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


  1. Great AAR.
    I think that I might have to make a family chair making event a weekend sometime.

  2. Brian, it's great to read how you embraced the "Campaign Furniture" Book and shared your two projects with so much detail in your blog.
    You're on a roll. So, what's next on the roadmap?

    1. Thanks, John. I can see building more of these chairs in the future. It kind of is addictive.

      Next up is a folding stool for a footrest.

  3. This is such a great story of making a chair with Dad. And it is a great chair. So comfy. Everyone we know sits in it to try it out. Dad is proud of it. Thanks.

  4. I love it! It is such a comfortable chair and a true piece of art!

    1. Thanks, Linda! And let me be the first to wish you a Happy Birthday!


  5. This is the PAPA and Brian is giving me too much credit on the finished chair--
    it turned out really nice and I am in the process of finishing some more diamond
    willows that are a little bit larger and straighter for another chair- OSMOSIS DUDE!

  6. this is the papa and brian is giving me to much credit for helping him do the chair.

  7. I'm curious about the horizontal-to-vertical joints. I own two Klint (or Klint-inspired) chairs, which is how I got interested in rhoorkee chairs. In the chairs I have, the horizontal dowels are tapered and they go into tapered holes. Does the traditional rhoorkee design do the same or do they have tenons & shoulders?

    1. Hi Steven, thanks for the comment. I'm not too sure about how it was done at first. You might check out Christopher Schwarz's book, "Campaign Furniture," which discusses them and their history pretty thoroughly.

      However, since I've made this particular chair, I've had the opportunity to inspect a "real" Klint Safari chair. There were a few differences. The joint you refer to was indeed tapered, just like the one in this chair, but with a six degree taper. I really like that detail and have started using that detail.

      If you make one, send photos!