chairs, furniture

Chairs: Is Design The Enemy Of Comfort?

I made my first chair a couple of months ago. It was a three-legged chair to go with our Fender Rhodes electric piano. Reflecting back, I think of all the happy hours spent sourcing my materials and getting all the necessary tools together. The actual act of finishing a chair was a special moment. And it was a moment I can best describe as a “healthy addiction”, –  I knew I was hooked.

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My first chair

When I think about myself of two or three years ago I had never thought I would be building furniture. Making a chair? No, that’s impossible, only a …. what? can do that. Who or what makes chairs anyway?

Chairs are some of the most common furniture items that exist in the western world. We sit in chairs every day. Humans are quite unique in that way – animals sit or lie down on the ground, some monkeys sit on logs or rocks but no species actually makes chairs, only humans do that.

The chair as a furniture item is therefore very interesting.

You have sat in thousands of chairs in your life, but probably mostly without paying much attention to the chair. But if you were not aware of the chair that’s a good sign for the chair’s comfort.

A lot of people’s chair-sitting experience comes from sitting in mass-produced-over-designed-nice-to-look-at-but-a-pain-in-your-bottoms chairs. Many people haven’t ever sat in a chair that is specifically built to their proportions (neither have I).

The ideal chair is one that has pleasing visual proportions and high comfort.

And there lies the base of the problem. Pleasing to the eye is a subjective term and comfort is highly dependent on the sitter’s features (height, length of legs, size of buttocks, etc.). Thus compromises have to be made when corporations want to make chairs they can sell to lots of people.

Most chairs you can buy have generalized proportions to sit the gross of the population fairly okay – but not great.

The real emphasis lies on the visual design of the chair.

That is exactly why companies like IKEA can be so successful. Their designers know very well what people want to see. Their products are sometimes of dubious quality but their designs appeal to a lot of people.

Furniture is nowadays unfortunately mostly picked with the eyes and not the body.

Captain’s chair in San Diego

I have another chair in the planning. It will be a Welsh Stick Chair based on an old chair that we sat on for extended amounts of time during our trip to San Diego.

It was very comfortable and I am glad I took the measurements of it.

More on how I copied the design – without having any measuring tools with me – in this blog post.

 

-Rudy Everts

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furniture

Small Staked Bench

I had taken a beautiful leftover piece of ash home after my class with Chris Schwarz, in the hopes of finding a perfect project for it.

Eventually it came to me that the thing was almost the right size for making a saw bench. Though I already have a saw bench, it is never bad to have two and it had been some time since my last staked project so I decided I was going to make a saw bench based on the design in the Anarchist’s Design Book.

All went well until I realized that I only had three legs that were dry enough to be used immediately.
So a change of plan was in line. Was I really going to wait several more weeks to have a leg from a different tree ready?

I didn’t think so.

A saw bench with 3 legs would be too unstable to work on so I re-thought the design and made some drawings. I came up with a small three legged beer table, to be taken outside in the summertime (with the added bonus being that it is always stable on any uneven surface).

We have always struggled with our unstable tables outside so this was the perfect opportunity to greatly improve our life.

Start from the top

I first created a model of the table:

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model of table out of linden (basswood) and skewers

The form of the table that I decided on is a trapezoid, so some material had to be removed from each side. I don’t have a band saw (only hand saws) and I didn’t feel like sawing through hard ash for an extended amount of time so I used my trusty single bevel hatchet to chop the waste off, around 2mm from the line, the rest to be planed away with my scrub plane (with the grain) and eventually a jack plane and smoothing plane.

Top with hewn edges

Top with hewn edges

Legs are something special

Once the top was done I wanted to make the legs a particular shape I had been thinking about for a while. I had come up with the idea of making pentagonal legs for a project, just to see how it would look, and this was the perfect project to try this on. I made the legs out of some maple I had found in the woods a while ago.

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Stencils come in different shapes, all very practical to have around

I used a stencil to check what the maximum size pentagon would be that would fit on the edge, thus determining the final size of the legs. The distance between a flat side and a corner of the pentagon is the maximum distance, therefore I want to maximize that distance to make as thick a leg possible.
Planing the legs into pentagons was easier than expected. Create one flat surface first. Once that is done you rest your leg onto this flat surface on your workbench and plane at the angle indicated by the pentagon you drew on the edge, on both sides. Flip it to another flat side and plane at an angle again. Easy peasy.

