Monday, December 14, 2009

A Place to Sit and Jam

My first holiday project out of the shop is a stool for guitar playing.  The design is based on the Milking Stool from the excellent book Thomas Moser's Windsor Chairmaking.  This book explains in great detail Moser's use of laminations to create the bent parts of windsor chairs, including his signature continuous arm chair.  Laminating, as opposed to steam bending, allows you to expand the types of wood you can use for certain elements of the chair.  He also gives dimensions and angles for many of his popular pieces.  The book was printed in 1982, and the designs do seem a bit dated, but I've found it to be a good reference.

I started by glueing up the seat from some figured walnut I had left over from the desk project.  A quick pass with scrapers and handplanes and I was ready to drill the leg holes.  A year or so ago I made a live-edged cherry bench, and I had built a little jig to allow me to use a router with a 1" straight cutting bit to start the holes.  By creating x and y axis on the seat and aligning the jig accordingly I made (what I thought to be) perfect 10 degree splay in each direction.

I decided to eyeball the seat carving using an inshave, travisher, curved scrapers, and sanding.  The walnut proved to be much tougher to work than the white pine I was accustomed to (duh) and the figure made it even trickier.  This was clearly a case of abondoning any pretensions I had about purity of method and concentrating on getting the puck in the back of the net.  All things considered, I'm pleased with the look.

I turned the legs into a simple taper from hard maple, taking care to be fairly accurate with the tenons.  I do think one of my next shop projects/purchases will be a little tenon rounder to speed up this part of the process.

Now it would be easy to gloss over the next step with some cleverly edited photos that made the leg angles look perfectly square and true.  They are not.  I had hoped that my little router jig was accurate (it had proved perfect in the bench project) but with the legs closer together I realized that at least one of the angles was not true and it introduced a kind of funny cant to each leg.  I knew that I could correct for the height and level in the final leg trimming step, but it was going to look a bit askew.  Well, I guess I will need to build that drill press jig after all.

Once assembled I set the chair on my level floor and placed wedges under the legs to make the seat level from side-to-side and tilted back a few degrees from front-to-back.  I then taped a pencil to a block of wood so that it drew a line, level with the floor, just above the bottom of the shortest leg and drew the lines for the final leg length.  With the legs glued and wedged into place all that was left was to finish the piece.

I chose two coats of Danish oil, and it really brought out the figure in the walnut and highlighted the contrast with the maple.  I guess some projects reaffirm your ability and some point out your weaknesses.  This did the latter, but for whatever reason I'm not too worked up about it.  Maybe someday it will show up on the Antiques Roadshow and they'll say "You can tell this is actually from the Combray Furniture Studio because none of the legs are actually square and true -- pure design genius." 

Then again, maybe not


  1. christopher-

    looks great! we'll have to hook up some day to play some tunes!

    all the best. ;)

  2. Yeah, I'm trying to upgrade my guitar skills from British invasion stuff to something resembling jazz. Now instead of just watching the Flyers lose every night I play scales and watch the Flyers lose!

  3. It really does look nice, Chris - it's hard not to ask, in the context, about the compromise of laminated (vs. solid) sides in guitars (like the one you're going to build me someday) - after giving up on American-made, the second most important criterion affecting price seems to be just that - thoughts on that?

  4. James-
    I'm no expert, but I belive that solid wood resonates better than laminates. So solid tops are pretty essential, solid sides less so. (I'm sure there are those who would disagree!) The traditional wood for sides and backs is expensive, so essentially veneering a thin piece on to cheaper wood is more economical. I don't know if there is any advantage to laminates from an ease of construction angle either.

    I suspect that paying for solid sides is a classic 50% more cost for 5% more performance --and for some that is important.

    Realize that for everything I say on almost every subject there is a parenthetical "But I could be all wrong about this" disclaimer!

  5. I like your post, thanks for your sharing