Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Walk on the Dark Side

The response was so kind regarding my walnut chair, that I thought it would be a good time to spring some of the darker side of my latest work on you! Below is a photo of the little machine shop that I set up in the shed next to the shop. I know, well lit and organized with efficiency and safety written all over it, right?

I bought the saw about 15 years ago and it's served me well. It spent the last 6 years or so in parts in my basement with a stack of junk on it. I thought that giving it a home would inspire me to finish building the windows in my house and my kitchen cabinets. While those best intentions are on hold, it's found it's way into my chairmaking, along with a few of it's minions.

We all have to live with the demons of our choosing, and one of mine is that I try choose my method because it is the best way to use the materials or create the result. I promise my customers that they'll never have to pay me to be romantic. (insert joke here).

Obviously, working green wood with hand tools has fit the bill for my chairs and my quest for relevant process. As long as I was making round spindles, shaving them from start to finish made sense. Not only are they stronger, but perhaps most importantly, shaving them to a finish is easier because once I've established the surfaces along the fiber line, I never have to wonder which direction to cut. It's always from the thick part toward the thin, which makes getting a lovely tooled finish simple.

When I started making the chairs with the flat spindles, which get scraped and sanded on their wide face anyway, the priority of easy shaving gave way to wanting a constant thickness for more even bends. So now, I can't believe I'm saying this, I shave the spindles from green wood and then pass them through my planer, flipping them a few times, to take off the last 1/16".

Of course, passing green wood through a planer just seems wrong, but the results are proof in the pudding. I use bending forms that capture the spindles from both sides, and any unevenness in the thickness or shape would be reflected in the part. Below are the planed spindles. The flat surfaces are even, but the edges retain that lovely organic feel of shaved wood.

I know that I could plane these by hand, but given the presence of the planer, I'd have to admit to myself that I was acting just out of aversion to the power tool, then again, I could do worse things, like sending green wood through a planer!


Jeff Lefkowitz said...


I was wondering if you worked the flat walnut spindles any differently than the white oak. Are the riven, then planed? Are they any thicker than the oak.

Beautiful chair.

Jeff L

Peter Galbert said...

Thanks Jeff,
great questions. On the walnut, I sawed all of the parts from a plank, being careful to follow the fiber line. Then I planed them. They are 7/16" tapering to a 3/8" tenon on top. I tried to leave them thick as possible and was careful to make sure that the grain didn't run out as it tapered into the tenons. It was more difficult to shave them to final shape because I always had to check grain direction. With the split white oak, at least I can easily shave the sides without having to figure directions.

greg said...

Help me Obiwan...

There's an institute in Hampton N. H. that thicknesses the green stock for bows and crest rails with a planer. You start with accurate outside dimensions for the length of the part and life is oh so much easier. Over the years the curriculum there has shifted from emphasis on hand tool work to "Get 'R Done". Nothing wrong with that, and there is nothing wrong with the guy who brought his turning saw to class so that he wouldn’t have to saw his seat blank out with the band saw.

Peter Galbert said...

use the force, and stay far far away from the Death Star! Did you have danish pastries over your ears when you wrote that?