Friday, June 17, 2016

Grooves and beads

I have the Veritas small plow plane that is a few years old and was somewhat disappointed when I read that Lee Valley was coming out with a new version that can do beading as well.  A bit further down in the description, however, was the news that for $59 (including shipping both ways) the company will re-machine your older plane so that it will be able cut beads.  As a bonus, they also upgrade the depth stop, which had a tendency to slip.  I jumped at the chance.

Yesterday in the mail I received the kit:

In typical Lee Valley fashion, they send you detailed instructions on how to disassemble the plane, bags for the parts you keep and for the parts you send them (which has an anti-rust coating), a custom shipping box and an envelope with a reverse postage stamp.  Took only a few minutes to have my plane tucked in and cozy:

Stay tuned.  I am writing about this now because they are only doing this through August, so, if you own one of these planes, get cracking.

There is a larger point here.  It pleases me tremendously that Lee Valley is thinking about and caring about its customers this way, that they still know you after the sale.  You don't run into this too often.  I often hear and read that customers won't pay for this, but I sure will and it makes me a loyal Lee Valley customer.  I don't know about you, but I am tired of  buying things and throwing them away when they break or new models come out.  No wonder the landfills are full.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Handsaw bows and kinks

I have ended up with more than a dozen handsaws I don't use because I can't pass them up when a nice one is selling for $2-$3.  I usually don't buy them if they are bowed or kinked but I found a nice  Atkins  panel  saw that I bought even though it had both a slight kink and a small bow near the end.

If you do an internet search, you will find many methods for takings bows and kinks out of handsaws.  There isn't any question that the best way is to use a ball peen or similar hammer, an anvil and a lot of skill, but I lack all three.  A fallback method is to heat up the blade using boiling water, a heat gun or by putting the saw in the oven at 500 degrees and then bending it back into line by hand.  Bows are easier but I read suggestions that you could take out a kink with a crescent wrench or a piece of wood with a kerf in it.

I decided to try boiling water and a crescent wrench, not expecting success, but it worked fairly well.  I got most of both the bow and the kink out but the wrench left some nearly imperceptible "dents."  I also sanded and oiled the handle.

The tooth line is quite straight.  This was just an experiment with a $2 saw to see what would happen and I didn't put a lot of effort into it.  The bottom line is how it cuts and the answer is surprisingly well:

This basic method seems promising enough that next time I think I will put the saw in the oven and make a wooden "wrench" if there are kinks.  The oven will get the blade a lot hotter than boiling water.  It is very important not to heat the blade to the point that the temper is taken out, which is apparently around 700 degrees.  This can happen with a heat gun or a torch but the oven method seems safe.  I also read a suggestion that you could use C clamps and two straight pieces of steel on the blade to hold it straight when you put it in the oven .

How do bows and kinks in saws affect the cut?  I am not sure but it seems that they could offer resistance, widen the kerf and steer the saw.

All of this got me thinking about how delicate a handsaw is and how easy it is to put a bow or kink in one.  How was this handled in the old days?  Did the craftsman know how to straighten his saws?  Were saws sent out for sharpening and was this a skill that the sharpener had?  Were they just so careful that it never happened?  

Monday, May 30, 2016

Curtains on a doghouse

Longtime readers of this blog may recall that I was mightily perturbed some time ago when I read another blogger characterizing the side boards on a Nicholson workbench as akin to "curtains on a doghouse."  So, it was with special pleasure that I received my wife's admiring comment this past weekend as she was helping me put our front door in place so I could work on it:

She was impressed that the door fit so perfectly and was interested when I explained that the bench was designed with this in mind.  I told her to think of the side boards, or aprons as some call them, as a vertical workbench.  She does not see the resemblance to curtains on a doghouse.  Harrumph.

After thirty years, it was past time to replace the latch and deadbolt and I expected, correctly as it turned out, that it would be much more involved than it should be, for the simple reason that this is always what happens when I undertake a simple household maintenance task.  Here is a picture that will explain:


The metal strip you see is for the old burglar alarm system and runs in a rabbet completely around the door.  It interfered with the old latch and deadbolt, so the original installer just ground off the side of the hardware.  As you can see, the rough edge of the deadbolt caught as I was pushing it out and split off a piece of the door.  In addition there was no mortise for the old hardware while the new hardware requires them.  Not having a gouge the right size, I used a forstner bit for the corners and then my Veritas small router plane, which worked great.  The only issue with it is that it is hard to set the depth but Veritas now sells a depth stop for it, something I will definitely acquire.  I had to file off the sides of the plates on the new hardware for it to fit inside the burglar alarm strip and, after gluing in the piece that had split away, the latch and bolt were in place:

Thinking I was almost done, I was chagrined to find out that the deadbolt and latch were too close together.   You'd think these distances would be standard.  Since I obviously had to use the original holes, the only option I could see was to file a notch in the handle plate:

Looks terrible, but the end result isn't half bad.  Before I started hand tool woodworking, I would never have done anything like this.  Might seem that there is no connection, but there is, at least for me.

The boss wanted a new matching kickplate but the ones at the orange box store are 8" wide and I only have 7 3/4" thanks to the rabbet for the burglar alarm strip, so I am going to paint it to match.

  1. Nicholson workbenches are fantastic;
  2. There is a hand tool mindset that comes into play even if you are doing something seemingly unrelated, like filing the hardware to fit, for example;
  3. It will always be the case that all home maintenance tasks are an order of magnitude more involved than they appear.  It's a law. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

How I know I am old and unsophisticated

This past week, our newspaper carried a story about a chair from a local woodworker that had won a major design competition.  It is called The Portland Chair and is thought to be so wonderful that it will be manufactured and sold by Thos. Moser.  You can buy it for a mere $1,250 in cherry or $1,440 in walnut.  If you would like to read more about it and view pictures of construction details, see the newspaper article in the link above.

I don't know what you think of it, but I know what I think of it: not much.  I can't conceive of paying that much for that chair.  I wouldn't want to sit in it and I wouldn't want to look at it.  There are chairs at IKEA that I would rather have.  Really.  Honestly, I am utterly perplexed.  My grandfather's milking stool looked better than this to me.  The old image of the RCA dog cocking its ear at strange sounds emanating from a Victrola comes to my mind.

There are quite a large number of furniture styles that I really like, some historical and some modern, but I just cannot comprehend how anyone thinks this is a nice looking or nice functioning chair.

I just came back from a visit to my sister, who lives in Reston, Virginia.  While I was there, I read about a building that is about to be torn down which is a prized example of "Brutalist" architecture.  Brutalist?  I had never heard of it.  Here is an excerpt from the Wikipedia article:
In its ruggedness and lack of concern to look comfortable or easy, Brutalism can be seen as a reaction by a younger generation to the lightness, optimism, and frivolity of some 1930s and 1940s architecture. In one critical appraisal by Banham, Brutalism was posited not as a style but as the expression of an atmosphere among architects of moral seriousness.
This chair seems to me to have evolved from the same sort of thinking.  By all means, let's not be comfortable, light, easy, optimistic or frivolous.  Perish the thought.  Why have chairs at all?  Why not just sit on the floor?  That would, after all, be more morally serious, wouldn't it?

As for me, I'll be sitting in my comfortable FDR chair drinking a microbrew and trying to be optimistic about the state of American design.  If this Moser chair sells for $1,440, I'm thinking of offering my chair for $9,999.  For the record, don't get an idea of what we here in Portland are like from The Portland Chair.  Watch Portlandia or go see the chairs in Timberline Lodge.  Basically, we're easy, optimistic and frivolous.

C'mon guys, help me out here.  Open my eyes to the art.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Pegs and rub joints

For both strength and visual appearance, I chose to peg the joints on the footstool that I made to go with my FDR chair:

Pegging adds tremendous mechanical strength to a joint due to the shear strength of a riven peg and drawboring pulls the joint very tight without clamps.  If memory serves, Chris Schwarz wrote that he often does not bother gluing mortise and tenon joints that have pegs.  To me, the main downside is the time it takes to peg the joints.  I don't see appearance as an issue because  I like the way they look.

