I’ve been continuing with my operations to rough out and glue up chair components. With the rear legs already roughed out, I next turned my attention to the headrest.
The headrest (as well as the back braces of the chair) curves substantially to provide a more comfortable position while sitting. To obtain the necessary curve for the headrest you either need a very thick piece of stock (with a lot of resulting waste) or the pieces must be put together using a process known as coopering. For this headrest I am coopering individual pieces of stock with the grain oriented vertically.
The coopering process is much like the process that would be used to build a wooden barrel. The individual pieces are beveled on along their edges so that when glued together they form a segmented curve. The bevel angle on each edge can vary depending on how much of an overall angle or curve is desired and also how many pieces are being assembled. In my case, I needed an overall width of about 26″ for the headstock with an overall included angle of 40 degrees. I started with six pieces at 8″ high by about 4 to 5 inches wide. The six pieces provided 5 interior glue joints (the ends of the headstock are not beveled). Each of these joints has two edges to bevel. Put that all together and you have 10 bevels to provide a total of 40 degrees which equates to 4 degrees per bevel.
To create the bevels I elected to make multiple passes over my jointer with the fence set at 4 degrees from vertical. With a setup for a very light cut (less than 1/32″ per pass) this operation was much safer than using the table saw with the relatively small size of these pieces. After the beveling was done on the jointer I elected to take a few swipes with a hand plane over each edge to eliminate the mill marks and to assure a pristine glue surface. In the picture you can see the pieces dry fit after beveling the edges.
Because of the bevels on these pieces, the glue up operation was very tricky. The glue up of the six pieces was initially done in three pairs. Next, two pairs were glued to each another with the use of angled blocks faced with sandpaper adhered to the clamps. Because the headrest now exceeded the depth of the heads on my clamps, the final glue up required the addition of some temporary blocks glued to the headrest to act as clamping points. At a later stage, these glue blocks will be cut off and the curve will cut into the headstock at the band saw. In the pictures you can see the sequence of this series of gluing operations.
Setting the glued up headstock aside, I moved on to cutting the thin strips for the laminated rockers and back slats. This was a repetitive operation that required precision and safety. So, I created a simple jig to allow me to rip thin strips at the table saw to a very tight dimensional tolerance. The jig also allows the strips to be ripped on the waste side of the blade so that strips can be ripped from a larger piece of stock and avoiding the dangers of trying to do this between the blade and the fence.
Each rocker requires 9 strips at 1/8″ thickness and each back slat requires four strips at 90 thousandths of an inch thickness. For the rockers, I made additional strips because some will be needed to create stacks under each leg where they join the rockers. I also made some extra strips to create a curved backer for use when these strips are later laminated with a clamping form. There are seven back slats required but I made an extra for safety as well as some additional strips to create a backer. for their glue up as well. In the picture you can see the resulting strips for the rockers.
Next up: Bent lamination and creating the leg joints in the seat
I have always admired the work of Sam Maloof. Not only has he developed a style that is very distinctive and unique in its own right, I think that he has also done a tremendous amount for the craft of woodworking in America.
I especially admire Maloof’s rocking chairs. These are the pieces that he is arguably most well known for. The flowing hard and soft lines of his design work together in a truly elegant form to create a work of art in wood. For many years I have wanted to make the time to create a chair patterned after the Sam Maloof designs.
There are several current rocking chair makers that have patterned their work after Maloof. One, in particular, seems to taken his queues from Sam but also added some unique design and functional elements as well. Hal Taylor was originally inspired by Sam Maloof and has developed a chair design that goes beyond Maloof in both aeastetics and function. Hal has been building his chairs in Virginia and refining his design for many years. He has also taught many people to build his chairs in classes at his shop. While I don’t have the ability to do a class with Hal right now, I contacted him and I will be building a chair based (at least initially) on plans of his design.
This chair calls for about 35 board feet of 8/4 stock. I will be making mine from Walnut and I purchased about 45 board feet to cover any waste generated during the build process. Most all of the chair components need to be milled close to a full 2 inches thick before any joinery is done on them.
The first step in this effort was to create hardboard templates for most of the chair components. Once I had the templates cut out and their curves smoothed, I took some time to read the stock and to identify where each of the chair parts would come from. The most important parts here were the layout of the rear legs and the seat. I was lucky enough to have obtained some fairly wide stock so I could get the rear legs and seat components from the same board. This allowed for consistent color and grain characteristics for these parts.
