Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Spoons for Hunger is Back!

I was out working on a maple tree yesterday and saw so many lovely spoon blanks in it that I thought it was about time to start up the Spoons for Hunger project again.
 For those who don't know, here's how it works. I use my nervous energy to make spoons and then I put them up on the blog for sale and if you are interested, you can email me.
 I put the names in a hat after a couple of days and pick a winner. Then you get a spoon and I sent the proceeds to aid hunger relief. I'm looking forward to a long winter by the fire kicking out spoons!

 This monster cherry ladle is $210. I have more to come that are smaller and a bit less expensive, so stay tuned. Thanks for joining in and please let me know if you have a favorite hunger relief organization.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Have coffee with me

This weekend, PBS will be airing the episode of Rough Cut that I made last spring here in Sterling. Tommy and the crew did a great job and worked hard to represent the craft of chairmaking. For some, it will air on Saturday morning, so coffee up, sit back and lemme know what you think. And rest assured, even if you don't like it, my Mother will love it.

Here are a couple more teasers for the upcoming book. I am just a few days from finishing all the drawings and am finally getting the hang of it (of course). The designer is working up some samples and it should be firmly in her hands in a week or two.
 Spending 3 days drawing drill bits can make one feel a bit odd.
 There are some images, such as the variety of leg styles, where surface quality calls for a slightly more rendered appearance.

Sunday, October 5, 2014


I was talking to my brother the other day and had to tell him that while I enjoyed hearing from him, he will not here anything different from me for a few weeks. I'm drawing.
Here are the portfolios housing the nearly completed drawings for the upcoming book. I think there are somewhere around 350 of them.

The old adage about a person who defends themselves in court having a fool for a client might also apply to illustrating ones own book. There have been many times that I cursed myself for taking the project down this path, but now that I am nearly done, and have learned so much about how effective illustrations can be in relating process, I am nothing but excited. Every time that I've thought, "this might be easier to take a photograph", I've realized that I could give much more information or clarity in a drawing. Hopefully the reader will agree.

This project has been hugely cathartic to me, not that I needed more catharsis this year. It's been a great chance to take stock of the last 15 years of learning, making and teaching. In a way, it feels like I am clearing the slate for more information in my own head. But for now, here I am, all day, everyday, drawing. The book should be in the hands of the designer within a few weeks and we hope to the printers soon after.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Drill Bits are Here!

It's taken a while, but I'm happy to announce that we are now taking orders for sets of chairmakers long spur brad point drill bits. Charlie Ryland came here last February straight from North Bennet Street. We talked about his making drill bits, but quickly became mired in all sorts of other projects. But lately Charlie jumped in and started grinding away.

Just as with Claire and the travishers and Tim with the reamers and adzes, he has advanced the bits beyond what I was doing with them. By making some slight alterations to the dressing of the wheel, he's managed to make a bit that lets you know when it is about to poke through the other side of the workpiece. The lead spur is slightly wider at the base and the change in pressure as it comes through is perceptible.

If you aren't familiar with the abilities of these bits, I will be making a video when we get back from North Carolina. The geometry of these bits is helpful in getting clean entry and exits holes as well as drilling at angles,  making them great for making chairs. Plus, seeing a ribbon like shaving pour out of the hole proves that drill bits really are woodworking tools, deserving of attention and respect just like a plane or chisel.

The bits are available in sets of 5 as shown for $110 plus $10 for shipping. They are made from American made High Speed Steel and include 5/8", 1/2", 7/16", 3/8" and 11/32".
The larger bits require a drill with a 1/2" chuck.

Charlie will have some sets available for purchase at WIA and is accepting orders at And of course, feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions,

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Big Tease

I know that things are quiet here, but it's not because nothing is happening, it's that too much is happening. Chris Schwarz and I have set the release time for the book in early December and I am thrilled to get it out there. But right now, I am focusing on my talks at Woodworking in America down in Winston Salem at the end of next week.
Perhaps it's the fear of standing in front of a crowd with nothing to say, or maybe just that I haven't had a moment to finish a thought in the last year, but as I've turned my attention to the talks that I'm slated to give, I've had some wonderful breakthroughs in my process for creating rockers this week.

By the way, the process for giving talks works like this, "sure Megan, I'd love to, how about talking about rocking chairs for two hours?!". Then comes the "what do I really know about rockers?" part.

Yes, I've been making them for 14 years, but with all the variables and processes, they have always been challenging to design and execute.
 At my talk on rockers, I will be demonstrating not only the concepts involved, which are pure nerdy joy, but also the nuts and bolts for creating a rocker that needs little more than the shifting of your eyelids to take you on a lovely ride. There is nothing like plunking down in a rocker that is tuned to your body and sitting habits and I will be covering the methods to make it happen.
I hope it doesn't sound like I'm getting "too big for my britches" as my mother used to tell me, but, I have been on the trail of a simple, repeatable process for fine tuning these chairs, and I can't wait to share it.
For those of you who can't make it to WIA, rest assured, when I get this book/monkey off my back, I will surely be posting my results on Chairnotes.

Beside my talks, I hope you'll be able to come down and meet Claire, Tim, Charlie, Seth and all the other great folks in the Marketplace. Even my mother and brother will be there!
I can honestly say that last years event was one of highlights of my experience in the woodworking community.
Plus, if you ask, I can also share the results of my quest to make the perfect poached egg (yes, it involves making a proper spoon). I hope to see you there .

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


It is impossible to hang out with Peter Follansbee, as I did last weekend, and not come home and spend a day on the porch carving spoons.


We do things a bit differently, but he was downright inspiring. I was also thrilled to spend time with all the other great folks at the Lie-Nielsen open house. It would be difficult to convey exactly how wonderfully they treated us and how generous they were.
Here is the finished spoon, made from apple wood.

It's a good eating spoon. I would be happy to sell it for $55 and $5 shipping if anyone is interested. I'll draw names if I get more than one buyer. For the moment, I am going to keep proceeds from my spoon sales to help with the bills, but I hope to continue the Spoons for Hunger project once things settle down a bit.

Thanks to all the folks who have reached out to offer solace and comfort lately. Transitions are never easy and your kindness is much appreciated. I'm sure that quilting guilds and dog clubs are full of great folks, but I can't help but think that woodworkers are the kindest lot there is.

Monday, July 7, 2014

I'm still here

I am always aware when too much time has passed between posts  because of the emails inquiring about my health, whereabouts and possible witness protection status. So I figured that an update was in order.
It has been an exceedingly busy year. As you may know, my book is in the final stages. I only have a couple of hundred more drawings to complete! I hope to see it in print this fall. Thanks for your interest and patience.
Around the shop we have lots going on. Besides Claire making travishers, I’ve brought another North Bennet Street grad into the fold. His name is Charlie Ryland and he has been helping me for the last few months keep up with my crazy work schedule. In the future, I hope to see him grinding drill bits for sale through the website. He’s a great addition to the team and you can meet him when we go to the Lie Nielsen open house next week or at WIA this fall in North Carolina.

I’ve had such a great experience  posting on the blog over the last 7 years and my goal is to expand this once I finish with the book and some other coming events.

One of the difficult parts of sharing my experiences online is moderating how much exposure of my private world is appropriate.  In continuing to share upcoming events, there are some changes coming that are sure to come with some questions, so I thought it best to come right out and share that Sue and I have decided to split up.
While it is clearly a sad thing to see a good thing come to an end, I am happy to say that we separated amicably and we remain good friends. I appreciate all the folks who have reached out to care for both of us through this last year. We are both doing well thanks to you all.

The completion of the book will hopefully go smoothly and leave me in a much more settled place where I can get back to what is most natural for me, namely horsing around making chairs and posting on the blog about my findings and fun.

