This 15-stick comb-back armchair is inspired by the famous Scottish Darvel chairs; it is one of the most technically difficult chairs I make. This particular example is set up as a chair for dining or working at a desk, with a fairly upright back at 13° off the seat.
The chair has a poplar seat. The undercarriage, arm and comb are oak. The sticks are ash. The seat is 17-1/2” from the floor, just slightly less than modern chairs. Overall, the chair is 41-1/4” tall and 27-1/2” wide.
The seat is lightly saddled and tilts back about 1” from front to back, which increases its comfort.
The chair is finished with a light green acrylic that is hard-wearing. All the chair’s joints are assembled with hide glue, so it can be repaired easily by future generations. Plus all the joints have been glued, wedged and/or pegged for durability.
This chair is being sold via a random drawing. The chair is $1,400 plus domestic shipping. (I’m sorry but the chair cannot be shipped outside the U.S.) If you wish to buy the chair, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org before 5 p.m. (Eastern) on Saturday, Jan. 22. In the email please use the subject line “Chair Sale” and include your:
First name and last name
U.S. shipping address
Daytime phone number (this is for the trucking quote only)
After all the emails have arrived on Jan. 22, we will pick a winner that evening via a random drawing.
If you are the “winner,” the chair can be picked up at our storefront for free. Or we can ship it to you via common carrier. The crate is included in the price of the chair. Shipping a chair usually costs between $150 and $250, depending on your location.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. This chair is the same design as the one on the cover of “The Stick Chair Book.” Yes, you may now call me “Shameless Plug Schwarz.”
I experienced several surprising coincidences and discoveries while working on “Cadi & the Cursed Oak.” In the beginning, all I had was a short passage about the Nannau oak while working on “Honest Labour.” To turn the tale into a children’s book, I wanted the story of the oak to be so much more than what happened on that fateful day in 1402, when Hywel Sele and Owain Glyndŵr went hunting, which is the tale that has long made the Nannau oak famous.
The longbows carried by Owain and Hywel on their hunt brought to mind an entirely different hunt – an Instagram post by Welsh stick chairmaker Chris Williams in which he was arm bow hunting with his daughter, Alice.
Couldn’t my main character, I thought, be a Welsh stick chairmaker’s daughter? Hence, Cadi.
I spent hours considering Welsh names. At the time, Cadi ranked No. 90 on a “popular names in Wales,” list. It’s one of the Welsh diminutives of Catrin (then ranked No. 82). Owain Glyndŵr had a daughter named Catrin, Catrin of Ferain (c. 1540-1591), a noblewoman known as “the mother of Wales.”
How do you connect a present-day character to a tree that no longer exists and an event that took place more than 600 years ago?
That’s one of the beauties of wood, and a good editor.
I discovered there were actual objects claimed to have been made from the Nannau oak, that still exist today, including some acorn-shaped cups (how fitting!). The acorn cup became the tie between past and present, and the reason for which the story of the Nannau oak was passed down to Cadi.
After reading my first draft it was Christopher Schwarz who told me that he expected a scene in which Cadi drank from the acorn cup. After seeing pictures of it, he asked, “How could anyone not?”
I researched the cup some more. According to Remy Dean, it had been said “that those who drank from the cups were plagued by ghostly apparitions and suffered nightmares for several nights afterward.”
Without giving too much away (the book is, after all, only 48 pages), Cadi, finds the cup, accidentally cracks it, drinks from the cup and hides it by stuffing it into her backpack.
There are two silver discs attached to the wooden sleeve of the cup. In my research, I discovered that there are inscriptions on each disc. One is an engraving of an oak tree with the words Ceubren yr Ellyll, and 1813. The other? A coat of arms and ASGRE LÂN DIOGEL EI PHERCHEN: a good conscience is the best shield.
Sometimes, when I’m in the thick of a project, I lose sight of the obvious. Months had gone by when I realized I had forgotten that the four acorn cups also have four inscriptions or toasts. (You can learn more about them here.) By this point, “Cadi & the Cursed Oak” had become longer and a bit more complex; the Nannau oak was also representative of stories that are passed down through generations.
Cadi’s grandmother pulled out a small pile of acorns from her coat pocket.
“These acorns may be from the same tree. Or different trees. They might be related to the blasted oak, holding its stories within. But each acorn has a different story, depending on where it grew on the tree, what it witnessed, where it fell – what it will be. All you can do is gather and listen. All of it, the bad, the good, the mundane, the thrilling, it’s all part of the acorn’s truth. And with time, the stories can change. In fact, they almost always do.”
Now Cadi was mad. She didn’t understand why things had to be so complicated. She didn’t understand why some stories could be so scary. Or sad. She didn’t understand why she had to be the one to find the cup and she didn’t understand why the cup had to crack – she didn’t want it to crack, she didn’t mean for it to crack. And she didn’t understand why the spirits’ stories were haunting her so.
“The worst thing you can do,” her grandmother said, interrupting Cadi’s angry thoughts, “is hide a story that needs to be told.”
They walked back to the car park, mostly in silence. As Cadi climbed into the car, her grandmother turned to her.
“Sometimes,” her grandmother said, “I hear the cries, too.”
Suddenly, Cadi realized what she had to do.
I fully expected the second inscription on the acorn cup to be something about a toast for a birthday celebration (which was the reason the acorn cups were made). Imagine my delight when I discovered the transcription:
Lle gwreiddio y Fesen, Llwydded y Dderwen: the oak tree may succeed where the acorn takes root.
It fit the story, particularly the already-written end, so beautifully.
Near the end of the production of “Cadi & the Cursed Oak,” we hired Dr Iwan Wyn Rees, lecturer and director of the Cardiff Centre for Welsh American Studies, to edit and correct the transcriptions, and create a simple pronunciation guide for the 20+ Welsh words and phrases we have scattered throughout the text. He was so incredibly thorough and patient and wonderful to work with. Also, as if it were meant to be, he said he remembers his Nain (grandmother) telling him that her own Nain was head housekeeper at none other than — the Nannau estate.
“Cadi & the Cursed Oak” is at the printer and will be available for $19 hopefully sometime in March.
The following is excerpted from “Country Woodcraft: Then and Now,” Drew Langsner’s revised and expanded edition of his 1978 book that helped to spark a movement (still expanding today) of hand-tool woodworkers who make things with mostly green wood. Among many other additions, it includes greatly expanded sections on building shavehorses, carving spoons and making green-wood bowls. One of the key tools for working with green wood is a chopping stump. Below is how Drew makes his.
Chopping stumps may seem so ordinary that even seasoned axe users never give them much thought. They’re just a chunk of a log, cut off more or less square, at whatever height happens to happen.
In Wood-Carving Land, chopping stumps are an honored member of the shop equipment. They are the pre-workbench workbench, especially for axe work.
There are several qualifiers that separate good stumps from the also-ran stumps. Height is the first consideration. Stumps should be tall enough that you don’t need to lean over with bad posture when hewing something small, like a spoon. And low enough that you can get a powerful swing when hewing something larger, as when shaping the exterior of a bowl. This means that you should probably have more than one shop stump.
Chopping stumps shouldn’t wobble – for safety and efficient use of energy. Freshly cut stumps are heavy – they’re about half water – and the surface can become chopped into uselessness quickly. You need to plan ahead.
The chopping surface should be free of abrasive detritus. When a sharp axe chops into a gritty surface, it quickly becomes dull, or even chipped at the cutting edge.
Most stump grit comes from the bottom of someone’s footwear. Almost everyone will rest a foot on a stump of the right height, or climb onto a stump to reach something on a high shelf. Keep your stumps covered with something like a plywood shoebox lid.
Stumps can be most any kind of log, with harder species preferred. Mine are red oak. Drying a stump takes time – years – so you’ll most likely be using your first stump while it’s wet and heavy. If drying happens too quickly the log might split – sometimes so badly that it becomes firewood. You can dry the log stored on its side, or on prop sticks to let air circulate underneath. Do this in a sheltered place, without direct wind or sun exposure.
