Windsor Chair Resources

Windsor chairmaking tips-tools

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 || Tip Index ||
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Making  Grooves on Windsors

Replies to the best way to make the grooves on windsor arms (side chair, Continuous arm, etc) without spending a lot for a reproduction tool.

Reply: The cheapest way to go, and probably the most traditional, is a scratch stock. These can be made from a scrap piece of wood, a piece of old saw blade or scraper blade and a nut and bolt or two, depending on design. Instructions for making these abound in the literature. JAH 6/2/99

Reply: You might take a look at the Garrett Hack's article on making beads in the January/February issue of Fine Woodworking. I believe that most of those gooves were made with a simple scratch tool which he includes in that article. PE 6/2/99


Powder Post Beetles

Question:  I figure that steaming wood for bending kills the powder post beetles and their larva, but what about the spindles? I follow William Bolf's suggestion in Fine Woodworking vol 91, p. 84 that 125 degrees for 48 hours does the job. Does anybody have any other information on this? I've never had a problem with this but I'd rather be safe than sorry. WKG 11/9/98

Reply:  I'm sure you are on the right track.  There is a short question-answer bit in the December, 1998 American Woodworker (page 24)  which says, "No organism can survive long at 130 degrees or hotter".  He also mentions that if you have a bug, the local extension service can probably identify it for you.  You could also try searching the internet for information on powder post beetles (Lyctidae). I've had good luck with extension service bulletins on the net. Good luck keeping the bugs out.  PLE 11/9/9


Use of Limb Wood for Chairs

Question:  It is my understanding that a person should never use a limb from an oak tree for part of a chair. I have an old Oak tree that I have to prune. It has limbs up to 12 inches thick and I am wondering if the wood would turn after it was steamed and bent. Could I get away with making the spokes from this wood. Believe me, after the storm because of what I am going to have to trim, I will have a good supply of Oak. I don't want to take the time and have a chair that turns sideways on me. Thanks, Rustbugs 9/5/98

Reply: Using a limb will likely not be successful. Wood not growing in an upright position is usually considered a type of reaction wood. That is, it has built in stresses that release themselves in unpleasant and unpredictable ways. There are too many good straight young trees out there to fool around with wood the slightest bit questionable. Visit a sawmill and pick out the best smallish log. H.H.10/28/95


Reducing Patterns for Children's Chairs

Reply: I've found most adult chairs can be made 3/4 scale and it's a perfect size for kids. You have to play with tenon and rail sizes they'd probably be too small at 3/4. I made spindles 5/16, a quarter inch is too small. The rails of a sackback I made a scant 3/4 by 1/2. Seven spindles seemed to work fine. I have made a half scale dolls chair and did reduce spindles to 1/4 and number to 6 on that chair.  I found they build quicker and are more forgiving than you would imagine.  There are pictures on my site. Jeff Trapp 3/9/99

Reply: In Mike Dunbar's book, he shows pictures of his adaptions of adult chairs. I have built several bow back kid size chairs by making patterns from Mike's and Nutting's plans with the help of a copy machine that reduces . You still have to determine overall dimentions and gauge the angles by eye. Bending the bow and arm can be fun as the curves are tight..The spindles are natually slender, 1/4 inch on my chairs and boring holes is a real thrill. I had an awful time spacing the spindle in such a small seat and arm until I discovered that Mike had dropped out one from seven to six and the result is pleasing. My spoon bits are not smaller than 3/8 so more care must be taken with with brad point bits. These small chairs are a litle more difficult than full size so get good wood ond BEND EXTRA PARTS. HG 2/25/99


Sources of Chair plans:

Fan-back.................................Book by John Kassay
Continuous arm Settee...........Books by Michael Dunbar, & by Drew Langsner
Pa. Comb-back........................Book by John Kassay
Sheaf-back...............................Book by John Kassay
Bowback side chair.................American Woodworker # 24 Feb. 1992 M.Dunbar

All books mentioned are listed on the books page.


