Maloof Chair Backrests


Can anyone tell me the method Sam Maloof uses to create the curved, 7 rail backrest slats on his signature chairs?
With his penchant for free-handing things on a bandsaw (thus removing various fingertips as well), I have imagined he might cut them from solid stock. But could it be that he uses a more conventional method such as steam bending?
I drew up a dining chair design loosely influenced by a mix of Queen Anne, early 1800s American and Scandinavian, but fairly modern. Comfort and clean lines were my major criteria for this design. I then searched the web for anything similar, and found that Maloof backrest slats are quite similar to my drawing. (Drawring to you Normites...)
I feel a massive new project coming up...
Thanks,
Greg G.
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"Greg G." wrote in message

Everything I've seen points to the former (bandsaw) ... I've seen many pictures of him doing exactly that with solid stock.
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Swingman said:

I've seen video of him freehanding various parts, unsupported, and it made me a little queasy. I tried to cut a cylinder of wood, a long time ago, that took off like a spinning top. Left me WAY more appreciative of my intact fingers... and the potential for disaster on a bandsaw. (3tpi - 1/2" blade - makes for a fine meatcutter.)
I think I'll try steam bending instead. I worry about consistancy, however - They have to match up pretty well.
Greg G.
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Greg G. wrote:

Yeah, I always see him free-handing them. I even heard him say that he doesn't recommend that for other people. I know he also likes to use the router one-handed with roundover bits. I would probably go that way only with guled laminations and a roundover bit in the table where possible.
brian
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Solid stock, freehand cut on a bandsaw He has templates for everthing he's made more than one of. There's a video "Sam Maloof Woodworking Profile" ISBN 0-942391-26-8, from Taunton, that goes through the making of one of his rocking chairs, inlcuding the joinery, which you may want to find and watch.(Taunton's number is 1-800- 888-8286 if you can't find it).
charlie b
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charlie b said:

Thanks for the info - our library doesn't have it. :-( Every video is another chunk of wood or tool I won't be getting. ;-) I do subscribe to FWW magazine, however - they had a recent blurb about Maloof but nothing useful about technique. I've seen video of his shop on Modern Masters - templates everywhere.
Greg G.
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Greg,
Unless I'm missing something, why not just mill some stock wide and thick enough to make the 7 slats from. Make a template, transfer it to the stock 7 times, then start cutting on the bandsaw. The stock would be flat (laying on the edge side of the slats) and you just follow near the cut line. Finish them up on a spindle sander.
Bob S.

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BobS wrote:

Well first, 1 1/2 1o 2" thick walnut .ain't easy to come by for a lot of folks - though not a problem for Mr. Maloof who can have half his original stock become cutoffs and scrap.
Second, the first bandsaw cuts do the "S" curve then you have to put those back to make the next cuts for the curve to go from flat to round where they go into the chair seat and chair back.
And still photos don't even hint at what his video shows. 2-D stills just don't convey how he sculpts on the bandsaw, hitting two lines on adjacent faces which are both curved. It's pretty amazing to see - and a bit scary. Freehanding with only one contact point on the table is a touchy process. One hidden knot or hard spot, a tooth catches rather than cuts and the end he's holding comes down very quickly, with a lot of force, onto the unyielding cast iron table. If you think a catch when turning is "interesting", try one on a bandsaw - while free handing
Oh- the special router bits he had custom made for the back and arms to the chair seat joints are now available to the rest of us.
charlie b
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charlie b said:

Boy, you've got that part right. $2000 for a rocker and I could afford to throw out half my stock as well. I'm so poor, I have to cut down cherry trees in my yard for lumber - and then wait 3 years to use what hasn't split. ;-)

Well, I'm not trying to emulate his work, I just saw that his design has the same style of slat as my design. I can deal with differences.

That's for sure. I've seen a video of him working, and I now understand why he has several missing fingertips. I was a complete novice when I saw him freehanding a rail on the bandsaw and freaked. And no, I didn't try if for myself, and probably never will. I prefer jigs and other "disposable" objects to be shredded by a fast moving blade as opposed to my most valued body parts. Nothing that endangers my fingers, hands or eyes. I'd rather loose Mr. Winkey!

