You are on page 1of 141


Can. 27.95

rom a beautiful Shaker se ttee

F with a woven tap e sea t to a

Windsor stool in sassafra s and
walnut, from a cherry wood rock er to a
white ash porch swing, h ere is a variety
of gor geou s chairs to please the eye and
comfort the body . Best of all-you can
make them yourself!
The Art of Chair-Making will help
you single-handedly revive an art per-
fected by craftspeople of th e past.
These projects give you quality pieces
designed to provide a lifetime of enjoy-
m e nt , and prese nt a wide range of
chairs from different historical periods.
Try Windsor-style pieces, su ch a s a
three-legged stool with a sculpted seat ,
fashioned out of cherry and ash, or one
with a painted se at mad e from white
oak. Or create one of several contem-
porary post-and-rung chairs, including
a bubble-slat settee, a bubble-slat rock-
er, and a double rocker.
The Shakers had an un equalled r ep-
utation for furniture-making , with love-
ly but simple de signs, like the cherry
stool with multicolored tape, four front
posts, and six front and side rungs. The
ingenious structure of the two-slat side
chair allows it to fit n ea tly and co m-
pletely underneath the dinner table to
facilitate cl e anin g . A c h e rr y c hair ,
based on ones built in the Enfield com-
munity in the mid-ninet eenth century ,
seems complex but actually is quite sim-
ple to make. You can also cr eate classic
Shaker-inspired ro ck ers, including a
Mt. Lebanon slat-back chair in walnut
with a cushion rail , and another with a

(continued on back flap)



Kerry Pierce

Sterling Publish ing Co., Inc.

New York
Chapter Ten has previously appeared in a different form in "Woodwork"
magazine. A variation of Chapter Seven appeared in "Woodshop News."

Library of Con gress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Pierce, Kerry.
The art of chair-making/ Kerry Pierce.
p . em .
Includes index
ISBN 0-8069-9466-5
1. Chairs- United States 2. Furniture making-
Un ited States I. Title.
TT197.5.C45P54 1997
684.1 '3 - dc21 97-22144

Illustrations by Kevin Pierce

Book Design by Judy Morgan
Editing and Layout by R. Neumann

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

Published by Sterling Publishing Company, Inc.

387 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10016
© 1997 by Kerry Pierce
Distributed in Canada by Sterling Publishing
c;o Canadian Manda Group, One Atlantic Avenue, Suite 105
Toronto, Ontario, Canada M6K 3E7
Distributed in Great Britain and Europe by Cassell PLC
Wellington House, 125 Strand, London WC2R OBB, England
Distributed in Australia by Capricorn Link (Australia) Pty Ltd.
P.O. Box 6651, Baulkham Hills, Business Centre, NSW 2153, Australia
Printed in Hong Kong
All rights reserved

Sterling ISBN 0-8069-9466-5

• ...,• ...,• ...,• ...,• ...,• ...,• ...,• ...,• ...,• ...,• ...,• ...,• ...,• ...,• ...,l!t..'~• ...,• ...,• ...,• ...,• ...,J~;,:~• ...,• ...,• ...,• ...,• ...,

PREFACE 5 #5 Slat-Back Side Chair 98

#5 Tape-Back Side Chair 99
Chapter One #5 Tape-Back Armchair 100
THE CHAIR 6 #5 Slat-Back Armchair 100
Chapter Two Tape-Back Settee 102
MATERIALS 14 Mt. Lebanon Slat-Back Transitional Rockers
with Cushion Rail 104
Chapter Three
with Bulbous Pommels 106
HAND TOOLS 24 with Sculpted Arms and Turned Vases 106
Chapter Four with Mitten Arms and Turned Vases 106
POWER TOOLS 34 #7 Slat-Back Rocker 108
#7 Tape-Back Rockers with Slat
Chapter Five
with Cushion Rail 110
without Cushion Rail 110
Chapter Six Pilgrim Chairs 112
MORTISING 48 Carver Armchair 112
Chapter Seven Brewster Armchair 114
STEAM-BENDING 62 Contemporary Post-and-Rung Chairs 116
Bubble-Slat Rocker & Settee 117
Chapter Eight Black Shoes with Tape/ Splint Back 120
WEAVING SEATS 66 Double Rocker 124
Chapter N ine Swings 126
THE PROJECTS 74 One-Board Swing 127
Porch Swing 128
Windsor-Style Pieces 76
Rustic Stool 76 Chapter Ten
Three-Legged Stool 78 RUNNING A SMALL SHOP 130
Stool with Sculpted Seat 78
Windsor Stool with Painted Seat 80 GALLERY OF CHAIRS 136
Zoar-Style Chair 82 Cu rtis Buchanan 136
Benches 86 Joe Graham 137
Fo ur-Board Bench 7 Owen Rein 138
Fo ur-Board Bench David Wright 139
with Wedged Stretcher Tenons 90 Brian Boggs 140
Shaker-Style Chairs 92 William Locke 142
Stool with Multicolored Tape 93
Two-Slat Side Chair 94 DEX 143
Enfi eld-Style Side Chair 96 METRIC CONVERSION 144
l 'd like to thank the usual suspects:
Elaine, a first-rate wife and morn, who somehow manages to keep our
horne functioning smoothly.
Ern, a first-rate daughter and my softball hero.
Andy, who is not only a first-rate son, but who is also- as can be seen in
the photo of the one-board swing- a first-rate model.
My brothel~ Kevin, who labored long and hard to prepare the measured
All those chair-makers who were kind enough to share photos of their
work for the gallery section: Curtis Buchanan, Owen Rein, David Wright,
William Locke, and Brian Boggs. All are gifted craftsmen.
joe Graham, who not only shared photos of his chairs, but who also read
over some of the technical matter.
And Verne, too.

T he pelfect American chair-making book would be written by committee.

On that committee there would be a chair-maker who specialized in accu-
rate reproductions of eighteenth-century Windsors, as well as a chair-maker
who specialized in contemporary Windsors. There would be a chair-maker
who built country post-and-rung chairs, another who built Shaker-style and
Shaker-inspired post-and-rung chairs. The committee would also have on it
individuals who made reproductions of eighteenth-century high-style chairs
(Queen Anne, Chippendale, Sheraton, Hepplewhite). Also on that commit-
tee would be individuals who made chairs with caned seats, individuals who
made wicker chairs, individuals who made chairs with PVC frames, indi-
viduals who made chairs framed with lengths of willow ... and many other
individuals who make types of chairs I don 't know enough about to even
This isn 't that book. It is, instead, a book that looks at the various kinds
of chairs, benches, and stools I build in my chair-making shop, many of
which are based on Shaker originals.

. Kerry Pierce

Chapter O ne ometimes we just need to sit. We can stand all
S day at our jobs. We can lie in our beds at night,

THE CHAIR but sometimes what we need is a transitional state,

something more restful than standing but less
acquiescent than reclining.
Chairs, benches, and stools were created to meet
this need. They provide us with support so that we
can take the weight of our bodies from our legs; but
unlike beds-the only other furniture form intend-
ed to take that weight- chairs don't automatically
encourage sleep. Instead, they make it possible for
us to relax as we eat, talk, read, watch television, lis-
ten to music, or simply contemplate the course of
our lives.


The first chairs were, no doubt, whatever rocks or
logs that happened to be close at hand-to the fire,
to the fresh-killed beast, to the community of
peers. Then, at some point, in the very distant past,
we began to transform the raw materials supplied
by nature into seating furniture that more closely
met the needs of our bodies.
How far in the past? That's impossible to say.
What we do know is that 3500. years ago, in Egypt,
chair-making existed as a very sophisticated dis-
cipline. Included in the treasures of King Tu-
tankhamen's tomb, for example, was a gilded,
wooden throne th at is- except for the quality of its
workmanship and the rarity of its materials-very
much like the chairs in which we sit today, with
four legs joined by rungs, a back, a seat, and two
Later, in the decorative arts of ancient Greece,
there are many images of klismos chairs, especially
preserved on pottery. These graceful chairs are char-
acterized by plain saber legs and a simple back sup -
po rt, a form th at h as been echoed by many design-
ers in more recent centuries.

Because of their rarity in all but recent hist01y, And the symbolism of the chair isn't confined to
chairs have not only provided comfort and sup- the designation of rank. Chairs are also used to
port, they have also reflected the relative impor- mark the various stages of our lives. As toddlers, we
tance of individuals within groups. In medieval sit in high chairs . As adults, we use conventional
Europe, commoners seated themselves on rough , chairs, and when we are aged or infirm we rest in
wooden benches. Those one step up the status lad- rocking chairs or wheelchairs. Too, various types
der might also rest on of chairs have helped to
benches, but these might define political goals. The
be joiners' benches fas- Windsor, for example, al-
tened together with the though created first in Eng-
same techniques used for land , was quickly trans-
casework, then decorated ported to America, where,
with a bit of carving or beginning in Philadelphia
turning. The lord of the and then later in other loca-
house might sit in an actual tions, it was produced by
chair with a stiff wooden the thousands, becoming
back. Too , in the royal the "Model T" of seating
courts of the period, dis- furniture-a chair that was
tinctions were sometimes perfectly expressive of the
drawn between those who emergmg American de-
sat in simple side chairs mocracy.
and those who sat in chairs More than any other
with arms. And, of course, form of furniture, chairs
the finest chairs, those en- have entered our con-
crusted with the fussiest sciousness, not only serv-
ornamentation, were re- . ing to provide us with com-
served for royalty. fortable repose but also
Even today, in an era of becoming metaphors for
plentiful chairs, seating fur- A functional chair can be made of the roughest who we are as societies, as
niture remains symbolic of materials. This contemporary willow chair pro- well as who we are as indi-
social stratification . A com- vides very comfortable seating. viduals.
mittee head is referred to as
a chairman, or in our gen-
der-sensitive times simply as the "chair. " In colleges THE EVOLUTION OF FORMS
and universities, the ranking member of each of the Chair-making hasn't followed a single course from
academic departments is also referred to as the its beginnings in prehistory to the present. It has,
department chair. At the supper table, those indi- instead , journeyed along a number of different
viduals of the highest rank-mothers, fathers, routes, each plotted to arrive at the same destina-
guests-occupy the chairs with arms, while chil- tion: a skillful blending of comfort, beauty, and
dren occupy side chairs. durability.

It is likely that benches and stools appeared first. their cushioned seats, these are grand chairs, which
Then as new concepts-a chair with back, a chair would have conferred enormous status upon their
with back and arms, a chair with woven or shaped occupants. The second type is the post-and-rung
seat-emerged, the earlier, simpler forms contin- chair. The Brewster chair, the Carver chair, and the
ued to be produced, even as the new concepts took slat-back chair are variations of this type. The post-
hold and evolved . and-rung chair consists of
Some typ es -fully up- four turned or shaved posts
holstered chairs, frame and into which a number of
slip-seat chairs, elaborately turned or shaved rungs are
carved or turned post-and- mortised . Four of these
rung chairs-became the rungs constitute the seat
chairs of the rich and frame, and over these four
mighty because of the art- rungs a seating material is
istry required in their pro- woven . This seating mate
duction. Other forms- rial can be rush (cattail
such as the bench, the leaves), splint (pounded
stool, the shaved post-and- and separated layers from
rung chair-became asso- wet ash or oak logs) , or
ciated with the common hickory bark. A back usual-
man because they could be ly extends above the seat.
produced much more This consists of either a
cheaply and, perhaps, also rack of turned spindles set
because they provided less into the elongated back
comfortable seating. posts or horizontal slats
Chair-making m the mortised into them.
United States has evo lved Later, the horizontal slats
from the models brought This nineteenth-century rocker exhibits several on the slat-back were
here by the Europeans who characteristics typical of hand-built country replaced with the vertical
chairs. The seat is woven splint, the anus are
first settled in America. In slats of the banister-back
simple cylinders, and the front posts taper from
his book The Fine Points of just above the seat to the underside of the
Pilgrim chair. Many of
Furniture ( 1950) , Alb ert arms. these banister-back chairs,
Sack describes two types of although seated with sim-
American-made chairs dat- ple rush and likely assem-
ing from the second half of the seventeenth centu- bled with the green-wood joinery associated with
ry, both of which are patterned after European country chairs, are quite grand. The turned vases,
models. One type-Sack pictures examp le.S made coves, and beads are artfully conceived and skillful-
by Thomas Dennis of Ipswich , Massachusetts-is ly executed, and the top slat is often deeply carved.
the wainscot chair made of milled lumber and dec- In th e first quarter of the eighteenth century, a
orated with elaborate carving. Although perhaps different type of chair made its appearance in
not comfortable by today's standards, in spite of American homes . Instead of a woven seat or a solid

\ ood seat o n w hich a se pa ra te cushi o n mi ght be
set, th ese ch a irs co nsist of a fram e assembl ed with
sq uare m o rtise-and-te non jo inery into whi ch a
slip-sea t is let. The slip-sea t is simply a t hin b oa rd
o nto w hi ch a cushi o ning m a te ri a l (o fte n h o rse
ha ir) is pl aced . Th e cushi o nin g is th e n held in pos i-
tion und er a laye r of u p h o lsteiy m a teri al (often
leath er) th a t is la pped ove r th e ed ges o f th e b oa rd
a nd h eld in pl ace w ith tacks. Thi s cushi o ned sli p-
seat is th e n h eld in pl ace w ithin th e ch a ir fra m e
th ro ugh th e use of seve ral woo d sc rews th at en ter
th e slip-seat fro m below afte r pass ing th rough th e
ch a ir fram e.
Slip-sea t ch a irs te nded to be m o re expe nsive
th a n th eir pred ecesso rs. In part, thi s was b ecause of
th e squ a re of uph o lste1y m ateri al, but a n eve n la rg-
e r facto r was th e nature o f th e ch a irs into w hi ch
th ese slip-seats were let. Ma ny o f th ese fea tured
The f inial 011 this rocher (chair pictured in pre-
Q u ee n Ann e m o tifs, w ith cab rio le legs a nd spoon
vious photo) suggests that it might have been
o r d ra ke feet (l ater b a ll -a nd-claw fee t) . Th ey ofte n built in one of the wes tern Sha ller co mnllmities.
also we re d eco rated w ith leaf or she ll carvings on
th e kn ees a nd crest ra il s. Th e m a nu fact ure of such
ch a irs using only h a nd processes was both labor- the story does accurate ly p lace th e loca ti o n in
a nd skill-inte nsive. which Windsors fi rst appeared o n th e Engli sh la nd -
scape. Unli ke la ter Am e ri ca n exa mpl es, Engli sh
Windsors ten d to mimi c th e deta il s o f th e heavier
TRANSLATION TO AMERICA jo ine rs' ch a irs th a t preceded th e m . Ofte n standing
Ea rly in th e eightee nth ce ntllly , Geo rge Ill , rul er of on ca bri o le legs a nd ad o rn ed w ith a p ierced and
Engla nd , was fox hunting w h e n a te rribl e sto rm carved ce ntral back Si'>l a t, th ese W indsors ca n be
drove him to see k refu ge in th e h o m e o f a w h ee l- rela ti ve ly gra nd p ieces of seat in g furnitu re.
w ri ght. The re, as h e wa ited fo r th e sto rm to pass, Howeve r, w h e n th e Windsor crossed the Atl a n tic
th e kin g rested o n a ch a ir m ad e o f a pl a nk sea t into a nd beca m e Am erica n ized, it ch a nged in m uch th e
w hi ch fo ur turn ed legs a nd a numb e r of b ack spin- sa m e way as did o th e r tra nsp la n ted furniture fo rms
dl es we re m o rtised . He fo und th e cha ir to be such of th e pe ri o d . O rn a m e nt was stri pped away. The
a n agreeabl e co n cocti o n th at h e o rd ered hi s ca bi- ch a ir's fo rm s beca m e simp ler a nd, as carving was
n etm ake r to build simil a r ch a irs fo r th e roya l res i- rep laced by turned d etai l, less labor-i n te nsive to
d en ce at W indso r. b ui ld.
Thi s story, o r so m e va ri ati o n o f thi s story, is Th is s im p li fication d id n't necessaril y mea n cru-
w idely to ld b o th to acco unt fo r th e Windso r na m e di ty- alth o u gh th ere a re crude exa m p les fro m th e
a nd to establish th e ch ai r's pedi gree. Tru e o r not, period. In th e fi n er chairs, it m ea nt, instead, a spare

f d

The number sta111ped on the back of the top slat (chair pic-
tured in previous photo) identif ies this as a #3 011 a scale
that went frolll #0, the smallest, to #7, the largest.

Shalwr production chairs were built at the ML.

Lebanon, New York, COIIIII!unity. This petite In mu ch th e sa m e way th at th e Sha ke rs invigo-
rocker is typical of the chairs produced there. rated th e post-a nd -run g cha ir durin g th e n ine-
No tice the crisply turned acorn f inials and the
tee nth ce n tu ry, Ame ri ca n Wi ndsor chair-ma kers of
graceful profile of the bach slats.
th e e ightee nth ce ntu ry invigo rated th e W indso r by
m oving away fro m the mo re state ly Engl ish m od-
a nd und e rstated elegan ce. Just as th e Ame ri ca n els, redu cing th e ch a ir to its ~nos t esse nt ia l an d its
ba ro que a nd Am erica n rococo fo rm s of the pe ri o d m ost elegan t shapes .
ex hibited res tra in ed interpreta ti o ns of gra nd e r
Euro pea n mo d els, th e Am e ri ca n Win dsor reduced
th e e mph as is o n surfa ce o rn a me ntati o n, focusing
instead o n th e ch a ir's bas ic fo rm s. In 177 4 a sm all gro u p of rebe lli o us Q ua ke rs set sa il
In th e ha nds of th e m o re gi fted Am e ri ca n crafts- fro m Li ve rpoo l, Engla nd, for Am e ri ca . They we re
m e n, the sea ts beca me mo re sculptu ra l, as m ore led by Moth er Ann Lee, a n u nedu cated millh a nd
mate ri a l was rem oved fro m th e top surface. Th e w ho had received revelations indica ting th at th eir
bo tto m su rface, too, was relieved, ofte n meeting beli efs wo uld fl o uris h in thi s co untry. Fi rst in
th e to p surface in a sha rpl y d efi ned lin e th at swe pt Wate rvli et, nea r Alba ny, ew Yo rk, the n in o th er
dra m ati ca lly aro und th e sea t. The co mb (back) of p laces scatte red across th e eas te rn ha lf of th e
th e cha ir was elo ngated, th e spindl es atte nu ated, United States, they es tabli shed co lo ni es b ased
ta kin g full adva ntage of th e strength im pli ci t in upo n pi ety, co mmun a l livin g, celibacy, a nd ha rd
split a nd sh aved stock. wo rk.

These we re th e Sha kers, a nd fo r mu ch of th e Durin g thi s peri o d, Sh a ke r chairs began to
nin etee nth ce ntu1y , th ro ugh a co m b in a ti o n o f a rt- ass um e th e ir signature fea tures. Pos ts we re elonga t-
ful design , skillful executi o n, a nd aggress ive ma r- ed . Fi ni als we re refin ed . Rungs becam e m o re de li -
keting, th ey do min ated Ame ri ca n cha ir-m a kin g cate, tape ring fro m the middl e to a thin sho uld er at
like no gro up befo re o r sin ce. Their bra nd of cha ir- eithe r pos t. Slat a nd a rm shapes were give n m o re
m a king didn 't sp ring full y fo rm ed fro m th e rocky graceful cu rves.
New Engla nd so il. It was, instead, a pa rt of th e The fi na l ph ase o f Shaker cha ir-making- w hi ch
a lready es tablished post-a nd -rung traditi o n th at lasted until th e cl osing o f th e Mt. Leba no n cha ir
reached back two hundred yea rs to th e Pil grim s. factory in 1935 - was o ne of mass pro ducti o n .
In fact, because th e fi rst Sha kers invo lved in thi s Un de r th e directi on o f Rob e rt M. Waga n
e nterprise we re simply co nve rts wh o brought w ith ( 1833 -1 883 ), th e ch a ir-making operati o n was
th e m th e knowledge a nd too ls required fo r co untry m ech a ni zed a nd strea mlin ed . C hair sizes and
cha ir-m a king, th e ea rli es t of th e Shaker cha irs shapes we re sta nd a rdi zed, a nd m a rketin g beca m e
(1 78 9-1 815 ) were indistin gui sha bl e from th ose m ore aggress ive. In th e po pul a r co nsciousn ess, th e
m ad e by no n-Sh ake rs. However, in th e first q uarte r Sha ke rs beca m e syno ny mo us w ith q ua lity chair-
o f th e nin eteenth ce ntu ry, th e Sha kers of seve ra l m ak ing.
co mmunities bega n producing m o re ch a irs th a n In th e first ha lf o f thi s late r period , th e chairs
th ey need ed fo r th eir ow n use, crea ting a surplus th at we re m ad e refl ected th e p rin cipl es of th e
th at could be offered fo r sa le to th e o utsid e wo rl d. Shaker aesth eti c. They we re, alth o ugh pro du ced in
Jo hn Kassay (in The Boo!< of Shaker Furniture ), gra nd numb e rs, still graceful a nd a ttracti ve.
a m o ng o th e rs, ide ntifi es thi s peri o d, e ndin g in th e However, as me mbe rship in Sha ker co mmuniti es
mid-1 8 60s, as th e tim e in w hi ch th e fin est Sha ke r d eclined a nd mo re o f th e work in the Sha ke r cha ir-
cha irs we re produced . m a king o pera ti o n was d o ne by hired o utside rs, a nd
late r still whe n m a ny parts we re co ntracted to
co mpa ni es co mpl etely o utside th e Sh a ker co m-
munit ies, q uality d eclin ed . Rungs no lo nge r
ta pered towa rd their sho uld e rs, instead beco m -
ing simpl e d owels. Posts, too, lost th eir tap ers,
m ai ntaining single diamete rs fro m floor to
fini a l. Slat, arm, a nd fi ni al sha pes were simpli -
fied to fac ili ta te q ui ck p rodu ction. The subtl e
manipulations of th e elem e nts of th e Shake r
cha ir, w hi ch had give n it its spare and distin c-
tive beauty, all but vanished, resulting in a cha ir
that was, a lthough unmistaka bl y Sha ker, less
satisfying th a n its predecesso rs.
At th e e nd, because o f a decl ining m a le
m e mbership, th e cha ir-m a kin g o peration at
In order to es tablish their authenticity, this deca l was Mt. Lebanon was taken ove r by wom e n, th e last
applied to Shalwr chairs built in the Mt. Lebanon fa ctory. of w ho m , Sister Sa ra h Collins, di ed in 1947.

C h a p ter Two he classic American Windsor was built with an
T intimate knowledge of the properties of the

MATERIALS various woods from which it was constructed. The

seat, which was scooped out to accommodate the
human bottom using only hand tools, was made of
a soft, easily worked species, often white pine or
poplar. Although-because of their poor resistance
to breaking across the grain-these woods are
unsuitable for spindles or turnings, in seat slabs of
2 or 21/4 inches, they perform admirably. The legs,
which were often turned to a very complex profile
of beads and coves, were made of hard maple
because this species combines enormous strength
with the ability to hold crisp detail. Back spindles
were shaved from continuous grain ash, oak, or
hickory because-even in relatively thin diame-
ters-these woods remain strong but flexible.
Post-and-rung chairs of the eighteenth and nine-
teenth centuries were also built with a sensitivity to
the properties of the species available to the chair-
maker. Country chairs with bent back posts and
bent slats were often made of oak or ash or hicko-
ry because after being treated with steam or boiling
water, these species can be readily bent without
breaking. The Shakers worked primarily in hard
maple because this species wa~ strong, bendable,
and widely available.
The high-style frame- and slip-seat chairs of the
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (Queen Anne,
Chippendale, Hepplewhite, Sheraton ) were typical-
ly constructed of stock heavier in cross section than
the stock used in the creation of either Windsors or
post-and-rung ch airs . This meant th at other
species, those not possessing the strength of hard
m aple or wh ite oak or ash, could be used. These
h igh-style ch airs were built from the same materi-
als used in the casework of that period. Mahogany
was th e wood of choice, but if mahogany wasn't
available, cherry and walnut, two beautifully fig-
ured and colored native woods, were used.

The craftsmen of these earlier centuries made tion of the properties of various species. In my
decisions about the suitability of particular species shop at that time, I had only walnut and cherry in
for particular tasks based upon a vast body of expe- sufficient thicknesses to serve as post stock. I chose
rience. Over time, they had learned that a chair post cherry because I preferred its color.
made of poplar would break easily, while one Again, I was fortunate. That rocker is still in use
made of hard maple was all but indestructible. in my daughter's bedroom. However, in the years
They had learned that a Windsor seat made of hard since the construction of that chair I've learned
maple was very difficult to excavate with an adze more about the physical properties of cherry-
and an inshave, but the same seat made of white some from reference works like Hoadley's book
pine could be quickly and efficiently shaped . and some from experience. Although it is a dense
Today, however, in addition to experience, we wood that turns and carves beautifully, cherry isn't
have the advantage of scientific test data. R. Bruce as resistant to breaking across the grain as some
Hoadley's 1980 Understanding Wood (and other other species. I don 't mean it isn't suitable for
books by other writers) is an excellent source of chair-making-I've made almost a hundred chairs
information on the properties of American hard- from this material without a single part failure-
woods. The USDA Forest Products Lab in Madison, but shortly after the construction of that first cher-
Wisconsin, is staffed with knowledgeable and ry rocker, I began to beef up the parts on chairs
cooperative men and women, as is the National made from this material, employing working
Hardwood Lumber Association in Memphis, diameters more suitable to the characteristics of
Tennessee. Contemporary chair-makers, unlike this particular species.
their predecessors, have the advantage of living in Whereas the posts of a Shaker reproduction
an age of easily accessible information on the prop- made of hard maple might be turned to a maxi-
erties of the materials with which they work mum diameter of 13/s" , the posts for the same chair
made of cherry are turned to a maximum diameter
of 17116 " or even 11h ". The difference may seem
THE RIGHT CHOICE slight, but an extra 1f16 " . of diameter adds almost 10
The very first chair I ever built, a tall Windsor stool percent of additional wood to the post, and an
with a sculpted bicycle-style seat, was constructed extra Vs " adds almost 20 percent of additional
of parts taken from a two-inch-thick slab of birch wood. Seat rungs, too, are strengthened. Instead of
I'd had lying around the shop for ten or twelve the 15/ 16 " diameter I often turn with hard maple or
years. I didn't select birch because of its suitability ash, when working with cherry I turn seat rungs to
to the task. I selected it because it was at hand. And a sturdy 1Vs ".
fortunately, although made in ignorance, th e Having said that, I should also mention this: The
choice was a wise one, and I used that stool in my maximum diameter of the posts on the cherry rock-
shop for almost a decade. er in my daughter's room is 1W' , and the seat
My first post-and-rung chair, a reproduction of a rungs, like the lower rungs, have a maximum diam-
Shaker transitional rocker from the Mt. Lebanon eter of 3;4" . Even for a chair built of hard maple or
community, was constructed of cherry. Again, my ash, these diameters would be thin, but my daugh-
choice of material was based upon what was at ter's rocker, built of cherry, has nevertheless sur-
hand, rather than a carefully reasoned considera- vived years of often vigorous rocking.

