Chairmaking for an experience Newbie

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.... with no bandsaw.
My 10 year old daughter ended up on the floor during dinner a few nights ago when one of my wife's 2nd hand chairs ended up giving up the ghost.
I do well with basic tool operation, straight lines, tables, and casework - but I always viewed chair making as perhaps beyond my skill and tool set. My wife has recently been hinting at a new walnut table - and I had assumed I'd purchase chairs. But, as a wood hack, when an immediate need shows itself, I wonder "hmmm - wonder if I can do better??" It's a blow to my already fragile ego to run to the local mass production, low quality furniture store and spend $150/chair.
I've ordered a few books to start my research (Jeff Miller), but thought I'd toss it out to the group. Chairs aren't discussed much, but I seem to remember following the saga of someone's experience a few years back (thinking Swingman and Arts and Crafts chairs?).
Is a bandsaw crucial? Other tools outside the norm (TS, planer, router table, jigsaw, etc)? Necessary skills?
Thanks -
jbd in Denver
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snipped-for-privacy@CATyahoo.COWcom says...

What kind of chairs did you have in mind? With a table saw, you can make nice straightback (or slightly tilted back) chairs for well under 150.00. Think of some of the Amish designs with the square spindles on the back, and the h-frame to support the legs.
Something along the lines of this without the armrests.
http://www.oldhouseweb.com/stories/bitmaps/13289/chair1.jpg
Good luck.
S.
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"jbd in Denver" wrote in message

You can do it, just take your time, research, plan every step and go for it. I would suggest that, after deciding upon a style/design (pick something else than "Queen Anne" <g>), making a full scale drawing on a sheet of 1/4" mdf and then making a prototype out of cheap wood before you start working with the good stuff.
I didn't have a great deal of time or space to a very detailed, blow by blow, on the website, but you might want to check out that page again if you haven't seen it lately:
http://www.e-woodshop.net/Projects10.htm
... also, there is some information on the jigs page for cutting mortises in chair back rails.
And, there was a discussion yesterday in the "Printing Full Size Drawings" on making making the curved chair back rails from printer generated drawings.
Also, there is an article on making an Art n' Crafts chair in the April 2007 Fine Woodworking that goes into detail and looks as if it could be adjusted for style.
Might want to check that out.
On the tool issue, I did find a band saw to be necessary, at least in my estimation, for doing the curved chairback rails, but there are other ways to attack that, although the bandsaw will save a LOT of time in that regard.
Once again, and IMNSHO, making a prototype is a key component in your endeavor. For goodness sake ask any pertinent questions, as there are a couple of other's posting here who have made chair sets, so there is a good deal of experience to draw from.
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Hah! Or a sculpted Hensarling or the like. Like some of the Federalist period furniture, I think the starting point is the most important for this task. It is no fun to be reduced to tears over something that is supposed to be fun. Maybe the next set of chairs...

