A Welsh Stick Chair for the Apprentice – Part 3

Once the glue had cured I flattened and shaped the seat blanks. Flattening did not take much time as I’d made sure that the glue joints were square to the face of the seat, and so some gentle traversing passes with the jointer plane cleaned up the glue seam and flattened the top.


Scrubbing the underside of the seats flat and to thickness

The underside of the seats needed a little more work to bring the seats into a consistent thickness, and for this I used a scrub plane from Lie-Nielsen. This is a new addition to my tool chest, and the first time I’m used it on a project. Although more compact than a jack plane, the scrub has a much more pronounced (3″) radius to the iron which means that it can take a much deeper bite; perfect for rapidly removing material when processing stock. Taking traversing cuts with the scrub rapidly levelled the underside of the seats, and left a scalloped texture. For show faces I would remove this texture, but for the underside of chairseats or drawers it is a wonderful surprise for exploratory fingers, not to mention proof of the handwork process. So I left the seats as they were. My initial impressions of the scrub is that as a rapid stock removal tool it functions perfectly, and as a very simple tool (no depth adjustment mechanism or lateral adjuster) it may also be a great tool for children or beginners. My original reason for buying it was to assist in preparing the timber for the oak Roubo bench (coming later this year!) and I expect it will do well at that task.


Cleaning up the bandsawn surface of the tapered sides

The seats topped out at 1″ thick, which for a chair aimed at 3-5 year olds should be plenty thick enough. Chris Williams tells me that John Brown’s childsized chair seats were in the region of 1 1/8″ thick, while the historic chair I’m following on this build had a hefty 1 5/8″ thick seat which was beveled down to 1 1/8″ at the edges. I didn’t have material in stock thick enough for a 1 5/8″ thick seat, although I may try that approach on my next child-sized chair. But as I say, the 1″ thick oak I’m using for this pair of chairs will be fine.


A sawbench under the seat helped hold them steady in the vise

The seat is trapezoidal in shape – 17 1/2″ wide at the front and 15″ wide at the back giving a 1 1/4″ taper on each side, and 12″ deep. I jointed the front edge and then gauged the back edge off that. When orientating the seat, I placed the glue seam as deep into the seat as possible so that it lands away from the three leg mortises. With the front and back edges jointed and down to dimension, I then laid out the sides. There wasn’t much meat to remove from the sides, and on a workpiece of this side sawing off thin slivers at the saw bench is awkward work, so I cut down my layout lines on the bandsaw to remove the excess, before cleaning up the edges with a low angle block plane. The face vise on my Sjoberg bench has all the holding power of cottage cheese, and planing such a large amount of end grain with any meaningful pressure encouraged the seat to rotate in the vise. Setting a saw bench underneather the workbench to support the seat held everything secure while I worked the edges.


A drawing bow helps layout consistent curves

The final element to the seat shape is the rear edge, which has a gentle convex curve. From my collection of photos of this chair, I judged the centre point of the curve to be 1/2″ higher than the corners of the seat, so that’s the curve I went with. A drawing bow tensioned to give the right curvature made easy work of laying out the curve, which I traced with a marking knife before cutting on the bandsaw (although a coping saw would have done the job just as well). To fair the curve I used a combination of spokeshave, 9 grain cabinet maker’s rasp, and a 13 grain modeller’s rasp.


The versatile rasp

The seats are now ready for the mortises to be drilled. After that I will be able to round the front corners of the seat (whch are currently looking rather sharp). Laying out the mortises requires having definite corners at the front of the seat, which is why I didn’t round them at this stage of the build.


Cleaning up the curved back with a spokeshave

Campaigning for completed stools


Shellacked, waxed, and ready for drilling.

I don’t often have two projects on the bench at the same time – I find it easier to concentrate on seeing a build all the way through to completion before thinking about the next project. That being said, moving between the Campaign Stools and the Apprentice’s Stick Chair has been straight forward, and allowed me to continue to get productive bench time during natural breaks in each project. Yesterday I finished the campaign stools, so over the next couple of weeks I will be able to focus solely on the Aprentice’s Stick Chair.


A simple cradle holds the legs in position when drilling.

