Monday, December 30, 2013

New Year, Old Project

It's been so quiet here at Chairnotes that you can hear the snowfalling. But it's not that I'm not writing, it's what I'm writing. I am in a push to get the drawings for my book done and am happy to say that I'm making good progress. As to the actual release date, it can't be pinned down just yet, but I will hopefully be handing everything to the book designer, and Chris Schwarz for the next phase. I thought that I'd share a couple of images to give a little preview of what I'm compiling.
 There are literally hundreds of illustrations and it's taken me a while to establish a style that is clear and fast to create.
I like communicating by drawing (as any former student will tell) because you can go straight to the concept without any confusion and you can show views and relationships that would be tough to show any other way.

Friday, November 29, 2013

2014 Teaching Schedule

I'm happy to say that I'll be returning to some of my favorite schools around the country as well as some new destinations this upcoming year. I'm all booked up for my classes at my shop, but I think you'll find an option that will suit your needs and location.

Highland Woodworking: Continuous Armchair March 3-9

Warren Wilson College: Balloon Back Side Chair March 17-22, contact Bill Palmer at
Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking: Continuous Armchair
Friday – Sunday April 11 – 13 & May 9 - 11

Port Townsend School of Woodworking: Continuous Armchair May 26-31

Sterling Historic Society:  All classes at SHC have a 6 person limit. Class tuition is $1150 which includes materials and most tooling.
Contact me at for details and openings
June 23-28 Fan Back Side Chair

July 21-26 Balloon back Side Chair

August 11-16  Continuous Armchair (chairmaking experience required)

If you have already contacted me regarding these courses, please do so again with a reminder so that I don't miss you! I might add another class at the SHC if the interest demands and after that, I will most likely be heading back Down Under for some more classes, details to come!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

More Teaching, More Learning

I've had a couple of busy weeks here with lots of folks in the shop. First, I had the pleasure of finally meeting Jameel Abraham, whom I've been working with long distance all year to get the Drawsharp completed.

Here is Jameel carving the front of his seat.
He brought along his pal Louis to join in the fun.
Here they are with their chairs.
When I was starting to make chairs in my NYC shop that I shared with a guitar maker, I used to get visits from Eddie Boros who was an amazing untrained sculptor. I featured his work in this post and tell the story of him calling me a fence builder compared to the guitar maker. All week long, as I guided Jameel through his first chair, I couldn't get Eddies raspy voice out of my head. If you don't know what I am talking about, look at what Jameel can do.

Luckily, chairmaking is very different from Oud making and I think Jameel picked up a thing or two.
When I had a little down time, I continued my quest to master the Real Milk paint.

A little background...I stopped using the Old Fashioned Milk paint because of the issues that I, and lots of others ran into with white powdery flecks, adhesion and color shifting. It's a fine product, but to get the consistent results that I want easily takes some effort, and even then, can be elusive.
I think that I have finally latched onto a way to make the results of the Real Milk paint product as good as the Old Fashioned at its best, at least with the black over red finish.

I have been using a very very thin coat of blonde shellac to aid in the process and doing so, I was able to get this finish within a 6 hour period from the raw wood.

 I shot the photos from two angles so you could get a better idea of what the finish looks like in a dark or light environment.
Here is how I did it.

First of all, the best way that I've found to mix this paint is to combine the paint and some warm water in a cup and then to swirl the cup like you would an icy drink until the powder is all wet, then use a stick to mix it further. Then let it set and mix it more over a period of a couple of hours, this gives the particles a chance to absorb all the moisture they can.

In this instance, I mixed the red paint 2 parts to 3 parts water. Then I applied the red to the piece. I put it on thin, but at that mix, it covered great.

Once it dried for a couple of hours, I rubbed it lightly with a xfine mirlon pad to get any excess paint build up off. This step seems to be the key to getting the thin finish that I like,really allowing the wood texture show through. If any of the steps would benefit from a longer drying time, it would be this first one.

Then, I padded the piece with the super thin shellac. Don't let the shellac harden before the next step. This seems to do a few things. The next coat of black paint (mixed 3 to 5 H20) adheres a bit better and it keeps the black from dissolving the red and mixing in with it, which just creates a dull muddy appearance.  After an hour or two, I rubbed the piece again with the xfine mirlon pad to remove the excess paint. This step gives me the opportunity to even out the saturation of the paint. The piece had an ox blood color at this point.

Then another coat of shellac and black. One lovely benefit of this process is that the shellac allows you to see exactly what the piece will look like if you simply finished at that point. The second coat of black dried for a couple of hours and then I rubbed it to get just the look that I wanted, which doesn't take much effort and then a final coat of shellac to seal it up. After that, I rubbed out the shellac with the mirlon lightly and did a topcoat of Waterlox to finish it off.

It may sound like a lot of steps, but each one is quick and there isn't that moment of fear right before oiling that something might not look right.
With the Old Fashion Milk paint, I found that the mixing, filtering and application were the keys to getting a successful finish, but if you screwed up any one of them, then the results were compromised. With the Real Milk paint, you do want a good consistency, but the translucence of the final finish comes more from sealing in what you like with the shellac and rubbing each subsequent layer to a thickness that you want. It's much more controllable in my opinion.

I will be finishing and documenting a c arm that I have in the works, but I wanted to get the ball rolling. If you are interested, do some samples and let me know what you find, thanks!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Fine Seats

 It's as busy as ever around here. I had two students in this week kicking off a bunch of fall classes that I have scheduled. Rick from Philly and Dave from Olympia made some really lovely chairs. I like the two person format, it's intimate enough that there is no lacking for attention and having multiple projects in play keeps the energy up.

Above is Ricks sack back seat. I always try to have folks do their seat clean up at the end of the day so that they can scrape to their hearts content. In this case, they really put in the time to get refined results.

Daves balloon back is one of the project chairs that I am including in my book, and the changes that I made to the design have made it more attractive and very comfortable. I don't have a photo of the finished piece because he already dismantled it for shipping. Take a moment to click on the image to see the fine job he did.
Winter is bearing down on us, as you can see it was already dark at 6 when Rick was driving his wedges.
Speaking of Winter, I took the time to get my ladies out of their summer home and into a shed for the coming cold. They free ranged the property for the summer, tearing up the gardens and entertaining the passers by.
They seem to be enjoying it, plus, I don't have to look all around the yard for my eggs!

And as with us all, they seem to appreciate a room with a view.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Why?

Perhaps you've seen my video showing how the Drawsharp works, and, as with most advertisements, your natural reaction was to think that this was just another gizmo that attempts to replace a valuable skill with money. I'd usually be right there with you, so I hope you'll bear with me, because I want to go beyond how the tool works, and to "the Why?", which regardless of whether you are interested in the Drawsharp, will hopefully offer you some useful information about the drawknives and how to deal with them.

The top knife was polished on the back while the bottom was a rusty pitted mess
Here are a couple of drawknives that my current students brought to the shop. The polished blade on top was a breeze because there was no chipping or pitting to deal with, but the bottom blade, which showed signs that someone had started and given up, was definitely in need of serious attention.

The bevel wasn't much better
I have tuned hundreds of drawknives and I always started with flattening back and grinding the bevel. I am happy, and a little embarrassed to say that this is wrong, plain old wrong. The reason that I used to flatten the back and grind the bevel was to create a proper bevel angle and stable surfaces to register on the waterstones. Hollowing the bevel and back made it easier to consistently reach the edge, which let's face it, is the only part that cuts the wood. And that would be the end of the story if we were talking about chisels, which always keep the flat geometry off of the stones. But a drawknife requires a slight rounding just behind the edge on the side that rides on the surface of the wood. This is so that the tool can enter and exit a cut, otherwise, when sharpened flat like a chisel, it will dig, like a chisel.

So after honing, I would strop the edge, which gives a subtle rounding and allows the drawknife to follow the fibers and come out of the cut on command.  Just the right amount of rounding has always been tough to accurately reproduce. The problem is that once the edge is rounded, resharpening means either reflattening the bevel and back on the stones to reach the edge and then stropping it again to re-establish the correct shape or simply stropping the edge until the rounding becomes too much for a good cutting angle, at which point it's back to the grinder. Does this sound at all familiar?
The back is still largely a rusty mess, but after 10 minutes of work, the edge is sharp
As much as this process would give me pause before taking on a drawknife in sad shape or sharpening one that was good but not great, it would also keep me from really addressing and understanding what what going on on the real business edge of the tool.