Thanks for your continued visits to Chairnotes and please stay tuned for the changes as they come.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Another thought on the Shavehorse

I was in need of another shavehorse recently for a class, so I grabbed a dumbhead swing arm that I had laying around and cobbled together a horse. This part was an experiment that I had tried when looking into making an adjustable shavehorse. I rejected it because it had some short grain issues that I thought wouldn't stand up. But after using it in the class, I realized that the shortgrain issues that came with sawing the parts from a board could be sidestepped by using hickory dowels for the "teeth". It took me all of 15 minutes to retrofit with dowels and I have been using it with great results. The video is clearly a quick shot, but I think it gets the idea across.

The one drawback to this design that the "smarthead" solves is that the foot treadle rises when you adjust it, but so far, that hasn't been annoying enough to overcome the simplicity and the strength of the concept. Ideas aren't always linear, this one sat for a couple of years, but I thought it worth sharing for those looking for simple solutions. The dowels are set at a 23 degree angle (probably variable) and are 5/8".

Monday, April 28, 2014

Hot Stuff

I recently rebuilt my larger steambox that I use for classes. I had such good results using the two steamers and insulated boxes in Atlanta and North Carolina, that I wanted to see what I could do.

Here is the box that I made. I used a tongue and groove that ran the length of the box to seal the sides and Gorilla glue to seal the joint. Since this photo, I've added a proper hasp.

The insulation is 1 inch thick foil faced and is just draped over the box. Without the foil face, the insulation will swell and warp. With this set up, and insulation on both ends, I was able to get the box up to 210.5 degrees f. With 212 degrees being the absolute highest that the temp can get without being pressurized, I call this a success.

When we opened and closed the door to retrieve the bends, the temp only dropped about 6 degrees and recouped the heat within minutes. One thing that I noticed was that one of the two steamer units went through water much faster than the other, and so I checked the wattage. Sure enough, my older one was 1250 and the new one that I bought at Highland was 1500. While the bends came off beautifully, I can only imagine that two 1500 watt units would be the ideal. Keep in mind that this box is 9 by 11 inches so that it can hold a whole class worth of parts and must keep the heat up with lots of door openings. On a smaller box, one unit is fine, especially if it's insulated.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A little sample

The Lost Art Press blog featured a sample of the book yesterday. If you didn't see it already, check it out!

We are almost ready for filming Rough Cut tomorrow. Perhaps the best thing to come of it is that we had a great excuse to clean out the shop! I haven't seen it this clear in years.

I am finishing the prototype for the set of chairs that I'm reproducing. It came out darn close to what I wanted, but I've made changes for the final design after seeing it in person. It's usually the case that a drawing of a chair looks different than the actual results, so the prototype is usually a necessary step before making the chairs for the client.

The Original

If you ever visit, you'll see that I always end up with the prototypes. This chair is a simple form, but as I've made my way through all the aesthetic choices, I've found it to be a finely tuned design. I'll show more about this soon. I'll have plenty of chances while finishing 6 more of them.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Starting from Photos

I've often been asked about starting a project from a photograph. I made my first chair that way, as a copy of one of Curtis Buchanans chair in a magazine. When I saw it in person, I was surprised by how far off the mark I was. Not only did I get just about every shape and proportion wrong, but the magazine had made his yellow chair look quite green. That was a lucky break for me as the green that I painted the chair became a favorite color!
Since then, I've learned a lot about the process.

A client recently asked me to reproduce a chair for a set, and the Museum where the original is housed refused to let us take measurements. Don't get me started...
Anyway, here is the scan that he sent me.

He is dropping the book by with the image soon so I can get better details, but this is my starting point.

My first step is to create a rough scaled drawing while getting to know the details and relationships in the chair. I'm trying to figure out the role that the different elements play so that I can get the overall impression to match, even before fleshing out the details.
I try to pin the scale of the chair by some educated guesses. Usually, older chairs like this are rather small, but a 17" to 18" height at the front is probably reasonable, and besides, it will ensure that the chairs can be used at a normal table. The chair is not shot straight on, which is almost always the case, but it is straight on enough that I can use the height to guess the distance between centerpoints of the bow where it enters the seat are about 13" apart. I confirmed this dimension on my own hoop backs as well as the measured drawings in John Kassays book.

Once I had those dimensions, I was able to start a scaled drawing at 3/16" scale. After I had found the width of the bow where it enters the seat on the 3/16" scale ruler, I printed a copy of the photo so that the dimension of the bow in the photo matched the drawing. From there I could scale all the parts directly from the photo.

Next, I'll refine all the proportions, measurements and angles in an accurate drawing that I can scale up for the patterns and forms.
Next week Tommy MacDonald is stopping by to film an episode of Rough Cut on building Windsors and we will be showing the construction of this chair.

Monday, April 14, 2014

It was just a matter of time

I have a chainsaw, I have logs, I have goats...

I've been plugging away on loads of chairs and chair related projects, so I guess it's only natural to seek some sort of unrelated hobby for my free time!


My chainsaw is way too heavy to do any fine work, but I used it for the big chunks, then I turned to my favorite hatchet and finished off with a gouge.

 Between drawing the illustrations for my book and doing this, I feel like I'm right back in art school

But here, the critics are more forgiving.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Nearly Free Class Available

Thanks for the responses to this post, I am going to pick a student from the folks who have already replied.

I've just gotten an email from Bob van Dyke at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking. One of our students for the class that begins this weekend can't make it due to a family issue. He has generously offered to pay the tuition of the class if anyone wants to fill the spot.


The only cost will be the materials fee which is less than $200. It's a great opportunity to make a continuous armchair. If I get more than one interested party, I will pull names from a hat, closing the drawing after I get the first three names to ensure that there is enough time for folks to make the proper arrangements. The class runs this Friday through Sunday and then meets again in a few weeks for another weekend. You can see all the details on the CVSW website.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Bench Top Bargain

As I've traveled around and used many different benches, I've become acutely aware of the differences between a good cabinet makers bench and one intended for chairmaking. Honestly, I usually loathe having to work on a cabinet makers bench. Sure, I love the vises, but the narrow width and tool tray usually mean that I can't set the assembled base on the bench and the shavings from the seat carving fill the tray in quick time. My benchtop is about 27" by 47", which has never let me down, but I don't think I'll be finding more like this on the street like I did this one.

As I set out to make the infrastructure for the classes here in Sterling over the summer, I started to look around for good benchtop material. I quickly dismissed the idea of making them myself, not only because I'd have to go outside my shop to use a properly equipped shop, but also I thought that the material and labor cost would be more than buying a top. And I was right.

Here is the top that I settled on, and I am happy to be able to share it as an option. It's made by John Boos and sold through Amazon. No I don't relish being part of the Amazon sales team, but this top is sweet, and at $166 with free shipping, it's a great deal.

It's just under 1 3/4" thick, and 30" X 48", great for chair work. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was made of full length maple strips and as far as flat goes, it's pretty darned close.

I appreciate all the encouragement I've been getting about my upcoming book. I'm as excited to have it available as I am to have it done! I checked this morning, and there are 342 illustrations and counting. Chris Schwarz is making his way through it doing final edits and I will soon be doing nothing but finishing the images. It's a cathartic experience for me to lay out so much information. Who knows what I'll do with all the cleared head space and time I'll get when it's all done. Perhaps I'll take up  something besides thinking about chairmaking, then again, I can't wait to get away from the computer and back into the shop...

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Working Backwards

First, a quick announcement. Openings in my classes for this year are almost gone but there are a few spots left to anyone who doesn't want to wait until next year.
I will be at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking teaching the Continuous Armchair
Friday – Sunday April 11 – 13 & May 9 - 11  There are only a couple of spots open here.

And I have three classes this summer here in Sterling MA
June 23-28 Fan Back Side Chair

July 21-26 Balloon back Side Chair

August 11-16  Continuous Armchair (chairmaking experience required)
Each of these classes has a couple of openings, please contact me for more information

Hopefully you have seen the posts and videos that I did regarding my sightline rule. The sightline rule is basically a chairmakers framing square that eliminates the need to use trig tables or elaborate graphics to transform rake and splay into sightlines and resultant angles. If you didn't see them, check out this post ,or this one, or visit my youtube channel to see videos on the sightline rule.