In large pa11, this survival ca n be attributed to I took the chairs out to the driveway of compact-
the elegance of Shaker d es ign. Unlike many coun- ed stone in front of my shop. Then , grasping each
try mod els of the same period, th e durability of the by its finials, I threw it as far up into the air as I
classic Shaker chairs res ults not so much from th e co uld. Some of the lighter chairs must have reached
cross-sectional strength of a ny individual part; but a h e ight of fifteen or twe nty feet, the heavier mod-
from th e co llective strength of a number of tightly e ls a bit less. Each fell to the driveway landing crazi-
fit spindles running from post to post, creating a ly, sometimes on a leg or a finial, then bouncing
spider's web of taut engineering. up , ca ree ning to one side or the other, coming to
rest on the back or on one of th e sides.
I th en gave each a ca reful inspection . Although
they were all badly dented, non e had broken apart.
The only significant damage was a cracked slat on
one of the cherry models.
For my second test, I again grasped each chair by
its finials, and this tim e slammed it against the
stucco-covered concrete-block wall of my shop. I
cracked a couple of rungs o n th e cherry and curly
red maple chairs, but excep t for some deep dents,
the others we re undamaged.
For my last test, I lin ed th e m up and tried to
drive the heel of my work boot through the front
ladde r. I was able to do this with the chairs con-
structed of cherry and the chair constructed of curly
red maple, and after several tries, I was able to
break through the front ladder on th e walnut chair,
TESTING CHAIR STRENGTH as well. But the chairs mad e of hard maple and ash
Over th e yea rs, I have built ch a irs that had to be res isted my best efforts. In fact, ~fter five minutes of
rejected . In some cases, th e angles at which the side strenuous effon, I reali zed that, without tools,
rungs met the posts were wrong. In other cases, there was nothing I could do to cause significant
finia ls were misshap e n . In a co upl e of cases, I damage to these chairs. In my judgment, that sug-
design ed chairs that were simply ugl y. I hung th ese gests that these woods are the best choices for
unsea ted rejects in my storage room , hoping that I chairs likely to receive ve1y heavy loads.
wo uld think of something that to do with them .
O ne day a co upl e of yea rs ago, I thought of
some thing us eful: I could d es troy th e m-not mali - CHAIR-MAKING WOODS
ciously, bu t to gain insights into the relative The list opposite includes only those species from
trengths of chair-mak ing woods. Although I didn 't which I have actually mad e chairs. Other species,
have reject chairs built from eve1y species I've used , available in other regions and unknown to me, will
I did have two of ch e ny, one of walnut, one of ash, likely work as well as those listed . Consult other
one of hard map le, and one of curl y red maple. woodworkers and your local lumber supplier.

Hard Maple Live Oak
The first choice of the nineteenth-century Shaker I've made only two chairs with this species, and I'll
chair-makers, this wood possesses enormous never make another. While a very tough wood, it's
strength, as wel l as the ability to hold fine-turned coarse and stringy under edge tools, tearing out
or carved detail. It does, however, in its nonfigured horribly.
varieties, present a rather ordinary color and figure.
For this reason, it is often stained or dyed . Red Maple
I've used only the curly variety. But at least in that
White Ash form I found it very satisfactory as long as parts are
Like hard maple, white ash can support very heavy beefed up a bit to compensate for its curly nature.
loads without fracturing across the grain. Because
of its coarse (ring porous) nature, it's less satisfac- Walnut
tory tha n some more dense species at holding fine- Like cheny, this is a wood of brea thtaking color.
tu rned or carved detai l. It is vety easi ly bent after Also like cherry, it doesn't have quite the strength of
steaming. some other species on this list.

Cherry Shagbark Hickory

A magnificent American hardwood, cherry com- Hick01y is another ring-porous
bi nes glorious color with the denseness required to species and, like the ashes and
ho ld fine-turned or carved detail. It is not, howev- the oaks, it possesses enormous
er, as suitable as some other species for chairs that strength even when turned to
wi ll support very heavy loads. very fine diameters . David
Wright, a Windsor chair-maker
Birch in Berea, Kentucky, makes many
Like hard maple, this wood is strong, dense, and- of his chairs from hickory, rely-
in its unfigured varieties-bland in appearance. ing .on its strength to permit
him to turn legs to very fine
White Oak diameters.
Another ring-porous wood, white oak offers enor-
mous strength. However, because of its coarse tex-
ture, it doesn't hold up well und er fine-turned or
carved detail. Also when worked wet, it tends to
check as it dries. Like ash, it can be readily bent
after steaming.

Red Oak
Although red oak is not quite as strong as white
oak, this is another sturdy chair-making wo od . It
does not seem to check as badly as white oak w hen

Boards are designated by nominal size- meaning Nominal Size Dressed
that the stated size approximately matches the
size of the rough lumber that comes directly from INCHES QUARTERS INCHES
the sawmill. Wh en rough lumber is planed- 1 'Y4 25/32
dressed-it is reduced to standard and uniform 1% % 15/32
sizes. Ph % 113/32
Wood is also designated by quarters (of an P4 7/4 119/32
inch). Thus a nominal one-inch-thick piece of 2 % 113!16
stock is called %, for four quarters. 21/z 1% 23Js
The accompanying chart relates the nominal 3 12/4 2%
thickness to the actual dressed dimension. 4 1% 33,4

WO 0 D AND WATER amounts of moisture from the ground and conduct

it, with the needed load of nutrients, to all the liv-
A fresh-cut tree produces lots of water. ing parts of the tree. As much as 50 percent of the
How much depends on the species and the sea- tree's weight is water.
son. For example, white oak bleeds more than If that fresh-cut tree is promptly sawn into
white ash; and any tree cut in the spring, when the boards, called green lumber, those boards, like the
sap is rising, will produce incredible amounts of log itself, will continue to lose water, primarily
water. This is because all trees are living things with through their exposed end grain but also through
powerful vascular systems that draw enormous the sawn faces of each board.

Sometimes it's very difficult to find reasonably priced the loading arms of Chris's mill at a cutting site near
wood in the thicknesses chair-making requires. For wood- Wadsworth, Ohio. Bill buys standing trees, fells them,
workers with access to trees one solution is cutting their and hires Chris to saw them up into usable lumber.
own. Here Chris Sipe, owner of a portable band saw The band saw mill quickly transforms logs into
mill, and Bill Bachtel roll a shagbark hickory log onto boards.

If those boards are then stickered and allowed to These seasonal fluctuations are important to the
dry for a summer or two, the sawn faces and the woodworker because they are accompanied by cor-
end grain will become dry to the touch. But the responding dimensional changes in the wood . In
boards will still contain water. If they were dried general the principle can be stated this way: The
outdoors in a location that allowed the free move- greater the MC, the greater the dimensions of a par-
ment of air through the stack, they will have ticular board . The lower the MC, the smaller the
reached a state of equilibrium with the relative dimensions of a particular board .
humidity of the surrounding air. In humid Ohio- However, not all dimensions are changed equal-
where I live-that state of equilibrium might mean ly by this fluctuation of MC. Lengthwise expansion
that the wood will have a July moisture content and contraction is negligible-on the order of one
(MC) of 13 percent. Again in Ohio, during the percent-but the width and thickness of a board
cold, dry months of December and January, that can vary enormously, increasing in warm, humid
MC on wood stored inside a heated shop might months, decreasing in dry, cold months. For the
drop to 7 or even 6 percent. Then, the following maker of case goods, this means that wide panels
summer, the MC of that wood will once again must be fastened in place in a manner that permits
creep upward into the 12 or 13 percent range-a this seasonal expansion and contraction.
cycle that will repeat itself every year. And although For example, in our kitchen there is an oak tres-
the specific values for the MC of wood will vary tle table almost 33 " wide. I built it six or eight years
from location to location due to differences in the ago of solid % white oak joined with cross-grain
air's relative humidity and temperature, the cycle of splines. At either end of the table there is a bread-
seasonal rising and falling MC will occur wherever board end fastened in place with a ploughed
lumber is cut, stored, or used.

It's important that the Then, separating each

rung, slat, arm, and roch- layer of green lumber with
er stoch be properly sea- 1" x 1" stichers running After 3 to 6 months outdoors, the lumber is brought into
soned. Bill begins the sea- perpendicular to the dry- a heated garage and sticl?ered once again, this time for
soning process by estab- ing material, he builds 4 to 8 weehs, depending on the outside temperature and
lishing a solid base for his stachs that sometimes relative humidity. Notice the fan that l?eeps the air lllOV-
drying piles. reach 12 feet. ing through the stachs.

groove in one edge that is fit over a tongue milled
onto the ends of the tabletop's boards. Because I
knew the top would expand and contract across its
width, I installed the breadboard ends with a single
screw coming up through the breadboard end into
the tongue on the top's center board. The remain-
der of the breadboard end is unfastened, simply
floating on the tongue. In july, the width of the
tabletop aligns nicely with the length of the bread-
board end; however, in Januaty, the tabletop has
shrunk almost a % " across its width, allowing the This board will shrink twice as lllttch ill a tangential
direction (T) as it will in a radial direction (R) . Lellgth-
breadboard ends to protrude beyond the width of
wise shrinkage will be 11egligible.
the table.
When a woodworker visits a lumberyard that
sells cabinet-grade hardwood, that woodworker is However, the chair-maker can make use of the
assured that the lumber in the yard has been kiln- shrinkage of d1ying wood to create powerful mor-
dried to G or 7 or 8 percent. Although the yard tise-and-tenon joinery.
workers may never state it plainly, there is behind
this assurance the implication that the process of
kiln-drying guarantees that the material on sale will GREEN-WOOD JOINERY
always remain at the cited MC, thus guaranteeing If a dry rung tenon is placed into a mortise that has
the dimensional stability of anything constructed been cut into a wet post, the post and its mortise
of that material. will shrink onto that rung tenon, locking it perma-
Unfortunately, this is not true. All wood, no mat- nently in place.
ter how carefully it is dried, will expand and con- Green-wood joiners don 't all apply this principle
tract in response to seasonal fluctuations in relative in the same manner. Makers chairs tend
humidity and temperature. This is certainly true of to work their wood very green. However, makers of
air-dried stock. But it is also true of kiln-dried stock Shaker reproductions and makers of other, more
because a board (which is really nothing more than formal post-and-rung chairs tend to work their
a bundle of tiny tubes that are designed to conduct wood a little drier-for several very good reasons.
wa ter) will always seek a state of equilibrium with First, although fresh-cut wood is much easier to
the moisture content of the surrounding atmos- cut and shape with shaving and with turning tools
phe re unless its every surface is completely sealed than is dry wood, fresh-cut stock introduces signif-
aga inst that atmosphere. icant amounts of moistureto the chair-making
For the chair-maker, the problem of moisture operation which induces rust. A second reason for
ma nage ment is not so much a design consideration not turning fresh-cut wood is that it can't be sand-
a it i process co nsideration . With the exception of ed. Although in a perfect world skew planing
tho e chai rs having wide board seats fastened to a would produce a mirror-smooth surface on every
morti e-an d-te no n fra me, no allowance for expan- part, I always find , in my shop, that some sanding
ion and co ntractio n of wide panels is necessary. is required .

Third, the chair-maker must realize that shrink- reason for these procedures is to make post split-
age is not consistent in all directions. Turned forms ting less likely as the post stock dries after chair
are likely to shrink almost twice as much tangen- assembly. I choose to align the grain so that it is
tial ly as they are radially. (See drawing opposite.) This most visually appealing.
means that a form turned from fresh-cut wood to a
perfectly round cross section will not be round
after it has dried. It will , in fact, have taken on the SEATING MATERIAL
pronounced cross section of an oval. Historically, country chairs were seated with thin
And last, if a chair is assembled with posts that strips of the hickoty tree's inner bark or with ash
are too wet, too much mottise shrinkage can occur, splint, which is obtained by pounding wet ash logs
splitting the posts. Granted, an experienced hand so that the grain separates and can then be peeled
with green wood can make relatively accurate esti- away in strips of loosened wood . Both are excellent
mates of a post's capacity for shrinkage by feel, but seating materials, but both are expensive to buy
the problem of split posts can be completely elim- and difficult to harvest on your own.
inated by allowing the post stock to dry to the 20 When seating a chair of this type, I use a substi-
percent range before turning. tute, rattan splint, which is taken from the same
Many makers of post-and-rung chairs look for a plant that produces caning material. This prod-
moisture content neither too wet nor too dry. I uct-which is similar in appearance to ash splint-
work with post stock in the 20 percent moisture is widely available in consistently high quality at
range. Newly sawn surfaces will feel reasonable prices from mail order suppliers.
slightly damp but not wet. Into Shaker tape, the seat-
these posts I fit rung tenons that ing material of choice for
have been oven-dried to 2 percent most Shaker reproduc-
or less. This, together with liberal tions, is a dyed, nonelastic
gluing, produces joints that stay cotton tape that is woven
together but don 't introduce the over the seat rungs, typically
complications of fresh-cut over a cushion and in a
wood. checkerboard pattern . (Refer
Makers of traditional chairs to Chapter Eight, on weaving
(John Alexander is one exam- seats, for details of both splint
ple) are meticulous about and tape and how to use
the relative grain orienta- them .) Like rattan splint, it's
tion of posts and rungs . widely available from mail
Additionally, these makers order sources in a consistently
of traditional chairs also high quality. However, price
often flatten the vertical varies widely. To get fully dis-
faces of each tenon. The counted prices even from the sup-
pliers of professionals, it's neces-
sary, of course, to order a consider-
able quantity of tape.

For several years, my shop was devoted to furniture
repair and refinishing. During that time, I worked
on hundreds of chairs. A few were very old and
needed a complete regluing, since the hide glue
with which they'd been assembled had become dry
and brittle. But most of the chairs that came in my
door arrived with a single broken part and a full
complement of intact glue joints.
The older chairs, those in which the glue had
largely failed, were easy to repair. Most of the joints
could be disassembled using nothing more than
my hands . As a result, I could, with confidence, give
the customer a price on the day they delivered their
chairs to my shop.
But the newer chairs, those typically arriving
with a single broken part, were another matter. It
was easy to make the replacement part, but in-
stalling it meant that the chair would have to be
partially or, in some cases, fully disassembled .
Before repairing these newer chairs, I always ex-
plained to the customer that the bill could be
determined only after I had completed the repair
because I couldn't predict what kind of trouble I
would have disassembling the i,ntact glue joints.
The problem is that the glues available to the
The only other seat- woodworker are just too good . In terms of strength,
ing material used on the any of the three major types of woodworking glues
chairs appearing in this are more than satisfactory.
book is rush. The finest rush is made from dried Hide glue is often cited as the best choice for fur-
cattail leaves twisted into a sturdy cord by the chair niture repair and assembly because a piece that has
bottomer at the time of seat weaving. This is a fair- been put together with hide glue can be easily dis-
ly arcane discipline, about which I know very little. assembled when repairs are needed. I would agree
The four chairs in this book that have rush seats left that this is true if, at the time of disassembly, the
my shop unseated and were taken then by the cus- hide glue is old and brittle; but my experience sug-
tomer to someone specializing in weaving this type gests that joints assembled with this adhesive when
of seating material. In recent years, substitute pro- they are fresh are still very difficult to break. True,
ducts, which offer a similar look and easier han- water will dissolve the glue, but sometimes it is
dling, have made their appearance. almost impossible to get that water into the joint.

I've used hot, wet towels wrapped around the joint, a profile of his work for "Woodwork " magazme.
hypodermic injections of hot water directly into During my visit, David turned a baluster chair leg
the joint, and I have even drilled tiny holes into the from cherry, which he gave to me. It now sits on my
joint and filled them with hot water. And still desk, serving there as both an inspiration and an
sometimes, disassembly comes down to brute accusation.
force. Havi ng watched the entire turning process, I
The one real advantage of hide glue-its relative- know that no abrasives were used in the creation of
ly long open time (open time refers to the period that baluster leg. However, the surface is smooth
after glue application that a joint can be safely and clean. It is already prepared for the first coat of
shifted in order to bring parts into the proper align- finish . I envy David's skill.
ment)-rarely comes into play in the chair-maker's More often than not, I rely on abrasives to clean
shop . When I assemble a chair, I first assemble the up roughened areas before finishing. If, like me,
front ladder, a process taking no more than five yo u struggle to get that perfectly smooth skew-
minutes, often less. I then assemble the back lad- planed surface, let me suggest high-quality shop
der. This may take a little longer, but rarely more rolls from a supplier such as The Sanding Cat-
than six or seven minutes, a time span still com- alogue. These cloth-backed rolls are tough enough
fortably within the open-time limits for both yel- for use on th e lathe and the abrasives are very
low and white glues. I then bring these two ladders sharp, cutting rapidly, speeding this process.
together in a third gluing session, one in which the
side rungs are set into place. But even here, the
assembly time is still within the limits estab-
lished for both yellow and white glues.
I opt for convenience and choose th e adhe-
sives that combine enormous strength with
ease of application and a long shelf life. On
my bench there is a bottle of white glue and
one of yellow glue; I choose the one that is
closest to my hand.

In December of 1995 , just after
Christmas, I visited Windsor chair-maker
David Wright in Kentucky, in order to do

Cha p ter T h ree he hand to~l s in my sho p ca n be divided into
T two ca tego n es.

HAND The first category is co mprised o f those too ls

used to perfo rm the va ri o us m aintenan ce o pera-
ti o ns that a re an inevitabl e pa rt of a ny shop's oper-

TOOLS ati o n . Thi s group includes th e wrenches used to

cha nge saw bl ades, th e screwdrive rs used to mo unt
stock o n a turning face pl ate, th e Allen w rench es
used to lock a drill press tabl e into th e required
a ngles. Stri ctly speakin g, th ese a re no t woodwo rk-
ing to o ls, but n everth eless no woo dwo rkin g sho p
ca n fun cti o n w ith o ut th e m, a nd any sho p will, in
th e co urse of tim e, natura lly accumulate a numb er
o f th ese tools.
The seco nd categ01y includes al l th ose tools w ith
w hi ch I actual ly m ark, cut, a nd shape chair parts.
These are th e tools th at m a ke woo dworking fun .

Perh aps th e most impo rta nt too ls in this seco nd
catego ry a re those used to m eas ure and mark, and
perhaps the m ost im po rta nt o f these is my six-foo t
fo ld ing carpenter's ru le, w hi ch I p ut to co nsta nt
use- as an aid in selectin g m aterial appro priate fo r
a particu lar ch a ir, as a guid e w h ~ n setti ng th e tabl e-
saw fe nce prio r to rippin g o ut turning sto ck, at th e
lath e to estimate di a m eters, a nd at the planer to
determine th e thi ckn esses of slats, rockers, a nd
Altho ugh ma ny turn ers kee p a ra ck o f ca lipers
hangi ng above their lath es, each pair set to on e of
th e critica l diameters for a turn ed part, I use only a
single pair that are set to th e di a meter o f the run g
tenons. Other d iam eters are m eas ured by eye an d
confirmed w ith my fo lding rul e. Most precise m ea-
surem en t, h owever, is done by tra nsferri ng info r-
mation from my layout sticks directly to th e cha ir
parts, a process th at will be d iscussed in so m e
detail a bit later on .

Once th e meas uremen ts have been transferred to For example, I'm often asked to duplicate a
the wood from the rul e or the layo ut sticks, the client's ch air, and in o rd e r to do that I have to iden-
locat ions must be marked, and to do this I use sev- tify its angles. It isn 't necessary to translate that
era l types of marking instruments. When preparing angle into a number. It is necessaty, however, to
to chunk up rough lumber to the approximate transfer that angl e to either my jig or to the drill
length, I use a ca rp ente r's pencil w ith a thi ck lead press itself. I do have a comm e rcially made bevel
because its marks are easi ly seen on rough lumber. square that is designed for this type of application,
When , with my line-marking gauge (the use of but its legs are too short to yield meaningful read-
w hi ch is exp lained in Chapter Six, on mortising) , ings on chai r parts since chair parts-rungs and
I'm making the lin es along th e le ngth of a post on posts-are often tapered. Laying a conventional
wh ich I wi ll later locate th e centers of th e various short-legged bevel square against a tapered rung
mortises, I use a fin e-pointed No . 2 lead penci l produces flawed readings because those short legs
because its lines are easily removed. simp ly follow the tapers . To overcome this, I made
But w hen I'm marking the centers of mortises a bevel sq uare out of wood , equipping it with legs
along those lines on back posts that wi ll later be long enough (about 12 inches) to read the angle-
bent, I use an ink pen, because th e process of not the taper-on chair parts.
steaming th e posts prior to bending ca n sometimes
obliterate pencil lin es.
When marking the sid es of the slat mortises on
the back posts, I use a smal l wooden-hand led knife
si nce its cut line provides my chisels with secure
and accurate placement for paring th e mot1ises to
their final size.
The awl and the compass are the last of the
marking tools that see any use in my shop . The awl
is used to provide a location for the center points of
the lathe's drive and tail center, while the co mp ass
is used to mark o ut the stock th at w ill later be
band-sawn and turned to form th e mush roo m ca ps
used on certain Shaker chair reprodu cti o ns.
My lllarlzing and lll easu ring tools include the try square,
One of the more intimidating asp ects of chair- lilY six-foot folding carpenter's rule, an awl, an in!? pen,
making is the need for angles that measure some- a thicll-leaded carpenter's pencil, a fine-point No. 2 lead
thing other than 90 degrees. Unfo rtunate ly for pencil, a colllpass, and a pair of calipers.
those craftsme n trained in the creation of parts Two shop- lllade llleasuring and lllarhing tools are
from straight and sq uare sto ck, chair-making does alllong the nzost illlportant in lilY shop:
The wooden bevel square on the right allows llle to
require the accurate establishm ent of non-right
transfer chair angles fro tn salllples to the drill press or to
angles. These angles can be ach ieved on the lathe or the drill press jigs described in Chapter Six.
on the drill press through the use of the mortise jig In the upper left is the lllarhing gauge, which, when
and the tilting tabl e. But sometimes it's necessary to placed on my lathe table, allows lll e to run straight lines
take a reading of the angles off a particular cha ir. along the length of lathe- llzoun ted stock

A framing square is essential during the assem- racking action will correct the ladder's angles. l
bly process. My post-and-rung chairs (this includes then lay the ladder on my bench to check for twist,
two-thirds of the chairs in this book) are assembled making corrections by twisting the ladder in my
in sections. l first assemble the front ladder, which hands until it comes into alignment.
consists of both front posts and the rungs connect- Back ladders, consisting of the back posts and
ing those posts. These rungs and posts must come any slats and/ or rungs that connect them, are a bit
together with their centerlines at 90-degree angles. more tricky. Typically, the back ladder spreads as it
The joinery-round mortises cut on the drill press rises from the floor, so that the top slat is an inch
housing tenons formed on the lathe- will estab- or more wider shoulder to shoulder than is the bot-
lish these angles, but it is possible to get things a lit- tom rung. This means that, when standing upright
tle skewed when squeezing the tenons into their with the correct angles, neither of the back posts
mortises with pipe clamps. will be 90 degrees from the bench top. A framing
To check the angles, l stand the freshly assem- square, however, can sti ll be used to eva luate the
bl ed front ladder (with the glue sti ll wet) on my a lignment of the back ladder. l do this by standing
bench and lean a framing square against it with the ladder upright on my bench top, holding the
one leg of the square on th e bench top. Then, by upright leg of the square so that, at its intersection
aligning the square's second (upright) leg with with the bottom leg, the square is just touching the
either post, l read the angle. If it's not 90 degrees- inside face of one of the back posts. I raise my eye
the angle at which the two legs of the framing to the top of the upright leg of the
square meet-! rack the ladder until it comes into square. Then, with my eye, l
the proper alignment. To do this, l put on the measure the distance be-
bench top the foot of the post marking the corner tween the top of the square's
of the front ladder with the most acute angle and upright leg and the inside face
press down on the top of the other post, directing of the post. Typically, this will
the force through the ladder down to be in the range of % to 3/s of an
the foot resting on the inch . I then evaluate the other
bench top . This back post in the same way. Any
disagreement in these estimated
measurements is corrected by
racking the ladder.
To check the back ladder for
twist, l stand it on the floor and
sight down on it from above. Any
visible error is corrected by twist-
ing the frame in my hands while
l lock the feet of the posts against
my shoes.
The try square is used to lay
out slat lengths and tenons prior
to assembly.

Wooden vise jaws not o11ly protect has rece ntl y been re pl aced by a
the woril being cla111ped, but they mu ch bette r vise w ith a quick-
also extend and widen the vise's
release leve r. Howeve r, if the
gripping swfaces. The s111all blacil
lever to the right of the vise screw threaded fitting in w hi ch the
just below the handle is the quicil- screw turn ed hadn 't crumbl ed
release lever. This allows the vise o n my Sea rs mod el, I never
jaws to be swiftly 111oved frail! one wou ld have replaced it, because
setting to the next without any pro- it never failed to perform.
tracted and tireso111e tuming of the
I use th e vise to h o ld turnin g
stoc k w hil e it's being ce ntered.
I a lso use it to hold cha ir slats,
CLAMPING a rm s, a nd rockers w hil e their band-sawn edges a re
No useful woodwork can be don e without clamp- given a final shaping and sa ndin g. And in evitably,
ing tools. in th e co urse of any workday, o th er situations will
Alt hough their primary function in the practi ce arise in w hi ch the ben ch vise is esse nti a l. A
of casewo rk-holding parts together while glue m achin e-s hop be nch vise in my shop gets littl e use,
dries-do es n't apply to the kind o f chair-making although some chair- m akers do use thi s tool to
on which this book is foc used, clamping tools a re, hold stock while it is being worked with a
neverthel ess, essential in the executi on of a doze n drawknife. It's particularly suited for this o pe ration
differe nt ch air-making operations. since its height above th e be nch to p a ll ows room
Th e most important clamping tool for th e m aker for movement of th e drawk ni fe 's ha ndl es.
of post-a nd-rung chairs is the be nch vise. ( For the In my sho p w he n I use th e drawknife (primari ly
maker of Windsor chairs, th e most important in th e shaping of ce rtain types o f chair arm s) , I
clamping tool is probably the shaving horse.) For install a et of' ood e n puppets on a pipe clamp,
years I used a twe nty-five-dollar Sea rs vise, which then tigh ten the middle of the pipe clamp In my

Although not a co111plete inventory of

my clamping devices, this photo shows
those most used in the chair-111ahing
Notice the bar clmnp show11 in the
upper left: When the pipe running
between the two wooden puppets is
clamped into a vise, a chair ann blanh
can be held so it can be woriled with
shaving tools.
Notice also the 34" hole drilled on the
inside of the puppet facing the viewer.
The -%> " tenon 011 one end of the an11 is
placed in this hole, while the other end
is trapped in a hollow dished into the
inside face of the other puppet.

vise. The puppets raise the work high enough above choose Pony clamps with the multiple-disk clutch
the height of the bench top to permit me to work it on the tail stop. This clutch locks the stop in place
with a drawknife. without tapping and is easily moved to new posi-
The jig in which I hold chair posts for the drill- tions along the pipe. Also, there is never a problem
ing of front and back mortises on the drill press with the screw fittings on my Pony clamps. Their
must be able to be placed in a number of locations smooth functioning helps to make the process of
on the drill press table. To hold it in place once I've assembly move painlessly along.
positioned it, I use a pair of short pistol-grip bar In addition to the clamps already mentioned, I
clamps with triggers which allow me to pump up make use of a number of miscellaneous clamps in
the clamping pressure. I find them quick and easy a number of miscellaneous situations. For example,
in this application . I also use these clamps when my wooden lathe toolrests are held in place with
I'm holding a back post in place on the bench top pairs of C-clamps. I use spring clamps of various
while chopping out a set of slat mortises. sizes when gluing mushroom-cap turning stock
I use pipe clamps when assembling the various onto the scrap to which my lathe faceplate is
sections of a chair. They allow me to push oversized screwed, and I also use several tiny C-clamps to
tenons into their mortises without breaking the hold the othe1wise inadequate fence on my jointer
chair parts. To do this, I apply glue to each surface in position.
of each joint, then tap the tenons into place with a
soft mallet, after which I seat the tenons deeply in
their mortises by carefully applying pressure with TAPPING AND HAMMERING
the pipe clamps. The traditional carpenter's hammer, in its various
Although I' m inclined in most cases to recom- sizes and weights, is not likely to see much use in
mend cheap tools, my experience suggests that the chair-making shop . I have both a 16 oz. and 13
good pipe clamps are worth the money. I have oz., neither of which leaves the tool chest unless
eight or ten of the cheaper I'm doing some kind of
variety that I never use be- building . repair-with one
cause the tail stop is locked in exception: When I'm tapping
place with a cam that must be a wedge into place in its
tapped by a hammer-an notch in the end grain of a
inconvenience-and also be- chair post, I do use the 16 oz.
cause the screw fittings often carpenter's hammer. The ping
don't work smoothly. These of the metal hammer head
problems can complicate the changes pitch as I strike a
process of assembly. a pro- fully seated wedge, signaling
cess that must take place me to go on to the next
quickly and without any sig- As you can see from the tattered duct tape
surrounding the head of the mallet at the
nificant hitches-or the chair I do , however, make fre-
top of the photo, I'm not much concerned
can be lost. with the physical appearance of lilY tools. I quent use of two soft-headed
In the shop, when I reach a111, instead, concerned with their ability to mallets. One, a 22 oz. dead-
.for a pipe clamp, I always do the work they need to do. blow mallet for which I paid

far too much m o n ey, is used w h e n fi xing turnin g MORTISING AND CARVING
stock o nto the spurs o f th e lath e's dri ve ce nter. A
coupl e o f raps w ith thi s m a ll et o n th e ta il e nd o f Except fo r th e be n ch es, every slat m orti se o n every
the turnin g sto ck presses th ose spurs d ee ply into ch a ir p ictured in thi s book was cho p ped o ut by
th e e nd grain . Too m a ny blows, h oweve r, ca n split h a nd . I co uld cut th e m o rti ses o n th e drill press
th e stock, but I think that has h appe ned to m e o nl y w ith a m o rtising attachm ent. O r I co uld buy a ny o f
on ce. seve ra l reaso n abl y p ri ced m o rti sing m achin es. Or
My m os t impo rta nt mall et is o ne that I pull ed fo r just a bit m o re, I co uld buy a n ove ra rm ro ute r,
out of th e b a rgain bin a t a loca l lumbe1y ard . It cos t th e too l w ith w hi ch Ch a rl es Ha rvey, a co nte mpo -
a dollar. T his barga in -bin mall et is sho rt-h a ndl ed , ra iy m a ke r o f fi rst-ra te Sh a ke r re producti o n ch airs,
w ith a soft rubb e r h ead we ighin g less th a n 8 oz., cuts hi s m o rti ses.
and I ca n't, the refo re, ge ne rate a ny power w h en I But I d o n 't like to spe nd m o ney o n new m achin-
swing it. T hi s m ea ns it ca n be used freely wh e n diy - eiy , a nd p owe r too ls a re no isy a nd dirty. Bes ides, I
fittin g a co mpli ca ted b ack ladde r. I can als o use it like th e process of cutting m o rti ses by h a nd. It
freely w he n disasse mbling a chair som eo ne h as req uires a ce rtain a m o unt o f skill, a nd o ur techn o l-
brought into th e sh o p for regluing. Its virtue is in ogy-d rive n lives pe rmit us too few ch a n ces to
its li ght we ight, its extre mely short ha ndl e, a n d its acq uire a nd d e m o nstrate m a nu a l ski ll s.
ve1y so ft h ead- all o f which make it unlikely th at So, as ide fro m occasi o na ll y using th e drill press,
anything struck w ith thi s mall et w ill be b roken. for th e most pa rt I h ave co ntinu ed to ch o p th e m
Howeve r, in o rd e r to h o ld th e cru m- out by ha n d using a 1.4 " m o r-
blin g h ead toge th e r, I've freque ntly tis e chi se l (gro un d 1/ 32" na r-
had to wra p it w ith d uct tape. rowe r to pe rmi t me to m o re
easily cut a mo rti se th a t is
exactl y W ' in w id th ), a W'
pa ring chi sel (I use thi s too l
to shave th e morti se sid e-
~alls ), a nd a mapl e m allet
my dad turn ed and gave me
fo r Chri stm as seve ra l years
ago . W ith th ese simpl e, si-
lent, a nd in expensive h a nd
too ls, th e slat m o rti ses fo r a
fo ur- sla t ch a ir ca n be cut in
a n h o ur a nd a half.
Although l have a fair number of chisels
and gouges, l always reach for the few
shown here, which can be persuaded to do
an astonishing variety of work. Th e wood-
en mallet, turned for me by my dad from a
limb of hard maple, has seen considerable
use i 11 the shop.

Some too ls, like the d raw kn ife a nd th e spo kes have,
are just fu n to use. W hy?
First, I th ink it's beca use th ey do w hat th ey a re
d es igned to d o in such a n effi cie nt m a nn er. Both
too ls ra pidl y re m ove waste, leavi ng be hind surfaces
th at, a lth o ugh fl atte ned into pl a n es by th e ir
straigh t cuttin g ed ges, have a glossy, sheared a p-
pea ra nce, surfaces offe rin g a sati sfyin g sm oo thn ess
to th e to uch . Seco nd, th ey a re bo th clea n too ls.
Their passage leaves beh ind th ic k shav in gs instead
o f shred s o f airbo rn e d ust. But pe rh a ps m os t
impo rta nt is th e way th ese too ls feel in th e woo d-
wo rke r's h a nds. Un li ke a nythin g drive n by an elec-
tri c m o to r-cha racteri zed by no ise a nd vibrati o n-
th ey intim ately e ngage th e craftsm a n w ith th e
wo rk. These h a nd too ls all ow him to feel in hi s
w ri sts, a rm s, a nd ha nds th e co nto urs being sha ped .
The drawk ni fe co nsists of a thi ck steel bl ad e w ith
As ide fro m two in cised curli cues on th e top slat a h a nd le at eith er e nd . Ove r th e yea rs, thi s too l has
of o ne of the rockers, th e o nl y situ atio n in thi s bee n m ad e in d oze ns of di ffe rent co nfi gurati o ns,
boo k requirin g carvin g too ls is th e fo rm ati o n of each d es igned for specific wood wo rking ap pli ca-
ce rtain types of chai r a nns. To shape th e m , I use tio ns. Windsor chai r-ma kers, for exa mpl e, use a
two carving go uges a nd th e paring chi sel m en- draw kni fe with a be nt bl ad e, refe rred to as a n
ti o ned above. O ne of th e gouges, a 25 mm No . 5, is inshave, to cl ea n up adze mar~s left in th e di shed
used to ro ugh-in th e crow ned bevels o n th e e nd areas o f chair sea ts. Coo pers use drawknives in
gra in of th e cha ir arm . The o th e r go uge, a n 8 m m m a ny diffe rent shapes, am o ng the m th e sco rp ,
No . 5, is used to cl ea n u p th e d ep ress ions left by whi ch is a drawk ni fe in whi ch th e bl ad e fo rm s a
th e la rger too l. The pa rin g chi sel is used to pa re th e co mpl ete circl e a nd is draw n th ro ugh th e wood
e nd grain to its fi na l sha pe. with a single handl e. Sawyers use a straight, ove r-
O ne last too l th at sho uld be me nti o ned in thi s s ized (ofte n m o re th a n two fee t in le ngth)
ca tegory is a woo d e n-ha ndl ed kni fe w ith a stra ight draw knife to re m ove bark from logs befo re sawing
b lad e. The bl ad es is a bo ut Ph " lo ng. A kni fe like th em- a n o pe rati o n th at pro tects th e saw bl ad e
thi s is ava il abl e fro m a numb er of d iffe re nt sup p li - fro m bei ng dull ed by th e dirt ofte n impacted in th e
e rs und er seve ral diffe rent na mes. In my sho p, this ba rk. Turn e rs use a sho rte r, straig ht drawknife to
knife is a n all -purpose too l th at sees duty as a kn oc k th e co rn ers off turnin g bl a nks befo re cuttin g
ma rkin g kni fe, an aid in creatin g sha rp ca rved lin es, th e bl a nk w ith lath e too ls. In each case, th e craft s-
a nd a scra pe r to re m ove pencil lin es fro m cha ir ma n chooses a draw knife w hose size a nd sha pe
pos ts p rio r to sa ndi ng. ma ke it app ro priate to th e tas k at ha nd .

In my shop, I have two drawknives . One, which possible to remove ve ty fi ne shavi ngs even w hen
was used to excavate the seats on a couple of the cutting across en d gra in .
stools included in this book, is an inshave. The Although I h ave a half-rou nd spokeshave, I've
other, which is used nearly evety day, is a straight- rarely used it beca use th e wo rk it is designed to
bladed knife with two handles perpendicular to the do - cuttin g rounds- can be done just as eas ily
blade but canted a few wi th a flat-sol ed spokeshave.
degrees from the plane of the My fl at-soled shave is used in
blade in order to make it eas- cleaning up the wo rk of my
ier for the craftsman to drawknife or my carvi ng chi s-
engage th e tool with th e els when these tools a re used
work. to fo rm chair arms (it is also
I use the second drawknife used to add a radius to th e
primarily to shape certain arms of reproduction New
chair arms, but a lso make fre- Lebanon chai rs) .
quent use of the tool to For genera l shop use, the
round large turning blanks I lihe these shaving tools, and find them straight-b lade drawknife is
prior to cutting with lath e wondrously versatile when used for the the most versati le (and the
tools. Sometimes, too, when freehand shaping of wood. easiest to sharpen) . The flat-
sorting through my lumber soled spo kes have offers th e
in order to select the material to use for a particu- widest range of po tenti a l sh op appl ica ti o ns.
lar chair, I'll carry th e drawknife so that I can shave Shaving is a lo t like planing. Both requi re th e
off the gray, rough-sawn surface material in order craftsman to be sensitive to grain d irecti o n . Like
to get a better reading of the color and figure of th e p la nin g, sh av ing m ust be done in the d irecti o n
material beneath . pointed at by th e rising grain . Often, this m eans
Like the drawknife, th e spokeshave has a h andl e reversing ei th er th e workp iece or the tool direction
at either end. Unlike the drawknife, however, the partway along the shaping of the work.
handles of the spokeshave are in line with, not per- I use the drawknife with th e beve l side down,
pendicular to, that cutting edge, and the spoke- which feels right to me. Other woodworkers use the
shave has a sole that glides across the work that is drawknife w ith the bevel side up .
being shaped. In the case of the modern , metal- Handling th e spokeshave req uires a bit more feel
bodied spokeshave, the cutting iron protrudes than does the handling of th e drawknife. Anyo ne
through this sole, much like the iron of a plane. In picking up a draw knife ca n make shavings, but th e
the case of the classical , wooden-bodied spoke- spokeshave requires a little practice.
shave the iron actuall y becomes a part of that sole. I set th e iron of my spokes have so that it just
Because of the short, front-to-back length of its peeks through th e so le. Th en, I begin movi ng it
sole, the metal-bodied spokeshave offers the wood- across the wo rk (it can be pushed o r pulled) , ta kin g
worker a planing tool that can get into tight places care to keep it in contact wi th the wo rk at three
unreachable with a standard plane. The woo den- points: the leadin g edge, th e cuttin g iron, th e heel.
bodied spokeshave offers this same advantage, plus According to the shavi ngs produced , I adj ust th e
one other: Its very shallow cutting angle m akes it setting of the iro n.

Chapter Four ver the past twenty-five years American wood-
O working has taken two very different courses.

POWER As mainstream woodworkers have made th eir oper-

ati ons more and more equipment-intensive, filling
their shops with ever more sophisticated machin-
TOOLS ery, other woodworkers have turned away from
power equipment and have, instead, made shop
operations more and more hand-tool-intensive.
For some in this second group, the motivation may
be a desire to return to the perceived romance of
eighteenth-century woodworking, but for others
this movement in the direction of hand tool use is
more than simp le nostalgia; it is, in fact, an admis-
sion of the limitations and liabilities inherent in
even the most soph isticated power equipment.
Power tools certainly allow work to be done
more quick ly. With a planer, lumber can be dressed
to a consistent thickness as fast as it can be fed into
the machine. And power equipment allows a shop
owner to hire relatively unskilled workers. After all,
anyo ne can be taught to feed lumber into a planer.
But o nly a skil led craftsman can transform a length
of rough% material into a smoothly finished piece
oP4 stock using nothing but hand planes, a pair of
wind ing sticks, an d a straightedge.
But the power planer is n oisy and dirty. When it
runs, the shop is a mind - jangl i ~g place in which to
work. Hand planes are, by contrast, quiet and
clean . When they are in use, reflection is possible.
In a quiet shop, it is possible to think about what
one is doing. And it is this reflection, co upled with
the sensitivity possible with the deft manipulation
of hand tools, that has encouraged many contem-
porary woodworkers to turn away from the speed
of power equipment and return to the subtleties of
the drawknife, the spokeshave, and carving gouges.
Altho ugh in principle I prefer to wo rk with hand
tools, in actual practice I use both power and hand
tools, trying to match each type with the tasks for
which, in my opinion, it is best suited.

I use power equipment for the brute work of rip- ous work that also can be wasteful of material. The
ping and planing and resawing, as well as for the method of choice for most makers of Shaker-style
drilling of rung mortises, because I find that th e chairs requires either a band saw or a table saw to
drill press performs this critical task more accurate- rip out turning blanks. Also, material for slats,
ly and efficiently than can be done with a brace and arms, and rockers must be resawn to the proper
bit. However, for other operations-the cutting of thicknesses, then profiled to the proper shapes-
slat mortises, the shaping of chair arms, th e cutting jobs for which the band saw is eminently suitable.
of rocker notches-! use hand tools. The second essential power tool is the drill press .
Mortises can be drilled without one, but for makers
of Shaker-style chairs the drill press can mean the
ESSENTIALS difference between effortless success and intense
Although it would be possible to make any o f the frustration in this most critical operation . However,
chairs pictured in this book without powe r tools the drill press requires some fairl y elaborate acces-
(such as the beautiful sories to allow the chair-maker to
shaved Shaker-style chair of achieve effortl ess chair mortising.
Owen Rein shown here and These accessories are a set of particu-
in the Gallery section), it is lar shop-made jigs-which are dis-
much easier-although less cussed in detail in Chapter Six, on
pleasant-to have the assis- mortising.
tance of at least three power The most important power tool in
bench tools : a band saw, a drill the chair-maker's shop is a lathe that
press, and a lathe. Additio nally, will , at a safe speed, spin the work
if money permits, I would rec- against your tool. Mine is an inex-
ommend adding a tabl e saw (use- pensive Sears lathe with a tail stock
ful in a number of situ ati ons) , a that slides on a two-inch steel tube.
radial arm saw (for chun king up Ideal!;:, your lathe should be
turning stock to the app roximately equipped with an indexing head
correct length), and a jo in ter (for that enbles the turner to divide
straightening turning stock). accurately the circumference of
None of these need be expensive lathe-turned cylinders. However,
models. Mine are not, alth o ugh all there are other ways · that this
needed to be modified or at least indexing can be accomplished.
augmented with jigs to m eet the
needs of a chair-maker's shop .
Turning stock must be rend ered
into pieces of the appropriate cross
section . Traditional chair-make rs
start with a section of log and split it
with wedges, a froe, and a club. This
method does work, but it is strenu-

POWER TOOL SAFE1Y apply more force than is necessary. This extra force
not only increases the likelihood of barked knuck-
I have formalized a checkli st of safety rules based les and chisel and gouge. nicks on the craftsman 's
on the practices that I attempt to fo ll ow in my hands, it can also resu lt in damaged work.
shop. 4. Treat the table saw with respect.
This is the on ly tool in my sh op that really fright-
ens me.

SAFETY CHECKLIST A. Use a blade guard with anti-kickback

1. Wear eye protection.
Alth ough twenty years ago, I routinel y operated B. Use push sticks.
power equipmen t wi th out eye protection, today With these, hands can be kept at least a foot
the habit is so solidly establ ished that I'm psycho- from the blade at a ll times.
logica ll y in capab le of turning o n a machine unless
C. Never stand directly behind the work
I've first put on my goggles.
being sawn.
Eve n some hand tool operations require eye pro-
The saw can fling a loose rip back toward the
tection. For example, w hen chopping out slat mor-
operator with amazing force.
tises, I slip on my goggles because the geometry of
the mortise se nds chips popping up in the general D. Never use the table saw for resawing
direction of the face each time a blow is struck on thick stock.
the chisel wi th the mallet. Yes, the tool can perform this operation, and
yes, I have used it for this purpose, but I've never
2. Wear hearing protection.
seen a way to do it safely. Resawing should
I didn 't start wearing hearing protection until six
always be done on the band saw.
or e ight years ago, and by then it was a littl e late, as
I n ow have a significant and permanent hearing E. With the saw off, rehearse any opera-
loss in both ears, exacerbated by the persistent ring- tions that are tricky or unfamiliar.
ing of tinnitus. ow, in an effort to preserve the Then, if the operation seems unsafe, don 't per-
hearing that is left, I use plugs that fit into the ear form it. Instead, look for alternative approaches.
cana l as we ll as tightly fit muffs that cover the outer
Notes on Safety Rules A through E
These rules apply to the table saw as it is used in
3. Keep all blades and knives sharp. my chair-making shop . Other safety measures are
As they become dull , the blades on a table saw necessary when the saw is used to perform different
or a band saw start to wander, making accurate types of work. Consult the owner's manual.
machining difficult-and dangerous. This is Rule 0, like all of these rules, is based on my
particularly true if the operator tries to force the experience. My father, a cab inetmaker with over
dull blade and the work into the proper alignment. forty years of experience, whose work was featured
Hand tools, too, must be kept sh arp. Planes, in "Woodwork No. 31, " does use the table saw to
shaves, chisels, gouges, etc., do not work efficiently resaw thick stock. But his m ethod is a unorthodox
when dull, and ca n encourage the woodworker to and I can't fully endorse it.

With th e wo rk stood o n ed ge, he m akes two Instead, he m ea nt th at its pass ive nature ca n be
passes acro ss th e tab le saw, o ne cuttin g into th e to p mis leading. Unl ike the tab le saw, whi ch screa m s
ed ge, th e o ther into th e bo tto m ed ge. A sm all hi nge a nd w hin es as it tea rs th ro ugh % oa k a nd hard
o f wood is left betwee n th e two cuts, so th e resaw n m aple, th e band saw putts along in relati ve q ui et.
sto ck neve r separates, elimin atin g th e m ost da nger- Likewise, the drill p ress has an essenti ally pass ive
o us pa rt o f tab le-saw resaw in g: re moving th e nature, go ing un o b tru sive ly abo ut its busin ess.
resaw n stock from th e area of th e bl ade. Th at sm all Neverth eless, bo th too ls a re ca pable of infli ctin g
hin ge o f wood is th en saw n th ro ugh o n th e band se ri o us harm o n the inatte ntive o perato r.
7. Don't operate machinery under the influ-
5. Use blade guards and push blocks when e nce of drugs or alcohol or when exhausted.
operating the jointer. And most important, don't operate machinery
Push b locks (I prefer th ose w ith foam pads when you're angry.
u nd ern eath, beca use th e woo den va ri ety can still Craftsm en wh o wo uldn 't drea m of turn ing o n
slide o n t he work) permit th e o perator to move th e tabl e saw after drink ing a co up le of bee rs w ill
stock ove r th e cutting head w ith o ut ri sking con tact turn o n th at sa m e saw when th ey are ang1y and
w ith th e knives in th e eve nt th at th e ha nd sli ps. fru strated - and th erefore careless. In th e sh op,
And hands d o slip . ange r ca n b e as deb il itat ing as alco h o l.

6. Use caution when operating the drill press 8. Think.

and the band saw. If an operation see m s da ngero us, th en it pro ba-
Dad on ce sa id th at he th o ught th e band saw was b ly is.
th e m ost dangerous too l in his sho p. He did n' t
actu ally m ea n th at this too l is inh erently m ore da n-
ge ro us than th e tab le saw.

hen I began making chairs, we didn't have
Chapter Five W any money to invest in good tools. I was a
schoolteacher in a rural Ohio district, and even

TURNING though my wife also worked-as a school secre-

tary-with two kids, a mortgage and car payments
there was no surplus and little in the way of savings
that we would have felt comfortable tapping for the
purchase of tools. Therefore, if post-and-rung chair-
making had absolutely required expensive tooling,
I would have been unable to attempt it.
At that time, I had a collection of homeowner-
type bench tools paid for with money made doing
furniture repair and custom casework. There was a
table saw, a 4" jointer, a radial-arm saw and a small
band saw, plus a pretty good collection of hand
tools. What I didn't have was a lathe.
After months of dreaming about creating furni-
ture that people could actually sit in, I went shop-
ping-and every price I saw scared me. $1400?
$2200? For a lathe?
Most books on woodworking advise the begin-
ner to buy the best possible tools. And that makes
good sense because it's the beginning woodworker
who most needs the quality of good tools. But by
nature, I'm disinclined to take that approach. I
might buy a router, but only .when I had a job
requiring a router that would pay me enough to
cover the cost of the new tool. And the router I
chose would not be the best on the market; it
would, instead, be the cheapest that I believed
could be persuaded to do the necessary work.
Recognizing the shortcomings of my conserva-
tism, I also know that cheap tools can present the
woodworker with some intriguing challenges: How
can that cheap jointer be augmented so that it will
accurately joint long boards ? (Maybe a wooden
roller on a shop-built extension of the outfeed
table.) How can that cheap drill press be modified
so that it will accurately drill chair mortises? (Look
at the mortising jig pictured in the next chapter.)

When I saw the prices of good lathes, I shud- on the shoulder, and sailed across the shop . I was-
dered and turned away. And although I was pretty n't hurt but I was surprised. The square nut that is
sure I'd be getting a lot less tool, I did what I'd done supposed to wedge the body of the mounting foot
in the past when faced with the cost of good against the steel tube of the lathe body, holding it
machinery: went to Sears. And for $220, plus tax, firmly in place, had loosened. As a result, the tail
they sold me a lathe. stock, which rides on that tube, was rocking back
The bed was too short. And the only way to and forth , breaking down the center. A friend then
change the speed was to shut the power off and welded the two mounting feet to the tube and
move the drive belt from one set of pulleys to eliminated the problem .
another. And the
mechanism for
advancing the tail
center never did
work as advertised.
But it was a lathe,
and I was confi-
dent about finding
a way to use it to
produce chair
A chair post is mounted in my modified lathe.
As it came from
the box, the lathe could be used to turn nothing This incident, however, points out one of the
longer than a table leg, as there was only 36 " risks of modifying machinery. In its original con-
between centers. Since chair-making often requires figuration, with the head stock end of the tube held
45" or more between centers, some modifications in place by a fat setscrew, the square nut in the
had to be made. mounting foot was pr.obably enough to hold the
First, I ordered a second mounting foot for the tube in place; but as I had modified it, with both
tube on which the tail stock slides. When it arrived, ends of the tube held in place by a pair of square
I removed the tube from its po.sition in the head nuts wedged against the tube, the strain proved to
stock assembly and moved the entire tube 12" be too much.)
down the bench, inserting the second mounting Two other modifications had to be made.
foot in the tube's head stock end. This gave me the Because the toolrest also slides on the steel tube,
necessary distance between centers. moving that tube a foot down the bench meant
(For anyone wishing to modify a Sears lathe in that I no longer had access to the end of the turn-
the same way, let me add a cautionary note: Several ing nearest the head stock. To solve this problem
weeks after lengthening the lathe bed, I was turning and to make the production of chair parts more
a chair's back post, and the turning blank began efficient, I made wooden tool rests the full length of
behaving strangely, lurching away from my gouge. the various chair parts. I simply clamp these to the
As I reached for the switch, the turning blank-all bench, turn on the lathe, and begin turning. And I
46" of it-lifted lazily from the centers, rapped me made one other change: Because the mechanism

for advancing the tail stock center didn 't work, l put into practice in your own shop because, even
sawed off the lever that locked that center into though l don 't do things the same way as many
place, which allowed me to get my long toolrests other turners, my methods allow chair parts to be
into a closer proximity to the work being turned . produced quickly and efficiently using my inex-
The entire tail stock is then nudged pensive Sears lathe.
down the bed, blows from a dead-
blow mallet pushing the center into
place in the stock's end grain. TURNING PREPARATION
What l didn 't know at the time is My collection of turning tools is small , consist-
that these early decisions would ing of a 11;.4" roughing gouge, 1;.4" and 34" spindle
come to shape nearly every aspect gouges, 1" and W' skew chisels, and a 1" butt chis-
of the chair-making process as it el. (There is also a pair of calipers that l use to
has been practiced in my shop. check tenon diameter.) When faced with a form
If you're lucky enough to have a that simply can 't be coaxed from these tools, l
really good lathe, you could prob- regrind an old parting tool to the right shape.
ably skip much of this chapter on In order to turn the mushroom caps seen on sev-
turning techniques. But if, like eral of the chairs pictured in this book, a faceplate
me, you don't have the money is also required. Briefly, this is a metal disk with a
that such a tool requires, there diameter of about four inches-they' re available in
may be some ideas here other diameters-equipped with a screw fitting
that you can designed to turn onto the lathe's drive spindle. Six
screw holes perforate the metal disk to permit the
screw mounting of turning blanks .
After band-sawing a mushroom-cap turning
blank to the approximate diameter, l fix that blank
onto a piece of scrap wood us!ng white or yellow
glue. I then turn woodscrews into the scrap, passing
through the holes in the lathe faceplate. (I put a
disk of newspaper into the glue joint between the
scrap and the turning stock. This permits breaking
the mushroom cap free from the scrap by tapping a
chisel point into the glue joint after turning.)
If I'm turning a heavier disk, I' ll screw it directly
to the faceplate. This does, however, leave screw
holes on one side of the turned disk, a circum-
stance the woodworker must take into considera-
tion when planning the piece.
My spindle turnings begin with four-sided rips.
Occasionally, for a vety large turning, I'll relieve the
corners with a drawknife after centering the stock

in the lathe and locking it in place with the index-
ing head locking pin ; but for stock of a modest
cross section-such as that needed for Shaker chair
reproductions-! don 't take the time to relieve cor-
ners prior to turning. I've found that, using my
roughing gouge on lathe-mounted stock, the cor-
ners of a four-sided turning blank can be knocked
off in seconds, much less time than it takes to pro-
duce an octagon with a drawknife or a jointer.
If a P/s " finished diameter is needed for a post, I
rip the stock to a turning blank Ph " on a side.
(When turning posts with diameters of more than
P/s", I begin with similarly oversized turning Unliile ca rving tools, which require carefully honed,
stock.) Then , before centerin g the blank in the extre111ely sharp edges, lathe tools worl? best when the
lathe, I sight along its length for evidence of bow, 111etal edge is not feathered out quite so finely. This is
twist, or crook. If any of these defects is present, I because these tools taile such a beating at the lathe.
While a carving tool 111ight taile a half hour to
run the stock over the jointer for correction. The
re111ove a hundred chips of wood, a roughing gouge can
goal isn 't to create a perfectly smooth, flat surface re111ove that lllu ch 111aterial i 11 a coup le of seconds,
on my turning stock. Instead, the goal is to create destroying a carefu ll y constructed edge al111ost instantly.
squares or rectangles on each end of the turning I try to 111ove directly frolll the grinder to the lathe,
blank, the cen ters of which are also the centers of a leaving a small burr on the edge. This burr cuts very
Pis" cylinder running through the length of each quicilly and holds up better than a finer edge.
Sometimes, however, when mal?ing a finishing cut, I
turning blank. Failing to stra ighten crooked turn-
will hone the tool 011 a Washita stone lubricated with
ing stock before centering-particularly in th e case
WD- 40.
of turning blanks for long back po sts- a lm ost
always means that one side of th e post cylinde rs
wi ll end up flat because there is insufficient m ater-
ial on that one side of the turning blanks. ( ee
drawing to the right.)
It is also important at this stage to look for
defects in the turning blank. Some-a pea-sized
knot, a check, a streak of sapwood-may disquali-
fy the piece either structurall y or aesthetica lly for
chair use. Other defects are serious enough to make
turning dangerous. If, for examp le, I center a badly
cracked turning blank, it can come apart in the
The center {C) of this turning blanil is not set at the
lathe. A cracked piece that comes apart whi le at rest
center of the end-gra in face. Instead, it is set at the cen-
o n the workbench is an inconvenience. If, however, ter of an imaginary 13!s " cylinder that runs through the
that same piece comes apart while spinning at tuming blanh. (The elements of this drawing are exag-
1350 rpm , my safety is at stake. gerated and distorted for clarity.)

