Monday, October 1, 2018

2018 Danish Chair Building Extravaganza

For several years there's been a group of guys that get together and build chairs bi-annually in Denmark. It's a great event because while it's not a "class" official, each of the participants brings their own ideas and experience, all benefit, build different chairs and get to spend time hanging out with people that enjoy making stuff while trying new things. (if you are not familiar, check out Brian and Jonas' blogs) Once again, I have not been a part of that group doing that thing in anything other than spirit, Still, I realize that many of my recently undocumented projects mimic the experience that they have been creating, mixing chair making and working along like-minded individuals. Here's what's been going on in my shop since my last post.

  • Clam Chair Build
    • I've built a few of these in recent years, one by myself and another with a cousin. (and only now realize I haven't blogged about it.) This is based on a design by Ceasar Sherrard often called the Belize Clam Chair. (Or with 2x material the Kentucky Stick Chair) the folding design is clean and simple but it provides astonishing comfort by nature of the curved seat back formed during assembly. Back in winter '17-18,  I had the itch to host a group of new woodworkers to make one of these chairs, since they are pretty straight forward to make and we could finish it in "one" day and make good gaming or back porch chairs. The idea was that since spring would be here, we could have a fair number out building chairs spreading out into the drive. As it turned out, it was absolutely freezing mid-April and we all had to huddle in the garage and be constantly tripping over each other. Regardless, we were able to get one chair finished each in a VERY LONG day. I think we all enjoyed the process, and everyone has a comfy chair and got to try something new (+burn something). For me this was the opportunity to host and to share my passion of woodworking and have a good time doing so. I hope I've started some fires burning on this path, if nothing else we all learned how much better MAP gas torches are than propane for this endeavor.
  • Leaf Stool(s)
    • For some time I've been
      needing stools in the "recently" remodeled kitchen to get rid of the terrible stool shaped objects that have inhabited my home for ages. I've been through various iterations in the design but had finally settled on building an eclectic mix of stool designs that I admire (like Maloof or Wegner) or wanted to try out (some sort of stacking webbed type). I may still get to making that mix, but after building a simple stool that was inspired by Bern Chandley's leaf stool, I've decided that I'm going to knock out a set of these first. The seat is stolen from Bern's profile with some of the seat carving techniques I've learned from Pete' Galbert's Perch seats albeit with kutzall carving disks. The undercarriage was based largely on the availability of material and tapered tenon joinery. Finish was the red oak shoushugiban I've now done on numerous projects, maybe I'll tire of it someday, but at least until I run out of red oak, it'll stay the go-to.
  • CH25 Build
    • The final chapter in my 2018 DCBE for me was visiting the Shop of Caleb James for a week and building an actual danish chair... a reproduction of the Hans Wegner CH25 lounge chair. While Mid-century mod is all the rage, I've not been deep down the hole of this like Caleb has. Though now I think I understand what all the excitement is about. This chair is an incredible design, subtle yet complex; and it sits really nicely for all sorts of relaxed activities like conversing with friends or playing chess with the boy. Again, this experience let me come away with a new chair (well after I finished the weaving at home) I was able to spend time working in another shop with new methods and tools. (I NEED a slot mortiser now...) I also learned of the wonders of weaving and Danish cord. I was previously ambivalent about woven seats, but now I'll be looking for ways to incorporate into future designs as well. Of course, I couldn't resist the urge to char this chair as well (prior to the black paper cord, naturally) I think it turned out really well and is a unique look and texture for sure.
  • Takeaways
    • There was a lot of wasted time goofing off throughout, talking, sharing a drink and going off on tangents, talking about tools. but that is what made these events so productive and refreshing. If you think such an event should be about heads down woodworking and getting things done, then by all means get a factory job, that's what it would be. instead this was all about hanging out sharing different things with friends and staying/getting energized about making stuff, which in the end makes you more productive.
Hopefully I will get to more Chairs/stools yet this year, I do have another large project with my son with a looming deadline so likely that will take priority, Still I'm really pleased with my chair building efforts thus far. If you get a chance to work with someone else either in your shop or theirs, do so, you'll come away wiser and likely more excited than ever to get to work.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Bread and Water

My son and I have a waffle place we go. It's a joint for locals, it's quirky & fun (it's also a tea house with sort of a Moroccan Jazz club feel). It's little out of the way on a backstreet. (It's moved addresses a time or two in the time we've been going there.) The boy is decidedly not a foodie, he always orders sandwiches plain; Panda's orange chicken is a rare foray into "exotic"; still, his favorite thing at this place is the Crème brûlée (inside) waffle, (which this time he had to enjoy via FaceTime... the s'more waffle is a pretty close second.) The only negative of Waffle-era being the preferred breakfast joint, is that it's just a shade over 2000 miles from our front door, in Old San Juan, PR.

