Since the publication of “The Stick Chair Book,” I’ve received many complaints that some of the tools I use in the book are expensive or there is a wait list to receive them. Most notably, the Veritas Tapered Tenon Cutters, Veritas Tapered Reamers (Large) and Veritas Power Tenon Cutters. Also, people gripe about the expense of scorps and travishers.
My goal with “The Stick Chair Book” was to keep the tool kit as small as possible, without asking readers to make the whole chair using only a pocketknife.
So the criticism stung a bit because I thought my tool list was quite reasonable.
During the last six months, I have tried out a lot of new tools and methods to see if I could make the tool list even cheaper and more accessible. Many of these experiments were expensive failures. (Don’t buy the Lumberjack tenon cutters. Just don’t. Anyone want to buy a set of Lumberjack tenon cutters?)
But I have had a few “a-ha” moments, which I am going to share here. Here is the first of several ways to reduce your tool bill.
Aside from the legs, almost all of the rest of the joints in a stick chair can be 5/8” in diameter. I’ve used the Veritas Power Tenon Cutter (the 5/8” is $99.90) for many years and love it. There can be a wait to buy these, and some people consider them expensive.
As an alternative, I decided to investigate plug cutters, which are used to make wooden plugs and sometimes tenons using a drill press. Most plug cutters warn you to use the tool only in a drill press. But I thought there was a way to make them work in a brace or handheld electric drill.
I was right. All you have to do is taper the end of your stock so it fits inside the mouth of the plug cutter. Then you can easily shave the tenon with a plug cutter that’s powered by a drill or brace.
To get the tenons perfect, you need your stock to be held level in a vise. And you need the tool to also be level. Plug cutters don’t come with levels installed on them. But you can epoxy an inexpensive bubble level (they are less than $1 each) to your drill (or the chuck of your hand-powered brace) to do the job.
A premium 5/8” plug cutter is $26. You can get utility ones for a few dollars. If you want to make it easy to taper the end of the stock consistently before cutting the tenons, also buy a chamfer/deburring cutter ($10). These are normally used to chamfer the ends of steel bolts, so they do a fine job on wood.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. Yes, I know you can make the 5/8” tenons with a block plane alone. I consider it a tedious technique when I have 16 sticks that have to be tenoned perfectly on both ends.