After clamping the turning stock into a Typically, in this way, I will mark the centers on
vise with the end grain up, I use a back- all the parts to be turned for a chair or for a run of
saw to cut a pair of crossing diagonals chairs. Then, after replacing the drive and the tail
about Vs " deep on that end of the centers in their positions on the lathe, I'll mount
turning stock that will be fit onto the the turning stock into place on those centers by
drive center. Then, after removing the tapping the tail stock housing with a dead-blow
drive center from the lathe, I tap it mallet. This ensures that both centers are seated
into place on the end grain of the properly. It is particularly important that this be
turning stock so that the spurs fit snug- done carefully when mounting the first turning
ly into the diagonals and the center blank in a series, because the two lathe centers also
point is driven into the exact cen- need to be set into their tapered housings after
ter of the turning stock. reinsertion .
The heights of my homemade toolrests are not
adjustable, and the hickory from which these tool-
rests were made has worn down, resulting in some
low areas, in addition to a slight across-the-board
reduction in rest height. Technical manuals stress
the importance of establishing just the right rest
height for various lathe operations. I've learned to
accommodate the low areas and the inadjustable
heights for two reasons. First, I didn 't know any
better. When I began making chair parts, I thought
that all lathe operations were performed with a sin-
gle rest height, so that's what I learned to do . And
second, nearly all the turnings produced in my
shop have simple silhouettes. Excep t for mush-
room caps on Shaker reproductions, I do no face-
plate turning, and the most common shape I form
between centers is a gradual taper.

After clamping my toolrest in place, I take out the
I then remove the drive cen- 1W' roughing gouge and begin turning.
ter and reverse the turning Berea, Kentucky, chair-maker Charles Harvey has
stock in the vise. Using a pencil an enormous Oliver lathe with a rheostat as speed
and a straightedge to mark control. This means that with the twist of a wrist,
diagonals, I locate the center on the other end of he can adjust the speed of his lathe while it is spin-
the turning stock and tap the point of the tail cen- ning. He can, therefore, rough-in at one speed, then
ter into the intersection of the diagonals. shift to a higher speed for finishing and sanding.

My inexpensive Sears model didn 't come well
equipped. The only way to adjust the speed of my
lathe is to stop the machine, open the cover on the
head stock end, and shift the V-belt to another set
of pulleys. This is not only inconvenient; it is also
time-consuming. What I've learned to do instead is
to turn all chair parts at the same speed ( 1350
rpm) , a practice I find safe as long as the turning
stock is sound, without structural defects, and as
long as the stock is securely mounted in the lathe.
Nevertheless, when turning a piece significantly
larger than the posts on a Shaker chair-for exam-
This is the grip that I use when I'm roughing-in a cylin-
der (and sometimes when I'm forming shapes with spin- ple, those on a Brewster or Carver chair-1 start out
dle gouges). at the slowest speed (875 rpm), then move up to a
Although the photo doesn't show this, the fingers have higher speed after the cylinder has been roughed-
been cut from the glove to prevent them franz being In.
drawn up into the gap between the too/rest and the Although I now turn almost everything at 1350
rpm , when I began turning chair parts, I roughed-
The work is supported by the fleshy pad at the base of
in at 875 rpm, then increased the speed for final
my fingers that is pressed against the back side of the
cylinder, while the thumb pressing agaillSt the roughing shaping, increasing it once again for sanding. And
gouge stabilizes the hand and, by extension, the work. I would recommend that turners who haven't yet
Notice the masking tape wrapped around the glove's grown comfortable with the turning of the long,
palm. This is periodically renewed with fresh tape as the thin spindles that post-and-rung chair-making
friction with the rough turning wears through to my
requires do as I did and rough-in those parts at the
slowest possible speed . The only exception to this
would be for the back. posts-which are discussed
There's nothing tricky about roughing-in a rung
or a front post. I center the stock, turn on the lathe,
and bring the tip of my roughing gouge into the
spinning work. Until the corners have been
knocked off, I move cautiously, taking light passes.
Then as the stock begins to approach a cylindrical
shape, I become more aggressive, working the
gouge back and forth along the length of the stock,
engaging the tool solidly enough to send up a gen-
erous arc of chips.
After the rung stock has been roughed-in, I use the knife
But back posts are another matter. The first back
edge of the skew to transfer the tenon locations from the
wooden too/rest-on which they've been marked-to the post I ever turned took almost two hours because,
rung stocll. although I'd previously done some turning, I'd

never worked on anything so long and thin. What Eve ntually, over a period of months, I found that
I found was that if the gouge were pressed into th e in order to turn back posts efficie ntl y, two things
work firmly enough to remove material , the post- had to be done.
flexible because of its length-bowed away from First, I began using a gloved off-hand as a steady
the gouge. This bowing resulted in a deep and ugl y res t. A bare hand provided the support I need ed,
cut that spiraled around the post. but th e friction generated too much heat.
There seemed to be no middle ground. If I (I know that some woodworkers see this gloved-
pressed against the turning stock so lightly that it hand steady rest as a dangerous practice. If th e
didn 't fl ex, I removed no material. However, if th e hand is kept away from th e head stock and th e fin-
press ure was hard enough to re move material, the gers are allowed to dangle, keeping only th e palm
work flexed and the gouge cut a spiral. As a result, of th e hand against th e work, there is nothing
th ose first few back posts were shaped entirely inh erently haza rdous about the practice. As a pre-
without skill , relying instead on persistence as I ca ution, I do cut the fingers from my turning gloves
wore away material about as swiftly as water so that they can 't be drawn into the gap between
wears away rock. Although this process did the turning stock and th e tool rest. I feel much safer
eventually produce chair posts, it was clear that using a gloved hand as a steady rest on the lath e
if I didn't solve this problem , I wouldn 't make than I do whe n performing any operation on the
any money as a chair-maker. A more efficient table saw.)
way had to be found to turn these long, thin After becoming comfortable w ith this method of
spindles. turning back posts, I bega n using it on shorter turn-
I considered a steady rest, but although I now ing stock as well, beca use by bringing the thumb of
use one for the turning of certain finials, I did my off-hand down over the top of the work and
not want to inhibit pressing it against the gouge, I found that I could
th e freedom I'd found work safely with complete co ntrol at a more aggres-
in turning the whole sive pace, a principle th at app lied to this shorter
length of a piece with stock as well.
the aid of full-length The second important change for turning back
wooden toolrests. Too, posts was increasing lathe rpm. It was something I
moving a steady rest tri ed, in desperation, when I was unable to think of
back and forth along anything else. Remarkabl y, what I found was this:
the length of the back At slow speeds, the post stock easily gives ground as
post turning stock th e tool is pressed against it. At higher speeds
could make the process ( 1350 rpm or greater), th e work becomes more
ve1y time-consuming. resistant to such flexing. I suspect this is because at
What was needed was a higher rpm the tool is in more nearly constant con-
quick method, some- tact with the entire circumference of the turning
thing that would give me spindle, but I' m not scientist enough to know for
th e chance to make a lit- sure. But, on a practical level, increasing lathe rpm
tl e mon ey with these inhibits the tendency of long spindles to flex away
chairs. from the lathe tool.

Afte r roughin g th e run g stock to a cylindri ca l sha pe,
I fo rm th e teno ns at each end.
The uni o n of run g te no ns a nd post m o rt ises is
th e m ost criti ca l ele me nt in th e ch a ir-m a kin g
process. Fa ilure to p ro perl y co ntro l thi s process
in evita bl y res ults in a cha ir th at wo n't stand up
und er the stra in of a pe rso n's sh iftin g we igh t. Ove r
tim e, glue jo ints loose n a nd th e cha ir d evelo ps di s-
After a couple of passes with a spindle gouge, 1 elwell the co nce t1in g creaks. Pro per co ntro l of thi s p rocess
rung tetwn 's least dia111eter with a pair of calipers. will , just as in evitabl y, result in a chair a bl e to pro -
vide ge ne rati ons of se rvice to th e ow ne r's fa mil y.
To a great exte nt, th e success o f th at uni o n
requires effi cie nt m a nagem ent of th e m o isture co n-
te nt of th e woo d . As discussed in Chapte r Two o n
m ateri als, d ry rung te no ns sho uld be fit into mo r-
ti ses cut into we tte r posts. Then, as th ese parts
ap p roach a state of m o isture eq u ili bri u m , th e pos ts
shr ink a nd th e rungs expand, crea tin g a ti ght jo int.
Add itionall y, however, thi s uni o n req uires ca re-
fu l work at th e lath e in shap ing th e ru ng te no ns.
l begin th e process by transferr ing te no n loca-
With a 1" butt chisel laid bevel side down on the rest, I
scrape away the rest of th e tenon waste. tions from the surface of my wood e n too l rest to th e
spinning lath e stock using the kn ife po int o f my
skew to m ark th e teno n sho uld e rs. The n, with a 34 "
spindl e go uge, l rou gh-in the te no n, checkin g it
seve ral times with a set of ca lipe rs.
Whe n th e thinn est po rti o n of th e te non has
reached th e req uired di a m ete r (%" o n nearly eve ty
ch a ir in this boo k) , I switch to a sha rp 1 " butt chi s-
el. This is pl aced bevel si de d ow n o n th e too lrest.
Th e ed ge is th e n b ro ught into co ntact w ith th e
wo rk. The ch isel acts as a scra pe r, q ui ckly shav ing
th e e nti re length o f th e teno n d ow n to th e di a me-
te r o f its thinn es t porti o n . At thi s po int, l use th e
ca lipe rs to check th e di a m ete r o f th e le ngth of th e
With lilY shew, a 1/ 16 " bevel is created at the end of the
te no n to m a ke sure that it is co nsistent fro m end to
tenon. This bevel prevents the leading edge of the tenon
fro/11 being caught against the wall of its 111ortise during e nd . Any necessa ty adju stm e nts a re m ade w ith th e
asse111bly. butt chi sel.

Then, using the skew point, I cut a 1!16" bevel on assembly, the glue and the shrinkage will create a
the end of the tenon opposite the shoulder. This strong joint. The only part of this process that is
bevel will prevent the end of the tenon from stick- tricky is reading the calipers.
ing in the mortise as the tenon is being seated Using calipers require a bit of experience because
under the pressure of a pipe clamp at assembly. it is possible to force them over a tenon that is con-
Ideally, these tenons should be cut a few hun- siderably oversized. Even today, after checking
dredths of an inch oversize. This permits an even thousands of tenons with my calipers, I make a
tighter joint. However, I've found that the process is couple of test fittings of a tenon into a mortise cut
relatively forgiving. If the tenon is simply snug at in a block of scrap before turning a batch of rungs.
This gives me an opportunity to check, once again,
the feel of the calipers on a tenon that is, in fact, a
few hundredths oversize.

With the roughing gouge, I bring the cylinder to
within 1!16" of its final maximum diameter. Then,
with the skew and % " spindle gouge, I begin to
form the various required shapes. On the rungs, the
tapers are established that lead downhill toward
the tenons. On the front posts, I establish the taper
at the foot and rough-in whatever shapes are need-
This drawing shows my left-handed approach to skew ed below the arms, leaving the work 1!16" over the
planing. Right-handers will likely prefer a different grip.
finished diameter. The only shapes that aren't
When planing, I try to do two things: First, I lay the
bevel of the skew flat atop the spinning work. (It's
formed at this time are the finials atop each of the
important that the skew iron remain in contact with the back posts. These are shaped l~ter, after the posts
toolrest.) Second, I maintain contact between the cutting have been marked for the drilling of rung mortises.
edge and the work below the center of the skew's sharp- Unlike most turners, I don't establish the diam-
ened edge. eters of the various parts with a parting tool prior
to shaping. Instead I just begin shaping those parts
with my 3,4 " spindle gouge and skew, reading the
Post diameters in process-first with my eye, then veri-
A~f.'2:=:=::-:-::== fying these estimates with the end of a rule laid
across the turning stock. Precision is less important
than balancing the various shapes of a chair part
against one another.
At this point, I skew-plane. For a year or more, I
Skew planing should be accomplished downhill as shown struggled to learn this technique, and for a year or
in this drawing. Trying to plane uphill against the grain more periodically dug chunks from turnings when
will result in tear-out. I lost control of the skew and it lurched into the

work. At one point, I decided my 1h" skew was too digging into the work because as I moved the point
narrow. I bought a 1" skew and tried to keep the of contact even slightly above the middle of the
middle of the skew's edge in contact with the work. skew's wide cutting edge- away from that part of
But the resu lts were little better. I thought then that the edge that is supported by the toolrest-the edge
my grip was incorrect, so I experimented with dif- was catching on the spinning circumference of the
ferent hand postures . The results were the same. work.
Then, whil e doing a story for "Woodwork" maga- My figured th en that a second princip le of skew
zine abo ut Charles Harvey, I noticed that he held planing was this: In order to avoid these digs, I had
his skew upside down when he planed. When I got to plane only with the lower half of the skew's edge.
home, I tried that too, but the results were no There, the cutting edge would be supported by the
better. toolrest, and it wou ld be all but impossible for th e
Finally, more as result of determination than skew to be twisted in my hand, throwing the edge
ski ll , I found that, if I was really careful, rungs into the work. (Refer to the drawings opposite.)
co uld be skew-planed by laying th e ground bevel of I switched the lathe on. Then I put the skew
my skew flat on th e surface of the turning so that against the work at that point on the skew's edge
the edge met the work at a very shallow angle. that was closest to the toolrest
Then, one day, I learned something else about and began planing.
skew-p laning. I was preparing the turnings for a Suddenly, remarkabl y, I found
curly maple rocker. As usual , I was struggling with that I could plane the long, thin
the skew. At one point, I stopped turning and sim- back posts that had once con-
ply took a moment to look at what I was doing. founded me. I could a lso plane
With the lathe off, I rehearsed my technique, trying the vases on the front posts and
to decide exactly what it was that happened when I th e disks and balls at the top of
lost control. Laying the edge of the tool on th e the back posts.
post, and keeping the point of contact near the To put my thinking to the test, I
middle of the skew's width, I rocked the skew back moved the point of contact be-
and forth. twee n the cutting edge and the
I noticed then that the point of the skew-that spinni ng work higher than the
part of the edge closest to the toolre t-was sup- middle of the skew's edge. Sure
ported by the rest. I noticed, to o, that the other side eno ugh, soon the skew was twisted
of the edge-that part farthest from the toolrest- in my hand and thrown against the
was unsupported . I rocked the skew back and forth work, where it dug out a chunk of
and thought about support: The skew had been wood. I was elated .

Chapter Six hair-making isn't brain surgery. An error of
C 11
¥3 2 in mortise placement won't bring the

MORTISING craftsmanship police to your door, although many

makers of casework, equipped with machinist's
measuring and layout tools, believe that it should .
Instead, chair-making is a discipline of approxi-
mates, of things read by eye, a discipline still
involving a hefty measure of intuition.
I'm not suggesting that anywhere-in-the-neigh-
borhood is close enough, but on a practical level
what happens is this: As a craftsman achieves more
and more experience in the discipline, he realizes
that chair-making is a pretty forgiving process. If
the side rungs meet the back post at 99 degrees
rather than 100 degrees, the chair will still come
together. If a slat mortise is Vt 6 lower on one back

post than is the matching mortise on the other

post, the chair will still come together. If the bot-
tom back rung mortise is rs deep instead of the

ideal one full inch, the chair will still come togeth-
er, even if the tenon is visible outside the post.
And no one will ever notice these errors.
True, those same imperfections might be glaring
on a piece of Krenovian casework, but that's be-
cause on a piece by James Kren ov, one of the most
meticulous of contemporary woodworkers, there
are so many straight-and-true ; eference lines with
which the viewer can make comparisons. On a
chair, however, everything is bent or tapered or
joined at non-right angles, and in such a free-
wheeling environment the eye- even the educated
eye- can 't m ake accurate judgm ents.
I believe it's important that anyone approaching
the discipline understand the difference between
b uilding a chair that is generally correct and build-
ing a chair that is perfectly correct. A generally cor-
rect chair can h ave all the structural qualities that
will ensure a long, useful life. Its tenons can fit
tightly into its mortises. Its posts can have a higher
m oisture content th an its rungs, allowing for a fair

amount of shrinkage. A generally correct chair can rarely involves any risk to the life of the chair. After
also be aesthetically pleasing. Its parts can be com- all, if I foul up the weave on a chair seat, I just take
bined and shaped in such a way as to bring plea- the weave apart and reweave. That might take a bit
sure to the eye and comfort to the body of the of time, but it doesn't threaten the existence of the
beholder. The generally correct chair is not a perfect chair. And the same applies to the making of slats,
chair. It can still be, however, a completely success- arms, and rockers. These parts are simple to dis-
ful chair. card, easy to replace.
But the posts, particularly the back posts, are dif-
ferent . A completed back post that has been turned,
LAYOUT (STORY) STICKS sanded, marked, and given a finial represents a sig-
Before I begin the construction of any chair, I sit nificant investment of time and materials. If, at
down with the measured drawing, a try square, and assembly, a mistake in post manufacture is discov-
a half dozen thin strips of hardwood that are at ered, the entire chair-making process grinds to an
least 48" long to prepare my layout sticks. These ugly halt while new post material is located. Then
allow me to mark the lengths and divisions of all again this material has to be ripped out, centered,
posts and rungs without the drudgery and inherent turned, marked, and mortised.
inaccuracy of freehand measurement.
I begin by marking each end, the overall length
of each turned piece. For the rungs, this includes MARKING MORTISE LOCATIONS
the fs " long tenons on each end. I then mark the ON THE POSTS
tenon shoulders. Although the process of marking mortise locations
The layout sticks for the posts are a little more along the lengths of the posts is relatively straight-
complicated. On one side, I mark the centers of the forward, it's more difficult to mark them correctly
mortises for the rungs on one face of the ch air. on the circumference of the posts. And while there
Then I flip the stick over and mark the mortises for are shortcuts to this process, they almost always
the rungs on the adjacent face of the chair. This involve a high risk of ~ailure. Even though the jigs
means that each chair requires two post layout discussed in the following pages take some time to
sticks: one for the front posts and one for the back construct, I think they are worth every minute to
posts. Also marked are the divisions for any post someone who's serious about making post-and-
turnings. rung chairs.
I complete my preparations by making patterns Two methods are described below and in the
for any band-sawn shapes (slats, arms, rockers) the accompanying pages. I've successfully used both
chair might require. methods in the construction of many chairs.


Chair-making begins and ends with the posts. The first method requires a lathe with an indexing
Everything else-making the smaller parts, apply- head, which is a disk centered on the lathe's axis
ing finishes, weaving seats-can be learned very that has been divided into 36 equal segments. Each
quickly. And failure in the execution of these skills of these segments is marked by a hole drilled

through the disk near its out- tive plain-sawn face of the post will be looking out
side diameter. A spring-loaded from the finished chair in a direction that is 140
pin can be released into those degrees from the front rung mortise. (Aligning the
36 holes, locking the lathe at posts in this way not on ly displays the post's most
each position. This device al- attractive face, it also puts both the side rung
lows the lathe operator to di- tenons and the front rung tenons into positions
vide any turned form into 10-de- that subject each to an equa l amount of mortise
gree increments, each of the shrinkage as the post dries .)
stops representing 10 degrees of Bringing the pencil point of the line-marking
the form's 360-degree who le. gauge into contact with the post, I draw a line
After the posts are turned and along the length of the post. One set of rung mor-
sanded but before they're taken tises will be drilled along this line. Then, using the
from the lathe, they must be spring-loaded pin to count stops on the indexing
marked for the drilling of the head, the work is turned eight positions, moving
mortises. away from the best plain-sawn face. There I draw
All the post-and-rung chairs in another line along the length of the post. The other
this book involve the use of one of set of rung mortises will be drilled along this sec-
two sets of angles. The reproduc- ond line.
tions of Shaker production chairs When setting up the first line on each of th.e
(and the variations of those chairs front posts (and later on , each of the back posts) ,
that I've designed) have side rungs it's important to remember that each pair of posts
meeting the back posts 971h degrees will have a right and left member. Briefly, this
from the back rungs, while the side rungs means that if the work is loaded into the lathe with
meet the front posts at the supplementary the foot of the post toward the tail stock (my
angle of 82 112 degrees from the front rungs. The method) and the first line marks the front rung
remaining chairs-the transitional Mt. Lebanon mortises (again, my method) ,, stops on the index-
rocker is one example-have side rungs meeting ing head will be counted clockwise on one post
the back posts 100 degrees from the back rungs, and counterclockwise on the other.
while the side rungs meet the front posts at the sup-
plementary angle of 80 degrees from the front
Back Posts
The method for laying out the mortise lines on the
back posts differs from that for the front posts in
Front Posts two ways. First, the back rungs are set at a 100-
To mark the SO-degree angle between the front and degree angle to the side rungs. This means ten stops
side rungs on the front posts of the Mt. Lebanon rather than eight on the indexing head. Also, to
transitional rocker, I remove the toolrest and posi- keep the post's most attractive plain-sawn face on
tion my line-marking gauge on the top of the lathe the front side of the chair, I set the line for the back
table. I then release the pin into one of the holes on rungs so that the centerline of that face is 50 de-
the indexing head, taking care that the most attrac- grees forward of the line.

Once the lines are drawn that marking the place- The preparation sequence for the back posts is as follows:

ment of the mortises on the post's circumference, I 1. Turn and marh the post. 4. Chop slat mortises.
2 . Drill rung mortises. 5. Assemble chair.
mark off the divisions along the length of the post.
3. Steam and bend bach posts.
To do this, I place my layo ut stick on edge along the
lin e and, with a pencil, mark the center of each
mortise. Then, flipping my layout stick over, I mark
the centers of the mortises on the post's other line.

Marking and Cutting Mortises in Back

Posts with Steam-Bent Slats
Th e fo ll owing discussion applies only to chairs
having steam-bent slats. Unbent slats, like those
above the back panel on the Bubble-Slat Rocker (in
the Contemporary Post-and-Rung Chairs section of
proj ects in Chapter Nine) , are centered on the same
centerline as the rungs.
The rung mortises on the back ladder are made
in exactly the same way as those on the front lad-
der. The slat mortises, however, require a different
method . After drilling the rung mortises on the
back posts, I steam-bend the posts. Then, after the
This drawing shows the details of the rung mortises and
posts have cured, the slat mortises can be chopped .
the slat mortises. Notice the W ' glue reservoir at the bot-
One at a time, th ese back posts are clamped to toll! of each. Notice, too, the slight shoulder above the
my bench top with the back rung centerline facing rung tenon.
up . I th en lay out the slat mortises, marking th eir Remember that not all. slat mortises are ?Is" deep .
widths and heights with a knife. Although the Those housing slats numbers 1 and 2 are shallower be-
rungs at the base of th e back ladder are set directly cause those mortises are cu t where the post diameter is
less than the diam eter of the post where the bottom mor-
on the centerline m ade by the marking gauge, the
tises are cut.
slat mortises are set just a bit to th e back of that 71Je drawing illustrates the correct postures of rungs
centerli ne since they are steam-bent to conform and steam-bent slats in the bacll ladder. When chopping
more closely to the shape of th e human back and a set of bach-slat mortises, 1 put a reference rung in
therefore enter the back posts in a slightly different position in the bottom mortise of the bacll post. 1 cl~ech
posture. (S ee the drawing at right.) the progress of the slat mortises by periodically sighting
past the bottom nmg to the test-fit slat.
More specifically, I lay out the slat mortises so
Because the slat mortises wou ld weaken the upper-
that their centerline is approximately 10 degrees
bent-portion of the bach posts during the bending
behind the centerline of the rung mortises. Then I process, the slat mortises can't be chopped until the
chop out the mortises, periodically checking their bends have been made; however~ since a bent post won 't
alignment by comparing a test-fit slat to a rung dry- fit securely against the fence on the rung mortising jig, 1
fit into the bottom rung mortise drill the nmg mortises prior to bending.

Marking and Cutting Mortises
in the Posts

Left: After locking the indexing head, I place the line-

marking gauge on the lathe table. (If your lathe bed is
made of angle iron, the gauge can be placed directly on
the bed.) The point of the pencil is brought into contact
with the f ront post. Then, maintaining that contact, I
slide the point along the ler1gth of the post, creating a
line that locates the post mortises on one face of th e
chair post.
Midd le: Rotating the work eight stops on the lathe's
indexing head brings the pencil point to a position 80
degrees from the first line. I then
make a line along that point of the
post's circumference, locating the post
mortises on the adjacent face.
I place the layout stick on the post,
aligning its foot with the foot of the
post. Then, with a pencil, I mark the
locations along that line on which the
rung mortises will later be drilled.
(On the back posts, these marks are
made with a pen so that the steaming
process won't obliterate my marks.)
Bottom: Both of my mortising jigs
require a flat wood table, which I've
bolted to the drill press 's cast-metal
table. The primary components of the
front and back mortising jig (FRMJ)
are the fence and the sliding carriage,
which moves from right to left under
the drill bit.
At this time, I set the height of the
drill press table so that when the bit
is brought down to its lowest point, it
cuts a mortise that is 1 11 deep. This is
the depth required for the VB 11 long
tenons used on most of the chairs in
this book. (The extra W ' is a glue
reservoir so that the hydraulic pres-
sure of the glue doesn't prevent the
tenon from becoming fully seated.)

Left: The post is locked into position by turning a pair of
screws through the wooden plate into the end of the post.
I bach off the screws and rotate the post to the line
marking the rung mortises on the adjacent face of the
chair. When it has been correctly positioned, I turn the
woodscrews that pass through the wooden plate into the
end of the post, and drill those mortises.
Middle left: I position the fence so that the distance
between it and the lead point of the Forstner bit is half
the diameter of the post being mortised. In this case the
post has a diameter of l W' .
Middle Right: I place the post on
the sliding carriage, crowding the
foot of the post against the wooden
plate on the right end, and rotate the
post so that one of the lines (those
just drawn by the line-marhing
gauge) is directly under the lead
point of the Forstner bit.
Bottom: Before cutting the mortis-
es, I clamp the bach post to the edge
of the bench. A pair of bar clamps
lochs the entire jig in position.
After cutting the slats to length, I
number them with #1 indicating the
top slat and #4 indicating the bottom
slat. Length is determined by measur-
ing out toward both ends from a cen-
terline established with a try square.
The tenon lengths are different on
each slat, the longest tenons being
established on the bottom slats, which
will be fit into the bach posts where
their diameter is greatest.
I insert a reference rung in the
bottom rung mortise (this rung is vis-
ible in the extreme right of the
photo). Periodically during the mor-
tising process, I'll test fit a slat and,
from the foot, sight along the length
of the post, comparing the position of
the reference rung with the position
of the test-fit slat. I then correct any
error in slat mortise angle.