I suppose my understanding started to change when a student, Steve Kinnane, came up with the idea of grinding the drawknife using the back (spine) of the tool as a reference. I adopted this wholeheartedly for it's ingenious simplicity. You can grind a curved or straight knife with control and ease after smoothing the spine of the tool, which is almost always soft enough to be done quickly (and only once) with a file and some abrasive.

Then one day, I thought, why not use that same unchanging reference to hone the edge? And the wheels started turning, leading to the Drawsharp. I suppose my reluctance to spend time tuning my collection of drawknives should have highlighted the problem sooner. Flattening the back of a drawknife is really just labor, not skill. Yes, honing a ground edge freehand is a valuable skill for some tools, but doesn't offer an advantage to drawknife geometry or sharpness.

I use the drawknife from the time that I split a piece from the log to the last cuts on a finished chair, so it must be as sharp as any tool that I own. Using the spine as the correct reference has made sharpening knife easier and I can honestly say that I no longer have a "favorite" drawknife. I used to coddle certain knives, never letting them touch green wood. No, these were my finish knives and unlike the other lugs, they were kept in top shape, mainly because of their seldom and restricted use. Now that I know the exact geometry of my edges and have a way to quickly and repeatedly tune them, I can get all of my blades singing. The only difference between my knives is the quality of the steel and the comfort of the handles. As far as top performance and geometry for cutting wood, the mystery is gone.

I appreciate that you've stuck with me through this and hope that you understand my intention in enlisting the help of Benchcrafted to make the Drawsharp available. I want folks to work with sharp tools instead of fussing about and eventually giving up thinking that a razor sharp drawknife is limited to those experts who possess skills that they cannot muster. After much practice, I can freehand grind a drawknife and hone it beautifully on my waterstones, but honestly, it's no longer a skill that I value. Sharpening a drawknife to work at it's peak is no more complex than using the correct references, the real skill building belongs to using the tool to make great furniture, and having fun doing it.

Soon, I will be posting a video of fully rehabilitating a drawknife in hopes of getting more folks using the most versatile tool in my shop.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


I've been recovering from my trip to WIA this week.  I felt incredibly proud to be there with Claire Minihan, Tim Manney and Caleb James. The next time you hear someone grumbling about todays youth...just send them my way and I will blow them out of the water with the talent and incredible work ethic of these three. I could go on and on about the show, it was a highlight of my year.

Here is a stool that I brought along. I really shouldn't have heaped building this onto my plate while preparing to leave, but I had this itch to build something new and fun and it certainly fit the bill.

The "magic" part of this is twofold. First of all, in the first photo, it looks like a 3 legged stool in the photo even though it has 4. With curved legs like this, that can only mean one thing. The sightlines run directly from the front leg to the rear on the opposite side of the seat. I've never done this before and am very pleased with the results.

The rear legs are closer together in the seat and are reamed at a slightly greater angle.

The other "magic" is the finish, which only took a few hours start to finish and came out great. I was hoping for a worn black lacquer look to go with the Asian style and am very pleased. I'll share the process in another post soon.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Buy Your Drawsharp!

You can now order your Drawsharp by clicking below!

The price is $84.00 plus $12.00 shipping and handling (Shipping rate calculated for the continental U.S., Massachusetts residents add local sales tax)
International shipping will be calculated per destination

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Drawsharp is Here!

I am happy to announce that the Galbert Drawsharp will be available for sale here on Chairnotes next Friday at 9 am and in person at Woodworking in America!
I've been working with Jameel Abraham at Benchcrafted this year with the goal of getting the tool ready for sale in time for Woodworking in America and through no small effort, we did it. I sought out Jameel because of his sterling reputation for making solid tools, and he certainly lived up to it.

