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Thread: Making my first Windsor Chairs

  1. #31
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    I've been working on the base. It's a struggle to hold the assembly steady for drilling. If you don't own ratchet straps, I find it easier to leave the top side edges and bottom surface level and flat at this point. This provides a bearing surface to allow me to clamp a caul to the top of the seat. This can then be pipe clamped to the bench. In addition to holding the assembly secure for drilling, it fully seats the legs into the sockets, so that I can accurately reference the proper heights for the holes.
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    I was eager to try out my new brace and bits, but it was easy enough this time to just use a Forstner bit, using blue tape between the legs to serve as an angle guide. Galbert and Buchanan have great methods for transfering the exact angles to bevel squares, but I find it easier to drill these in place. I measure DOWN from the bottom of the seat, not up from the bench, because my legs have not been finally leveled.
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    Dunbar's book has some fancy equations for calculating the lengths of the stretchers. I prefer to just cut them over-sized, and then trim them to fit. This is where a Dozuki really comes in handy. It can make 1/32" fine cuts on the end of a 1/2" tenon without tearing fibers. It's also possible to shoot the edges with a block plane. It's tempting to keep the stretchers a little too long: when the stretcher is seated into the legs, the tapered tenons of the legs will be too narrow to fit into the bottom of the seat holes. However, this is precisely the point. I use the topside holes to determine the final length of the stretcher, since this is the final resting point. To assemble, I had to insert the stretcher partially into the legs, and simultaneously push the legs into the sockets, while seating the stretcher into the leg tenons. This tricky fit is what keeps the whole thing together. The fit is remarkably forgiving, as pressure is distributed between the four legs.

    I also like doing the final shaping on the lathe. I'm trying to make the swoops more fair curves, and less linear. Using a drill chuck at the tail stock, and pin jaws at the head stock allows me to mount the trimmed stretcher back into the lathe and hold it by its tenons. A good side effect is that the jaws protect the tenon from the skew blade, which prevents inadvertently shaving their thickness; so I can fit the tenon thickness and length perfectly before the final shaping. The jaws even compress the tenon slightly, which helps them slide in and out of the mortises a little better.

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    Last edited by Prashun Patel; 11-05-2019 at 11:44 AM.

  2. #32
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    Base assembled

    I really like his method of wedging the tenons. Prior to this, I cut them with a saw. It was awkward to hold them in a vise and guess the proper depth. It was also tricky to get the line perfectly straight. Buchanan's method (and Dunbar's) is to just drive a chisel into the tenon after assembly. This allowed me to line up the direction perfectly (in theory; I still managed to clock one off a bit). I've learned a couple things doing this though. The saw removes material from the kerf, which makes placing the wedge a little easier. To make room for the wedge using a chisel, I drove it down a little, letting the bevel compress the fibers. However, this also causes the chisel to move off it's mark. But if I flip the chisel alternating the bevel direction between strikes (it only takes 3-4 strikes), it creates a comfortable, tapered, centered entry point for the wedge.
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    Keeping the wedge from drifting as it is driven can be an issue, so I like to drive mine using pliers to keep it flush. On the last few projects, I've used walnut wedges. I used white oak on these. SO MUCH BETTER! White oak bends - and takes hammer strikes into the end grain with grace.

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    As the wedge is driven, there is a tendency for the leg to pop out of its mortise. Clamping it to the bench helps prevent this.

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    I reshaped the stretchers a little and sanding them up to 600 on the lathe. Sanding on the lathe is so much easier and better than off. I did not use any glue on the stretchers. Only the legs and their wedges have been glued.

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    On to refining the seat profile. I planed the bottom before glue up. I should have taken better pains to protect the top edge of the seat; the red oak caul that I used to clamp it to the bench created some indentations that need to be dealt with.

    Even after 2 of these chairs, I can already appreciate how critical the choice of wood is for each part. The seat, if made of soft wood, hollows, reams, and shapes easy. You can key the wedges into the soft wood if you make them over-sized. The components of the back need to be able to bend - both if you choose to steam bend them and after, to accomodate the user leaning back. So these really need to be out of a wood that can take that. The legs is where all the details and profiles happen on turned parts, so these need to be from a wood that yield crisp edges. I guess Windsors are traditionally painted because they're most efficiently made from a pot luck of different woods that probably don't look good together.
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    Last edited by Prashun Patel; 11-06-2019 at 10:17 AM.

  3. #33
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    Very nice!! I wonder if it might be worth your while to create a "double bevel" chisel just for the wedge work as it would eliminate the need to keep flipping the sharp tool around which in turn makes for less risk of, um...red stuff...pouring onto your project.
    --

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

  4. #34
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    I will use my 10lb splitting maul next time.

    Thanks for the comments, Jim. I appreciate it.

  5. #35
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    Austin Texas
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    I have been watching a series of Buchanan's YT videos where he builds one of his Windsor Comb Back chairs for the last couple of days. He starts with purchasing a couple of logs (Maple and Red Oak) in the first video and proceeds from there. His experience and knowledge about the entire process is obvious to the viewer and (as many experts do) makes the process look easier than I'd imagine the first 20-30 chairs go for new chair builders. What really jumps out to me is that the whole process starts with properly rived timber and that seems to be a key requirement. How do you handle that aspect Prashtun?
    David

  6. #36
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    I am blessed to have a good amount of fresh red and white oak in my area of New Jersey. I'm new to riving, but find it satisfying and quite straight forward. I am only on my 2nd chair, so I am still making my mistakes. However, it's a fun process. Starting with riven wood makes it economical to experiment. I purchased some riven wood from Elia Bizzari last year. That was an expensive way to go, but the quality of wood was great and has given me a good reference point for making my own blanks.

