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.


  1. Andy, I've been following your FDR chair build. At first it was tough for me to understand what was going on with the leg shape. It looked so foreign. But now it's coming together and looking great.

    I'm in the middle of my own chair build (Paul Sellers dining chair) and have had some issues with small gaps at the angled joints. To get rid of any gaps, are you just sweetening the shoulders with a shoulder plane and refitting. Then rinse and repeat?

  2. Matt,

    Yup, that's what I'm doing. The reason it is taking so long is that I am being very cautious, probably over-cautious, about how much material I remove in each pass and then I have to reassemble the chair to check the fit.

    I am sure experienced chair-builders have some tricks or at least the confidence and experience to remove the right amount in one pass. I suspect that drawboring these joints would solve a lot of this.

  3. Yes, I see the chair coming together and looking forward to seeing the finished product. Was wool used on FDR's chair also?

  4. All of the original fabrics at Timberline were handmade in WPA workshops, including the fabric for the chair. I think it was wool but I am not sure. If I don't decide to use Pendleton wool, I will ask the archivist to help me find something as close as possible to the original.

  5. Impressive work so far Andy. It'll be interesting to see how you make the connections on the arms.