Sunday, April 27, 2014

Diamond Willow Roorkee - Part V: AAR

An AAR is the Army's acronym for an After Action Report.  Basically it is a review of what happened, good or bad, and perhaps ideas on what might help next time.  They can be very formal and complex, or they can be just a conversation among participants. 

I typically like to end a project with my own version of an AAR that has a bunch of notes in no particular order.  Here goes:
Finished chair.
  •  Working with Dad on this project was awesome.  Dad was surprisingly a good student - he did everything I told him and accepted my feedback when I gave it.  This is remarkable because I have gotten into woodworking since I have moved to Germany, and we have never really done a project like this before.
  • We used an interesting tool set for this build combining the tools I could get in my luggage and the tools Dad had in his shop.  I brought an LV tapered reamer, an LV tapered tenon cutter, a block plane, an Easy Rougher (which we didn't use), and a bunch of leatherworking tools.  Dad's tools we used were his combination belt/disk sander, an electric drill, a combination square, a set of 50,000 drill bits that he bought for $24.99 (from which we used a 5/8" spade bit and a couple of brad point bits), a ball peen hammer, a three pound sledge, a hack saw, a vintage meat saw, and perhaps a couple other gizmos that I can't recall at the moment.  Surprisingly, the stationary sanding machine was quite useful (for rough-shaping the tapered tenons, shooting the endgrain of things, and shaping the rounded ends of the sticks, among other uses).
  • Woodworking with a partner is totally different than working on your own.  Having an extra set of hands solves a good portion of awkward workholding challenges.  Especially using wood like this, which is anything but perfectly square or straight.  However, it is important to keep safety in mind before attempting anything that looks hinky.
  • This project required very little handplaning, so a traditional bench was not missed too much.  Mostly we used Dad's welding table, which stands about ten inches taller than my bench.  For drilling, assembly, and leatherworking, this is an ideal height.
  • I thought about the two of us building one chair together, building two chairs separately (each build our own), or to build two chairs together.  We decided to build two chairs together.  This allowed me to demonstrate how to do most every operation several times (usually while Dad held the work) before showing him how to do it.  He became an expert at every part of this build, no matter how humble he acts.  We wound up only having enough time to finish and put leather on the one, but there are enough parts to assemble two chairs.  We decided not to go crazy finishing the second, because one of the legs had the mortise far enough off center that it was weak, and another leg had a mortise go right between two diamonds, blowing out on each side.  While the chair would stand, we didn't think it would hold up to hard use and was bound to fail at the worst possible moment.  The plan now is to either convert it into a footstool (lighter use, but no guarantee it won't get sat on) or to come up with replacements for the legs that probably won't hold up.
  • A story stick is a boon to this project.  I cut out a 21" length of a stick that was 3/4" x 3" and drilled a hole at 10 1/2", 11 1/2", and 12 1/2" where I could insert a pencil to mark out where the holes needed to be drilled on each piece.  This plain works.  Dad kept the stick in case he needs to make replacement parts, or if he wants to build another chair.
  • Oak dowels were a gamble on this project as I ordered them off the internet.  I was extremely happy that the folks at Cincinatti Dowel were able to pick out straight grain dowels for me, as I expected to have to go buy some oak, find a lathe somewhere and turn them myself.  This may have slowed down the project enought that we wouldn't have finished.  The curious part is that although they all looked the same out of the box, they came out with three different colors once finish was applied.  There was four with a distinct red tint, two that were whitish, and two that were brownish.  We re-arranged them so this chair has the white and brown ones (more like two different shades of brown).
  • Drilling holes can  be extremely accurate when done by eye.  Here is what we did:  Using the spade bit, we drilled most of the way through on one side until the point just poked out on the other side.  Then we flipped the piece over, and setting the point directly in the pinhole on the other side, finished drilling it that way.  Even with the cheap Chinese spade bit that wobbled in the drill, the holes were really smooth and good.  This was a trick I have been using with my brace for some time.  There was another trick we used from brace and bit technique - placing your chin directly on the back of the drill.  Dad was shockingly more accurate when doing this than when standing above the drill looking at it from an angle.  Try it, it works!
  • Instead of marking the tapered reamer on how far it should go in, we marked it on how far it should come out.  It involved more stopping, stooping and looking on the underside of the piece, but they all turned out the same, no matter what the diameter of the stick we were drilling.
  • Dad did all of the diamond willow work, which included sanding them down with a random-orbit sander and carving the bark out of the diamonds with a knife.  He also finished everything in his usual manner, which is a spray lacquer from a can.  This looks like a very durable finish, which I have not tried before.
  • A rotary cutter is far superior to a box cutter for cutting leather.  However, the one tool that I think really is a must, is a strap and belt cutter.  If you are using a box cutter to cut the leather, make your pattern a tiny bit oversize and take a 1/8" to 1/4" belt off of each side.  That tool truly makes a smooth edge.  While speaking of leather and tools, I think it is a good idea to round the edges of the arm straps with an edge beveller.  This makes the chair far more comfortable.  On this chair we bevelled the edges of the arm straps and then painted the edges with EdgeKote because the leather wasn't dyed all the way through.  Painting the edges of the rest of the chair with no other treatment such as bevelling the edges looks and works just fine.
  • One double shoulder of leather is enough for one chair, as long as it is wide enough, and as long as it is high-quality enough to have very little waste.  We did have to cheat just an inch or two on the thigh strap, but it turned out fine.
  • A sharp pair of nippers is vital to a pleasant experience riveting.  We started with a dull pair of wire cutters which took so much effort that my hands got tired very quickly.  Sharp nippers still takes some effort, but it was fast and I was able to make every cut in one stroke.
  • I personally think this is a brilliant project for a lot of reasons: 
    • Not much wood is required.
    • The leather work can be done well by a beginner with only the instructions from 'Campaign Furniture' to guide you.
    • All of the turning can be done by a beginner (in this particular case we did no turning).
    • It is really a two day project, so perfect for doing on vacation.
    • Even if you are not crazy about this chair, it is such a fun build.  You really should make one.  If worst comes to worst and it is not allowed in your house, someone will feel extremely grateful for such a lavish gift.
  • Dad and I treated about a dozen carriage bolts so I could bring them back to Germany.  I don't think I could have legally brought the cold blueing compound in my luggage, and am not sure of an alternative here.  What we wound up doing was this:
    • grind off the marks on the head of the carriage bolt with a random-orbit sander
    • chuck the bolt in an electric drill
    • spin the drill at the highest speed and polish the bolt head on sanding sponges, finishing with a piece of 600 grit sandpaper.  This gives a nice smooth and polished surface.
    • Unless it will show, just rinse off the head and blue that part.  No need to strip the zinc off of the whole bolt, only the head will show.
  • Diamond willow must be carefully laid out if using it for a safari chair.  Having the mortises in the diamonds is not ideal.  While it is possible, we ruined one by drilling between two diamonds.  In this thickness of stock, there just wasn't enough meat to hold strong.  If you can, arrange the dowels to meet the legs over a diamond-less part of the stick.  If that isn't possible, at least have the dowels go directly into the diamond so as not to make the sidewall too weak.  My guess is you'll figure out exactly what I'm talking about once you do it wrong.
  • You can get away with the first mortise not being exactly on the angle you intend, but the second one needs to be exactly 90 degrees to the first.  Otherwise the chair won't be square.  We did this by drilling the second hole while a stretcher was in-place in the first hole.  this holds the piecs square on the bench, and if you drill straight up and down, there will be no problems getting the 90 degree angle perfect.  It worked every single time for us.
  • We used diamond willow stock that was about 1 3/8" in diameter, just because that's all we had.  If you are able to collect diamond willows specifically for this, I would recommend a general diameter of about 1 1/2" to 2" in diameter for strength.
  • Tandy Leather has lots of cool leatherworking videos to teach you techniques for doing whatever you envision to the leather:
If you have built a Roorkee chair, please add some of your thoughts in the comments below.

