I’ve mentioned before that I’m basically a self-taught woodworker. Lot’s of reading, watching videos and making mistakes have gone into my “training” in the craft. Well, that’s all about to change for the better…
I had been thinking about the possibility of taking a class or two in some facet of woodworking. For years, I’ve procrastinated and never acted on those thoughts. Finally, this year I decided to take the plunge and sign up for a class at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. I’m going to be there for a weekend class (May 9-10) on Embellishments including stringing, cross-band veneering and other inlaid features. Following that I will be staying on during the following week (May 11-15) for a class building a Virginia/Carolina Sideboard. These classes will be with Jeff Headley and Steve Hamilton. Jeff is a forth-generation cabinetmaker and has written for Fine Woodworking and Steve works with Jeff in his woodworking business building period reproduction furniture. The picture shows Jeff’s version of the Huntboard that I’ll be building. I’m really looking forward to this class for the opportunity to learn some new techniques and to improve my skills – especially in the hand tool area.
As evidenced by my lack of posts on the Sculpted Rocking Chair recently, I’ve been gathering and prepping materials for the Huntboard. So, my progress on the rocking chair will be on hold for a bit while I go off to school. I’ll be back at that project as soon as I get home. Also, I plan on blogging about my time at the Marc Adams School as well as progress during the classes so, keep an eye out here for updates.
You may be wondering just when does the sculpting of this Sculpted Rocking Chair actually start? The answer is that is starts now!
Well, maybe after a quick commercial interruption…you’ll recall that in the last post I had glued the two perfectly good front legs together with a piece of two inch stock in between them. Well, of course they were not going to stay that way. So, I traced a curve onto the adder piece between the legs and then cut them apart on the band saw. The front legs will be cut and sculpted further at a later stage. Now that that was out of the way, I could turn my attention to the first efforts of sculpting on the chair – shaping the seat.
To start this process, I first layed out the outline of the seat area from my templates. Next, I carefully layed out the locations for some depth holes. I drilled these holes into the seat to help me judge when the sculpting had reached the desired depth. The rear holes were drilled at 3/4″, the center holes at 5/8″ and the two sets of front holes at 1/2″.
To do the rough shaping I used a coarse Kutzall donut-shaped disk in an angle grinder. This disk removed material very quickly and produced copious amounts of dust! However, if careful I was capable of fairly fine work with it. The key was to use slow, steady movements of the grinder in the direction against its rotation. I started the shaping at the rear of the seat, staying about 1/4″ away from my layout lines and gradually working toward the finished depth. When I was about 1/8″ away from the finished depth I moved to the front to work it to a similar level. The center keel of the seat had to be shaped manually as I went along. After I got the entire seat to within about 1/16″ of finished depth, I carefully used the grinder to shape up to my layout lines. The sequence of pictures below shows the process from start to finish.
The next step was to move on to sanding with the random orbit sander. I started this with 60 grit to even out the coarse surface left by the grinder and then moved on to 120 grit. I also used folded sandpaper and my thumb to ride the curved surface along the edge of the shaped seat leaving a crisp line along the top. In the picture, you can see how rough the surface was prior to sanding. A little more layout on the front of the seat, some filing and some sanding and I had contoured the front of the seat to allow the user’s legs to wrap nicely over the front edge of the seat.
Next up: Shaping the rear legs and arm rests
There’s still more work to do on the rockers and back braces but for now I have them on hold. However, with the joinery on the seat blank complete, I needed to complete the work on the front and rear legs so that they will mate with these joints in the seat.
As you will recall, in my last post I created the joints in the seat that will receive the legs. These joints essentially have a tongue that must mate with a corresponding grove in the legs. There’s a bit more too it, as you will see, but that’s the basic premise.
Before I could create this joinery on the legs, I needed to do two things: for the rear legs, I needed to create profile on the inside faces and visible from the front and on both the front and rear legs I needed to add some material to make parts of the legs wider.