MARKING METHOD #2 post, it was very difficult to feed the lead point of
my Forstner bit into the post dead-center on the
After a couple of years of making chairs using line that marked mortise locations on the post's cir-
Method #1, I felt that I needed different approach, cumference. Any individual mortise might be sev-
a second method by which I could eliminate the eral degrees out of alignment with the other mor-
troubling asymmetry in seat shape that was typical tises on that face of the chair.
of chairs assembled in this way. This is how I came Because of this I built my first jig-the front (and
to develop the side rung mortising jig (SRMJ). back) rung mortise jig: FRML described in Method
When I had first begun making chairs, I had #1-with a carriage that allowed me to pass the
built a table for my drill press that allowed me to post under the drill bit locked into a constant posi-
hold back posts perpendicular to the axis of the tion relative to the circumference of the post. In
drill bit as was described for the first mortising practice I lay the post on the sliding carriage and
method . Setting the fence on this adjust it so that the lead point of the Forstner bit
table so that it was half the diam- hits the line drawn along the post's length. I then
eter of the post from the lead turn a couple of woodscrews through the wood
point on the drill bit, I ran the plate on one end of the carriage into the end grain
bit down to the center point of of the post's foot. I slide the carriage to the various
each mortise. And while this locations along the post and drill the mortises.
method worked, it didn't pro- It is, of course, possible to make errors when set-
duce mortises in a satisfactory ting the post prior to fixing it in the carriage. How-
alignment. Although the mor- ever, what matters is that all of the mortises on that
tises were perpendicular to face of the chair are drilled in the same plane. In
the length of the other words, it doesn't matter structurally whether
that plane is precisely 80 degrees or 79 degrees
from the plane of the adjacent face of the chair
so long as the angle is consistept.

The exact dimensions of the side rung mor-
tising jig (SRMJ) will be determined by the
type of drill press being used and by the
types of chairs being built. This drawing
shows a few measu reme11 ts that might help
you get started i11 the co11struction of your
own jig.
Notice that the to11gued hardwood strips
on which the posts will rest are elevated.
This permits the chairs' back slats to bend
down into the open space between the slidi11g
hardwood strips during mortising.

Setting up the Side Rung

Mortising Jig (SRMJ)

Right, above and below: Like the previously discussed

mortising jig, the SRMJ begins with the flat wooden
table that I've bolted to the drill press's cast-metal table.
Although it wasn't used in connection to the previous jig,
the % II bolt that protrudes up through the wooden table
is a11 essential part of the SRM].

I've screwed a small rectangle of plywood to the

underside of the Baltic birch SRMJ table, which is fas-
tened to a second rectangle of plywood via a hinge. A
hole penetrates the second plywood rectangle, and a
brass sleeve is fit into that hole and secured with silicon
rubber. To install the SRM] table, the brass sleeve is fit-
ted over the % 11 bolt in the flat wooden table and the
nut is turned down snug.

Left: This side view shows the angled SRMJ table sup-
ports. The angle is set so that the front and back chair
ladders can be positioned under the drill bit at the cor-
rect angle that permits the accurate cutting of side nmg
The angle of this jig allows me to drill the side rung
mortises in chairs having angles of 82 ¥2 degrees between
the front and side rungs and angles of 97 ~ degrees
between the back and side rungs. By screwing wedges to
the bottoms of the SRMJ table supports, I can change the
angles to 100 degrees and 80 degrees. With the exception
of the Shaker-style stool (on which all angles are 90
degrees), these two sets of angles are the only ones used
on the chairs in this book.
Middle: The two bolts protruding from the SRMJ table
in the previous photo are used to lock movable sliding
tables into the correct positions for chair ladders of vary-
ing sizes. The hardware needed to install those bolts is
shown here.
After drilling a hole into the SRMJ table, a deep-
threaded metal insert (in the lower right quadrant of the
photo) is turned into the Baltic birch, using an Allen
wrench fit into the hexagonal lip of the insert.
To fasten the sliding tables into position, I tum the
machine bolt into the insert's machine threads-which
begin below the hexagonal lip-drawing the bolt head
snugly against the sliding table.
Bottom: The two sliding tables-one to
support a ladder's right post and one to sup-
port the left-have dadoes cut into their bot-
tom swfaces. These fit over hardwood strips
screwed into matching dadoes cut into the
SRM! table.
The back sliding table must be placed so
that the hole bored by the Forstner bit is cen-
tered on the post's centerline. I sight from the
end of the post up to the lead point of the bit.
When they appear to be properly aligned, I
tighten the machine bolt on the back sliding
table and drill a mortise into a scrap post
that has the same diameter as the post to be
mortised. If the mortise is, in fact, centered
in the scrap post, then I'm ready to begin

Details of the SRMJ

Top: This detail of the other side of the back

sliding table shows the head of the 111acl!ine
bolt, which holds the bach sliding table i11 the
appropriate positio11.

Middle: Th is close-up shows one of the hard-

wood strips on which the sliding tables ride.

Bottom left and right: In both of the front and

the back sliding tables, there is a tongued hard-
wood strip. These slide left and right under the
drill bit to provide support for the posts of lad-
ders that have qeen steam-bent.
These end views of the sliding strips in both
the front and back sliding tables show the
tongues that hold the111 in place.

Readying the SRMJ
for Mortising

Right: I've mounted the front

sliding table, which, like the
back sliding table, is held in
position by tightening the
machine screw into the threaded
metal insert set into the SRMJ
Here the sliding hardwood
strips in both the front and
back sliding tables are clearly
shown. The strips will support
the partially assembled pieces.

Bottom: The jig

is set up for the
drilling of side
rung mortises
in the back lad-
For example,
in this position,
by sliding the
strips to the left
the strips will-
support a back
ladder the bent
ends of which
extend to the
right down into
the gaps created
in the swfaces
of the front and
back sliding

Positioning Work
on the SRMJ

Left: In this photo I've

positioned a back ladder
for mortising. Notice that
by sliding the tongued
hardwood strips to the
right, room has been cre-
ated for the bent portions
of the bach posts on the
left-hand side of the photo
without losing a wide
bearing surface for the
posts during the mortising

Bottom: With this jig, I

can quickly and accurately
drill the side rung mortis-
es for post-and-rung

Chapter S even lthough many of the pieces shown in this
A book-including several rocking chairs-have

STEAM- no steam-bent parts, others have steam-bent slats

and/ or back posts.
When I began making chairs, one of my first
BENDING considerations was finding a low-cost method for
generating the steam that bending requires. One
method that's often cited in the woodworking press
is built around a pan of water on an electric burn-
er. The drawings of this arrangement are very
clear- burner, pan of water, steam chamber of
some sort. However, if this work is done in the
kitchen (which is where most of us keep our elec-
tric burners) , the steam produced would make
humid swamps of our homes- peeling paint, loos-
ening wallpaper, eroding marriages.
I searched for other possibilities.
A hot plate? Yes, it could be taken outside where
the steam could rise harmlessly into the air; but the
hot plates I found listed in the Sears catalog were
anything but low-cost.
A pan of water over an open fire? It did offer the
charm of being true to the centuries-old tradition
of American chair-making. But it would be cum-
bersome to use on a regular basis.
What I wanted was somet~ing cheap, easy to
construct (or adapt) , and convenient to use.
Finally, in our laundry room, while looking for a
clean pair of pants, I found th e answer: a device my
wife had picked up at a garage sale for $6 . It was a
1500-watt, four-quart, deep-fat fri er that I could fill
with water, set at the appropriate temperature, and
be rewarded with lots of steam.
To contain the steam, I bought a four-foot length
of 4" PVC d rainpipe. The salesman at the plumbing
supply shop assured me that standard PVC would
never stand up to the temperatures steaming would
generate. His recommendation was cast-iron pipe
at about four times the cost of PVC. I thanked him
fo r his advice and bought the cheaper pipe.
To get the steam into the length of PVC, I cut a
hole in the metal lid of the deep-fat frier that
matched the outside diameter of the PVC. To hold
the pipe above the surface of the water that I'd be
boiling in the frier (so that I could collect all the
steam that formed there instead of just that
amount that formed within the 4" PVC) , I turned
four heavy-bodied sheet-metal screws-their sharp
tips ground off to avoid scratching the materials I
steamed-into the wall of the PVC about two inch-
es above the bottom of th e pipe. I left an inch pro-
truding on the outside of the pipe wall to keep the
bottom of the pipe from sliding too far through the
hole cut in the frier's lid .
I considered several elaborate solutions to the
problem of gasketing the narrow gap between the In this photo, I'm loading a set of chair slats into my
lid and the outside di am eter of the PVC, then set- steamer. Notice that the le11gth of PVC passes through
tled on duct tape, w hich holds up remarkably well , the deep-fat frier's metal lid. Notice, too, the hardware
cloth that laps the bottom of the PVC.
although it does require periodic renewal.
Because I was con ce rn ed that immersion might
stain my wood, I screwed a piece of hardware cloth The lid with the
over the bottom end of th e PVC, holding it in place holes prepared in it
with sheet-metal screws turn ed into the pipe. I now has been placed on
the deep-fat frier,
believe, however, th at it probably doesn 't make
and the PVC is held
much difference; I suspect that the steamer would erect via a strip of
work just as well if th e bo ttoms of the posts and wood lath screwed to
slats stood in the water being heated by the frier. the PVC and spring-
At the plumbing supply shop I bought a cap to clamped to the lad-
contain the steam in th e pipe. Into this cap, I der.
Steam can be seen
drilled a dozen Vs " holes. Without these holes, the
rising from the relief
steam searches for and finds routes of escape (for holes in the cap atop
instance around the frier's lid) that don 't pass over the length of PVC.
the parts being steamed . The holes encourage a The elltire appara-
flow of steam up the length of the pipe. tus sets up quickly
It isn 't pretty, but the entire apparatus sets up in and is assembled
less than five minutes, breaks down easily, and from i11expe11sive
parts. A11d the best
works every time. I should point out, however, that
part about this odd-
the plumbing supply salesman was right. The pipe lookillg contraptio11
has wilted a little, although not enough to interfere is that it worl?s every
with the my ability to steam chair parts. time.

BENDING FORMS my pos ts in a way th at wi ll ult im ate ly present th eir
best p la in-saw n faces to a viewe r sta ndin g in fro nt
The seco nd bit o f h a rd wa re required by the stea m- of th e ch a ir. This m ethod also a li gns th e pos t stoc k
bendin g process is a se t o f be ndin g fo rm s. Th ese in a way th at wo rks best wi th th e stea m -be nd
h ave ass um ed th o usands o f diffe re nt configura- req uired by m a ny of th e b ac k pos ts. Th at is, it
ti o ns ove r th e yea rs, and no single d es ign is "best. " a li gns th e back p osts so th at th e bend is nea rl y pe r-
In fact, a nything that can h o ld stea m ed pa rts in th e pend icul ar to th e pos ts' a nnu al rin gs.
correct a li gnm ent through o ut th e d1y in g process
wi ll work. Traditionall y, a se t of fo rm s might co n-
sist of no thin g more th a n three sh o rt posts: two THE BENDING PROCESS
that loc k th e e nds of th e pa rt being be nt a nd a third .6. Refere n ce b ooks sugges t th at, pri or to be ndin g,
tha t pos iti o ns the middl e in su ch a way as to fo rce wood be stea m ed fo r an ho ur fo r each inch o f its
a be nd. thi ckn ess.
Afte r exp erimenting w ith seve ral sets of fo rm s, I usua ll y exceed thi s, especia ll y w he n bendin g
I've settl ed on a se t d es igned aro und three pipe !4" thi ck ch air sl a ts. Th ese a re always stea m ed fo r a

cla mps. Th ese prov id e grace ful bend s w ith o ut th e minimum of thirty mi n utes .
stra in o f mu scling fres hly stea m ed pa rts into a sta-
tio n aiy fo rm . I pl ace th e fres hl y stea m ed pa rts .6. O nl y straight-gra in ed p ieces be nd we ll a nd re-
be twee n th e sh aped wood e n jaws o f th e form a nd ta in stre ngth after be nd ing.
ti ghte n th e pipe cl a mp sc rews until th e
jig's two woo den jaws h ave fo rced th e
stea m ed pa rts into th e co rrect a li gn-
m e nt.

The gradu al bends required by th e ch airs
in thi s b oo k can be atta in ed, fo r th e
m os t pa rt, without givin g mu ch th o ught
to th e alignme nt (in relati o n to th e
a nnu al rin gs ) o f th e m a te ri a l in th e
bendin g fo rms. If th e stoc k is stra ight-
gra in ed a nd w ith o ut stru ctura l d efects,
the m a te ri a l is ve ry fo rgiving a nd w ill
A set of chair slats ca ll be seell dryillg ill my belldillg forms. The two
pe rmit th e chair-m a ke r to a li gn th e
bottom clamps are fit through opellillgs ill til e form s' wooden jaws.
ma te ri al in a mann e r th a t bes t suits hi s The third clamp, Oil th e top of the form s, is added to help keep the
o r h e r aes th eti c goals. As I po inted o ut jaws perpelldicular Lo th e bottom edges of Ll1e slats. A separate set of
in C h a pte r Six, describing th e m a rkin g curved woodell jaws with a differellt shape is used when drying a set
of th e la th e- m o unted pos t stock, I a li gn of steamed back posts.

is cove red by tape a nd so d oes n 't sh ow, a nd as h ca n
take th e re lat ively sh a rp be nd s required by th ese
ta pe bars w ith o ut fracturin g.
Fo r th e mod es t rad ii required by back pos ts,
che ny, mapl e, and wa lnut a ll wo rk ve1y ni ce ly.
Also, w he n planed to a thi ckn ess o f %", almost a ny
woo d ca n be b ent into slats .

.A Fo rm s should exagge ra te th e d es ired sh ape.

The re is a lways a ce rta in a m o unt o f spring-bac k;
/11 ellis drawing, tile post stocll is sl!ow11 in cross section h oweve r, th e exact a m o unt of n ecessa ry exagge ra-
to reveal tile annlwl rings. Notice chat the direction of
ti o n is diffi cult to predi ct. Ex pe rim entati o n sho uld
tile bend is perpendiwlar to til e alignment of tile rings.
be yo ur guid e.
Altilollgil grad11al bends can be made a bit to the rigl!t
or left of a line perpendiwlar to c.he rings, sharp bends
are best aligned in this IIUlllll er. .A Pa rts b e nt o nce ca n b e reb e nt.
Ma ny tim es I've pull ed a ch a ir sl a t fro m th e fo rm
to find its sh a pe sli ghtl y di sto rted . Ano th e r ro und
T hi s m eans that th e g ra in mu st be co ntinu o us in th e steam chambe r a nd th e d ry in g form usua ll y
fro m e nd to e nd . Pa rts a re like ly to fractu re w h er- co rrects this.
eve r th e re is grain run o ut.
.A How long should stea m ed pa rts rem am Ill th e
.A So m e woods be nd bette r th a n d1y ing form ?
o th e rs. I'm not sure. In my
But I have n 't yet fo und o ne th at sh o p I tty for a week,
re fu ses to be nd at all. In my ex pe ri - a lthough in a pin ch I
e nce, as h is th e pre mi e r m ate ri a l fo r h ave pull ed p a rt s
sharp be nds. In fact , w he n building fro m th e form afte r
ta pe- b ac k chairs from ch e rry o r m a- o nl y three d ays-
pl e, I a lways be nd th e top a nd b o t- w ith o ut disa strous
tom ta pe bars from ash . Th e woo d consequ ences.

Chapter Eight ost of the benches and stools appearing in
M this book have solid board seats; however,

WEAVING all the post-and-rung chairs are seated with materi-

al that has been woven over the seat rungs. Also,
there are a number of chairs and settees with back
SEATS panels similarly constructed of woven material.
The two Pilgrim chairs have seats woven of rush,
which is made from the dried leaves of the cattail
plant found growing in roadside ditches all over
the country; and this is the one type of seating
material I don't weave in my shop. Those chairs
were sold unseated (and unfinished) and taken by
the customer to a man specializing in distressed
finishes, then on to a woman who weaves seats
from rush. If you're interested in learning how to
weave this beautiful and durable seating material,
you can find several good books on the subject in
your local library or bookstore.
On the other hand, the other two types of seat-
ing material appearing on the post-and-rung
chairs-splint and Shaker tape-I do weave. This
chapter will focus on the use of those materials.

I spent 81;2 hours weaving ~y first rattan splint
chair seat. Maybe three of those hours were actual-
ly spent weaving. Another hour was spent puzzling
out the pattern, and the remaining hours were
spent repeatedly reweaving areas I'd bungled. But I
did learn, and by the time I had woven the third or
fourth chair seat, I'd improved to a more
respectable two hours per chair.
Traditionally, chairs of this type are seated with
the inner bark of the hickory tree or with ash splint,
which is obtained by pounding wet ash logs so that
the grain separates and can be peeled away in nar-
row strips of loosened wood. Both are excellent
seating materials, but both are expensive to buy
and difficult to harvest on your own. Rattan splint,

which is taken from the same plant that produces
caning material, is readily available in consistently
high quality at reasonable prices from mail order
suppliers. For me, this combination of virtues is
Rattan splint comes tied in bundles called hanks,
in a variety of widths. To do a seat on an average
chair, two to three hanks of Vz " splint are required . This pencil mark 011 the frotlt nmg i11dicates the frollt
The seat on a large chair (e.g., the Mt. Lebanon #7) left comer of the rectangle that will be wrapped with the
warp stra11ds. Measured from the 11ear post, the mark
requires a bit more, and the seat on a small chair
a/ig11s with the i11side of tile back post.
(e.g. , the two-slat side chair, the second project in
the section of Shaker-style chairs in Chapter Nine,
The Projects) requires a bit less.
Only a handful of tools are used in the process
of weaving splint: scissors, a stapler, needlenose pi i-
ers, a butter knife, a spring clamp, a pencil, a cou-
ple of strips of sturdy tape (Scotch or masking tape
will not do), and a bathtub.
As it comes from the supplier, splint is too brit-
tle to be worked . It must first be soaked in a tub of
warm water for an hour and a half to make it sup-
The beginning of the first strand is taped to the side seat
ple enough to weave. rung. A spring clamp is used to hold the warp in place
While the splint is soaking, I lay out a rectangle while a new warp strand is attached to the end of the
on the chair's seat rungs. First, I measure the dis- first warp strand with three staples located along a11
tance between the two back posts and subtract that eight-i11ch lap.
distance from the distance between the two front
posts. On the front seat rung, I put a mark that is
half of that difference measured from the inside of
one front post. Then I put a mark that is the same
distance from the inside of the other front post.
These two points, along with the inside edges of the
back posts, enclose a rectangle that will be the first
part of the seat to be woven.
If you look closely at an individual strand of
splint, you notice that one surface has lifted fibers,
while the other is harder and smoother. The
Whe11 the warp has filled approximately half the area to
smoother side goes up; the frayed side down, facing be seated, a 1" foam cushion cut to tile co11tour of the
the rungs. Notice that the fibers have a grain, all seat is slipped between the warp layers. This cushion
lifting in the same direction. If you weave against helps the wove11 splint maintai11 its shape. Additional
the grain, you can damage or destroy your weaver. warp is then wrapped arozmd this cushio11.

When th e splint has softened, I remove one hank
from th e tub and open it. The warp (this te rm
d e no tes th e splint that wraps th e sea t from front to
back) is laid o ut first. In o rder to minimize th e
numb er of sp li ces (which ca n later obstruct th e
weavi ng), I select th e lo nges t pieces of splint for th e
warp. Sometim es, if I'm d ea ling with a poor batch
Tile first weaver doesn't wrap arozmd th e side seaL
of sp lint, two or three hanks have to be ope ned to rungs. Instea d, botil ends are wclwd under warp strands
get e no ugh long stuff to fo rm th e wa rp. 0 11 tile top swfa ce of tile seat. Tile function of tile first

I begin by taping one e nd of th e first strip to the weaver is simply to fill in tile spa ce between tile bacll
inside o f the right (my right w h en facing the ch air, posts.
whi ch is turned upsid e down) side sea t rung, near
th e point a t which that run g e nters th e mortise o n
th e fro nt post. (Most boo ks w ill tell yo u to fasten
that fi rst strip with a furniture tack. Don 't d o this;
it wil l crack the rung.) I then run th at st rip over the
back sea t rung just inside th e post. ext, I pass th e
warp to th e front seat run g, la ppin g it from under-
neath just to th e left of th e m ark m ad e on the front
seat rung. Th e warp co ntinu es, returning to th e
back seat rung, over th e run g, back to th e front seat
ws one end of the first weaver being
rung, until a point is reac hed at which insuffi cie nt
tu c!?ed wzder a strand of the warp. Notice the weaver's
le ngth re mains on that strand of splint to complete paLLenz. It crosses over three strands of warp, then under
a noth e r circuit. three strands of warp.
At this tim e, I splice o n a new le ngth of splint,
taking ca re that the hard er, smoo th er su rface is o n
th e face side. To make a splice, eight in ch es of th e
new strand are lapped over th e last eight inches of
the o ld . The strands are th e n fastened togeth er w ith
three staples.
I need to m ention two po ints ab o ut th e splices:
First, all splices must take place on th e und ersid e of
the ch a ir. This restricition m a kes it is necessary to
cut a nd disca rd some sp lint. Seco nd , the staples
shou ld be se t so that th eir prongs a re folded ove r
Splices are made in the weaver by lapping the first six or
o n the in sid e of the splint. Thi s m akes it possible to
eight inches of a new stra nd over the last six or eight
remove th e sta pl es w ith need le n ose pliers once th e
inches of the old strand. Although some boo!?s indicate
weaving is co mplete-som ething I don 't bother that these splices should be made only on the bottom
with o n th e seats, but somethin g th at is necessary side of the seating material, I splice on both the top and
o n th e backs. bottom swfaces to avoid wasting splint.

Ap p roachin g th e midway po int o f th e wa rp, I
feed a 1" foa m cushi o n cut to th e shape o f th e seat
between th e laye rs of wa rp. Thi s so ften s th e sitting
a bi t, b u t prim arily th e purpose o f th e cu shi o n is to
give th e seat "bo dy," so th at th e splint d oes n't
beco me loose a nd sag.
I co nti n ue wrapp in g th e wa rp a round th e run gs
until I've co mpl etely cove red th e le ngth of th e back
sea t ru ng. Fin a ll y, th e e nd of th e las t stra nd of wa rp
passes ove r th e fro nt sea t run g fro m a bove a nd is
ta ped to th e sid e run g nea r th e bac k post.
At th is po int, I'm ready to begin weav ing. The
fi rst weave r (the splint th at run s fro m side to side)
fill s th e space betwee n back pos ts. Unl ike th e o th e r
weave rs, it d oes n't wrap aro un d th e side ra il s to th e
und erside of th e ch air. One e nd of thi s weave r is
loose ly fo lded ove r-two or three inches wo ul d be
e no ugh- a nd hoo ked und e r th e second (co unted
from e ith er side ) stra nd o f wa rp . Then it a lte rnate-
ly passes over three a nd und er th ree strand s until it
Wh ell th e weavers have filled approximately half tile dis - reaches th e oth e r back post. At thi s po int it is cut
tallce to the frollt seaL rung, the gussets (th e triall -gular off, leaving two o r three in ches to fo ld ove r.
areas La the right and left of the reCLallgle formed by the
The second weaver begins o n th e und e rside of
warp) can be filled in with short strips woven bach into
th e cha ir. On a padd ed surface, I turn th e cha ir ove r
the weave, then ruched under at the ends. Th ese strips
thell pass over the frollt seat rung and are similarly a nd begin feedin g o ne e nd o f th e weave r into th e
wovell into the weave Oil the bottom side of th e seating wa rp just forward o f th e two bac k posts. As it is
materia I. thro ugho ut th e weav irig p rocess, th e pattern he re is
"over th ree a nd u nd e r three, " a nd so o n across th e
chai r bo tto m . W he n th e weave r has reached th e
o ppos ite side, I turn th e chair ove r so th at it's up-
ri ght a nd begin weaving ac ross th e top sid e o f th e
wa rp using th e free end o f th e weave r. It's impo r-
tan t to und e rsta nd thi s pa rti cul ar tw ill patte rn .
Ta ke a m o me nt to study th e ph o tos. No ti ce how
th e beginnin g of each success ive row o f weave is
stagge red ove r o ne wa rp row. Fo r exa mpl e, thi s sec-
o nd row of weave e nters th e wa rp o ne stri p behind
th e po int at w hi ch th e first weave r enters th e wa rp .
One wa y La chech til e accuracy of tile weave is La sight Bo th th e n reve rt to th e sta nd a rd "und er three a nd
the diagollals. Ally error is quicld y apparellL. over th ree " patte rn .

When I reach the opposite side of the chair, I
draw the weaver tight, turn the chair over, and
begin weaving with the free end of the weaver
across the bottom of the chair. Here, too, I stagger
the weaver's entrance to the warp just as was done
on the top side of the chair, continuing in this
manner until! run out of weaver.
Then I splice on a new piece. To splice weavers,
no staples are used . I simply weave the first eight
inches of the new weaver over the last eight inches
of the old. The tightness of the weave holds the
joint in place. It is, in fact, this tightness that holds
our weight when we sit in these chairs.
When the weave has reached two-thirds of the
way to the front seat rung, I begin weaving the gus-
sets. These are the triangular areas to the right and
left of the rectangle covered by the warp. I pull the
end of the first warp strip free from the tape that
holds it to the left side rail. Then, following the
already established twill pattern, I feed this strip This photo shows a settee frame that is ready to have the
into the weavers, hooking the end over one of the seat and back panel woven .
weavers near the rear of the seat. On the bottom
side, I do the same with the taped end of the last
warp strip.
The remainder of the gussets are filled in with
short strips fed into the weave on both the top and
bottom of the seat in the same manner as the end
of the first warp strip . In order to have a seat that is
strong in the gussets, I feed these short strips as far
back into the weave as possible, loosely hooking
the ends of each over a strip of weave.
When all the gusset strips are in place, I contin-
ue weaving. These last few weavers can be difficult
to get into place as tightness accumulates, ap-
proaching the front seat rung. A point is reached at
which I can no longer feed the weavers through the
warp with my fingers. At that point, I use a butter
Weaving tape requires few tools. Notice the flat wooden
knife laid under the warp strips as a guide for the weaving needle at the bottom of the photo. The end of
weavers and, at the very end drag the weaver along the weaver is passed through the opening, and then
its course with a pair of needlenose pliers. taped into place.

These seats can be finished with a mixture of
equal parts boiled linseed oil and mineral spirits.
This keeps the splint supple and makes it easier to
wash dirt from the seat. Recently, I've been using
the same finish on the seats that I use on the wood
surfaces of the chair: equal parts boiled linseed oil ,
mineral spirits, and polyurethane. The poly-
urethane appears to add an extra level of protec-
tion. And on some chairs, I've painted the seats
after applying a coat of good primer.

Early in the nineteenth century, Shaker chair-mak-
ers began to move away from the splint seats that
had so far appeared on most of their chairs, instead
using a woven fabric tape often dyed in ve1y bright
colors. The ve1y first tapes were woven by hand,
To start, one end of the warp for the settee's back panel usually of wool or perhaps wool in which a bit of
is stapled to the back underside of the top frame rung.
linen or cotton was mixed. Today, a similar tape is
widely available to chair-makers from a number of
mail order sources. This tape is machine-woven of
cotton dyed in a variety of colors, and although it's
much easier to weave than splint, it is also much
more expens1ve.
Typically, the material is woven in a checker-
board pattern , the wea'ver going under one strand
of warp, then over the next, and so on . Quite often ,
this pattern is reinforced by using one color for the
warp and a second for the weave. Even fewer tools
are needed for weaving tape than for the weaving of
splint. A pair of scissors and a stapler loaded with
% " staples are the only essentials, although I also
have a wide wooden weaving needle that can make
the seating process move a bit more quickly.
I prefer staples to furniture tacks for attaching
the tape to the chair frame. Staples are thin and
penetrate easily without damaging the wood
The foam cushion is inserted when the warp has covered whereas tacks have much thicker shanks that can
about half of the bach panel. crack the rungs.