If you would like to read about this build, here are links to the previous posts:

Part I - Materials
Part II - Joinery
Part III - Complete
Part IV - Dad's Experience

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Diamond Willow Roorkee - Part IV: Dad's Experience

Brian and Phil with the finished chair
Look at the above picture & you'll see  that  Brian has solved problem of where to drill the holes on crooked sticks with the diamond indentations and perfect fitting of the braces - and then  centered holes  and which stick went where - his explanations left me saying uh-huh  quite a  bit--  I call  the finished  chair   BRIANS CHAIR as I was the assistant and the confused helper--however I may get  some materials together to try one of my own since I have the pattern gracing the living room. 
I may have to slim down some in order to get out of the seat.

Diamond Willow Roorkee - Part III: Complete

Completed chair
The chair is done.  I told Dad it would be a two-day project we could do during my vacation at home.  It turned out to take a total of six days.

Well, some things are more important.  We put in two good days of work on the chair, and the next few days we snuck in time when when we could.  This morning, Dad pounded the rivets on the back, and we were done by 9:30 or so.

In the meantime, I got to go fishing with Dad and my brother, Chuck, went golfing, and we had a great Easter celebration with all of the family that was around.

Good times.

Another view
Most of what we have been working on the last couple days was leather work.  I showed Dad what to do, and he did good.  I think he thinks he didn't do much, but any help with these rivets is always welcome.  Plus, he did a great job touching up all of the edges with special leather edge paint.

