Commonplace Chairs

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People – both woodworkers and the less handy – often ask me what kind of chairs I build. Lately I’ve been calling them “commonplace chairs” instead of diving into an eye-glazing lecture on the British Isles, vernacular furniture and John Brown.

The word “commonplace” suits them in both the literal definition – not unusual; ordinary – and when you happen to pull the two root words apart – common and place. These chairs are both common and come from a place. What about this one?

This one came from my scrap bin. When I design a new chair, I rummage through my 5-gallon buckets filled with leftover ash and oak legs, stretchers, sticks and such, some of them years old. This seat was a backup seat left over from a class. The arms and crest were some straight, bendable sassafras.

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I set out to give this chair a formal silhouette, like a Scottish Darvel chair. I got to examine one in person this fall and loved its presence. I wanted a low-slung undercarriage to belie the age of my design. But most of all, I pictured this chair in my mind as belonging to the head of a household. So it should have some height, arms and a just a whiff of throne.

But still be a stick chair. And not too damn fancy.

It’s comfortable and cozy (thanks to some negative springback after the steambending). The back sticks taper gently from 5/8” to 1/2” and bend ever-so-slightly out to cradle the shoulders of the sitter. The oak seat is lightly saddled, as per my usual way. And it’s painted with General Finishes (Not) Milk Paint in Coastal Blue that has been brushed on.

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If you want to see this chair in person it will be in the gallery at Fine Woodworking Live in April (the event is almost sold out). I wish I could offer this chair for sale. Nothing would make me happier. But the head of the household (Lucy) wants it for the dining table. It will be the nicest chair of mine that we own – everything else around the table is dogmeat and prototypes.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Second-half 2020 Classes at the Storefront

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When we said we were going to offer fewer woodworking classes at the Lost Art Press storefront, we meant it…yet we nonetheless have a fair number on offer for the second half of 2020 (plus we’ve added one in June).

You can see the classes now and it looks as if you can buy tickets, but you cannot. The “register now” won’t actually let you register. Tickets will go on sale at 10 a.m. Eastern on Saturday, Feb. 22.

Here are the additions to the lineup at a glance – plus a reminder of our two 2020 Lost Art Press Open Houses:

June
• Open House – June 13, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
• Build a Jennie Alexander Chair with Ray Schwanenberger, June 15-19

July
• 3-Day Spoon Carving Intensive with JoJo Wood, July 6-8
• The Bent-leg Greenwood Stool with Brendan Gaffney, July 11-12
• Build an American Welsh Stick Chair with Christopher Schwarz, July 13-17

August
• Make a Dovetailed Shaker Tray with Megan Fitzpatrick, Aug. 1-2
• Build a Welsh Stick Chair with Christopher Williams, Aug. 29-Sept. 2

September
• Build an American Welsh Stick Chair with Christopher Schwarz, Sept. 14-18
• Build the Anarchist’s Tool Chest with Megan Fitzpatrick, Sept. 28-Oct. 2

October
• Make a Carved Oak Box with Peter Follansbee, Oct. 5-9
• Intro to Staked Furniture – Design & Construction with Christopher Schwarz, Oct. 17-18
• Build a Jennie Alexander Chair with Ray Schwanenberger, Oct. 26-30

November
• Build a Dutch Tool Chest with Megan Fitzpatrick, Nov. 6-8

December
• Open House – Dec. 12, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Click through here to our class listings for details on each. Again, tickets for these new-to-the-lineup classes will go on sale at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 22.

But if you’re itching to take class sooner, there are still a few slots available in the following current classes at Lost Art Press:
Four Corner Joints & a Dado with Megan Fitzpatrick, March 21-22
Build a Welsh Backstool with John Porritt, April 6-10
One-slat Ladderback Chair with Brendan Gaffney, May 1-3
Build a Sawbench with Megan Fitzpatrick, May 16-17

And in these classes with Brendan and me elsewhere:
Build a Boarded Bookcase with Megan Fitzpatrick, Feb. 29-March 1, Alaska Creative Woodworker’s Club (Anchorage, Alaska) – Registration closes tomorrow: Sat. Feb. 15
Build a Dutch Tool Chest with Megan Fitzpatrick, March 4-6, Alaska Creative Woodworker’s Club (Anchorage, Alaska) – Registration closes tomorrow: Sat. Feb. 15
Build a Frame Chair with Brendan Gaffney, May 11-15, Port Townsend School of Woodworking (Port Townsend, Wash.)
Build the Anarchist’s Tool Chest with Megan Fitzpatrick, June 1-5, the Woodworking School at Pine Croft (Berea. Ky.)
Make a Moxon Vise with Megan Fitzpatrick, July 18-19, Port Townsend School of Woodworking
Build the Anarchist’s Tool Chest (using that Moxon Vise above!) with Megan Fitzpatrick, July 20-24, Port Townsend School of Woodworking
Post-and-Rung Chair with Brendan Gaffney, July 24-26, the Woodworking School at Pine Croft

— Fitz

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Sweat the Big Stuff

Sincere thanks to all who took the time to write and submit stories for the True Tales of Woodworking Contest held by Lost Art Press to celebrate the publication of their new edition of “Making Things Work: Tales of a Cabinetmaker’s Life, and hearty thanks to Megan Fitzpatrick for doing the heavy lifting to make the contest happen. Congratulations to the winner, Bruce Chaffin! Here’s another of our top picks. 

Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff, Do Sweat The Big Stuff, by Chris Becksvoort

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The cupola railing and finial on the Skolfield-Whittier house in Brunswick ME.  I built the railing and turned the finial in 1985.  Time has taken its toll, and the whole now needs serious restoration or replacement.  Not by me.

I had four years of wood shop in high school, worked summers for my father during that time and then worked almost a decade in a custom furniture shop in Maine.  I thought I knew all about woodworking.  Not quite. For two and a half years I worked at an architectural millwork shop in Portland, ME.  

As I mentioned in Shaker Inspiration: Five Decades of Fine Craftsmanship (Lost Art Press, 2018), this was where my first task was to build 64 custom oak doors, 50 of which were different sizes and configurations.  I was faced with a stack of blueprints and a pile of 2,000 board feet of roughsawn 8/4 oak.  The logistics were challenging, to say the least.  That was only the beginning of my introduction to non-furniture woodworking.   

Over the course of the next two and a half years, I experienced the art of grinding knives for miles of custom moldings, was taught how to make speed tenons on the table saw, got to make half-oval windows with over 40 curved lights, spiral stair rails, sunburst transoms, store fixtures, custom turnings, etc.  We did things on the shaper that were dangerous and too fierce to mention.  Many of the jobs consisted of restoration work for southern Maine’s older homes, estates and mansions. 

One of my most boring and also harrowing jobs was work on the Skolfield-Whittier house in Brunswick, ME.  It is an Italianate brick house, built by a wealthy ship captain, now home of the Pejepscot Historical Society.  The two story structure has an eight-sided, windowed cupola on the roof.  The top of the cupola has a railing with 88 identical lyre-shaped white pine cutouts and 16  mirror-image filigree corner accents.   I spent three days on the drill press and scroll saw.  Boring. 

At the center of the cupola roof sits a finial, barely visible from the street below.  As I recall, it was almost 72” high and about 24” in diameter.  We glued it up out of 8/4 mahogany and marine epoxy.  The shop had an old, seldom-used lathe, with cast iron legs and an 8’ bed.  To accommodate the finial, we had to build up both the headstock and tailstock.  We also added another sheave to the motor to further slow the turning.  Even so, the glued-up blank had to be hand turned to get it started. 

I’m allergic to mahogany and had on a full complement of dust mask, goggles and ear muffs.  It was mid-summer and the shop was not air conditioned.  Even with the big cast iron lathe, the whole machine still vibrated like crazy.  Really scary.  After just a few minutes I started sweating up a storm.  Took off my shirt. It didn’t help.  Shed more clothes until I was standing there  in my skivvies like a semi-nude Darth Vader.   David Stenstrom, my boss,  suggested that I put on a johnny [Editor’s note, especially for Brits: in this case, an open-backed hospital gown], just in case a customer were to come into the shop.  Even so, I was soaked down to my sneakers.    

David threatened to take a picture of me, with my mostly bare backside showing through the open johnny.  I was fully concentrating on the work, and to this day,  I’m not sure whether or not he took a photo.  I asked him about it last time I visited.  He’s still looking.Chris Becksvoort

 

 

 

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Caption Challenge – Valentine’s Version

Circa 1615, BnF Gallica.

Calling all witty and wise-crackin’ woodworkers! It’s time for a new Caption Challenge. This challenge will run until midnight Monday, Feb. 17 EDT. Chris Schwarz will send the winner a prize (Editor’s note: It’s a T-shirt of your choosing).

The caption can be a one-liner, a poem, a limerick – inject some love into the equation. Just keep it clean as per the blog rules (although the sonnet that originally accompanied the engraving was anything but clean).

Valentine’s Day can be a fraught-filled time, so as a public service (and musical interlude) I’ll answer some commonly asked questions:

”Saucy, I just broke up, and I’m feeling kinda low right now. I just can’t caption.” Answer: Sometimes love hurts and love doesn’t always fit in the little heart-shaped boxes we make. Whether we want them to or not, feelings linger. Embrace your pain and when you are done wallowing, get back out there!

”Saucy, I want to win this challenge, but first I need to get back together with my valentine. For months now she runs every time I see her and won’t answer my calls, texts or emails.” Answer: Are you a creep ? Don’t be a creep.

”Saucy, we’ve lost that lovin’ feeling. Any suggestions?” Answer: wine and Barry White.

Suzanne Ellison

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Reader Questions: Benchtops, Trestle Tables and West Coast Lumber

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Sweet jiminy I don’t need any more mail, tasks or obligations. If you have a woodworking question, you can usually find answers by using the search box on the right-hand sidebar. If you have a question about your order or a product, you can always send a note to help@lostartpress.com.

But occasionally I do get a question or two through the mail or friends that bears answering. Here are two good questions – and one that I cannot answer.

Benchtop Thickness

Robert in Vista, Calif., asks about an apparent contradiction in my writing. At one point I wrote that 4” is the maximum thickness for a benchtop that works with holdfasts. Later, I recommend 4” to 6”. What gives?

When I wrote my first articles on workbenches about 20 years ago (which led to my first book), the world of holdfasts looked like this: tons of crappy cast ones and a few custom blacksmith holdfasts. So I bought every holdfast I could. I helped Don Weber make me one. And when I tested them, I couldn’t get any of them to work in a benchtop that was thicker than 4”.

And so I reported my findings.

As interest in holdfasts grew, better ones became available. We started making one with a 1” shaft. These better holdfasts worked in thick benchtops. I can get ours to seat in a block that is 10” thick. But 10” is silly for a benchtop. I think 6” is the maximum I’d use.

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Trestle Table Flex

James in Twentynine Palms, Calif., asks about the trestle table I built for Woodworking Magazine exactly one coon’s age ago. When his kids sit on the table, he sees the supports below the top flexing under their weight. Is this a known problem?

The trestle table is flexible; that’s one of the nice things about it. As long as nothing is groaning under the weight of the kids, you’re probably fine. The table is like an I-beam with a wooden skin on top. It’s quite strong and remains one of my favorite designs.

However, I cannot vouch for your joinery or the mass of your children. I can report that my table has survived many strange evenings.

James also writes to ask if I have any tips for sourcing wood on the West Coast (he’s new there). Species, places to buy etc.

As a Kentuckian, I have zero experience with West Coast lumberyards, except for buying alder and fir. Perhaps the readers could offer some ideas about good local woods for furniture.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Coming Soon: ‘Honest Labour’

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This week, we are finishing the layout of our latest book, “Honest Labour,” which is a collection of essays from The Woodworker magazine while Charles H. Hayward was editor (1939-1967). This book will be the fifth and final volume in our series from The Woodworker.

When we started on The Woodworker project more than a decade ago we didn’t intend to publish “Honest Labour.” The series was going to have four books that covered handwork: tools, techniques, joinery, the workshop and furniture plans. But as we paged through every article from The Woodworker during the 29-year period, we kept getting stuck on the “Chips From the Chisel” column at the beginning of every issue.

These columns during the Hayward years are like nothing I’ve ever read in a woodworking magazine. They are filled with poetry, historical characters and observations on nature. And yet they all speak to our work at the bench, providing us a place and a reason to exist in modern society.

For years I heard rumors that the unsigned column was written by a clerk or assistant at the magazine, but I don’t believe that for a second. After reading Hayward’s writing on woodworking most of my career, I know his prose like I know my own.

For the last few years, we’ve been working on “Honest Labour” in the background. John Hoffman secured the rights to the material, which was no small effort or expense. Kara Gebhart worked through all of the “Chips From the Chisel” columns, selecting the best ones. We decided to organize the essays year by year, and so Kara has written a short column for every chapter that lists the major news events of that year. These short essays provide important context – even woodworking writing is different in wartime.

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During the last couple months, Megan Fitzpatrick and I have been laying out the book, with Megan doing most of the heavy lifting. The structure of the book is more like a book of favorite poems you can pick up while you are waiting for your family to get ready for dinner. Or when you sit down in front of the fire after a long day of work.

Every page spread in the book consists of one column only, illustrated with line drawings from the magazine that were published during the same year the column was written. The illustrations were also made by Hayward.

Here’s a small sample of one of the columns from the 1960s. Like a lot of good writing, it’s difficult to divorce a piece from the whole without diminishing it.

How easy for anyone having sufficient professional skill to get away with a semblance of truth. There are some craftsmen who simply take it for granted. The lack of precision in marking up, the careless cut, the small faults which declare themselves when a piece is assembled. Such a craftsman knows all the answers. “Oh I can soon put that right,” he says easily. And he can, filing, adjusting, smoothing, gluing here, screwing there, using as much casual skill in faking as in making. The furniture he produces may deceive the untrained eye but by any true standard it falls short. Without perhaps even being aware of it, the casual craftsman lets himself down more than anyone: the real damage is to himself.

It is all too easy, demanding no particular effort, no particular sense of responsibility, either to himself or to anyone else. But anyone who wishes to lift himself out of the rut, as a person as well as a craftsman, needs to feel responsibility and to be committed to a standard. Only in this way can he keep the sense of effort alive, and to cease from effort is to die before our time.

“Honest Labour” is going to be a sizable book – 488 pages – the largest book in The Woodworker series, and will have the same manufacturing specs as the other books in the series so they look good on your shelf. We hope to deliver it to the printer by the end of the month for a release in April or May 2020.

We know this is an odd woodworking book and that a lot of people will be skeptical, so we are doing everything we can to keep the price as reasonable as possible. And we are prepared for it to be a commercial flop. That’s OK, as we consider it an honest labor of love.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Acid Brushes: Small but Important Details

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We use acid brushes to apply glue in our shop, but we tune up the brushes before using them.

Straight from the store, the bristles are too long and wide. When they get wet with glue, they act like a floppy mop and make it difficult to apply glue where you want it and in the right amounts.

To tune up your brush, grab a sharp pair of scissors. First trim the bristles so they are 3/8” long. Then trim the width of the bristles. Basically, you want to make the bristles 3/8” long and 3/8” wide – square, some call it. If the bristles are too wide, you’ll have trouble getting into mortises without splashing some glue on the rim.

After glue-up, clean the brush (some of our have lasted five years or more). Check for any loose bristles and trim them back.

A proper glue brush is just one of the rituals in our shop. A few others:

  1. When assembling joinery, we rarely use glue straight from the bottle. We pour what we need into a paper cup (or coffee mug). The cup allows us to brush on glue or, in some cases, pour it onto a large surface if necessary.
  2. When we clean up squeeze-out, we use a toothbrush wetted with clean, warm water. The toothbrush gets into corners no rag can manage.
  3. We let things dry overnight if possible. You might be able to take the clamps off in 30 minutes. But if you don’t have to, why not leave the assembly in clamps overnight?

— Christopher Schwarz

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