The main hassle with pegging is the time it takes to make the riven pegs.  I have the Veritas dowel former and made a small stand for it:

To use it, you have to prepare stock and Lee Valley suggests a very tedious procedure:  
Take the time to hand plane the blank down to just slightly over the final diameter and then knock off the corners to form an octagon. To facilitate starting the blank in the plate, taper one end of the blank...
 This is a lot of trouble.  So far, I just rive square blanks a little oversize with a chisel (a handscrew works nice to hold the stock while you are doing this), sharpen the end and pound away.  With smaller ones, such as the 1/4" pegs for this project, this works fine, but it's a problem with larger ones.  I have thought about a little jig that I might be able to make to facilitate this:  a stop across one end and a V-groove.  If this works well so I get a nice hexagon, I may try one of those sharpeners for oversize kids' pencils for sharpening the ends of the blanks.  If anybody's got a good, quick method for making pegs, I'd be really interested.

When I first made cabriole legs, I was amazed that they could be securely attached via a rub fit with hide glue.  You just rub the pieces back and forth and the hide glue has the amazing feature of pulling the pieces together as it dries and enough tackiness to hold it in place until it has.  I can't deal with a glue pot, so I used Titebond liquid hide glue for the arches on the footstool, though I have read that Old Brown Glue is a much better option because it has more initial tackiness.  I got around this issue by holding the arches in place with pieces of masking tape while the glue dried.  One of the disadvantages of using the Titebond product is that bottles of it that you find in stores are often past the expiration date.  This has happened to me time after time.

Friday, April 29, 2016

A visit to the dark side

After an intense time working on the FDR chair, I wanted to kick back and do some easy projects using the white oak scraps I had left over.  I have a trip to visit my granddaughters coming up very shortly and I wanted to make a stool for the youngest one. I also wanted to make a footstool to go with the FDR chair so I could get it upholstered at the same time as the chair.

For a variety of reasons, curiosity mostly, I decided that I would use some of my power tools that haven't seen much use for quite a while, if there seemed there might be an advantage to doing so.

First, my granddaughter's stool.  Little would have been gained by making the top with power tools, so I didn't bother, but attaching the legs seemed like power tools might have an advantage.  I wanted them to be angled out to the corners as they normally are and I wanted the legs to be square in cross-section for aesthetic reasons.  I angled the tops and bottoms of the legs at 10 degrees with the miter saw then I decided I would drill vertical holes in the top with the drill press and make a quick jig to drill angled holes in the tops of the legs, again with the drill press:

This worked fairly well, though it would have been better if I had put more care into making the jig.

Here is the result:

I like the way it looks.  The 1" tenons are overkill obviously, but I think they look nice for a kid.  Was it an advantage to use power tools?  Not really.  If I were making ten of these stools it would be, but I think I could have done just as well rounding the tops of the legs with a spokeshave and boring angled holes with a brace and bit.  This is the method Paul Sellers teaches, I have done it in the past and it works.  I could have angled the legs almost as quickly with my miter box.  Another option would be to use one of these Veritas tenon cutters in a brace.

Now for the footstool.  Years ago, I made a three-axis vertical router table, sort of a poor man's multi-router, and it has been collecting dust for at least the last four years:

After spending a few minutes attaching the router and setting it up, it made quick work of routing the mortises.  I then made the tenons on my standard router table, leaving them just a bit oversize so I could trim them to fit with a shoulder plane.  Again, I'm pleased with the result.  This is just a dry fit skeleton for now:

Was it an advantage to use power tools?  Actually, yes.  You can whip out plain vanilla mortises and tenons lickety-split like this and they will be very accurate.  I would imagine that a very accomplished hand tool woodworker would be almost as fast making just one stool, but I am just not that fast.  Machines would be much faster if more than one stool was being made.  Was it as much fun or as fulfilling as making them by hand?  No.  Would I get faster if I practiced more?  Yes.

This is not just any footstool; it's a footstool for a FDR chair.  It obviously has to have Timberline arches on the sides, so that means eight pieces, like cabriole leg knee blocks, had to be made.  Could I make them with a template and a pattern bit in a router?  Yup.  Would it have been faster?  Maybe for one stool, but just a little.  Would they have been more uniform than the ones I made by hand?  Yup, by about 1/32" here and there, less when I am done refining them:


These two projects took advantage of power tool strengths and still didn't demonstrate a strong advantage to using them for one-offs.  Faster in one case, probably not in the other.  A better result?  No.  There would have been more of an advantage if I had been making multiple copies of each project, obviously.