On Tuesday the tribolts arrived for the campaign stools, which meant I was now in a position to complete that project (with the exception of ordering another pair of leather seats from Jason). Chris’ book suggests that you apply your finish of choice before drilling holes for the hardware, presumably to avoid clogging the holes with traces of finish. The ash and maple legs each received two coats of a 2lb cut of blonde shellac, while the sapele legs had a 2lb cut of garnet shellac, all of which were applied with a rubber. After leaving the shellac for several days to harden I lightly rubbed the legs down with 320 grit abranet to de-nib it and get a smooth texture. The ash and sapele legs were then treated with a coat of Liberon “Tudor Oak” Black Bison wax, while the maple legs had a coat of Osmo. These are my favourite finishes for those specifes of wood – the black wax enhances the grain and character of porous wood, and stops the garnet shellac in particular from becoming too orange. For lighter tones timber such as the ash and maple, the blonde shellac adds a gentle lustre and enhancement of character but without yellowing the paler colour of the wood. Both colours of shellac were mixed using Tiger Flakes from Tools for Working Wood.


Positioning the leg before drilling – when the story stick and the laser lines up, you’re good to go

After the wax had been buffed out it was time to drill the holes. Cylindrical workpieces can be difficult to hold in place, so I first made a simple cradle by drilling a 1 1/4″ diameter hole through some scrap sapele, and then cutting the scrap in half on the band saw, giving a semi-circular cradle the same diameter as the legs. This supported the workpiece and made positioning it on the drill press very easy. All of the hardware holes need to be in exactly the same position on each leg, so instead of measuring the location I used my story stick to ensure that I was drilling in the right place. Lining up the leg and story stick with the lasers of the drill press identified the location which needed to be drilled, and sighting down the length of the leg while the drill bit was lowered verified that the drill bit was passing through the very centre of the leg and not off to the side. I then drilled each leg, stopping once the tip of the spur had broken through to the other side of the leg, and flipping the leg over to drill from the return side, to avoid any ragged exit holes.


Drilling the traditional way

The leather seat is attached to the legs by way of a 35mm long No10 screw through the end of each leg. While the holes for the tribolts successfully drilled, I then placed each leg in the vise and drilled the pilot hole for the screws, using my gandfather’s old egg beater drill, and following the mark left by the lathe’s drive centre. All three sets of legs were then fitted with the tribolts.


The Apprentice loved sitting on the completed stool

Although I had originally planned to use the burgandy leather seat with the sapele legs, the combination of ash and burgandy leather was too good to resist, so I assembled the ash stool, and took it out to the garden for some rigorous testing. The Apprentice loved the stool, and it’s a good job I made enough legs for three stools as I doubt I’ll be getting this one back any time soon! When I did manage to evict her from the stool, I found it very comfortable and a pleasant height for garden lounging. So, soon I will order a pair of seats from Jason to finish off the other two stools – tan leather for the sapele legs and black leather for the maple. Having a couple of campaign stools to hand will be perfect for enjoying good weather in our garden, especially when we have guests. This project has been a lot of fun, and making a set of matching Roorkee chairs is definitely on my to do list!


One completed campaign stool in ash and burgandy leather

On ending the tyranny


Issue 273 of Furniture & Cabinetmaking is now being posted to subscribers (I received my copy today) and will no doubt be on newsagents’ shelves very soon. This issue includes “Rasps – ending the tyranny of straight and square“; an article good friend Richard Wile and I have co-written as an introduction to using rasps in furniture making (and which features Chris Williams’ hands in a surprising cameo). Also featured in this issue is Nancy Hiller’s fascinating article on the Wooton desk, and the second in a series of articles by Steve Cashmore on WoodRat techniques. Finally, Derek’s Leader and article on batched production proves that “octagonalisation” is now a valid part of the lexicon, so I feel fully vindicated!

A Welsh Stick Chair for the Apprentice – Part 2


Sticks, legs (including one spare) and a seat gluing up in the background.

While I wait for the campaign stool tribolts to arive from Lee Valley, I’ve started work in earnest on the Apprentice’s Stick Chair. The seat is 12″ deep, and the oak I have did not quite yield a board big enough. That’s no problem – jointing two boards and gluing them up is a simple task, and always good practice. As I was about to start work on preparing the seat, I remembered a blog post in which Chris talked about the benefits of building two of a project instead of one. I checked my timber stock and figured I’d have enough oak to build a pair of these chairs. It didn’t take much longer to prepare a pair of boards for the seat of the second chair, and I jointed both sets with my No.8 before gluing them up with Old Brown Glue.