I <3 Puerto Rico. It's beautiful, wild, historic and tropical, but also lively, domestic and tranquil. As any good love story should be, it's complicated and simple all at the same time. I've been there some times (and pondered ways to make that background Coquí soundtrack permanent.) So I was greatly saddened to see the damage and destruction from Maria and especially sad to see the island struggling to get back on it's feet following that disaster. When the opportunity to provide disaster relief work and apply my abilities (such as they are) presented itself, I leapt at the chance to give something back to a place that has given me and my kids so many memories.

It was a great experience on so many levels. Out of respect for the organization I was working with, the people in whose homes I worked, and the many new folks I met, I am not sharing photos here of the work done (though I may over share in person if you get me talking about this) It was a great privilege to be invited to spend time with such a well organized, and caring group and directly assist those in need.  I know there are many people that need help, and while many times we are limited in what we can do...this time I was able to assist folks in need directly, and it felt amazing. It also felt great to work flat out all day alongside other volunteers doing something truly worthwhile, feeling both tired & sore and refreshed & energized simultaneously. If you haven't had such an opportunity, I encourage you to jump in PR or elsewhere. Constructing rooves that can endure all but a cataclysmic hurricane for those that wouldn't otherwise have been able to get their home dry before the next storm was truly rewarding, all the more so after getting to know them and hearing their stories.

It's perhaps understandable that some believe that far off places don't deserve their attention, preferring to focus locally. But I'm surprised how often traveling brings me "home" in unexpected ways. On this trip, I met a new friend that drives past my house at least once a week (now he'll stop and say "Hi"). Still, a more memorable link home was quite literally on the ground in front of me.

I instantly loved the design of the water valve covers used around the island when I first came in 2012, I think the shape and style combined with their ubiquity on the sidewalks of old San Juan adds to the charm of its blue brick streets. (Also it's a Spanish word I know...) Still, I was surprised when I discovered that many of these cast covers were made by a company in the same small industrial city I've spent much of my working life. I suspect these are 1940's or before and I can imagine the very people involved in this work and how their jobs helped shape their families and the nearby towns I've lived. Humble to be sure, but without such things "where I come from" could be vastly different.

Many times, it feels like the problems this world faces are too big, and "those people" too different, yet if we see these connections, we remember our neighbors aren't just those in earshot, that our work can reach into the corners of the earth, and that just because it's not in our backyard, doesn't mean we shouldn't lend a hand. And regardless, waffles are always a good idea.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Power of Running Water

Caterpillar (my employer) is no stranger to making significant infrastructure improvements to all areas of the world. One area of significant involvement and investment by Big Yellow is in making sure water reaches those that need it. It's admirable the efforts the company puts forth in this arena, for instance consider this recent press release:

Today, I want to give a "shout out" to Caterpillar, not for providing water to far flung reaches of the earth, but instead someplace much more local. My life is better, right here in Central Illinois from the water Caterpillar provides. See, when the office planners of my small facility were arranging things, they had the foresight to provide a shower area for employees to utilize. This might seem like an extravagance, or an unneeded item by some, especially those that live nearby their work or are attempting to optimize every square foot of a cube farm. Still, I can attest to its worth. In the years I've been in this building, it doesn't get used daily; but it is a key enabler to a healthy lifestyle for employees, much more so than more costly initiatives aimed to do the same, with less efficacy.

Originally, I would use it to go for an occasional early morning jog to try to "get in shape" when I had 2 toddlers keeping me from getting the exercise I needed at home. Later, it would be an asset that enabled me to bike ~20 miles to work occasionally. And this winter past, after returning to this facility, it's been a boon to be able to get marathon training runs in midday. In the middle west, it's dark when you come & leave work for much of the winter. My point is that just as bringing water to a remote village enables unforeseen community benefits, so too adding shower facilities to your work environment has carry on effects.

In a couple weeks, I will be running my third annual Illinois Marathon (it begins right outside our office) my 13 yr old son will be running alongside me for the first half (his second); I can trace the start of this healthy aspect of my family's life directly back to a thoughtful office layout. If you are involved in this activity, and your company says it values employee health, providing a place to get clean should be a mandatory feature included in your work. It may not happen on day one, but someone will thank you for it later. Thanks Michael, Walt, Carol and others.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Getting Ready for HandWorks

This may seem like an odd title given that HandWorks 2017 occurred several months ago. To be honest, I had hoped to publish just such a post prior to the event, but life being what it is at the moment, I didn't get to it. Still, the idea hung on and I decided it is still relevant.

HandWorks will likely always be a significant marker for me. The original event sparked me into stepping out of the shadows into the woodworking community. Before the second & third I found I wanted to finish up some things before the event to serve as conversation points with people I knew I'd meet or as punctuation to where I've grown and what I've accomplished in the meanwhile.

This is better for me than the annual goals many may kick off in January each year. I find that  not as useful because
  • January is right in the middle of what I consider to be "woodworking season." Spring/summer is a better point for self-evaluation.
  • One year goes by really fast as a hobbyist; evaluating myself on an annual basis can be disheartening. Thus far HandWorks has stuck to a bi-annual schedule, this makes me feel better about what I accomplished looking back over that time.
So what did I get done in the 2yr prior to Handworks 2017? If you only follow me by blog then you may have missed some of these since smaller items only ended up on Instagram without a legit blog post associated. (looking at this list makes me realize I need to write more frequently)

What do I hope to get done before HandWorks 2019? (hopeful there is such an event) Some of these things are already in-flight, or even completed given that HandWorks was a while back. But these are where I hope to get
  • Shop Projects
    • Finish-finish my workbench

      • Make center divider/planing stop
      • Flatten top
      • Dogs & holes
      • Shelf/storage
      • Swing Seat
    • Shavehorse
    • Finish Dutch tool chest. (paint + guts build out)
    • Sheet good Storage
    • Heat (install gas heater previously aquired)
    • Roubo Wall shelf?
    • Upgrade Lathe?
    • Upgrade Planer?
  • "Real" Projects
    • Chairs Chairs Chairs
      • Folding Clam chairs
      • Maloof style barstools
      • Perch Stools
      • Webbed chair/stools
      • Hex Chair
      • Mira inspired Chair
      • Staked Bench for entryway
    • Barn Doors for media room
    • Gaming Coffee Table
  • Personal Development
    • Share Something
      • Seminar
      • Kids' involvement
    • Learn Something (Class)
    • Community
      • More frequent blogs
      • Group build non-class
    • Sell Some thing(s)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Don't Be Fooled By The Rocks That I Got

The world needs more sharpening info and especially from me like it needs more dovetail cutting advice, so I'm going to try to keep it brief here today. Still, if you are reading this then you probably
  • Have already read Schwarz's "Sharpen this"  notes
  • Know that I'm cheap and like to come up with my own things. so here's my story.
For many years I struggled in ignorance, not realizing what "sharp" really was and using (with varying degrees of success) the Scary Sharp® method to make things less dull. When I took my first class at the WoodWright school several years ago, I had a light bulb moment and realized what the target was, and it was time to put in some investment in water stones and a honing guide. So I went to the local store and got (links are for reference only, I get no benefit):

Now I was able to get to sharp, but I found that the mess involved with soaking made me delay. Not only that, but I failed to realize just how sensitive to flatness and out of it they get. I ended up chasing my tail a few times thinking that the stone was "flat enough." All-in-all, while water stones are great and work for most of the worlds best woodworkers, it just didn't seem to really fit me well. For some time I had been considering switching over to diamond stones, but had thought it would be a fairly large investment to switch over and just slogged along, sharpening only when every chisel and/or plane was dull and basically making it a big to-do that I dreaded.

Then a while back, I was listening to the Dusty Life Podcast and Brian mentioned a project he had for DIY'ing some diamond wheels to his Work Sharp 3000. I thought this was intriguing. (I'd never heard of these diamond stone lapping disks) and I went to look at this system that before I had only considered a Scary Sharp® enabler. Surprisingly I couldn't find anyone that really spoke poorly of this system, but I could see the grit change over as a slight impediment to implementation in my shop.