In the pictures you can (barely) see the outlined profile toward inside of the rear legs which was to be cut on the band saw. Because the legs had already been contoured, these cuts were a bit tricky. I was careful to be sure that there were always two points of the leg in contact with the saw table – sometimes one of those points was at the edge of the table as the leg was either entering the table or leaving the table. This allowed the cut to be completed safely even though it was sometimes happening at a point elevated above the table. In the second picture you can see the profiles cut on the inside of the rear legs.
After profiling the rear legs I milled adder pieces for both the front and rear legs. The front adder piece runs the length of the legs. The rear adder piece runs just between the sections that will eventually contact the seat. For the front legs, the adder piece will be profiled to become the outside of the legs. For the rear legs the adder piece was ripped at the band saw after gluing in preparation for more detailed operations to follow.
The rear legs of the chair need to cant outward at the top at an angle of six degrees. In order to accomplish this, the adder pieces on each rear leg must be ripped at six degrees from the outside faces of the legs. In order to accomplish this, I created a jig to use at the table saw. The jig is designed to ride against the fence on the saw and it has a fence of it’s own that is fixed at six degrees to the table saw blade. With a leg clamped to the jig the piece was pushed through the blade cutting off a six degree wedge. For the other leg, the jig was rotated 180 degrees and the other leg was cut in a similar fashion.
I took this opportunity to clamp the legs together in the vise using the angled offcuts from the previous operation so that I could smooth the seat joint area and square it to the angled faces which were previously cut on the table saw. After achieving smooth and square faces, I laid out for the joinery that will join the legs to the seat.
The notches to accept the seat joinery were cut on two faces of the rear legs using a sled on the table saw. Because each leg had only a small bearing surface resting on the sled, I clamped a block to the outboard side of the legs to prop them up at the correct angle. One leg was cut in the orientation as shown in the picture and the other leg was done at 180 degrees from this orientation. The notches were nibbled away with repeated passes of the leg over the table saw blade until the joint would just fit the seat. Once the rough notches were cut, I cleaned up the saw marks with a shoulder plane. The last step for this joint was to round over the inside corner of this joint to match the corresponding rebate that was cut into the seat. I did this with a ¾” round over bit in the plunge router. Because of the small size of the area where I could rest the router, this did not give optimal results. So, I subsequently repeated this step with the same bit in the router table. In the picture, you can see the general fit of the rear leg into the seat.
The front leg joinery was done in a similar manner to the rear legs. However, the notches were made on three faces of the legs. Also, this joinery was done prior to gluing the adder piece to the two front legs. In the pictures you can see the competed front leg joinery and the adder piece being glued between the outside surfaces of the two front legs after the joinery was completed.
Next up: Sculpting the seat
From a woodworkers perspective, the thing that stands out most about a sculpted rocking chair like this is probably the Maloof-style joints used to join the legs to the seat. With all of the lamination behind me, I took the plunge to start the work for this unique joinery.
The joinery starts on the seat blank. So, I first used a sled on the table saw to trim the seat to finished length and width. The rear legs will be joined to the seat via a 3 inch by 3 inch cutout that is rabetted top and bottom on each back corner. The front legs have a similar configuration except they are set back from the front corners into a 2 inch wide notch in the seat.
These joints need to be very precise and with the thickness and size of the seat blank, that’s a challenge. In order to create the notches to exact size, I first laid out the joints with a pencil and then rough cut them at the band saw. This allowed me to get very close to the lines without worrying about the precision of the joints. The rear leg notches were cut out as single blocks. However, because the front legs are attached set back from the front corner, I used the band saw to create a series of kerfs to rough out the notches for them.