I used two screws here, instead of three.  It was a decision mandated by the materials.
Dad also did all of the diamond willow work.  He is familiar with this particular medium, and used his usual finish for all of the wood.  Hopefully I will get him to write a bit about his thoughts on this build.

Dad in his chair.
I have to say, building one piece with a partner is much different than doing a build in the usual way.  I admit I have taken for granted many of the woodworking techniques and work methods that I use that aren't possible everywhere.  For example, Dad has no woodworking vice, or any traditional woodworking workholding.  We worked mostly on a welding table he has, while the wood we worked was held by the second person.

Just as comfortable as mine.
Working these sticks was a challenge, too.  Not having flat reference faces, or straight lumber presents challenges in layout, but also an element of freedom.  I think drilling and reaming the holes actually went faster this time than on my last Roorkee.  The results were amazing; every joint is dead-nuts perfect.  The chair sits great, and just works.
Partners in crime.
The material turns out to be fantastic.  We'll have to wait to see how it holds up, but I suspect that in many ways diamond willow could be a fantastic chair material.  It is light in weight, but strong.  I think the wood fibers must be interlocked or something, because it is tough.  I wouldn't recommend using pine or any other softwood, but this one seems to hold together so far.  A lot of people have sat in this chair today, and while they are told it is not a "plopping-in" chair, there were several big people (like me, my dad, and my brother) that the chair seemed not to stress holding. Time will tell.

The chair turned out to exceed all my expectations both aesthetically and structurally.  Not only beautiful, but strong.  Dad sure seems proud of the chair, and I hope he enjoys it for many years.

Most of all, I treasure the opportunity I had to spend time with my Dad working wood making something beautiful together.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Diamond Willow Roorkee - Part II: Joinery

I'm pooped! We got all of the joinery for one chair done today, and have parts roughed out for a second. I'm too tired to write too much tonight, so here are a bunch of photos for the day instead.

All I will say is we wanted some stock that was a bit thicker than the stuff Dad usually uses for his walking sticks.  It turned out he didn't have much, so we used what we had including some stock that had parts smaller that 1 1/2" in diameter.

It wasn't ideal. but after some testing involving a hammer and a tapered mortise and tenon, we decided these should be plenty strong for chairs.  We'll see.

Legs for two chairs.

Dad got pretty adept at roughing out the taper on the disk/belt sander.  He doesn't have many woodworking tools, so we made due with what he had.  I did bring a LV tapered reamer and a tapered tenon cutter.

This was one of the work-holding solutions I came up with.  Dad has no woodworking bench and no woodworking vice or proper clamps, but we figured out what to do without them.

It really didn't take long for the two of us to make enough stretchers for two chairs.

Here is an action shot of me doing some precision sawing.  The meat saw we were using was great for the dowels, but I had to use the hack saw for the back pieces.

The only 5/8" drill bit Dad had was this crappy Chinese spade bit.  It worked fantastic, but was a challenge when the hole had to be drilled directly in a diamond.  Note another workholding solution here:  Dad is stabilizing the piece to be drilled on the barbeque before I drill it with a corded drill.

The hardest part was figuring out the angles to drill.  There was  a lot of eyeballing going on as none of these sticks were straight.

Here is the tapered reamer in the drill.  It worked great as long as you went slow.  All that work practicing with a brace and bit paid off here as the same skills were used to drill straight holes.

Here is Dad doing his thing with finishing the willows.  He uses a random orbit sander for this most of the time.
It fits together!

Almost done.  I stripped some zinc-plated carriage bolts and blued them with something called Black Aluminum.  They look cool now.

Done with the joinery.  One chair to go, and then the leather.  - Or, maybe the leather next, then the rest of the other chair.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Diamond Willow Roorkee - Part I: Materials

After three flights and a whole day of travel, I made it to Great Falls for a short visit with my folks. It has been far too long since I have been back to my hometown to visit my mom and dad, so I am really looking forward to spending some quality time with them.

I thought one great thing to do while I am here, is to build a Roorkee chair with my dad. While we're at it, why not make it something totally fantastic, and build it from a material that isn't seen often outside of these parts? Diamond willow!

My dad with his prize walking stick.
My dad has been making canes, walking sticks and the like for years from this material.  He says they are worth a lot of money, but he usually gives them away as gifts to people he thinks deserve one.  I have to say they are striking.

For those who have never heard of this stuff, here is what I know about it (which is not much):  It doesn't grow everywhere, and even in places where it does grow, it can be hard to find prime examples that look good enough for a project.  Dad will harvest a carload of these things, let them dry out for a few years, and work on them in his free time.
The rough material looks like this.