Cleaning the face of each board, and then jointing with the No.8

With the seats clamped up and set aside, I turned my attention to preparing the sticks for the chair back. The historic chair I’m recreating had five 1/2″ diameter sticks, and I had a board of straight grained oak set aside for exactly this purpose. While I love my handsaws, for ripping thin strips off a wider board I much prefer the bandsaw, and after only a few minutes I had ten slightly oversized sticks which will rest for a week or so before being shaped. Unfortunately the oak I’d picked up for the legs did not fare so well – the leg blanks I cut out a couple of weeks ago are all fine,  but when I lifted the spare material down from my timber rack I found that it was riddled with shakes and deep splits, making it entirely unusable. That’s not a disaster (I’d rather material failed on me before I use it in a project!) as I had some nice maple left over from the Staked Work Table which will make for very nice legs. Although maple is not a traditional timber for Welsh stick chairs, that doesn’t bother me too much. These chairs will be painted, so the different species will not be noticeable. More importantly, stick chairs were traditionally made using whatever timber was to hand, including rescuing curved sticks from the firewood pile for combs and arm bows. So the spirit of using suitable timber of whatever species is readily available, is consistent with the ethos of stick chair making.


This was my first experience of using Old Brown Glue (previously I’ve used Titebond Liquid Hide Glue) but so far I’m impressed.

The two seats are glued up, and next will be to clean them up before laying out the leg positions and drilling the motises. In the meantime, I’ve been spending more time going through photos of the original chair and teasing out the design details. The more I look at this chair, the more I find it utterly charming. The proportions are very eye catching, with the comb almost twice as high from the seat as the seat is from the floor. The rear leg has a bold rake compared to the more upright front legs, and the seat slopes back just a couple of degrees for comfort. Decoding this chair has become a wonderful study in proportions, angles, and construction techniques. One of my favourite details, and one which I will definitely be recreating on my chairs, is a decorative pair of shallow gutters along the top of the seat, either side of the sticks. These seem to be shallower than you’d find on a Windsor chair. While it is just a simple detail, it seems clear to me that the original maker wanted to add some understated decoration to their chair.


Another 30 second sketch of the chair, from a different perspective. I just hope I can build it better than I draw it…

The one detail which I have been mulling over is the leg profile. The original chair had a tapered cylindrical leg, which looks very nice. But as a recovering octagonalisation addict, the siren call of facets has proved difficult to resist. This is where I get to take advantage of building two chairs simultaneously. The chair with oak legs will have the same tapered cylindrical profile as the original, while the maple legged chair will have a tapered octagonal leg to the same dimensions (maple holds crisp details wonderfully). This will be an interesting opportunity to see what impact changing the leg profile has on the overall form.



Ingenious Mechanicks – on review


Aside from my round-up of favourite woodworking books earlier this year, book reviews are not really something I’ve done on the blog. But as soon as I finished reading Chris’ new book, Ingenious Mechanicks on holiday earlier this month, I knew that I was going to have to write about it here.

If somehow this book has passed you by, then it can briefly be summed up as an investigation into low workbenches and workholding solutions spanning a 2,000 year period from the Romans to 20th century Estonia, by way of China and South Ameria. In the book, Chris draws upon a vast body of history of art, written primary sources, not to mention the Saalburg bench – the oldest surviving workbench in the Western world (dating from 187 AD).  The research is then rigorously tested by building four low bench designs and working at them to unlock techniques and working methods. So far so niche, you might think, but actually the information and lessons in this book have a wide application.

The book contains a useful guide to building (any type of) workbench with a thick slab top, which is a very welcome and helpful supplement to the Workbenches book. Next follows a detailed survey of the source material, and explanation as to how the research led Chris to build the benches as well as the simple appliances which increase their functionality. The production values of this book are high, as you’d expect from a Lost Art Press release, and the benefit is that the pictoral sources are reproduced with great clarity so that the reader is able to interrogate the images and reach their own conclusions about how artists have represented workbenches and woodworking. As I’ve written previously, history is one of my first loves, so this book was always likely to be like catnip for me. I wasn’t disappointed.

But putting aside my particular interests for a moment, as I was reading Ingenious Mechanicks I was struck by the recurring thought – this book is quite possibly the most important work Chris has published since the Anarchist’s Tool Chest. That’s a pretty bold statement, I know. But there are two reasons why I think this.

First is that Chris is presenting a way of working which is (for most people) entirely new – one which presents solutions for age old workholding problems, as well as new challenges. The vast majority of the way we work is from handed down knowledge – we learn from books, Youtube videos, or (heaven forbid) other woodworking humans in the same room as us. These are all healthy and invaluable ways of gathering and transmitting knowledge. But what I find exciting about Ingenious Mechanicks is that it offers something truly unique – the opportunity to experience a vibrant way of working for which not all the answers are known, and for which there is not a pre-existing corpus of knowledge on which to draw. Instead, the reader is presented with a chance to explore the benefits and limits of low workbenches and to report back from the frontline of woodwork research as they happen upon working methods and techniques. The only price of admission is to suspend pre-conceptions, and spend some time using unfamiliar workholding solutions.

Secondly, Chris has laid bare his workings and research methods. In doing so he provides the tools for others to research historic woodworking practices, and demonstrates how a rich seam of art history, archaeology, written primary sources, and an inquisitive disposition, can provide valuable insight into woodworking practices that are both historic and relevant today. Ingenious Mechanicks therefore becomes part woodworking book on pre-16th century workbenches, and part woodwork research methodology.

As I was reading the book I found myself asking questions about how familiar operations would translate to a low bench. Would wooden bodied planes respond differenty, or feel more comfortable, than metal bodied planes when processing stock? What sort of body position and posture would be necessary for sawing accurate dovetails? Would ow benches encourage the use of specific joinery techniques? There are few answers yet, and I know that there is really only one way to understand how these benches work. The oak for my slab-top Roubo bench is on order and should be here in the next couple of weeks. And now I am measuring up the workshop and trying to decide whether I should build one of these low benches too. And when all is said and done, persuading a reader to build one of these curious old benches goes to show just how effective Ingenious Mechanicks is.

We turned and turned and turned


Nine completed legs. Batched work has benefits from a learning and efficiency perspective.

The three sets of campaign stool legs are now turned and ready for finish, hardware, and leather. Repeating the same form in three different species provided some very useful lessons about turning, particularly how to achieve a clean surface on different stock, including tear-out prone timber (I’m looking at you, ash trees), working stock of differing hardness (that maple was tough stuff), and achieving consistency of form. All in all, I’m pleased with how these legs came out, and definitely looking forward to spending more time at the lathe.


Two different foot profiles

I really like the Roorkee inspired foot detail on the ash and sapele legs, but variety is the spice of life, and as I was feeling comfortable at the lathe by that point I thought it would be interesting to try something different for my third set of legs. So for the maple legs I went for a more rounded ball foot instead of the cylinder and cove profile. Although this is only a small detail, it has a significant impact on the overall appearance of the leg. Rounding the foot was good fun, although probably the most challenging element of turning all nine legs, as it requires an entirely different body position and movement with the tool. Again, this was a valuable part of the learning experience, and with more practice I’ll be up for trying more involved profiles – the aim ultimately is to work up to a set of Windsor chair legs (although that is likely a ways off). Maple takes a really crisp detail at the lathe, and it will be interesting to explore the possibilities presented by becoming more familiar with turning.


It is a simple detail, but one I really like

The tribolts are on order from Lee Valley, although unfortunately they appear to be out of stock until the end of the month. While I wait for the hardware to arrive, I’ll apply finish to the legs (Chris recommended in his book that you drill out the holes for the tribolts once the finish was applied), and then press on with the Apprentice’s Stick Chair. As far as finish goes, the maple legs will receive the same combination of blonde shellac and Osmo as I used for the staked work table. I need to do some sample boards for the ash and sapele legs, but currently I’m leaning towards blonde shellac for the ash, garnet shellac for the sapele, and black wax for both (my favourite top coat for porous timber).


