recent settin’ chairs

Slow moving over the past few months. At least it feels that way. Making during the early mornings and weekends feels slow as it is, add in a few mistakes and detours and a project has the appearance of a truck stuck in the mud and the wheels spinning, not going anywhere.

I swapped out the slats on these chairs. That’s what slowed them down. I bent the first sets, had them dry in a rack for a couple of weeks before shaping and putting them it. They were too ugly to keep around. I am harsh on my work, so I like to live with things for a week or so before doing anything drastic. So I waited. Put the chairs out of sight then came back to them. I disliked the slats even more when I returned. The world doesn’t need ugly chairs, so I cut them out.

Adding slats as the last step isn’t a problem…’s the approach taken by a group of makers within the chairmaking community. So there’s little issue with quality or approach, it only cost some time to work back to the finished point. The lesson from bending last is that the slats should be as thin as possible. It’s only the chair frame holding the bend in place and thin slats bend easier than thick.

Both have hickory seats. One ebonized with iron and tannins. The other finished with a natural walnut hull stain. I love that one…the walnut stain and garnet shellac gives the oak a nice mellow look.

I needed patience with these two – sometimes it works that way. It’ll never be confused with the works of the Mace family of North Carolina, but the walnut-stained chair took a few design characteristics from their distinctive sitten’ chairs. The front facets on the slats, for example, along with the three slats and the upper bent post. Those Mace chairs are the real deal. They feel right in every way.

The proportions are another change with these two. The posts were bulked up to 1 5/8″ and the rung tenons to 3/4″. The chairs feel much more substantial previous builds with 5/8″ tenons. I know Alexander pushed everything as thin as possible, along with the best practices for the joinery, but sometimes thicker materials just makes for a stouter chair. Then again Alexander used white oak for everything…maybe there’s a substantial difference between the black oak I’m using and her material.

Onward. Next build is a contemporary chair. Part benchwork and part green wood with this one. Crest rails are already in the bending forms. I’ve had a design in my head for a while now and I want to get too it before it fades. I’m excited….it always excites me when ‘monstrosity’ is one potential outcome.

loose ends and holiday deadlines

In high school and college I would race to make gifts during this season. Late nights spent in my grandfather or neighbor’s wood shop, hustling to complete the gifts by Christmas. This season brought on that same feeling again with a run of 13 cherry wooden carriers. As always, I underestimated the amount of time it takes to do a quality job. Half were done for Christmas day (complimented by the faint smell of linseed oil) and the other half became New Year’s presents to unexpectant friends.

They may be late for Christmas 2020, but this is the first gift of 2021. There’s usually a silver lining in each miss.

nested basket set

The loose end was the greenwood lounge chair. It’s of red oak with a stained hickory bark seat. Sits lower and a bit wider than my recent chairs. I built this over the summer and hung the frame on the shop wall. At that time I thought it needed a red seat but didn’t see a good option for it. A red Shaker tape weave didn’t seem right. Possibly red cord though I didn’t seek out source. That idea didn’t feel right either though.

This past week I decided to take it down and complete it. The bark seat comes from the all the outer bark from this past spring’s hickory harvest. It has significant striations and is a little thick, which makes for a challenge in getting a tight weave. It’s the perfect surface to experiment with staining. This has a walnut oil stain on the bark that went on evenly and compliments to garnet shellac on the red oak frame. The combination warms both the wood and the bark, something that is lacking from an earlier chairs with the same materials that only received oil during the finish process.

Baskets and a chair, finished by year end 2020. The year brought plenty of challenges but also time with family, time in the shop and the start of a writing project. 2020 was challenging, frustrating, and stressful yet there is much for which to be grateful. Excited for the possibilities of ’21.

Thanks for reading, sharing and following along. Wishing you a joyful new year.

peace, andy

Ruby's Chair

It didn’t start out Ruby’s chair. It just started out as a chair, very loosely inspired by stick chairs, ladder backs and the chunker chairs by Jan Hendzel Studio. The finished chair does not remotely resemble chairs on the aforementioned list, and those chairs may not want a close association with this one. Too bad – that’s where the idea started and it still has a way travel until the thought is complete. This was the first of a concept and it has a ways to go. It turned into Ruby’s chair once she saw it, loved it and claimed it. She doesn’t hold her thoughts to herself, or withhold criticism if she dislikes something I’ve made. She has an art critic’s heart without a filter or empathy. She’s also honest and direct, and I appreciate that. The fact that she immediately staked claim to it was an encouragement.