These are what the "diamonds" look like on the raw material with the bark on.
Dad will whittle the bark off, and do any shaping that he deems fit.  He has been known to color some of the diamonds when the contrast isn't exactly what he wants, but typically he will leave them the way they are.  Many of the willows have a wood that is a really bright, creamy, almost white color, with dark red inside the diamonds.
Here are a couple of sticks mid-progress.  The bark has started to have been removed.

Here are some of the potential chair legs.
Once the stick is the shape he wants and has the look, it will be finished.  I'm not sure but I think he usually uses a spray lacquer on them, which gives them a durable finish.
Here are a few examples of dad's finished walking sticks.

Here is dad's most remarkable stick to date.  It has an incredible number of diamonds.
Dad seems pretty excited to start construction of these chairs with me tomorrow.  He will teach me about the willows, and I will show him the steps in making a Roorkee chair.  This project will be special to us both, no matter what the chair looks like in the end,.

Tomorrow we will select what we will use for chair legs.  We will make one for sure, and possibly two.  I have two full shoulders of leather, which we might be able to make stretch for two chairs, if we are stingy.

I also have some red oak for the other parts of the chair:  I got some 1 1/8" x 48" oak dowels from the internet (against Christopher Schwarz' explicit instructions in his book!).  I have to send a shout of thanks and approval for the folks at Cincinnati Dowel and Wood Products Co. for sending me such nice dowels.  I took a gamble with them, and specified that it would be great if they could select some nice straight grained ones for me.  This is because being for chairs, they absolutely must be as strong as possible.  Any run-out could cause them to break at the worst possible time.  These nice people selected and sent me four dowels with perfectly straight grain with virtually no run out on any of them.  I ordered four, thinking that if I was lucky I might be able to get enough stretchers for one chair.  I fully expected none of it to be suitable, and to have to go get some more wood to turn dowels from.  Happily, those dowels are everything I could have asked for.  Those four dowels will have enough wood to make two chairs.

I also got some red oak from the local Borg that will make nice back slats.

I can't wait for you all to see what we come up with. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

5/8" Tapered Tenon Cutter

One would think that it seems a bit late, now.  I've built my chair already.

Today, I received in the mail a Veritas 5/8" tapered tenon cutter.  Where did I get it, you ask?  The Lee Valley website says they are out until November.  I was going to order a smaller one, but that one was out, too.

What did I do?  I ordered a 1/2" one from Dictum, because they didn't have the big one.  Before it arrived, I borrowed one, finished the project and cancelled my special order.

Now, however, it appears I will be making another Roorkee (hopefully more).  And, I need one.  Rather than settle for something too small, I checked around on the internet some.  No luck at most of my tool porn distributors.

I did have some luck at Dieter Schmid's Fine Tools.  Besides some guy in the UK who is asking twice what Lee Valley wants, it is the only place I have been able to find one.

Lucky for me I live in Germany.

I ordered mine two days ago and it arrived today.  If you can't wait until November, you might want to check out Fine Tools, I know he ships about anywhere.

UPDATE 8 April 2014:  I saw today on Lee Valley's website these are in stock and available to order again.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Roorkee Build Part 3 - Finishing Touches to the Leather

Ever since I finished my chair, there was a little nurgle in the back of my brain that told me the edges of the leather needed some treatment.  Back to the Tandy Leather website it was!  This store has a wealth of instructive videos (complete with instructions how to use the tools they sell).  There is one called Finishing Edges that sounded promising, and it was.  It seems the trick is to round the edges of the leather with a simple tool that cuts the sharp edge off, burnish the edge with a nifty little plastic tool called a "slicker," and to paint the edges with some special leather paint (I used "Edge Kote"), applied with some wool daubers.  All in all, about $30 set me up with everything I needed.

Oh!  I also put some leather creme based in beeswax on the leather.  The stuff I used is called Skidmore's Leather Creme.  It applied super easy.  I just applied it with a paper towel, and buffed it off with a clean paper towel.  It took about five minutes.

Here is the result:


Close up of the arm strap

Close up of the seat

Just as a reminder, here is what it looked like before:
OK, so you probably can't see much difference from this angle.  It's all I got.
Before, there were sharp edges on all of the parts of the chair that are touched a lot like the arm straps.  This treatment helps incredibly with the comfort of the chair.  At least on my baby-like sensitive skin.  Also, this leather wasn't struck-through, meaning I could see a much lighter color on the edges.  With this treatment, it looks "finished."

Coming up, I am making a trip to my home town in Montana for a week or so.  While there, I talked my dad into building another Roorkee chair with me.  I'll have to take a few tools along, but it should be a lot of fun.  We are going to build it in a rustic style using diamond willow for the legs.

I can't wait.