Chairmaker’s Notebook: The Best Chairmaking Book on Earth

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A few weeks ago I stopped by the home office of Popular Woodworking to go to their Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event. It’s always fun to take a break out of my day to play around with their tools. While I was there, I tried their No 5 1/2 jack plane that cut such nice shavings it almost got me thinking of quitting restoring my old Stanley planes.

Along with Lie-Nielsen, Lost Art Press was there selling their books and apparel. I took a peek inside one of their newest offerings, “Chairmaker’s Notebook”, to see if it was something I wanted to open my wallet for. I love books about making chairs. I’ve read over a half-dozen of them over the years including John Alexander’s “Make a Chair from a Tree: An Introduction to Working Green Wood” as well as Drew Langsner’s “The Chairmaker’s Workshop”. In fact, if I was ever a professional woodworker, I’d probably be a chair maker. So, I decided to bite the bullet and purchase the book. Needless to say, I’m glad I did.

I read a few chapters a night as I wanted all the information to absorb. What I love about this book is that it takes you through all the aspects of building a chair. From buying a log at a sawmill, to setting up a chairmaker’s workshop, to modifying and sharpening your tools, to assembly and finish. Peter even gives you a scaled model of a “sightline ruler” so you can photocopy it and make one yourself. It’s by far the most complete woodworking book I’ve ever read. Absolutely nothing was missed when writing this book.

As an example of how well this book is written, in the beginning, Peter talks about buying a log from a sawmill and what to look for when picking a log. He tells you not to buy the veneer logs as they tend to be too expensive and go for a premium. He says you should ask for “veneer rejects” because those logs will work just fine for building chairs and will be a whole lot cheaper. He then goes on to recommend that you bring a chain with you to wrap around your log so that the guy on the forklift can gently lower it down on your trailer instead of slamming it down breaking your trailer in half. It’s first hand stories like this that really sets this book apart from other books I have read.

A few years ago I made a few Windsor chairs of my own, but I used kiln dried lumber because I had no idea how to go buy a log. Regretfully, had I owned this book at the time, I would have made my chairs a whole lot better.

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Along with the excellent information in the book, Peter is also one hell of an artist as he drew all the pictures in the book. In fact, the pictures are so well drawn, that you know exactly what he is describing in his illustrations.

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If you have ever been intrigued with building a chair, then I highly recommend that you add this book to your library. You can buy it from The Lost Art Press.

Updating a Hallway

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The past few days, Anita and I have been working on finishing up the dining room and hallway. After I struggled to throw up the crown molding, attaching chair rail felt like childs play. The trickiest part was coping both ends at the end of the hallway.

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After the chair rail was nailed up, I attached the rectangular boxes I made with my molding planes. Then Anita caulked and painted everything white on the bottom, and a light grey on top. She bought a custom rug from Pottery Barn that fits the hallway nicely. Now she plans on hanging some pictures on the wall and get a new light fixture to spruce things up. This was a cheap and easy way to make a hallway look more elegant.

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Here is a close up of the faux wainscoting boxes I made. They add quite a bit of detail to the walls.

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Installing Crown Molding

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Last weekend I proceeded to work on the dining room by installing crown molding around the ceiling. I already built and installed bookcases that went on either side of the sliding glass doors a couple of weeks ago. Now I needed to complete the look by installing crown molding at the top.

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Before I began, I watched a YouTube video with Tom Silva of This Old House to give me the idea of how to cut the molding. The trick was flipping the board over and cut the trim upside down. Clamping a board on the saw table helped kept the trim at the proper angle.

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The molding around the bookcases wasn’t too bad as the sides were 90 degrees to each other. However, when I ran a piece down the one side of the dining room to the hallway, is when I got tripped up. I may be able to hand cut dovetails, but a trim carpenter I am not. I have no idea how they cope one end of the crown to fit perfectly, then make a perfect cut nine feet away to make a tight corner to a wall that is out of square. I gave it my best attempt and attached the crown to the wall. I then tried to figure out the other angle the other piece of trim would need to be to make the corner look nice. However, every cut I made was way off. I tried about a dozen times to make it work with no luck. I became so frustrated, that I decided to quit Saturday afternoon and reconsider continuing with the room or just take everything down except the crown around the bookcases.

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I woke up Sunday morning and decided to give it another shot. I messed around with the other side of the crown molding for a couple of hours until I was satisfied with how it looked. Below is a picture of the finished corner. I had to shave a lot of the molding away with rasps so each piece would match. I probably should have sanded the pieces better, but I was so frustrated with it I said “screw it”!

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Fitting the crown for inside corners was a bit tricky as well. Even after I coped the ends, I had to file the back of the molding so that it would fit in place. However, after practicing coping a few times, I got better at it.

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This was the final piece I cut to finish the job. It was a bit tricky as I had to cut the trim at the correct length as well as perfectly cope each end so everything fitted nicely.

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After everything was done, Anita started to apply the first coat of paint. Next I’ll be working on the chair rail and the faux wainscoting molding squares I made a couple of weeks ago. I’ll throw up a few pictures of the finished dining room and hallway when I’m done.

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Video of Making Trim

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A few weeks ago I wrote about how I was able to recreate trim that my wife wanted to put on our walls. I had some time this weekend to make all 36 pieces of trim each about 24″ long. It was fun making the trim, but after number twenty, it started to get old. Thankfully, it only took me a few minutes to cut the profile in the wood once I milled the rabbets into each side of the wood.

I decided to do a short video showing the process better than just showing it in pictures. Enjoy!

