Monday, May 23, 2011

From Joinery to the Creek: The Lost Tale of a Family of Chairs

All the parts needed for six arm chairs.

Mortiser mortising

Nice fitting tenon.  I went as close as possible off of the machine this time.  I figured better to spend an extra half hour nailing the tenon stock than to spend hours and hours sanding tenons.

Tenon stock, before and after round-over bit.

Great trick for  mortises with more than one depth.  Magnets simply act as a stop for both depth and lateral movement, allowing you to  repeat for each piece without having to change any of your setups.  My side seat rails have twin tenons with the outer one in each case being haunched so this came in handy.

Mortises for twin tenons

A pile of joined walnut pieces.  Still just rough pieces so no need to care for them yet.

Fitting templates for the back rails.  These ended up being very complicated as  the joints were compound angles.    All the other joints on the chair were only angled in one direction.

One of the features I went for with each chair, in order to make them look like a set, was the sapwood on the top and bottom of the rails.  Once shaped this becomes much more subtle but you can see it's there.

A mortise for the back rail.  Jigs were very valuable in the joinery stage of things.  This one held the back leg at an upward angle as well as angled sideways.  The important thing being that each piece registers  easily and consistentlty otherwise you may as well do them individually.

One of my favourite photos.  These are the tenons and dowels required for ONE chair.  All told there were 264 mortises, 132 floating tenons, 24 dowels and 48 dowels holes.   That's a lot of joinery!  You can see why this type of project takes so much time.  As mentioned earlier, the haunched tenons are the ones with the little "tail".

Joinery done, doesn't look much different than the first photo.

Tapering jig for front legs.

My two best friends for what seemed like 3 months.  Shaping by hand is part of what  sets this type of furniture apart.  You can achieve curves, smoothness and details that machines just aren't capable of.  This is where the "production" process came to an end for me.  Two hands, one spokeshave and one piece at a time.

There aren't many ways to expedite shaping when doing it by hand.  One trick I did use though was this one.  In order to achieve the "pillowed" shape to the side of my front stretchers I first ran them through a round-over bit, set to cut a little deeper than normal.   This served two purposes.  First it removes a lot of waste, but also it gives you a depth gauge for your spokeshaving.  Once the little groove its gone, you know you've gone deep enough and you can begin to round over the corner and smooth out your pillow. 

First chair to be shaped.

Time for a nice oily rub-down.  I used a 2 parts antique danish oil (tung oil and varnsih) and 1 part spirits mix.  This is very similar to what was used at school.  This was my first crack at finishing with oil.  All of my projects at school were shellac and wax.  I really enjoyed applying the oil (especially the exciting first coat) but it took a lot of discipline to allow the proper drying times between coats.  This was the drying station.  Extra tenon stock always comes in handy!

I went 2 coats, followed by a steel-wooling and then a final oily-rag rub.  I didn't want gloss, just a nice soft,  protective finish.

Some tenons glued in, nail holes drilled, nails in and pre-wrap done on front and back seat rails.

So many parts, I really do consider it a miracle that I managed to keep them straight through all of this.

Glue-up of the back assembly.  The first few glue-ups were nervous (especially since I'm alone)  but having done so many now I'm pretty well practiced.  I'm thankful that as of yet (knock on wood) they have all gone smoothly.
Four down, two to go.

This was the "lucky" one that got to come to the coast to be sat on, poked, prodded and otherwise inspected.    It was like having to choose your favourite child but in the end I liked this one's back rail graphics so it got the nod.

Don't tell my Mom, but a drunk X-Games champion lounged in this chair.  
I feel better now.  I hope you enjoyed this recap as much as I enjoyed revisiting the process.  Once the final two chairs are done, I'll be on to the table to match.  The best news?...there will only be one.

Aaargh! Blogger!? Que pasa!?!?

Thanks for coming out Blogger!  So if it wasn't bad enough that I failed to find time in the last 5 months to sit down and write anything, when I finally do, Blogger crashes and has apparently deleted that post from existence.  I've been waiting on promises that things would be restored but now I'm giving up, the show must go on!   I'm not even going to attempt to re-create what I said in that post because it never quite comes out the same twice, plus it is now three weeks later.

To quickly re-cap:

Ten or so of our class returned  to the creek for the year end show and had a blast catching up.  It was really great to see those friends again and fill in the blanks from the past year.

The Inside Passage class of 2010-11 did some really great work that I was so glad to be able to see in person.  They also, not surprisingly, seemed like a really great group of people and I enjoyed talking with many of them.

The curriculum and format changes at the school seemed to have paid off as productivity seemed to have been up despite the machines having been on for 450 hours less this year.  There is a lesson in there for all of us who are perhaps still too reliant on electricity in our work.  Needless to say, with all that extra time spent at benches, the quality was as high as ever.

Personally, I've been working as a carpenter since January.  We're building a massive house that backs on to the river, just south of downtown Calgary.  I'm really enjoying the mix of interesting, challenging work that pays the bills and then woodworking on the side.  I find myself in a much more comfortable state in which to work well when I know the groceries and mortgage are already taken care of.  I see it as the quality vs. quantity thing.  Although I now have far fewer hours in the shop, they are far more enjoyable and I value them a great deal more.

What has that amounted to then?  Well, four chairs are complete and the final two are awaiting glue-up.  I realize that I skipped ahead from wood-selection to completed project but worry not, I am going to follow this post with a whirlwind review of joinery, shaping, finishing, glueing and weaving.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.