Tape, unlike splint, is available in 75-yd rolls,
which means that the splicing process is all but
eliminated. (Sometimes, at the ends of rolls, it will
be necessary to splice. In such a case a needle and
some sturdy thread are employed .) However, since
it's vety difficult to pass a 75-yd roll between the
strands of the warp, I begin by estimating the nec-
essary length of tape for the warp and the weaver,
cutting those portions from the roll to simplify the
handling of the material. 71w weaving needle simplifies the process when the warp
I begin weaving a tape back-which is exactly has tightened too Ill Itch to pass a coi I of tape between
the same as weaving the area of the seat between the strands. I tape tile free end of the weaver to the flat
wooden weaving needle and then use the needle to guide
the gussets-by attaching the lead end of the warp
the weaver.
to the back side of the top tape frame rung with a
pair of %" staples. I then pass the warp over the top
tape frame rung and down over the front of the
bottom tape frame rung. Next, I bring it up to the
top frame rung, where it is then aligned with the
first course of tape.
Then , I begin the second course of the warp.
When about half of the back panel is wrapped , I
insert a 1 " foam cushion. Although the cushion
doesn 't seem to add much comfort to the seat of a
chair bottomed with splint, it adds considerably to
the comfort of one bottomed with tape. Plus it
keeps the tape taut, permanently maintaining the The seat is laid out for the weaving of tape in the same
way as for the weaving of splint. •
smooth look and feel of a newly woven seat.
Next, I begin passing the weaver through the
warp. Stapling one end of the weaver to the back
inside surface near the bottom of one of the false
back posts, I wrap the weaver around that back

The seat gusset strips are put in place once the weaving
has reached about halfway to the front seat rung. The
gussets are cut to length and then woven into the
weavers. These strips are then stapled into place, care
being taken that the staples are hidden underneath the
strands of the weaver.
It took me about four hours to weave the Shaker tape
seat and bach on this settee.

pos t, across th e fro nt of th e b ac k p a ne l, a lte rn ate ly W h en th e bac k pa ne l h as bee n fully wove n , I sta-
ove r a nd und er eac h stra nd of th e wa rp . Th is weav- pl e th e e nd of th e weave r to th e b ac k in sid e surface
in g p rocess co ntinu es ac ross th e b ack. of o ne of th e false back p os ts. Howeve r, many sea t
I use two diffe rent m ethod s fo r pass in g th e wea - weave rs d o no t fas te n th a t e nd , in stead simply
ve r thro ugh th e wa rp . Firs t, ea rl y in tu ckin g it in und er th e last stra nd o f th e warp th a t
th e weavin g process w h e n th e re's a it cro sses- a m ethod th at see ms
fa ir a m o unt of slack, I' ll pass a to h o ld up
tightl y wo und co il of weav in g ma- ve ry ni cely.
te ri a l thro ugh th e wa rp . The n la ter,
as th e warp b egin s to ti ghten, I ta pe
th e free end of th e weave r to a fl at
woo d e n weav in g needl e to guide
th e weave r.

Chapter Nzne
S orne of the projects appearing in this chapter
are reasonably accurate reproductions of peri-

THE od or Shaker originals. For example, except for the

choice of materials-cherry and curly maple-used
in its manufacture, the little two-slat side chair is
PROJECTS pretty faithful to a Shaker original drawn by John
Kassay in The Book of Shaker Furniture (1980).
Similarly, although I'm certain the exact measure-
ments of my Brewster chair are different from those
of the original, mine is nevertheless a reasonable
likeness of one appearing in Wallace Nutting's
1928 Furniture Treasury.
But no chair in this book is an exact copy of any
specific period or Shaker original. In many cases,
these changes from the originals were dictated by
my customers. For instance, although they might
have wanted the general shape of a Mt. Lebanon
transitional rocker, they might also have wanted a
finial more like one found on a chair that their
grandmother kept in her kitchen. Too, sometimes,
they mixed and matched parts from so many
sources that what resulted bore little resemblance
to any historical original.
Also, some of the variations from period or
Shaker originals are the result of my ignorance.
One example of this can be found in the Shaker-
style settee with tape seat and 'back. At the time I
built it, I had seen only one grainy photo of a Mt.
Lebanon original. I had no measurements, no
photo close-ups; and, as a result, the settee differs
from the originals in several important ways. First,
the back posts on mine are not steam-bent,
although I have since been told by knowledgeable
students of Shaker furniture that those on the orig-
inals were. Second, the feet of the front posts of my
settee lack the concave taper found on the origi-
nals. And third, it's my understanding that the orig-
inals were considerably bigger. than mine, which I
developed by taking the frame of a #5 and adding
to its width.

Also, so m e of th e ch a nges fro m th e o ri gin a ls a re These d o n o t co mpri se a co ll ecti o n o f ca re full y
th e res ult o f my W h at if? m e nta lity. W h at if I m ad e resea rch ed hi stori ca l d es ig ns. Th ey d o, in stead ,
th e swee p o n th e a rm of th a t #7 just a bit m o re d ra- co m p rise a co ll ecti on of d es ig ns th at I h ave m ad e
m a ti c? W ha t if I mad e th e mu shroo m ca ps fl atter o r in th e sh o p to m eet th e d e m a nds o f m y cu sto m e rs
ta ll er? Wh at if I used mi xed woo d s? These chan ges a nd m y imagin a ti o n . Read e rs inte nding to m a ke
fro m th e originals we re neve r inte nd ed to be hi sto ri ca lly accurate ch a irs mi ght use th e m eth od s
improve m ents on th ose o ri gin a ls. (I'm no t sure di scussed in thi s b oo k to build repro du cti o ns
th a t wo uld possibl e. ) They a re in stead n o thin g b ased o n draw in gs in Kassay's The
m o re th a n th e res ult of my pe r- Booil of Shailer Fu rnitu re o r o n
ve rse inclination to tinke r. Ej ner Ha ndb e rg's excell e nt boo ks
O th e r chairs, alth o ugh heav ily o f draw in gs.
influe n ced by Sh a ke r fo rm s, a re Important Note: Unl ess sta ted
my des igns a nd so d o n' t rese m - o th e rw ise, a ll ten o ns fo r al l pos t-
bl e a nything found in a ny hi sto r- a nd-run g ch a irs will h ave a di a m -
ica l co ll ecti o n. ete r of %".

Windsor-Style Pieces

A Windsor is defined as a chair or stool with a solid seat into which leg
tenons (and in most cases badz spindles) are mortised. Although none of the
following pieces exhibit the complexity that is typical of first -rate Windsors,
all do have leg tenons mortised into solid-wood seats, and all can serve as
an introduction to the process of mal?ing Windsor chairs.

RUSTIC STOOL (sassafras and walnut)

Although ve1y primitive in co nstru cti o n , this stool stock, it is a piece th at w ill take a good deal of
has a ce rtain sprightl y charm , a nd because of its ab u se, eve n w ith o ut th e re inforcemen t of stretchers
lo ng leg tenons passing thro ugh the thi ck seat connecting the legs.
I cu t the mortises for th e leg teno ns on
the drill press using the SRMJ (sid e rung
mortise jig) described in Chapte r Six,
Marking Met hod #2. Alth o ugh designed
to cu t side run g mortises for post-and-
rung chairs, th is jig can be adapted to cu t
leg tenon mortises i'n sol id-wood ch air
Becau se I wan ted the legs to splay in
two directions, after mounting the SRM J
o n m y drill p ress tab le I tilted th e table
97 Y2 degrees. Thi s setup gave me th e same
angle in two planes: one parallel to the
back of the drill press table (t he angle cre-
ated by tilting the tab le) and anoth er per-
pendicular to the back of th at table (the
This photo shows the seat blanl? on the SRMJ (side n111g mortise
ang le created by the SRMJ) . T hen, placing
jig). Notice the two plcmes meeting at the axis of the drill bit, each
having angles of 97 1!2 degrees. One tilts to tlze photo right. The th e stoo l's seat blank o n th e SRMJ w ith its
other tilts forward , perpendicular to the bach of the drill press bottom surface facing up, I drilled the
table, toward the photo's left. four mortises.

RUSTIC STOOL (sassafras and walnut)




A Seat 1 pc. H's X 85fs X 15

8 Legs 4 pes. 1% x 15fs x 17 3/s *
C Wedges 4 pes. ljg x "Vs x 3

* Leg te no n s sh o ul d be m ad e lfs'' lo nge r th a n is

ind ica ted by th is fini shed leg le ngth so th a t th ey can
be pa red sm oo th w hil e still sta ndin g 1/16 " pro u d o f
th e be nch top.
(sassafras and walnut) (cherry and ash)
I cut the mortises, in that end of the seat housing Although this one is three-legged li ke the previous
two leg tenons, exactly like those in the seat of the stool, I cut the leg tenon mortises using a slightl y
previously described stool (having splay in two different method. In this case, I cut
directions). The mortise on th e other end, howev- al l three-including the
er, was cu t by aligning the seat's centerline midway tenon of the sin-
betwe e n the planes gleto n leg- as
having 9 71;2 -d e- if this were a
gree angles. four-l egge d
stoo l. The re-
sult is th at th e
stool has a dif-
fe rent posture
from the stool
described on
the left.


A Seat 1 pc. H4 X 71;2 X 13 A Seat 1 pc. 3x8Y2 x 15 34

B Legs 3 pes. 2 x 17 * B Legs 3 pes. 11;2 x 18 112 *
C Wedges 3 pes. 3/ 16 x "Vs x ~ C Wedges 3 pes. 3/32 x "Vs x 34

* Tenons should be made lfs'' longer than is indicat- * The leg on th e right penetrat es th e surface of th e
ed by this finished leg length so that th ey can be pared sea t and is th en cut off and pared flush with th e surface
to match the surface of th e seat. of th e seat.

Three-Legged Stool (above) & Stool with Sculpted Seat (below)



~ /
"" ·""'
~~ II
/ A \.
\ W'!_ ! A [\
! •T! I I

'l 1\
' I,
I ~~
\ J

J mrt¥
I t~
~> I I_

f! ,
r'~ ~(
• t ~ '\

' !jj,,,J)


I cut th e mortises fo r th e te n o ns atop eac h leg in Th e m o rti ses fo r th e ce nte r stretch e r te no ns we re

th e sam e way as th e leg te n o n m o rtises for th e rus- th e n cut u sm g th e jig d escri bed in C h a pte r Six,
tic b en ch d escrib ed ea rli e r. Ma rkin g Me th o d # 1, b ecau se
With th e drill press ta bl e returned to its th ese m o rti ses e nte r th e
normal po siti o n of 90 d egrees from th e sid e stretch e rs 90 d eg rees
ax is of th e d rill bit, I cut the mortises fro m th e ax is o f th e sid e
in t h e legs for th e side stretcher te nons. stretch e rs.
Th e a ngle fo r thi s joint is created by th e
97 ¥2 -degree a ngle created by th e SRMJ .


A Seat 1 pc. PA X 11 Vs
B Legs 4 pes. PA x 19 Ys *
c Side stretch e rs 2 pes. 11hx8Ys **
D Ce nte r stretch er 1 pc. Jlh X 9

* Includ es a 1 " te no n .
* * Includ es a 1 " te no n o n each e nd .
No te: The te no ns at th e to p of eac h leg have a di a m ete r o f 1 ". Th e te n o ns
a t each e nd of th e sid e stretch ers h ave a di a m ete r of ?Is ". The te no ns at each
e nd of th e ce nte r stretch er have a d ia m ete r of -% ".

Windsor Stool with Painted Seat (white oak)

8 10£ VI EW



ZOAR-STYLE CHAIR (white ash)
Thi s ch a ir is pattern ed a ft er seve ra l m ad e by th e Aft e r dim e nsio nin g th e lumbe r, I turn ed th e legs
Zoa rites, m emb ers of a co mmun a l society fl o uri sh - and b a nd- sawed th e ro und ed co rn ers o f th e sea t
in g in no rth easte rn Ohi o during th e nin etee nth a nd th e co ntou rs of th e ch a ir b ac k. Th e n I install ed
ce ntUiy. Like much Zoarite furniture, th e fo rm ca n a ll three cl ea ts o n th e b o tt o m of th e seat, ta kin g
b e t raced to th e society's Ge rmani c o ri gins. care to pass th e sc rews thro ugh ove rsized h o les in
o rde r to a ll ow fo r th e ex pa nsio n a nd co ntracti o n o f
th e sea t in respo n se to seaso n a l chan ges in relati ve
Next, us in g th e m eth o d d esc rib ed fo r th e drillin g
o f th e leg te no n m o rti ses o n th e Ru sti c Stoo l, I
drill ed th e fo ur m o rti ses fo r th e leg te n o ns, wo rk-
in g fro m th e und e rsid e of th e sea t.
W ith a b a nd saw a nd a b ac ks aw, I fo rm ed th e
three Y2 x 1112 x 2 te no n s a t th e base o f th e ch a ir
back, leav in g th e s h o uld e r a t a 90-d eg ree a ngle to
th e ch a ir b ac k's fro nt and bac k fa ces.
I th e n la id o ut th e m o rtises fo r th e tripl e te no ns .
Placin g th e sea t o n th e SRMJ w ith its to p surface up
(in th e sa m e p os iti o n as th at used in th e cuttin g o f
the m o rti ses fo r th e leg te n o ns, tilting d o wn towa rd
th e drill press o pe rato r) , I cut three 7/ 16"
h o les thro ugh th e thi ckn ess o f bo th
th e sea t and th e cl ea ts unde rn eath ,
a li gnin g th o se h o les w ithin th e limits
o f each of th e three Y2 x 1Y2 m o rti se locati o ns.
The m o rti se a ngle thi s crea ted all owed m e
to positi o n th e ch a ir b ac k in a co mfo rtabl e

Then, working from both th e top a nd th e bot- from th e seat surface that was eq ual to the gap
tom , I d efined th e mortise walls with a paring ch is- betwee n that surface a nd th e te no n shoulder o n th e
el. Finally, with th e te nons fully seated in th eir front side of th e seat back.
mortises so that th e shoulder o n th e back face o f Th e n I pared th e a ngl e for that sh ou lde r, joining
the chair back was tight against th e seat, I scribed a the scribed lin e o n the back to th e saw n lin e o n the
line across that back. The line was set a dista nce front .

This photo shows tile triple tenons at

the base of the chair bach. Although
it 111ay be liard to see, the shoulder is
angled to sit tight against the seat
swface when tile tenons are fit into
their 111ortises.

The angle of the chair bacll can be

seen 111ore easily in this photo.

This shot loohs at the underneath of
the seat of the Zoar-Style Chai1~
showing the triple tenons from the
base of the chair bacl? passing
through both the seat and the cleats.

This chair poses some interesting design prob- My solution? Although it may seem a little inel-
lems. Obviously, the grain in the seat must run per- egant, my answer to this problem was to relieve,
pendicular to the grain in the cleats, but if the legs with a rasp, the front and back surfaces of the leg
penetrate both the seat and the cleats, the wood in tenons where those tenons pass through the cleats.
the seat is prevented from expanding and contract- This should allow for some seasonal wood move-
ing. I wonder how the Zoars solved this. ment.


A Seat 1 pc. 13/ 16 X 16 11/ 16 X 173/4

B Back 1 pc. 11/ 16 X 16 X 19 15/ 16

c Front legs 2 pes. 1 1/2 X 183,4 *

D Back legs 2 pes. 1Y2 X 17 3.4 *
E Long cleats 2 pes. ?'s x 2:Ys x 15 %
F Short cleat 1 pc. ?'s x 2:Ys x 6%
G Wedges 4 pes 3/3 2 X fs X 3.4

* Includes a 2" tenon that is cut off and pared flush with the surface
of the seat after assembly.

Zoar-Style Chair (white ash)

~~------ ! tV--------~



The simple but functional four-board bench is an American classic.

Consisting of a top, two ends, and a stretche1~ this construction provides
sturdy seating for a relatively minor investment of time and materials.
The two examples that follow were developed from several Shaker origi-
nals. The first (pictured below) has joinery-a combination of dadoes and
wedged through-tenons-taken from a bench made in the Shaker commu-
nity at South Union, Kentucky, during the first half of the nineteenth cen-
tury, an example drawn by John Kassay. Other features - size, leg shape,
stretcher profile-were adapted ji·om other Shaker examples.
The second bench-with wedged stretcher tenons-was developed after
one drawn by Ejner Handberg.

Four-Board Bench (walnut)


After band-sawing tile cu rves on tile top, tile legs, and Tile blllil of tile mortise waste is removed witil a drill
the stretciler, I wt the dado on tile bollom face of tile bit. I tilen clean liP tile mortise walls with a cilisel.
bench top. I find it easiest to liSe a table saw Cllt-off box
for tl1is operation, bllt it COllld also be don e witil a radi-
al ann saw or a rollter.

After Clltting the throllgh-tenons and the stretcher notch The various parts of the four-board bench seen prior to
at the top of each leg, I maril the mortises on the bench assembly.
top. First, tile widths of tile dadoes on tile bottom face of
the bench top must be squared around to the top face.
Then, using the through-tenons at tile top of each leg as
gllides, tile widtil of the mortises is mariled.

At this stage, the parts are test-fit. Notice the X at the After applying glue to the various joint COII!ponents and
top of the leg and the corresponding X on the edge of the assembling the bench, I drive the wedges into their
bench top. These marks ensure that at final asse111bly the notches.
bench co111es together in the same align111ent as it did
during the test assembly. Once an accurate fit is estab-
lished, I cut the V-shaped notches across the width of
each through-tenon .


A Bench top 1 pc. 34 X 8% X 40

B Legs 2 pes. 34 X 8% X 1G *
c Stretcher 1 pc. 34 X 3 X 34
D Wedges 4 pes. % x l 5/16·x 1

* Tenons should be made Vs'' longer than is

indicated by this finished leg length so that
they can be pared flush with the top
after assembly.

Four-Boa rd Bench (walnut)


~ c:

- - c~ ::::::
f::;;:: ~ j::;;

I~ ~

v 'I
!30T(OM VIEW W(.Uwtu+Ht~---t-tffit:1TttJ1

t \I! wll 89
Unlike the joinery describ ed fo r the previo us
bench , th e wedged thro ugh- te no ns o n thi s examp le
weren ' t se t into a dado. No tice, too , that o n this
exa m p le th e stretch er joi ne 1y was h and led in th e
same way as the leg join e ry.


A Bench top 1 pc. 34 X 9 3f16 X 36

B Legs 2 pes. 34 X 9 3f16 X 18 *
c Stretch e r 1 pc. ~ X 6~ X 27 *
D Wedges 16 p es. 3/3 2 X ~ X 34

* Tenons shou ld be made Ys " lo nger th an is indi cated by this fin-

ished leg length so th at th ey ca n be pared flush with th e to p and th e
o utsid e faces of th e legs after assembly.

Four-Board Bench with Wedged Stretcher Tenons (curly maple)

lL~3 .t ~

=.:=- ~
::: STR£.re!I-/ER "
...... ___. C"""' f-.-
~- -~ C: f--z" t---
,..... _....
'""" r-
\:' -
~ "'-..
- ~

~ ~-~ ~

~ ~~
~ r-

- """"' , ; r-·
Shaker-Style Chairs

The Shaker Chair by Charles Muller and Timothy Reiman is an essential

resource for any serious maker of post-and-rung chairs. Hundreds of differ-
ent forms appear on its pages, not only those mass-produced in the M t.
Lebanon chair factories but also forms produced in other communities, made
in far fewer numbers often for the exclusive use of the Shal<er community's
Brothers and Sisters.
Typically, my customers have asrwd for chairs modeled after those built
under the direction of R. M. Wagan of the Mt. Lebanon family, as these are
the chairs that have received so much notice. But occasionally a more knowl-
edgeable buyer has asked for something a little different, and it's then that
I've turned to resources like The Shaker Chair.
What follows is a sampling of the Shaker-style chairs built in my shop:
chairs based on originals produced by several different nineteenth-century
Shaker communities.

CHAIR ARMS (tenoning & installation) li.."'ffli.."'ffli.."'ffli.."'ffli.."'ffli.."'ffli.."'ffli.."'ffli.."'ffli.."'ffli.."'ffli.."'ffli.."'ffli.."'ff

Note: All chair arms are tenoned and installed Installation of the arm can be a little tricky. I
in the same way. First the tenon (which is stand the arm on its outside edge and feed the
installed into the chair's back post) is formed by tenon into its mortise. Then, when that tenon is
hand with a shop knife and a rasp , checking the fully seated, I roll the arm up over the tenon atop
diameter several times in a hole drilled into a test the front post, tapping it with my soft mallet to
block. bring it into its proper place.

Thi s stoo l consists o f pa rts b o rrowed from a Mt. As I did w ith th e first hundred chai rs th at o ri gi-
Leb a n o n #5 : four fro nt pos ts, six fro nt rungs, a nd na ted in my sh o p, I built thi s stoo l w ith o ut th e
six sid e rungs-th e side run gs be in g m o rti sed into SRMJ d esc rib ed in C h a pte r Six, Ma rking Meth o d
th e po sts 90 degrees fro m th e fro nt rungs on th e # 2. In stead , I loca ted th e m o rti ses for th e run gs o n
stool's adj acent fa ce. a dj ace nt faces o f th e ch a irs by draw in g two lin es
a lo ng th e le ngth of eac h pos t 90 d egrees a pa rt,
m eas urin g th at di sta nce by co untin g sto ps o n my
la th e's index in g h ead .
Th e n I fi xed th e post in th e jig desc ribed
in C h a pte r Six, Ma rkin g Meth o d #1, a nd
cut th e m o rti ses a lo ng o ne lin e- afte r
w hi ch th e pos t was ro ta ted in th e ji g as
fi xed into pl ace, a nd th e m o rtises we re cut
a lo ng th e o th er lin e.
Alth o ugh w h e n s ighted fro m a b ove,
e rro r ca n be see n in th e a ngles at w hi ch th e
side run gs m ee t th e fro nt a nd b ac k o f th e
stoo l, thi s pi ece we nt togeth e r very ni cely
a nd wo uld pro b abl y p ass inspecti o n fro m
a ny exce pt th e m os t criti cal craftsm a n.


A Posts 4 pes. 1:Ys x 19 3/ ! 6

B Lo ng sea t run gs 2 pes. l X 19 3,4 *
c Lo ng rungs 4 pes.
D Sh o rt sea t rungs 2 pes. l xl6 lf2*
E Sh o rt run gs 4 pes.

* Includ es a Vs" teno n o n eac h end .

1WO-SLAT SIDE CHAIR (cherry and curly maple)

In gen uity is o ne of th e sign a ture features of Shaker Unlike the ch airs a lready
design. T hi s two-s lat side ch a ir, for exam- presented in this book, thi s
pl e, was created w ith a low back to permit example has stea m -bent
the chair to be pushed comp letely under back slats.
the table to simp lifY afte r-dinn e r cleanup.
Although not perhaps as comfortab le as
chairs wi th a high er back, it is an emi -
nently fun cti ona l piece of dining-room
furnitu re, suitable for use in th e modern


A Back posts 2 pes. 1 7/16 X 25 1/2

8 Front posts 2 pes. 1 ~16 X 17 1/s
c Fro nt seat rung 1 pc. 1x1 73,4*
D Front rungs 2 pes. 15/ 16 X 17:j,4 *
E Side and back seat rungs 2 pes.
F Side an d back rungs 6 pes . 15/ 16 X 13 112 *
G Slats 2 pes. 1,4 X 2 X 13 112 * *

* In cludes a l"s" tenon on each end .

* * In cludes a W' tenon o n each e nd.

Stool with Multicolored Tape (above) & Two-Slat Side Chair (below)

This chair is a variatio n o f a mid-1 9th centu ry o ne drillin g of th e side run g mo rti ses because not o nl y
made at th e Enfield, Co nn ecti cut, Shaker co mmu- were th ese mo rti ses 97¥2 deg rees fro m the bac k
nity. Th e sl ats, as on the o ri ginal , are distinguish ed run gs and 821/z degrees fro m th e fro nt rungs, th ey
by a wide chamfer on th eir to p, front edges. Th e also had to be angl ed 2112 degrees fro m th e perp en-
main va ri atio n is th e fini al shape. To match a set of di cul ar in relati o n to th e posts.
weave r's chairs already owned by my custo mer, th e Alth o ugh I was at first wa1y of th e extra co m-
fini al was changed fro m th e o ri gin al dainty sh a pe pl exity, th e result turn ed o ut to be relati vely easy to
to th e mo re ro bust silh o uette see n here. achi eve. The angles at whi ch th e side run gs meet
The side rungs on most post-and-rung chairs bo th the bac k and fro nt run gs we re already estab-
enter th e posts 90 degrees fro m th e length o f th e 1ished by th e SRMJ. All I had to do was cock th e

post. However, because th e Enfi eld chairs we re pro- drill press tabl e 2¥2 degrees fro m perpendi cular to
du ced witho ut steam-bent bac k posts, th e Shakers introdu ce th e tilting element. It did , neve rth eless,
install ed th e side rungs ap- require so me careful wo rk durin g th e mo rti sing
prox im ately 2¥2 degrees off process. A sin gle chair req uired fo ur different
perp endi cul ar. Thi s gave th e mac hin e setups fo r th e bo rin g of th e sid e run g
bac ks a relaxed stan ce, mo rti ses-two fo r th e fro nt ladd er and two fo r th e
all ow ing th e chair's occu- back ladd er- and a si ngle erro r in setup wo uld
pant to lea n bac k in a mo re have res ulted in a bl ow n chair.
co mfo rt abl e po s-
Thi s did spare MATERIALS LIST
th em th e labo r of
stea m-bendin g th e A Back posts 2 pes. 1¥8 di a. x 41 Vs
bac k parts, but it 8 Fro nt sid e chair posts 2 pes . Pis di a. x 19Vs
also add ed an extra
c To p slat pc. % x3 1f16 X 15%*
co mpli ca ti o n to th e
D Middl e slat 1 pc. 1/4 X 31f16 X 15 * *
E Botto m slat 1 pc. % X 31f16 X 1 4 3/~ * *
F Fro nt seat rung 1 pc. P/s dia. x 18'Ys +
G Fro nt rungs 2 pes. Ys di a. x 18'Ys +
H Sid e seat run gs 2 pes. 1 lfs di a. x 14% +
I Side and bo ttom
back run gs 5 pes. Ys x 14% +
J Bac k sea t run g 1 pc. 1lfs X 14 3/4 +

* In clud es a 'Ys " teno n o n each end.

* * In clu des a W ' teno n o n each end.
·:·Includ es a :Vs " teno n o n each end.
Enfield-Style Side Chair (cherry)

y rc'
/ 1-- 1-.
Fr?oN'r .== --
- I I
- D.


t ~:J FRONT 0£V./ ~~ /,-APE.RS !1:JST

tr - ~

~~ FRoM (d
c.:i1 ?: AT oom
!5l;f- RUNG
~ A.
\S) .J
I J5~
~ II ;5"-


r - ,..,
I E~ , I

14/4_7 ~
l{) ~ ~ __f_Fi l~ )f..t- ~
f' N ',

""\ -ts. ¥--
~ECrto/11 \D"

Th ~ ~

~ 2fcoRtNG
f -.......


~' ~~' ~u~

t Jo;N'F-R'I

~....,.... ~~

t, . ~

1 ~I ~,, "II tu l


To meet the needs of their customers, the Shakers Due, presumabl y, to better nutrition and better
at th e Mt. Lebanon factory offered their chairs in a health care, the average person living in late-twen-
variety of sizes, ranging from #0, the smallest, to ti eth-century America is larger than the average per-
#7, th e largest. The smallest chairs on this numeri- son living in late-nineteent h-century America, the
ca l scale were suitable only for very young children , golden era of Shaker chair manufacturing . As a
while those offered as #7's result, those chairs in the middle of the Shakers'
were comfortable only for size range-th e #3's a nd th e #4's-don't fit con-
the largest men of that era. temporary Americans quite so well. In fact, in my
Those chairs in the middle of chair-making business, I rarel y build a chair on the
the scale were sized to lowe r half of th e Shakers' numerical sca le. The
accommodate the bodies of most popular size I offer is th e #5, which seems to
th e average men and women be just about right for a contemporary American of
of that tim e. average stature.