Folding Screens from 2x Material

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On my last post, I tried to weather some southern yellow pine to make it look old. Well, this screen was the reason for my attempt. I made a couple of these screens for my wife as a backdrop for when she does shows. Building them was super simple. I took a 2 x 8 and ripped it to 3″ wide and ran a 3/4″ wide, 1/2″ deep rabbet down one side.

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I then pinned and glued fence boards and wood from an old pallet to the rabbets with some 18 gauge pneumatic nails to create the slats. The assembly is so simple that the majority of my time was milling the wood to the proper thickness.

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When making the second screen I decided to change the process just a little.

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Instead of planing the 2 x material from 1 1/2″ down to 1″, I decided to re-saw the material to 1 1/8″ on my band saw instead. This saved a lot of time and a whole bunch of planer shavings. You can see the off-cuts that I had from building the second screen on top of my table saw. I’m sure my planer knives thank me for not having to plane off all this crap.

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Unfortunately, a big obstacle when using 2 x material is sometimes after I rip the boards in half, they spring back due to their high moisture content. I try to buy straight grain boards with no pith in the middle, but sometimes that’s not good enough. You can see in the picture some of the boards that released their tension once I ripped them in half. I had more than a full 2 x 8 board of waste making these panels.

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The day of the show, the screens did their trick. You can see one of them in the background, however, I think they would have looked better being toned down with a weathered stain. Maybe next time.

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Weathering Pine, 2nd Attempt

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Several months ago I wrote a blog about weathering pine with little success. Well, I decided to give it another try. My wife had heard of using a mixture of apple cider vinegar and steel wool to coat the wood to give it a grey finish. We heard of using regular vinegar and steel wool, but apparently, the tannins of the apple cider penetrates the fibers of the wood to give it a richer older look.

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I gave the mixture a shot on a piece of southern yellow pine and poplar to see how it would turn out. At first, the wood hardly changed at all.

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However, after twenty-four hours, you can see how the mixture turned the wood dark on both the poplar and southern yellow pine. However, even though the wood did react, my wife was looking for something that looked more grey and less muddy brown.

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I tried applying some ebony paste wax to the wood, but that didn’t turn out well at all. It just made the wood look more muddy.

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I then decided to do something a little different and burn the wood with a propane torch.

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After the wood was burnt, I used a piece of steel wool to remove the charcoal from the surface. This left the board with a texture where the early wood and late wood were at different levels.

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I was impressed by the way the wood looked and felt that I applied clear and ebony paste wax on the sample to see how each half turned out.

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I was so intrigued by this method that I flipped over the board and tried this technique on the whole board and applied the clear and ebony paste wax on each half.

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Even though I didn’t create the look my wife was looking for, I really like how the wood looks after trying this technique, especially with the clear wax top coat. I’ll have to try it out on a completed project sometime. Now only if I could figure out how to make new pine look old without leaving it outside for six months.

Making Faux Wainscoting Trim Molding

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My wife, Anita, is planning on sprucing up our hallway by installing faux wainscoting on the walls. It’s a simple approach by installing chair rail and trim in a rectangular fashion down the wall.

We went to Lowe’s and Home Depot to find the type of trim to use for the rectangles. Unfortunately, there was nothing available in the trim section of each store. Then, we saw the special order trim display at Lowe’s of exactly what we were looking for. The only problem was that Lowe’s sells these pieces in pre-made rectangles which wouldn’t work for our hallway. I told Anita that I could probably make the trim with my molding planes, so I snapped a picture of it and went to work.

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I milled a piece of poplar 1/2″ thick x 1 1/8″ wide and drew the lines of the molding on the wood.

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I then planed a 3/8″ rabbet a 1/4″ deep on each side of the stock with a couple of rabbet planes.

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I then beveled the edges about 1/8″ with my block plane.

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After the bevels were created, I used a small palm gouge to chisel a shallow channel down both sides of the molding.

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This channel allowed my No 2 round molding plane a place to ride to create the cove on the sides.

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I then used a couple of hollow planes to create the bead on top of the molding. After the bead was created, I sanded the piece clean to remove any tool marks.

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The final step was to miter the piece to see how it looked. I used my small miter box and miter trimmer to create perfect 45 degree angles.

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I have to say, it’s pretty damn close to the display piece at Lowe’s. Now I’ll have to figure how many linear feet Anita will need to create the rectangular boxes down the hallway. I’m glad I figured out how to create the molding as it’s a bunch of fun to make.

The international launch of the Skottbenk

MVFlaim Furnituremaker:

This is a fantastic Norwegian bench for truing long boards. I could use one of these when squaring 2 x 10’s. Quite impressive!

Originally posted on Norsk Skottbenk Union:

This is a typical situation with a "skottbenk" used with at "skottokse" (the handplane) for shooting the edgde of a long board. Photo: Roald Renmælmo This is a typical situation with a “skottbenk” used with at “skottokse” (the handplane) for shooting the edgde of a long board. Photo: Roald Renmælmo

When I started this blog I wanted to get some focus on a type of workbench that where almost forgotten in Norway. I wanted to engage other craftsmen in Norway to search for old workbenches and to make their own and start to use them. I did not believe that this would gain interest among woodworkers in other parts of the world. About a year ago Dennis Laney wrote a post about the skottbenk on his blog: If you don’t know your hyvelbenk from a skottbenk – you should. It is not easy to explain the use of the bench and to translate Norwegian terms to English. Dennis wrote a new entry on his blog to explain how this skottbenk works: Skottbenk equals sticking board…

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