Then I had a "brilliant" idea. I could take a mostly unused midi-lathe and make a spindle that would mount all 4 proposed grits simultaneously. With a bit of gizmotastic jig design, I'd have my ideal setup. so I decided I'd go ahead and buy:

I figured if 6" disks were good 8" would be even better for just a couple more bucks and would still fit in my lathe fine. I mounted these to some MDF circles and tried briefly to get this to work on the lathe, but I abandoned this idea because:

  1. It was going to take some effort to get dialed in, so I had to put that project on the back burner.
  2. I needed to quickly sharpen something, and in the process I discovered an interim solution that makes an adequate permanent solution.

I used my honing guide as normal (this "slow down" doesn't bother me and I like the consistency YMMV), but instead of lugging out the water stone, I tried these lapping plates (on some flat substrate like MDF, glass, granite) they cut incredibly fast and I was back to work. Based on a tip from Shannon, I use Original Windex (ammonia based) to clean up the swarf without rusting the diamond plates, a couple of spritzes and all was sharp and cleaned up again in no time.

I've been using this setup for maybe 6 months and I am impressed mostly by how quick these diamonds plus stropping with green compound can get me to sharp, but also just how affordable this setup is. I figure you can get rolling for <$65 total. At first, I thought that the disk shape would be a problem, it's not. The 8" diameter means there is a lots more "stone" surface area than normal. I'm sure it's not the ultimate sharpening setup, but it gets the job done fine.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

So Much Drama

Given the current lack of productivity in my shop, I want to occasionally go back and document some memorable projects that I completed before this blog. This time, I wanted to share about the time I was called on to make some things for a dramatic production. I really enjoyed this project mostly from the shared family experience with a great crew. Also in part because the constraints put upon the building of the various props. Overall, I'd suggest if you ever get a chance to do something like this, jump all-in, it'll make you a more creative and faster maker, and help you get over some of the analysis paralysis many of us hobbyist woodworkers deal with on projects.


  • Be done quickly since the production was not far off, also the performers and stage hands (of which I was one) curiously wanted to actually use them for rehearsals. 
  • Budget was very slim
  • Pieces needed to be lightweight enough to be quickly moved on/off a raised platform stage. 
  • Durability was a bit of a mixed bag since it technically only needed to last long enough for the production, but it needed to withstand some regular rough handling. This meant a lot of pocket screws and construction lumber. 
  • We were also trying to be reasonably historically accurate meaning researching furniture from ancient Egypt. (Any excuse to read more about furniture is OK in my book.) 
  • Several folks came together to help as well, so trying to direct the action in a "furniture" shop for a couple of weekends was an additional learning experience, especially since all my power requirements were based around only me ever using one major tool at a time.

A Few Pieces From the Project

There were a number of props that needed to be created for this production but some of the memorable furniture related woodworking ones are here.

Simple Rustic Benches

These were made with x bracing a long stretcher to double as a carrying handle. Had "staked " furniture been known to me at the time, I would have made them in that style. Through wedged mortise and tenons, made them plenty stout even if they were just 2X material. I thought I had a photo, but I don't appear to have one handy.

A Bed/Divan 

I wanted to emulate some of the animal legs in museum bed examples so I coarsely shaped some legs to give the effect. It didn't have to look good up close, which made things easier, but at times it was hard to keep that in mind, though the lesson is a good one when production time trumps all.

Pharaoh's Throne

Though not technically the right period, king tut's throne is well documented and I wanted to give it a shot. Fortunately there was a talented painter available to take the rough bones and make them look presentable. (a few years later when I got to visit the original in the Cairo museum, I was blown away but cherished the details all the more)
The problem in the director's eye was that the traditional Egyptian throne chair was not grand enough to be ostentatious when viewed from the back row. His idea was to have the throne sitting on one or two stacked stones which apparently was historically accurate. The problem was the moving in/out of such a "stone" structure, this meant that I needed to construct a lightweight frame and skin that could still be

moved into place in seconds.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Chairs No Time Like The Present

My daughter has played the violin for several years and recently decided to learn to play the cello. After finding a reasonable used instrument (Thanks Greg!), I noticed one of our dining chairs missing from our table, and unsurprisingly found it in her room. Despite the normal backlog of projects, I decided she needed a task specific seat for practice (and my OCD nature needed all the chairs at the table). There are some selfish reasons for this as well, besides that it allows me to procrastinate more on the second phase of the "Epic Kitchen Project" leftovers, it also allows an entry point into chair making.