Carving Knuckles

I can tell you how I glue up and carve my carved knuckle 3 dimensional hands (see on my sackback at Chairwright.com) I first start with the arm and plane a flat surface on the outside edge to receive a glue block of the necessary width. Then I glue on the width block, I usually use cherry because I like how it carves, but I make it a little thicker than the arm. After the glue dries, I plane down the width block to the thickness of the arm, using the extra thickness of the width block to put the hands in generally the same plane as the overall arm. Then I drill the holes for the arm spindle (I already had the hole in the arm for the middle back spindle before I started this process) even though I'll cover the bottom of it up with the next step. Next, I glue on a bottom block, paying close attention to the orientation of the grain so that I don't make the carving unnecessarily difficult. Then I use a hand scroll saw and whatever tools seems to work to carve the knuckles and volutes. Finally, I use the hole in the top of the hands for a guide and drill through the hands for the spindle, then taper it from underneath. It's not a speedy process but it works for me. Good luck. WKG 12/23/00


Fan-back Plans

Question:  I am interested in building a large Fan-back. Has any one come across information on carving the hands/knuckles? Plans, books, techniques, etc. - JMH  9/23/98

Reply: American Furniture Design Co. in CA has plans for one. They aren't the greatest some details aren't covered or glossed over and often scaled dimensions don't equal stated ones but it will get you going. I definitely wouldn't try and build a Fanback unless I had a number of other Windsors under my belt. Don't worry too much about carving the knuckles it easy to make a few practice arms and it'll come easier and better than you think. JT 9/28/98

Reply:  Santore's book has good drawings of arm styles. I used this to get the basic shape I was looking for and scaled it up. I made top and side views to use as templates to rough out the basic shape then went at it with carving chisels. It took a couple of practice runs to get the shape I was looking for. One area I spent some time on was to get the side volutes to be even. KW 9/25/98


Prolonging the life of fresh cut red  oak logs:  Tank

Reply: I have never attempted to store a whole log underwater, but I have successfully submerged blanks. Spindle blanks fit nicely in the plastic/rubber storage bins that can be found in home centers. Arm and bow blanks posed more of a challenge, I didn't have too much to store, so I simply lined a long thin box with a sheet of plastic and used that. It held up for several months before It got kicked one too many times and split open (If I were to use this method again, I'd wrap the box induct tape to add strength.)

When I was at the plumbing supplier picking up schedule 80 PVC for my steamer, I saw they had some huge PVC pipes (ranging up to 12 inches in diameter) so I am considering getting some 8 inch PVC, capping off anend and using that for a tank.

The oak blanks did acquire a strong, not particularly unpleasant, pungent odor, but other than that, they shaved beautifully. RR 9/24/99

Reply: I have found that 'Anchorseal ', which is an an end grain sealer works well.  It is a wax emulsion available from UC Coatings Corp., P.O. Box 1066, Buffalo, NY 14215, telephone 716-833-9366, website: www.uccoatings.com, email: uccoatings@banet.net.  They sent me a free sample when I called.  PE 9/14/99

Reply:  I've no doubt submerging oak in water will keep it for a long time. In my situation it ain't practical so to start I keep my stock in as big a pieces as possible until I need them. I have successfully bent wood that is well over a year old when most would consider it dry. I believe being riven and having never been kiln dried is almost as important as being green. I used to build lapstrake boats and we never dreamed of riven or truly green wood for ribs we just looked for straight grained air dried stock. I never paint my stock either but it would probably help JT 9/14/99

Reply:  I rive my green oak into quarters and keep it under water. I use livestock tanks which you can buy inexpensively in widths of about 24" and lengths of 6 to 10' long. In the winter I drain one tank and load it with stock I think I will need and put it in my shop, again filling it with water. The acid in the oak will produce a dark stain on the outside of the billets, but it's only about 1/32" deep and the wood underneath the stain is as fresh as the day the tree was felled. I've kept it this way for at least one year. The water will turn dark and, if inside the shop, I keep it covered because it's not very pleasant to look at or smell, but that which is under the water is good wood. As for sealer, I use any latex paint, a thick coat on the ends, but I only use a sealer if I can't rive the log and put it in the tanks right away. WKG 9/13/99


QUESTION:  I purchased a livestock tank last summer and submerge my wood in it . A problem I found to appear near the end of summer was it becoming a mosquito hatchery. Any suggestion to a non-toxic additive that won't affect the wood or me when working with the wood to prevent the little pest from laying their eggs in the water? DA 3/29/02

REPLY:  Buy a frog for your tank! A coating of mineral oil on the water's surface will suffocate the mosquito larvae, about a quart should do. PW 3/29/02

REPLY: I had used a livestock feeder also for a time.But no longer do. I kept it covered with a sheet of Homosote, and poured in a gallon of bleach at one point to cut down on the growth of unwelcome organisms.Also...it was quite the stinker when I would lift the lid. I now just cut what I need short term as my output is currently low. MWT 3/30/02

REPLY: There was a time I wanted to keep my bending stock in a tank but never got around to it. Turns out it's not needed. I'm presently bending red oak that was cut 2+ years ago. Success is in the 90-95% range. Much more important that having dripping wet/green stock is quality wood from a large, straight, nontwisted, clear tree and your preparation of the piece. My oak is usually split into eight's sometimes smaller to carry it out of the woods. I do little else to it except keep it off the ground until I want to use it. It's stored outside in the shade, uncovered. When I split one to use, it's still shows considerable dampness inside. JT 3/31/02