The chopping surface can be roughened with chain saw scoring grooves, and/or a small and rough chain-sawn hollow. These provide places to hold the work steady for hewing.
I learned about stumps with legs while looking at photos of sabot (wooden shoe) makers’ long-handled block knives. Almost always, the stump is rather short, supported by three stout legs. So smart!
Stumps with legs are not only lighter weight – appreciated when you need to move one – but also more stable with the wide three-point base.
Making a stump with legs You can go fancy, but I use rough-split legs with very little shaping. Ideally the stump and leg materials are split and left to dry before assembly. This will take more than a year. So, realistically, stumps with legs are often made using wet wood, with the hope that drying will be proportionate. If not, the legs will eventually come loose, but the fix isn’t difficult.
In the rough, the legs can be about 30″ long, and about 3″ across. Make them long, so that you’ll have options when it comes to determining the working height of the stump.
Cylindrical leg tenons are best made on a lathe. Tenon diameter can be 1″ to 1-1/2″, depending on what size auger is available. Tenon length is 2 -1/2″ to 3″. Don’t make the tenons too tight. They should be a tap-in fit. If a lathe isn’t available, follow the steps for carving cylindrical tenons in Chapter 15: Wheelbarrows.
The leg mortises are bored into end-grain, so be ready to do some real work. You can use a bit and brace or an electric drill. The brace should have a 12″ sweep; the electric drill needs a 1/2″ chuck and a side handle to stop it from twisting you around.
Locate three drilling points on the bottom of the stump. They should more-or-less represent an equilateral triangle. Use a crayon or felt marker to draw sighting lines from the drilling locations to a common center point.
Angle the drill 12° to 15° from vertical, facing toward the center point. You may need to remove frass periodically as you drill. This depends on the type of auger.
After the legs are inserted, turn the stump over – so that it’s upright. Don’t worry about how it looks at this stage. Level the top surface by sliding low-angled wedges under two legs.
Decide on the height. Spoon-carving stumps are usually 30″ to 36″. Bowl-hewing stumps might be 26″ to 30″. Subtract the height of the desired stump from the height that it presently is. This is the amount of wood that will be removed from the bottom of the legs.
The next step is scribing from the floor to the cut-off, using the result from the little math exercise. You can do this scribing with a pencil placed on a block of wood of the suitable height. Or use a stout compass. Scribe around each leg.
Use a carpenter’s panel saw to saw off excess length at the scribed lines. To do this, make an effort to secure the leg well so that you can make an accurate, angled saw cut. A bench vise will sometimes work. Or use clamps, or your best friend.
Before starting the kerf, aim the saw so that it’s in alignment with the scribed lines on the other two legs. Because the stump has three legs, you don’t need to be concerned with making super-precise saw cuts.
…One or two years later…The leg tenons may shrink more than the stump mortises, causing wobbling or even legs falling loose. If this happens, make up a batch of small wedges and tap them into the loose spaces where the leg tenons enter the bottom of the stump. (This is very funky coopering.) Be sure to have the legs orientated so that the foot trim angle is still flat on the floor. Use a little glue, also.
When you stop hewing, don’t leave the axe with the blade driven into the stump top. The axe could get knocked loose, and become a dangerous flying object. Also, this odious practice chops away the stump surface, destroying your pre-workbench workbench.
When you acquire a good tool, such as a block plane, and it really, really works, the tendency is to buy all its friends. After I bought my first No. 5 (about 1996-97), I fell in love with handplanes. To be precise, I loved all the handplanes. Every single handplane ever made or collected or drawn up in some patent document.
Most weekends I’d hit the antique markets with whatever dollars I could scrounge to buy handplanes. What kind of handplanes? All of them. At one time I owned at least 10 smoothing planes, five block planes, six shoulder planes and Justus-Traut-knows-how-many rabbet planes.
This was the start of a dangerous pattern you’ll see throughout this list, which is when I would try to buy my way into a new skill. I thought: If I bought a plow plane, I would be able to make frame-and-panel joints. But that’s not how the craft works.