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Pentagonal legs

Boring and reaming

With the legs now done, it was time to drill and ream the holes, and taper the legs to form tenons.
I used a V-block in my front vise to plane the tenons to their rough shape with a block plane, a technique from Chris Williams that Chris Schwarz posted on his blog recently. This worked perfectly, and was much easier to control than using a draw knife.

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Shaping the tapered tenons on the legs with a block plane works great

The legs are drilled at an angle of 15 degrees, with the front leg having a sightline of 0 degrees and the back legs 64 degrees. This at least keeps half the bench in line with the original saw bench this was based on.

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Boring stuff

I decided to add a bevel to the underside to make the bench appear lighter. The bevel is quite steep because it would otherwise have interfered with the legs. I like the bevel being steeper than 45 degrees and I think it gives the bench a more dramatic appearance.

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Adding a bevel to an edge

Orientation of 5 corners and 5 flats

With all parts ready to go the last thing I had to decide on was the orientation of the pentagonal legs. As they are by nature asymmetrical, your eye is tricked easily and the orientation of the legs is therefore essential in being in line with the top.

After some experimenting, I decided on orienting the front leg with a corner going forward (flat facing the middle) and the two back legs with the flat facing outward (corner facing inwards). This gives a striking appearance that gave deep positive feedback when glancing at it or seeing from the corner of your eye.

It’s almost like the legs are square, but your brain tells you otherwise.
It is not easy to see in the pictures but in person the effect is interesting to say the least.

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The finished table

I am very happy with the table and in some way glad that I only had three legs to work with! Next experiment will be with septagonal legs – I’m excited.

-Rudy Everts

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chairs, furniture

Chair Models

I have been thinking about a chair design that has been floating through my head and decided it would be a good idea to make a model before building the actual chair. I want to make a chair that has four legs but the two back legs splay towards each other to a point, making it essentially a three legged chair. I therefore call it

a four legged three legged chair.

I had the opportunity to work in my workshop a little so I made a model of the chair:

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Chair model

I made the seat out of linden wood and drilled the holes at an angle using my Dremel with a small drill bit, by eye. This was easier than I thought and gave better results than I had hoped for. When I put the skewers (legs) in, the angles were right, amazing!

The back rest is carved out of a solid linden piece. Putting the model together was easy and it is surprisingly solid. The skewers have tapered ends so the joints work a bit like real staked furniture.

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first chair – front

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first chair – back

The outer two spindles point outwards and the centre spindle is vertical. Since the legs are all angled and there are no vertical lines in the chair, I thought it was a good idea to increase the number of spindles to four and angle them like you see on some examples of Welsh Stick Chairs, essentially creating a big shape of a W (I suppose the W stands for Wales?).
So I made another model.

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1st chair left, 2nd chair right

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2nd chair left, 1st chair right

I like the orientation of the spindles on the second chair better than the first one. The angle of the two inner spindles matches the angle of the front legs and the angle of the outer spindles matches the angle of the back legs.

The rake of the front legs has to be a bit less to decrease the chances of someone tripping over a leg (which is fine at this scale, but not in full size).

I may make one more model, adding stretchers. When I feel like the chair is to my liking I will note all the sight lines, angles and measurements from the model and make a full size chair out of it.

-Rudy Everts

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furniture

Dutch Tool Chest

Dutch Tool Chest

In my endeavours to become a better woodworker it only seemed logical that I would eventually be making dovetails. I wasn’t intimidated, but it is a very different thing to make joinery than sculpting or carving a spoon, and even staked furniture has a more three-dimensional feel to it.

We had a vacation planned and it seemed like a cool idea to bring some wood and some tools and make a project whilst on holiday. After all, when better to do woodworking than in your vacation?

I thought for a while about what project I wanted to make and considered a small dovetailed box or jewelry box, but somehow it didn’t seem like the right thing. Even making just a small box one still needs a substantial toolkit and I wanted to make something bigger if I was going to bring all those tools with me.

I thought about it some more and eventually came up with the perfect project:

A Dutch Tool Chest.

First a little history about these chests. Dutch Tool Chests were popular with shipbuilders in the Netherlands in the 18th century. Tools were getting rusty due to the wet conditions in the (mostly) unheated workshops of the shipyards and workmen wanted to protect their tools against the elements. They came up with a solution where the lid of the chest is slanted to keep the rain off the chest. Usually the chests were equipped with a fall-front for the bottom compartment and provided enough space for the necessary tools of the shipbuilders. Saws would usually go in the lid, bigger tools in the top compartment together with chisels on a rack and small measuring tools in a separate compartment. The bottom of the chest was were workmen usually stored their hand planes.

