Gifts from the Boneyard


When I build chairs, I always make extra parts – spare legs, stretchers, arms and even seats. Sometimes I need these parts when I (or a student) takes a chairmaking dump. But mostly, the parts pile up in the background until a day like today.

I’ve been designing a lowback chair in my head and on paper for months. The next step is to make a half-scale model (I did that yesterday) and then build a prototype that can answer my questions about the model. I also want to try out some new techniques I’ve been pondering for drilling stretchers and cutting tenons.

So this morning I gathered up an armload of spare parts and started building a lowback while I waited for finish to dry on three commission chairs.

What is on my bench is a 100 percent disastrous failure of the chairmaking craft. The front legs do not have the same rake (it’s not even close). The back legs need about 10 more degrees (holy cow that’s a lot) of backward rake. The front medial stretcher is wildly cockeyed.

The experiment for drilling stretchers was a 50 percent fail. The tenon-making technique was a 100 percent success.

But despite all this, this evening I’m not drinking to forget. I know exactly what I need to do to make this chair work (at least from the seat down to the floor).

Tomorrow I will likely fail to make the arm and the short sticks that connect it to the seat.

When it’s all assembled, I won’t even glue the parts together. I’ll take the chair apart and send the bits to fireplaces, compost bins and chicken coops around the greater Covington area.

I am sure that some people will call me wasteful – I could make a sittable (if ugly) chair from these parts. Or I could fix all the mistakes with plugs and paint and build a half-decent chair with 20 extra hours baked into it.

The way I see it, wood decomposes and provides food for worms and other slimy creatures. It burns readily and can warm some locals who might not be able to afford a gas furnace. Chickens love to poop in it. And life is too short to make something ugly or half-baked.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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13 Responses to Gifts from the Boneyard

  1. Klaus N. Skrudland says:

    I’m curious – what experimenting did you do with the tenon making and drilling of the stretchers?


    • Tenon-making: I’ve been experimenting with using hollow augers and a brace. Another experiment (this time) has been using a Nova chuck on the lathe to keep wonky parts centered.

      Stretcher drilling: I’m trying to find a way to do it without a spotter. This one was 50 percent successful/50 percent fail. The success part: Clamping wooden rulers to the facets of the octagonal legs to visually guide the bit. It’s something that has to be shown in person to fully understand I think.


      • Klaus Skrudland says:

        Interesting, I think I see what you mean with the clamped rulers. I´ve also tried clamping on a wooden ruler, but I find that the ruler gets in the way for the drill. Instead I use blue tape or a rubber band across the front stretcher gap between the mortise awl marks, because the tape/rubber band can be pushed a bit aside with my drill so that I can center it properly on the chair leg.

        I´ve also drawn a line with a red marker on my drill, through the center of the chuck and along the drill´s body all the way to the back. I align that line with the tape/rubber band. Works every time for me. Hope that makes sense.


  2. Pascal Teste says:

    Good use of spare parts. What about recycling the spare legs into hammer handles? Merry Christmas to you and your family!


  3. Alex Webster says:

    Every day is a school day brother


    • Joe W says:

      Learning from mistakes or rather through experiments. I really like reading about the way professionals learn through their prototypes. It helps understanding how things fit together design wise (both proportions and the joinery). Thanks for posting it!


  4. forwoodnesssake says:

    Anything that did not turn out as planned is tuition work. If something else can’t be made from the work done so far, it is at least to be hoped that something was learned.


  5. Dan says:

    Huzzah! Back to the double-stretcher parallel to the ground look (if my eyes don’t deceive me)! I don’t know why, but the chairs you’ve made that way always look extremely handsome to my eye (and it looks fuctional, too), but i thought you’d abandoned the look.


  6. Richard Mahler says:

    What do you do with a half scale version that DOES meet your design expectations for the full scale chair? Of course you are not into making scale chairs except as design and technical experiments, yet some people like and collect small size versions of furniture and would gladly pay for such a one off. I would.


  7. Charles Dees says:

    Chris I’m heartened and inspired by your mistakes. I’ve been working for a month on a small dovetailed jewelry box for my wife for Christmas. Lets just say 8 dovetails was all that it required. Two days after Christmas and 32 dovetails later I finally have something ready to put a finish on. Clarity always seems to come after error, funny how that works.


  8. forwoodnesssake says:

    Practice makes perfect.


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