I had a lot of power tools before I got into hand tool woodworking and, except for the table saw, I still have most of them.  They are useful for carpentry and aren't worth much.  If I didn't have them, I wouldn't buy them.  The one exception is my bandsaw, but I am pretty sure it will outlast me.

I disagree with those who rail against power tools as some sort of soul crushing evil, which I find silly.  As far as I am concerned, there are five main reasons that I prefer hand tools:

  1. I like using them;
  2. There is little advantage to using power tools if you have the requisite hand tools and the skill to use them, assuming you primarily make one-offs.  The exception is rough stock preparation;
  3.  This is a hobby for me so speed is not a priority;
  4. Hand tools open up a whole world of curves and shapes that can be made easily without a lot of jigs and fixtures;
  5. I have enjoyed the process of acquiring, restoring and using vintage hand tools.  I also like the amazing new hand tools being made by top notch suppliers.  In both cases, many of the designs are so well thought out and executed, a welcome contrast to most of the products available in today's markets.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

FDR Chair: Finishing and finished

I have written that I unexpectedly got substantial color variation on the back of my FDR chair, something I hoped would be corrected by stain.   Salespeople at specialty stores assured me that gel stain was the way to go and, although I was skeptical, I decided to try it.  For the most part, it worked out:

I almost didn't use this color because General Finishes calls it brown mahogany, I have no idea why.  They had a sample on oak in the store and it looked like what I was after, so I went with it and I'm glad I did, as this is the shade I was looking for.  I applied three coats of Arm-R-Seal over the top of the stain.

Once again Margeson's law held:  "No matter how hard you try, there will always be a stray scratch, dent, spot of glue and/or tool mark that becomes visible when you apply finish."  Grrrrrrrr.  I know you're supposed to wipe down your project with mineral spirits to avoid this, but that's not happening in my shop.  I may try alcohol next time.  I had one blemish that really bothered me, so I carefully sanded and reapplied stain and, to my surprise, it blended in fine.

As for advice about using gel stain, it dried to the right consistency to rub off quite quickly, so just do a small section at a time.  Because gel stain doesn't wick like regular stain, pay special attention to make sure you get it wiped off thoroughly around nooks and crannies.  Finally, they say coat in 12-24 hours, but I found 24 hours is best or you risk rubbing off the stain in spots. Gel stain sits on the surface rather than soaking in.

So, now for the acid test.  Here is the photo of the original chair from 1937:

The finish is different, obviously, but, other than that, how'd I do?

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

FDR chair ready for finish

Installing the arms was the last major thing remaining on this chair.  They are held in place by half inch dowels, two through the back into the arms and two through the arms into the front legs.  I clamped them securely into place and drilled the holes:

I would have liked to use a brace and bit for this, but, if there is a bit that will make a hole in white oak end grain, I don't own it.  My only alternative is a cordless drill and brad point bit.

I cleaned out the holes carefully by running the bit in and out several times.  Because I know dowels are a tight fit, I put them through the dowel former multiple times and even drove them dry through the hole in the back for good measure.  Nevertheless, when I applied glue to the dowels, it was a real struggle to get them in.  I wish my Lee Valley dowel former was a bit more undersized (I checked the drill bit and it is dead on.).

All's well that ends well, and the chair is finally ready for finish.  Notice how the arms make a second Timberline arch:

Monday, April 4, 2016

Extreme wood bending

I really like old airplanes and I ran across this video about bending wood for airplane parts that is extremely interesting.  Obviously, there are few applications for bending wood more critical than the fuselage of an airplane.  Add to that the fact that parts often have to be bent at sharp angles and you have a real challenge.  There are some worthwhile lessons here for woodworkers even if we aren't going to fly around in our projects.  I'm already thinking of things I would like to try making.

Several comments.  He achieves these very sharp angles by laminating and steam bending in combination.  First he steam bends 1/8" pieces, then he laminates them together.  Notice how basic his steam bending apparatus is, just plastic pipe and a wallpaper steamer.  I am fairly sure this is Sitka spruce by the way, favored by airplane makers for its strength, durability and light weight.  Think about the stresses on a WWI fighter.  I was also interested in his jig, a lot simpler than most I read about.  Finally, I had never heard of casein glue.  It is made from milk protein and is apparently very strong, durable, resistant to water and has a long open time.  Invented in ancient Egypt, it has been used by musical instrument makers and wooden airframe manufacturers.

