We’re proud to offer two resources for making Jennie Alexander-style chairs: The third edition of “Make a Chair from a Tree” and the how-to video Jennie recorded in 1999. We’re also fans of a new video from one of Jennie’s long-time collaborators and friend, Peter Follansbee.
MACFAT: The Book
In 2014, Jennie Alexander somewhat reluctantly agreed to a third edition of her 1978 seminal book on green woodworking, “Make a Chair From a Tree” (MACFAT) – a book that launched the careers of thousands of woodworkers and helped ignite a green woodworking movement in this country.
Her reluctance wasn’t due to a lack of passion for the book’s subject – the simple but gorgeous object that we now call a Jennie Chair had been an obsession of hers for decades. She simply didn’t know if she was physically and mentally up to the task of essentially starting from scratch on a new book – she had learned so much since the first two editions were published that this is an almost entirely new book.
Thus, “Make a Chair From a Tree: Third Edition” is the culmination of a lifetime’s work on post-and-rung chairs, covering in detail every step of the green-wood chairmaking process – from splitting and riving parts to making graceful cuts with a drawknife and spokeshave, to brace-and-bit boring for the solid joinery, to hickory-bark seat weaving.
With the help of Larry Barrett, one of her devoted students, she worked on this new version of the book until just weeks before her 2018 death. Larry polished Jennie’s final manuscript, then built a chair in Jennie’s shop using her techniques and tools as we took many of the photographs for this book. Nathaniel Krause (another of Jennie’s devoted students), wove the hickory seat for this book. Longtime friend and collaborator Peter Follansbee helped to edit the text into the intensely technical (but easy to understand) and personal (but not maudlin) words that ended up in this third edition.
We know Jennie would be delighted by the contributions from the people she taught and who, in turn, inspired her. (Though we also suspect she’d say we should just start rewriting the book at the beginning…. again.)
MACFAT: The Video
The 1999 video “Make a Chair from a Tree” is based on Jennie’s book and the courses that she taught. Jennie taught post-and-rung chairmaking for 25 years at her shop in Baltimore and around the country. During that time she refined and simplified the process, and those improvements are incorporated into this video. The construction of the chair incorporates wet and dry mortise-and-tenon joinery and interlocking joints that result in an elegant but simple chair that will last for years.
This two-hour video, produced by Jennie, Anatol Polillo and ALP Productions, takes the viewer through the entire chairmaking process, beginning with a log, then riving and shaving the posts, rungs and slats. You will see all of the techniques and methods needed to create a chair, including steam bending, horizontal boring and seat weaving. The entire chair is built using only hand tools and traditional techniques.
It also comes with a pdf (delivered at checkout) that shows many of the jigs and part sizes discussed. Lost Art Press offer the video via streaming; a DVD is available through ALP Productions.
‘Making a Jennie Alexander Chair with Peter Follansbee’ Video
In his new video, “Making a Jennie Alexander Chair with Peter Follansbee,” Peter takes a deep dive into all the details of making a Jennie Chair, and shares some of his personal history with Jennie. Peter has been making and teaching these chairs for decades, and has developed his own approaches and touches to the form Jennie popularized, including some improved techniques. Plus he shows how both how to harvest and process hickory bark, and how to use it to weave the seat. It’s almost nine hours of detailed video instruction.
4 thoughts on “Resources for Making a ‘Jennie Chair’”
I was able to make one of these in a two-person class with Drew Langsner back in the early ’80s. Still use it daily.
It’s a great book, and must-have video. It’s our last chance to see Jennie herself, and her shop. It’s worth it at twice the price for that alone.
I have Peter’s new video, but haven’t watched it yet. Peter is the Denzel Washington of woodworking videos. I’d watch him in anything.
I’ve had the book for awhile then got the 1999 video later. It was immensely helpful to be able to see the operations on the video. I absorbed more from the text reading it after watching the video. I’ve watched the video multiple times and enjoy that I can experience a bit of JA. It makes the experience richer. I look forward to watching Peter’s video soon.
This will be a good way for me to spend my Ice Day tomorrow. It’s 29 degrees here and icy, people can’t be expected to work in those kind of dangerous conditions. I better learn how to make a chair instead.
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