One of the advantages (or curses) of studying a lot of old furniture is you can feel certain designs tug at you as you work on a piece. This weekend I got a little time to work on this Hall’s Croft chair and I could feel several other similar chair designs tug at my brain.
First, I abandoned the pine seat and switched to quartersawn sycamore for the seat, arms and crest. The spindles are hickory and the legs are beech. I selected the stock so I could use an oil and wax finish instead of paint or a dark pigmented finish.
I changed the seat profile slightly to make the front corners sharper. I altered the leg shape a bit. But the biggest change is going to be the crest rail. Instead of the “three holey mountains” of the original I’m going to use a different shape I’ve been experimenting with. It uses rived stock that is somewhat triangular in cross-section.
When I offer it for sale, I’ll give the customer both crest rails and let them decide which they prefer. Or they can swap them out when they are feeling sassy.
One of the tropes in journalism is to bring a story full circle in the last paragraph. It’s called the “kicker” or the “kick” and it is supposed to leave the reader amused, saddened or something. The following story has a six-year arc, and today comes the kicker.
It started in 2010 when I received Patrick Leach’s monthly tool list (subscribe here; it’s a thing). In that list of tools for sale, Leach had offered a graphic mahogany layout square that spoke to me. But I hesitated on buying it because of the cost, and it sold to another person.
Sadly, the original square was destroyed during shipment to its new owner, but Leach had taken some measurements for me so I could build one for myself.
That square became the cover image for by book “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” as it summed up a lot of ideas in one shape: it represented an “A” for “aesthetic anarchism,” it was a beautiful and highly functional tool and it was something you had to make for yourself.
According to Leach, this form of square shows up in England occasionally in the batches of tools he purchases and brings to the United States. The squares are fairly consistent in their design (if not execution), and Leach suspects that the square was used as a manual training exercise in English joinery schools.
I have tried to confirm or debunk that theory with no success. But it is the best idea so far.
In December 2010 I published plans for the square in Popular Woodworking Magazine, and you can download a SketchUp file of the square for free here. You can purchase a pdf of my article from ShopWoodworking.com for $2.99 here.
In 2014 I taught my first class in England at Warwickshire College in Leamington Spa. The woodworking program there is headed by Jamie Ward, an extremely capable and passionate woodworker and teacher.
This year Jamie decided to introduce the square as a project for his students to build. Students in their first year built a basic frame and then were offered the layout square as a more advanced project. One of his older students in his evening classes also decided to take on the square.
“(I)t did push their skills a touch so early on,” Jamie wrote, “but they all enjoyed making it.”
You can see photos of the construction process and the nice templates Jamie made via this link. When Jamie sent the photos to me this week I could only smile. An English square that was likely a manual training exercise for joinery students traveled to America and – thanks to happenstance – returned to England to become a manual training exercise.