If I could go back in time, I’d tell myself to buy one No. 5, one No. 3 and one block plane. Then buy additional planes only when I needed them – and after a lot of research.
Reading a Little About Finishing & Sharpening
When I started woodworking, I knew nothing about finishing or sharpening. And so I finished the pieces I made and sharpened the tools I owned in peace and satisfaction. But then one day I started to read about finishing and sharpening, and I realized I had been doing everything wrong.
So I did what the experts said to do, and I became miserable. I refused to put this finish over that finish (the book said it wouldn’t work). I bought some Japanese waterstones. And I entered a long and tortured phase where my finishes and my tools’ edges sucked. I was experimenting too much with this finishing/sharpening system or some other system. I was trying to obey a lot of gurus simultaneously.
To get out of this misery, I had to read a lot more about finishing and sharpening. And I came to the conclusion that I teach today: Learn one system. Stick with it for a long time. Refuse to change until you have mastered that system.
And always refuse to read articles that say “never” and “always.”
Five Planers; Six Table Saws
When it comes to machines and critical hand tools (dovetail saws, block planes, smoothing planes, layout tools), I spent entirely far too much money upgrading my equipment incrementally.
I started out with crap equipment – a plastic table saw and sheet-metal thickness planer, for example. And then I sold the used equipment (it wasn’t worth much) to upgrade to a slightly better table saw and planer. And so on until I ended up where I am today.
It was a dumb and expensive journey for someone who was planning on making furniture for a living all along. I should have just plunked down the $1,200 for a cabinet saw and $800 for a 15” planer in 1996. Instead, I’ve spent at least $7,000 on table saws and $8,000 on planers since then. And I’ve had the agony of buying, selling and setting up all this equipment.
Yes, there’s a chance that you’ll buy a nice $3,000 table saw and then be swayed by the Bare Bosom Goddess of Golf. But that $3,000 table saw can be sold for almost that same amount. Cheap tools, on the other hand, depreciate quickly and to nothing.
Using a Cutting List
Don’t trust someone else’s cutting list. Not from me, Norm Abram or even Jesus the carpenter. Even if the cutting list is accurate (and it’s probably not), you shouldn’t cut all the pieces out to the specified sizes and start building. Things change as you build a project. And the sizes of your parts will change slightly, too.
Make your own cutting list based on a construction drawing. And only cut pieces to final width and length when you absolutely have to.
Cutting lists are dirty liars.
Buying Lumber Sight Unseen
Every time I have bought lumber before laying eyes on it, I have been swindled. The first time this happened was when I ordered 100 board feet of cherry from a reputable supplier to make a bookcase that needed about 40 board feet.
I picked the wood up, and it was so sappy and twisted that I barely squeezed the bookcase out of the 100 board feet. Yes, I complained to the supplier. They laughed in my face and said that sap and twisting was not a defect, and that the lumber met grade. I didn’t buy from them for five years after that – not until they hired a new customer rep.
Reading Tool Catalogs on Friday Night
After I finish work on Friday, I like to drink a beer and relax for a bit before making supper. Sometimes I have two beers. And sometimes I read tool catalogs with that beer in hand. And sometimes I order stupid tools that I don’t need but look pretty cool and now I read nonfiction on Friday evenings.
Don’t drink and shop for tools. That is the only explanation I have for owning an Incra Rule.
Believing the Jig Lie
This is a corollary to the above rule. Tool catalogs are great at explaining how jigs can solve your joinery problems. Can’t cut perfect miters/dovetails/spline joints? This jig does it with ease. You will be a master in no time. Promise.
Here’s what I learned: Cutting miters is a skill. Learning to set up, use and then remember again how to use a jig to cut miters is also a skill. Both skills take about the same amount of time to learn.
Yes, there are some jigs that can speed you along if you need to do something 134 times in a week (such as making a dovetailed drawer). But those jigs are rare and are usually needed only by production or industrial shops.
Most woodworking skills are mastered after a few tries, and then you will forget about owning the jig.
