Thursday, April 9, 2015

Starting a New Chair Build

I was pleased to find this book in my mailbox the other day.
I've been eagerly awaiting this book.
Having recently finished a Welsh stick chair, I am excited to build another one.  In fact, now I really need a couple of matching side chairs to set up with the walnut dining table where it sits.

My plan is to build a pair of side chairs in the Welsh stick chair style starting in June.  I have a couple of things going on at the moment, so I think setting a starting date in June is a good idea.  This will give me a chance to read this book ahead of time.  I imagine there are some choice morsels of wisdom in here I will be able to use on my chair.

I think it would be great to do a group chair build during this time.  If you have ever thought building a chair would be fun, or if you have bought the "Chairmaker's Notebook," or in any way have any interest in building a chair this summer, let's do it together!  I'm starting in June, but if you want to build a chair this summer, post some pictures on your blog, instagram, or just email them to me and I'll either post them here or post a link to your build.

Come on!  It'll be fun!

Here goes the very start of my build.  I plan to build two side chairs together.  I'm hoping that building two won't be much more difficult that building one.

The heart of a chair is the seat.  Everything sprouts from the seat blank.

Last fall, Jonas had cut down a dead elm tree and cut the log up specifically to make chairs with.  With only three of us there to build chairs, there were plenty of extra elm chair blanks.  Jonas graciously allowed me to steal a few to bring back to my shop.

I pulled my three blanks out the other day for inspection.  For some reason, there is only one that stayed mostly flat.  One cupped a good bit, and the last cupped a whole lot.
Three two inch thick elm chair seat blanks.
Having built a chair from this material already, I know that this stuff is extremely strong.  Two inches thick is more than plenty for an elm seat blank, so I think the flat one and the middle one probably can be used just as they are.

The top one, however, is bent really bad right in the middle.  After a little inspection, I discovered that about half of this chair blank contains pith - the center of the tree rings.  This makes the chair blank unstable, and it is indeed along the pith line where the bowing is most severe.

I decided that the best way to deal with this blank is to saw it along the pith line, removing the pith, and glue it back together.  In fact, I might even be able to "un-cup" it a little. Hopefully, it will remain stable that way.

I think the reason these cupped so much is the log wasn't anywhere near dried all the way when we started the chairs last fall.  I think that the log had only been processed a few weeks beforehand.

Now that these boards have had a few months to acclimate, they did what wood does - it moved.

Here is what I have done:

First, I marked a line along the pith line the best I could
This line goes from one side to the other along the pith - the center of the log.
Notice that this board still has live edges.  There is nothing on which to reference the cut.  This makes it ideal for hand tools.  There is nothing more difficult about this cut with a handsaw than there would be on a four-squared piece.  With machines this would be a little harder (although by no means impossible).
I clamped the blank up in my leg vice.  This will take a bit of care to finish the cut.
It was then just a matter of sawing to the line.  Hardwood this thick does take a bit of effort.  I just took it easy and tried not to force anything.  The cut only took about ten minutes.
Saw to the line.
After sawing about halfway through, I flipped the board in the vice and started from the other side.  When I got close, I flipped it sideways in the vice in order to have something stable to hold on to, and finished the cut.
Finished cut.  Not perfect, but it will clean up.
I decided to check the moisture level of the wood using my cheap ten dollar moisture meter I picked up at Aldi a while back.  I don't think this tool is really accurate enough to rely on, but it did tell me there was a big difference.  The readings showed 6% moisture on the exposed end grain, and 14% moisture in the center of the board on the fresh cut.

I think the best move now is to clean the saw marks with a plane and let this blank sit for a month or six weeks before I glue it back up.  Here is an opportunity to let the inside of the seat reach equilibrium with the humidity of my shop.

Who's in with the summer chair build?


  1. Oh man that sounds like a lot of fun... since your last build I have been wanting to build a stick chair. I'm about 30% through that book and it's only making it worse. Unfortunately, I suspect that in June I will be knee deep in our kitchen remodel (I've put it off successfully for ~2 years) (also I've stalled on my workbench) I've been sketching a chair for a few weeks, so if I have a break, who knows, but regardless, I'll be watching attentively.

    1. I think a chair is the perfect way to slake your furniture building thirst during a kitchen remodel. After all, you need chairs in your kitchen, right?

  2. Brain

    I am doing something wrong when posting comments because they see to vanish into thin air. Anyway, I think this is a very good idea and will try to be ready to join the build. I need to find some wet wood first, hopefully on a trip to the Okavango (bordering Angola) in May, as I really want to try out some of the techniques in Peter Galbert's book. It should be fun and useful at the same time building it in tandem with other woodworkers.

    1. Hi Gerhard,

      Sorry to hear about with the trouble posting. I've had that happen before, too when posting on blogger blogs. No idea what the problem is. Jonas said he always copies his text before publishing, just in case it disappears, preventing him from having to type it all again. Good job persevering!

      Having built a chair once, I have to say it is a nice luxury to be able to build with a solid block of elm. However, I don't think it is at all necessary. Christopher Schwarz built a couple chairs recently with wood he got at the home center and laminated together. I think this is perfectly acceptable, especially if you have stretchers on the legs for extra support. I bet you'll be able to come up with some fantastic wood to use in Africa!

      I look forward to seeing what you come up with, and will post links to your blog.

  3. Would love to join but will be too busy unpacking and setting up my new tiny workshop, but will follow your build that's for sure! Good luck

    1. I bet your new place isn't smaller than my tiny workshop! It will be fun to see if I can make a two chair build in there.

      Good luck with your move!

  4. Brian, being a Chairmaker I'm always open to building another one. I too have been reading Pete's book. There are a few new variations I'd like to try for myself. I'm looking forward to it.

    1. Hi Ray! Welcome. It will be nice having someone at least who knows what the heck they are doing!