have been meaning to write this post for several months now, but as you can see from my last post date I do not have a great track record. Earlier this year I had the opportunity to spend the week at Country Workshop. Normally, my summer outings are preplanned. I always attend the Spoon Gathering in Milan, MN and the Traditional Ways Gathering up around Lake Superior. This year both of these events where a bust as family commitments kept me away. This was pretty traumatic for me as I consider these events to be my official holidays. In a panicked moment I signed up for the last spot of Drew’s Rustic Windsor chair building class. I have built 7 post and rung chairs following the Alexander videos, but wanting to build the Windsor style is what got me interested in chair making.
The drive to western North Carolina was about 15 hours from the big city of Lincoln, NE. The school is somewhat up in the hills / mountains – not sure what they call them, but regardless the driveway to school was more of a 4-wheel drive trail. That is probably an exaggeration, but I have a Toyota Prius. Once I arrived I meet Drew and his wife Louise. I could go on for several paragraphs on the Langsner’s and there kindness, knowledge, great food, and inspiring property, but all of that has been said many times by far more eloquent people than I. Sufficed to say it is a wonderful place and I hope I get to go back next year.
Instead of continuing to amuse you with my prose here are some pictures of the process.
My arm bow as I learn to saw the kerf allowing for seamless connecting of 2 pieces of wood. I know it has a name, but…
My arm bow complete and seat mostly carved
my seat with legs attached
Drew helping us to align the arm bow on the seat
Drilling the arm bow and seat spindle mortices using a kick ass jig
My finished chair using Peter Galbert’s technique of shellac and milk paint from his blog Chair Notes. Not too shabby if I say so myself.
Next I will post some gems from Drew’s shop. It is a awesome place.
Last night was the first night I dreamed about chair making that I can remember. Of course it was not a dream about perfect joints or mastering the craft. I can remember leaning back in the chair and watching as my rung joints slowly gave way pulling out of the mortises. Of course I was powerless to do anything and to my horror the tenons began to crumble. Luckily my wife told me to quit snoring and roll over before the whole ordeal worsened. Once back to sleep it was visions of sugar plums – whatever those are.
Here is my 3rd Alexander chair. Again in walnut; which is not going to change anytime soon (see previous post). I left a large knot in the right front post which adds some rustic character. The seat is rawhide which I soaked in water and then stretched over the rungs. I still need to work out the bottom. The rope lacing I have keeps snapping if I pull too hard underneath the seat. I would not say this chair is better then the second chair, but certainly equal. I had much more confidence this time around and many of the steps are committed to memory. I still need to work on NOT undersizing tenons. Another must is to ensure the back slats are of equal thickness or they tend to bend favoring the thinner areas. This is chair number 2 of my dining room chair replacement project – four more to go. Once the 6 chairs are complete. I will start making a few using the Boggs bend which is substantially different then the Alexander chair. Each chair I make is slightly different. This chair has only 2 front and back rungs. I like this look, but I need to adjust the placement to be more pleasing to my eye. Here are a couple of pictures.
I have been reading all that I can get my hands on regarding steaming wood. Some of the best reading has of course been from Peter Galbert and Caleb James. Since building my first Alexander chair in walnut I have had a nagging idea that steaming might not be all that it is cracked up to be. I have seen the process done via video streams and in person by Stephen Zbornik of the Boggs collective. He sometimes uses metal straps to avoid grain deflection and tear out. Of course all of the reading and watching always shows success, but my first attempts while successful were not perfect. I steamed the legs in a small plywood box using a tea kettle and camp stove. I generated plenty of steam and left them in for 1 1/2 hours. Each of my bends had small cracks at the bend site and while structurally fine the look is amateur. I do not think anyone would really notice, but of course I do. On the second chair I started to analyze the bend site and think critically about the process. My self education revealed some debate on the nature of heat and steam and how they may play different roles. Additionally Alexander uses boiling water to bend the back slats in place which worked well for me. So I wonder if I could use boiling water to bend the back post and eliminate the steam process all together. I could not find anything on the subject and was too scared to ask outright – so whats a guy to do?
Here is a picture of the stew pot I will be using. It is about 12 inches high and takes forever to boil.
Here is a picture of the bend area on my Alexander style chair. Looks OK. It will be submerged along with a couple of additional inches
For reference, here is one of my first chair looking specifically at the bend site.
I filled up the stew pot and turned on the burner to high. I decided to just drop the wood in right away and check the process after 15 minutes. At 15 minutes the water was hot, but certainly not boiling. After another 15 minutes the pots was simmering ever so slightly. I took out each leg and placed it in the form, exercising it back and forth a few times. I placed them back in the pot for another 15 minutes and decided to give it a go. The water was almost boiling at this point. Into the form they went and bent so easy I could not believe it.
Here is picture of the bend legs in the form.
I left the legs in the form for 4 days and upon close inspection I did have 1 legs with some cracking, but I attribute it to a knot close to the bend. Being from the great plains of Nebraska I am using wood most chair makers would probably consider unworthy – just the cost of living in paradise…
Here is a picture of my leg along side of a throw away from Stephen. I love how his throw away is my goal state;which I am far from accomplishing. I added this picture to show the difference in bends and how this process would be much more challenging on the Boggs bend versus the Alexander.
Just to be clear. I am not advocating my method, nor do I plan to eliminate steaming. I just had a itch to answer the question of would it work? My conclusion is yes and at much lower temperatures and time then steaming. So how green was my wood? No clue. I think the tree was cut in late October and sectioned in early November. Today the logs sit outside under ice and snow. I plan to try this method again over the weekend to see if I achieve similar results. For me the process was much easier then setting up the steamer. I plan to throw in a kiln dried piece of walnut too just for more analysis.
Let me know your thoughts on the process and what pitfalls I am not accounting for.
First, a few final comments on the roorkhee chair. I strongly suggest you build this chair. It is hands down the most comfortable chair I own – even version 1 in canvas that was too low and fragile. I have suffered from lower back issues for years and this chair fits like a glove. The pivoting back adds more lower back support as you relax and lean back. To be truthful, the cheap canvas my mom sewed was more comfortable then the leather. The leather is slick and you tend to slide around in the chair.
A bit more on the height. The first chair was 14″ just like the Mr Schwarz instructed. This version was so low and I felt like I was falling into the chair. The second version was 15″ and much easier to use, but I broke that version as stated earlier. My final chair was 16″ and just right for a fella of my stature. I am 6′ and close to 250 pounds. I did not turn the posts or rungs, but rather used a drawknife and my horse. Again, build this chair. It is awesome.
Now onto my tree. A few weeks back I was trolling Craig’s list and found a person selling a freshly cut walnut tree. It was $250 for the entire tree. That was $250 dollars more then I wanted to spend, but since I was searching the alleys for wood as of late it was my only viable option for the winter. Here is Nebraska most trees go straight to the fire wood pile. The only trees people seem to save are walnut.. I made the deal sight unseen and the seller agreed to deliver and cut the wood for me for his asking price. The deal was getting better as I do not have a truck or a chainsaw. He arrived as agreed upon (miracle) and cut the tree into 4 foot sections. The larger logs are 2 feet in diameter and the wood is perfect. I had originally thought I would get 5 – 7 chairs front he tree, but the first log I split will yield 3 – 4 chairs easily. I am working on chair number 3 and 4 now. They will be the first of 6 chairs for my dining room as I work to better my skill set and add the term chair maker to be name. This has been a goal of mine for several years. I was always afraid of the process and found 1 excuse after another to not learn the process. I am so glad that I finally tracked down a chair maker in Iowa working for Brian Boggs as he gave me the confidence I needed. Stephen Z does not have much of web presence, but he is one fine chair maker. Once I knock then Alexander chairs out, I plan to learn the Boggs style and then develop my own chair. By far the largest hurdle is always finding wood. I have even thought about driving to Arkansas or father and may have to one of these days.
Anyway, thanks for listening. rod
Here is my 3rd version of the chair. I was not thrilled with how low the chair sat so I designed this one to be 16 along the front. I also beefed up the rungs since I broke chair number 2. I was leaning back on 2 legs and since the chair has no glue I deserved it. When I examined the break it was some twisted grain and I noticed that the tapered joint was rather small. When I enlarged the rungs on this chair I made sure to engage the taper at it largest diameter with the chair post. This one is cream colored leather and of course walnut. The leather is a bit light so I plan to glue some canvas along the bottom to reduce any stretching. Overall I am rather pleased with the results.
Here are a series of pictures on my second chair. It is the same design, but I added the wee rockers. It sits very nice, but still shows me I need to build many more to increase my skillset. Enjoy. Hoping to acquire some oak next to give another species a try.
processing the parts
a full can of shavings per chair?
all together now
A small diversion recently was a roorkhee chair in walnut. Lots of walnut in Nebraska. The chair comes apart and has no solid joints, but rather uses tapered tenons. The back is not fixed and conforms to your seating position. This was a prototype. The next one will be taller and use leather for the seating.