I created a couple of jigs to help with the process of precisely finishing these notches. In the picture you can see the front and rear leg jigs that I made to use with the router with a top bearing pattern bit. The openings on the jigs are exactly the size of the notches to be cut and the bearing on the bit rides along the edges of the jig to trim away excess material from the joint leaving a perfect notch. Because of the thickness of the seat, my pattern bit would not cut the entire rear leg joint in one pass. So, I first used the rear leg jig from the top and then again from the bottom to finish the joint. After routing the rear notches, I used a sharp chisel to remove the radius left by the router bit and to square up the inside corners of the notches.
The second operation for this joint was to create a rebate along both the top and bottom of each notch. This effectively leaves a tongue in the center of each notch that will later mate with a corresoponding groove in the legs. This was done with a series of shallow passes with a 1 1/2″ by 1/2″ rabetting bit. In the pictures you can see that I used a scrap block clamped to the outside of the seat to eliminate any tearout. The resulting rebate leaves a 3/4″ radius on the inside corners of each notch. Later the corners of the legs will be rounded over with a corresponding 3/4″ rounding over bit to create complementary profile on the legs.
With the joints for the front and rear legs completed I setup another jig to rout holes for the back braces where they enter the seat. These were done with a template that I got from Hal Taylor. The holes were routed with a 1/4″ straight bit and a 5/8″ OD collar on the router. These holes are actually slightly oval in order to allow the back braces to flex slightly as you sit in the chair.
Next up: Leg Joinery
The rockers and back braces for the chair are made with bent laminations. In the last post I showed the jig and process that I used to cut the thin strips to be laminated. So, now it was on to the actual glue-filled lamination process!
There are a bunch of potential ways to do laminations of this type – everything from a using a vacuum bag to building a form and using veneer screws to create a press. I don’t have any vacuum press equipment or veneer screws so I elected to make a couple of forms to be used with clamps for this process.
The forms were built out of construction lumber that I laminated together to double thickness and squared up with the jointer and planer. I then band sawed the curves into each form and carefully smoothed the curves to eliminate any flat spots This is especially important for the rocker form because a flat spot on a rocker will be easily felt when rocking in the chair. Next, I drilled a series of holes in each form to accept the heads of C-clamps. Along one edge of each form are metal stops (I used some scrap aluminum angle and steel straps that I had lying around). These stops allow the parts to be aligned evenly along one edge while they are being laminated.
As a first step, I laminated a backer strip on each form with the extra strips that I had previously cut. This allowed be to get acquainted with the clamping process and to determine how much glue to use and open time I would have. After the backers were dried I cleaned up the glue squeeze-out and trimmed them to be slightly narrower than the finished parts will be.
The moment of truth arrived and it was time to laminate the first rocker. I went about the process of spreading the glue as quickly as I could. I am using Titebond III for the gluing and it does not allow a lot of extra open time – the rockers have 9 strips so I had to move fast. With the wet stack on the form I went to work clamping – progressing from front to back on the rocker with the stack lightly clamped to the metal alignment strips. In the end it worked out OK, but let’s just say I had no time to spare when tightening that last clamp and let me tell you, there was a lot of glue squeeze-out! I left the rocker to dry in the form for 24 hours. Laminating the second rocker went a bit smoother as I was more prepared and familiar with the sequence of operations.
In the picture you can see the stacks of strips for the back braces. I am using Ash for the two inner strips for flexibility (I am also using original Titebond for this to avoid the dark glue lines that Titebond III would give). The Walnut strips on the front and back of the stacks were cut in sequence from the same piece of stock to give a visual repetition to the braces when viewed from the front and back of the chair.
The process for laminating the back braces is similar to the rockers except that they are done two at a time – one on top of the other. This process does alter the curves of the top brace somewhat when compared to the bottom brace. However, they are laminated in an order such that the bottom braces (with the greatest curves) are placed toward the outside of the chair and the top braces are placed toward the inside. This results in a change in the curves that is consistent across the back of the chair. With seven back braces, this arrangement requires four gluing operations with a 24 hour drying period in between each. While that’s going on, I can move on to some joinery for the chair.
Next up: Joinery for the seat and legs