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