Wow... the best advice you can get there. A really fine chair maker near here has been making chairs for about 25 years, and he still uses his templates. Not because he doesn't know how his designs go together, but it makes it really easy for him to see the best use of his material by simply laying it on the wood. In his classes, he teaches the students to make their templates on 1/2 plywood, and write the names of the pieces on the plywood. These are to be hung on the wall in the shop.
My advice: Don't bite off more than you can chew. If you are learning joinery, including clamping, glueing, fitting, wood finishing, and all the other things all at once it can be overwhelming.
You don't want to turn out a piece of work that people smile and look at you with that look of "nice try" or "as long as you are happy with it", or their best comment is "boy, that damn thing sure is sturdy!"
I think I would start with a kit so I could get some of the techniques down and learn which of my tools were going to do the job for me. You can buy <some> kits for about the price of materials.
http://www.vandykes.com/product/02344531 /
Those kits are easy to "make your own" with some design touches or finishing.
I would also recommend to get on down the library or half price book store and look for:
The Art of Chairmaking - Kerry Pierce
Jack Hill's Country Chair Making - Jack Hill
Building Chairs - from the Time/Life Art of Woodworking
Each one of these were purchased by me in the 1/2 priced store. They each have their strong and weak points, but all have a lot of good information on design, joinery, and even some scaled plans.
One of these days I'll find time for a great rocker I have in mind. I have 250 bf of mesquite dried and ready to go... has been for about 3 years. It's on the list...
Robert
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Yep, I've always thought that Archimedes' fabled saying ought to be revised for wooddorkers: "Give me a fulcrum, and a place to stand, and I will move the world; a template, and a jig, and I will build a chair."
One could make a good case that the better the template/jigmaker, the better the chairmaker. I can guarantee you that the reverse is true.
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I can easily see that. Even the vaunted Sam Maloof uses patterns (when needed) for his work. Although I did see a show on TV a while back that interviewed him in his shop, and he said that he had made so many Maloof rockers that he could (and did on camera) cut the back supports by eye.
This is the guy I was referring to in an earlier post,
http://www.mesquiterocker.com /
and you can certainly see where he learned to make his rocker. The truth is that Robert is a gifted woodworker, and makes all kinds of furniture, and likes to make all kinds of things. I have a good friend of mine that is good friends with him, and apparently now he has perfected his knife making skills and is making those as well.
I have met Robert a couple of times, and a nicer guy you'll never meet. His shop is about an hour from here, and it is surprisingly informal. He has none of the false airs that come from being "pretty good", or having learned about furniture making by reciting all the proper names and styles from different popular books. He is talented to the point of being gifted, and he gets a low key (but pleased) chuckle out of people ooohing and aaahhing over his work.
To build his business to where it is now, over the years he has made every show, state fair, exposition, celebration, and any other excuse for a city party to sell his wares. He built his business the old fashioned way, one customer at a time.
If you are an old student, you can stop in anytime to chat, and probably go up the street to the BBQ joint he favors. And I have never one talked to anyone that thought the money on the classes were wasted.
In a true Texas tradition, once the seminar/classes wind down, significant others are invited up to the shop where they have barbecue and "graduation".
I would love to take one of his classes, but the time and the money haven't oriented themselves properly at the same time to allow me to do it.
One day....
Robert
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Those aren't chairs, those are Chairs!
Got a kick out of the knife page also. Particularly seeing that old picture of a shop in Madisonville, where I've spent a good deal of time down through the years.
Thanks for the link.
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I have one of his rockers in curly maple. The gorgeous thing is sitting right next to me know. I also have met him several times. I agree with the above completely.
Like you, one of his classes is on my list of "things to do before I die".
-- Doug
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I consider my pattern making skills the most important of my capabilities and those of which I most proud

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wrote:

I agree with most of the comments that I just cut out. I wanted to second the rec for Country Chair making. I drew inspiration from the Hill book for a rocker a few years ago. Don't worry about the rather hoky title -- it's not about making rustic furniture out of pine limbs. Country is in the English sense -- and loosely translates as "not stuffy Queen Anne ". I was reading an old library-owned version from the 80's that looked really dated. Amazon seems to indicate a new edition appeared in '98 and is also out of print. The best part of Hill's book was that it helped me get over the feeling that things need to be planned with machine shop levels of precision. Make templates and mock ups. If the template/mock up is comfortable go with that design -- it really doesn't matter if the leg splay is 12, 15, 17.5, or 20 degrees. If you plan on bending, practice on a similar or less forgiving wood (e.g. I was building a chair in cherry, tested the forms for bending backsticks, arms and rockers with red oak).
Good luck. Chair making is challenging, but when it works out the rewards are great. Most wood butchers can use machines to make things straight and square (that's not written in a mean spirit -- I'm in the wood butcher brotherhood). Case work is by and large meant to interact with "stuff" -- clothes, dishes, etc. Chairs are meant to interact with the human form; that introduces challenges and suggests or even begs for a more organic design. That, I think, is what Maloof and other great chair makers have fully embraced.
hex -30-
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challenges and suggests or even begs for a >more organic design. That, I think, is what Maloof

If you read his book and dig up some interviews with the man, or better yet, talk to someone that has taken his classes I think you will find that you are 110% completely accurate in that statement.
I remember something like "I was just trying to make a chair that was comfortable to sit in" when he read his speech at the Smithsonian (yup - THE Smithsonian) when they purchased one of his rockers and some furniture as part of their permanent American Classics collection.
Robert
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hex wrote:

Frank Lloyd Wright admitted at some point that he couldn't design a comfortable chair--his best _looked_ marvelous but even he admitted that they were miserable to sit in. If it was hard for _him_ . . .
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I love his architecture, but it has a reputation of being less than practical. I have season tickets to a theater company that uses a FLW designed theater. It is always too hot or too cold. I've read stories of leaking roofs, shifting foundations, etc.
-- Doug
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wrote:

You can avoid a lot of the compound angles by making simple mission or "arts and crafts" style chairs. This would also allow you to avoid the need for a lathe and any need for steam bending. You can avoid scooping out the seat by using an apholstered seat or slats. There are a lot of things you can do to make the chair a much simpler task that doesn't require so many tools and skills. But, there will be some sacrifice in comfort and style. Windsor chairs have been made since before there were table saws, planers, routers, jigsaws, bandsaws, etc. All you need is a lathe, a drawknife, an adze, a gouge, a scraper, a brace and bits, and a steambox. What you lack in tools will surely be made up for in skills. If you are interested in a traditional style (windsor, chippendale, queen anne, colonial, hepplewhite, regency, etc.) don't expect it to be an easy project - expect it to be an epic adventure. There's a reason why every town has dozens of cabinet makers and virtually no chair makers - and it's not because nobody needs chairs!
I would say that you are doing well to get some books on the topic. I would look to see if there are any companion videos with the books. I would also visit several "higher end" furniture stores (i.e. Ethan Allen, etc.) to examine their chairs for insight into how they are constructed.
Ed Bennett snipped-for-privacy@ts-aligner.com
http://www.ts-aligner.com Home of the TS-Aligner.com
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snipped-for-privacy@ts-aligner.com says...

I recently saw an episode of the Woodwright's Shop with guest Curtis Buchanan making Windsor chairs. I was absolutley in awe of the skill and ease Buchanan had in making beautiful chairs out of hand tools.
http://www.curtisbuchananchairmaker.com/homepage.html
S.
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Steam bent (or bent lamination) rails waste less wood than sawn. They're also stronger. Shaping is at least halfway done when you take the rail from the mold.
A steam chest is easy. Long box, open both ends. PVC drainpipe would work great. Lay on sawhorses. Place a kettle at one end with a hose running up into the box. Pack the ends with rags to build steam pressure without creating a bomb. I could have built one and had it running in the time it took me to write this.
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Thanks for kicking the door wide open Ed. Take Mike Dunbar's course. It will be one of the best weeks of your whole life. No saw dust. Lots of curly wood shavings.
http://www.thewindsorinstitute.com /
I know, the original poster may not have the time, etc., but this is the correct answer.
-Dean Sitting in chair number one as I type this.
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Couldn't agree more Dean. If you can take a course, DO IT! There is nothing better than getting guidance from an expert like Mike Dunbar while you learn.
Another thing I thought of after posting my first message. If I remember correctly, Norm made a few chairs on the NYWS:
A chippendale "style" chair: http://www.newyankee.com/getproduct3.cgi?0507
A windsor chair (with the help of Bill Wallick): http://www.newyankee.com/getproduct3.cgi?0407
You can get the drawings and video for these: $40. My philosophy: if Norm can do it, anybody can do it!
Ed Bennett snipped-for-privacy@ts-aligner.com
http://www.ts-aligner.com Home of the TS-Aligner
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Two options I would consider.
1, the Leigh FMT jig. It is great for doing the compound miters and I'd assume they give some pointers on chair specific joints, plus many users here too. Look at their SLOWWWWW website at www.leighjigs.com/fmt.php. If you look at the magazine articles on their site about the FMT, the Fine Woodworking article actually lists all of the similar more expensive and less expensive cousins by other vendors.
2. You can buy chair kits from www.tablelegs.com. Their product line keeps getting longer and they will eventually complete co-opt my idea for a kit business if they keep adding products. They have a few different kits so you are just assembling and finishing. Not sure they have any Walnut though.
Best of luck. By the way if you want some great figured, crotch or burl Walnut look at the online catalog of Northwest Timber http://www.nwtimber.net /
BW
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I made my first (and possibly my last) chairs last year. I found a great book in the library that showed how to make a succession of chairs from very simple to complicated, adding one feature (inclinded back, arms, etc.) with each. Sorry I don't know the name of it, but it was very helpful.
I settled on a moderate armchair that was a cross between two in the book. Far and away the hardest things I ever made; getting all the compound angles and curves to line up.......... But the worked out nicely. http://wood.lippman.info/oakdiningroomchairs
Couldn't have made them without access to a pretty decent bandsaw. I just wish I had my domino back then!
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