At this stage I just marked the parts on the rough planed stock and cut to rough dimensions. I wanted to be sure that I had enough stock for all of the components before starting to cut to critical dimension. In the first picture, you can see the rear legs marked and their orientation for best grain match. The next picture shows all of the major pieces rough cut and ready for further work.
I cross-cut the seat on the table saw using my shop-made cross-cut sled. My stock was wide enough for me to make a symmetrical 2-board layout for the 21 1/2 inch wide seat. However a three, four or even five board seat would also be attractive with the proper layout for grain. You can see the glue-up of the two seat boards in the next picture – the orientation of these boards is with the growth rings arching upward when viewed from the front of the seat. This will yield the most lines of grain to be cut through when sculpting the seat out at a later stage which should produce a very attractive seat.
Satisfied that my layout of the remaining parts would work, I set out to cut the back legs next. I traced the outline onto the Walnut following the template using a white pencil and went to work at the band saw. I used a 3/8″, 3TPI blade for this task. It could handle most of the curves, but to avoid any binding I chose to make relief cuts into a few of the curved areas before following my lines to free the pieces. I stayed about 1/16″ away from my lines for the most part. The result was two legs that are very close in shape.
Next up: The coopered headrest and cutting thin strips for the rockers and back-slats
I’m not sure how I liked working with the Hard Maple on this project. Even with careful reading of the grain of each board, the wood was very prone to tear-out with the planer and jointer. This was with wood of only relatively moderate figure. Because of this, the stock required a lot of work with my smoothing plane and a card scraper in order to smooth the areas that showed torn out grain. I usually smooth the surfaces of project parts to eliminate mill marks but this wood required more that that.
Of course, I did all of this smoothing work as I went along creating the various parts for the table so all that was left after assembly was sanding. I always hand sand my projects using a cork-faced sanding block and this was no exception. The wood was generally smooth from the planning and scraping. So, all that was necessary was a bit of blending of the planed and scraped areas – I did this with 180-grit paper.
The finish on the table is a simple one. I did not want to add too much color to the Maple but, I did want to warm it up a bit. I made a test board surfaced with the same processes as the table and tried applying Boiled Linseed Oil, blonde Shellac, and General Finishes Arm-R-Seal in various combinations. In the end, I chose straight Arm-R-Seal. For the first coat, I scrubbed it into the surface with 400 wet/dry paper. After that coat dried over night, I scuff sanded the finish with the same grit paper, wiped the sanding dust with Naptha coated cloth and applied second a third coats of the finish. After letting the finish cure for a week, I applied paste wax with 0000 steel wool and buffed the surface.
In the pictures, you can see the finished result. Sorry for the quality of the pictures, they were taken in a hurry just before the table was packed up and sent off to its new home in South Carolina with my in laws.
In the end, I think that the arched aprons and top, the inlay and the splayed legs on this table helped to modernize the basic shaker-inspired design. After it arrived in its new home I received a report that it looked great and that the Maple/Cherry combination worked perfectly with the dark wood floors of the house. I’m hoping for a picture of it in place to see for myself.
All of the table components were completed so, it was now time to tackle milling and installing the string inlay.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, this table is going into a house with very dark wood floors. Because of this, I chose Hard Maple for the main wood to provide contrast with the floors. However, the Maple alone was too bland for my liking and I wanted to give this table a bit of a contemporary flair. So, I decided to add some Cherry string inlay along the arched aprons as well as bordering the entire top. I felt that this would provide some visual interest along with a more modern look while not being too overbearing. Just a subtle design element.
The first task was to lay out the inlay lines on the parts to be embellished. On the aprons this was just a simple arch parallel with the bottom of each apron. On the top things were a bit more complex. I wanted the inlay to border the top at a fixed distance from the edges. To mark this, I layed out and marked the intersecting points at the corners. Then I connected the points with a straight edge and compass set at the desired offset distance for the inlay. The compass was used on the curved sections running the point along the curve while tracing out a line with the pencil side.
