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Building a Chair

May 16, 2011

When I started this blog, I had figured it would mostly be about rustic furniture, how to make it, and the tools that are used. Because I started the blog during my collecting season, there hasn’t been a whole lot about making the stuff. Well, that changes here. Today, I will be beginning an explanation of how I make a chair. When I begin, I am thinking about a few things. I like to have a general idea of what the chair will look like, but that is not so important as you might think. It is good to know how big the chair will be, in particular how far the seat will be from the floor. Sometimes I’ll measure off a chair I find comfortable, sometimes I will set some wood on a couple props to find a comfortable height and then measure that. But for me, it is from the height of the seat from the floor that I get most of the other measurements. Then I have to decide if there will be any special pieces of wood I want to use. In the chair I will be describing, there was a spiral created by a vine growing around the base of a sapling that I wanted to use. That was the first piece I cut and I laid it out on the floor (picture 1). I then cut the back leg and the two stretchers. At this point all dimensions are approximate. I place the front leg as far from the back as feels right and then lay a ruler on top to measure half way across each leg to account for the depth of the mortices (the holes in the legs that accept the round tenons.) One can use the twigs that will become the stretchers directly rather than transferring the information from the ruler to the twigs. I then cut the stretchers to length and tenon their ends. To do this I use two tools, both are tenon cutters. The first tenon cutter is a new one made by Lee Valley. It has the advantage of working on pieces of wood that are much larger than the final tenon. Its disadvantage is that it cuts tenons with round shoulders (which I don’t like.) I then switch to my old tenon cutter to finish the job. It does not easily fit onto the full sized wood, but does fit onto the wood which has be pointed by the other cutter. If you don’t mind rounded shoulders, you can save yourself the whole second step. In pictures 4 and 5 you can see the tenons.

In picture 6 you can see the assembled sides waiting for the front and rear stretchers, the rungs for the ladder back, and of course, the seat.
I am using all green wood. In my experience, you can use all green wood, you can insert dry tenons into green mortices, but YOU CAN NOT GET AWAY WITH INSERTING GREEN TENONS INTO DRY MORTISES. The green tenons will shrink when they dry and in very short order be as much as on eighth of an inch too small. When inserting the tenons, knock them together with a soft mallet (so as not to mar the wood). It is best to dry fit the parts then take them apart and glue them up. To glue, place glue into the mortice and swab it around with bit of scrap wood. If the parts are difficult to put together, you can sand the tenons (but you want to do this absolutely minimally). For drawing the pieces together, you can use a Spanish windlass. To do this, tie a rope around the pieces you want to tighten. Put insert a piece of wood through the loop and twist the loop tightening the rope. You can do this simply to get the pieces together or by jamming the piece of wood against the chair parts you can use it to clamp things while the glue dries. Of course you can use other sorts of clamps, but they are often tricky on irregularly shapes (which is what twig furniture usually is.) I found some beautiful old clamps which are like giant U-bolts that can fit around all sorts of shapes and those are what I use when not using the rope trick.
Unfortunately, the second half of this lesson will have to wait. I left the chair halves down at the farm and can not complete the work till next week. Please feel free to comment if you have any questions, comments, or corrections.

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