Finer things

When I was a kid, and we would sit on the gym floor in elementary school for assembly, I would squirm from the minute my hiney hit the floor. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out how the other kids could stand it. I remember once, sitting on that gym floor, watching a live performance of The Princess and the Pea and really feeling like I knew what that poor girl was going through.

I have (and have always had) a bony butt. As robust as I am in most other physical dimensions (moms like to call it “husky”) there is very little padding on my hind extremities. This has always felt like a design flaw, but as it turns out it also gives me superpowers at ferreting out uncomfortable chairs.

One of the best things about the chair design in The Anarchist’s Design Book is that it really requires no saddling at all. I’ve sat in one of Chris’ versions of this chair with a flat seat and it was honestly every bit as comfortable as most dining chairs that have ever known the honor of holding my posterior. My observation is that part of that is due to the angle of the chair seat from front to back. Part of that is also due to the relatively shallow rake of the back spindles that keep you sitting pretty straight.

When I made the decision to saddle my version of the chair, I did so knowing it was unnecessary. I wanted to add just enough saddle to make the chair look a little more sculptural (dare I use the word “organic”) but not so much that carried it over into higher chair styles like Windsors. As I said in an earlier post “restraint” was my byword.

As with most woodworking operations, the key is to move from the roughest tools to the finest doing the most work with each stage that you can. I completed the initial shaping with a scorp which can be mistaken for a roughing tool. It is true that it’s the roughest tool you generally use in seat shaping (unless you’re going to ad an adz to the mix) but it can be wielded with subtlety. The cleaner you leave the seat from the scorp, the less work you’ll have to do with with the next tool.

That next tool is a travisher. There are several excellent travishers on the market. I use a travisher made by Jim White (Crown Tools) and I’ve fallen in love with it. I also have an old cobbler’s heelshave that I use for tight radius work. The travisher basically cleans up the tracks from the scorp. If we were to make an analogy to planes, the scorp would be the fore plane, the travisher would be the trying plane, and just like a with a good (finely set) try plane, you can get nearly finished surfaces from this tool.

I say nearly finished, because in practice I’ve found I need to follow the travisher up with a card scraper. I’m going to tell you from experience – you need a curved scraper to do this work. There’s only so far a rectangle can take you. The scraper is like your smoothing plane. Take the time to tune it up and it will treat you well.

Oh yeah, and sandpaper. I haven’t found any way around just a little sandpaper, although I will say that following the process outlined above left me with far less sanding (and dust) on the second seat than I had on the first.

At this point I cut the extra material off of the back of the seat and shaped the undersides to lighten the look. A drawknife and bevel-up jack make quick work. After all of this is done – and before assembly – I also go back and take a clean smoothing pass on all flat surfaces (the bottom and the spindle deck on top). I leave the final shaping of the edge and front chamfers until after assembly because they’re really the finishing touches.

And that’s it. Not so intimidating is it?

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. Jake says:

    What woods did you end up using for your chair?

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    1. The chair is poplar throughout with the exception of the red oak crest. I haven’t had success bending poplar yet, but air dried red oak is the bees knees.

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      1. Do you steam it first?

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      2. I poached it a la Anarchist’s Design Book

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