Freezer:

Question: I..heard somewhere that some..placed their green wood in a chest freezer to keep green much the same as it would if left outside frozen during the winter in the colder climates. Has anyone tried this method of storage? What I'm wondering about is the possibility of drying the wood in the freezer from 'freezer burn'. I was going to wrap the wood in plastic before placing in the freezer. JDC 11/5/00

Reply to JDC: It's my experience that all the concern about keeping wood green is unneccasary. My red oak usually comes out of the woods in quarters. I stack it in my garage and have successfully bent windsors bows from wood that had been cut 2 years before. Yesterday I bent 6 sackback bows from a billet cut a year and a half ago and all were fine. This wood was still quite wet inside. In the past I've made lapstrake boats from 6 year old air dried oak and shaker boxes with kiln dried cherry and maple. I honestly believe that stock (grain) selection and time in the steam box is much more important than how green the wood is. JT 11/7/00


WHITE BIRCH

QUESTION: Yesterday I cut some White birch trees that were from a woodlot and offered for firewood (some will be used for that) Some sections are 10" to 12" diamiter, nice and clear, 4' to 5' long. Can I rive some acceptable stool leg blanks out of these logs. Any riving suggestions would be great. How soon after being split do they need to be turned. After turning how long can they dry after turning before I use them. This will be my first effort at chair making. Any information is appreciated. DGK 1/22/03

REPLY: I use quite a bit of white birch and it's a fine chairmaking wood. While not as hard as hard maple, a good thing in my opinion. It's as hard as the rest of the maples and in 10+ years of chairmaking hasn't been a problem. Dunbars book is a good source of info on riving, you'll also see he's using white birch. Cut your wood to length a inch or two longer than your legs, your diameters usually are good for yielding decent wood. Riving is halving the wood, in half, then half the halves for quarters, and so on. When it gets questionable whether there is one or two pieces you can sometimes divide it or trim it on your bandsaw, I've also messed with power planers, drawshaves you name it in the early days to get it to a size I can turn. I typicallyrive my wood a few days ahead so it dries a little. This isn't required just less wet and messy. The longer you leave it dry before turning the harder it is, one of the benefits of turning green wood is it's easy.!

Wood literally comes off in long smooth ribbons. Turning the drier wood has no other disadvantage though. I dry my turnings in a small foam kiln using a 100 watt light bulb. Takes 36-48 hours to dry. JT 1/23/03


RED OAK

QUESTION:  I have a Red Oak log that has black rings on the end grain in the sapwood. Is this the fungus Dunbar speaks of that compromises Red Oak's bending properties? Or does this happen to all red oak logs. It was cut in New Jersey last fall. Can White Oak be used for windsor chair bendings? I've got plenty of that. AC 4/1/02

REPLY: If you look in the archives you'll see a couple past responses in which the writers describe experiences bending red oak well past its "prime". JT's 3/31/02 response to the question just ahead of yours asserts he is successfully bending wood that was cut and split two years ago.

Last fall I was begging some wood from a friend of mine and he reminded me that a lightning struck red oak he had given me pieces of the year before was still laying up there in the woods in 5' lengths. These logs were starting to grow mushrooms on the ends, and the sap wood is starting to get spalted and brittle. I took two lengths home, and started splitting parts out of it two weeks ago (when I discovered the spalted sapwood). I was generous with the dimensions of the sap wood waste I put in the wood pile for burning, but the internal stuff seems just fine. I successfully bent an arm for a comb back, its crest rail, and two sets of arms and rails for sackbacks last weekend. My recommendation is to go ahead and use the red oak log.

Pop it open and see what's in there. If it doesn't look like tainted goods, try splitting a piece to a thin dimension and give it a flex. My guess is that if it passes these two tests, you'll have good luck bending it. Let us know if you try it.

I have no personal experience with bending white oak, but I'm pretty sure that it would work just fine- they use it for basketmaking, don't they?  GB 4/402

REPLY:  White oak steams and bends fine. It usually needs to be steamed slightly longer than red oak. The pores that are continuous in red oak are blocked off in white oak, so it takes alittle longer to soften it up. White oak is very popular in with boat builders for steam bent ribs, the blocked of pores that don't allow steam to travel up the piece as readily also block off rot spores so it's more decay resistant in the damp marine environment. JT 4/5/02


Poplar/Basswood for Seats

REPLY: I have used a wide variety of woods for seats. I like basswood, but unlike DO's experience, I find poplar a very fine and easy wood to carve. The only caveat on poplar is that it tends to develop cracks when it dries so you have to make sure it is dry and let it sit in your shop and aclimate as long as possible before milling it to final thickness. Another thing to be aware of is that there is sometimes a big difference in how a species will carve from one log to the next, and I have even noticed a big difference in the density of the same species of wood from one log to the next. BG 9/30/02


Comb-back Tapers

Never having made a comb-back chair, this is my question: what is the typical diameter of the 7 spindles as they pass through the back of the bent armrail? Do they remain at this diameter as they progress upward to the comb, or do they taper to some smaller diameter. I have Mr. Rendi's book, and I think he made then nominally 3/8". The spindles in the photo of the chair I'm trying to copy look to me to be thicker than 3/8". I'm leaning towards making them a constant 7/16"diameter from armrail to comb. Any suggestions? JBA 1/11/00

Reply: I taper mine at the arm rail. I start out at 1/2 at the seat and at the arm rail, I taper to 3/8. I use a small reamer on the 3/8 inch holes in the arm rail to mate the shoulder on the spindles. I carry the 3/8 diameter to the very top, where the spindles enter the comb, and then I reduce the size to 5/16 for the 5/16 holes in the comb. I decided touse 9 spindles on my comb backs instead of 7. Originally, it just gave me more confidence, and I liked the look I got by splaying the spindles out to the comb. I've got a lot of comb backs out there and haven't had any problem with them.

On the other hand, you could go 7/16 all the way to the comb (you'll have to reduce at the comb or it will be so thick as to look clumsy - in my opinion), but if you do, make sure your arm rail is at least 7/8 wide to accommodate the 7/16 holes. Good luck. WKG 1/12/00


Comb (Crest Rail) Plans

QUESTION: . I would like to find out how to make and built a chair with the crest rail. Is there instructiion in a book on how to build the jig for a crest rail....even to carve it.....thank you so much...JF 1/28/03

REPLY: If your reference to crest rail is what I call a comb, scroll down a little over half way on this site to DJR's (11-19-02)question about bending the crest/comb. Jim Rendi has some good comb shaping instructions in his book. If you want to carve a volute on the ears, though, I use a series of curved gouges (I have a #3, 5, 7, 8 and 9) to cut down into the wood following the contour of the volute instead of doing it with a knife. Then I just pare to the line of the volute to deepen the carving. BG2

REPLY:  Jim Rendi's book is the only one I've seen that has specific instructions on bending a comb and carving a volute. I think it is out of print. You should be able to do it without specific instruction. Make yourself a mock up comb out of cardboard, it will help you determine the length and bend that look best on your chair. Play with the height above the seat too, it makes a big difference in appearance. These days I make a form out of 3-4 layers of 3/4" plywood. Allow for a slight overbend, say 1/2" to 1" and cut the sweep out of the form. Steam and bend like you would any other piece. I use the cutout to protect the piece from clamp marks, you will have to cut some away from this or it won't fit. Design your volute. There are lots of pictures around for ideas. All you really need is a shallow sweep gouge about a 1/2" wide and a knife. The carving is as easy as it gets and it's blatantly obvious what needs to go. It still is advisable to make some practice blanks and go at them first. Windsor chairs lend themselves to different ideas, don't feel you have to have exact patterns and plans to do these things. You don't and you'll end up with a chair that is truely unique when you are done. JT 1/28/03

REPLY:  I did a Search on http://www.usedbooks.com and http://www.bookfinder.com and see the book is available new at a few places...such as http://www.amazon.com and http://www.barnesnandnoble.com .  CRR 1/29/03

REPLY: You can call Jim Rendi at his home at (610) 689-4717 and ask him for a book, they are $20.00 an I am sure he still has some. You could also write him at: James Rendi, 7311 Boyertown Pike, Earlvillel, PA. . . .get his zip code at you local post office. It will serve as a guide but if you look at original crest rails and volutes they tend to be thinner (5/8") and refined. Good luck. PW 1/29/03


How should a crest  properly be bent.

REPLY:  DJR it sounds as if you are on the right track with male and female bending forms. It sounds as if you are not fast enough with the clamps. Try this; using the male/female forms of the appropriate radius place the forms in your bench vise (I assume you have one) and after removing the crest from the steamer quickly place betwen the bending forms and crank the vise closed. That should do the trick; works everytime for me. This is the method used at Mike Dunbars Windsor Institute in New Hampshire. Good luck. pb 11/19/02

REPLY: Bending a Crest recommendation. Use only straight grained, riven wood. I have had the best luck with red oak. I have used hickory and ashe with success, but, the red oak is plentiful and works well. The hickory is just to hard to work when dried out. Recently, I talked with 2 people who bend wood for a living and they both said something quite interesting: the best moment to bend wood is at a moisture level of 20-25 percent. Not wet green wood. That surprised me. I have bent wood the same day I felled and split the wood. I bend about 20 crests in a week each Fall. The pieces are 7/8" x 3" x 32" in rough form. I bend the arc to 7" at the center to accomodate some "spring back" as it dries. I build a wooden form to make the "U" shape and made 2 matching steel strap devices(hinged at the center)to pull the wood to the wood form. I use a small hydraulic jack with a single piston to pull the bands tight and snug the wood to the form. I have not had a failur!

e in a long time. Most of my troubles come from the little checks at the end of the blank during drying. Unlike many of my fellow builders, I like to let crests settle for months before I carve the ears and use them. This is just my technique. Hope it helps. PS: I did use a car to bend some maple by lowering Austin Mini-Cooper wheel on the wood and pressing it in the form. Yes it worked -- I could not bend that maple otherwise. DO 11/20/02

REPLY: I've been using the 2 piece Dunbar unit for several years, and have not been completely happy with it. Always seemed there was room for improvment there.It works, but I tried a simpler type yesterday, which is using just the convex half of the pair.This was for a regular High Back crest rail in Ash. 3/4" x 3 x 32. It went really well and less frantic. I steamed it for 45 minutes(a bit longer than I usually do) @180 deg. I thin the ears and carve the volutes before steaming.....I tried it the other way....but,oh man, never again. I have a photo of the rail in the form and clamped, I can send as an e-mail attach, for anyone interested. My e-mail: baluster@charter.net   MT 11/20/02

REPLY: DJR, this is how I bend my crests. I made a male form 4 1/2 inches thick with a 22 inch radius out of 2x12s. I attached 3/4 inch plywood tabs to each end and one at the middle of the bend on each side of the form. I bore holes in the plywood to accept rods to wedge the crest to the form. I had a local shop shear a heavy galvanized sheet metal piece four feet long and four inches wide to use as a back strap. I attached one end of the strap to the end of the form leaving just enough room to insert the crest against a bolted stop. I bolted another stop on the other end of the strap so the crest would fit snug.

I carve the volute and cut out and form the entire crest, but leave the ends square to take the end pressure of the bend.

When I pull the crest out of the steam box, I shove it right down into one end of the form until it bottoms against the stop. Next I pull the back strap over the back side of the crest, engaging the end stop and just lever it down around the form. Because you are bending from just one end, it really bends easily until the last few inches when you have to start wedging it down after inserting the rods across the form. I use straight grained sawn red oak thats been kiln dried and haven't had a problem. I always use a back strap when bending. BG2 11/20/02


Splitting Out Logs

How do I split a 5 foot long red oak log with 18"-20" diameter. Can I split it with several wedges and a heavy sledge hammer. I have no experience in splitting large diameter logs. JDC 2/8/00

Reply to JDC: This is what I do: 1. Find a log with no visible knots, twists, or bumps. Don't settle for anything less. Following this step makes everything else go easy, and failing to follow this step makes everything else that follows hard. 2. Get a small sledge, a heavy sledge, several (5 - 10) iron wedges, and a few gluts (wooden wedges larger in various sizes and lengths than the iron wedges). If the iron wedges are used and have "mushroomed" heads, grind the protrusions of these off so they don't become shrapnel in action. (Nevertheless, wear safety glasses while splitting.) Technically, the gluts should be made from hard green wood and dried, but I've found that I can get along o.k. using kiln dried rock hard maple shaped on my band saw. 3. Score the end of the log with an iron wedge where you want the spit. 4. Drive in a wedge near the top of the score in the end and another one in the bark at the top until you see a split starting. 5. Follow the split along the log with the rest of the wedges and gluts. 6. If it is not a clean split you may need to use a hatchet and sever some fibers. You may also need to roll the log over and split from the other side. Also, get yourself a log handler (the pole with the hook on the end). It makes moving the log a heck of a lot easier. 7. Always split equal masses of wood. In other words, split each piece into two equal parts by mass. You might also refer to messages previously posted on thissite about maintaining the green wood. WKG 2/8/00
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Calculating  Side Stretcher Angles

Question: When figuring the angle to bore the sockets in the side stretchers, the front legs are placed even with a straight table edge. A straight stick is placed along the side of one front and one back leg and the angle the stick makes with the table edge is the angle to bore (see Dunbar's and Rendi's books). This is the angle at the bottom of the legs, but if the splay of the front legs is different from that of the rear legs the angle further up on the legs (where the socket is actually bored) will be different. Wouldn't it be better to measure the angle where the sockets are actually bored? Perhaps the difference is not significant or the built in stress produced is desireable. Any thoughts?  PE 3/15/00

Reply to PE: I put some winding sticks on some finished chairs to see if there is much difference in the angles between the bottom of the legs and the stretcher locations. There is but it's extremely slight. I think you'll find more of a differnce from one side to the other. If you are like me you just take the measurement off one side and use it for both. In my opinion this slight variance contibutes to the integrity of the chair. When I've legged up a chair and tap one of the legs or stretchers I get a toen the whole thing in tension and I believe this contributes to the strength of the chair. JT 3/16/00

Reply to PE: With the chair stool assembled, you can use a powerbore or similar bit, a long extension, and drill the hole in the side stretcher while holding the extension across the other stretcher (where you have marked the place for the hole). I do agree with JT's comments. The primary thing I like about my method is that it is fast, not that it is more precise, although for better or worse I believe it is more precise. WKG 3/20/00


Nanny Bench Dimensions

A nanny's bench can be adapted from your favorite style of settee, although they were not typical of the earliest styles of Windsors. They were probably introduced about 1810-20 and are most often an arrowback or rodback style with either straight or steam bent back posts. The angles for the holes are the same as any arm chair, and the angle of the holes for the cradle side should match the angle of the back but the height is slightly less. The part of the seat that acts as a cradle should be 24 to 30" long plus the width of the seat for nanny, in other words the length inside between the arms is 40 to 48". The cradle side is removeable so that it can be used as a settee as well. The end posts of the cradle side (and the holes that they go into) are tapered just like the back posts. They can be a jam fit, or they can extend 2" below the thickness of the seat and be peirced to hold wedges that pull them down tight. Hope this helps. Good Luck. AS 12/29/00


Gluing up the upper half of the continuous-arm chair.

You will get more open time with the Elmers "white" glue as opposed to a "yellow" glue. PB 4/20/01

Make sure that all of your spindles, long and short, fit the mortises (sockets) in the arm with relatively equal pressure. If one is too tight, it will make assembly difficult...take your time when dry fitting the arm before glue up. Absolutely do not use yellow glue as it sets up way too fast, use Elmers white glue instead. SJM 4/23/01


Tear-Out

In constructing my Windsors, I get tear-out when drilling tenon holes in the seat using my spoon bits. The tear out occurs at the opening of the drill hole and really takes away from what are becoming fairly well constructed chairs.

The pine I use for the seats has air dried varying amounts of time, but usually six to eight months or so. My spoon bits are nearly new from Wharton Valley Chairworks. As they arrive sharp, I have not sharpened them yet. Any suggestions to help solve this problem? ED 1/24/01

Reply: I suspect what’s happening is that once the bit is farther down in the hole and an angle adjustment is made, the upper part of the spoon bit bears against the fragile top edge of the hole. If that part of the bit isn’t very sharp it will tear the wood rather than slicing through it as it should. I wouldn’t assume that spoon bits are sharp when you get them. When I got mine I noticed that some of them cut well while others cut poorly. I grabbed my little magnifier (younger eyes may not need a magnifier) which clearly showed the poorly cutting bits were not sharp at all. I heard early on that only the rounded ends of spoon bits need to be sharpened because only that part does any cutting, but I’m not sure that’s correct. I would try sharpening the cutting edge of the spoon bit as high as the hole is deep to see if that helps.

Then there’s the chairmakers that don’t use spoon bits at all. They use a bit extension through the air rail or bow supported by the arm post and drill the hole directly with some other type of bit (such as a power bore bit). The angles come out precise of course. PE 1/24/01

Reply: If the bits are sharp, which knowing Wharton Valley, they are, I suspect that technique is the issue; although the wood can have an influence. First, when starting the hole make sure the bit is perpendicular to the surface you are drilling into; this is critical. After starting the hole keep the bit perpendicular to the surface until the radius portion of the bit is "buried" in the seat then slowly move to the desired rake and splay angles while continuing to turn the brace.

Another common problem is too much pressure on the brace and "cranking" too fast. I suggest you get some scrap and practice your technique. If you do experience some tear-out you can use some putty to fill and then paint with milk paint. If you are using a natural or stained finish filling may present a problem. PB 01/24/01

Reply:Tear out in pine with spoon bits isn't uncommon. If it really bothers you start the hole with an auger bit with sharp spurs and switch to a spoon bit when you need to angle it.. PE's suggestion of sharpening the bit further up the edge may help, slowing down at the beginning may too. But a spoon bit twice in every revolution is prone to catching the grain and soft pine is the worse. I've made 300 plus chairs and it still happens. It might have bothered me, but early on I'd taken a class with Mr. Dunbar who has made thousands of chairs and it didn't seem to bother him to get out the latex wood filler, so it has never bothered me either. JT 1/25/01

Reply: Tearout like that drives me bonkers. I don't see anything magic about spoon bits. Try sharpening up some standard auger bits for your next chair and give them a try- no more spindle deck tear-out! JPJ 1/27/01

Reply: I'm not sure about the auger bit that the other chairmakers are referring to in their suggestions for preventing tear out in the initial entry of the spoon bit. This is a common problem with the bit. I do like the spoon bit and I use it.

However... I always use the Forstner bits for the initial drilling with or without the spur feature. If you are not real keen on "putty fillers" I would begin the boring step with a forstner bit and switch to the spoon for best control results. I was at the recent 18th Century Chairmakers Conference in Colonial Williamsburg and watched Mike build a chair in a very short period of time. The reamer (following) the 5/8" spoon took away some of the tearing but not all of it. If you want a crisp hole around the tenon feature, go with the forstner I think you'll like it more than the putty. (Especially if you stain or sand some of the paint for an "aged seat" appearance. DO 2/5/01

Reply: Re: Tear out........Having learned from Dunbar to drill the leg holes after saddling the seat, I now, (to make things much easier), drill my holes before hogging out the seat area. Rake and splay angles are easier to gauge and this does not produce "catches" during saddling and any tear out from drilling leg holes is scorped away, leaving a nice smooth hole before reaming. I find that slowing down the brace makes a cleaner hole. MWT. 2/6/01

Update from ED Here is an update on how it all went. First, and coincidentally with the advice I received, I drilled the leg holes before scooping out the seat. The result is great, no tear out, as I scooped away the surface after drilling.

Second, for the spindle tenons, I sharpened the side of the spoon bit and slowed down my drilling. Both of these seemed to play a big part in my result of eleven virtually tear-out free spindle tenon holes. Third, for the armpost sockets, I did not ream them until the legs were on (in reaming, I was looking down at the hole as opposed to looking hortizontally). This helped me in two ways -the angles are now more accurate (with the help of the bevel square, which I was able to use while reaming) and I experienced "0" tear-out thanks to having more control over the reamer. Thanks to all of you who replied with helpful information. This chair is on its way to being my best product yet. ED 2/25/01


Green Wood vs. Dry Wood

In Dunbar's book he says to use green wood ( similar to firewood grade) , I believe I have since read that he now advocates using dry wood. Will this make a difference for a novice? EK 3/22/01

Reply to EK:  For my legs and stretchers I turn riven birch and maple that is green. Then I dry it in a small light bulb kiln, similar to that in Drew Langsner's book "The Chairmakers Workshop". The wood turns wonderfully easy when green and after it's dry I put it back on the lathe for final touch up and sanding if needed. Another method to avoid in Dunbar's book is the use of 2 bevels to establish leg angles. Familiarize yourself with the use of sight lines. Drew Langsner's book will help you there too. JT 3/22/01

Reply to EK:  The most daunting part of the project is boring the chair seat and gaining some "confidence" in your eye. Dunbar and his students refer to this as "muscle memory" when they do it with a brace and they bore the seat from the top to the bottom. Yes. This is a skill that will come. Like practicing a musical instrument. But you need to build a mental memory.

Suggestion: Take a 3/4 inch piece of plywood about the size of a seat and mark the points where you would like the legs to go into the seat. Then bore the holes straight thru(using a 5/8 bit or 3/4 bit). Now go to the hardware store and buy a couple of 3/4 inch dowels and a bag of 1" round balls from

Woodworkers Supply -- cheap). Cut the dowels to about 18" each(adjust length later) and attach the balls to the end of the dowel to act as universal ball in the hole you bored. This will allow you to put the ball in the slightly smaller hole and adjust the the angle of the legs at all of the points to your liking. You can stand back and look at the splay and see what you like. This is important. This is what gives your chair the style and grace that appeals to you and the cost is minimal.

I built a cheap little stand to hold the 22" x20" piece of plywood 16" off the ground in front and 151/2" off the ground in the rear. These are approximate heights to get the 2" seat approximately 171/2 inches on top of the front edge and 17" in the rear.

I have used this practice piece over and over to establish all kinds of different leg arrangements and students of mine have used it to get ideas. Its a low worry method. You can use your bit brace and bevel gage or you can use your drill press if you have one. As a rifle builder I can't live without my drill press.