A little about this chair: traditional undercarriage – with turned and shaved red oak legs ending with straight cylindrical tenons into the 2″ thick pine seat. Octagonal stretchers. The upper is all red oak: two bent posts mortised to accept two bent slats. The posts slide into a dovetail in the back of the pine seat. Then long screws were added to reinforce each posts. The seat was dry pine and everything else was green oak, dried as appropriate. I put it together, sanded it, then Ruby and I painted it a purple over white – Black Dog Salvage paint from Woodcraft that she selected.

My thoughts: this is a concept and I want to push it forward. I have a couple chair ideas that I want to pursue this year. This is the first of those ideas. I am studying and researching ladder back chairs, so that form is fresh in my mind. I love windsor chairs. Windsors influenced the base. The seat and back post connection idea came from the Hendzel chairs. My challenge: could I combine different designs into an attractive chair (still TBD)? Can I fashion and fit a back joint that holds to the rigors of chair stresses? That’s the key spot, functionally, where the chair will succeed or fail. Keeping it around our family will give it a good workout, as our kids stress test everything.

What worked: in general, the entire chair worked. It’s strong, solid and has a happy owner. It went together as planned. I used green wood, which was shaved and shaped, then dried out and put into the chair. Part of my aim was to design a chair that I could build in 10 hours or less, with minimal tools and machinery and noise. The basic concept worked – I’m in the middle of the second chair now

What I learned: This is what I really enjoyed in making this chair. I learned a ton, but it wasn’t until I made design decision and made the chair did those lessons appear. I’ll go through a few here. They’re listed as flaws and probably shouldn’t be:

  • the stretchers are too high
  • the front legs kick forward too much and outwards too little
  • it ended up short, with the seat about 16″ off the floor.
  • once the seat is kicked back, the leg angles on the front appears to match the back legs
  • the posts and bends are not correct
  • seat – not thick enough
  • the balance and proportions are off – posts a little heavy, legs could use more mass
  • the back post do not bend in the most comfortable of spots – not horrible, but could be better
  • the green wood – drying the dovetail on thick material lead to internal checking on the lower part of the post

There’s more to add to the list but that’s essentially all aspects of the chair that can be improved. And I still like it, so I’ll see where the next one leads me. Some are easy changes (like leg angles and adjusting proportions), others will be trickier (achieving the right upper form and comfort). I’m glad to have a challenge to dive into right now with all the uncertainty outside the shop walls. Hoping the same for all of you.

greenwood: an opinion

My woodworking efforts in recent years has towards the use of green wood, or wood straight from the log. We are using it more frequently within Berea College Student Craft and I’m making chairs and stools with it away from the college wood shop. While I felt comfortable with kiln dried boards, learning about wood from the log and the forest is a continuous learning experience. Using purchased and selected dry boards is convenient but left me disconnected from the process. Since using green wood, I’ve begun to read the bark of a tree for the what might be happening within the log. I can guess at what’s possible with a certain type of tree and within a specific log. It’s always a mystery until the log is opened, but “reading” a log is getting easier with experience.

So I thought I’d list the pro’s and con’s of green wood, as I’ve experienced it these past couple of years. I love working it and that surely colors my perspective. These thoughts are in regards to my personal work, where I’ve been focused on chairmaking and spoons recently (as opposed to my professional work – much of it requiring kiln dried lumber and plywood). Anyway – here are a few thoughts on green wood:

  • PRO – I’m connected to the local environment, economy and craft community, using common local woods to build something of value.
  • PRO – It’s plentiful and available where I live (central KY) and I have access to it. As a great perk, I get to work with the college forester and he provides straight-grain ash and oaks. He dropped off sycamore the other day for spoon carving.
  • CON – It can be difficult to obtain. That was the case when I lived in Boston. Finding green wood was a hassle, so I avoided it.
  • PRO – Inexpensive. I’ve grown cheaper with age and paying as little as possible for materials is now an objective. We have young kids who request priority over the woodworking budget. My days of building speck pieces of mahogany are behind me.
  • CON – Using green wood requires special tools. And not necessarily the common tools from a cabinetmaker’s tool chest. The froe. The drawknife. The shave horse. Potentially new tools are needed to get into green woodworking compared to benchwork.
  • PRO- Using the aforementioned tools are good fun. That’s part of why I enjoy making chairs so much. Shaving fresh oak with a sharp drawknife is unlike any experience at the bench with dry wood. The work is fast, the results are direct and the material falls away quickly.
  • PRO- The wood is “softer” to work and easy to work. Mortises are easier to cut. Carving requires less effort.
  • CON- Drying time involved, which means the parts may not be ready to work when I have the time and the desire to get at them. There is waiting involved. Waiting is not as enjoyable as woodworking. The work-around here is to have multiple projects going at the same time.
  • CON- Similar to the last point. The wood can dictate the move. Ash dries quickly, so a fresh log needs worked almost immediately before it dries out.
  • PRO- I’m as disconnected from power tools as I want to be. I’m not a hand tool puriest – I use the bandsaw, lathe and drill press at times during the building process. They can be helpful tools. Though my enjoyment of green woodworking comes from using sharp tools to shape the fresh wood. Green woodworking requires that I use a tool to cut with the grain instead of overpowering it with machines.

Spot in Upcoming Class

I’ll be teaching a greenwood stool class at the Lost Art Press storefront on November 2 & 3. A space has become available and open to anyone interested in the two-day class. This is a fun and fast introduction to green woodworking and the properties and approaches to the work. No previous chairmaking or green woodworking experience necessary.

Classes at the LAP storefront are good fun. Six students max, plenty of instruction, a wonderful benchroom and plenty of great restraunts in the area. Megan Fitzpatrick will be around during the class to offer help and backhanded compliments throughout the weekend.

If you are interested in taking the class, please reach out to Megan at fitz[at]

thick hickory bark

Working in Berea, KY means there is a strong tradition of hickory seats all around me. Just up on the college square, a short walk from where I work, there a few small business. Two of them (maybe more, I haven’t scouted them all) have older mule-ear chairs behind the register for the shopkeeper to rest on. I’ve enjoyed examining these chairs. Each has an issue or two – like a broken seat rung, or an unevenness of the back posts – that demonstrate the use it’s seen over it’s life.

The hickory seat in each chair is beautiful, even with the age and broken pieces that are apparent upon a quick glance. Even with broken pieces throughout the seat it is still plenty strong enough to hold my weight. I won’t even venture to guess when the chairs were bottomed – they’re at least a few decades old. The bark has taken on a smooth, shiny, worn-yet-consistent look, along with a deep color that must have come with age. I’d guess the chair bottoms were oiled a few times over their lifespan, but that’s really just a guess. The bark is around a 1/16″ thick throughout the weave.

Thick bark beside thinner (preferable) bark

I recently wove a small stool with thicker bark. Bark that approached 1/4″ thick (while soaking wet) at some points. And in doing so, I came to realize why thinner bark is preferrable. First off, the thick bark wouldn’t soften for the weaving. Even using scalding hot water, with a small amount of soap added to bath, it was still too stiff to weave after a few hours. I let it sit in the water for 24 hours. It became stiffly pliable the next day, enough so that the seat could be woven. But it was a fight.

I’m not a hickory expert, so a more experienced weaver may laugh at these thoughts. The warp wasn’t too difficult, since it was primarily just wrapping the frame front to back. It was the weft where I knew I was in trouble. The tight warp, along with the thick bark, made weaving in-and-out of the seat challenging. On previous seats, with thinner bark, it was easy to manipulate the leading edge in-and-out of the warp. Not so with the thick stuff until I thinned out the lead edge to knife point.

Bark after weaving. The warp is mostly tight across the front rail.

Then came the challenge of getting a tight weave. That was impossible, as the heavy bark prevented the weft weave from coming anywhere close to the previous line. It took a good deal more effort to weave this seat in relation to the previous work I’ve done with thinner barked . It was a struggle to pull the line of bark through the seat even after I got the lead edge through the warp.

After weaving a row, I would push that row as tight as I could to the row before it. There are wide spaces between the rows of weft – probably 1/4″+ or so. It looks good on this seat, since it’s a single piece and doesn’t need to match other work. The wider gaps gives it a rustic look that is completely appropriate for the ash, post-and-rung stool.

Before trimming and oiling. Note how the gaps opened on the front rail after drying – due to the extensive soaking

It’s clear now why chairmakers dress the bark before a bottoming, thinning the thick areas and trimming the edges to get a more consistent width. It would be impossible to make an even, tight and consistent bottom with thick bark. And a rustic weave might not look right on a comtemporary or clean-lined chair.