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.
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.
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.
For my first Windsor-style chair in decades, I was happy enough with that one. Which is different from “I was happy with it.” One problem I had was the legs splitting at the joints.
I suspected my tenons were too large. I talked to Curtis about it, and if I remember right, he said because of the steep angle (say where the side stretcher meets the leg) you can get splitting. Suggested yes, make the tenons a bit smaller than I might in a ladderback chair. I was using white ash. I think another factor was the auger bit I used. It has a thick lead screw that might have contributed to the splitting.
For me, one of the most glaring problems was boring the mortises directly in the tangential plane of the legs. And the orientation of the leg is dictated by the orientation of the seat. In this case:
the long fibers (the “grain”) of the seat run front-to-back.
The growth rings in the legs’ tenons (the whole leg actually) are therefore oriented so they run perpendicular to the fibers in the seat.
The leg is split so the wedge is also perpendicular to the fibers of the seat.
This makes the front view of the front legs (and back legs) the tangential plane. And it means when boring the mortises for the side stretchers you’re boring directly into the growth ring plane. Where ring porous woods split very easily.
BUT – I hate looking at the tangential plane of ring porous hardwoods like oak, ash, etc. And on my first democratic chair, the front of the front legs (and back of the back legs) is this plane.
I thought about switching the leg orientation 90 degrees to the “usual” format. Then you wedge it just the same. This puts the leg’s radial plane, which changes less than the tangential plane, running in the direction in which the seat moves the most from one season to the next. So in a worst-case scenario the seat could split I guess, if it shrank a lot versus the leg tenon which wouldn’t shrink much. I think if you use a softwood seat like white pine, and hardwood legs, the seat will compress before it will split from the legs. I bet any problem would be at assembly, not afterwards. I could, of course, be wrong. It’s been a long time since I was really a chairmaker of this sort.
In the usual orientation, the leg’s radial plane lines up with the long fibers of the seat. The seat does not shrink in this direction at all; maybe the tiniest fraction of an inch. If you were to make the change I was thinking about, the radial face would now be the front view of the legs. Better visually for me, but now you’d still be boring into the radial face./growth ring plane, where ring porous hardwoods also split very easily.
In the ladderbacks I learned from John Alexander and Drew Langsner, we positioned the posts’ growth rings at an angle to the rungs…they coined the phrase “post and rung compromise.” They didn’t make up the concept, it came from studying old chairs. The reason for it is to reduce the chance of splitting the legs when driving the rungs in – the mortises are bored between the growth ring plane and the radial plane. Below is one of Chester Cornett’s chairs, showing the front post oriented with this post & rung compromise. The radial crack bisects the angle between the front & side rungs. But you see how neither of those mortises are in the radial or growth ring plane. Some of Chester’s chairs that I saw used sassafrass posts, this one was white oak, very slowly grown.
I decided to try something this on my democratic chair #2. I was moderately successful. The legs & stretchers on this chair are also white ash, and had grown a bit too slow for this application. Too many growth rings make them a bit weak. I oriented the stretchers in the usual way – their hardwood-to-hardwood mortise & tenon joints seemed more critical to me than the hardwood/softwood leg-to-seat joints. So the growth rings on the side stretchers are parallel to the floor – those on the center stretcher are perpendicular to the floor. This means the mortises for the center stretcher are bored into the radial face, directly in the growth ring plane.
One side stretcher cracked slightly like on the first chair. I keep learning.
But it was the legs that I moved around. I re-positioned them just a bit, turning them in their tapered mortises so the growth rings were angled to the fibers in the seat. The wedge, and the wedging action, are still perpendicular to the long fibers in the seat.
This way I was boring the mortises for the side stretchers one facet off from the growth ring or radial plane.
It worked pretty well, one leg has a small split, but that might be more due to the slow growth rings than anything else. Next time, I’d choose a faster-growing log, and I might turn the tenons rather than spoke-shaving them. It’s better than first time out, almost to where I’m happy with it.
I don’t need the calendar to tell me the season is changing – the light in the shop is distinctly different now, a bit lower, coming around a bit earlier. A nice time of year…
Our neighbors put out some stuff for sale by the side of the road from time to time. I wouldn’t let Maureen bring home a small table last week, so I couldn’t bring home these chairs this week. But I could photograph them…some fun stuff to see. One with four slats, but still a small chair.
A hideous knot in the rear post – ugh. But it’s lasted quite a few years.
This was my favorite of the pile. Worn down on the feet, probably was about 4″ higher I’d say.
I like the top slat of this one.
They were $20 apiece – nobody bought them. Not enough traffic these days, I guess.
I’ve had chairs on my mind lately. I told you I pay attention to Curtis Buchanan’s work. Recently I bought a set of his new drawings for the democratic arm chair.
I finished this example of the side chair earlier this year – and started another. Now I hope to finish that one and then make the arm chair.
I shaved parts for the arm chair in red oak, but mine are a bit heavy. I’ll wait a little to see how much they shrink, then will go over them just a little more to slender-them-up a bit. Or down, I guess.
Curtis’ shaved chairs really hit me right at the right time. I made Windsors many years ago, learning from Curtis and Drew Langsner. Quite some time ago, my friend Michael Burrey took me into his house to show me some things he’d bought at someone’s estate sale – including this continuous arm settee I made back in the late 1980s/early 1990s. I took one look at it, and immediately thought “I couldn’t make that today.”
and that got me to thinking about how I’d like to recover some of those techniques/skills. Then along came Curtis’ democratic chair. It reminded me of some shaved chairs I made way back when, inspired by my friend Daniel O’Hagan. Here’s a settee my brother and his wife still have, I must have made it around the same time as the one above.
This one I still use, I’m sitting in it right now – it’s my version of Curtis’ sackback chair, just with shaved bits instead of turned bits. Tulip poplar seat, cherry legs/stretchers/arm stumps. White oak, ash & hickory above the seat.
In case you’ve not got to Curtis’ chairs & plans yet – here’s his links:
Here, I’m set up to bore the legs for the side stretchers.
I flipped the chair seat around to get at the other legs – Curtis’ bench is in the midst of the shop, so he can get around the whole frame. I shoved some short alignment pegs in the bored mortises, to help line up the bit extension for the next set of holes. We used to use these in the JA chairs; not necessary but they don’t hurt.
I got smart & got the Ipad off the bench – clamped it to the window frame. I got afraid I was going to smack into it. I can fix a busted chair part…but not the electronics.
Here I’m test-fitting the legs with their side stretchers in place. Gotta spring them a bit to get them in the seat mortises.
It’s been over 25 years since I made Windsor chairs with any regularity; and much of the process has been simplified since then. I spoke with Curtis last week, and we talked about how we used to bore this stuff, how to find the angles, etc. It’s all so much more direct now. The center stretcher angle he finds by setting two sticks (in my case, 2 rulers) = one across the side stretchers right above the mortise locations, the other sighted to line up with the first. Then strike a line across the seat – that’s the angle! I added a square to double-check the alignment of the two sticks.
Here’s where I got to – the rear posts are just jammed in place. I’ve caught up to Curtis’ videos. (well, except for leveling the feet) I could just bop ahead, but I might as well wait & see what he’s got up to in fitting the crest and spindles. I have plenty to do in the meantime.
This chair has a white pine seat, ash legs & stretchers. Posts are red oak, the spindles and crest I have made for it are hickory.
I’ve told some of these stories many times, but I’m still not tired of them. You might be. I first met Curtis Buchanan in 1987 when I was one of the students in his first class at Country Workshops. I learned Windsor chairmaking from him then, and made many chairs for about 5 years, when I veered off into oak furniture full-time and put away my scorp, travisher, reamer, sight-lines and all that jazz.
I was thrilled to bits last spring when Curtis came up to take part in our Greenwood Fest. There, he was working on a version of his “democratic” chair. The premise of this chair is two-fold – it can be made with a small tool kit; thus within reach of someone just starting out woodworking on a tight budget. And in theory anyway, it’s a building block of a chair. Learn this one & you can then go on to other more complex chairs.
He had two with him, while during the fest he made a third. I distinctly told him, “Don’t sell that green one (photo above) until you talk to me first…” On the last afternoon of the event, I was running around the site seeing to some of the tasks involved in winding that thing down. Didn’t get to Curtis til some time had gone by. Both chairs were gone. I asked what happened? “Oh, I sold both of those chairs…” just as matter-of-fact…turns out he cautioned the buyer that I might come for the green one. I did. Here it is again:
But now I can make my own. Curtis has just released a new set of plans; and a new video series. In the spirit of the democratic notion about this chair, he has set up the plans so that you can either buy them for full-price, or you can download them and pay what you can afford. He leaves it up to you. The full-sheets version is excellent; if I was buying them that’s where I would go. The chair is shown half-scale; the seat, legs, spindles and stretchers, bending forms are all full-sized. https://www.curtisbuchananchairmaker.com/store/c1/Featured_Products.html
here’s one of his latest versions:
here, he’ll tell you about the chair, then hunt down the youtube channel for him. He’s posted the first 4 videos for it, with more to come.
I made a “shaved” (not turned) Windsor chair 30 years ago; still have it kicking around, but it got bumped from the kitchen table when I inherited one of Curtis’ continuous arm chairs from Jennie Alexander. I made it based on Curtis’ sackback plans, but substituted shaved cherry legs, stretchers and arm posts. I got the idea from our friend Daniel O’Hagan who had one or more shaved Windsor chairs when I visited him in that era. This chair is cherry, tulip poplar, ash, hickory and white oak. When new, they looked very different, but 30 years of use have blended the colors pretty well. Patience.
Similar colors the other day in this view of a red-tailed hawk hunting over a marshy area nearby.
I keep showing up on the second-hand market! I started making furniture between 1978-80. That’s closing in on 40 years…which is a lot of furniture. During the past few years, I have heard of/seen a number of chairs I made showing up in antique/collectibles shops, auctions, and even one at…well, you’ll see. Here’s a couple examples –
This continuous arm settee I made back in 1992. A friend bought it not too many years ago, along with a windsor rocking chair, in a house-moving/divorce sale (I think). I wish I had known, I’d love to have this settee – I doubt I could make it again…but I know it’s appreciated where it now resides.
This next one I did buy, and sold again. I had it in my shop for years, a fellow called me up one day asking if he could buy it & he did. Then a couple years later, another friend called me to say one of my carved chairs was in an auction in Maine. I eventually got it through the auction, and called a couple who has collected several of my carved pieces. I offered them this chair at a reduced price, and they said they’d love to, but were out of room. An hour later, they called back & said they made space.
Another wainscot had a slightly sad story to it. I made it at the museum as an award (I was the awards department for quite a while) – for our former co-worker Karin Goldstein. Sadly, Karin died quite young, from cancer. Just shy of 50 maybe. When she died, she had no local family, and some of her stuff ended up in a local shop. Another friend saw this, called to confirm it was my work, and ended up buying it for his wife, a good friend of ours, and of Karin’s. So a semi-happy ending.
This week I got a note from another friend who found a chair “made by the guy at Plimoth Plantation” – well, sort of. I was there for 20 years, but I made this chair well before that – I’d say late 1980s, maybe into 1990/91. She got it for $45. Even I could afford that!
The last one in this batch has the best story. Found at the swap shop in the Hingham, Massachusetts town dump! $5.00. A friend got it after some tussling with other dump-shoppers, and gave it to us.
I made a lot of chairs, but way more carved boxes – where are my carved boxes? Maybe they’ll be out on the 2nd-hand market in a few more years…
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…
My woodworking career began with logs. I first made lots of ladderback chairs for several years, then in 1987 I spent a week as a student in Curtis Buchanan’s first Windsor chair class at Country Workshops, run by Drew Langsner in Marshall, N.C. The following summer, I was an intern at Drew’s place, so got to sit in on Curtis’ next class. That time, I didn’t make the chair again, but tried to soak up the content that was over my head the year before. After that, I would regularly write or call Curtis for more plans, details and chairmaking tips. I eventually made somewhere around 50 Windsors before detouring into joinery and oak furniture. Every blog post I write here is composed while sitting in my copy of Curtis’ comback arm chair that I made about 1990.
I was quite surprised when I opened the mail the other day & received a set of DVDs from Curtis, along with 3 pages of full-sized plans for making the current version of his comback arm chair…
Maybe you’ve seen Curtis’ videos on Youtube, but now you can get the full set directly from him in a binder. It’s broken down into 10 discs, amounting to around 11 hours of video. There is an additional disc that has more than 30 photographic views of the completed chair from almost every conceivable angle. These are home-made videos. If you have ever met Curtis, then you know what to expect. It’s just as if you were watching him explain the process as he makes the chair. I’ve done several how-to videos, and no matter how much practice I have at explaining my craft, to stare into the camera’s lens and talk to it is weird. Curtis tried a professional video production once, but quickly realized that it’s not his style. But don’t confuse informality with un-professional. Curtis really teaches you how he makes this chair, step by step…if I had any room at home, I’d take a shot at making another.
