This 15-stick comb-back armchair is inspired by the famous Scottish Darvel chairs; it is one of the most technically difficult chairs I make. This particular example is set up as a chair for dining or working at a desk, with a fairly upright back at 13° off the seat.
The chair has a poplar seat. The undercarriage, arm and comb are oak. The sticks are ash. The seat is 17-1/2” from the floor, just slightly less than modern chairs. Overall, the chair is 41-1/4” tall and 27-1/2” wide.
The seat is lightly saddled and tilts back about 1” from front to back, which increases its comfort.
The chair is finished with a light green acrylic that is hard-wearing. All the chair’s joints are assembled with hide glue, so it can be repaired easily by future generations. Plus all the joints have been glued, wedged and/or pegged for durability.
This chair is being sold via a random drawing. The chair is $1,400 plus domestic shipping. (I’m sorry but the chair cannot be shipped outside the U.S.) If you wish to buy the chair, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org before 5 p.m. (Eastern) on Saturday, Jan. 22. In the email please use the subject line “Chair Sale” and include your:
First name and last name
U.S. shipping address
Daytime phone number (this is for the trucking quote only)
After all the emails have arrived on Jan. 22, we will pick a winner that evening via a random drawing.
If you are the “winner,” the chair can be picked up at our storefront for free. Or we can ship it to you via common carrier. The crate is included in the price of the chair. Shipping a chair usually costs between $150 and $250, depending on your location.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. This chair is the same design as the one on the cover of “The Stick Chair Book.” Yes, you may now call me “Shameless Plug Schwarz.”
When you acquire a good tool, such as a block plane, and it really, really works, the tendency is to buy all its friends. After I bought my first No. 5 (about 1996-97), I fell in love with handplanes. To be precise, I loved all the handplanes. Every single handplane ever made or collected or drawn up in some patent document.
Most weekends I’d hit the antique markets with whatever dollars I could scrounge to buy handplanes. What kind of handplanes? All of them. At one time I owned at least 10 smoothing planes, five block planes, six shoulder planes and Justus-Traut-knows-how-many rabbet planes.
This was the start of a dangerous pattern you’ll see throughout this list, which is when I would try to buy my way into a new skill. I thought: If I bought a plow plane, I would be able to make frame-and-panel joints. But that’s not how the craft works.
If I could go back in time, I’d tell myself to buy one No. 5, one No. 3 and one block plane. Then buy additional planes only when I needed them – and after a lot of research.
Reading a Little About Finishing & Sharpening
When I started woodworking, I knew nothing about finishing or sharpening. And so I finished the pieces I made and sharpened the tools I owned in peace and satisfaction. But then one day I started to read about finishing and sharpening, and I realized I had been doing everything wrong.
So I did what the experts said to do, and I became miserable. I refused to put this finish over that finish (the book said it wouldn’t work). I bought some Japanese waterstones. And I entered a long and tortured phase where my finishes and my tools’ edges sucked. I was experimenting too much with this finishing/sharpening system or some other system. I was trying to obey a lot of gurus simultaneously.
To get out of this misery, I had to read a lot more about finishing and sharpening. And I came to the conclusion that I teach today: Learn one system. Stick with it for a long time. Refuse to change until you have mastered that system.
And always refuse to read articles that say “never” and “always.”
Five Planers; Six Table Saws
When it comes to machines and critical hand tools (dovetail saws, block planes, smoothing planes, layout tools), I spent entirely far too much money upgrading my equipment incrementally.
I started out with crap equipment – a plastic table saw and sheet-metal thickness planer, for example. And then I sold the used equipment (it wasn’t worth much) to upgrade to a slightly better table saw and planer. And so on until I ended up where I am today.
It was a dumb and expensive journey for someone who was planning on making furniture for a living all along. I should have just plunked down the $1,200 for a cabinet saw and $800 for a 15” planer in 1996. Instead, I’ve spent at least $7,000 on table saws and $8,000 on planers since then. And I’ve had the agony of buying, selling and setting up all this equipment.
Yes, there’s a chance that you’ll buy a nice $3,000 table saw and then be swayed by the Bare Bosom Goddess of Golf. But that $3,000 table saw can be sold for almost that same amount. Cheap tools, on the other hand, depreciate quickly and to nothing.
Using a Cutting List
Don’t trust someone else’s cutting list. Not from me, Norm Abram or even Jesus the carpenter. Even if the cutting list is accurate (and it’s probably not), you shouldn’t cut all the pieces out to the specified sizes and start building. Things change as you build a project. And the sizes of your parts will change slightly, too.
