I first met Curtis Buchanan 15 years ago this month. My father drove the five hours to Jonesborough, TN and dropped me, a 17-year-old homesick boy, off for a week.
Curtis had a student that week. I split logs and listened in on the class. I couldn’t imagine I would ever build a Windsor chair – they seemed so complicated. Curtis was the most welcoming woodworker I had ever met. I don’t think I realized it then, but Curtis was living my dream. “Maybe I can come back one day,” I said as I was leaving. “You’ll be back,” he replied.
Curtis taught me what I know about chairmaking. He also became a model for my life. I wanted to emulate his laid-back nature, his sociability, the conscious way he paced his life, his generosity. I think I even acquired some of his accent. Curtis is still one of the most remarkable men I have ever met.
The primary use of a chairmaking kiln is to super-dry tenons. It’s nice to be able to set bends in a kiln too. This requires the kiln to be large enough to fit the bend while it’s in the bending form. Some bent parts have tenons, like a loop back bow, so ideally these tenons would be super-dried. My kiln is 2x2x3′ and that’s plenty big enough for two or three chairs worth of bends and other parts. Most folks can get by with something smaller. Read more ›
“No, not a lot of money…. Still we’ve always done it… Money’s not everything.”
Bodgers were wood turners who worked in the beech woods around the furniture-making town of High Wycombe in England. They would cut, split and turn the beech trees where they fell, then sell the legs and stretchers to another shop where the chairs were assembled.
This kind of specialization has been common for hundreds of years in both England and America. The Windsor Style in America has a quote from the December 27, 1775 Pennsylvania Gazette for a chairmaker wishing to purchase “40,000 hickory sticks [likely spindles] for Windsor chairs.” Nancy Goyne Evan’s Windsor Chairmaking in America has documented myriad transactions like this. Read more ›
Over a decade ago, a customer told me he used a dowel plate to cut the tenons on his spindles. “That won’t work,” I replied, having never tried it myself.
Last fall, I switched to using dowel plates to cut the upper tenon on the spindles.
Why did I switch? Primarily, I find that the cut is often cleaner than a tenon cutter’s cut. And they have some other advantages: the dowel plates never need re-adjusting, and almost never need sharpening. They are also self limiting: if the tenon is too big, you simply can’t drive it through the hole.