Took some photos today. First turn was Daniel’s – shooting some of his recent LEGO builds.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’m making windsor chairs. And re-reading Nancy Goyne Evans’ Windsor-Chairmaking in America: From Craft Shop to Consumer. Nancy read a staggering amount of period records in her research for her 3 volumes on American Windsor chairs. This is the 3rd volume.
Finishing up work on Jennie Alexander’’s book with Megan Fitzpatrick on JA chairs. Shooting some last-minute missing photos; so making a chair this week to do so.
And reading Claudia Kinmonth’s Irish Country Furniture and Furnishings 1700-2000. In chapter 1, Stools and Chairs, she writes about súgán chairs – what I know of as a ladderback chair, but with a straw (súgán) seat.
As I was looking at those chairs, I thought of our friend Masashi Kutsuwa – and I dug out his book Van Gogh’s Chair –
I can’t read Japanese, but Masashi gave me an English synopsis of his book. It involves Shoji Hamada, “one of the most famous Japanese potters”, Tatsuaki Kuroda, Japan’s first living national treasure woodworker, Soetsu Yanagi (author of The Unknown Craftsman) and a convoluted tale of chairs from Spain that look like a chair painted by a Dutchman in France 75 years earlier. The chair was introduced into Japan by Shoji Hamada in 1963, after his travels in Spain that year. A few years later, (1967) Tatsuaki Kuroda visited the same workshops, recording in photos and film some of the chairmaking process.
Masashi’s book also includes a photo series of making copies of this chair form. In his notes he writes: “I visited Spain in 2015 and met the chairmaker’s family who welcomed Tatsuaki nearly 50 years ago. I also visited the last chairmaking shop in Guadix.
The 1967 film is on youtube – I just re-watched it. Amazing. As far as I can tell, the chairmaker maybe uses 4 tools; a frame saw, a brace & bit, and a knife that he both pushes and pulls (thus not a “drawknife”) – I saw some more tools, but didn’t see him use them; the film isn’t the whole chair-making process I don’t think. The posts are pith-centered (I could see that in Masashi’s book too) and when he split a section to make rungs – he used his knife to split it.
Back to Kinmonth’s book, she writes “Similar designs are also found on the continent, particularly in Spain and Portugal, linking them to a wider Atlantic European tradition. One celebrated version features in Van Gogh’s painting “Bedroom in Arles (1888).” Below is a sketch of the bedroom at Arles.
The súgán chairs also reminded me of a chair I photographed at my friends’ house a few years ago. This chair was bought at Brimfield, the famous Massachusetts antiques fair. Around here, these are usually thought of as being from French Canada – but it certainly has much in common with those other chairs – except the bowed seat rails; particularly the square or rectangular posts and narrow slats. This one has through tenons on the rungs and slats though. So different, but quite similar.
I’ve been disinclined lately. No work, no photos, no writing. I’ll leave it at that. Started in some today. I got word that Michael Burrey had some free wood for me. Most free wood is not worth it, but his is.
He had a butt-section of red oak, about 26″ long. Dead straight, it included the felling cut. So some shorter than this. The section in the photo above is about 9″ wide across that radial face. I had planned to use it for chairmaking – it could make all the parts (except the seat) for Curtis’ democratic chair – but when I looked closely at it, I saw one problem. It grew too slowly to have the strength required for chairmaking. This piece, a stile for a joined stool, has about 25 or more growth rings in 2″.
Other sections out closer to the bark had 20 rings to the inch! Below is a 1 1/8″ piece – now a reject chair part – some of the rings are quite indistinct.
So it’ll only be fit for joined stools, maybe some box parts from the wider bits. Here’s a set of stiles, with a new year marked on them –
There was also a few bits of leftover hickory slabs from sawing something or other. Also, dead-straight. This is about 28″-30″ long. I split one section up into spindle blanks, 3/4″ square, tapering to the top. Splitting & shaving hickory is as much fun as you can have at a shaving horse. A piece like this one will make about 18 spindles or more. I might make chair rungs from some of it for ladderbacks.
Here’s my most recent modern attempt at Windsor chairmaking. I’m mostly happy with it – I need to get the inshave sharper for one thing. But all in all, this one is fine. If you’ve been watching Elia Bizzarri and Curtis Buchanan make this chair recently or have seen Curtis’ youtube videos about it, you’ll notice I changed the crest rail.
I decided to try a different joint there – Curtis shaves the crest rail down to a 3/8″ diameter tenon to enter a mortise bored in the posts. I bored 2 holes in the post, pared the walls and ends of the resulting mortise, and shaved the crest down only on two faces; front & back. Leaving its height intact.
Showed it to Curtis – he didn’t mind the joint, but said “you added a tool!” (turns out I added two – I used a narrow chisel on the end grain, and a wider one to pare the walls.) Another thing this joint means is that you can’t pitch the crest up at the middle, like Curtis likes. Or you can’t do it easily. So mine’s pretty much flat on top. But I like it, and think I’ll do it on the next one too.
Planing that fresh red oak makes a mess of your tools. It’s important to leave enough time (& daylight in my shop) at the end of the afternoon to clear this crap off the irons. I can’t say “brass bristle brush” without tripping over the words – but that’s what I use. And WD40 – learned it from JA. I keep a thin wretched piece of plywood for these cleanup tasks, and some sharpening steps too. The only plywood in the place, except for the stuff that supports the under-floor insulation.
Friday I was over at Michael’s and we dug out some more of the butternut. The four on the left are 7′ long, 20″+ wide in places. That 3rd one from the left I split in half – and there’s some 9″-10″ wide quartersawn stuff in it. Wait til you see the box it becomes.
While I’ve been on this chairmaking kick lately (you’ll see more about it soon) – in addition to Elia & Curtis’ recent series, I watched the stuff Pete Galbert posted recently. He calls it a foundation course and that’s a good name for it. If you watch this, and pay attention, you’ll learn a great deal about wood, wood selection, chairs, seating and more. I’ve made chairs for 40 years and learned stuff. Highly recommended. https://www.petergalbert.com/videos
All of my commute is in this photo, minus about three steps. I have a joined stool cut out, but waiting for the turned parts – some of the wood is still too green for crisp detail at the lathe. So while I wait for that, I thought I’d take a vacation and work on the windsor chairs I’ve been picking away at.
These are Curtis Buchanan’s “democratic” chairs (I’m making one side chair, and one arm chair – I hope) – so shaved, not turned. In the photo above, I bored & reamed a test hole, scribbled inside it with a soft pencil and tried the shaved tenon in the hole. Bumps and high spots get smeared with the graphite, to show you where to shave next.
Once I had the legs’ tenons ready, I reamed the seat. Here, I’m testing the depth – according to the plans Curtis drew up – that stretcher location should be something like 9 3/4″ above (below, really) the seat. This one is for the arm chair version.
Got ’em where I mostly liked them. Then measured for the stretchers. Because I’ve been fumbling around at these chairs, I hadn’t made the stretchers yet. Here, I’m back on the side chair – making its stretchers out of a mix of dry-ish wood and green wood.
Once I got them where I liked them, I put them in the kiln to dry the tenons, and will go back to finishing the arm chair’s seat while those get to the right moisture content.
One reason to see these versus (or in addition to) the ones Curtis already had on youtube is because he has changed things over several versions of making this chair. I think he said he’s done a dozen of them. I saw some things that were either changed, or more detailed in this set of videos.
AND – then there’s Pete Galbert https://vimeo.com/ondemand/galbertfoundations – I can see I’m down a rabbit hole. Pete’s a great teacher, so I’m planning on getting that video series as well – but right now I have to have breakfast, then go light the fire. Or vice-versa.
The other day I wrote about Robin Wood coming to teach at Plymouth CRAFT’s Greenwood Fest – the other “new” instructor is Curtis Buchanan. It’s yet another great pleasure for me to have Curtis come and join us. I met Curtis in 1987 when I was a student in his first class in making Windsor chairs, at Country Workshops.
If you aren’t up-to-speed on who’s who in American Windsor chairmaking, the best Windsors in modern-day America begin with Dave Sawyer of Vermont. It was Dave who taught Curtis back in the early 1980s; and Curtis took what Dave taught him and ran with it. He’s been making chairs now for 35 years or so…and making just the most beautiful chairs you can imagine. He’s taught all over creation; but rarely if ever goes out on the road anymore to work…so it’s an extra treat to get him up to New England.
Part of what Curtis will be doing at the Fest is demonstrating all the steps in making a basic version of one of his fanback chairs. He calls it a “democratic” chair – in that the tool kit is small, and the operations are simple to learn. But don’t think crude – his chairs are graceful and comfortable beyond expectations. I think he said riving tools, drawknife, brace & bit, and a scorp for the seat. Must be a saw in there somewhere…but not much else. I can’t wait to see it happen. He’ll also teach a short session on his 2nd-favorite tool – using the froe. (the drawknife is his first, but we have Pete Galbert repeating some of what he did this year…)
As he’s working, I betcha Curtis will tell some stories too…
And this from Jon Binzen of Fine Woodworking – “Anyone who has met Curtis will know that it’s as much fun to listen to him as it is to watch him work.” See the audio slideshow they put together during one of the sessions FWW did with Curtis. I had posted this before and described him as the happiest woodworker I know. And I still feel that he’s wrong in this audio, where he’s says “I’m not the best…” – Nonsense, he’s the best. – http://www.finewoodworking.com/2014/10/08/curtis-buchanan-windsor-master
I’ll just do two of these today, then registration opens this morning at 10 am eastern time. http://www.greenwoodfest.org/ – then it will be back to actual pictures of woodworking on the blog, some joinery & carving. wait til you see it…
I’ve got a lot of mileage out of a remark that I make in classes, and I’ll get it over with here. “I hate Pete Galbert” I tell students all the time. They are shocked, and lean in so to not miss some juicy rant…but in the end they are disappointed. It’s just that he’s written the best woodworking book I know, & illustrated it himself. Makes it hard for those of us with books in the works. There, that’s out in the open, now we know how I feel.
Pete, in case you have somehow avoided his work – is right up at the top tier of American chairmakers. He & I have known each other for several years now, travelling on the same circuit/circus – Lie-Nielsen, Lost Art Press, etc. So we’d bump into each other once or twice a year, but it’s always brief, then we each go off to our demonstrations & classes. He’s moved to Massachusetts now, but we still haven’t got together – he’s always off somewhere, teaching people to make chairs.
Pete’s one of those woodworkers who is always improving. He does not just keep repeating what he does, but tinkers with techniques, tools (he’s developed some great chairmaking tools) construction – his work is always evolving. He & I have not sat down & figured out exactly what he’s doing in the festival, but I know it’s worth seeing. A great teacher & chairmaker, this will be his first time with Plymouth CRAFT, we hope it’s the beginning of something. Oh, & he’ll probably bring that great book of his too. You should get it if you haven’t already. Every time I look at it, I’m itching to make a Windsor chair again.
I’m out the door in the AM heading off to MESDA (the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, that is)
so I had no intention of posting a damn thing tonight. Until I opened the physical mail & in it was a tube from Curtis Buchanan – more chair plans. This time his continuous arm chair. I made one of these (I made quite a few of them, but we only have one) in 1992 following plans Curtis gave me then. This photo’s his –
For those of you keeping track of this sort of thing – I didn’t order these from Curtis. He just sent ’em to me. We’re old friends, and he’s a generous guy. So yes, he sent me freebies, and I write about them so you can know about it. BUT he did’t ask, “hey will you write these up?” – he’d never do that. But, I figure you want to know about great hand-tool woodworking. that’s why you’re reading here. If you don’t know Curtis, you will enjoy getting to know him. By now, many of you have seen his home-made videos on Youtube. He just added a slew of them about sharpening. Curtis’ approach is real straightforward. His work is outstanding, just beautiful.
well, not really today, but I have been at the museum for 20 years. I moved my tools down there in April 1994…and since then have concentrated pretty much entirely on 17th-century style English and New England furniture. I love doing it, the stuff is great & there is a lot to learn still…formerly I made ladderback chairs, baskets, Windsor chairs and other “green woodworking” stuff. I set almost all that aside, except for the spoons (done mostly at home) and an occasional basket.
But in recent years, I have had a pull to make other furniture…the catch is at the museum, except in the off-season, I can’t have a bunch of non-17th-c furniture sitting around distracting attention. A further complication is that there is no shop at home. Here’s one reason why:
There are restrictions about what we can build so close to the river. I have never pursued whether or not we can get permission – because I haven’t the time nor money to build anyway…and that’s not even mentioning the need for more room in the house with 2 growing-nearly-8-yr olds.
But these nagging furniture ideas keep coming up, a while back there was an exhibit at Winterthur of Pennsylvania furniture that had lots of stuff I liked. I sort of incorporated some of that into my tool box…but the paint was 17th-c English patterns.
The variety bug has gotten stronger in recent months. A trip to Drew & Louise’s certainly helped it along. I always am drawn to this chair of Drew’s – my all-time favorite of his.
I started one a few winters back, but botched the reaming of the leg mortises in the seat. Might be salvageable…
En route home from Drew’s, I stopped to see Curtis Buchanan…that didn’t stem any tide either.
There’s 4 of us in the household, and we have 4 chairs around the kitchen table. It’s a small kitchen. Forget this trumped-up photo, it doesn’t really look this neat & tidy. We tuck 2 chairs where this stool is…and one at each end.
Three of them are old windsors of mine, from the early 1990s. A bowback sidechair, a sackback armchair, and a continuous armchair. So chair # 4? Something like my wainscot chair is pure stupid for use at the table, when you actually have to use the table for other stuff between meals. Godawful heavy. So that’s out. I have one more windsor, but it’s a high back comback armchair. It’s in the way, so it sits here at my desk. I had a sort of oversized ladderback chair, and everyone here hated it. so the 4th person to the table always got stuck with it & complained. A Boston-style leather chair (see the photo) is comfortable to me, but heavy – and the others don’t like it much. I have a large turned armchair in ash, hickory bark seat. Great chair, literally; but we need another side chair, not another armchair.
Then, a hickory log showed up at work. I thought, “it will bend” – so I decided to try another windsor. I used to really like the fanback sidechair, and I didn’t have one. I think they went to some grandchildren when my mother died. I forget. So I searched around the house & shop for my notes from before 1994. Found some paper patterns, seat shapes, etc for the fanback. but not the whole set.
Got to the shop, and remembered that I had tucked some windsor seat templates behind a bookcase in 1994. The bookcase in this most cluttered section of the shop:
I thought the stuff I wanted was in the corner, so I moved the bundle of rushes, and cleared some room, held my breath & tugged. Out came several plywood (I think you heard me right) templates based on designs Curtis gave me many years ago. Maybe 4 or 5 different chairs. The 7 spindle fanback was one of them. Great. All the angles recorded, spindle & post length.
One night after work, I quickly split and shaved a batch of rough spindles. A breeze down memory lane, working at a shaving horse. Nothing better than good hickory.
Now I have hickory for the spindles, comb, and rear posts. Just gotta shave, turn & otherwise get it together. i’ll figure out the legs & stretchers, but for the seat? I knew there was some chainsaw-milled elm around. Big huge beastly boards. Would require 2 people to sift that pile, dig out those monsters, cut them down to size, etc. I thought I still had a small piece of it around. Found it, but too narrow & cracked. Back to the drawing board. Some 3” thick pine planks around. Seemed extreme.
Oh, well. I shifted my thoughts to the fan – I knew the hickory will make a great fan. But where’s the pattern? Maybe it’s behind the other end of the bookcase. (to the left in the photo) So I moved a huge pile of oak planks, and got near the back of the bookcase. Too dark to see. No flashlight. One of the young guys had a phone with a flashlight on it. Could see something back there, maybe it’s a bending form. Stretched, grunted & pulled.
Out came a fanback sidechair seat – all carved, bored, reamed. WIth a tailpiece. 20+ years old. Older than the kid with the flashlight on his phone.
Curtis is sending the plans with the fan shape, bending form pattern.
Ol’ Daniel would say “It is providential”
much more to this story to come.
PS: There was a comb-back seat also all carved, bored, etc.