Make your own cutting list based on a construction drawing. And only cut pieces to final width and length when you absolutely have to.
Cutting lists are dirty liars.
Buying Lumber Sight Unseen
Every time I have bought lumber before laying eyes on it, I have been swindled. The first time this happened was when I ordered 100 board feet of cherry from a reputable supplier to make a bookcase that needed about 40 board feet.
I picked the wood up, and it was so sappy and twisted that I barely squeezed the bookcase out of the 100 board feet. Yes, I complained to the supplier. They laughed in my face and said that sap and twisting was not a defect, and that the lumber met grade. I didn’t buy from them for five years after that – not until they hired a new customer rep.
Reading Tool Catalogs on Friday Night
After I finish work on Friday, I like to drink a beer and relax for a bit before making supper. Sometimes I have two beers. And sometimes I read tool catalogs with that beer in hand. And sometimes I order stupid tools that I don’t need but look pretty cool and now I read nonfiction on Friday evenings.
Don’t drink and shop for tools. That is the only explanation I have for owning an Incra Rule.
Believing the Jig Lie
This is a corollary to the above rule. Tool catalogs are great at explaining how jigs can solve your joinery problems. Can’t cut perfect miters/dovetails/spline joints? This jig does it with ease. You will be a master in no time. Promise.
Here’s what I learned: Cutting miters is a skill. Learning to set up, use and then remember again how to use a jig to cut miters is also a skill. Both skills take about the same amount of time to learn.
Yes, there are some jigs that can speed you along if you need to do something 134 times in a week (such as making a dovetailed drawer). But those jigs are rare and are usually needed only by production or industrial shops.
Most woodworking skills are mastered after a few tries, and then you will forget about owning the jig.
Buying Sets of Tools
Sets of chisels, router bits, carving tools, templates and so on are usually a waste of money. Buying a set seems like a good idea – and you sometimes save a little money compared to buying all the tools separately. But it’s usually a lie.
I use three chisels for 99 percent of my work. Six router bits. Three moulding planes. One sawblade. So buy one good chisel/gouge/router bit/moulding plane – one that you really need. Then, when you absolutely positively can’t work without an additional bit or blade, buy another. Reluctantly. And buy the best you can afford.
Buying the Hardware at the End
I can’t tell you how many times I made this mistake. I built a project and afterward bought the hardware for it. Then had to remake the drawers or doors to suit the hardware.
The hardware typically makes fundamental changes to your cutting lists and drawings. Buy the hardware before you cut the wood.
When I was learning woodworking, I had four teachers, plus the books and magazines I was reading. So I got pulled in a lot of directions. All of the teachers produced good work, but they all had strong ideas about how to go about it.
And so most days I felt like I was a Muslim-Buddhist-Pentcostal-Atheist. There was no consistent instruction in my life. And so it took me a lot of error and error to sort things out. In time, I gained the confidence to go my own way. But it took a lot longer because I had so many masters whispering (or yelling) in my ear.
Pick one person to teach you joinery. Or sharpening. Or finishing. Stick with that person until you have mastered the basics and can start exploring joinery, sharpening and finishing on your own.
Oh, and if you own that little Powermatic 12-1/2” lunchbox planer I sold off in 1998, I’m sorry. I hope you now use it for something it is powerful enough to handle – such as slicing deli meats.
By request, here is a short movie showing the process of making the long sticks. This is almost identical to the technique shown in “The Stick Chair Book.” The only difference is a change to the sequence of cuts in Stage 1.
Using planes to make chair sticks is not my invention – not by a longshot. I first learned to do it this way in “Welsh Stick Chairs” by John Brown. The only difference is I’m doing it on a low workbench. JB put a stop in his machinist vise for this operation.
I never thought this process was weird (what was really odd to me was doing it with the Ashem Crafts trapping and rotary planes). The goal with this handplane technique is to use bench tools and not have to purchase a drawknife, spokeshave and shavehorse. If you have these tools, ignore me.
I am always looking for a faster way to make the 26”-long sticks that make up the backrests of my chairs. Making the 12-1/2”-long short sticks is easy. I can bang one out in a minute or two with a block plane.
But the long sticks have a complicated shape. They have a 5/8” tenon at the bottom. Then the stick swells to 3/4” and goes back down to 5/8” along the next 8”. I have to get the swelling exactly right because the stick wedges in a 5/8” mortise in the arm and supports the arm from below. Finally the stick tapers to 1/2” at its tip.
