scraping a molded edge to it. Here, I have the panel on the bench, pausing in mid-bevelling.

raised tabled panel

Here it is, test-fitted into the rear stiles & crest rail. The stiles still need moldings scraped along their long edges. This section is leaning against the front section, so you see the scrolled apron peeking through behind. I can’t wait to work in the new shop, where I hope to have some room for photos!

back of the back

 

The front of the panel has 4 “crop circles” (I had to give them some name…) – you might have seen an earlier post where I showed a couple of period examples of this decoration.

front of the back

I had no evidence regarding what tool might have made these shapes – I’ve only seen the circles a few times… so I made a tool much like a wooden brace, or “wimble” as it’s sometimes called. But instead of a boring bit in the bottom, I inserted a scraper, like we use on scratch stocks for molding.

crop circle wimble

Here’s the head. I left it loose, thinking I might like to use this head for an actual brace (that’s what I cut it for ages ago, was just lucky I could find it now, & thus didn’t have to make it)

head of wimble

Here’s the scraping profile, and the result. If I had time to spend, I would have rounded the end of the tool, and installed a ferrule to keep the cutter in place. I tried a screw like I use on scratch stocks, but it split the maple. So I temporarily clamped the end closed, cut the circles & moved on.

crop circle & cutter

Our neighbor Sara invited us to see Sara & Brad, fish monitors from the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries checking the smelt coming up the river. We had quite a time. Birds I know because they fly right around where you can see them, but the fish rarely poke their heads out of the water…

here’s the fyke net:

fike net

Here’s one of the smelt. I think I heard them say they caught 190 overnight, and over 400 in 4 days this week. They told us it has been the best year (out of 14 or so) they have had for smelt. they do the whole “record-them, measure them, toss them back” thing.

smelt

some chair making in between all the excitement

crest

In between the raising and moving & stacking roughly 160 white pine boards I got some work in on the wainscot chair(s) I have underway. Soon, I’ll set up my lathe (yes, even before the shop is closed in) and get on with turning the front stiles in these chairs. But before that, I can do all the joinery and other decoration. There’s some rather pedestrian carving, some scroll work on the lower edge of the aprons, and top of the crest, and some scratched moldings on the rails and stiles.

The scroll work on the aprons is simply a matter of boring a few holes, connecting some dots with a turning saw, and clean-up with a chisel. One nice feature almost every time I see this detail is that the scroll work is cut into an angled rabbet on the bottom of the rail. This tilts the scroll work upwards to the viewer’s eyes, and thins out the piece to be pierced. Those old guys knew what they were about.

scrolled apron
One detail on the carved panel of the original chair is something I have only seen a few times before – these little round bits (bottom corners in this photo) – they look like turned decoration, but that’s nuts of course. They aren’t carved, that’s for sure. They seem to be made like “scratch stock” moldings, but around an axis.

back panel

Here’s a detail of some on an English box I saw years ago:

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Carved box detail

After some head-scratching, I decided I’m going to make a wooden brace fitted out with a molding scraper, like a scratch stock. Now that the pine boards are all stickered, I can go back to working  on the chairs. If the brace does the job, you’ll hear about it

wainscot chairs, front stiles & side rails

Lincoln chair, red oak, walnut & maple
Lincoln chair, red oak, walnut & maple

In between working on the shop frame, I’ve been slowly working on 2 wainscot chairs. It’s been a while since I have made any of these, (the one above is now in the Hingham Massachusetts public library, so I’m told) – a long hiatus means they are again worth a look. The aspect to cover today is the shape of the front stiles, and the resulting configuration of the side rail’s tenon shoulders.

Wainscot chair’s seats are wider at the front than at the rear, so the side rails are angled. So – do you cut angled mortises? Tenons? Or what?

Some have front stiles with a square cross-section. In cutting the front rails’ tenons, it means nothing. 90-degree shoulders, and away you go. On the side rails – what to do? The ones I’ve studied closely have angled tenon shoulders, but the tenon itself is in line with the rail. This keeps the long fibers intact, making a strong tenon. Requires some geometry to get the angles right on those shoulders, I just scribe the whole chair seat full-scale on either the bench top, some clear wide piece of wood, or any other handy surface. Then take the angles from there with an adjustable bevel.

The real challenge is cutting the mortise at an angle. I’m spoiled by cutting most of my joinery in perfect straight grained wood, in which case mortising is easy. In this case, I have to chop the mortise at an angle, so across the fibers. Like those with ordinary wood. Aggghhh.

Back when I made the DVD with Lie-Nielsen on making these chairs, I made two sample joints. Here’s the square stile version, closed and opened.

sq stile angled rail

sq stile angled shoulder open

One hazard with the square stiles and angled mortises is the chance to bust your mortise out the side face of the stile. I’ve done it, and seen it on old chairs. Another way to do it is to plane the front stile to a weird cr0ss-section, and then your rails have 90-degree shoulders no matter whether they are front rails or side rails. And your mortises are parallel to the face they are struck from. Like this:

shaped stile

shaped stile joint open

Sorry that side rail is not quite in focus, but it’s not worth setting it up again! You get the gist of it, the shoulders on that rail are cut at 90-degrees. It’s a weird piece to plane, two corners are 90-degrees, and the others are not. The chairs I’m making now use this kind of front stile. I promptly forgot that & cut one side rail with angled shoulders! Out of practice, but now I’m getting more…

Here’s a somewhat poor shot from the chair I’m now copying, showing the side rail on our right, and the front rail across the top of the photo. You get an idea of the front stile’s cross-section, and the applied molding shows the general angle too.

seat angle

At the side-rail-to-rear-stile joint, it’s immaterial. You have to use an angled shoulder there, because the flat front face of the rear stiles is parallel to the flat front face of the front stiles. too confusing? When I make the rear stiles I’ll show some of that geometry .

The DVD on making wainscot chairs is available from Lie-Nielsen, and I have some copies for sale as well. It’s long, but in it I make parts for 2 chairs, showing both these arrangements. https://www.lie-nielsen.com/product/home-education-videos/17th-century-wainscot-chair-with-peter-follansbee?node=4243

another wainscot chair project

some years ago, I had two projects making copies of wainscot chairs. Both were projects based on chairs from Hingham, Massachusetts. First, a copy of a wainscot chair at the Brooklyn Museum, here’s the original:

overall
Brooklyn Museum wainscot chair, made in Hingham Massachusetts, 1650-1700

I can’t find my shot of the finished repro right now, but here’s an in-progress shot:

wainscot chair detail b

I called this chair the Edvard Munch chair, because these designs on the vertical panels reminded me of “The Scream.”

That led to making a chair for the town of Hingham. This one stood for much of the twentieth century in the Old Ship Church. Last I knew it was on loan to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Hingham wainscot chair
Hingham wainscot chair

Here’s my copy, which I think is on display in the town library in Hingham:

Lincoln chair, red oak, walnut & maple
Lincoln chair, red oak, walnut & maple

Now comes another project, copying the well-known King Philip chair, or the Cole family chair, depending on what legend you believe. Maybe it’s southeastern Massachusetts, maybe it’s Providence, Rhode Island. I’ve known of the chair for many years, but had never seen it in person. It was published in Robert Blair St George’s book The Wrought Covenant in 1979, and Trent discussed it in the 1999 edition of American Furniture. I went yesterday to the Martin House Farm in Swansea, Massachusetts http://nscdama.org/martin-house-farm/ to see the chair and take notes & measurements. here’s some shots of it.

Front view, feet chopped/worn down. The bottom-most turned bits added at front.

 

full view of chair

Rear panel carving. Eight divisions on this one, the crest rail is divided into 7s.

back panel

How’s this for brackets? Amazing they have survived.

brackets

Molding detail, front apron

molding detail

I find the back of this chair more interesting than the front. “Tabled” panel, sort of a variation on a raised panel. The field is then run with a molding around its perimeter. Molded edges to the framing as well…

rear view

A detail, including an early repair, iron braces nailed on.

back detail

Chairs

cod 2003

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)

 plain chair

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.

ladderback

kids

 

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.

c a chair

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.

Curtis Buchanan fanback side chair

c b plans

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…

links:

Curtis’ plans & videos http://www.curtisbuchananchairmaker.com/store/c1/Featured_Products.html

Pete’s book: http://lostartpress.com/collections/books/products/chairmakers-notebook

my wainscot chair video  https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/book-dvds/