A Front posts 2 p es. F / 16 X 19%

8 Back posts 2 pes. F / 16 x 40 rs
c Front seat rung 1 pc. 1 X 19 34 *
D Front rungs 2 pes. 15/16 X 19 34 *
E Side seat rungs 2 pes. 1 x ·16 1h *
F Side rungs 4 pes . rs X 16 1/z *
G Back seat rung 1 pc. 1 X 15 l.lz *
H Back rung 1 pc. rs X 15l.lz *
I Bottom slat 1 p c. 14 X 2-'Ys X 15 1/z **

J Lower middle slat 1 pc. 14 X 2-'Ys X 15 34 * *

K Upper middle slat 1 pc. 14 X 2-'Ys X 16 +
L Top slat 1 pc. % X 2-'Ys X 16 ++

* Includes a :Vs " teno n o n each end.

* • Includes a 34" tenon on each end .
+ Includes a o/s " ten on on each end .
++ Includes a l.lz" teno n o n each end .

Assemb ly of this chair is th e same as for the #5 slat-
back side cha ir described o n the opposite page.


A Front posts 2 pes. 1'i'16 X 191,4

B Back posts 2 pes. F / 16 x 40 1's
c Front seat rung 1 pc. 1 X 19 3.4 *
D Front rungs 2 pes. 15/ 16 X 19 3.4 *
E Side seat rungs 2 pes. 1x16lf2*
F Side ru ngs 4 pes . r's x 1 Glf2 *

G Back seat run g 1 pc. 1x151f2 *

H Back rung 1 pc. r's x 151f2 *
1 pc. 3.4 x16**
0 Bottom tape frame rung
P Top tape frame run g 1 pc. 3.4 X 161;2 +
Q Slat 1 pc. 1,4 X 2% X 1Glf2 +

* Includ es a r's " tenon on each end.

* * Includ es a %" tenon on each end .
+I ncludes a 1h" tenon on each e nd .

(cherry) ARMCHAIR
Except for the arms, mushroom caps, and front armc h airs are detailed tn the
posts, the assembly of both of these armchairs is Addit ional Materia ls List below
the same as for the #5 side and in the measured drawings
chairs described on prevt- on the opposi te page.
o us pages. just as with the side chairs,
The extra pteces neces- the back can be finished wi th
saty for constructing these slats or with tape.

(for armchairs)
A-1 Front posts 2 pes . 1 ~16 x 24 /'s
M Arms 2 pes . .'jig X 3 X 17% *
N Mushroom caps 2 pes. 9/ 16 X 15,/g

* Includes a Jl's" tenon on one end .

Note : This tenon is on ly liz'' in diameter.

#5 Slat-Back/Tape-Back Side Chair & Armchair

PaGr ;~Pe~fl~s~~~§§~~~
lbrroM RuNG
FRoN'r VIEW/&;oE Cllil!R ~---t--~ 7V%, 1'11~;-ftF~;;;;;:;;:;;;;;;~~--f-
~ ~\t~~F~~;:;;;;;~+-+

TAPE-BACK SETIEE (white ash)
My eight-year-old son, Andy, loves this chair. He the two settees that I have built since making this
leans a pillow against one of the arms and stretch- one have appreciably deeper seats, which puts the
es out lengthwise, his head on the pillow, his body front seat rung
wrapped in a blanket, to watch televi- in contact with
ston . the backs of
The settee is, however, a bit shallow, the thighs at a
fron t-to-back, for an adult. Bending the more comfort-
back posts wou ld add some depth , but able location .


A Front posts 2 pes. 1 7116 x 24 'Vs

B Back posts 2 pes. F l 16 x 40 'Vs
c Front seat
rung 1 pc. Pis x 373J, *
D Front rungs 2 pes. 1%x3?3,4*
E Side seat
rungs 2 pes. Pis x 16¥2 *
F Side rungs 4 pes. Pis X 16¥2 *
G Back seat
rung 1 pc. 1:Ys X 33 3/s *
H Back rung 1 pc. B-4 X 33 3/s * K False back
posts 2 pes. 1Vs x 17% +
I Bottom tape
frame rung 1 pc. 1Vs x 33¥2 * * L Arms 2 pes. o/s X 3 X 17% ++
J Top tape M Mushroom
frame rung 1 pc. 1Vs X 34% ** caps 2 pes. 9116 X 1o/s

* Includes a 'Vs " tenons on each end.

* * Includes a %" tenons on each end.
+ Includes a W' tenons on each end.
++ Includes a 'Vs'' tenon on one end. Note: This tenon is only Vz" in diameter.

Tape-Back Settee (white ash)

r-t--------lf-.--......0.. I INC!-1


(!;o£ 0 £W



• with Cushion Rail (walnut)

This chair, a measured drawing of which appears in The te rm transitional, in this context, indicates
John Kassay's The Book of Shaker Furniture, ha s been that this form is one ty pi ca l of that period when
the foundation of my chair-m aking business. The Shaker chair-making was ch a nging from shop-bu ilt
first six or eight chairs sold were variations of this to factory-built ch a irs.
form , and it remains one of th e most popular
ch a irs I make.


A Fro nt posts 2 pes. 1Vs x 20¥2

8 Back posts 2 pes . Pis x 42 1's *
c Front seat rung 1 pc. 1 X 21 % * *
D Front rungs 2 pes. 1's x 21% * *
E Side seat rungs 2 pes. 1 X 16 ¥2 * *
F Side rungs 4 pes. 1's x 16 ¥2 * *
G Back seat rung 1 pc. 1 X 15 112 * *
H Back rungs 2 pes. 1's x 15 ¥2 * *
I Bottom slat 1 pc. % X 2¥2 X 16 * *
J Lower
middl e slat 1 pc. % X 2 1;2 X 16% * *
K Upp er
middle slat 1 pc. 14 X 2¥2 X 1 6 1h * *

L Top slat 1 pc. % x2 1h x16 % +

M C ushion rail 1 pc. 1lf16 X19

N Rockers 2 p es. Vs x 3 34 x 28
0 Arms 2 pes. Ys X 3 X 17% ++
p Mushroom caps 2 pes. 9/16 X 1Ys

Q Rocker pegs 4 pes. 3/16 x 13/s •

* * Includes a l's " tenon on each e nd .
+ Includ es a liz" teno n o n each end .
* Ten o ns at the top of th e posts sho uld be mad e 1/ 8 "
++Includes a "Vs " ten o n o n on e e nd. Note: This te no n
lo nge r th a n is indicated by this finished post le ngth so
is o nl y liz" in diam eter.
th a t they can be pared flush with th e o utside di a m eter of
• After fitting, th ese a re pared flush w ith the outside
th e cushi o n rai l.
diam ete r of this post.

Mt. Lebanon Transitional Rockers (first o f two pages of mea sured drawings )


~~ r

t '[
J / ~


• with Bulbous Finials (cherry)

Assembl y a nd the m aterials list a re the same as for the Mt.
Lebano n rocker presen ted on the previous two pages except for
th e back post m easurements. The back post measurements of
this particu lar rocker are as fo ll ows:
B-1 Back pos ts 2 pes. P/s x 43:Ys

• with Sculpted Arms and Turned Vases (cherry)

Assemb ly and the m ateria ls list are the same as for Notice also that this va ri ati on has a
the Mt. Lebanon transitional rockers above, except different shape below the cus hi on rail.
for the arm dime nsions. The arm measurements of
this particular rocker are as fol lows :
0-1 Arms 2 pes. 1 x 3 x 17%

• with Mitten Arms and Turned

Vases (walnut)

Assem bly and the materials list are the same as for the Mt.
Lebanon transitional rockers above, except for the arm dimen-
sions. The arm m easurements of this particular rocker are as
fo ll ows:
0-2 Arms 2 pes. ~ x 3¥2 x 18

Mt. Lebanon Transitional Rockers (second of two pages of measured drawings)




/ \ /, ';:f B
~ ltTJ i A-/ ) I I! 10./ ) 1.-= ~.
~ ~ ltJ l 'F- t;; !;;:::, """~ I~

..... . -
. .
- No ~-

- -· ~

I 107
#7 SLAT-BACK ROCKER (curly maple and walnut)
The first fo ur or fi ve #7 rockers I built we re so ld, I rea ll y had no idea
ur1sea ted, to a store in Cin cinn ati . The store ow ner what I had been mi ss ing.
th en wove th e tap e befo re deli ve rin g th e chairs to Spac io us and co mfo rt -
hi s custo mers. It wasn 't until I built th e curl y mapl e abl e, thi s chair is e min ent-
a nd walnut sl at-b ac k show n o n th ese pages th at I ly suitabl e fo r so meo ne
had an o ppo rtunity to sit in o ne. six fee t tall o r tall er.


A Front posts 2 pes. Pi! X 22%

8 Bac k posts 2 pes. Pi! X 41 *
c Fro nt seat rung 1 pc. Jl/s X 22 * *
D Fro nt rungs 2 pes. 1 Ys X 22 * *
E Side seat rungs 2 pes. 1Ys X 18¥2 * *
F Side rungs 4 pes . 1Ys X 18 ¥2 * *
G Back seat rung 1 pc. 1Vs x 17 11<1 **
H Back rung 1 pc. 1 Vs x 1 7 11<1 * *
I Bo tto m slat 1 pc. 9/32 X 2 ¥1 X 18 * *
J Lowe r
middl e sl at 1 pc. 9/32 X 2 3,4 X 18 Ys * *
K Upper
middl e sl at 1 pc. 9/32 X 2 3,4 X 18% * *
L Cushi o n rail 1 pc. 3,4 X 20 31<1
M To p slat 1 pc. 9/32 X 2 3,4 X 181,,2 +
N Arms 2 pes. 11/ 16 X 35Js X 195Js ++
0 Mushro o m
ca ps 2 pes. 11/ 16 x 1 "Vs
p Rockers 2 pes. 7/ 16 X 3,4 X 30 "Vs
13 16
Q Rocker pegs 4 pes. x 13fs

* Te nons at th e top of th e posts should be made Vs" * * Includes a Ys" tenon on eac h end.
longer th an is indi cated by thi s fini shed post length so +Includes a %" tenon on each end.
th at th ey ca n be pared flu sh with th e outside di ameter of ++Includes a Ys'' tenon on one end . No te: This tenon
th e cushi on rail. is Ys" in di ameter.

#7 Slat-Back Rocker (curly maple and walnut)

TOP r.,

1-:- --="""-· tv~ ·

- .~




A with Cushion Rail A without Cushion Rail

Assembly of this #7 tape-back rocker with slat This chair differs from the one on the
(and with cushion rail) is left of this page in only two respects:
the same as for the First, on this chair there is, of course,
#7 slat-back rocker no cushion rail; second, on this
presented on the chair the posts terminate in a deli-
previous two pages. cate acorn finial.

(fo r both versions)

A Front posts 2 pes. P/s x 22% J Upper tape

frame rung 1 pc. 3Ji X 18 +
B Back posts 2 pes. 1:Ys x41*
K Slat 1 pc. lAx 2% x18 +
c Front seat rung 1 pc. 11/s x 22 * *
L Cushion rail 1 pc. 3,4 X 20 3Ji
D Front rungs 2 pes. 1 X 22 * *
M Arms 2 pes. 11/ 16 X 3% X 19% ++
E Side seat rungs 2 pes. 1Vs x181,,-2**
N Mushroom
F Side rungs 4 pes. 15/16 X 181h * * 11/ 16
caps 2 pes. x 1 ?'s
G Back seat rung 1 pc. 11jg X 17% * *
0 Rockers 2 pes. 'l"16 X 3 3,4 X 30 fs
H Back rung 1 pc. 15/16 X 1 7% * * p Rocker pegs 4 pes. 13/ 16 x 1:Ys •
I Lower tape
frame rung 1 pc. 3,4 X 17% +

* Tenons at the top of th e posts should be made Vs " + Includes a 'Ys" tenon on each end .
longer than is indicated by this finished post length so ++Includes a "Vs'' tenon on one end.
that they can be pared flush with th e outside diameter of • After fitting, these are pared flush with th e o utside
the cushion rail. di ameters of the pos ts .
* * Includes a ?'s" tenon on each end.

#7 Tape-Back Rockers with Slat (with and without cushion rail)



m ..J.~
ll ~ ._ '""

a= Lo.
- ~~ ~i 1V
r )


Pilgrim Chairs

A lthough I like the looks of the Pilgrim chairs on these four

pages, I don't lihe the way they sit. The bachs are straight,
unrelieved by either steam-bent bach posts or a woven bacl?
panel; and the turnings, so appealing to the eye, are much less
appealing to the back. The Pilgrims must have been tough.


Less th a n fi fty yea rs afte r th e Pilgrim s la nded 111 ba ll o n each fi n ia l is

thi s co untry, th ese ch a irs- na m ed for Jo hn Carve r a littl e la rger o n my
( 1576 -1 62 1 ) , w h o was th e firs t gove rn o r of cha ir tha n th ose in -
Pl ym o uth Co lony- were be in g m ade in su ffic ie n t di ca ted by th e draw-
numb e rs to h ave pe rmitted m a ny to su rv ive until in g, a lth o ugh I ca n 't
th e twe nti eth ce ntu ry. n ow reca ll w hy I
Alth o ugh exa mpl es m ay d iffe r in specific detai ls, made th e cha nges .
a ll a re a like in seve ra l respects. Firs t, a ll are p ost-
a nd- run g chai rs, th e sea t ru ngs of w hi ch provi d e a
fra m e ove r w hi ch ru sh was wove n (so m eti mes a MATERIALS LIST
lea th e r sea t was fas ten ed ove r th e sea t run gs ) .
Seco nd , th e ch a irs a re a ll e lab o ra tely turn ed w it h a A Back pos ts 2 pes. 2 X 43
numb e r o f vases, coves, a nd b eads ad o rnin g th e B Front pos ts 2 pes. 2 X 30¥2
length s o f th e posts a nd th e le ngth s of ce rta in rungs
c Fro nt sea t run g 1 pc. ' 1Vs x 21 *
as we ll as th e ve rti ca l spi n dl es. Th ird , be twee n th e
D Fro nt ru ngs 2 pes. 1 X 21 *
back pos ts, above th e sea t, th e re is a rack of ve rti ca l
turn ed s pindl es m o rti sed into th e ru ngs th at co n- E Back a nd side
sea t run gs 3 pes. P/s x 15 *
nect th e b ack posts.
Th e cu sto m er w h o o rde red a pa ir of th ese ch a irs F Back a nd side ru ngs 11 pes. 1 X 15 *

furni shed m e w ith a m eas ured d raw in g, wh ich I G Verti ca l sp in d les 3 pes. 1 X 12 * *
used less as a Bibl e th a n as a ge nera l refe re n ce. Th e
run gs a nd spindl es ind ica ted by th e d raw in g a re a * In cl ud es a "Vs " teno n length o n each end.
littl e h eavie r th a n th ose see n he re, a nd th e to pmos t * * Inc ludes a W' ten o n length o n each end.

Carver Armchair (cherry)




The same customer who ordered a pair Since the posts appeared to be heavier than
of Carver chairs later ordered a pair of those on the Carver chairs, I chose a diameter of
Brewster chairs. I agreed to take on the 2 14 ". Post diameter wasn't indicated on any of the
job even though, at photos I'd photocopied, but the extra %" seemed
the time, I could about right. I decided that the back post length
not recall ever hav- should be 43 ", the same as that on the Carver
ing seen a photo of chairs; however, since the arms were lower on this
a Brewster chair. new chair, I shortened the front posts to 26 ", again
Starting my pre- because this also seemed about right. Because of
parations in the li- the similarity in chair width, I borrowed rung
brary, there, in addi- length measurements intact from the Carver chair.
tion to photos of a Then, with the general values established, I
half dozen Brewster pulled out a stack of layout sticks and began mark-
chairs, I found some ing off the divisions for mortises and the various
gross measurements turned parts.
for this particular variety This is the chair that resulted from that prepara-
of Pilgrim furniture. Like the tion . While not an accurate reproduction of any
Carver chairs I'd already studied, specific original, any connoisseur of Pilgrim furni-
these tended to be about 45" in ture would, I believe, instantly recognize this as a
height, with a front ladder width of about 23" and Brewster chair.
a back ladder width of
about 1 7". The arms were
lower than those on the MATERIALS LIST
Carver chair and the turn-
ing of the posts and the ver- A Back posts 2 pes. 2% X 43
tical spindles more elabo- B Front posts 2 pes. 2% X 26
rate. But the primary differ- c Front
ence was the presence, on seat rung 1 pc. 1lfs X 21 *
the Brewster chair, of a rack D Front rungs 2 pes. 1 X 21 *
of vertical spindles on the
E Back and side
front ladder below the seat seat rungs 3 pes. P/s x15*
and a double rack of verti-
F Back and
cal spindles on the back side rungs 11 pes. 1 X 15*
ladder above the seat.
G Vertical
I photocopied the pic- spindles 9 pes. 11fs X 71h * *
tures of Brewster chairs and
began to establish some The Brewster has a number • Includes a 1's " tenon length on each end.
specific measurements. of elaborately turned parts. • • Includes a 1;2'' tenon length on each end.

Brewster Armchair (cherry)

Post-and-Rung Chairs

M y first post-and-rung chairs were reproductions of Shaker originals. Like

many woodworkers, I was drawn to their spry elegance, their sophistication,
their spare and clean lines. Also like many woodworkers, I found those lines
easier to reproduce than the convoluted shapes on, for instance, Brewster or
Carver chairs.
Then gradually over a period of years, I began tinkering with the plain
and simple features of the Shaker chairs I built. Although still appreciating
the honest simplicity of the originals, occasionally as I stood in my shop
studying a recently completed chair, I found myself craving a bit more in the
way of ornamentation.
I started with the arms- band-sawing new contours, sculpting with a
drawknife and spokeshave, incising curlicues with a shop knife- in the
process creating a number of shapes that could be substituted for the cook-
ie-cutter arms on the Shaker originals.
Furthermore, I experimented with the slats. Some of mine, like the SHaker
originals, were very simple in silhouette. Others expanded into more flam-
boyant shapes that the Shaker designers might have found unsettling. I tin-
kered with the Shaker finials, too. Although I didn't introduce any new
shapes- it's hard to imagine any new lathe-turned forms - I did manipulate
those on the Shaker originals, elongating some, compressing others, and
joining shapes in ways not quite like those on the original chairs.
At first, my customers were hesitant to consider anything different from
the examples pictured in books. But eventually that changed. Today some
request the modified Shaker chairs. And still others request chairs that are
unlike any Shaker or period originals- chairs of my own design.

BUBBLE-SLAT ROCKER (cherry) & SETTEE (walnut)
Ea rl y in th e nineteenth centu- betwee n th e two fa lse back posts. Then, instead of
Iy, Shaker chair-makers, like bending th e chair's o utsid e back posts to create a
those in the outside world, comf011ab le seating a ngl e betwee n seat and back, I
built th ei r chairs either one relied o n the fl exi bility of th e woven back pan el to
at a tim e or in small sets. provide that comfort. Th us it was possibl e to leave
But by the 18 70s, Sh a ker the posts straight.
The re are also a number of cos m eti c ch anges
th at, co mbin ed, give this ch ai r a non-Shaker look.
The most obvio us of th ese is th e slat profile. It's
wi d er th a n th e slat o n any Shaker chair and h as a
busier look. The bubble shapes of that profile a re
echoed in th e round ball atop the finial and in th e
bubbl e turnin gs below the arms. Also, th e arms are
w ider and more sculptural than a ny found o n
Shake r origi nal s. Th e extra wid th provides elbow
comfo rt, and th e sculpture adds v isual a nd tactile
appea l.

chairs were being mass-

prod uced in the Mt. Lebanon
operation, then m arketed to the o utside worl d .
Chairs built in th e early stages of m ass production
were sometimes referred to as "tra nsitional " ch ai rs
because, although th ey may have been built wi th
some of the features of ea rlier, h and-cra fted
chairs, th ey were, n onetheless, being produced
in large numbers.
The very first Sh a ker cha ir I made was a
transitional rocker-one illustra ted in John
Kassay's The Book of Sha!?er Furniture. The bub-
ble-slat rocker shown here and the doubl e
rocker that follows at th e end of this section
are both based on the body of that transition-
al rocker.
First, I widened th e original chair e nough to
accommodate the e nclosed tape frame on th e
chair back without crowding th e sitter's back



(measured drawings (measured drawings opposite)
on pages 121 & 123)

A Front posts 2 pes. 13/s x 20 311 * A Back posts 2 pes. 2 Vs x 45 'Vs

B Back posts 2 pes. P/s x 43lh B Front posts 2 pes. 2Vs x 25 'Vs *
c Arms 2 pes. 1 X 41;4 X 181;4 * * c Arms 2 pes. 15/16 X 43/s X 20-Ys * *
D Back slat 1 pc. 1;4 X 4 ¥! X 1 71;4 + D Front
seat rung 1 pc. 13/s x 38:Ys +
E Rockers 2 pes. 3fs X 4 X 28
E Front rungs 2 pes. 15/16 x 383/s +
F Front rungs 2 pes. 'Vs x 23 ++
F Side
G Front seat rungs 2 pes. 11;4x18lh +
seat rung 1 pc. 11jg X 23 ++
G Side rungs 4 pes. P/s x 181;2 +
H Side rungs 4 pes. 'Vs x 16lh ++
H Back seat rung 1 pc. P/s x 331;4 +
I Side
seat rungs 2 pes. Pis X 16lh ++ I Back rung 1 pc. 15/16 X 331;4 +

J Back rungs 2 pes. 'Vs x 171;4 + J Bottom tape

frame rung 1 pc. 15/16 X 331;4 +
K Back seat
and tape frame K Top tape
rungs 3 pes. 11jg X 1 71;4 ++ frame rung 1 pc. 15/16 X 331;2 +

L False L False
back posts 2 pes. 1Vs x191;4 • back posts 2 pes. ,15J16 X 17-% ++
M Wedges 2 pes. 1jg X o/s X 31! M Slat 1 pc. 1;2 X 6 1h X 331;2 * *
3/16 N Wedges 2 pes. 3/16 X -% X 3,4
N Rocker pegs 4 pes. x 13/s ••

• Tenons should be made Ys " longer than is indicat- *Tenon should be made Vs" longer than is indicated
ed by this finished post length so that they can be pared by this finished post length so that it can be pared flush
flush with top of arm after assembly. with the top surface of the arm after assembly.
* * Includes a 'Vs " tenon at end of arm. Note: This • * Includes a rs'' tenon on end. Note: Unlike the
tenon is only lh " in diameter. other tenons on this chair, this one is only -Ys" in diam-
+ Includes a 31!" tenon on each end. eter.
++ Includes a rs'' tenon on each end. + Includes a 'Vs" tenon on each end . Unlike most of
• Includes a 1h" tenon on each end. the other tenons described in this book, these have a
• • Rocker pegs are pared flush with the outside diam- diameter of 3,4" .
eter of posts after assembly. ++ Includes a lh" tenon on each end.

Bubble-Slat Settee (walnut)

______ ____
.,.._.._, .._


I began these chairs with a coup le of exclamation I liked the turnings, I li ked the scored
marks, one on top of each of the back posts. I then lines, but not the slat. It was too p lain.
added, below each arm, a variation of I began to wonder w h at it wou ld look
a vase I'd seen a nd admired on anum- li ke if a pair of curli cues were incised
ber of chai rs made at th e Canterbury, on th e slat, cur-
New Hampshire, Shaker community. licues simi lar to
Because the exclamation marks and th e o nes just put
th e vases we re vety different shapes, I o n the arms.
put a pai r of scored lines on the I got o ut my
exclamatio n marks and a second tools a nd we n t
pair of scored lines below the vase to work, once
o n each of th e front aga in cuttin g
posts to bring through the
the chair's front three coats
and back posts of finish
together vis u a ll y. into the woo d b e low. Thi s
I assemb led time when I stepped back to
the chair, ap- look, I liked what I saw.
plied the finish
a nd tu cked it
corner of my
storage room Assembly a nd the materials list are the same as for
w hil e work in g on a couple of th e Bubb le-S lat Rocker (page . 118) except for th e
sets of Shaker dining cha irs. back posts and back slat:
Then , several weeks later, I B-1 Back posts 2 pes. 13/s x 44 1,4
brought the ch air out and pre- D-1 Back slat 1 pc. 1
1<1 X 3 X 1 71,4 *
pared to weave th e seat a nd back. Studying it wh il e
* Includes a 34 " tenon on each end.
sip ping a cup of coffee, I began to won d er w h at
wou ld happen if I brought that curl icue on the top
face of each a rm into a tighter sp iral, one extending In all attempt to bri 11g
all th e way to th e through tenon at the top of the all the parts of the
fro nt post. chair together visually,
Th en, even though the ch a ir had received its fu ll the sha pe of the incised
slat curlicue as well as
quota of three coa ts of finish, I got out a sh op knife
the pair of scored lin es
and a paring chise l a nd began to tinker w ith the on the pommel are
cu rli cu e. Stepp ing b ack late r to study th e effect of repeated elsewhere 011
the ch a nge, I began to look at the rest of th e chair. the chair.

Bubble-Slat Rocker & Black Shoes with Tape/ Splint Back
(first of two pages of measured drawings)

rAP£ I<UN6


(Top) All the chairs I've designed have arms shaped by
shaving and carving tools. Although the specific ann
shapes may vary from chair to chair, the shaping tech-
nique remains the same.
After band-sawing the arm blank, I placed freehand
lines on the top, bottom, and edges of those blanks to
guide me in the shaping process. These arms had broad
flat areas on their upper and lower surfaces. The borders
of those flats were given crowned bevels, the limits of
which are indicated by the pencil lines on the blank at
the bottom of the picture.
{Above middle) The bevel on the arm's end grain can
be cut with the drawknife, but when working with dry
stock, I find it easier to rough it in with a wide-sweep
carving gouge.
The particular chip that was removed in this photo had
to be cut free by twisting the gouge in a clockwise
motion as it was driven into the work. Otherwise, a
large section of the arm blank would have been split off
due to the grain runout on that portion of the arm
(Below middle) A drawknife was used to shape one of
the bevels on the underside of the arm blank. Notice the
wooden puppets that supported the work. These were
mounted on a pipe clamp mounted in my vise. The tenon
on one end of the arm blank was held in a % " hole in
one puppet, while the other end was held in a depression
that was dished into the face of the other puppet.
{Bottom) A spokeshave was used to give the bevels a
smooth finish.