For the last few years I've hungered to build chairs, but have been largely unable to begin in earnest. While I did make the shop stool in the SSBO a while back. many of the chair designs I want to build have been waiting patiently, generally building in complexity & nuance with each napkin sketch revision. Add to this the inspiration peer pressure from chair makers like Jeff Miller, Chris Schwarz, Peter Galbert, Paul Lemiski, and non-chair makers like Konrad Sauer Throw on top that, positive wworking community peer pressure in the forms of June chair builds and Extravaganzas and you can understand my pent up creative need.

If you also follow me on Instagram you've probably seen my other obsession is scorched & waxed finish (Shou-sugi-ban) especially on red oak. I love this finish (full stop) It has lots of rich texture and a luster like a vintage motorcycle jacket; and since I have a decent pile of red oak (a wood I am otherwise not too fond of) many of my project sketches lean this direction. BUT the scorching process is at times violent and does unpleasant things to glue (your mileage may vary) so I was hesitant to burn (and ruin) a project I had invested significant effort into. I've also been curious as to how this finish would hold up and patina when applied to a chair.

Enter the Perch

This little stool which I was late to Peter's blog for, (I think I was first introduced to by #toolmakersretreat) would be the perfect test bed for me to try out several important skills from saddling seats and "staked" joinery to the process sequence requirements Shou-sugi-ban would introduce. The instruction and videos on Peter's site are more than enough instruction to build a perch, though it's a disservice to not get his book Chairmaker's Notebook. While Peter's design sense is spot on, functionally it needed some tweaks to work for my application


First off, the legs needed to be shortened as a consequence of its function as a cello chair this meant I needed to tweak the rake & splay a bit to maintain the same ground contact patch and avoid it getting tippy, this required a bit of trig to get in the ballpark, then rounding to a convenient angle. The forward lean and stance is good because of the desired posture for cellists. Second, I wanted to avoid turned legs; I have just a short midi-lathe and I prefer the simple (looking) chunky square legs on welsh stick chairs.

I also decided I wanted to try to play with the shape and see if I could bring in some design queues from the violin family. I introduced the C-bout into the back which doubles as a nice grab handle (and casts an interesting shadow). The concave saddling of the seat adds a bit of an optical illusion mimicking the convex arching of a violin top. Finally the tapered legs with a gentle crowning on their faces hopefully give a subtle nod to the fingerboard of a violin.


Galbert works with green wood and hand tools. I love hand tools as much as the next galoot, but I was working with dried oak and not all of the necessary tools, so I did much of the work (saddling, leg tapering) with power tools (kutzall, table saw). Surprisingly, the seemingly obvious thing to do with power tools (contouring the seat with a bandsaw), I did with my bow saw after my only blade broke at the weld with a bang. Still it didn't take long at all. I got lots of hand tool use in the project from drilling the leg holes to bevel cleanup with spokeshaves so I don't worry I've switched to CNC just yet.

Lessons Learned (After Action Report) 

  • Don't trim legs until after assembly, it prevents straight line pounding of the leg during the seating process.
  • Don't think you can predict and pre-finish the tenon stick out (and leave contrasting unfinished wedges), you will be wrong once the pounding begins.
  • I chose flat sawn oak for the seat, since I think it's less likely to split self-rive than quarter sawn oak with racking forces in the seat from the legs.
  • Don't drill 3/4" holes if you plan on using 1" tenons (It makes for a lot more reaming.)
  • A cabinet scraper makes quick work of the scratch pattern left from a coarse kutzall wheel, way better than sandpaper.
  • Kutzall wheels cut excellently, but make a ton of dust.
  • Kutzall really do "cut all", including a nice abrasion on your fingertip if you forget.
  • Surface checking. The scorching process opened up some checks I thought were gone during shaping. Nothing catastophic but likely a consequence of the flat sawn seat material (that started with some checking) and the risk inherent in the process.
  • Crowning the leg faces really makes them richer both in looks and in feel.
  • The seat position on the perch is very similar to what I did on the SSBO tilted and saddled, encouraging an upright riding posture without putting edge pressure under the thighs. My Shop stool is very comfortable, even if it's a bit ungainly from a design perspective. Pete's Perch is attractive and way simpler construction, I wish I had used this as the starting point for the SSBO.
  • I will would make a version for myself about 6-7" taller for my general use. I think this is the kind of seat that is very personal and tweaking it to fit perfectly is well worth the customization.
  • I have a feeling I will be making more of these. Chair building fever is only intensified, not abated.