Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Building A Mt. Lebanon Side Chair: Finished and Woven

I've been dragging my feet on this project, and too much woodshedding and good times with distant friends has kept me from the shop (No complaints on either front, by the way!)  Thanks for the comments as well.  To answer James's question, all stock was kiln dried -- I'm sure that air dried stock would bend more easily.

All that remains to be done is to glue up, level the chair, apply finish, and weave the seat.  The glue up was a doddle.  I apply a bit of glue to the mortise and then I squirt some glue on a damp sponge brush to paint it on the tenons.  Insert, clamp, rest.

In a perfect world the chair would sit level right out of the clamps.  But because of a slight problem with my Side Rung Mortising Jig (the back slats were brushing against a support piece and altering the angle -- corrected by adding some height to the sliding arm.) there was a wobble of about 1/8".  Nothing to panic about.  I level the chair by placing it on a large, dead-flat surface (my tablesaw top) and identifying one of the offending legs.  It will always seem like two, and they will always be on a diagonal.  By measuring these two legs I can determine whether the issue is length (then trim the long one!) or twist.  With twist I dangle one of the "long" legs over the edge of the table -- with the others flat -- and mark the difference.  If it is slight (less than 1/16") I just trim it from that leg.  If it is more, I take about half off that leg, repeat the marking process on the diagonal leg, and remove the rest.  I think that this maintains some order in the universe.

The finish for this chair is boiled linseed oil (blo) followed by paste wax.  I like both the look and feel of a nice thin coat of wax and I'm not looking to alter the color.  As expected, it does nothing for the posts, but it really makes the figure in the curly slats pop.  I let 48 hours pass between the blo and the wax application, and let the wax sit for about three hours before I buff it out.  As long as you don't really slather on the wax you won't get into much trouble.

I defer, completely, to Kerry Pierce on the seat weaving portion of this project.  In his book, Chairmaking Simplified, he outlines a very straightforward and cost-effective way to weave the seat with rattan splint.  I purchased my splints from The Country Seat for about $10.00.  Pierce's instructions are pretty foolproof and explains everything but the tedium.  Soaking the splints helps to make them more pliable, but as they are so rough, you will be wondering at about the halfway point "Where is that blood coming from?"  Spoiler alert: it is coming from your fingers.  Oddly enough, I found this part to be the most satisfying (Not the blood part, but the weaving.)

So satisfying that I bought some extra thicknesses of basket reed with my order and fooled around making a basket.  (I know nothing about basket making, but like Manuel from Fawlty Towers, "I learned it from a book.")  I really like the strength and form you can get from weaving, and I'm wondering how I might use this in future pieces/designs.

Well, what do I think about this project?

I guess I could just say that I hated it, but that would be unfair.  Even with the back post bending omitted, it was very time consuming.  Coupling that with the fact that these chairs have a low-ish perceived value, I'd be hard-pressed to put these into the mix.  In fact, I just say an original go under the hammer for less than $300 not far from here -- one with provenance, made at the Mt. Lebanon Community!  However, now that I have the jigs, I may make more -- either as a batch of side chairs or as a single rocker.  I will say this.  Now that it is done, it is quite comfy!

Thanks for reading.  Up next is upholstery for the contemporary chairs, a prairie chair, an oak bookcase, and maybe a peek at a Butterscotch Blonde Tele I'm working on.  Thanks for reading.


  1. nice one chris-
    i love the finish you used...almost a non-finish- my favourite...
    looking forward to seeing the rest of them-;)
    stay warm.

  2. A handsome chair and I like curly anything, so I give your slats an A++.

  3. Yeah, I think that choosing curly wood is what salvages this from oblivion. In the end, i actually really like it! Thanks.

  4. Congratulations Chris on a job well done! I must agree, the figured wood is the shining light.

    I've rushed, sea-grassed and caned many chairs, but I've never come across ratan strips before. I like it.

  5. the chair is amazing. I bet it would look great with a desk! All kidding aside, it's really beautiful. All your work has been beautiful

  6. Jeff - I really appreciate those kind words. I'm in this slightly uninspired mode right now where I need to buckle down and finish a couple of projects. I was fired up to get started on a Stickley Prairie Chair -- but my normal supplier's stock of QSWO was pretty ratty -- which means a 1 1/2 hour round trip to my other place. ARGH.

  7. Really nice Chris. I've got one of these on my round tuit list, as well as a set of Windsors. Someday.