The Drawsharp makes the task of sharpening your drawknives simple, fast and repeatable while giving precise control over the geometry of the bevel angles. It works with drawknives of all shapes and sizes regardless of whether the drawknife will be used with the bevel up or down. Unlike other methods of sharpening which follow a similar process to sharpening a chisel, the Drawsharp doesn't require a flat back or a ground bevel to give excellent results.

The Drawsharp uses diamond impregnated plates to shape and refine the edge and self adhesive silica carbide paper to polish the edge to a razor sharp result.

Here is a video explaining the function of the tool.

The price is $84.00 plus $7.00 shipping and handling (Shipping rate calculated for the continental U.S., Massachusetts residents add local sales tax)
International shipping and handling $15.00

You can order yours by returning to Chairnotes on Friday morning or coming to my booth at the Marketplace at Woodworking in America. I will also be posting a page to my website, and Chairnotes Tools when I return from WIA.
Thanks for your business!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Autumn Rocker

A few years ago, I was inspired by the colors and new growth of Spring when building a curved settee and I named it the "Spring Settee". It's still the front page of my website.

Now it's a different season and I suppose that it's no surprise that  I've been  drawn toward the earthy browns and oranges. Here is my latest rocking chair.

 I've been playing with the milk paint and shellac combinations to build a burnt orange with some depth.

 The process used the Real Milk paint company colors Goldenrod and Butternut and the shellac was tinted with stains Early American Maple and Engish Oak from Lockwood Stains. I built the color by layering the paint and shellac and then topping it off with Waterlox and finally raw tung oil.
 I tried to keep the warmth and grain of the wood showing through while using the paint to tame the differences in the species. I am pleased with the results and hope to refine them more. I will happily share my recipes and process once I've got a better handle on it. There are just too many variables that I am still grappling with.

It's been a learning experience that began with a chair that I built this spring. I was commissioned to build a replica of a chair owned by Ezra Stiles, an early President of Yale University. It was a gift to the retiring President who loved the chair that sat in his office.
 They asked me to make the chair look as much like the original as I could and I was concerned that using stains alone wouldn't do it. I have lots of old wood in the house and one thing that I noticed was the way that the patina masks the grain. I thought a translucent layering of milkpaint could create this effect. Here is the chair "in the white".
 Here is the finished chair. I had the seat done in natural rush by an expert weaver.
Finishing is always an opportunity to make or break a piece of furniture. I have painted lots of chairs and while the standard results that I've gotten are pleasing, I think there are too many options and possibilities that might add to the chairs to stop trying new things.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

7 Minutes

You may have heard me mention the "Drawsharp" or perhaps even seen it over at Jameels blog at Benchcrafted. It is so close to being ready for sale that I thought I'd start to let you in on what all the fuss is about. Basically, the Drawsharp is a tool that allows you to sharpen drawknives exactly where it counts, at the edge and avoid all the hassle usually associated with tuning these tools. Plus, it is perfectly repeatable and easy to use.
Below is a drawknife that I recently bought.

The edge is somewhat ragged and dull.

You can see the results using it to cut the endgrain of a piece of pine below.
So I decided to time how long it would take me to get this thing sharp.  This is the same piece of pine after 7 minutes of working the drawknife with the Drawsharp.

I think you can see why I am so excited that this tool will be available soon. Here is the honed edge.

There were some knicks still in the edge so I decided to go back to work with the Drawsharp and 6 minutes later, I cut this surface.
 Click on the photo to see it large and up close.
There are still small knicks, but as you can see, the endgrain is clear as can be and super smooth. This knife is ready for work and with a bit more effort, will be knick free.
Of course, not every drawknife will be so ready for honing. Some out there will need more attention than others, but there is no more need to flatten the back of the blade and the need for grinding is nearly eliminated.
There will be a series of videos explaining how this works and talking about getting the most out of your drawknives coming along soon. We hope to have these available at Woodworking in America in a few weeks and then through my website and soon after.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Process

I got a comment earlier asking about the process behind coming up with the Galbert Caliper. I am so close to getting the new Drawsharp in my hands from Jameel at Benchcrafted that I can hardly contain myself. So I thought I'd show a little about how these things come to be.