Bubble-Slat Rocker & Black Shoes with Tape/Splint Back
(second of two pages of measured drawings)

~~~-~-~~~ ~
~ !3LE.


I A ) If I I~IB
!!Iii /. .,_ 1/ I.U \§1 /
k- '""'-8-
~ :,, 1 ~-

I've always liked the idea of a doubl e rocker, but

have n 't yet made one that is completely satisfacto-
ry, although some days, when I look at this o n e it
seems to be reasonabl y close.

I top frame rung 1 pc. 1% X 35 3,4 * *
A Back posts 2 pes. 21/g X 43%
J Bottom tape
B Front posts 2 pes. 2 Vs x 22 3116 * frame rung 1 pc. 11,4 X 35 % * *
c Front seat rung 1 pc. 13/s x 40 * * K Fa lse back post 1 pc. }1,4 X 161/g +
D Front rungs 2 pes. 114 X 40 * * L Arms 2 pes. ?'s X 5 X 21% ++
E Side seat rungs 2 pes. 13/s x 1 8 112 ** M Rockers 2 pes. 5/s X 3 3,4 X 30 3,4
F Side rungs 4 pes. 13/ 16 X 18 Y2 * * N Slat 1 pc. 12
1 X 5 X 35 3,4 +
G Back seat rung 1 pc. 13/s x 35% ** 0 Rocker pegs 4 pes. 3/ 16 X 2 1,4 + +
H Back rung 1 pc. 1% X 35% * * p Wedges 2 pes. Vs x 34 x 34

*Tenons should be made Vs " lon ger than is indi cated +Includes a 1h x 1h tenon on each end.
by this finished post length so that they ca n be pared ++ Includes a 1'8'' tenon on o ne end. Unlike the oth-
flush with th e to p surface of th e arm after assembly. ers on this chair, thi s tenon is on ly %" in diameter.
* * Includ es a f's " tenon o n each end . Unlike most of • Includes a W ' teno n o n each end.
th e other rung teno ns described in this book, these have •• After fitting, these are pared flu sh with th e o utside
a diam eter of34 ". di a meter of th e post.

Double Rocker (cherry)

gL.AT 6. !311Ck POST fiAj

= N. l<i~


,r ALL 0RIOS I IN(}{
PaST TAPE!S FK'o;vt 2;&
AT 8:J7To;v1 RU/16 J{)lf'€


1~. VIEW

...,...,...,. ...,. ...,
.., ..,

W hen I was a boy, I had a rope swing on a walnut tree that stood on the
edge of our back garden, and many nights my friends and I swung there,
hour after hour, higher and higher.
No one was hurt and no one was sued. But today, lawyers rule the world.
When I visited a local supplier of building materials to choose the rope for
the one-board swing, I was surprised to see that not one single rope was
approved for the support of human weight. In fact, each coil that I exam-
ined had a sticker indicating it was specifically not designed to support
human weight. This was true for ropes woven of natural fibers and for ropes
woven of synthetic fibers. This was true for ropes with a listed working
weight of 50 pounds and for ropes with a listed working weight of 400
I understand the manufacturer's caution. But it's still troubling.

ONE-BOARD SWING (white ash)
In the interests of safety, I did make a few changes
from the swing I'd had when I was a boy.
First, I wrapped the cut ends with black electri-
cian's tape to prevent fraying. Second, I rounded
the sharp edges of the hole in the seat through
which the rope passes, to remove the sharp wood-
en edge. I also wrapped tape around that part of the
rope that passed through the hole. And third,
where the rope passes over the limb of our ash tree,
it is held in place by a couple of nails clenched
across it. These nails prevent the rope from rubbing
against the rough bark when the swing is being


A Seat 1 pc. 1Vs X 8Vs x 19%

B Rope 1 pc. * x amount needed
C Tape 3 pes as needed
D Boy or Girl 1 pc. Sx 14x49 1h

And last, I told my son that at the end of the

warm, summer season, we'll cut the rope down and
throw it out. Next year, we'll have a new rope.

PORCH SWING (white ash)
This sw ing is big e n o ugh fo r two, a nd beca use of its MATERIALS LIST
sturdy ash fra m e, it's stro ng e n o ugh fo r more th a n
two . A Lo ng seat
Th e seat pa ne l is attach ed to th e b ack a t a n a ngl e a nd b ac k run gs 4 pes. 1% x 44% *
of 9 7¥2 d egrees; h oweve r, th e m o rti ses fo r th e side B Side sea t run gs 2 pes. 1% x 19 * *
seat rung te no ns a nd for th e a rm te no ns ca n 't be
C Side back run gs 2 pes. 1% x 28%
drill ed o n th e SRMJ beca use th e ji g's fe nce ge ts in
D Arm s 2 pes. 1% x 14¥2
th e way.
To cut th ese m o rti ses, I first insta ll ed th e FRMJ E Ar m supp o rts 2 pes. 1% x 10% *
o n my drill press ta bl e. Th e n I set its fe nce 13/ 16" F Nylo n
fro m th e lead po int o f th e Fo rstn e r bit ( 13/ 16" is ha lf ch a ir \"'e bbi ng ] 20 ft.
th e di a m eter o f th e swing's posts). After asse mbling G Eye b o lts
th e b ac k fram e, I ta ped a two-foo t leve l to o ne of a nd nuts 4 pes. % x 4
th e lo ng, back rungs. Th e n, resting on e e nd of th e H Drywa ll sc rews
bac k pa nel o n the FRMJ so that th e post was crowd - I Fin ishin g was h ers
ed aga inst th e fe n ce, I m oved th e oth e r e nd of th e
bac k fra m e u p and d ow n until th e level indi ca ted
* Incl udes l " teno n o n each end . Un like mos t of th e
that th e lo ng rungs were perpe ndi cul a r to th e axis
rung tenons in thi s book, all th e teno ns o n thi s sw in g
o f th e Fo rstn e r bit. I th e n bro ught th e bit into th e have a di am eter of 34" .
pos t, cuttin g th e m o rti ses fo r th e side seat run g * * In clu des l " teno n on o ne end .
te non s and fo r th e a rm
tenon s.
T h e le ngth s o f ny lo n
chair we bbin g we re fa s-
te n ed into place w ith
dtywall screws pass in g
throu gh fini shing was he rs.
Th e finishin g was h e rs
pressing aga in st th e dou-
bl ed-up we bbin g a t th e
e nd o f each strip provided
a large r b ea ring surface
than wo uld th e screw head s
al o n e. I used two screws a t
each e nd of th e lo ng sea t
strip s a nd o n e screw a t
each e nd o f a ll th e o th e r

Porch Swing (white ash)


~6 ' l1 1 I~ ;J. I~ ~ f;JI 1[1;
II ~I , I~ ~~- ~ -1 ~
,I -

.I I- j J
,, I ~
~ ~
b- f- f--
,/ ,, ,,
I -
.Jil:. ~
ti=o = I II- - r-- -
II ,[
~ ~ ~::'\ I
II II 1 I 11%1
r- - - I - f. I i
c. ~ I

~ 0~ I 'I )!

'i'< \
lU IJJJ lu .~~
I I I r:- ~r
~ ~_,Ut I~ ~~ ~ ~ ~
E. Wdi
,t,] J ~

~~IJ~IJ~JJ[iW~~~JlJiJIIJ .J jJ.,WiilllllJL-WAIU ,iJ.JI. id ll II . IJJ'k'IJW'~~u

Chapter Ten n a production woodworking shop, an individ-
I ual craftsman is likely to perform the same nar-

RUNNI NG A rowly defined task over and over again. There are
advantages to such a practice. It does allow the
craftsman to develop extraordinary skill, which
SMALL SHOP translates into increased speed and productivity,
which means greater shop profit. However, repeti-
tion can also lead to other, less desirable results.
Eight hours at the same machine, performing the
same task, can leave the craftsman bored; and as
the mind wanders, so do the eyes and hands. The
hazards implicit in production work cannot be
The psychological effects of boredom are nearly
as important. As much as possible, we should enjoy
the experience of working, taking from it not only
the money needed for the care and feeding of fam-
ilies, homes, cars, but also generous helpings of
pleasure and satisfaction. After a week at the lathe
turning chair rungs, the woodworker may wonder
if his profession is any less drudging than tradi-
tional factory work.
However, with careful planning a craftsman in a
small-shop can enjoy some of the advantages of
production work without experiencing all of its
miseries. What is needed is a. workable compro-
mise between speed and pleasure. By almost any
standards, my shop is small, consisting of two
rooms : a wood storage room that includes my
thickness planer; and a workroom.
The workroom measures 10 by 24 feet, and it
contains not only a workbench and my collection
of hand tools but also all of my stationary power
equipment: a table saw, a jointer, a radial-arm saw
(with generous infeed and outfeed tables that dou-
ble as extra workbenches), a lathe, a band saw, a
drill press and, most important in December, a big
wood burning stove around which I keep a couple
of feet of empty air to minimize the possibility of
an accidental fire.

When pricing a job, material is always the first con-
The shop is a cramped but functional working sideration. This is especially true when the materi-
environment, and over the last ten years I've gotten al is figured wood, which is always expensive and
fairly comfortable with its limitations. By the time not always available in the required dimensions
Mark Prince, the owner of The Shaker Seedbox and quantities. After Mark and I had determined
Company in Cincinnati, called to ask about the set the exact characteristics of the chairs he wanted
of eight dining chairs pictured here, I had accumu- built, I got on the phone and attempted to track
lated a fair amount of experience moving groups of down the lumber.
chairs through my tiny shop. Most of the chairs I Although many of my Shaker reproduction and
build are sold in sets-two, four, six-and even Shaker-style chairs are made from a variety of
when I'm not building a set, it isn't unusual to have woods including cherry, walnut, ash, and oak, most
four or five individual chairs in varying states of are constructed of hard maple, the material most
completion scattered around the workroom. But used by the Shakers for chair-making. Hard maple
this was my first opportunity to build eight chairs is a good choice for this application since it com-
for a single buyer, as well as my first opportunity to bines enormous strength with a dense grain that
build an entire set from figured wood. holds turned detail very nicely.
Calling the USDA Forest Products Lab in
Wisconsin, one of their scientists explained that
while hard maple is stronger than any of the soft
maples, the red soft maple produced a wood that
outperformed cherry in tests of strength. It was his
opinion that red soft maple would produce satis-
factory chair posts.
Encouraged by this conversation, I called Mark
to discuss the possibilities. Having made a large
number of chairs in cherry without a single part
failure, I felt confident about building a chair from
an even stronger wood. The only difficulty was esti-
mating the effect curly figure might have on the
My first problem was finding hard curly maple strength of the chair posts. Curly figure makes parts
in the thickness required for post stock: a mini- more susceptible to fracture across the grain; and
mum of %. After the first few calls to dealers who no one-not the Forest Products Lab or the Na-
specialized in figured wood, I found that while soft tional Hardwood Lumber Association-had test
curly maple was relatively common in % and % information on the strength of red maple exhibit-
thicknesses, hard curly maple (fiddleback) was ing a curly figure. We decided to go ahead with it
extremely rare. with one proviso: If, after I had assembled a test
Making this search even more difficult was the chair, there was evidence of weakness, we would
fact that I wanted green post stock so that the post turn the customer down.
mortises could be allowed to shrink down on the The next step was estimating the amount of
dry rung tenons. A couple of the dealers I spoke material the job would require. At $5.75 per board
with laughed when they learned what I wanted. It foot for % curly maple rung stock, $6 .20 per board
wasn't long before I was laughing with them. foot for 12/ 4 curly maple from wf1ich I would rip out
After two weeks and countless phone calls, I post turning blanks, and $7.50 per board foot for
spoke with Mark and told him that I couldn't do the bird's-eye I would use for slats and arms, I did-
the job because the material simply didn't exist. n't want to order too much, but also knew I want-
Having already sold a customer on the consider- ed enough to be able to pick through the material
able price of the chairs, he was reluctant to give it in order to avoid making parts from stock with
up. We discussed the possibilities, even briefly con- marginal figure.
sidering kiln-dried hard maple for post stock. Then, A cabinetmaker estimates the amount of materi-
I had ohe more idea. al the job requires, then adds 30 percent or 40 per-
Not all soft maples share the same physical char- cent to account for defects and cut-offs. In post-
acteristics. The silver maple that grew in my region and-rung chair-making, the rules are a little differ-
of the Untied States was much too soft for chair ent. Everything depends on the stock from which
construction-something I had tested several years the back posts are turned . While rungs and front
earlier. But there were other maples classified as posts can be made from the rips and cut-offs left
soft that I thought might have the strength needed. behind after sizing back post stock, there must be a

generous surplus of back post stock from which to
choose. A single pea-sized knot along the length of
a post sends it into the scrap bin-and I was order-
ing blind, over the phone.
For probably the fifth time, I called the only
source I could find for green material , in
Pennsylvania, this time asking about the length of
the 12/4 from which I would rip out my post stock. It
measured 60 inches, close to ideal for back post
stock, as it left me with enough length so that I
could take some from either end of my 44" post
stock to cut off any drying checks I might find .
I decided to order 60 board feet, almost five
times what I would actually use in the back posts.
That gave me the freedom to pick and choose my
stock, with a little leeway in case I had to turn extra
parts. The front post stock could be taken from the I knew that I would be dealing with a large num-
material rejected for back post use, since it's much ber of very similar but still different parts. For
easier to work around knots or stains when you're example, to make this set of nine chairs, I would
looking for a 20" length than it is when you're need 63 side rungs. (The extra seven are the lower
looking for a 44" length . back rungs, which are the same length as the six
I added 22 board feet of% curly maple for the side rungs on each chair.) Eighteen of those would
rungs and 12 board feet of % bird's-eye from which be seat rungs, which meant they would be turned
I would take the slats and arms. I ordered much from straight-grained hard maple, rather than the
more bird's-eye than I needed because its figure curly red maple I would be using for the other side
tends to run in streaks, and I wanted enough so rungs. Also, I would I!eed 27 front rungs, nine of
that I could choose the areas of heaviest patterning which would be seat rungs and turned from hard
for my slats and arms. maple.
The seat rungs would be turned from % straight- To avoid confusion at glue-up, it was imperative
grained hard maple that I already had . that I keep all these parts segregated.
I find it is easy to keep the rungs separate in a
series of buckets, each designated for a different
Parts type of rung. Each chair-maker may have his own
I began with the intention of building nine, rather system that works well for him . For instance,
than eight, chairs so that if there was a problem Charles Harvey, of Berea, Kentucky, uses color cod-
with one, I could substitute that extra copy. Too, if ing to differentiate the rungs in his rung kiln .
everything went perfectly and I ended up with nine, Although there would be 2 7 slats in these chairs,
I would have a chair that I could keep as a sample they would all be identical and would require no
to give other customers an idea of what chairs built differentiation . Posts, however, were another mat-
from figured woods looked like. ter. These would be turned to three different

Turning blanks are stacked on the right. Turned, tenoned, and sanded rungs are stored in buckets until they're needed
at assembly. Steam-bent slats are curled around the black bucket, while band-sawn and sanded (but unbent) slats are
leaning against the white bucket.

shapes: back posts, front posts for armchairs, and Moisture

front posts for side chairs. And each of these differ- Unlike casework, chair-making poses the complica-
ent shapes would be divided equally into groups of tion of moisture management. When I'm building
right posts and groups of left posts. The different a single chair, moisture management is relatively
shapes can be distinguished at a glance, but the dif- straightforward. After baking thoroughly air-dried
ference between a right post and a left post is not rung stock in the oven at 200 degrees F (93 degrees
so easily seen. C) for a couple of hours, I tur!l the rungs and size
Unlike the rungs, the posts won't fit comfortably the tenons. These are then set aside.
in buckets, so in this instance I borrowed Charles's Posts are turned from stock in the 20-percent
system and color-coded the end grain of the posts moisture range, with fresh-sawn surfaces damp but
with magic markers, one color for right and anoth- not wet. After the posts have been turned and
er for left. marked, they are taken immediately to the drill
Speaking as someone who is genetically inclined press, and front and back rung mortises are bored.
to disorder, some system of parts organization is Slat mortises are then chopped out by hand .
essential when planning a production run in the Once cut, mortises dry very quickly. I've learned
small shop. The particular job, the shop, and the that once a mortise is cut, the chair must be assem-
craftsman determines what system of organization bled. Every hour that a mortised post sits in a heat-
might work best. My solutions may apply only to ed shop reduces the amount of post shrinkage that
chair jobs done in my shop, but I believe that the can be expected on the rung tenon-and may also
principle of careful parts organization applies to require that the tenons be resized to fit the smaller
any shop making multiple copies. mortises. (If I'm building a chair with bent back

posts, I will violate this rule. I drill the mortises for I recognize the imperfections in my system, but
the back rungs prior to bending the posts. Then, to what I'm looking for is a compromise between the
retard drying in the mortises, I dribble water in the needs of moisture management and the efficient
mortises and wrap them with tape.) use of tool setups.
As soon as the mortises have been cut, I check
the size of the rung tenons. If, because they have
been sitting in the shop for several days, they have
absorbed enough moisture to increase in diameter, When ready, I assemble one chair at a time, placing
I put them in the oven again . The chair is then the rungs in the oven for a final round of drying
assembled in stages-front and back ladder first, and then, while that's taking place, cutting the mor-
then, after drilling side rung mortises, the chair tises for the first chair. After that chair has been
itself-pressing the slightly oversized tenons into completely assembled, I put the next batch of rungs
the rung mortises with a pipe clamp. in the oven and cut the mortises for the second
However, when working with a large number of chair. Working in this manner, I can assemble three
chairs, this process must be modified . I begin with side chairs in a day's time.
the chair rungs, ripping all the turning blanks from Final assembly is intoxicating. The shop is quiet.
% stock and centering them for the lathe. These are The radio plays softly. I lay out finished parts-
then taken to the oven in batches no larg- back ladder, front ladder, side rungs,
er than I can turn by the end arms-on an old quilt. I spread glue on
of that workday. After they are each tenon and in each mortise. I posi-
turned, tenoned, and sanded, tion the rung tenons. With a pipe clamp,
they are placed in appropriate- each is driven into its mortise.
ly marked buckets. After all the Then something happens that I still
rungs have been turned, I di- find remarkable- even after assembling
rect my attention to the posts. more than two hundred chairs in my
Ideally, these would be done shop. As t~e pipe clamps bring parts
one chair at a time, but in order together, as the tenons are seated in their
to make better use of machine mortises, the chair begins to assume its
setups, I deal with them all at characteristic shape. Ladders, rungs, and
once, ripping out all the stock arms move, by jerking fits and starts, into
on the table saw, then centering alignment. The chair's four feet come to
it, mounting it in the lathe and rest purposefully on the benchtop. I
turning it. Some moisture is lost rotate the chair in
because even though the mortis- my hands, and, as I
es aren't cut until the day of wash away dribbles
assembly, the turned posts may of glue, I feel and
sit around the shop for a week or see that it is tight,
more. square, and whole.

. ..,. GALLERY 0 F CHAIRS . ..,

I feel very lucky to be able to include the following photos of contemporary

American chairs, each of which provides an imaginative solution to the
problem of providing us with places to sit. Enjoy the feast .
- Kerry Pierce

Curtis Buchanan
Jonesborough, Tennessee

"My influences came from a Wallace

Nutting piece and from a photo advertise-
ment for the Primrose School showing a
chair built by West Lowe. "

"Patra's Ch air"

"Lenox Settee"

"Continuous Arm Lenox Chair"

Joe Graham
Jefferson, Ohio

"The beauty of the chair-making tradition is the

capacity for individual expression that results
from the skillful manipulation of hand-held

In addition to making his own chairs,

Graham teaches his craft in workshops held
near his rural Jefferson, Ohio, home.
"Writing Arm Lenox Chair"

"Rocking Chair"

Owen Rein
Mo untain View, Arkansas

"The lines of the grain in the wood fo llow

the lines of the chair. Variations in the
grain reveal themselves but still fo llow
those lines."

"Continuo us Arm "

"Comb-Back Rocker"

David Wright
"Comb-Back" Berea, Kentu cky

"I choose to make one chair at a time,

devoting my energy to seeing that each is
expertly made for my customer."

William Locke
West Roxbury, Massachusetts

"Langley Boardman, who designed the arm-

chair, worked in Portsmouth, New Hampshire,
during the late eighteenth and ealry nineteenth
centuries. "



Abrasives, 23 Double rocker, 124-125 choiceof, 15-16

Adhesives, 22-23 Drawknives, 30, 31 estimating, 131-132
Angles, 25-26 Drill press, 37 for seating, 21-22
Armchairs strength testing of, 1 6
Brewster, 114-115 Enfield-style side chair, 96-97 Measuring/ marking tools, 24-26
Carver, 112-113 Eye protection, 36 Moisture, 18, 20-21 , 134
slat-back, 100, 101 Mortises, 29 , 48
tape-back 100, 101 Four-board bench, 87-89 hand tools for, 29
Awl , 25 with wedged stretcher tenons, lathe marking/ cutting method,
90-91 49-53
Back posts, m o rtising, 51 , 50-53 Framing square, 26-27 layout sticks for, 49
with steam-bent slats, 51 mortising jig marking/ cutting
Backsaw, 32 Gall ery, 136-142 methods, 52-60
Band saw, 18, 35, 37 Gloves, turning, 43 Mt. Lebanon factOly, 11
Banister-back chairs, 8 Glues, woodworking, 22-23 traditional rockers, 104-107
Benches, 8, 86 Gouges, 29
four-b oard, 8 7- 89 Green wood, 18, 20-21 Pilgrim chairs, 112-115
four-board with wedged stretcher Pipe clamp, 27-28
ten o ns, 90 - 91 Hammer, carpenter's, 28-29 Planes, 32-33
Bench vise, 27 Hand tools, 24-33 . See also specific Planing, skew, 46-4 7
Bending fo rms, 64 - 65 hand tools Pony clamps, 27-28
Bevel square, 25 Hanks, bundles, 67 Porch swing, 128-129
Black shoes with tape/ splint back, Hearing protection, 36 Post-and-rung chairs, 8, 14
120- 123 Hide glue, 22-23 making, 8, 14, 116-125
Blade guards, 37 moisture content for, 20-21
Blades, sh arp ness of, 36 Jigs, 25 , 28 , 52-61 Posts, 133 . See also Mortises
Block plan e, 33 joinery, green wood, 20-21 mortise lin es for, 50-52
Brewster armchair, 114 -115 turning, 40-44, 49
Bubble-sl at rocker & ettee, 117-119, Kiln-drying, 19-20 Power tools, 34-37
121- 123 Knives, 29 esse nti aL 35-37
drawknives, 30-31 modifying, 39-40
Calipers, 45 sharpness of, 36 safety checklist for, 36-37
Carpenter's rul e, folding, 24-25 Push sticks, 36- 37
Carver arm chair, 112 - 113 Ladders, alignment of, 26-27
Carving too ls, 29 Lathe, 35. See also Turning Quarters, wood dimensions, 18
C-clamps, 27-2 8 mortise marking/ cutting method,
Chair arms, 6-11 49 - 53 Rattan splint, 21 , 66-71
shaping, 122 for skew planing, 46-47 Rockers
tenoning/ install ation, 92 Layout sticks, 49 bubble-slat, 117-119, 121-123
Chairs. See also specif ic types of chair Legs, 14 double, 124-125
contemporary American, exam- Lenox-style chairs, 137 slat-back, 108-109
ples of, 136-142 Line-marking gauge, 25 , 52 tape-back with slat, 110-111
correct vs. perfect, 48-49 Lumber sizes, standard, 18 Roughing gouge, 40
first, 6-7 Roughing-in, 42-44
forms, evolution of, 7-9 Mallets, 29 Rungs, 133
Chisels, 29-30 Materials, 14. See also Wood Rung tenons, formation, 45-4 7
Clamping devices, 27-28 abrasives, 23 Rush , 8, 22, 66
Compass, 25 adhesives, 22-23 Rustic stoo l, 76-77

Safety ch ecklist, for tool usage, multicolored, stoo l with, 93, 95 three-legged, 78 - 79
36 - 37 weaving, 70 - 73 Story sti cks, 49 ' · ·-
Sawing tools, 32 Sh arpness, of too ls, 36 Swings
Scrapers, 32- 33 Shaving too ls, 30- 31 o ne-board, 127
Sculpted seat stool, 33 , 78 - 79 Shrinkage, wood, 20- 21 po rch, 128 - 129
Seating materials, 8, 14, 21 Side ch air
Seat weaving Enfield -style, 96 - 97 Tab le saw, 36
Shaker tape, 70- 73 slat-b ack, 98 Tape-back chairs
splint, 66- 71 tape-back, 99 , 101 arm chair, 100, 101
Settees Skew planing, 46 - 47 rocker with slat, 110- 111
bubble-slat, 11 7-11 9, 121- 123 Slat-back chairs, 8 side, 99 , 101
tape-back, 102 - 103 arm ch air, 100, 101 Tapp ing/ hammering too ls, 28 - 29
Shaker-style chairs, 92 Mt. Lebanon trad iti o nal rockers, Tenons, d iameter of, 75
Enfiel d-style side ch air, 96 - 97 104- 107 Th ree-l egged stool, 78 - 79
hi story of, 9, 10- 12 rocker, 108 - 109 Tu rning, 38- 47
Mt. Lebano n slat-back tradition al side, 98 preparation for, 40 - 42
rockers, 104-107 Slip-seat ch ai rs, 99 roughing-in, 42 - 44
sl at-back arm chair, 100, 101 Splint, 8 run g tenon formation, 45-46
slat-back ro cker, 108- 109 ash or rattan, 22 skew planing and, 46 - 47
slat-b ack side, 98 weaving, 66 - 71 Two-slat side ch air, 94 - 95
stoo l with multi co lo red tape, 93, Spokeshave, 30- 31
95 Stea m-bending Wa inscot ch air, 8
tape-back arm chair, 100, 101 bending for ms fo r, 64 - 65 Warp, 67 - 70
tape-back rockers w ith slat, stea m p roducti o n, 62 - 63 Windsor variations, 9-10
110-111 Stools projects, 76 - 81
tape-back settee, 102- 103 with multi co lored tape, 93 , 95 Wood, 8, 14- 21, 23 , 131-135
tape-back side, 99 with painted seat, Windsor, 80 quarter design ations, 18
two-slat side chair, 94 ~ 95 rusti c, 76 - 77
Shaker tape, 21 , 66,70- 73 with sculpted seat, 78 - 79 Zoar-style chair, 8 2- 85

Foot and Inch inches mm em inches em inches em

Conversions Ys 3 0.3 9 22.9 30 76.2
1,4 6 0.6 10 25 .4 31 78.7
1 in ch = 25 .4mm 3fs 10 1.0 11 27.9 32 81.3
1 foo t= 304.8 mm 1h 13 1.3 12 30.5 33 83.8
5fs 16 1.6 13 33.0 34 86.4
3,4 19 1.9 14 35.6 35 88.9
fs 22 2.2 15 38.1 36 91.4
1 25 2 .5 16 40.6 37 94.0
Metric Conversions 1% 32 3 .2 17 43 .2 38 96.6
1¥2 38 3.8 18 45.7 39 99.1
1 m m = 0 .039 inch ]3,4 44 4.4 19 48 .3 40 101.6
1 m = 3.28 feet 2 51 5. 1 20 50.8 41 104.1
2¥2 64 6.4 21 53.3 42 106.7
3 76 7.6 22 55.9 43 109 .2
3¥2 89 8.9 23 58.4 44 lll.8
4 102 10.2 24 61.0 45 114.3
mm = millimete r
4¥2 114 11.4 25 63.5 46 116.8
em = centimeter
5 127 12.7 26 66.0 47 119.4
m = meter 6 152 15 .2 27 68.6 48 121.9
7 178 17 .8 28 71.1 49 124.5
8 203 20.3 29 73 .7 50 127.0
··- .-.' • ·- -;.~· -... - ~;~; ·- ~ ' 'h~ t ><"'i ~~'!)

(continued .from .front flap)

slat back and bulbous pommels .

If you ' d prefer to do something that

\: . I I ·-~
involves less time and fewer materials, a
cla ss i c Am e ri c an f o ur-board b e n c h
yields maximum r es ults for minimum
Get started b y following the carefully
d e tail e d c hapt e r s d ev ot e d to e a c h
important a spect of construction. The
examination of differ ent woods, seating
materials, adhesives , and abrasives will
guid e your initial c hoi ces . You ' ll b e
surpri se d at how eve n th e rou gh es t
wood can make a functional and com-
fortable chair!
Sec tion s in clud e co mpl e t e di sc u s-
sions on u sing hand and power tools,
marking and measuring, clamping, tap-
ping and hammering, carvin g, shaving,
sawing, planing, and scraping, a s well
a s safet y m e a sures. Throughout , the
author shows you what' s in his toolbox
and c ar efull y explain s why h e fi nd s
these items esp ecially u seful.
The ba sics of woodworkin g follow ,
including chapter s on turning, m ortis-
ing, st eam-bending, and weaving seats.
See how to form tenons, rough-in , sk ew
planes, and u se many m ethods of mark-
ing mortises . The directions sp ecifically
point out trick y installations, or pieces
(s u c h a s C hair s) that work
more d ecora tively than er gonomically .
You ' ll even disc over how to do a pro-
duction run of chairs, should you b e a
craftsp er son in a small shop.
Beautiful photos illustrate the entire
b o ok , whi c h e nd s with a gall e r y of
stylish chairs and comments b y exp eri-
enced furniture builder s.

Ocean County Ubrar)'
Forked River. N.J. 08731 OEMCO
Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.
Ne w York

Printed in H ong K ong