Here's the video:

 Correction:  Alan correctly points out in the comments below that the woodworker in the video is using Cascophen glue, not casein as I indicated.  As he says, it is a resorcinol formaldehyde adhesive that has apparently come to replace casein for manufacturing wooden airframes.  I apologize for the error.  The information about casein glue above is still correct.

Friday, April 1, 2016

FDR chair: finally

Except for finishing and the arms, the chair is done.  It's glued-up and every joint is pegged:  

I am not going to tell you it is perfect.  All of the joints on the outside are tight but on the inside there are a few gaps in the .00X" range.  The chair rocked about 1/8", likely a result of my trimming the compound angle joints on the seat rails, which I solved by trimming the legs on the longer diagonal about 1/16" each.  There is the grain mismatch on the right rear leg/arm.  I give myself an A-.  My standards keep going up as my skills improve, so I can never achieve them.  That's good and bad.  For the most part, I don't think about this after the piece is complete and it keeps me striving to get better.

I went back to the lumberyard and they still didn't have any 5/4 or 6/4 QSWO; the whiskey distillers continue to buy it all.  I had to buy an 8/4 piece:

$54!!  I also bought Pendleton wool upholstery fabric for the seat.  It is usually $84 per yard but they are having a 30% off sale on remnants:

It's more than I need but I can use it for other things and I really like the pattern.  All told, materials for this chair will cost almost $300!  Yikes.  Maybe that's the reason the chair isn't reproduced commercially, that and the fact that it takes so much hand work to build it.

I have reluctantly given up on the idea of making an exact copy of the original from photographs and an inaccurate construction drawing, so I contented myself with making a template for the arms that looks right and seems to match the photos:

Basically, I made the curves by placing nails at strategic points and bending a thin stick around them.  The width changes very subtly from the front, at 3", to the back at 2 1/2", so that it will mate up with the back, just as I think the original does.  I tried to do this in a way that isn't noticeable by having the outside curve in a little bit more than the inside.  The paper template is mounted to thin baltic birch plywood.  It is surprising to me how much the eye and the fingers can detect a smooth curve.  I just kept making very fine cuts with a spokeshave until I got the shape I wanted.  It also seems to fit my arm quite well.  I continually think that the design of this chair is just right, a testament to the skill of Ray Neufer and Margery Hoffman Smith.  This is an example.  I now realize that the front of the chair is just enough wider than the back so that the outside of the rear legs line up with the inside of the front legs.  So much goes into the design of a great chair.  Few people will really notice, I know I didn't, but the details matter.

Ray Neufer made several copies of the chair later in his life, this one for example.  It clearly doesn't exactly match the original, especially the shape of the back, but I don't think he cared.  You'll notice he has a grain mismatch too.  I feel better.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

FDR chair: almost ready for glue-up

Except for some more fine-tuning, the chair is ready for glue-up and pegging:

I don't yet have the material for the arms, but they are pegged in place so I will install them after the rest of the chair is together.

Frankly, the last week has been frustrating.  There are ten angled joints in this chair, four of which (the side seat rails) are angled in two directions.  I made them as carefully as I could and each joint closed tightly on its own, but when I dry-fit the chair there were small gaps in some of the joints, less than 1/64" in all cases, but noticeable.  Grrrrrrrr.  Incidentally, I accidentally discovered that this is almost exactly the thickness of my fingernails.  I have spent forever trying to close these gaps and am gradually getting there.  The problem is that it isn't obvious which joint you should work on and what is holding the joint apart, so there is trial and error involved.  In addition, each time I made an adjustment I had to reassemble the chair.  Compounding the problem is that I made the joints very tight, maybe too tight, which slows down the process.  These thick pieces of white oak don't flex at all, so the joints have to be very precise.  Calling this chair sturdy is an understatement.  It's a beast.

There is a Pendleton Wool outlet near me and I went there last weekend because I thought that it would be nice to upholster the seat with their cloth, which in Oregon is iconic.  The heavy fabrics suitable for upholstery cost $84 per yard!  I'm thinking about it but, at that price, the pattern will have to really grab me.

Despite the frustration associated with closing these angled joints, this has been a great project.  I have come to realize that this is a chair that can only be made with hand tools, unless you scan it, make a CAD file and make a plastic one with a 3-D printer I guess.  Trying to make all these curves and angles with machines would take forever, if it even could be done.  The guys in the WPA shop were hand tool woodworkers, some of them very talented carvers, and they made a chair that showcases hand tool skills.  Rectilinearity didn't interest them at all.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Starting to look like a chair

After a whole lot of final fitting, rounding-over and scraping, I assembled the back of the chair.  As I wrote earlier, I wanted to do this because I want to fit the remaining pieces rather than measure them, especially because of the compound angles of the side seat rails.  All of the joints on the chair are pegged but I chose not to drawbore them because this oak is so dense and the pegs are so stout that I didn't think they would deform as intended.  I had visions of the pieces splitting instead.  A middle ground would have been to drawbore the pieces very slightly.  At some point, I may try some experiments with pieces of my scrap white oak.  In any case, the joints are tight and the back looks good to me, except for the one grain mismatch I mentioned earlier.

The next step was to make the front legs and fit them to the side rails.  Here is what I have:

It was a relief to see the front legs vertical and things looking roughly as they should.  You can see in the front picture how the side seat rails slope up and out.  The chair is a full 4 inches wider in the front, which seems like quite a lot to me but it does give the chair the appearance of receiving you with "open arms."

So now it's on to making and fitting the stretchers and arms.  The arms have a substantial curve to form a second Timberline Arch and I'll have to make a template for them.  I'll also have to take a trip back to the lumber yard to see if the whiskey distillers have left any quartersawn white oak because I don't have material suitable for the arms.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Story sticks and tempates

I have decided to assemble the back of the FDR chair before proceeding because the time for measuring is over and the time for fitting the remaining pieces has come.  Before I do that, I need to do a lot of rounding over and scraping, which I won't bore you with.  I have really come to appreciate scrapers and their many advantages over sandpaper during this project.  I'll mention just one here.  It you are trying to refine a curved edge a scraper works way better than sandpaper, which just rides over the area needing refinement, leaving it smooth but uneven.

I want to write about something else this project has really driven home to me:  the fact that modern plans, drawings, even Sketchup files aren't anywhere near as good as what was done historically.  As some point in my past reading, I saw a picture of a back room in a nineteenth century furniture shop.  I have looked and looked for it but cannot find it.  There were hundred of templates and story sticks for the pieces made in the shop hanging from the rafters.  When an order came in, the woodworker used them to make the piece.  If you ever used them, you know they are a fantastic way of capturing all of the essential information about a piece of furniture.  Just imagine if I had had templates for the back and arms and a story stick with all the key dimensions on it for the FDR chair.  They would have saved me many hours of research, drawing, and guesstimating.  The construction drawing wasn't accurate but, even if it had been, it wouldn't have been any where near as useful.  When I am done with this project, I will make a story stick and put it and the templates away so that, if I ever want to make another one of these chairs again, I'll have everything I need.

We have gone backwards.  A set of construction drawings doesn't come close to templates for key parts of a chair and a story stick with all the measurements on it.  With the templates, you can just lay out the piece directly and the story stick gives you all of the required dimensions without measuring.  Who wants a Sketchup plan if you have templates and a story stick?  In fact, I'd argue that the main use for a Sketchup plan should me to make templates and a story stick.

This makes me wonder why woodworking writers don't provide a better way of creating them.  Why don't they just have a file you can access that will print out full size templates and a story stick?  You could use spray adhesive to stick them on thin plywood and have all you need in most cases.

The first serious hand tool project I ever undertook was a Porringer tea table.  Bob Rozaieski published a fantastic video series that took you through the construction step by step.  That's where I was first exposed to story sticks and templates.  He went the additional step of publishing his dimensions in fractions.  They are meant to be used with dividers so you essentially don't have to measure at all and you can scale the project up or down at will.  I was amazed at how well this works.  I have saved my story stick and template so that I can make another tea table like this whenever I want.

I am not one of those who believes the old way of doing things is always the best way.  Progress does happen.  In the case of capturing everything you need to know to build a piece of furniture, though, the old way really is the best way.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

FDR chair: dangled tenons

The side seat rails are angled up one inch and out two inches, the reason I am saying they have "dangled" tenons (double-angled).  A little trigonometry told me that the rails have to be angled up 3.25 degrees and out 6.5 degrees, interesting but not all that practical.  The right way to go is to set two sliding bevels to the correct angles by using a stick cut to the length of the rail placed on a surface with an accurate ninety degree corner.  You measure up the correct amount from the corner to form a right triangle and then use it to set the bevel.  I did that and could mark out the shoulders and tenons accurately, after a silly mistake I will tell you about below.

By the time the FDR chair was being constructed, I am sure there were workmen in the Portland WPA woodworking shop who could easily saw these out accurately and have them fit off the saw, but I'm not there yet, so I needed a different approach.   In a way, cutting the shoulder of a dangled tenon is like cutting a pin and a tail simultaneously on a very thick board, because the cut angles both horizontally and vertically.  I could see two approaches.  The first way would be to saw them out roughly and refine them with a chisel.  On a whim, I tried the only Japanese pull saw that I own to see if I could saw more accurately to the line.  Somehow, pulling the saw along the knife line was easier for me, though perhaps it was because of the very fine teeth.  To do a fair comparison between western and eastern saws, you would need to use a western saw with the same ppi, which I don't own.  Dunno, but I used the Japanese saw from then on, with reasonably positive results.  I sawed out the cheeks and fine tuned them with a chisel on a practice piece.

While I was congratulating myself on a good test piece, I decided to check to make sure that I had gotten the angles right and, to my intense annoyance, I found that the rail angled out correctly but it angled up far more than one inch!  After spending time checking my sliding bevels and scratching my head, I realized what had happened.  3.25 degrees and 6.5 degrees (actually 93.25 and 96.5 degrees) are hard to tell apart by eye and one rosewood bevel looks pretty much like another rosewood bevel!

As I said, the results were pretty good and, with patience, I could refine them to get a pretty good result I thought.  Then it occurred to me that I could make a guide to cut the shoulders very accurately and cleanly.  Worth a try I thought.  It worked well and I ended up with shoulders off the saw.

Here are the rails in place:

As you can see, my dog is not impressed.

Friday, March 11, 2016

FDR chair: back together

It made sense to complete the back up to the point of rounding everything over and final scraping before moving on to the rest of the chair.  I spent an inordinate amount of time getting these joints to close simultaneously, but they finally did.  

I look at these pictures and at pictures of the original to see how well they match and just can't tell without completing the chair.  I can say that when you lay the back/legs against the full size photo, they seem to match up well.  Just have to wait and see I guess.

Incidentally, here is a photo I intended to share earlier:

When I was agonizing over whether I had gotten the templates right, I happened to notice my father-in-law's rocker, his favorite chair for decades.  It is extremely comfortable and I now enjoy sitting in it too.  On a hunch, I went and got my template; sure enough, they are a close match.  Wow!  This project has already taught me a great deal and one of the things it has taught me is that this side profile is a classic.  I'm thinking that Ray Neufer took the sketch he got from Margery Hoffman Smith, used a classic arts and crafts side profile and then shaped the front view to create the Timberline Arch.  If so, it was very clever and shows his mastery of the craft.  There is so much to great design that goes unnoticed, at least by me. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

FDR chair: mortises

At long last, the rear legs/back pieces are finished saved for final scraping and rounding over the edges.  I mentioned earlier that I left the outsides of them uncut until I had cut the mortises so I would have a stable base to work from.  There are a total of five mortises on each side.  With those cut, I  sawed out the outside edges and finished the shaping.  Here is what they look like:

I am generally quite pleased with how they turned out and, surprisingly, when laid against the photos, they seem to match quite well.  Save for the joinery faces, everywhere else is curved, which makes things quite challenging.  My one disappointment is that I didn't get the grain matched on one of them very well (the front one in the picture).  There were defects to work around and it was difficult to for me to anticipate what the grain would look like four inches into the blanks.  There would definitely be an advantage to cutting these out from a solid blank, but I simply didn't have access to any.  My hope is that, after they are stained, this won't be too noticeable.  I guess that's an advantage of a faux finish like the original.

The next step is to make the pieces to complete the backs.  These three tenons are by far the easiest of the chair.  Most of the others are very difficult because they are angled in two directions.  The seat slopes up an inch from back to front and out four inches.  To make things even more challenging, the shoulders on the stretcher tenons are slanted, as you can see from the picture.  Yikes.

Friday, March 4, 2016

FDR chair: shaping

The construction sequence for this chair may seem a bit unorthodox, but I think the reasons will become clear as I go along.  After I glued up the blanks and cut out the side profile, I reattached the offcuts with double stick tape and sawed out only the inside of the front profile.  At that point, I shaped and refined the fronts and insides, but not the backs.  I did this in two steps.  First I shaped them by eye, then I placed the pieces side by side to get them symmetrical and the joinery surfaces parallel so they will line up perfectly.  This is somewhat complicated because the workpiece is mostly curved, frequently in two directions at once.

The process went fairly smoothly, although, obviously, white oak is a lot harder than the alder I used for the prototype (Janka hardness of 1360 vs. 590).  The douglas-fir like Ray Neufer used is a lot softer (660).  Even keeping my tools sharp, it was very slow, difficult going and I was glad that I had sawed quite close to the line.  I didn't do as well with the spokeshaves as I had hoped, especially on the wider sections at the top of the back where they were difficult to grasp.  They had a tendency to skip and chatter.  I ended up using the plane, rasp and file for most of the work and had to bear down to get them to cut.  The biggest surprise was that card scrapers worked great.  I must have done a good job the last time I prepared them, judging by the nice shavings they were taking.  What a relief and pleasure that was. 

After the initial shaping, I lined the two pieces up the way they will face each other, hoping that I wouldn't have a lot more to do and breathed a sigh of relief that there were only minor differences, less than 1/16".  Here they are:

You can see how tight the pieces are at the top and that the faces where the mortises for the side and rear seat rails will be are parallel.  Whew!

So, it may seem strange that I went this far with the fronts and insides when the backs are still rough and the outside isn't even cut yet.  The reason I did this was for joinery.  I wanted to have two reference faces before I laid out and cut the mortises and, of course, two of the mortise faces on each leg weren't even exposed until I made these cuts.  By not cutting out the outside curve I can lay the legs on their sides and have a flat stable base for making the two mortises at the top of the back and the one for the rear seat rail.  By reattaching the cut-off on the back, I can have the same stable base for cutting out the mortises for the stretchers and side rails.  That was my reasoning, anyway; we'll see how it turns out.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

FDR chair: good news and bad news about quarter sawn white oak

I decided to make the chair from quarter sawn white oak, for the reasons I discussed previously, and, uncharacteristically, I even went to the trouble of carefully figuring out exactly what I would need, right down to the board lengths and thicknesses that would be best.  The exact size of the blanks needed for the back/rear legs is 3'x4 1/4"x6".  There is no way to avoid 2 glue lines with the material available to me, so I decided that 6/4 stock would be best for everything but the front legs.

I usually buy my stock from a very large local, commercial hardwood supplier because, with many millions of board feet in their warehouse, they have a fantastic selection and good prices.  They tolerate me because I always make sure to restack the piles carefully and don't waste their time.  When I told the warehouseman what I wanted, he just laughed and shook his head.  It seems that the distilleries have bought up all the 6/4 quarter sawn white oak to make whiskey barrels out of.  They did have some 8/4, although the price has skyrocketed to over $9 a board foot since the last time I bought it!  I reluctantly decided to buy enough to make the rear legs/back, and I think they took pity on me because they pointed to a pallet of 5/4 scraps, all quarter sawn white oak, and asked if I wanted the whole thing for $40.  I jumped at it.

These two boards cost $154 and contain enough material for the rear legs/back pieces, the front legs and the stretchers:

This pallet of scraps, most about 3" wide and 20-30" long, cost $40:

The 8/4 boards were about $9 a board foot and I estimate there are about 120 board feet of scraps at about $.33 a board foot.  My current plan is to get the rest of what I need for the chair from these scraps, even though it is 5/4 rather than 6/4 but, whether I do or not, I am absolutely delighted to have all this beautiful oak for future projects.

The approach I took to making the back/rear leg blanks, was to glue two 8/4 pieces together, saw out the side profile on the bandsaw, then glue on a piece of scrap at the top where the arch will be.  Then I can use double stick tape to put the offcuts back on in order to saw out the front profile.  Here's what they look like just prior to this last step: