View Full Version : How do you shape a chair seat?

Dennis McDonaugh
03-23-2005, 10:48 AM
I've made two sets of chairs and both had upholstered seats, now LOML wants chairs with solid wood seats. I've been looking in the Highland Hardware catalog (I would love to set foot in that store :) )and there are lots of tools for shaping seats. The verbage for the travisher says its for smoothing the shape "after the adz, scorp and compass plane have done their job". Does it really take 4 or 5 tools (and $500) to shape the seats? Never having done it before I want to make it as easy as possible, but what is the really the minimum number of tools required?

I could really use a tutorial on this process.


Maurice Ungaro
03-23-2005, 10:58 AM
I am one of the lucky few on this forum who live in the vacinity of Highland Hardware :rolleyes: . It IS a wonderful store for a number of reasons - most of which is the knowledgeable sales staff (they are all professional woodworkers). If I were you, I'd give a call to them, and ask to speak to Chris Black, or Mike Couch. Heck, anyone who answers the Customer Service line would be able to offer you the info you're looking for.

One of my main "likes" about the staff at HH is that they won't oversell you. In other words, you're not going to end up with more product than you need. A lot of times, they've talked me out of purchasing things for a particular project.

Good folks.


Mark Singer
03-23-2005, 11:45 AM
I have will sometimes drill a template with a matrix of holes and mark to the depth of each next to the hole. Place it on the seat blank and drill to the required depth. This is just a guide so you don't scorp or sand to deep. Then using a scorp or a broad #3 to #6 gouge remove the waste to the hole pattern. An angle grinder or Festool will remove the rest. Sitting in it is the true test. Maloof uses an auto body type of sander to shape and then finer grit to finish.

Tom Saurer
03-23-2005, 1:23 PM
I actually saw Norm make a seat on his Windsor Chair project. I can't exactly remember the tools that he used, but it didn't look to complicated.

Leif Hanson
03-23-2005, 1:35 PM
I haven't actually built any chairs that require the seat be hollowed out - but my dad has built more than a few. On the most recent ones he did he did something new... He was making reproductions of 100 year old chairs that were to be paired with the originals at the same table. He's getting on in age (84) and isn't quite up to the physical challenge given using planes and adzes, so he drilled a few holes (something like what Mark mentions) to gauge his depth, then used a 7" angle grinder with coarse disk in it to remove most of the waste. Lotsa dust, but you wouldn't know how he did it from the finished product, as I can't tell the antiques from his reproductions without some very careful scrutiny...

Dave Anderson NH
03-23-2005, 3:44 PM
I've done Windsor chair seats with the traditional gutter adze, scorp, compass plane, and travisher combination and it works well. Having said that, Mike Dunbar, whom I learned from, now starts out setting a circular saw blade to a particular depth (same idea as Mark singer's drilling), and removes the waste with the adze and traditional methods. A friend down the street who is a bit more efficient and isn't teaching traditional methods, but rather is selling chairs for a living, uses the angle grinder for the rough work and then finishes with a compass plane and travisher. The important thing is the result unless you want to work in the traditional manner for funs sake. I would be suspicious of the quality of the scorps and travishers from HH. The ones I've seen require a lot of work to get them to perform properly. Quarton Barr makes a scorp, but it's very expensive, and for a chairmakers compass plane and travisher, you can't beat Crown Plane.

Robert Weber
03-23-2005, 4:15 PM
I actually saw Norm make a seat on his Windsor Chair project. I can't exactly remember the tools that he used, but it didn't look to complicated.
If I remember, Nahm used a scorp and then a travisher, and maybe a curved spokeshave to smooth the bottom when he was done.

I had heard a rumor that he made the Windsor entirely with hand tools, and was excited when I caught the show on a repeat. Imagine my disappointment when the only hand tools he used on the entire show (at least the portion that I watched) were the one's mentioned above to hollow out the seat.

Dennis McDonaugh
03-23-2005, 5:44 PM
Thanks for the replies guys. I'm not wedded to doing it the old fashioned way, but I would like to shape some of it by hand. The grinder isn't my first choice because of the mess, but it does sound fast. So it sounds like adz, scorp, compass plane and then travisher is the traditional way to do it. Can a scorp take an aggressive cut? I'm wondering if I can use a combination of drilling holes to set the depth, then a scorp to rough the shape and finish with a compass plane or travisher and only get by with two new tools. Does that sound doable?

Dennis McDonaugh
03-23-2005, 5:47 PM
...The ones I've seen require a lot of work to get them to perform properly. Quarton Barr makes a scorp, but it's very expensive, and for a chairmakers compass plane and travisher, you can't beat Crown Plane. Dave, I thought I saw a Barr scorp in the latest Highland Hardware Catalog. Don't remember the price, but it seemed reasonable. Could it be the same one you are talking about?

Leif Hanson
03-23-2005, 6:03 PM
You've seen these, maybe?



I think most traditional windsor chairs used a fairly soft wood for the seat blank. It's a bit more difficult (from what little I know about) to use a scorp in harder woods...

Dennis McDonaugh
03-23-2005, 6:43 PM
Leif, I guess that is a concern since I'll be using cherry. Hmmm that grinder is looking better all the time!

Maurice Ungaro
03-23-2005, 8:54 PM
............I would be suspicious of the quality of the scorps and travishers from HH. The ones I've seen require a lot of work to get them to perform properly. .......
Dave, not trying to cause a fuss or anything, but I believe the compass plane and travisher are made by "New England toolmaker Leon Robbins [who] worked closely with Mike Dunbar". Hopefully, Leon has done a decent job of taking the historic tool and making something for use in our shops.


Mike Swindell
03-23-2005, 9:18 PM
I know Sam Maloof uses a bandsaw for rough work and an angle grinder starting at 36 grit. David Marks used a small angler grinder with the chain saw teeth grinder wheel. I can't remember who makes them - but Marks was hogging wood real fast and alot less dust than sanding. Of course you'll have to sand anyway, but the majority of hogging would be just chips. I think hogging the wood out with hand tools is alot of work, but if you insist, then the tools of the trade are the way to go.

Leif Hanson
03-23-2005, 11:04 PM
That's a good idea - a "SuperCut Wheel"...

Those are available at carver's supply stores:



There's a 4" and a 5", about $35 each.

Pam Niedermayer
03-24-2005, 12:16 AM
For a tutorial you might want to check out Jeff Miller's dvd/video.


Dave Anderson NH
03-24-2005, 10:24 AM
To be fair, I haven't looked at a HH catalog for a while so my info might be out of date. AFAIK, Barr Quarton sells only direct, but I could be wrong. Crown Plane used to be owned by Leon Robbins, but he sold it to the Whites almost 6 years ago as he was getting too old to handle the full volume of supplying both Mike Dunbar's classes and the special panel raising planes and others he sent to Garrett Wade. I'll have to check out the HH website and see what they currently show.

Jerry Olexa
03-24-2005, 10:46 AM
I've seen David Marks use a simple grinderand rough it ouT. Then he fine tunes s w usual rasp, smoother,scraper, sanding. Seems to me, he did install a special grinding wheel though. HTH

Maurice Ungaro
03-24-2005, 10:48 AM
Dave, let me know what you think - I'd value your opinion. As I have the ability to go in the store, I'll try to get a visual and tactile inspection of these tools. If you've got some insight, it would help.


Dave Anderson NH
03-24-2005, 11:49 AM
Hi Maurice- I checked out the Highland website, and they have definately upgraded their offerings. The compas plane and travisher are indeed made by Crown Plane though they still refer to Leon who is no longer involved. Both are excellant tools and ready to go with only a minor bit of honing required. The scorp appears to be a good one and might well be from Barr Tools, but it's hard to tell without seeing the stamp on the steel. Warning though about Barr Quartons tools- they come from him DANGEROUSLY SHARP. He's one of the rare toolmakers whose tools need care when being removed from the packaging to prevent loss of blood. I checked out the tapered reamer and the spoon bit s too. They are the same poorly made cast and badly shaped ones that they, along with Woodcraft, have sold for years. Unfortunately there aren't really any choices any more since Fred Emhoff is no longer making and selling his creations. His were wonderrfully well made and ready to go right out of their shipping tubes and the same warning applied as with Barr Tools. If you can somehow find a set on the used market grab them but expect to pay equal to or more than if they were brand new. I really don't have any opinion on the gutter adze as the picture makes it almost impossible to tell about quality. You could probably find something of equal quality on the used market for less money though.

Dennis McDonaugh
03-24-2005, 12:11 PM
Thanks Dave. HH's print catalog actually says its a Barr scorp at $129. They also sell Barr mortise and bench chisels.

Clay Craig
03-24-2005, 11:14 PM
I drilled depth marks, then used a 'chain saw' wheel on an angle grinder to hog out the seat on this walnut chair - the surface off the compass plane certainly doesn't reflect the hogging method. And, even though it threw more chips than dust, I'd still recommend a dust mask.

But, it can get away quick - this should have the seat 'scoop' end just before the spindles, but the angle grinder took a gouge that required a slight design rethink you can see here ... it's still comfy, even with the spindles set into the scoopage.


Matthew Dworman
03-25-2005, 8:31 AM
I too took a windsor chair class with Mike Dunbar, and I must say that the traditional method is actualy much easier than it looks and quite fun. I've seen several David Marks episodes where he uses the grinder and I honestly think that with an adze, scorp, travisher and compas plane it will go much faster and with better results. The Compas plane is actualy used after the travisher, and it is a joy to use. The adze is also pretty easy to use after you get over the fear of cutting off a toe! If you decide to go that method, there are realy only 2 quality makers of adzes and scorps that Mike Dunbar recomends: Barr and Genuine forgery. I own the genuine forgery ones and they are fantastic. The barr ones are a bit more expensive, but they sure are purdy:

Carl Eyman
03-25-2005, 5:37 PM
Suppose you had a plan of the seat with a lot of little x's showing the depth at various points. These would be like the depth marks on a marine chart, And suppose you set your plunge route to these depths. Then, one at a time made a plunge cut at every 1/4" depths, then one at every 3/8" depth, etc.ad nauseum, Would that work as a roughing out method?

jeremy holloman
03-27-2005, 8:29 PM
I was looking over at thebestthings.com at the Clifton planes and discovered that Clifton also makes spoon bits. My mother-in-law loves the Windsor chairs and is trying to get me to make her a new table and chairs. I was thinking about taking a class, but the only spoon bits I have seen in person seem pretty much like poorly made junk. Has anybody used these?

Dennis McDonaugh
03-27-2005, 11:00 PM
Carl,that'd probably work except I'd get impatient somewhere in the middle and cut too deep ;)

I'm leaning toward the adz, scorp, compas plane route. I'm just wondering how it will work on kiln dried cherry. Don't they make Windsor chairs out of green wood? I worried that the cherry will splinter with the adz.