I first learned to make long sticks with a drawknife and shavehorse. Then I was taught to use “trapping planes” on a lathe. Finally, I settled on using a jack plane and block plane. These were tools I already had an intimate relationship with. And I don’t need a shavehorse.
The process to make long sticks that’s outlined in “The Stick Chair Book” is one I have used for many years and is pretty fast. But during the last few months I have been experimenting with different combinations of strokes to see if I can speed the plow. The following process cuts my stick-making time in half. That cuts almost an hour off the time I need to make a chair.
Note that when I make sticks using planes, I skew the planes significantly (about 30°) to speed their cutting action.
As mentioned above, I use a jack plane and block plane to make my long sticks. I place a little stop block in a vise so it is 1/2” above the jaws of the vise. Or I use a planing block (shown in the photos) that is 1/2″ tall. I press the tip of the stick against the stop with one hand and push the plane with the other. The weight of the jack plane keeps it in the cut.
My long sticks begin as 3/4” x 3/4” x 26” octagons of straight hardwood. The work is divided into three stages.
I hold the tenon with one hand and the jack plane with the other. I make two tapering strokes with the jack plane. The first begins about 13” from the tip of the stick. The second begins back at my left hand. I make this pair of strokes three times without rotating the stick. This creates a significant flat on the stick. And by the third set of strokes, the jack is a little difficult to push.
Then I rotate the stick until an arris (aka a corner) is facing up. Then I repeat the above strokes – making the arris into a wide flat. Then I rotate the stick again. I keep stroking and rotating until the stick’s tip is about 5/8” in diameter – or about 1/8” above the 1/2”-tall stop in my vise.
Then I enter Stage 2
Stage 2 is simple. It is just full-length strokes on the stick – from my hand (still holding the tenon) to the tip. I start on an arris and take three strokes, again making a flat. Then I rotate the stick until an arris faces up. Then three more strokes to flatten it. Rotate. Repeat.
I keep this pattern up until the tip of the stick is 1/2” in diameter and does not stick up above the stop in the vise.
That’s when I enter Stage 3.
I turn the stick around and press the tenon against the stop in the vise. Then I use a block plane to taper the bottom of the long stick down to the tenon. I do this by making quick, short cuts and rotating the stick. This work is quick.
Then I turn the stick around again, pushing its tip against the stop in the vise, and I clean up the top part of the stick, making sure it is round and the facets are nice and even.
I check my work by dropping the long stick into a mortise in my armbow. The stick should get wedged with about 8” of the stick (plus the 1-1/4” tenon) showing. If I need to remove more material, I remove the stick from the arm and shave it more with the block plane. Look for arrises and smooth them out.
This might not be the fastest way to make sticks, but it’s the fastest way I know of today.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. Why don’t I turn my sticks on a lathe? I don’t have a steady-rest or any other equipment that could make this work. I prefer to work with bench tools when making chairs in order to keep my tool kit as small as possible. Plus, I’m a fairly lame turner.
I have a few important restock notices today. We’ve just posted a big batch of Crucible 4” Sliding Bevels. The machine shop is cranking them out as fast as they can, and we hope to catch up with demand before February.
Also – we have Crucible Card Scrapers back in stock. I wish I could blame the supply chain crisis for these being out of stock, but that would be a lie. I plum forgot to order the steel when we ran low on the tools and then – bam – we ran out.
The other news is that we have chore coats in stock in the new cavalry twill. Tom Bonamici, our clothing designer, wrote this up about the new fabric.
“We’ve tried a few different fabrics for our chore coat. The first was a hauntingly nice heavy sateen from Japan, custom-woven for the project. It was amazing, but outrageously expensive. Like, sell-a-kidney expensive. So we switched to a nice sturdy brushed twill from a U.S. vendor for the next two production runs.
“For our latest run, which is now available, we’ve switched to a mid-weight cotton cavalry twill from Brisbane Moss, a long-running mill in West Yorkshire, England. Cavalry twill is a tightly woven hard-wearing double twill, originally developed for military riding breeches. It’s very similar in construction to wool whipcord, with a harder face that’s easy to brush clean of sawdust and plane shavings. And it’s slightly lighter weight than our last two fabrics, making a chore coat that’s really the perfect weight for a year-round layer in the shop.
“The coat’s construction is the same as ever – reinforced lower pockets, custom debossed buttons, and a fit on the trim side of regular. And we’re proud to keep working with Sew Valley here in Cincinnati for the cut and sew.”
One more note about the coats. We had them listed at $135, which was a price we were selling out some small sizes in the old material. I forgot to restore the price back to $165. So some of y’all got the bargain of the year (I know, it’s early in the year).