    Other species, and even kd stock is usable. You just have to know how aggressive you can be in each situation, and the stress that the part will be under. Still learning.

    Around here, red oak never gets its due. But as a green wood, it's really nice to work with: it looks great rift or quartersawn, it splits super easily, and the layers peel off nicely with a draw knife.

  7. #37
    Good stuff ! I think a good thing to remember is the old ones were cheap and bought by rich and poor. When they are "over done" they remind me of manikins in a store staffed by real women. And "beauty marks" reflecting candle light is a good look. Have you considered getting some NE white pine for some seats?

  8. #38
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    I fitted the spindles today. I am enjoying using the brace and auger bits. It really does afford me more control than the powered drill because of the reduced speed, and longer reference that the bit affords. I use a dowel to line up the bit, and check for vertical every few turns.


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    When the lead screw exits the bottom, I finish the cut from the bottom with a forstner.

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    I am using the Veritas tenon sharpeners to form the 3/8" ends. It's dialed in a little proud, but sandpaper helps fine tune the fit. I think these spindles are way too fat and require some slimming.


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  9. #39
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    Apr 2013
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    Prashun,
    Straight up impressive work, from both a design and craftsmanship standpoint. I am equally impressed with the the depth of your understanding of how a chair actually works and how the inherent stresses are addressed.

    Thank you for posting not just photos but the logic and decision making process for the entire project.

  10. #40
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    Spindle shaping

    My mind wanted fat spindles, but my eye wants them thinner and thinner. I think I may make this a 7-spindle chair instead of 5...
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  11. #41
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    Spindle shaping

    Thanks Bill. Any 'depth of understanding' is strictly regurgitation of Buchanan, Galbert or Dunbar. I am jealous of most of you who know your design going in. I spend 90% of my time redesigning as I go along. It's soooo inefficient (SWMBO confirms) and never quite what I wanted. Alas, I am doomed to never master the modeling tools or to follow pre-printed plans to the letter.

    My mind wanted fat spindles, but my eye wants them thinner and thinner. I think I may make this a 7-spindle chair instead of 5...

    It is a challenge to fair the curve without bumps, as well as staying away from the tenons. I have been switching back and forth between a spokeshave and a block plane.

    The bottom is the hard part. Longer sections are easier to work than short ones.

    Next time I will try turning and tapering the spindles on the lathe and then steam bending them.
    Last edited by Prashun Patel; 11-13-2019 at 2:41 PM.

  12. #42
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    Isn't it ironic that we generally don't want our wood to bend and it does and here, where you want it to bend, it's not cooperating to the level you prefer. LOL
    --

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

  13. #43
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    Oh, the wood's cooperating all right; it's my hands and eyes that are not cooperating to the level I prefer. I look at the lines these guys produce and it just humbles me. Have you seen the work of Bern Chandley? The walnut chair back and crest is inspired by his rodback windsor. Of course, what starts out as 'inspired by' ends up being 'try to copy' because it's so darn nice!

  14. #44
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    I resemble that hands and eyes remark. LOL Chair making is an art...and there are folks who do amazing things that I doubt I could even come close to if I tried really hard.
    --

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

  15. #45
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    I decided to add two additional spindles. Unfortunately, I miscalculated the drilling angles in the seat. The spindles can take the forced bending, but it pulls the entire back out of alignment which puts unnecessary stress on the other tenons and in particular, the posts. The posts are in tapered mortises. So, they function best when they don't require more than a gentle coaxing to fully seat. I plugged the holes and re-drilled for a better fit.

    I do like this look a little better. The original Democratic design has only 5 spindles. I am sure that's for economy of effort. To my eye, 7 fills the back and looks a little more refined - or at least complete. Now on to shaping the crest rail corners. I have some gaps at the tenon shoulders and am undecided how to deal with them...

    I also have some final shaping of the spindles. The 6th (from the left) is the ideal that I'm shooting for. I've been using the spokeshave and block plane to do this. A small spokeshave can be used one handed, which allows me to hold and spin the spindle against a stop instead of chucking it in the vise. That's been a great way to sneak up on the shape without over-doing it. I am down to 3/8" on a good portion of the spindles already. While I trust the strength of these, I don't want to push my luck. The additional 2 spindles add some insurance too

    In retrospect, I should have made the center stretcher out of red oak too. My goal was originally to have the legs taper downward as they do. I divided the overall length into 3, and made the taper the lower 2/3 of the leg. However, I forgot to account for the portion of the top 1/3 that was in the seat. So, the taper is more like 4/5 of the visible portion. Because the stretchers attach to the largest diameter, this pushed the stretchers higher than I wished. When you're close to the chair, you really don't even see the stretchers (which I will now tell everyone is a feature not a bug, and that it lightens up the look...)
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    Last edited by Prashun Patel; 11-14-2019 at 12:25 PM.

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