The calipers were born out of pure frustration with all the other methods that I tried for measuring my turnings. I won't go into it, but suffice it to say, I hated the first part of every turning. Then, one day, I noticed how the large part of a chair leg was harder to clamp in the v blocks that I use to drill mortises because it didn't seat as far as the small parts. When I realized that measuring the distance that each one went into the v block could be translated into the diameter, I dropped what I was doing and made my first crude caliper. You can see it at the top of the image below. I made it by grinding an old plane blade.

Above is a partial series of the caliper prototypes. The early ones worked great, but the range of the tool was limited and the "jaws" were so long that they would hit the tool rest. So I started thinking of other ways to translate the linear motion of the "stylus" to a rotary motion that could use different angles and ratios. I called upon a former student who was a rocket scientist to work out the math for me and I came to what I thought was the best angle for the largest range of measuring.
I am a big believer in ugly prototypes. The point is to prove the concept, not to be pretty.
I can't wait to present the new Drawsharp and the Adze that Tim Manney and I have been developing. The process is such a pleasure, that having an actual tool in the end feels like icing on the cake.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Nice to Meet You

Since I moved to Sterling, Massachusetts, I've been swamped with projects and traveling and had little time to get to know my community or let them know me. That changed when I talked to Dave Gibbs at the Sterling Historical Society about combining our efforts and interests. The Society has a lovely collection of Windsors that were made here in town as well as a barn full of the old tools from its workshops. The first floor of the barn is relatively empty, and I thought it would be a great location to host some 6 person classes. So, next summer, I hope to schedule three classes there, but I'll post more on that once we work out the details.
To help introduce me to the community, the Sterling Historical Society hosted a demonstration at the local American Legion post and Ross Jones of Harvard Video Productions filmed it for us. Here is the video of the demonstration.
If it doesn't appear on your screen, click here to go to the original site.

As you can see, I am elated to be starting this project. I think 6 is a great number of students for a class. Plenty enough for a group energy and atmosphere but few enough for lots of personal attention.

And if I got you interested in my talk with Dudley Hershbach, here is a great interview with him that I found every bit as engaging as sitting next to him on the plane.

and once again, the link if you don't see the video here.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Tools, Up and Down

I have lots of new stuff to talk about on the tool front. I figured that I would begin by announcing that the price of my Galbert Calipers is now $59.99. I finally sold enough to justify reducing the price and I hope folks take advantage of it.
Recently, I was thrilled to see Greg Penningtons Caliper that he has used for years. It's pretty beat up looking, a fine tribute to its constant use! Here is a link to Greg turning a baluster.

The other side of things is that the travishers made by Claire Minihan are going to go up in price after our appearance at Woodworking in America in October. It isn't a light decision and honestly, we've let it go for too long. These tools are outstanding and even at $245 for the walnut and $295 for the curly maple, they are a great value. You can contact me at to get on the list before the price increases on Oct 21st.

A few months back, I made a video of myself using the travishers, figuring that it might be helpful and that it would give a good view of the quality of the tool. I didn't post it because I thought that it might not be the best representation of the tool because folks would think "Of course he can get it to work, he designed it!".

When I was teaching recently in Connecticut, I looked around and noticed that the students using Claires travishers were handling them like pros, even though they had never picked up a travisher in their lives. So I shot some footage of them and that is what you'll see in the video. I added the footage of myself so that you might pick up some slightly more advanced technique.

If the video isn't above, click here to watch it. It's great to see the students do so well with a tool that I used to see folks cursing at. I especially love the sound as it shears across the end grain!
There is lots more news to tell coming soon.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Flying High

It has been an intense summer full of action and as usual, the blog has taken a back seat. But with the cool weather on it's way and lots to announce, I am going to be making a renewed effort to chime in more often.