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Dutch Tool Chest late 19th century, photo by Ivo Wennekes

More recently, these chests have been made popular once again thanks to Chris Schwarz, who wrote an article about how to make one in Popular Woodworking Magazine. There are several interesting things about its construction as well as a cool sliding lock feature that I will discuss later on.

I went ahead and made a list of tools I would be needing. I wanted an absolute minimum tool kit (not to annoy anyone in our family, it was after all still going to be a vacation…). I planned it well and ended up using every single tool I had brought with me – a very good feeling.

Since we planned our vacation in the rural French countryside I wouldn’t have the possibility to purchase any further tools or supplies, so I had to have everything with me, including the wood.

I happened to have a few boards of pine lying around and one beech board that was the right size for the bottom. I figured it was a good idea to make the bottom out of beech, since it is more prone to rotting / wear than the pine I would be using for the rest of the chest.

Of course I would need some kind of workholding device if I were to do all this joinery. The perfect solution to this was taking my Roman workbench with me. My wife was supportive of this, especially after remembering that the roman workbench doubles very well as a sitting bench as well as a beer/wine table for the evenings.

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My versatile Roman Workbench

In the end it took about seven days to finish this tool chest and, taking into consideration we were doing vacation stuff and other relaxing things, I am pretty happy with the speed of this build.

In the beginning there were sides

Once we arrived at our half-timbered former farmhouse in France I found a good spot to set up my ‘workshop’ outside, organised my wood and tools and started off with planing the side boards.

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planing on the Roman workbench is lots of fun

This was easy stuff, the next step however was dovetails. I had previously never cut dovetails so I was excited and nervous in anticipation. I marked out the dovetails using two pairs of dividers and a small sliding bevel gouge.

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Dovetails all marked out.

I created a small rabbet so the layout would be easier to transfer to the pins board. I sawed the two boards clamped together with my dovetail saw and used a coping saw to saw out the waste on the two individual boards. This went well and I didn’t run into any problems there.

However when I had transferred the layout onto the pins board something went wrong. I forgot to mark the waste wood and excitedly sawed straight into the pins! Being quite annoyed I assessed the situation…. Would my tool chest still be wide enough?

The measurement thankfully proved okay and I sawed the whole row of pins off the board to start again.

Pfffff.

This time I used a sturdy chair that was sitting around to clamp the pins board to and sawed out both sides with my dovetail saw

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This time I marked the waste wood – lesson learned!

For some strange reason (and I don’t expect this to happen the next time I cut dovetails) the tails and pins fitted without too much adjustment necessary. Amazing.

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A bit of beginner’s luck was involved in making these dovetails

Dados and router planes are best friends

The next bit of joinery on the carcass was a shelf that rests in between two dados, cut in the sides of the chest. Making dados is great fun and I had put together a poor man’s router plane just ahead of my vacation especially for the purpose of making this tool chest. I sawed the dados freehand and chopped the waste out with a chisel, finishing with the poor man’s router plane (which worked very well). Adjusting the width of the shelf so the carcass would be square was the only thing left to do before gluing and clamping.

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Dado no.1 in progress. Notice the ghetto router plane I made from a chisel and some scrap wood

I didn’t bring clamps on purpose because of their weight and size. Instead, I experimented using ratchet clamps. There were no problems with this method – keeping the carcass square was an easy job.

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All clamped up!

Fall front and front

With the carcass now done it was time to make the front and the fall front with the cool locking mechanism. Basically, two sticks are pushed through holes on the carcass and the fall front, locking it into place when the lid is closed. Very clever and fun to make.

I started by cutting out the notches for the sticks with a saw and chisel and making them flat with my router plane. The fall front needed little blocks with notches in them where the sticks would move through. I made these out of some scraps.

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The sliding locks will go here

After all the notches were cut I did a test fit to make sure the sticks could move in and out freely, and used screws to attach the front and bottom ledge to the carcass.

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Front and skirt in place, with the sticks clearly visible. I will cut these shorter eventually

The back of the chest gave me no rest

Next up was something thing I had been dreading. I didn’t have big enough boards in the house to make the back or the lid out of one piece so I had to ship lap 10 small boards together for the back and another 7 for the lid. It was lots of work but now at least I know how to make a ship lap joint.

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Ship lap joints are fun to make because they make a lot of shavings

The boards were rough sawn but not bad quality so I first had to plane them all flat and smooth

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From rough to smooth

The lid

With the back finished, now it was time to make the lid. For the lid I did not ship lap the boards together, mostly because I was running out of wood and wouldn’t be able to make the lid out of one type of wood (which would have looked wrong). I placed two battens on the inside of the boards and screwed them together, afterwards hammering the tips of the screws to the side to prevent injury and add strength. I had bought nice French nails at Dictum for this project but figured it was a better idea to use screws whilst on holiday (I can always still remove the screws and replace them with nails instead).

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The lid in the making

With the back and the lid done there was just one more thing to do – add hinges. A fairly straightforward procedure, the notches were cut in the back and the lid and the hinges were screwed together with 8 screws each. I carved two handles out of an old piece of beech firewood that was sitting around and my tool chest was done.

Done?

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Dutch Tool Chest, unpainted

Nope, Dutch tool chests are traditionally painted. I had not thought I would get as far as the painting stage whilst on vacation so naturally I had not brought any paint with me. But luckily the local supermarket carried a paint package with the 3 primary colours plus black and white – exactly the colours I had in mind for my finish. Before I left on vacation I had a vision of a Dutch tool chest painted in Mondriaan colours. I laid out a pattern on the chest and painted away. Some may say it is a bit hard on the eyes but like Brian commented: at least I won’t get my tool chest confused with anyone else’s!

 

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Dutch Tool Chest, finished

I hope you enjoyed my build, I certainly did.

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The tools I used to make this Dutch Tool Chest are listed below:

Hammer, Jack plane, Block plane, Rabbet plane,

dovetail saw, ryoba 240 saw, coping saw, folding saw,

glue, ratchets, roman workbench, holdfasts/pegs,

straightedge, square, bevel gauge, dividers, measuring gauge,

chisel, router plane, eggbeater drill,

Gränsfors hatchet, North Bay Forge adze,

Hardware:

screws, hinges

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furniture, philisophy

The Self-Taught Woodworker (Do Books Count?)

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Staked stool sculpture, based on the design by Chris Schwarz

It has been five months since I decided that my previous work was too imperfect and too imprecise for my own critical liking. At that time, I pondered many ideas and decided I would actively get out of my comfort zone and start making things that I wasn’t personally passionate about but that are important in woodworking. I started, so to say, my own auto-didactic teaching method for myself to get better at things that bothered me about my work.

Making these ‘less exciting items’ would be a push in the direction of making woodworking less of a leisure hobby and a more serious thing, diving deeper into the matter.

The main goals that I have in the context of this auto-didactic teaching method are:

  • Make things that are presentable with no flaws
  • Make things that don’t lie within my passion but that matter to progress as a woodworker
  • And lastly, to become more precise and accurate

At the time, I was mainly carving sculptures and spoons, so I made a simple business plan of carving the three main acanthus leafs (Roman, Greek, Baroque) before July 4th, my birthday. Working with a deadline is good when self-discipline is needed, and I realized this would give me an entire month to master each acanthus leaf – not bad!

I did my best and came up with an idea for a baroque acanthus leaf and even got passionate about it (proving that just like music you can learn to like basically anything).

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My first Acanthus leaf

So I started my own self-taught woodworking training with a simple enough carving idea and that is when things got interesting. I completed my baroque acanthus leaf, embarked upon a second one mirrored from the first, and started designing my own acanthus draping. That draping is still sitting in my workshop unfinished and I never got around to the Greek or the Roman acanthus leafs.

My birthday deadline is in two weeks and yet I am not panicking.

Why?

I am on an entirely different road right now.

I am still working with wood but it has become much clearer in my head how I have to proceed yet keeping  my goals fully in mind. I have decided that the best thing I can do at the moment for me in woodworking in order to become more precise is

making furniture.

I figured out making furniture tackles every aspect of myself that I suck at – being precise, working according to a clear plan, planning ahead, measuring things ahead of time.

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First furniture project – a small stepping stool

I have currently no more deadlines, just lots of ideas about furniture flowing through my head. My next goal is to build a chair that is both comfortable and beautiful.

It has been an exciting road so far, and this new idea excites me beyond anything I have done in the past. I am not saying my work is improving yet, I need more time to assess that statement. But I do think this is a step in the right direction.

-Rudy Everts

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