“Puttering” for practice

Posted November 15, 2016 by D.B. Laney
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Everyday, after his retirement, my grandfather could be found in his workshop.  Friends from my youth will remember that in a corner of the shop was a sofa (for napping), television (for baseball), beer tap (for sustenance and refreshment) and a cigarette rolling machine.  It was the 1950’s equivalent of a “man cave.”  But much of the time, Gramps would be found at the workbench.  When asked what he was “up to”, his usual reply was “just puttering.”

Of course, what he was doing was continuing to practice skills that he knew were valuable to his craft.   He maintained this activity to within just a few days of his death.  He was fond of telling me that there was a difference between talent and skill, talent was a gift, skill needed to be exercised.

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When I’m between projects, or it’s too warm or too cold to spend entire days in the shop, I find myself “puttering.”  I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Bannister back finds cozy corner

Posted November 14, 2016 by D.B. Laney
Categories: Uncategorized

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The bannister back chair is completed (for all intents and purposes).  The finish sequence was; medium walnut oil stain, two coats of one pound shellac, van dyke glaze, two more coats of shellac and a final coat of Waterlox.  The seat is woven sea grass and after a little adjusting with a fid and a sharp knife, I’ll give it a wash coat of shellac, as well.  Our home looks more and more like a museum with each passing day.

Bannister back chair – simple jig saves the day

Posted October 30, 2016 by D.B. Laney
Categories: Uncategorized

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I had decided to “sight” bore the stretcher mortises on the chair.  Big mistake!  I’m loathe to build fixturing for a “one off” project.  Call me short sighted.  Call me cheap.  But sometimes, you’ve just got to do it.  So after realizing that my original boring method yielded a far less than perfect result, I vowed to plug and re-bore with the assistance of some sort of drilling guide.  I opted for something very simple, knowing that, in all likelihood, it would end up in the kindling box when I was finished.

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Three blocks of scrap, same section dimensions as the posts, “rubbed” together,  inscribed with the correct drilling angles for the side stretchers.  A fourth block, beveled at the seat pitch angle is inserted and provides the correct angle for the seat rails.  As simple as that.  Down, dirty, quick and easy!  Why didn’t I do this from the start?  Answer:  Being 70 only means you’re older, not necessarily smarter.  Plus you forget techniques, rules, etc., if you haven’t used them in the past two weeks or so!

The result was rewarding.  Assembly required only a few gentle taps and, voila, the chair sits perfectly!

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The arms are roughed in.  Now begins the “clean-up”, fettling the details.  With any luck, we’ll set Santa’s milk and cookies along side the chair.

BTW, here’s a thought you may want to share with  family, friends and neighbors who are unable to put down their communications devices whilst driving:

“Honk if you love Jesus.  Text if you want to meet him.”

Bannister back chair – Oh! So many angles!

Posted October 17, 2016 by D.B. Laney
Categories: Uncategorized

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Well, it’s coming together and looking something like a chair.  But I have a little confession to make.  I thought I’d save a little time by simply “sight” boring the posts for the side stretchers.  Seemed simple enough.  The seat plan is trapezoidal, only two angles, “should be able to do this in my sleep.”

But then I decided to drop the back of the seat by an inch, to make the “slouch angle” a little more comfortable.  KABOOM!  I created a resultant angle situation, like “when does a triangle contain more or less than 180 degrees?  When you introduce a second plane into the situation, kind of like “bending space”.  You know, time travel, that kind of stuff.  To complicate matters even further, I was using mirrors.  One mirror in one plane works like a champ!  But add a second mirror, which can create a resultant angle if not placed correctly,  add an actual resultant angle and you’ve got way too many moving parts.

The moral is, either throw together a jig or invite a couple of friends over to sight for you.  However, offer them nothing to drink till the boring’s complete.  I’m going to have to dig deep into my bag of “tricky corrective measures” on this one.  Remember the old adage, “the difference between a pro and an amateur is that you can’t find the pro’s mistakes.”