Anyway, I've found one more handy way to use the sightline rule, which is to take an already existing pattern and derive the rake and splay from it. This is very handy if you want to use the same angles or change angles on an existing pattern and don't know the rake and splay. Here is an example

So there it is, rake of 17 degrees and splay of 16.5. Of course, if you knew this info first, you could simply follow the drawings in reverse to get the sightline and resultant.
It was a slap on the forehead when this one dawned on me. I still have the pdf's available if anyone wants the printout, email me at

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Lucky you! Pictures from my Southern Tour

Here are the bends from the class that I taught at Warren Wilson College just outside of Asheville, NC. I had Bill Palmer rig up a new steambox that we insulated and it held a nice high heat. We got 12 bends with no issues at all, which is a real achievement in a classroom setting. We were careful to open the door only briefly when retrieving our pieces and monitored the heat level carefully.
My favorite lunchtime retreat was to watch the new piggies running around on the college farm.
The class made balloon backs which might just be my new favorite chair to teach new chairmakers. It has the intense bend and plenty of opportunities to make sweet joinery. The shouldered tenon at the end of the bow is especially fun.

Here is a finished chair. Everyone finished up their chair before 4:30 on the last day and I was definitely proud of the way that they turned out.
They were very uniform too, they could have been a set. That would have suited Seth just fine as he now has the job of guiding a bunch of the students at the college through making a set for the college President. They are shooting high with their program of fine woodworking and I am excited to see where they take it. For the Presidents house, Seth designed the undercarraige that you see below. I like the cigar legs and higher stretchers, I think I'll swipe it.
Of course he was too busy helping the class along to finish his prototype, but you get the idea.
I also met a blacksmith while I was there by the name of Jason Lonon. He helped the college students make their own travishers and inshaves and he dropped by to talk tools with me.
Here is a drawknife that he made based coincidentally on one of my favorite styles.
A while back, I was fiddling with drawknife geometry and came up with one that I really love. I bent the handles a couple of ways to get it just right and now I keep it as a model for good geometry.
When held up to Jasons drawknife, they shared the same geometry, which took us both by surprise. He said that he would sell them for $200. You can contact him through his website at if you are interested in a gorgeous handmade drawknife.

Now I am back home, hoping to get in a boil or two (syrup season ran late this year), but mainly settling into not living out of a suitcase...for a while.

Oh, and last but not least, my Mom took great care of me in Atlanta, isn't she a doll!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Seth Wins the Day

Here are a couple of tenon cutters. The one in the back is a poplar base with a frog from a standard Bailey style plane. The one in the front is made of rosewood (fancy eh?) and has a frog from a Bedrock plane. I made the one in the back years ago,  and today, Seth Weizenecker made the one in front. The cutter Seth made is simpler to make and works amazingly well.

I like using the frog from a plane in my tenoning fixture because of the control that it gives over the adjustments, but as you can see, I had to mount it on a small angled block to get the low cutting angle that I wanted. What I didn't know, was that Bedrocks frogs are far simpler and screw easily to a flat surface, with a beautifully low angle built right in!

Here it is in use. And the shaving...amazing.
In order to get the clearance angle on the bevel, Seth ground the blade to about 24 degrees, which is rather low for standard work (in my experience) but for this dedicated task, it peels the wood great.

Notice the low angle of the frog and the bevel of the blade
Don't be confused by the shiny chip breaker, which looks like a blade, it's a Hock chipbreaker.
He began the process by drilling and reaming a hole as you'd expect, then he planed down the top until an even gap opened at the top of the mortise. Then he screwed the frog on. How simple is that!

These days, I am acutely aware of the value of having talented people around, well done Seth.
Now I am going down to his shop to steal all the Bedrock frogs, shhhh