Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Chair Build Days, Oh Heck I've Lost Track

I have lost track of what day I'm on or what day it is.  I am happy to report I have replaced my computer and I am back online.  I chucked the PC for an iMac and have a bit of learning to do.

Medial stretcher fit to side stretcher
Since my last post I drilled and assembled the under carriage of the chair.  In the past I have done my boring with a bit brace and either an auger or spoon bit.  For this chair I used a battery operated drill with a brad point bit that I ground specifically for the purpose of building chairs.  Pete Galbert covers grinding bits in great detail in his book Chairmaker's Notebook.

Drilling the leg for the side stretcher.  I removed the drill for clarity.
In the photo above I am using a method I have been using for awhile now.  I first read about this on Pete's blog and decided to give it a go.  I found it to be very accurate and much easier than my old way of measuring.  I will probably not do justice with my brief explanation but here it goes.

After the legs are reamed and placed in the seat I put painters tape on the legs running with the centerline from bottom to top ensuring I cover the area where the side stretchers will be placed into the legs.  I place the piece of plywood with a predetermined angle (I believe this one is 72 or 74 degrees) against the two right legs.  Using a carpenters pencil laid flat on the plywood angle I draw a new centerline on the tape.  Repeat the process for the left legs.

Next I place a leg in the V-Blocks and adjust the blocks so the new centerline is parallel to the bench top.  I set the board upright resting on the angle cut on the board as seen in the photo above, and use it as a drilling guide.  It is very important to remember to put the top of the leg toward you and then drill.  This will ensure you are drilling the mortise in the correct plane.

The advantage of drilling using this method alleviates having to measure each mortise angle for each leg and allows you to drill one angle that is easily repeated.  It is possible because a new average centerline was drawn onto the leg and used as the basis for drilling.  If that is as clear as mud I understand.  It took me a few times reading it on Pete's blog before it sunk in.

The H-Stretchers are assembled and the legs set back in their mortises preparing for the glue-up.
Next comes the glue up.  I assemble the stretchers in their H-pattern ensuring that the ends marked for the back legs are on the same side.  I use the bench to rotate the side stretchers so that the ends going into either the front or rear legs both touch the bench top.  This ensures that the stretcher assembly is square and will easily fit into the leg mortises.

I number each leg and the corresponding mortise.  When I glue the legs to the stretchers I start with #1 and continue to #4.  When all four legs are glued onto the stretcher assembly the tops of the legs will not fit into their mortises.  They will sit on the underside of the seat just to the inside of the reamed mortises.  This is due to the rake and splay of the legs.  Next I applied glue to the leg mortises and tenons, and with a little pressure the legs will flex enough to enter the mortises.  Then with great care seat the legs into the mortises up to the depth lines that were established when fitting the legs.

Prior to gluing the legs onto the stretcher assembly I used a saw to cut a kerf for the wedges into the top of the legs.  These kerfs are approximately 2/3 the distance from the leg top to the depth line.

Legs before wedges are inserted.
In the photo above you may have noticed that the kerfs for the wedges are cut perpendicular to the grain of the seat.  If they were cut parallel to the grain it would be very easy to split the seat when inserting the wedges.  I cut my wedges slightly wider than the mortise in the seat.  I do this so that when I drive the wedges into the kerf the little bit that comes into contact with the softer pine seat acts like a key and helps keep the legs from rotating.  Wether it is needed or not is debatable but it gives me a warm fuzzy feeling so I do it.  Another important note is to put glue on only one side of the wedge.  This will keep things from splitting when there is seasonal movement of the wood.

I use hide glue and only hide glue.  I have used Titebond or even Elmer's glue in the past, but the problem is that tight parts will seize quickly and sometimes before all parts are where they are supposed to be, and that will make one loose their mind.  I use an inexpensive hot pot with a plastic container (cut down Solo cup) to heat my glue to the optimal temperature of somewhere between 110 - 130 degrees.  I don't mix my own glue, I really like and use Old Brown Glue.

My $20 glue pot works like a champ.

When driving the wedges into the leg top it is important that the leg is positioned vertical so that the hammer blows to the wedge travel directly through the leg into the bench top.  If the chair was allowed to remain on all four legs while driving the wedges the indirect pressure of the hammer blows could cause the leg to split out below the underside of the seat.  Ask me how I know this.  I allow the freshly glued up undercarriage to dry for at least 24 hours, so the glue will reach its full strength, before cutting the wedges and trimming the legs flush to the seat.

Wedges in place.
Seat with its undercarriage.
This evening I had a few minutes so I pulled some oak,  that has been soaking for quite a bit, from its watery domain.  When I lifted the lid, well lets say WOW!  Its a good thing this blog isn't equipped with smell.

Wet spindle stock.
I carved out the 4 short spindles into octagons and set them aside to dry.  Rehydrating the oak has made it much easier to carve and to follow the long wood fibers, than it would have been if it were worked in an air-dried state.

Short spindles in their octagon shape.
Next I will finish the long spindles and then it is a matter of letting things dry for a bit before I place them in the kiln (read shop attic) to super dry.  While this was to be a June Chair Build it looks like this is going to be more like a June and July Chair Build for me.

Our host for this event, Brian Eve, has gotten his chair underway and it looks like it is going to be a nice one.  Go check it out here.

~ Ray Schwanenberger

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Oh heck it's only Wednesday

Sack Back Nanny Rocker

Well, it has been one of those weeks where life has gotten a head of steam and is attempting to roll me over.  I am making this post from my wife's laptop because, (long pause for affect) my computer has taken a dump.  The pictures taken for the chair build are presently trapped inside and therefore I am unable to post them.  Computer is in the shop with hopes of being able to be back online in a day or two.  As if that wasn't enough I woke up this morning to an air conditioning system not working.  Well enough whining on my part.

On the lighter side the boot/brace is off the foot and things seem to be working well.  Thanks Doc! This evening I had a visit to the shop from fellow woodworker and friend, the incomparable Donna Hill.  If you are not familiar with Donna she is quite the accomplished woodworker, instructor and speaker.  Donna is very active with The Society of American Period Furniture Makers (SAPFM), is the Project Illustrator for Popular Woodworking Magazine, past speaker at Woodworking In America (WIA) and has taught numerous classes on inlay.  If you see where Donna is teaching a class do yourself a favor and sign up.

Donna stopped by to talk about building her first Windsor Chair.  She is wanting to take on the most difficult chair I have built to date (see photo).  I am honored that she has asked me to guide and instruct her in her endeavor.  I look forward to working with such a talent.

When I have my cyber issues rectified I will be posting on the June Chair Build and when Donna gets ready to go and with her permission I will post on her first Windsor experience.

~ Ray Schwanenberger

Friday, June 12, 2015

Chair Build Days 4 and 5

Much has taken place in the shop since the last post two days ago.  Yesterday, I pulled another piece from the water and was quite pleased to see a 39% MC reading.  This meant it was time to steam and bend.

After soaking for about two and a half days.

First I had to do a little adaptation to my steam delivery system.  Up until yesterday I had used the 12' hose connecting to special fittings on both the steamer and steam box.  The problem is 12' of hose is 9' too much.  In the past I was unable to get my steambox up to 212 degrees, and I believe it was because of a heat loss in the hose.

Wallpaper steamer requires the fitting on the hose.

Hose fitting to connect the hose to the wallpaper steamer.
 After lopping of 9' of hose I was left with 3' of useable hose with a fitting on one end and open hose on the other.  What I discovered was a 3/8" ID hose inside of the black exterior hose.

Black hose acts as an insulator around the white hose that carries the steam.

 Next I removed the brass fitting from the steam box and on the drill press bore a 7/8" hole that provided a tight fit for the black exterior hose.

Brass fitting was required when using the hose as it came from the manufacturer.
While the steamer was bringing the temperature up in the box, I carved a piece into a 7/8" round bow. I marked the center with a line and an arrow so that I would know what side to put up.  It is best to figure this out before you have a very hot piece of wood in your hands that needs bent in 45 seconds. I mark the wood in such a way that the tangential plane is against the form.  The tangential plane is parallel to the bark and the radial plane runs from the pith to the bark.  This would mean the growth rings would be parallel to the bending form.  I am happy to report that my steam box made it to 212 degrees with ease.

The steam box actually held 212 degrees without a problem
The bow was in the box and the timer set for 1 hour.  When working with green wood I will usually steam pieces for 30 minutes.  Since I was working with wood that had been air-dried I rehydrated the pieces and doubled the steaming time, as suggested by Pete in his book Chairmaker's Notebook. While the steaming was taking place I prepared for the bending.  As I said before, once the piece comes out of the box you have a short bit of time to wedge the piece at its center point (arrow up facing the form), bend, pin and wedge the the ends before it cools too much.  When the hour was up I put the bow in the form and bent away.  I was so so happy with the results. It bent like I had just taken the piece out of a freshly cut tree.

The only place where a fiber or two raised , SUCCESS!
I attribute the success of the bend to being able to rehydrate the material and being able to deliver a consistent flow of 212 degree steam through out the steam box while using a defect free piece of oak. I was so psyched with the results I carved two more bows and put them into the steam box for an hour.  Well it would be great if I reported only my successes, but that isn't me.

The other two bows came from pieces whose grain was not as straight as it should be (understatement of the week) and as a result I ended up with a few small delaminations.  I was able to use some polyurethane glue and tape to repair those.  This morning I steamed and bent two arms that I carved and they were out of some wood that I most likely should have cut short of the wonky grain and used for spindles.  However I had to give it a go (I need help). One of the arms suffered major delaminations and required glue, clamps and then tape.  At this point this arm has become an experiment.  The other arm fared a bit better but I will most likely burn it also.  It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, well here you go.

Delamination in the bow caused a kink most likely rendering it unusable.  There is some extra material on the bow, therefore if I am able to fare the curve without loosing to much material it will be used.

This is the repaired delamination that caused the kink.

This arm bent the best but the wonky grained prevented me from being able to keep it flat in the form.  As part of my experimentation I have clamped it to my bench top with holdfasts to see if it will set in a flatter profile.

Moral of the post: If you find yourself wanting to bend pieces like these DON'T!  Seek help!
Five bends with one for sure usable bow and four ahhh maybe's.  I guess we will see how or if I am able to recover.
When the day ends it is time for the clean up crew.  My grandson Zane telling me "I help Pappy".

I have an arm that I had bent earlier so I am good to go there.  I usually bend more than one component just in case, and it appears it was a good thing.  Next I will be carving the spindles and then setting them aside to dry with the bendings from this past session.  Until the next time may you be blessed with straight grain always.

~ Ray Schwanenberger

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Chair Build Day 3

I woke up this morning and my foot was feeling good so, after my morning cup of coffee I headed to the shop.  I opened my Quercus alba rehydration device (white oak soaking in water in a trash can) and pulled a thick piece of spindle stock from the odiferous brackish water.  I checked the moisture level with my meter and I am happy to report it measured 29%.  Since the reading increased by 11% in just one day and I had turnings to do and finish carving the seat, I decided to let the rivings continue to soak.

After one day soaking an increase in MC of 11%

I moved onto finishing the carving of the seat.  The seat on a Sack Back is called and oval seat and the grain runs from side to side.  On a kids chair I carve the bowl to approximately 3/4" deep.  I like to have the area where the legs cross over the front of the seat about 1/2" lower than the spindle deck. This makes for a very comfortable chair that does not cut off the circulation to the legs.

I did not remove the extra wood on the back of the seat so I had plenty of material to clamp in my bench's leg vise in order to work on the front and sides of the seat.  I used my bevel up draw knife to make the relief cut to the front of the seat that gives it its distinctive profile.  I then used a drawknife and spoke shave to fair the curve on the sides of the seat.

Front of the seat.

Next I removed the excess material from the back of the seat blank.  I then took great care in clamping the seat in my vise and finished fairing the curve around the back of the seat.  My leg vise chop and the portion of the bench face covered by the chop are lined with leather.  This is to aid in gripping and helps to keep from damaging the material being held in the vise.  A note of great importance; When clamping in a bench vise, a seat blank that has been cut to size and carved, ALWAYS clamp on the spindle deck.  NEVER clamp onto ANY PART of the carved seat.  Don't ask me how I know this will save you grab mental anguish.

Next I removed the material where the legs cross over the front of the seat.  To do this I used the drawknife, scorp, travisher and spokeshave, taking light and deliberate cuts.  It was ultra critical to pay close attention to the grain.  With so many undulations in this area it was very important to ensure I was cutting downhill with a skewed blade.  A slip or misguided cut at this stage could result in a tear out that may not be able to be repaired.

I then finished up with several shaped scrapers and sand paper.  On some of my first seats I didn't use sandpaper.  Curtis Buchanan explained that the seat was the largest surface on the chair and naturally draws ones eye to it.  For this reason, Curtis scrapes and sands to ensure the finish is at a very high level.  At this point I close my eyes and run my fingers over the seat surface.  I have learned that my eyes do not see the surface as well as my fingers can feel it.  The slightest bump or dip is easier to find and fix.

Circled areas are slightly higher than the surrounding surface.  I could not see them but I could feel them. 

After sanding the seat bowl down to 120 grit I planed the spindle deck with my No. 4 hand plane, re-carved the gutter and set the seat aside.  Next I turned the four legs, two side stretchers and the medial stretcher.  I am using bamboo turnings for this chair.  The double bobbin turning is sometimes misidentified as the bamboo turning.

Finished Seat

Bamboo leg turnings

Four different type turnings from left to right:
Baluster; Blunt Arrow or Ball & Cylinder; Bamboo; Double Bobbin w/A Bead

Tomorrow I will check on the soaking oak and begin to put the undercarriage together and attach it to the seat.

~ Ray Schwanenberger

Monday, June 8, 2015

Chair Build Day 2

The big white oak, as you can see it has begun to split by itself.
Above is the oak log that has been residing by my garage for what I have determined is almost two years.  I recruited my future son-in-law to split the white oak into a few manageable pieces for me. When I went out to make it accessible, and take the picture, I was happy to uncover previously split and rived pieces.  You can see them between the log and the wall.

Previously split and rived pieces I uncovered.
While I was unsure what the moisture content of the log would be I was certain that the previously split pieces would be too dry to work with.  I used my froe and rived the largest piece in two and then took a moisture reading from the freshly opened face. As I had suspected the wood was fairly dry, the meter read 18%.

Shavehorse doing double duty as a saw bench.
I cut the pieces for the arm/bow and spindles to their rough length and then using my froe and riving brake rived the pieces to rough size.  Click here to see a video of Curtis Buchanan demonstrating how a froe and riving brake are used.

Enough roughed out parts for uppers of three kids Sack Back Windsors plus some spare spindles.  The pile on the far left is the only waste from the riving process.  

Two arm/bow pieces with a bit of curve in the grain.
Two of the arm/bow rivings had some grain that was a little curvy.  I am not overly concerned with this.  I will carve these pieces following the grain, which will provide me with strong pieces.   Because I will have followed the long wood fibers the piece may not be straight, but it will provide me with the best chance for a successful bend.

Since the moisture reading was 18% I decided I was going to soak these pieces in water for a few days before working with them.  I want to give myself the best chance at making successful bends.  I also want to see, if after rehydrating, the spindle pieces are any easier to carve than they would be at 18% EMC.  After 3-4 days I will remove one of the largest and smallest pieces and take more readings.  If I am able to get a spindle to 25% I will carve it and see how the piece responds.  I am hopeful to get the arm/bow pieces to at least 50%.  I don't know this is all an experiment on my part. I will be posting my not so scientific findings when I find them.

Pieces ready to be rehydrated in a freshly cleaned trash container.

I followed Pete Galbert's advice and sealed the ends of every piece with Anchor Seal.  After allowing them to dry for a few hours I placed all of the pieces into the trash container and filled it with water. As luck would have it I discovered a few holes in my rehydration device.  I have since sealed them with silicone and am waiting on it to dry while I make this post.

One problem, which I'm sure you have already figured out, is wood is buoyant and will not stay submerged unless it is weighted down.  I did think of this however, I figured I would "stir" the pieces every day, hopefully entrapping the floaters under the already submerged pieces, causing them to become floaters.  I did put a clamp on the hinged lid so as to keep a family member from blindly tossing a bag of garbage into my floating punji sticks resulting in something very nasty.

~ Ray Schwanenberger

Friday, June 5, 2015

Chair Build Day 1

Well as you might imagine getting around in the shop with a large medical boot brace on ones foot is cumbersome.  However, I must press on.  Usually I would split, rive and shave my arm and bow parts first. Followed by a good steaming then bending them in their appropriate forms and setting them aside to dry.  Then I would move onto the other greenwood work, the spindles.  But as I said in a previous post I am going to be doing things a bit out of order, due to my aforementioned state of gimpiness.  I am attempting to recruit a strong young person to split that big ole oak log for me.  So far no luck.

So I started on the seat blank.  I laid it out, drilled my center spindle hole and the four leg holes.  I then began to carve the bowl of the seat.  I am happy to report that the Sugar Pine carves very nicely. Like its cousin Eastern White Pine it requires sharp tools.  I started with my adze made by Tim Manney.  It works so nicely and made very short work of removing the bulk of the seat bowl.  I am a novice with this type of adze and am still learning the nuances of the tool.  Next I moved onto the scorp/inshave. Taking a skewed cut working downhill while paying close attention to the grain is paramount.  The wood will let you know how it wants to be carved.  It is very important to heed its warnings so as to avoid tearing out a deep hole that will be difficult to remove.  The last step was to move to my travisher made by Claire Minihan.  The travisher is a bit of a peculiar tool to learn to use, for me at least it felt a bit counter intuitive.  Again I used a skewed cut working downhill paying attention to what the wood would allow me to do.  Using my bandsaw I cut out the front of the seat in preparation to carve it.

Tools Left to Right: Adze, Travisher, Scorp/Inshave

Next I drilled the arm post holes.  To do this I used a square, bevel square and mirror to obtain my 17 degree angle along the sight line.  The mirror allows me to compare my drill bit to the bevel square with a glance rather than having to move my head around causing me to loose alignment with the sight line. I use a square lined up perpendicular to the sightline to help me stay aligned as close as possible to the sightline.

After drilling both arm post holes I turned the bamboo style arm posts on the lathe.  I do this before reaming because I want to assign and fit an arm post to a particular mortise during the reaming process.  The arm post will be marked for its particular mortise and that is where it will reside for the remainder of its days.

Bamboo Style Arm Post
Next I ream the arm post holes and make them into tapered mortises.  As when drilling, I use a square, bevel square and mirror when reaming.  My reamer has a 6 degree included angle, therefore I set the angle to 14 degrees, three degrees less than the 17 degrees used to drill the holes.  I align the blade of the square with the sightline and compare the top tip of the reamer with the blade of the square.  If it lines up with the edge of the blade, I'm spot on.  If the tip is left I must take more off the right side of the mortise and vise versa if the tip is right.

Reamer is in line with the sightline
Next I brought the bevel square up to the reamer and observed the gap between the blade of the bevel square and the tapered surface of the reamer.  If the gap is the same up and down the reamer, I'm spot on.  If the gap is larger at the top I need to take more off the mortise toward the square and vise versa if the gap is larger at the bottom.

Reamer is at the correct angle

So after reaming both mortises to the indicated correct angles one might think that it is a completed task.  Oh contraire!  What I have neglected to explain is that I actually don't ream the mortises to their final depth until after I check to see that both arm posts are in the same plane.  I feel this is one of the most critical stages of building an armchair.  If the arm posts are not in the same plane it will make it hard to get the arm to sit correctly at a later stage in the process.

Winding Sticks to check the plane of the arm posts

Even though everything appeared to be correct, a pair of winding sticks would let me know just how close or far off  I was.  At first check I was off a wee bit and it was close enough that a very minor adjustment, a half turn of the reamer to the left arm post mortise, was all it took to be nuts on.

The gap at the left is ever so slightly larger than at the right.  When the gap is even everything is copasetic.
Well that was all my foot could handle for the day.  Next I will be turning the legs and stretchers for the undercarriage.  All the while I will be attempting to recruit some help with getting that oak split.  

~ Ray Schwanenberger

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Pirated Plans

I have just been made aware that Curtis Buchanan's plans for his Comb Back Windsor Chair have been pirated and put up for sale on a scam website.  The scammer/thief who's name is Ted "Woody" McGrath has taken it upon himself to copy and sell Curtis's plans without his permission.  When I went to the scam site it is clear that these are in fact Curtis's plans.  Curtis's name and the copyright are clearly visible.  You can call it scamming or piracy, but let us call it what it is; STEALING!  I HATE A THIEF!  Apparently ole Woody has been called out before.

Curtis has taken the time and put forth the effort and money, along with the help of others, to share his years of knowledge.  He has done this with an absolutely wonderful series of free instructional videos on his web site and YouTube.  On his site Curtis has an online store where he offers his plans and a video series on DVD.

Curtis is one of the most genuinely giving people I have ever met and had the pleasure to call my friend.  I believe in and practice supporting people that are willing to freely give of themselves while trying to carve out a living in the world of woodworking.  You may say, "Why would you pay for something if it is free online?"  In no way can you have the experience that an in shop class with Curtis provides with an online video.  For example, some of the conversations we had during our time together in his shop gave me insight into different ways to go about my chair building.  There is no way to put a price on that and that is something I would never get from a video.  

I will continue to support Curtis by buying his plans as they become available.  Could I make a chair without them, yes!  But to me that is not the point.  If you feel as I do, I urge you to put the word out about this thief.  If you ever considered taking a class to learn to build a Windsor Chair, do yourself a favor and contact Curtis.  I guarantee he will not disappoint.

~ Ray Schwanenberger

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

June Chair Build

It is June 2nd and time to participate in the June Chair Build that has been promoted by Brian Eve. In case you are not familiar with our host allow me to give you a glimpse.  Brian is a woodworker who is living in Munich Germany and the author of the blog Toolerable.  Brian arrived in Germany in the 1990's while he was in the US Army.  Brian spent eight years in Bamberg Germany and a year deployed in Iraq.  After Brian's discharge from the Army he moved with his wife to Munich, where he is employed as an Army civilian.

Brian started woodworking at the Army woodshop building furniture for his barracks room.  Things like bookshelves, coffee table and blanket chest.   When he arrived in Munich, space was at a premium and it appeared there was no room for a woodshop.  Or was there?  Brian figured if he used only hand tools  he would be able to carve out 100 square feet of space in the basement storage area and have his shop.  Check out this short video of his tiny workspace here.  When Brian has to use machinery he uses the machines at the Dictum GmbH shop or the Army woodshop in Garmisch.

Brian says he especially likes building tools for the challenge and in the end you have a useful tool. Brian also likes blogging because it helps him to think through a project when he can't be in his shop. He also likes the camaraderie of the internet woodworking universe.  Thank you Brian for sharing your story with us.

I will be making a series of post on the chair that I am building and the experiences along the way.  I will be building, of course, a Windsor Chair.  This will be a child's Sack Back Windsor.  A while back a friend was soliciting donations to raise money for a mission trip to Africa.  I donated a certificate for a child's Sack Back, this is the chair that I will be building.

My lovely chair model Chloe

Unlike the chair in the photo above, I will be turning bamboo turnings for the undercarriage and the arm posts. These will be turned in maple.  The spindles, arm and bow will be made from white oak, and the seat will be carved out of sugar pine.

The maple rounds have been drying for a year or two and should be quite stable.  The sugar pine I purchased when Midwest Woodworking in Cincinnati Ohio went out of business.  I was told it had been drying for over 30 years, so it should be quite stable as well.  The white oak is in the form of a large log that has been drying next to my house for a bit over a year.  This gives me reason to pause. While I have used one section of the log to date the other unsplit section has been sitting longer than I would have liked.

Midwest Woodworking stacked wood
After splitting the log open I will take a moisture reading and see where I stand.  If the reading is below 25% I will be afforded the "opportunity" to experiment with soaking the rivings prior to shaping and bending the arm and bow.  Pete Galbert addresses working with air-dried wood in his book Chairmaker's Notebook on pages 146-147. If the moisture content is 25% or above I will make the parts without soaking them.

The only other thing/obstacle to slow me down is me.  I had to have a procedure preformed on my Achilles Tendon yesterday morning and I am to take it easy for the next couple of weeks.  While carving at the shavehorse fits the bill I'm not sure about splitting that big oak up.  In light of this situation I will be doing things a bit out of order from my normal process.

For all that are joining in on the chair build good luck and straight grain to you all.

~ Ray Schwanenberger