Bending Dents – What do they Mean?

I’ve started getting my act together for my book project and I have a couple puzzles to figure out. As a reminder, I’m building two-dozen copies of this chair in Independence Hall’s collection, hopefully in about 140 hours:

Loop back, stamped “WING” at Independence Hall


The chair has four dents in the bow from the bending process. This one (and it’s mirror-image dent) is on the inside of the bow, at it’s widest part:

And this dent is on the outside of the bow down by the seat at the bow’s narrow waist:

What do they mean? I can think of three options: Read more ›

Posted in Built for Speed Book Project

I’m Writing a Book

Loop Back stamped “WING” at Independence Hall

I just got back from a three week trip, equal parts vacation, research trip and photography experiment. Last winter I signed a book contract about early 19th. Century chairmaking with Lost Art Press. This trip was the first step on the book – I spent a week at Old Sturbridge Village photographing the Samuel Wing collection of tools and chair parts, Independence Hall in Philadelphia to measure a chair in their collection possibly made by Wing, and finally Meadowcroft Museum in far western PA to photograph a fascinating mid-19th C. collection of chairs, tools and un-assembled chair parts. Meadowcroft also happens to be the site of a rock overhang that has been sheltering humans for 19,000 years, the oldest known evidence of humans in North and South America, period. Amazing!

My goal for the book is to build two-dozen copies of the Indy Hall Loop Back chair using the tools and techniques with which it was built, all in the same two weeks that it took a period craftsmen to make two dozen simple side chairs. Since many people worked over 70 hours a week at the time, and I don’t want to, I may smear the work over more days, but work fewer hours a day. Can I work that fast? Stay tuned!

Posted in Built for Speed Book Project

Chair Stories: A Tree Crew

This afternoon Edward picked up a set of four custom walnut and oak swivel bar stools that his wife Phyllis had helped design. Here’s a story about their chairs:

Note: Nobody was hurt in this story. Other than a plastic compost bin.

“I recommend this tree crew to all my clients,” said the homeowner, who was also a realtor by day. “Bob, the father, is teaching the trade to his two sons. The eldest son Joe works for Asplundh during the week, but he still learns from his dad on the weekends. They are the best.”

She introduced us, standing under a nice white oak tree they were getting ready to fell.

“Elia is a chairmaker and can use some of this tree. Could you load it for him?” Read more ›

Posted in Chair Stories

Trugs and Hoops

Here’s a few more shorts from the British Pathe:

Bentwood trug baskets being made in 1929. They have some sort of a square steam box. What was this made out of? I assume there was no CDX plywood at this time, and my experience with solid wood steam boxes is that they warp dreadfully.

 Lots and lot of hoops in this shed with a half-dozen workmen.  I think I’d go crazy making one hoop after another for the rest of my life, but it would be fun to try for a morning. This video is quite apropos for me since I helped a friend make some 4′ diameter hoops for a puppet show a couple weeks ago.  We could have used one of these shaving breaks – a shaving horse doesn’t work well when the work is flexible and long enough to bend to the ground.

Posted in Craft Films

Steam Boxes: Doors, Racks, Extensions and More

The first part of this series talked about heat, what to make you box out of and whether you really need a box at all. On to other details:

Box size:  The box should be as small as possible to minimize the amount of steam you need.  The longest standard part I bend is 63″, a loop back bow. Only settee bends are longer. A 4“ ID pipe will hold around three continuous arm bows and many more loop back bows; my 8×8” box holds a dozen continuous arm bows.

This extension for my steam box sleeves into one end of the box when I bend settee bows.

Extensions: Make your box a couple inches longer than the average sized piece of wood you bend. For longer pieces, a coupling makes it easy to extend boxes made from pipe.  A wooden extension is easy to make. Read more ›

Posted in Steam Box

Chair Stories: My Friend, The Bluesman

John Dee’s 90th Birthday Party

The phone rings.  I put down my red chair-order book, lean forward in my chair, lift the receiver.  
“John Dee died last night.”

What do you say when a 92 year old man dies?  I mumble that I am sorry. But what am I sorry about?  We hang up and I go back to my order book, mechanically thumbing the pages till I find the right entry.  Lexington Green.  I always double-check the paint color before I paint a chair.

I lean back in my chair and look out the window, the side window of our house. My truck is parked in the driveway next to my wife’s car.  I think back six years ago, to the time when John Dee Holman got into my truck for the first time:

“Four on the floor and a fifth under the seat!,” he said, noticing my gear shift. I was learning he had a saying for everything. A month before, John Dee and his wife had moved to a house three miles from me.  I had seen him sing the blues for years, but had only just met them the month before.   We drove to the auto parts store, talking about the condition of the road and the tunes on the radio.

“The spark from this plug kills old Arthur,”  John Dee told the teller as he handed me a new spark plug.  “It’ll make you jump, but it sure does fix the arthritis.”

On the way back to John Dee’s house,  he told me how to cure constipation and catch snakes.  We listened to 8-Track Flashback on the radio while he put the spark plug in my generator.  It still wouldn’t start. I went home, happy.

As I sat looking out the window remembering this story and others, remembering the times he sat in my shop playing his guitar, his daughter-in-law frying fish outside, people dancing, talking and eating,  I realized why I was so sad.  John Dee and Joan had welcomed me into a group of people and a culture that was far different than my own.  Welcomed me with open arms. We had eaten food together, danced together and laughed together. My friends and his friends had become friends. Thank you John Dee.


Posted in Chair Stories

Reject Baseball Bats Turned Chair Legs

Brian Boggs called one afternoon a couple months ago. “There are two 18-wheeler loads of green hard maple baseball bat blanks and scraps at this mill in Pennsylvania I just left,” he said. Alexa spouted directions in the background as he made his way back to the hotel. “I haven’t made Windsor chairs in over 20 years, but I know good chair legs when I see them. First the bat blanks are split from a log, then they go through a big saw that cuts parallel with the riven surface, then they go through a doweling machine to turn them to 3″ diameters.”

If it had been anyone else calling, I probably wouldn’t have given it much thought. But Brian should know what he’s talking about. And the stuff is green (unseasoned). So I ordered a pallet of 207 reject 38″ bat blanks – 2500# worth – that had been graded to be knot free in 22″ chair leg lengths.

It seems like pretty good stuff. Seth and I rejected 60 blanks due to grain run-out issues. The remainder seem to have chair part lengths with straighter grain than most clear lumber would have, but not always quite as straight as the riven blanks we make. I’ve turned a couple chair legs from it, without a hint of tear-out (see photos below). Read more ›

Posted in Chairmaking Tools and Supplies

A Day in Curtis’s Shop

I spent two days with Curtis Buchanan, Marilyn and Summer last week, visiting and hanging out in the shop.  This was my first trip playing with my new fancy-pants camera – here’s some photos I took.

Curtis’s garden on the evening I arrived.

Through the trellis….

….to the shop.

Read more ›

Posted in Chair Stories

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