Buying Sets of Tools
Sets of chisels, router bits, carving tools, templates and so on are usually a waste of money. Buying a set seems like a good idea – and you sometimes save a little money compared to buying all the tools separately. But it’s usually a lie.
I use three chisels for 99 percent of my work. Six router bits. Three moulding planes. One sawblade. So buy one good chisel/gouge/router bit/moulding plane – one that you really need. Then, when you absolutely positively can’t work without an additional bit or blade, buy another. Reluctantly. And buy the best you can afford.
Buying the Hardware at the End
I can’t tell you how many times I made this mistake. I built a project and afterward bought the hardware for it. Then had to remake the drawers or doors to suit the hardware.
The hardware typically makes fundamental changes to your cutting lists and drawings. Buy the hardware before you cut the wood.
When I was learning woodworking, I had four teachers, plus the books and magazines I was reading. So I got pulled in a lot of directions. All of the teachers produced good work, but they all had strong ideas about how to go about it.
And so most days I felt like I was a Muslim-Buddhist-Pentcostal-Atheist. There was no consistent instruction in my life. And so it took me a lot of error and error to sort things out. In time, I gained the confidence to go my own way. But it took a lot longer because I had so many masters whispering (or yelling) in my ear.
Pick one person to teach you joinery. Or sharpening. Or finishing. Stick with that person until you have mastered the basics and can start exploring joinery, sharpening and finishing on your own.
Oh, and if you own that little Powermatic 12-1/2” lunchbox planer I sold off in 1998, I’m sorry. I hope you now use it for something it is powerful enough to handle – such as slicing deli meats.
The current cover of Popular Woodworking features a humidor; when I saw it, I had to chuckle. At around the time I started at F&W Publications (which owned PW at the time), humidors were all the rage. In July 1997, PW published a how-to on John F. Kennedy’s humidor (the coverline: $574,000 Humidor (Your Price: $300)). Fine Woodworking published “Building a Humidor” in its Nov./Dec. 1997 issue. And although I’m too lazy to find out for sure, I’d bet a tin of homemade cookies the other U.S. woodworking magazines also published humidor plans at around the same time. (And again when cigar bars were a fashionable thing in the aughts.)
And that got me thinking about woodworking trends, though perhaps the better term is fashion. Woodworking styles are not unlike clothing – the “in” styles come and go. (The possible exceptions are Shaker and Arts & Crafts furniture – but perhaps they just have longer legs, so to speak.)
Sometimes it’s specific to one group of makers (California roundover as a sterling example…or the cup holders on seemingly every project at PW for a few years as a perhaps unfortunate example). Sometimes its due to world events (The Woodworker Magazine articles throughout WWII on making projects with as few supplies as possible spring to mind). Sometimes it’s regional (Black Forest carvings on pieces from that eponymous region). Sometimes it’s a time-period renaissance (Queen Anne dining sets in the 1950s, mid-century modern right now).
I suspect I have implicit bias, but it seems to me we’re in the midst of a multiplicity of overly long-lived woodworking trends…and because I’m old and want all the kids to get off my lawn, I don’t like too many of them (not that my approval matters one whit). Barn wood? It belongs on barns. Epoxy? It’s the perfect adhesive in some situations. Hairpin legs? Hairpins are for updos. Live edge anything? Well, at least when that trend dies, a rip cut will take care of it.
But I needn’t have a positive aesthetic response to a thing to be happy that people are in the shop making stuff; whatever floats your boat down that (epoxy) river (table) is fine by me. And anyway, I’m for sure casting stones in a glass house. At this moment, there’s an “anarchist’s tool chest” on my bench, and a Kentucky (via Wales) stick chair on Chris’ bench. My email and LAP Facebook page comments let me know on the regular that plenty of folks retch at both; my feeling is not hurt.
I know there are many more 20th- and 21st-century woodworking fads, some that keep trucking along and some that were but a flash in the pan (such as waterfall tables – or are they still a big thing and I just don’t know it?) – but I need to stop thinking about it and get back to my chest build, so help me out. In addition to the above, I have cribbage boards, Adirondack chairs, charcuterie boards, turned pens, fancy cutting boards…