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QUESTION: It takes me a long time -- much too long -- something like 1/2 hour per spindle -- to make rear spindles that pass through the arm. Here's my technique. I'd really appreciate some tips.

1. I start with DRY 5/4 red oak from the lumber yard. (I don't think working from green wood would be feasible for me, as I build very few chairs and only have little bits of spare time to spend.) I try to get straight-grained stock.......  What am I doing wrong?!  SW 10/6/04

REPLY: I tried to make a spindle from kiln dried sawn wood once and I'd never try it again. I think most of your problem is materials, riven green or airdried wood works much easier. A sack back type spindle takes 5 minutes to make. I start with a riven blank usually approx. 1" square. I rough out the shape by eye to approx. the spindle shape, with more experience it can get quite close. At this point I mark 2-3 reference points for swells and tapers etc. The tough part for beginners is always refining the largest diameter that tapers in a short distance to the smallest diameter. Basically it takes practice and good visualization skills to learn to do this quickly and accurately. From this point it just refinement of the shape with a spokeshave and scrapers to what you want and checking the small diameter so it fits where it needs to be. My advice is to get some oak you can rive and then practice. JT 10/6/04

REPLY: First, I agree with JT. Second, I don't accept your premise that using green wood is not feasible for you. You might take some of the energy you are expending and direct it to getting green oak (red or white) or hickory. Most importantly though, and I want to emphasize this, if you'r getting straight grain spindles the way you are doing it, and you'r doing this for pleasure, not to make a living, I don't think you're doing too bad. A half hour for a nice spindle is worth the time. You might consider dropping the bench plane in favor of a shaving horse (make your own, it's easy) and spokeshave. On spokeshaves, I favor the old wooden ones with the brass adjustment knobs. None of the new makers have made one which adjust so easily. BG-WKG 10/7/04

REPLY: SW, you can't go wrong if you follow JT's advice. It may seem daunting, but its not. His "five minutes" is no exaggeration. And I find it fun, by all means not the drudgery you seem to be experiencing. Using logs is naturally less expensive than buying milled lumber, and green wood works far easier than dried wood.

Although its talking about making spindles and posts for ladderback chairs, John Alexander's video "Make A Chair From A Tree" should give you all the details you need about splitting out stock and working it with draw knife and spoke shave. His book of the same title (now out of stock) is what got me hooked on green wood working back in the '70's.

I've been taught a method that uses a pattern as an aid to get the shape of the spindle you want. It's for beginners, after some experience you probably won't want to keep using the pattern. I'll try writing a description of this but it might make something real simple sound like rocket science.

With the pattern, pencil in the shape on the opposing sides of a squared work piece, draw knife to the lines one side at a time. Do this same thing to the other pair of opposing sides. Now you have a "square" spindle that is 5/8" square at the bottom, 3/4" at the bulb, and tapering (correctly) from there to the 3/8" dimension through to the top. Next knock off the 4 corners to make this an octagonal spindle. Then whip out the spoke shave and whack off the 8 facets, followed by a scraper and chairmaker's devil (scraper) to put the final finish on it. It takes almost as much time to draw in the lines as it takes to work down a spindle, so you'll abandon the stencil in a jiffy.

I wish I could show everyone what a snap this is, I know my description falls short. GB 10/7/04

REPLY: I think you'll find working green or air dried wood a bit of a revelation. Also, if I understood correctly you are working on spindles for a through the armrail chair like a sackback or combback. If so the spindles don't have to be straight, they are held at both ends and the middle so they sort of straighten themselves. JT 10/8/04


One step in the process that I don't see or hear any mention of using is the "draw hole" method of rounding spindles. For lack of a proper term that would be universally understood, I'd like to clarify this. It is the means/process of getting a staight round rod[relative term] without facets from the shave. I use this "draw hole" process in my rifle building to make ramrods and it saves a good bit of time and results in a "rounder" rod in the end.

How I do it: I bore a series of holes in a piece of metal that I can easily clamp in the vise or lay down on the anvil. The holes for the narrow end of the spindle are just a little bigger than the 3/8" spindle area that I need on the fine end and the large holes are just a bit bigger than the 3/4" area I will need at the base of my spindle.

1. Rive the blanks for spindles
2. Shape down to 1" x 1" square x 28" long and 24"
3. Round corners with shave or draw knife
4. Beginning with the 1" hole hammer the entire blank thru the hole. Do this in sequence and till you have the 3/4" round blank.
5. Taper the narrow end of the spindle to your rough shape with facets then begin tapping the thin section through the smaller holes. You can work the spindle back and forth in the hole to scrape the spindle very round.
6. The resulting shape is bit rounder than the shaved spindles and the long process of whittling will be reduced quite a bit.

This is how you make a "whippy and strong" ramrod for a longrifle and it works real well for chairmakers looking for another short cut in work time and no loss of quality in the component.

Roy Underhill illustrates this in one of his books in the process of making rake tines out of straight grained hickory. Good Luck. DO 9/17/02


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