Carving the Spanish Foot with simple bench tools – a pictorial

Posted October 13, 2016 by D.B. Laney
Categories: Uncategorized

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Spanish Foot (vernacular) must surely have been a godsend to furniture makers.  Its manufacture requires very few specialized tools.  The only carving tools I’m using are a “90 degree V tool” and an 8 sweep 16mm gouge.  (You can forgo the fluting and get by with a sharp bench chisel and knife.)  Even rural craftsmen could present something to clients that mimicked the styles popular at court.

Bill Brown suggested that a brief tutorial on carving the Spanish Foot with a minimum of handtools might be a good idea and, I agree.  So what follows is a simple pictorial presentation of just that.  If the pictures don’t tell the story, just ask me and I’ll “‘splain it” in English.  BTW, for those who have to “price things out”, this was an hour’s worth of work.

The Spanish Foot

Posted October 12, 2016 by D.B. Laney
Categories: Uncategorized

First, I’d like to thank John Kissel.  On a recent trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, John took a number of photos in the period furniture area that he was kind enough to share with me.  John and I briefly discussed the wide variation in “Spanish Foot” designs.  I think the shot below says it all.

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One might ask, “why is it called a Spanish foot?”  My answer is, I’m not sure.  I can only surmise that this was one of many decorative post terminations used by Continental craftsman during the Baroque period. This style was heavily influenced by Spanish Baroque artisans and approved by Holy Mother Church.  (Interestingly enough Spain also gave us the Inquisition, at about the same time.)  The Spanish foot seems to have followed aristocratic Catholics around Europe then made it’s was to England in the furniture that we now refer to as Jacobean (the Stuart period) which ended (stylistically) with William and Mary.  I’m hoping that my friend, Jack Plane will “weigh in” and provide a little more background.  Again, if you’re not visiting Jack’s blog on a regular basis, you’re cheating yourself.

Here’s a look at a number of Spanish feet.  Basically, they all begin as right or obtuse trapezoids.  From that point, it’s all a matter of imagination.

From the craftsman’s point of view, the good news is that the Spanish foot is much easier to produce than it looks.  It requires the use of very few tools.  In fact, a simple (yet very satisfying) version can be manufactured with a handsaw, a couple of bench chisels and (perhaps) a file (or $200 rasp, if you’ve got one).

The Spanish foot is not for everyone.  It seems that you either love it or hate.  But it’s quick and unique and may have some contemporary applications.  Or maybe I just have a fetish!

Bannister back chair – front assembly – makin’ parts

Posted October 6, 2016 by D.B. Laney
Categories: Uncategorized

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Before starting on the actual front posts, I turned a model of the post and carved a model of the Spanish foot.  This insured that things were going to go together as planned and it allowed me to “warm up”.  At seventy, contending with some nerve damage, I need all the “warming up”, I can get.

While the Spanish foot looks difficult to carve, it’s really pretty straightforward.  The basic shape is cut on a band saw, using the same layout method employed when making cabriole legs.  It requires very few tools to carve.  BTW, there is NO standard Spanish foot!  Flutes, ridges or any combination of the two have all been mixed and matched to create a wide variety of individualized designs.  That said, remember that structural integrity is critical.

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Here’s the rough carving.  I’ll leave the tool marks in the fluted areas, but the convex surfaces will be cleaned up a bit with a fine riffler and a little light sanding.

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The main stretcher on any bannister back chair is always an attention getter.  These eye catching features take the notion of decoration way over the top!  You could club someone into submission with this monster!  Another point of interest worthy of note is the wide variation in color of the three pieces below.  They are all local black walnut.  The stretcher is older growth that was stored in a barn for years.  It is much finer grained and has an obvious reddish hue.  The posts are turned from younger, faster growing stock and are “bluish”, or “purply”, as some of us like to call it.  These color differences in walnut are usually determined by the mineral content of the soil in which the tree has grown.  But the atmosphere of the building in which lumber has been stored (especially long term) can also have an effect.  A piece of American White Oak may be “passed off” as English Brown after 15-20 years of storage in the loft above a working stock shed.

In any event, I’ll have to make a decision as to whether or not I try to balance of the color differences with staining or simply let the varying hues “age together”.

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