Forgive Me John Brown, for I Have Sinned

benlam_armbow_IMG_3118

I want you to know that the following events occurred with my fly completely wide open. I am getting old and funny.

I’m building a pair of chairs based on some beautiful examples that Chris Williams and I saw at St Fagans Museum of National History from oak, and today everything went off the rails.

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.

comp_wood_fail_IMG_3120

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

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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19 Responses to Forgive Me John Brown, for I Have Sinned

  1. djmueller says:

    Totally a gross (mental) image. I hope you didn’t draw a crowd at your front shop window!

  2. Dave says:

    I’m down with the bentwood lam. My steam box failure one day forced me into the same fix. I honestly wondered why I was so dead set to steam it in the first place. Unless you’re going commando … no apology needed.

  3. johncashman73 says:

    Pee Wee Herman: “Gee, it’s nice out.”
    Chris: “Well then, leave it out.”

  4. davevaness says:

    Forgetting to zip is just part of the circle of life. Next comes forgetting to unzip 🙂

  5. GregM3268 says:

    That sure is a mighty tight bend for that chair! Entering geezerhood is an adventure. The memory starts to go but the plus side is every day you have new friends.

  6. Derrick Russ says:

    So, will the comp wood folks take it back and exchange it or does your attempt to use it invalidate any chance of a return?

  7. Michael Ackerman says:

    There are many people offering woodworking info, your generosity towards other makers keeps me seeking your opinions/research and purchasing LAP products. Thank you for your service.

  8. Rudy says:

    Actually your fly was open for most of the time when you were teaching here at Dictum.

    We just thought it was part of your new look

  9. fedster9 says:

    Bent laminate is what Aalto used for Finmar furniture. I have the picture of the jig they used to bend it someplace, if anybody is interested.

  10. Using the material you have to hand really speaks to the idea of “furniture of necessity”, which for me is really at the heart of those early stick chairs. Looking forward to seeing this chair take shape!

  11. adamwelker says:

    As expensive as comp wood is, I’d be raising holy hell. I can understand not wanting to wait for a new stick to be shipped but surely you got a refund or a replacement sent to you?

  12. James Hamilton says:

    What is it about getting a little bit older that makes you leave your fly open? I’m only 40 and my wife is constantly telling me to zip my fly. Were it not for he quick warning, I would have been arrested in a Denny’s just last week.

    By the way, this post gives new meaning to your little disclaimer at the bottom:

    “If you can’t spot the wiener in the comments, it might be you.”

  13. Justin says:

    You might want to be a bit more careful, in your neck of the woods. You don’t want to be confused for a “John.”

  14. antinonymous says:

    It is much better that your barn door is left completely wide-open than that you get yourself accidentally caught in a zipper. Once we’ve reached a certain age, either eventuality becomes equally likely. There’s no sense taking that chance, and by that age, almost nobody cares anyway. In fact, I think they actually expect it of us. So go in peace.

If you can't spot the wiener in the comments, it might be you.

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