Wednesday, April 30, 2008

And then some more

Today was very eventful in the shop, to say the least. I got the bar "chair" assembled and did the major joinery on the rodback settee. It takes a lot of focus to pull these joints off, and looking back on the day, I can't believe that I chose to do them all. And I haven't had coffee in over a week!

Anyway, I think it is really taking shape, and I like it. Lately I have been working without drawings, which for me is relatively new. I think that steeping myself in the rodback as I have lately is paying off as the choices seem rather natural. My last hurdle before getting it together will be the curved undercarriage. Sure, I could have just used straight stretchers, but it would have been a shame not to echo the seat shape.

This image starts to hint at the volume of the piece. I look forward to seeing the spindles in there. Next I'll be shaping the arms, finishing the spindles and getting ready to knock it all together.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

So Far

It seemed like the carving of the curved settee seat was a good candidate for a photo essay. I have been saving this design, and the wood for the seat for a special occasion, so documenting the progress has been rather natural. The tools that I mention are used to arrive at the stage pictured immediately beneath.

Here is the adze work. You can still make out the kerf that I made with a circular saw to define the depth of carving.

Here is the result of the inshave. I only work to remove and refine the adze work, preferring to let the travisher do the majority of the surfacing.

The surface below has been shaved with the travisher. It is a fast and consistent way to hog off material and leave a uniform surface.

Finally the spokeshaves and even a block plane come in to smooth the surface.

Here is the piece as it stands now, all the parts are made and the bent parts, such as the curved stretchers seen in clamps, are drying. I will hopefully get the whole thing together on Monday after the parts have thoroughly dried. Until then, there are lots of spindles to shave.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Double Bobbin Turning

In keeping with the turning theme, here is a short video of turning a double bobbin chair leg. Yes, its the one that looks like bamboo, or a stylized version of it. This simplified style has always been attractive to me. The actual turning of it is pretty simple and a great way to pick up skills that are essential to the more ornate and difficult balusters. I will be making videos of specific techniques geared towards learning these techniques, but for now it just so happened that I had 6 of these to turn for the settee that I am making, so here it is.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


Here is the progress on the bar chair, yes, bar chair. I've resolved the issue of the height of the back by denoting that this is not a stool. I think that there are good points on both sides of the fence for making the back taller or shorter, I guess the aesthetics take over for me. Also, by ensuring that the legs are spread enough and the back is correctly shaped, it is comfortable and can't tip back (or feel like it could).

But this isn't the language that I am talking about. The language is Windsor. The thing that first drew me to Windsor chairs was the technology, then came the use of form and line and finally, the aesthetics sunk in. Over the years, making one chair over and over has given way to pushing this language of woodworking in directions that interest me. I have obviously been pursuing the rodback form and now it is moving into the curved settee that is in rough form in the image below. So much of the technique that I've developed in the side, arm and bar chairs is translating, with a few twists (or curves). I've always wanted to make a curved settee as a means of making a large piece without the park bench middle. I have already come across some new challenges and interesting visual differences as the curves make their way across the piece.

I am working on a bit of a deadline to finish this piece for a show in June (photos in May!) so I'd better turn off this computer and get to the shop.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Gerry's Chair

Here is Gerry Felix with his completed chair. I am thoroughly pleased with the results of his labor. I know that the lines of the chair a simple looking, but it is the most complex chair that I make and takes a great deal of patience. Besides the box stretcher, (Gerry's first) the arm shaping process, the curved stiles and the crest with duckbills require new chairmaking skills that are challenging to say the least.

Gerry brought some red elm along that worked out beautifully for his arms. He plans to leave them unpainted in the final chair. I look forward to seeing it.

It has been very rewarding to see Gerry's skill grow over that last years. Watching him tackle the skew and come into his own as a chairmaker has been a thrill. Keep it up.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Gerry Report

Here's the box stretcher undercarraige that Gerry put together. All told, it went pretty smoothly. He had never done a box stretcher before. I think that stylistically it may be more appropriate with the rodbacks. I can't wait to see it all together.

Gerry and I have been haggling over the height of the backrest on my barstool. I think that it should be higher (about 14 to 16 inches) and he thinks it should be lower (about 10 to 12). I am just getting the legs reamed in and mocking up the top. I should know by the end of the day which way to go. There have been some interesting design challenges that come with such long legs, each new form that I make has it's surprises. Though,as far as Windsor forms go, I think that the barstool may be the most applicable to modern living, I am already envisioning sitting on it while chopping vegetables in my kitchen!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Paper Works

Here is the counter stool that I will be making this week. As you may have noticed, I am currently trying to create an entire line of chairs based on the rodback form. I will be making a curved seat settee and rocker to finish out the line.
For my latest rodbacks, I am just doing thumbnail sketches like this and then stealing the geometry from my successful arm and side chairs to make the patterns. Sure there is some tweaking, but the general numbers are the same.

Below is a photo of the arm and leg patterns that you've seen in my videos. I hope they are reasonably visible, for anyone who wants to follow along as I continue my focus on turning. I had an idea to post them on my web site so that I can control the scale of the image, I'll let you know when I get it done. How's that Herman?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Three Signs of Spring

Three sure signs of spring around here are coffee on the porch, buds on the trees and the return of Gerry Felix. Gerry is going to be tackling my new rodback armchair. I'll keep tabs on his progress.

Back to turning,
The parting tool is the much abused but essential workhorse of spindle turning. Imagine sizing all of the diameters with a gouge, no fun. But for all its usefulness, it gets little glory. The most common problem that I see with parting tools (besides being dull, but that's another post altogether!) is the technique used when sizing with them.

I guess that the instinct when handed a sharp pointy thing is to stab away with it until the job is done. Perhaps this will help, imaging the spinning workpiece as a grinding wheel, the last thing you'd want to do is jam the tip into it, right? The problem is that the unsupported tip will dull quickly, vibrate profusely and give poor feedback of the cut quality or speed. Sure, it feels like you have control because you can stab to different depths to get the diameter you want, but I find the price too high.

Here is a video showing my preferred technique for cutting with the parting tool. The one difference that the parting tool has from the other shearing tools that I'll cover later is that the bevel is actually riding on the area being cut. This is a bit like cutting a tree limb that you are standing on! The position of the tool has to compensate for the material that it is removing the entire way. This isn't so hard because the direction is pretty simple, forward. Later, I'll talk about tools that ride on the bevel and cut areas just to the side of the tool, but for now, this exception to the rule deserves some focus and practice.

It is well worth the time to practice this cut with two hands on the tool. Once one feels comfortable with the maneuver, the caliper can introduced. As with so much hand tool use, I try to focus on the wood being left, not the pretty shavings. I would rather feed the parting tool too far forward on the bevel, which disengages the tip and stops the cutting, than to descend into a scraping cut.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Scattered Focus

These days I am all over the place. Making a video one minute, and busting on some maple the next. I will be returning to the turning topic next week, it's taking a bit of thinking as to where to begin! Here are some photos of a chair that I just finished. It is another in the evolution of my curved stile rodbacks. As you can see, the arms are bit tamed from the last version and they are some changes to the geometry.

In future posts I will discuss my switch to the Real Milkpaint company's product. This is the first time that I've used it for the black on red finish, which is my most popular, and I couldn't be more please. It is lush, and beyond that, much easier to use. No need to filter or go through so many trials as with other brands (no they don't sponsor me!). After a little more experimenting, I will talk about my process.

I am trying something new with my video uploads. Instead of using the blogger directly, I uploaded this caliper video to first and then just slipped it into the code. It is a larger image. Let me know how it works for you. I am creating a series of videos on my website as tips and instructions for the caliper as well as posting the previous leg turning videos. If it is a better image, I will use this for all future videos, so let me know, thanks.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Turning Chair Legs pt.2

Here is part two of the leg turning video. I do a lot of skew work here and frankly, I need to do more posts explaining this dreaded tool. So view this video like the cooking shows where they pull the finished turkey finished out of the oven. I'll focus on the skill building and actual techniques in future posts.

No need to be intimidated, the baluster leg is simply a series of beads and coves. There are just some basic concepts to cover first.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A Better View

I decided to build a jig to hold my camera above the lathe to get a closer and clearer view of the action. I also played around until I found that the DIVX format was a much better choice for clear video. I think you'll agree that this is much better. I reshot my leg turning video from the other day and will now proceed to do a series of how I finish the leg off.

Let me know if the new video works well for you.

I am having some technical difficulties that are making my web work painfully slow, I'll be back soon to show the rest of the turning and then some detailed instructions on turning basics.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Riving Brake

A quick note, my web site now has the ability to process credit card orders for the Galbert Caliper. I will be revamping my entire site in the next week or two. What ever happened to the simple chairmaker life!?

I have tried throughout the writing of the blog to keep it relatively free of commerce, I believe that the woodworking world has plenty of that to go around.
I will be focusing on turning more in the near future, but for specific Caliper info, please look to my web site as I will be adding more specific content there, where commerce belongs.

Here is the brake that I use when riving green wood. Riving is merely the act of splitting the wood along the fibers and the brake simply holds the wood and allows you to use leverage to control the splits. I enjoy the crudeness of my brakes, which last about 5 years in the yard. As you can see, any piece of metal (or wood?) will serve as the crossbars.
The one change that I'll make on my next one is that the piece of wood along the bottom of the brake will extend further out each end to give less chance of it lifting off the ground when riving large pieces.

Here you can see that the placement of the rods allows me to rive different sized blanks but still have them rise at a comfortable working angle. Make yours junky like mine, I am pretty sure you'll discover necessary changes and build the next one differently to suit your needs. A brake is one of those tools that should be a slave to function, save the pretty stuff for later!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Class Opening

A student of mine has come down with pneumonia (remember Chris Durbin from last year?), leaving me with an open class date this May. I am flexible on the dates, either the week beginning the 4th, 11th or 18th will work for me. Of course, this will go to whomever claims it first. Tuition is $1400 and more information about the class can be seen on my website at or by calling me at (845) 482-9318. Get well soon Chris and I'll see you this fall.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

A Good Group

Last night was the second meeting of the Watergap Turners Club meeting at Peter's Valley Woodshop in Layton, NJ. There where 16 in attendance, which for a They meet the first Wednesday of each month at 7:00 pm.
I got to show some slides of my chairs as well as a few actual pieces. I spoke a bit about spindle turning (a confusing term because the spindles in my chairs aren't even turned) and then demonstrate a baluster leg turning.
I don't know about you, but whenever I demonstrate turning, every catch and screw up that I've ever made comes to mind and threatens a surprise appearance! Luckily, they didn't haunt me last night. They have a whole line of beautiful new Oneway lathes in the PV shop, but of course I ended up demonstrating on the old worn out benchtop model with the wicked shimmy, just like at home!
For me it was a special night, getting to show a group of lathe enthusiasts my new tool. The response was great and I sold a number of them. As many folks who have encouraged me to develop the tool also warned me of the pitfalls of this sort of business. So I just focused on making a tool that I would want to use and be proud of. I'm thrilled to think of it being useful to others.
Thanks to Steve Butler for the hospitality and hard work organizing and hosting the meeting.