It’s Only a Windsor Part Three or [This is Fun]

May 17, 2008

Once you get your parts split out and shaved to perfection, you get to feeling that this is a nice way of working. That Windsor chair making is a good pursuit. Quiet, serene almost. You really do start to wonder why you have so many router bits, why you have so many big pieces of equipment making so much noise. And here you’ve been sitting for 3 or 4 days not making much noise but the occasional grunt when you shifted positions on the shave horse. It was a very quiet and enjoyable way of working. The quiet part would change.

Somewhere in that week, we got to do our bending. Now bending wood is as close to magic as you can get with woodworking. You take these sticks that you’ve been fighting or sweating over trying to pry them out of a log, and shape them nicely and keep them straight and the same thickness over their length, working them hard, worrying over them a little. And now you were going to put them in a steam box so you could try to bend them into a pretzel. A semi-circular pretzel but the point is you’ve been working on something so dang hard, how in the world was it going to bend? It did not seem possible.

But it’s magic. You get the wood hot enough and it bends easy. The key is heat. Everyone thinks it’s steam and the steam is important as the carrier of the heat, but it’s really the heat that the wood needs. Now I won’t get into the specifics of bending wood. Suffice it to say that bending wood also involves failure. It is a part of the bending game so get used to it. I did not like this part but there it was. We cooked our back rails to within an inch of their lives and when we put them on the form they bent just like stiff rubber so nice, so smoothly and then crick, they each opened up a crack on the outside face of the bend.

Long face. I had a long face, maybe even a big lower lip. I was bummed. Curtis was his usual bubbly self and he said, “Oh well, we gotta bend us another.” That was about all the cursing he did. Get out there, split out another stick, and while you spent time on the shave horse whittling it down to size, try to figure out what you might of done wrong with the first one. Curtis didn’t know and he’s been bending wood for 25 some years. Best guess was that we overcooked it. You can do this just like you can undercook a piece. Neither will bend without splitting. We had gotten the grain right; there was no run-out, but somehow it didn’t get hot enough or it got too hot. In any event, we got back on it. The second batch of parts bent just fine. We kept them in the form for a night and then tied them off and let them dry out.

Somewhere in the midst of all this back rail and spindle work, we also had to start work on our seats. Now we used white pine for the seats. Lovely wide boards, soft, almost buttery. Big thick chunks of the stuff too. Curtis showed me how to use the seat shaping adze without chopping off my toes and we proceeded to get them roughed out. It’s funny how you shape a Windsor seat really. Because you set the seat blank on your bench after doing the outside shape, and you mark out where you’re gonna shape and in the back of the seat you drill two holes. And this makes no sense at all until Curtis explains that these holes are depth holes. Spin that brace and bit I don’t remember 20 times or something and you’ll get a hole that’s about 3/4″ deep. That’s what you want. Two consistent holes that will disappear once you get to depth.

After drilling you took the adze and started hacking away at the pine. When you had done enough damage with that tool, you put your hands on an inshave or scorp. This is basically a curved drawknife. It works well in the hands of a seasoned professional for scooping out a seat. In my hands, it was a chatter machine capable of leaving big dents in the soft pine. Reminders of my wavering attention and technique.

I eventually got the seat rough shaped and then reached for my seat shaping double round wood hand plane. This I know how to use. It’s a Japanese style one made of white oak. It’s a beauty. It gets into that seat bottom and smooths the pine great, either heading down into the valleys or going cross grain near the seat pommel. Then we scraped to clean up the rough spots but seat shaping was mostly a bunch of fun. And comfortable.

Assembly would be the telling phase. Gluing day was the day when it all came together, when a week’s worth of work had to fit together seamlessly. I was up by 5am that morning to finish prepping all my parts. I had to be on a plane by noon that day. No pressure.

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Published in: on May 17, 2008 at 9:40 am  Leave a Comment  

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