Gorgeous leather seat from Texas Heritage

The burgandy leather has now arrived from Jason, and the quality of material and workmanship is excellent, as I have come to expect.  With three sets of legs up to the standard I was aiming for, I need to order two more sets of leather. The burgandy leather seat has been earmarked for the sapele legs by Dr Moss, so I am thinking of pairing a mid-brown seat with the ash legs, and black seat for the maple. Rising up the to do list is a set of Roorkee chairs to match the campaign stools – making stuff always leads to making more stuff. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.


Proof of handwork – I’m tempted to leave the layout lines on the sole of each foot

The campaign turns, and turns, and turns

We’re back from a much needed, and very relaxing, family holiday in Devon. After a week away, I was feeling recharged (which I’m sure will last until approximately 9:47 am on Monday morning) and looking forward to turning the legs for the campaign stools.


Easy Wood Rougher, Detailer, and Finisher (from back to front)

Prior to the campaign stools, the full extent of my time at the lathe was turning the tenons for the staked work table. The campaign stool legs are quite a simple design, which means that they are well suited as a beginner’s project. Because I had enough sapele for two sets of stools I decided to start with that species to get any initial mistakes ironed out – I only have enough ash and maple for one set of stools each, so an error on those species means that I wouldn’t have any spare material to make a replacement leg.


An octagonal leg blank in the lathe ready to go

With this project I had two key learning points in mind – getting more familiar with the lathe and basic turning operations, and achieving consistency of form across each set of three legs. Before I switched the lathe on, I re-watched a section of Chris’ video on turning spindles for Roorkee chairs which contained some useful pointers.

The first task was turning the leg down to a consistent cylinder. As I had octagonalised the legs previously this reduced the amount of material to be removed at the lathe, and also mitigated against the risk of catching a corner and ruining a blank. The tool rest on my Shopsmith lathe is roughly one third of the length of a stool leg, and so the process I adoped was to turn down a small section to final thickness at each end of the tool rest, and then connect those two sections by removing the material in the middle. I started at the left-hand end of each leg, and worked my way towards the right-hand end, moving the tool rest to the next section once that third of the leg was at final thickness. This bulk removal of material (and in fact, most of the work for the legs) was removed with the Easy Wood Rougher.


Laying out the details and transitions with the story stick

Once the leg was a consistent cylinder, I used my story stick to layout the details to be turned, always laying the foot out at the right-hand end of the leg – for batched work repeating the same process each time reduces confusion and helps ensure consistency. The first detail I turned for each leg was the decorative lines either side of where the tribolt will secure the legs, using the Easy Wood Detailer. These lines were the easiest error to make, and also the hardest to correct, so by turning this detail first I knew whether completing the rest of the leg would be worthwhile.


The danger zone successfully navigated

With the decoration safely turned, I then turned down the foot to dimension, followed by the ankle. Instead of turning down the ankle straight to final dimension, I removed most of the material and then started roughing in the taper. This meant that I could avoid having an unsightly flat where the ankle bottomed out at the end of the taper, and helps the taper resolve to more fluidly into the ankle. For my first two sets of legs I decided to go with a Roorkee inspired foot shape of a cylinder with cove at each corner. For the next set of legs I’m thinking of trying a ball foot instead (variety being the spice of life, apparently).


Turning the foot

Once the leg was looking ship-shape, I gave it a quick sand with 120 grit Abranet to remove any fur and tool marks, and then moved on to the next leg in the set. With subsequent legs, I compared progress against both the story stick and the legs in the same set, to make sure I was on the right track.


Ash is one of my favourite timber species to work with

The very first leg I turned was relegated to the burn pile, as I botched the spacing of the decorative lines. With that mistakes done and out of my system, I managed to get three usable and consistent sapele legs, followed by two good ash legs (with one ash blank left to turn). The benefit of batching tasks like this is that increased familiarity results in increased precision and speed. My first leg took nearly an hour an a half, which I reduced to 40 minutes per leg by the end of the day (and I’m sure with practice that time would come down furthe still). Most of the work involved is turning the octagon into a cylinder, with the details taking about a third of the time.


Five consistant, and completed, legs

The story stick and go-blocks definitely assisted in achieving consistency, and were well worth the effort. Next up will be turning the remaining ash leg and the set of maple legs, applying finish to all of the legs, and then drilling for the hardware. But that will be for next time.