Morris Chair

I was wondering how difficult it would be to build a Morris chair for a beginner woodworker? I've built nice adorondak benches and chairs plus a kitchen cabinet so I'm not totally green to woodworking but I don't have that much experience either. Do you think I'd be able to accomplish building this Morris Chair w/leather seating with the following tools? Skil Saw Mitre Saw Table Saw Router (plunge and fixed) Pneumatic Stapler (Air tool) Plane Jig Saw Various Drills Belt Sander Plus I have other small tools i.e. framing squares, pipe clamps, c-clamps, level, t-bevel, speed square, hand sander, etc.
The key components I'm missing are a drill press, band saw, scroll saw, Planer, Jointer, Radial arm saw. I have some white oak and black walnut I'd like to use that was given to me by my father. I just don't want to risk messing a project up like this and ruining a bunch of wood. If any of you think this is too much a project of someone of my skil level could you suggest any other projects I'd be able to hand where I could use my oak and walnut?
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You've got enough tools to do the job if you've got a handsaw, a plane or two, and some good chisels.
A proper Morris chair has _lots_ of Mortise and Tenon joints, so your skill, or lack thereof, at cutting these with hand tools, or your skill in making a jig to do them with a router, would be the most likely place you would go wrong.
Might want to practice cutting these, or making a jig to do so, on before you tackle the chair.
I would say a small mission style end table, with spindles, may be a better place to start until you get some experience with this furniture style.
That said, just because I'd never done something before has never stopped me, so I doubt that I would follow my own advice ... if you feel up to the task, go for it .. maybe a little more slowly. ;>)
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I'd wager by the time he's done, he'll be MUCH better at M&T than when he started.
Much like drywalling your way out of a closet.
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Chairs can be challenging to build due to all the curves, complex angles, and cushions/webbing. The upholstery part requires another skill set. There may be a few hand tools and marking tools that would be helpful. A band clamp (or just plain tourniquette ropes) will come in handy. Full-scale drawings or template patterns are very useful. I built a large 5-drawer dresser without power tools, it was very challenging and took much longer to build than I first thought.
On 5 Jan 2004 09:41:08 -0800, snipped-for-privacy@cox.net (Basspro*) wrote:

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FWIW Popular Woodworking put out an excellent special mag called "Great American Furniture" 7/03. You HAVE to get it. There are Morris chair plans etc that are very forgiving (fake thru tenons). I'm currently stalling from building mine until I've got my shop up to snuff.
It appears you have no chisels or stones. I'd buy a set with a combo stone and learn how to sharpen and chisel well before going for it with the good stuff. Or build a router table for the mortises. I'm not saying you couldn't pull it off, but why risk it? If you think you'll score more good wood and are not worried. GO FOR IT! IMO, look at your wood for some quarter sawn oak for the key pieces and save the walnut for later. Check out some of the neander stuff on the web that can assist in areas where you maybe tool short.
The mag is the key, you'll see what you need to do. Good luck!
SS
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On 5 Jan 2004 09:41:08 -0800, snipped-for-privacy@cox.net (Basspro*) wrote:

You'll be needing a copy of Bavaro & Mossman's "The Furniture of Gustav Stickley" <(Amazon.com product link shortened)>
Great book, good description of Stickley, covers one of the Morrises with full plans and construction notes and it's also an excellent example to all authors of project-based woodworking books.
The reprinted original catalogues are also useful to anyone looking for the breadth of Stickley designs "Stickley Craftsman Furniture Catalogs" <(Amazon.com product link shortened)>

You can make one with an axe and a drawknife, if you work hard enough. Better equipment certainly makes things quicker and easier, and gives you the option of some ways of building it that you might not otherwise have.
The question is what the awkward bits are, and how you approach them. There are a great many choices in "building a Morris chair"
Design variations:
- Fixed or adjustable back
- Straight, bent or curved arm
- Wide or narrow spindles
- Straight or curved back splats.
- Legs of sawn timber, veneered, or quartered.
- Through legs or stopped
- Leather or fabric upholstery
- Finishing
Strictly, all Morris chairs have an adjustable reclining back. This is the feature of Morris' own chair that Stickley copied, givign rise to the name. However we don't all want to build these, and the non-adjustable is just as comfartable, yet takes up less floorspace.
The arm is a complex piece to make. Small chairs #324 can use a simple straight arm, but this looks awkward on a large recliner #332. The bent arm #336 is easy, if you're equipped for steam bending or you can source suitable knees (timber that's grown bent at the factory). The classic #369 bent arm is made by laminating two pieces (B&M describe it) and either a bandsaw, or some finicky hand-sawing.
Wide or narrow spindles are a stylistic variation. The narrow spindle version is generally thought of as more attractive, but it's obviously more parts (and perhaps more difficult too). BTW - Can someone please tell me the history of the narrow spindle chairs, particularly their production dates and the design number - they don't even exist, according to all my Stickley catalogues !
Back splats should be curved, which means bending or bandsawing from thick or curved stock. But the back cushion is well padded, so you could just make them straight and no-one would notice.
The legs are generally made from top quality pieces of timber, chosen for their good figure. However Gustav liked ray-flake figure so much that he also veneered the flatsawn sides of the leg, so that it was visible all round. Few people bother with this today. His brothers took the other route and assembled the legs from four sections, so that each piece only needed to be cut from thin stock. This is a more popular router today, particularly if you can't find suitable heavy stock.
Most of the chairs run the upper end of the front leg through the arm and stop it with the signature end-grain pyramid. Personally I don't like this (particularly for the bent-arm) as the function of an armchair's arm is to store teacups. If you do cut pyramids, it's also helpful to use a bandsaw to make them accurate.
Original upholstery was leather, but this is expensive today and has a reputation for being difficult to work. I don't think there's any substitute though, and you should look at the pricetag of a moden Morris from Stickley.
Finishing - personally I reproduce the original ammonia-fumed finish quite closely (with some allowance for using English or French oak, not American).
Construction variations:
- Preparing the timber
- Mortice and tenons
- Legs
- Steam bending
- Surface finishing the timber
- Sewing
- Finishing
The timber needs to be good quality quartersawn white oak. Anything else just doesn't cut it. There's a surprising quantity of it too. If possible, try to have the whole lot supplied from the same log, to avoid possible colour differences later on.
It's entirely possible that a project of this size, and local timber prices, could be enough to justify buying a portable thickness planer. It's certainly worth considering.
Some of the timber may need to be steam-bent. For this you may wish to obtain it green, if you can. Certainly avoid kilned timber in favour of air-dried (although I'd suggest air-dried for the whole lot anyway). If you have the time and storage space, some chair-makers bend stock for back slats well in advance, then leave it a year or two to air-dry afterwards.
It's Stickley, so you're going to be doing mortice and tenons by the bucketload. Get used to it ! (OTOH, he's light on dovetails)
I use a square chisel morticer. It's just about the cheapest and ugliest one you can get, but I wouldn't be without it. In the hypothetical "Make chair in an empty shop" scenario, I'd buy another. There is no way I'm doing it without, when it only cost me 99.
Other ways to cut the mortices are by assembling the side rails (where the innumerable spindle mortices are needed) as a sandwich, with a table saw and a crosscut sled to cut the dadoes.
A router jig would cut the mortices too. But watch it for the narrow spindle version, because they also need to be enough and square enough to stop the spindles rotating. Turning the spindle ends down and fitting them into a drilled hole isn't enough.
With decent timber, the legs can be sawn from solid. If you're after the four-sided figure, then I'd suggest using the four piece technique rather than veneering. It's easy to do, you set up a lock mitre bit in a router table. Alignment and height adjustment is crucial though, so take your time and cut a few dummies first.
Stickley Craftsman is a very rectilinear style, so I've never liked the curved arm variants. OTOH, I'd regard straight rear slats as cutting a corner too many. I'm no fan of steam bending oak, so I do mine by bandsawing from solid, using curved stock. Getting hold of this stuff needs a close relationship with the feller or sawyer, as bent timber is usually reaction timber that's regarded as firewood-only (unless they're a boat builder). Some of them do keep it around though.
If you don't have a bandsaw, then get a drawknife. You can shape these from solid quite easily with one, it's not a huge amount of work (more than a bandsaw though) and it's great fun ! Sawing the angled tenons on the end is another job where the bandsaw is useful though, or else some more careful hand sawing.
Craftsman has large flat areas, which show up planer marks beautifully. You're going to need a scraper plane here, so go and buy a #80 if you don't already have one. Cheap and useful.
With a few of the finishing scraps you're going to use later, smooth them and finish them with your favoured finish. Then look in horror at how obvious the planer marks are.
When you've finished it, go round and do it again. I'm not kidding about how planer marks leap out from wide pieces of hard, flat oak with a shiny finish on them.
There are two cushions to sew. So find a real leather supplier, find a decent sewing machine and get down to it. Leather isn't hard to sew, and it isn't even tough work to sew, but it is unforgiving of errors. No unpicking seams when they're in leather ! (or else you're hand-sewing to put it together afterwards). They're the simplest of box cushions, so any domestic machine has the capacity to do it. Use a sharp leather needle though, and suitable thread.
The hardest part of leatherworking is finding a good supplier. It's not common these days and you can waste a lot of time trying to get half of what you need through a rag trade that doesn't really want to help. Price goes down a _lot_ if you buy from high up the food chain too.
If you're in the UK http://www.leprevo.co.uk/hides.html
For a filler, go with foam. Get a good grade and don't just buy it locally. PU foam is nasty cheap stuff and lowers the tone of the whole project. I'd use natural latex (Dunlopillo, or a few others) in a hard grade. Compared to feather, it doesn't have the sagging or slumping problems. It's also worth (especially if you do use feather) putting the filler into an inner cushion cover, then sewing through this to hold the shape.
To finish it, then to my mind there's only one way; ammonia fuming for colour, then shellac over oil. Ammonia is dead easy (search around or read the B&M book).
As to tools, then you seem to have teh main thing which is a good table saw. You're sawing a lot of rectangular stock where neat accurate edges are going to be highly visible. Think about a couple of blades here; something that rips heavy oak without stalling, and something that leaves a good surface that won;t take long to plane up.
As to planes, then I think you can almost do without. (!). A block plane and a scraper plane will do all you need, if only your machining can leave a good enough surface. That said, they don't hurt. A #92 is usually out on my bench for this sort of work.
You'll want some good chisels. Oak (especially if you're in England) is hard going. I use Japanese chisels, two each of my main sizes, and I hone daily.
You don't need a jointer, but you're going to be relying on the table saw instead. Now I've made these on just a 200 cheap saw and no jointer, so you _can_ do it. But get that blade running true and square, and make sure the fence is accurate.
The thickness planer is essential. Either yours, or your timberyard's. You do the maths.

So all told, I think you can do it. I think you've got the necessary equipment too, with a couple of cheap additions. You probably haven't got enough timber (it never goes as far as you hope).
I don't think you _should_ do it though, not as a first Craftsman project. It's too big, too many parts, too much work before you've finished it. I _strongly_ recommend that you get the B&M book first, read through it and then make one of the little pieces first.
http://codesmiths.com/shed/furniture/photos/goth_mirror.jpg
http://codesmiths.com/shed/furniture/photos/table_603.jpg
It'll give you a chance to familiarise yourself with the techniques, particularly for finishing. You'll get the overall chair project finished faster as a result.
-- Smert' spamionam
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Damn, Andy ... you could add a chapter on finishing to that and sell it as a book!
B&M's book is one of my favorites. I love their quote of Stickleys to the effect of "not only taking more pleasure in making these things (furniture), but also taking more pleasure in possessing them".
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(snip)
Go for it. I've been hankering to build a Morris chair for several years now, and this fall I finally started. Took me about three months, including the 5 weeks I was off on a job. I finished them up (mine and SWMBO's) on Thanksgiving day, and it was worth every moment. Mine are QS red oak, and the wood figure is spectacular. Thay are worth a "WOW!!" from everyone who comes in, even SWMBO's brothers who are also woodwrokers. Let me put it this way: how are you going to feel if you don't build them?
The only suggestion I would make is that you get a mortiser. I used a drill press mortiser, and long for the day when I get a dedicated mortising machine. You can cut all the mortises by hand, using a hammer and chisel, or even use a router. But the sheer quantity (my chairs have eighty-eight mortises apiece) argue in favor of a mortiser.
Make those chairs. You'll never regret making them. You will always regret not making them.
John
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One more bit of experience I would pass along. I made a model chair out of pine, first. That allowed me to try out the dimensions to make sure they worked on my body, as well as try a few aesthetic principals. It took about three days (OK, I wasn't all that precise with it) and gave me some valuable information and experience. Once I was done with the real chairs, the model went to SWMBO's 18 year old daughter, who was glad to have it. If she hadn't taken it, I would have put an ad in the paper and sold it cheap to a college student.
John
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Andy, John, and everyone else, thanks for the input. You guys are right when you say that I will regret it if I never make one. I guess as long as I take my time and be as precise as possible I could probably handle it. I think using pine for a first go would be a wise decision. Investing in a little bit of pine is much better than screwing up hundreds of dollars of oak or walnut. How much does a mortiser cost? I'm not familiar with that tool? Can it be used as stand alone or is it like an attachment to a drill press for instance? Also would a Japanese saw help in making this chair? I don't have one of these yet but will grab one if you suggest it. John how difficult was the upolstrey portion of the chairs? I've never tackled upolstrey before but figure it can't be too terribly difficult.
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"Basspro*" wrote in message

You can get a mortise attachment for the drill press, but it is pretty much a PITA to use.
A dedicated benchtop mortiser runs less than $300 at most places. Top contenders in that price range seem to be Shop Fox, Jet, and Delta ... all made in Asia, but all will do the job for the hobbyist/serious woodworker. I own a Delta and am happy with it. There are machines. both floor and benchtop, that cost a good deal more.
The price is actually a good bang for the buck considering how much time it takes to cut mortises on a project. I built one table a year or so ago that had 60 M&T joints ... this is not all that unusual as just a simple table will often have as many as 12, chairs many more.
You can also use a router table/router jig for mortises ... most who do that also use "loose tenon" joinery instead of traditional mortise and tenon. If you use the router and a jig, a plunge base for the router is almost a must.
With a router table, a two flute straight bit of the appropriate size and a good fence with stops can do mortises all day long, especially if you use loose tenons.
Tenons can be cut on the table saw, band saw, router table, or a combination thereof.
Of course, all the above can also be done by hand.
Good luck ..
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The upholstery was actually the easiest part of the job for me. SWMBO did it.
She cut 4" thick foam to size using an electric carving knife, then wrapped it with 1" cotton batting. The cloth cover was six sided, sewed on the machine with one end left open. She very carefully worked the cover over the foam and batting, starting with it inside out. It went on, well, rather like a condom. Then she hand stitched the final seam. Four cushions in all, two seats and two backs. I'd love to see leather cushions on these chairs (and the forthcoming couch), but that will have to wait.
With the scraps from the chairs, I made a footstool. The top of that is a thinner layer of foam with the cloth cover stapled to a plywood base.
HTH
John
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On 6 Jan 2004 07:00:19 -0800, snipped-for-privacy@cox.net (Basspro*) wrote:

I wouldn't do this.
A Morris chair isn't especially difficult, it's just damned big. There's an awful lot of bits in one. For many people it's also the first "serious" project they've done in a real high-end hardwood, with no obscuring finish on it. And the finish itself is a new area.
So if you make a pine prototype, you're signing yourself up for a lot of work, in a rather unrewarding timber. It's also not cheap ! It'll also teach you little about handling oak, and certainly not about finishing it.
I certainly agree that a "starter project" is a very good idea. But I'd look for something small and easy, but _in_the_Craftsman_style and made from the same timber and finished with the same materials.

UK supplier with a decent range. http://www.axminster.co.uk/default.asp?subI5
Mine is the absolute bottom-end, which costs 99 (about $2,000 on today's conversion rates 8-) ) http://www.axminster.co.uk/default.asp?part M
You can spend all sorts of money on a morticer. I nearly did last year, but I couldn't afford 500 and the 200-300 I could afford didn't really give me that much improvement over what I have. When I next look, I'll be looking at old >1,000 industrials, selling S/H for 400.
If you spend more, you get a bigger and more powerful machine (mine is adequate). This means you can plunge a large mortice in one pass, but for hobby use you can just slow down a bit and work in two passes.
Bigger machines use bigger chisel mounting collars. This is the main problem for the small machines - chisels aren't very well made, but you can't buy the best (Sheffield made) because they don't make them small enough.
Better morticers than mine have hold-down clamps (improve working speed) and screws to traverse the workpiece (avoid needing to unclamp, move and re-clamp). They don't give a better result, they just work more quickly.

You can get these things, but they're ugly.

Japanese saws are great. Everyone should try them. Cheap ones are cheap, better ones get expensive. I'd suggest trying two of them, a backed dozuki and a large double-sided ryoba (this gives you rip teeth on one side). They're a litle fragile if abused, so don't get an expensive one straight off - go for the cheapest you can find with a _wooden_ handle (the plastic handles rattle and wobble).

Upholstery is surrounded by mystique, but is easier than people think.
The cushions here are a sewing exercise, more than an upholstery problem. If you use foam slab, then they're just sewing alone. A hard grade of chipped foam would work, "typical" cheap foam won't.
Sewing leather is pretty easy too. A domestic sewing machine with a leather needle has plenty of power to sew upholstery, because you're only stitching a couple of layers, not a shoe sole. If you find a source for hides, you've probably found all the other bits too.
Stickley's original cushions were dead simple, two rectangles of leather with a simple seam. They looked rounded at the edges and tende to slump down. Many makers today use a box cushion; two square faces with a strip (probably two or three sections) around the edge. There may also be a couple of simple loops on the backrest cushion, slipped over the top of the back rails. Some people prefer to attach these to press-studs on the inner face of the rails, so they're not visible from the front.
-- Smert' spamionam
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