The trick to routing the channel for the inlay was to keep the router bit running parallel with all of the edges of the parts – this included running along the straight sides of the top, the concave edges of the aprons and also along the convex edges of the ends of the top. To do this I used my Bosch Colt router with an edge guide. I milled two small arched blocks. One block had a convex curve and the other a concave curve – these curves were made slightly sharper than those of the table to allow me to maneuver the router to track the inlay lines . I (separately) double-stick taped these blocks to the edge guide. The convex block was used on the aprons and the concave block was used on the ends of the top – as I routed, I concentrated on keeping the center of the guide block against the edge of the part while tracking my lines. At the intersection points on the top I stopped short of each intersection with the router and finished the corner with a small chisel.
The next task was to rip some Cherry stringing at about 3/16″ wide by an 1/8″ high. I did this by ripping a few 1/8″ pieces from a 3/4″ Cherry board. I then placed these pieces flat on their wide sides and set up the band saw to rip strips slightly wider than 3/16″ – leaving room to clean them up with a hand plane. I used double-stick tape to hold the pieces of stringing to my bench and dressed the edges with my plane until they just fit into the routed channels.
For the aprons, fitting and gluing the stringing was straight forward. I applied a bit of glue into each channel and pressed the inlay into position leaving the ends a bit long for trimming later. With a bit of waxed paper in between the pieces, I butted the aprons face to face and clamped them together to dry. The top was a bit more challenging because four pieces of stringing had to be cut to fit. I contemplated mitering the corners but finally opted on a slightly different technique. I first cut and fit the shorter arched end pieces. With these pieces temporarily and lightly in place, I marked one end of each long piece to match the angle where they met the end pieces. I made those cuts with a sharp chisel. With those ends temporarily set in place, I then marked the opposite ends where they met the arched pieces on the opposite ends of the top. Again, I cut the pieces with a chisel, however, I initially stayed away from my line and gradually trimmed away the ends until I had a good fit. With these pieces fit, I again put glue into the channels and set the stringing in place. I clamped on waxed paper and cauls over the stringing and left it to dry. Once the glued stringing had dried I leveled it all with the surface of the parts using a block plane and card scraper.
With all of the stringing glued in place and leveled I did a some sanding on all of the parts and then moved on to the the glue up of the table. In the pictures you can see the table being clamped during the glue up as well as after a final hand sanding and ready for finish. In the next post I’ll cover the finishing process and show the completed table.
When readying parts to be edge glued, most of us probably trust the surface left after a pass over the jointer knives as being smooth and ready for gluing. After all, it feels smooth, and when the boards are placed edge to edge the fit looks pretty darn good. We don’t see how the fit could be much better and we forge ahead, slop on some glue and clamp the pieces together until we think we’ve pressured them far enough into submission such that they will yield a seamless joint. I know I’ve been down this road – and sometimes the joints are fine, but sometimes they are less than perfect.
I was working with some pieces of Walnut today and nearby there was some white chalk on the bench that I was using for marking out parts on the dark wood. The pieces I was working with were about 2 inches thick and 8 inches long and I needed to edge glue them. As is the norm, I held two of the pieces together edge to edge and inspected the joint it offered after a pass over the jointer knives – it looked OK, but not perfect.
I spotted the chalk again and thought maybe I should see just how good that jointed surface was. In the pictures you can see the surface of one of the boards after rubbing the edge lightly with the white chalk (the second one is a close-up of the same board). You can clearly see the uneven surface left by the jointer. As you can see, the rotating knives of this tool leave little scallops on the wood surface – in fact the width of these scallops changes depending on how fast the piece is moved over the knives. The slower you go, the closer together the scallops are and the better the resulting surface – better yes, but not perfect.
After seeing this, I felt I could make the surface better. I don’t have a jointer plane, so, I pulled out my #4 smoothing plane to see what I could do. I made a few passes along the edge of the board watching as the plane removed the white chalk leaving a stripe of chocolate colored wood in its wake. The first picture is the resulting surface (the second picture is a close-up of the hand planed edge). I put some Naptha on a paper towel and wiped away the residual chalk that was still in the pores of the wood. The smoothing plane only removed one or two thousandths of an inch of material, however, as seen in the pictures, the surface quality was now infinitely better.
I often use my smoothing plane on the faces of panels and other parts that have been face jointed in order to remove these milling marks. However, I don’t always edge joint with a hand plane after using the jointer. My edge-glued joints are usually pretty good but, I sometimes think that they can be better. After this little experiement, I’m sure of it. Of course, a smoothing plane is not the best tool for this job…so, it looks like I’ve got a good reason for a jointer plane to be the next entry in my hand tool arsenal!