And where would that be? Whiteside? Amana? I've often wondered how he did those, thinking perhaps through hours and hours of sanding - but apparently not.
Greg G.
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: charlie b said:
:>BobS wrote: :>> :>> Greg, :>> :>> Unless I'm missing something, why not just mill some stock wide and thick :>> enough to make the 7 slats from. Make a template, transfer it to the stock :>> 7 times, then start cutting on the bandsaw. The stock would be flat (laying :>> on the edge side of the slats) and you just follow near the cut line. :>> Finish them up on a spindle sander.
Isn't that going to create spindles with a lot of weak, short grain?
: Boy, you've got that part right. $2000 for a rocker and I could : afford to throw out half my stock as well.
I think his start at 8-10 times that.
    -- Andy Barss
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<<: Boy, you've got that part right. $2000 for a rocker and I could : afford to throw out half my stock as well.
I think his start at 8-10 times that.
-- Andy Barss >>
Rest assured, they are starting now at something like 20K + for his BASE line rocker that is also made with the help of his trained craftsman.
Mr. Maloof is something like 82 or so, and is purported to have a backlog of something like 5 years to get a base line rocker.
Robert
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charlie,
Agreed, finding some 8/4 walnut may be difficult but not impossible by any means - if that's what he's using but the OP didn't say anything about using walnut.
I disagree about having to tape the "S" curved slats back together to cut the transitions for the rounds. No matter whether he laminates them or cuts from solid stock, they still need to be cut. Simply lay the slat flat on the BS table and make the cuts - one at a time then do the final rounding with a rasp and sanding.
As for free-handing on the bandsaw, I don't see where any single-point free-handing is necessary to make the slats - look at one of Maloof's rockers and I think you would agree. Whether he laminates the slats or makes them from solid stock, the transitions for the rounds still need to be cut. Simply laying the slat, flat on the BS table and making the cuts will get the job done. Then, as Mr. Maloof does, he gets out his rasps, files and then has assistants sand them for a week or two.
I don't think there's as much waste as one might think in making the slats. If someone is making a heirloom piece out of a fine hardwood, then a few extra dollars isn't really going to make a difference in the overall price. I would bet that someone making laminations for the first time like these, would waste more wood than making them out of solid stock to begin with.
As Greg stated, he did a lot of research so I imagine he came across the many sites that show Maloof inspired rockers and although some used flat slats, top to bottom, others made the slats similar to Maloof's. This type of rocker is not made primarily with a tablesaw and as such requires a person skilled or at least willing to learn how to use a bandsaw. I consider my 1hp bandsaw a lot less dangerous than my 3hp tablesaw and certainly a versatile tool.
I'm no expert on it but if there's a difficult piece to make, it's usually a good fit for the bandsaw. Leave enough spare stock at the end so you can handle the piece safely if you're free-handing it. Go slow enough so that when you make a curved cut the blade has time to cut and you're not putting a lateral load on the blade causing it to deflect, bind and then grab the wood out of your hand. Also be sure your table is large enough.
There's several methods he can use to make these, from steam bending, cold laminations, template and router to cutting them on the bandsaw. The bandsaw appears to be the most effective method and certainly not the most expensive when you consider what it takes to make the slats using other methods.
Learn a new technique, practice it using scraps until your comfortable with the whole process and do it safely - then go for the gold. It's called woodworking.
Bob S.

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<<Can anyone tell me the method Sam Maloof uses to create the curved, 7 rail backrest slats on his signature chairs?>>
A couple of publications have recently presented features on Maloof. Here's a link to the one that was in Woodcraft Magazine: http://woodcraftmagazine.com/articles/article.aspx?id 
And here's the one that was in Woodshop News: http://www.woodshopnews.com/ME2/dirmod.asp?sid=&nm=&type=Publishing&mod=Publications%3A%3AArticle&mid 3A7027421841978F18BE895F87F791&tier=4&id4616F04A90481D9AFCF1A3C459556B
I'm not sure if either of these articles provides the precise information you are looking for but both are quite interesting. I seem to recall that one of the illustrations that accompanied one of these articles (I can't recall which) showed Maloof standing in his workshoop next to an impressive number of curved templates hanging on the wall. They looked like they could have been used as patterns for a router.
Lee
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Lee Gordon said:

Thanks for the links! Interesting articles, even though they contained no revelations of his woodworking techniques. Nevertheless, they were a refreshing look into the life of what appears to be an exceedingly fine and generous gentleman. A National Treasure indeed - not as much for his furniture, but his philanthropy.
Didn't know much about Maloof, only that his chairs caught my eye years ago - even though I failed to recognize the name of the man who designed them. Made the connection to his name while watching a Modern Masters program on HGTV a couple of years ago that showed his unique style of bandsawing chair parts - and that is what stuck in my mind at the time - that and his curvy chair designs.
Greg G.
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"Greg G." wrote in message

I do like the finish on his pieces. Also the rounded edges on drawer fronts, rails, and stiles on his inset drawer cabinets caught my eye the first time I saw them and I've heard since that it's his inspiration/influence.
It's all those little natural elements that add up to pleasing Maloof designs, although I am normally much more of a functional Stickley/Mission/Prairie/Bungalow kinda guy in my furniture and architecture tastes.
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<<Thanks for the links! Interesting articles, even though they contained no revelations of his woodworking techniques. Nevertheless, they were a refreshing look into the life of what appears to be an exceedingly fine and generous gentleman. A National Treasure indeed - not as much for his furniture, but his philanthropy.>>
I have had a chance to chat with both of the authors shortly after they had returned from their visits to Maloof's shop in California (one even got him to autograph a copy of the magazine for me). In each case the guys were as impressed with Maloof's humility as they were with his craftsmanship. One or both of them occasionally visit the wreck so it is possible that he might be able to provide the details you were seeking about Maloof's methods.
Lee
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An easy method that doesn't involve complicated bandsawing (and Mallof lost his fingertip on a jointer, not a bandsaw) is to do a stack lamination glue up. I've done this for a couple of rockers I've built. Gives you good control over the shape and the consistency between the different spindles. Build yourself a glue up form of the shape you want, cut a bunch of 1/8 or so strips of the wood you'll use and glue and clamp to the form. It's really pretty easy and results are good. Plus it gives you the option to add some contrasting woods to the glue up for a litte diversity. Stack lamination is how Maloof does the rockers and the attachments of the rockers to his legs.
Gary in KC

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Out of interest, how many fingers does Maloof still have?
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Andy Dingley said:

It is my understanding that he still has them all.
But he has lost several finger tips due to... ( I am told, a jointer accident. - planer for you across the pond )
Greg G.
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