Just to be clear, I did not buy these discs. Curtis sent them to me gratis. I have always been struck by his generosity, and have tried to keep it in mind as I have been an instructor and teacher for the past several years. Curtis always shared his drawings and plans whenever I asked, I remember him telling me that’s what Dave Sawyer did for him, and so he did it for others. For all I know, these videos might still be up on Youtube for free. But if you are interested in chairmaking, or want to be, I’d say buy the set from Curtis. They are very reasonably priced, and if you opt for the drawings too, then you’ll be well on your way. Curtis still teaches down at his home shop in Jonesborough, Tennessee, just about the quaintest place you can imagine. Here’s the link – buy the discs under the tab for “classes” http://www.curtisbuchananchairmaker.com/home.html
One of the best thrills I had in recent years was when I taught a box-making class at Drew’s and Curtis came to be a student. After 20 years, I finally had something I could give him.
While I have been taking some shop time this winter for the extra-curricular chair that I started, I have relied heavily on Drew Langsner’s The Chairmaker’s Workshop for details on making one of these chairs. But the inspiration for Drew and for me is really rooted in Wales. John Brown’s book Welsh Stick Chairs is a beautiful little book. If you like chairmaking and don’t know this book, I highly recommend it. A couple short essays about the history of the Welsh stick chair (I’ve been calling mine a Windsor, and Brown must be rolling in his grave) and about John’s background and how he came to be a chairmaker. I never got to meet him (he taught at Country Workshops twice I think… I had hoped to make his first class there, but had a niece’s wedding I couldn’t skip. I don’t know what happened the 2nd time.)
The bulk of the book is a photo essay of John making a high-back chair in his small shop. Very simple tools, and pretty deft techniques. I often think a book like this is preferable to a how-to book; it’s like lo0king over his shoulder while he makes his chair. Both Drew’s book and John’s are available from http://countryworkshops.org/books.html
Here are my legs being tapered at the bench. These were stock for joined stools that got rejected for one reason or another, and will make perfect tapered oak legs for this chair. Once I have planed them into squares, I sit the foot of the leg in a “joiners’ saddle” – a small block of wood with a large V-notch cut in it. This automatically puts one arris up in the air, then I shove the top of the leg against the bench hook, and start planing the facets on it. Keep rotating the leg, and shaving each corner til you get an octogon, (not a hexagon as Brown says in his book – that’s an error.)
Later, I was working the seat again. Here I am spokeshaving the edges after having trimmed them earlier to define the outline. Mine’s an old Stanley 151 spokeshave. By the time the real souped-up spokeshaves were available, I was no longer really a chairmaker, and as a joiner I rarely use a spokeshave. This one works OK; if I did a lot of work with a spokeshave, I’d look at the new versions.
This project is something I am trying to fit in around my regular work, but so far I have managed to get the bulk of it to move along. Now I gotta go searching around for some stock for the arms. I have plenty of ash & hickory leftovers from turned chairs for the spindles.
Here’s the elm seat from the other day. I got to work on it a little while yesterday. It’s a nearly-quartersawn section; just near the front edge of the seat the board gets close to the heart of the tree. It was shaving very nicely at this point, & I’m close to getting the hollow in the seat done.
Right now I don’t have a functioning bow/frame saw, and am not going shopping anytime soon. So I took the simple way out to cut the pattern of the seat – I just made a series of straight cuts that I will follow with drawknife & spokeshave work.
Next time, I’m going to work the outline before I then refine the front edge, then bevel underneath. It’s fun to make this seat. I have only done one windsor seat in hardwood before, and that was a tulip poplar seat, back in 1988. This elm is as air-dried as anything can be around here these days; it was cut c. 1995. Most of my wood is measured in months, sometimes weeks, since it was a tree, so this is something altogether different for me. Shaping the elm is fun work, I have only made it into flat panels before, and it’s not very good for that…
Here’s the scene (cropped) out the window of the shop. Didn’t bother with binoculars and eagles, visibilty was pretty bad, but the scenery was great, if that makes sense.