Posted tagged ‘stick windsor’

You’re never too old to learn a thing, or two

August 4, 2013

After a lifetime in architectural and case work, I thought I knew just about everything there was to know about working with wood.

Readers will recall that I started a little “stick windsor” chair several weeks ago, my first of that ilk.  I must say that I was very pleasantly surprised at how demanding the project was.  It necessitated thinking a little “out of the box” in terms of measuring from reference data, etc.  I believe this chair may be “V1”, with additional iterations coming in the future.  It is surprisingly comfortable, although this particular seat is fairly narrow.  I think that I’ll build future chairs with stretchers.  While it is correct for these chairs to be built with or without stretchers,  I think their use would add just a touch more stability (although this little baby is solid).  I don’t get excited that often, but I’m excited and I want to thank all of my chairmaker friends who’ve given me a renewed interest.

Copy (1) of 005


A Very Simple Jig for Boring Leg Holes in Windsor Chair Seats

July 3, 2013

Alright.  All the really good guys use sliding bevels, mirrors, try-squares and any number of other arcane methods to help them bore holes in a Windsor seat plank.  I’m a devotee of tradition.  However, I’m not a slave to it.  I’m working on a little Stick Windsor (practice chair) and decided that what was really important here was getting the thing put together with some semblance of accuracy.  So I used the little boring jig pictured below.  While I’d like to take credit for it, I cannot tell a lie.  The idea came from Thomas Moser’s book, “Windsor Chairmaking”.


I actually put the entire assembly (with jig) in the vise, in a vertical position.  This made boring the elm much easier.  That said, I did work up more than a few beads of perspiration.  Elm is tough.  Of course that’s why it’s great for seat planks.

I decided to use cylindrical tenons turned on the lathe, for this chair.  This means that I won’t need to do any taper reaming.  If I were going to use a tapered type undercarriage on a “one off” project, I probably would not go to the bother of building the jigs (one front, one back).  However, if I was doing multiples, the jigs would offer a significant advantage.  The guide blocks are simply screwed to the supporting 2×4, so the same jig could be used for varying seat widths.

Two other thoughts in closing:  First, If I were going to use the jig in a production basis, I’d make the guide blocks from something harder than Douglas Fir, hard maple or even Elm would hold up much better.  (But the “DougFir” was here.)   If I decided to become a complete “sell-out”, this same set up could be used with a drill motor and long stem spade bits by simply putting an appropriately sized spacer underneath the jig, leaving adequate clearance for the spade.  Did I just say that?  This is supposed to be a blog about working wood by hand!  Well, I said it and I’m not going to take it back.  You’ll see what I mean when you start cranking that brace and the bit starts to bite into that elm!  Whew, is it tough!

ELM – Squirrely grain – different tactics

June 29, 2013

A fair amount of 8/4 elm stock found its way into the shop not so long ago.  So I decided it was time to build a few stick chairs.  Having been inspired in past years by the work of John Brown and, more recently, Jack Plane, I knew that the traditional seat plank material for these chairs is elm.  So, the decision being made, I began the process of planing the seat plank true.  The seat plank is the heart of any style “Windsor” chair.


The grain of elm can run in every direction and it is interlocking.  These qualities make elm one of the toughest woods around. Traditionally, elm has been used for things like wheel hubs and livestock barn flooring.  However these same qualities can make elm a challenge to work.

I started with a twenty-inch foreplane, well cambered, planing diagonally to bring the datum into plane.  Once the winding sticks showed that I was in plane, I used a 4 1/2 with the iron cambered at about 5 thousandths of arc height.  And if you look closely at the iron, you’ll see that there is a “+10” inked above the lever cap.  In my shop this mark indicates that the the iron has a 10° back bevel, so this set up acts like a York pitch plane.  It allows me to remove a maximum shaving thickness of about 3 thousandths.  That’s enough for “rough” cleaning the scalloped surface left by the foreplane.  This “quasi finish” planing is done on the diagonal.

The plank is flipped and marked for thickness.  First passes are made with a scrub plane, on the diagonal.  This is followed by the foreplane, to “ease” the very deep scallops left by the scrub plane.  Then the 4 1/2 was used to finish the “show” surface.  This final planing is done “crossgrain”.  (The actual finish planing was done before the seat shape was cut, so the above photo is a little misleading.  Cross grain planing will cause some edge damage, so calculate your rough width accordingly.)  Many folks who are new to handtool use are unaware that much, if not the bulk of hand planing is done in this fashion, across the grain.  Simply put, that’s why finish planes, used by the professionals of old, always have a little camber.  You don’t leave tracks and you don’t tear and lift the fibers.  Needless to say, the iron must be razor sharp for optimum performance.

Now for the real tricky part.


I’m going to saddle the seat, lightly.  In pine, I’d probably start this job with a small adze then finish it with an inshave.  But, due to the nature of the elm’s structure, I’m going to do it with all with very light passes of the inshave.  If you look closely at the photo, you’ll note that the grain seems to follow the profile of the saddling.  Well it does and that will add to the beauty of the finished product.  However that adds a new little twist.  I’m shaving crossgrain.  But in certain areas I’ll be cutting “downhill”, only to encounter a change in grain direction, which will throw me into an “uphill” situation.  There’s no “across the board” solution for this dilemma.  The answer is that you have to look at the surface and change your cutting direction accordingly.  You have to be “one with the wood” as Yoda would say.  BTW, when using any type of shave, start on the bevel and find the minimum clearance angle required to give you the shaving thickness and level of control you need.  And again, a shave must be razor sharp, or you might as well do this job with a power grinder.  Stay tuned.  This might turn into a pretty interesting project.

%d bloggers like this: