I want you to know that the following events occurred with my fly completely wide open. I am getting old and funny.
The armbow of this design has a radical curve – two bends that are more than 90°. The original chair used curved branches to create the armbow. I haven’t been able to find a suitable curvy branch for this design, so I was faced with using flat planks with curvy grain.
I sawed out the arm parts from some oak that curved around a knot. But it wasn’t curvy enough to make me happy. There was too much short grain in the assembly to give me the confidence to use the arm.
So I ordered some cold-bend hardwood (sometimes called “comp wood”). I’ve worked this stuff for more than a decade and know what it’s capable of. My rationale here was to use what I had in order to avoid short grain – that’s is what the Welsh chairmakers did. They used curved branches to avoid short grain. I have comp wood.
My box arrived today and I knew immediately something was wrong. The wood felt dry and warm – usually it feels cool because of the moisture in it the wood. There was a small hole in the bag, which might have occurred during transit and dried out the stick.
I decided to give it a try anyway. The wood wouldn’t bend around the form while it was cold, so I put it in the steambox for more than an hour. That made it more pliable, but then it split open along the grain as I pulled it around the form.
I was about to go for a walk in the woods to look for some curved branches. But Brendan Gaffney talked me into using a bent lamination. Working together, we sawed up some dry oak into strips about 0.10” thick and then glued them up using hide glue.
Brendan also showed me how to use multiple strips of Masonite as a flexible clamping caul along the outside of the bend. I’ve never done that before (my fly is still open at this point, by the way), I’ve always used a metal strap covered in duct tape as my caul. The Masonite cauls worked quite well.
We needed 24 laminations for one arm, and it went together without a fracture.
So tomorrow I’ll do the second armbow and try not to expose myself to everyone during the process.
— Christopher Schwarz