I flew back from teaching in the midwest recently and thought it a tale worth sharing. No, it's not an airplane horror story. I actually enjoy flying. I know, it sounds masochistic, but I still think that it is amazing that I can wake up on the east coast and have lunch in the midwest. When I get to the airport, I focus on people watching and I go to the "happy place". This is where I work out the design or tooling issues that I never have time for back home.
Upon boarding the plane, I usually put my shop hearing protection on to keep the screaming babies and busybody neighbors out of my head. This trip was a bit different. I glanced over at the man next to me and noticed that he was reading a paper about Niels Bohr, who was a giant of physics of the last century. My hobby is finding lectures aimed at the laymen about folks like Bohr. After a few minutes, I broke the barrier of my "happy place" and took off the earmuffs and asked him about the paper. It turns out that he is a chemical physicist and a Professor Emeritus at Harvard. He was delightfully willing to chat at a level that I could follow and we spent the entire flight discussing science, creativity and education. It was fantastic. Near the end, he gave me his card with an image like the one below.
Apparently, he made a guest appearance on the Simpsons in 2003. I was tickled that his card said "Best Known as a Guest Voice on the Simpsons".
We parted and I went on my way home to unpack my tools and get ready for the next hurdle. Later that night, on a lark, I googled his name, Dudley Hershbach and immediately broke out in laughter. You see, he mentioned the Simpsons, but left out his Nobel Prize in 1986!
Thanks Dudley, you made my year.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Distressing, the Easy Way

Last thanksgiving I gave a chair to one of my favorite people. She was 4 1/2 at the time. She is the child of one of my oldest friends and I thought that she might like to sit at the same height as the everyone else at the table.

Keep in mind that this was less than a year ago. When I went to their house for dinner last night, I was thrilled to see that she has obviously sat in the chair A LOT. When I saw it, I filled with joy.
I've got chairs that have been in service for a decade and don't show this much use!

We did some forensic research and it became clear rather quickly that a squirmy 5 year old rubs their head on the bow just right to wear the paint right off. I wonder how many wriggling 5 year olds it would take to make the Grand Canyon? From this impressive effort, not as many as you might think.
Rubbing through the paint in a few spots is normal when burnishing and oiling a chair and I think that we all consider how "natural" the wear should look. Look no further, find yourself a willing 5 year old and you'll get the real thing.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

One Last Shot

There is one opening left for the class that I am teaching at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking beginning this Friday. I am excited because we are trying a new format. The class is being broken into two sessions of three days a piece. This will allow the students to finish some of the parts at home which will take some pressure off of the class and give us a chance to rest. If most of my teaching didn't involve long distance travel, I would probably do all of my classes this way. As I said, there is still one opening, I hope to see you there.

Here is a prototype for a Birdcage rocker that I am developing. I has always loved this style and am having a ball making it with all of the techniques and design ideas that I've been playing with for the past few years.

I went to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston a week or so ago and saw an amazing Samuria exhibit. Anyone who knows me well knows that I have a couple of distinct quirks. I wake up every night for a couple of hours in the middle of the night and I generally use the time to memorize every moment of Akira Kurasawa films, especially the Samurai genre.
I have always admired the Black lacquer of the Japanese, but felt the application would be a pain on my chairs. I decided to paint this chair a solid black, which strangely enough, I don't think that I've ever done before. Coupled with the shellac that I have been using these days, the black milk paint finish gives a nice nod to the Japanese lacquer finish and goes well with the Asian influence of the style.
I used a goldenrod undercoat and cream in the v notches.

I've got another decorative addition, but I'm not quite ready to share!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Letter of Note

I just returned from a trip to New Jersey to celebrate the engagement of my little sister Sloane. 
I have a very mixed up family tree and there are plenty of people in it with whom I don't share any biology but I do share a great deal of history. One of those people is my grandfather Ken Glemby.

Ken Glemby

I credit Ken with sparking my interest in woodworking and I benefited greatly from the hours of caring and sharing that he gave to me. He used to build model airplanes, not the kind that go on a shelf, but the kind that have 4-6 foot wingspans and actually fly. It's appropriate because he was a WW2 fighter pilot who flew over the Battle of the Bulge. He never spoke much about his service, but in recent years, as he approached and passed 90 years old, he has opened up and told more stories. It's really astounding what this man did in his early 20's.

Ken Today

After the 3 hour drive home, I sat down to unwind with one of my favorite websites called Letters of Note. The latest entry struck me because it instantly reminded me of the care, humor and humility that I've been so impressed by in my lifetime privilege of knowing Ken, I hope you read and enjoy it.