Legs: I encourage starters to use a bamboo turning. Thats your call.
Chair: I agree with the other recommendations on the Sack Back or the bow back. I would do a continuous arm a little later and recommend using a piece of copper tubing to bend out the shape you need for your continuous chair.

Seat: I would consider basswood for starters and later if it is available. I love carving and shaping the stuff. At 50 years old, I feel like a young buck cutting through this stuff.  DO 4/12/01


QUESTION: How long to cut and how to store wood  that is harvested for future use?
REPLY:  2'+ length for turning is what I do. Not sure why you would need 8' for the bending wood. I make mine 5' and that covers all my long bends for continuous arms and bowbacks. If I make a settee I scarf the bends in the middle after steaming and bending. All my wood just gets stored under an open shed. The wood for turnings get left in the round until needed. The wood for bends gets quartered or eighted depending on size. I use red oak for bends and it seems the bugs find it less attractive if I remove the bark. JT 8/19/02

REPLY: It may be more conservative to cut the ash 7 or 8' long. When you split it you might find a knot or curl at one end, and then you'd have the flexibility to do something about it and still end up with 5+'. (However, generally a 5' log will split easier than an 8' log.) The sugar maple will store well in log form if you keep it up off the ground. I have mine milled into 2 1/4 thickness for turning when I need it and not before. Sugar maple is strong enough that it can be milled and doesn't need to be rived for strength, but I make sure and only use the relatively straight grain wood. At 20" or less in length, there's plenty of it despite the outward appearance of the log. BG 8/20/02


QUESTION: Do most woodworkers use "joint lumber?" Wouldn't you have grain or apearance problems? What should I pay for joint lumber and in what kind of blanks are best for making windsor chair seats? I suppose one piece is more expensive. Does it matter for the direction of the grain? JA 8/31/02

REPLY:  I get my seat blanks from Tuckaway. Most of us are painting our chairs, so a glued up seat is fine. Also I personally feel it is structurally ok. But, because I can.....I use one piece seats, most of the time, and I don't hesitate to use a glued up one if need be. Also 18" works for alot of the chairs I make. Recently I did a side chair with a seat of Bass wood. Glued up. A very light chair, I like it enough to use it again. hope this helps. MWT. 8/31/02

REPLY:  My chairs typically use 2 piece seats. The grain never is that much of a problem, it's a matter of keeping track of where it changes just like a 1 piece seat. My understanding of the history of one piece seats, is it was easier for the old timers to not cut the board in half to glue it back together. Especially since their glues weren't always the greatests. Today the glues we have available are probably the only advantage we have over what the chairmakers of the past used and did. Structurally the 2 piece seat is stronger and uses more readily avaiable materials. Hard to beat that. I do have one piece stock around for the occasional customer that has to have it. My sawyer would give it all to me that way if he could, less work for him, so no it isn't more expensive. JT 9/1/02

REPLY: Once I moved from Pine to the lighter hardwoods I liked them so well that I never went back. I use basswood, soft maple, tulip poplar, cottonwood, syamore, walnut, and cherry. I like a more refined finish on my chairs than I'm able to get with pine and that's the biggest reason I switched. But it's also relatively easy to acquire quite a bit of single plank seat material, although I do not hesitate to glue up seat blanks if I need to. The glued up ones are more stable. My advice is to scout out sawyers within a couple hour drive and let them know what you want and that you'll pay a premium for it. You need to call them about once a month or so because most of them are busy. The small mills are a lot better in my area because they actually appreciate the business whereas the larger mills like mostly semi-load type business. BG 9/2/02


QUESTION:  Do maples other than Sugar maples produce suitable chair parts? I don't want to sacrifice strength or turning ability. PP 9/2/02

REPLY:  Just finished reading Bruce Hoadleys book, "Understanding Wood", and in there he talks about calculating the compression/tension strengths of various species of wood. Look to his book for the specifics but my reading was clear that soft maple is amply strong enough for turned legs and such on Windsors. I have been using soft maple on my own turnings now for about one year. The amount of compression on a chair leg is very little compared to the legs load bearing capacity. P.W. 9/4/02

Follow-up Question: Is "hard maple" known as sugar maple. Are all other species of maple considered "soft"? Please advise. Thank you. PGP 9/5/02

Follow-up Reply: The strength of wood is measured by it's "specific gravity". Specific gravity is the ratio of the density of a substance as compared to the density of a standard substance, water. "Sugar maple" has a specific gravity of 0.63, black maple(0.57),red maple (0.54),bigleaf maple (0.48) silver maple (0.47). The terms " hardwood and softwood" refer to either deciduous or confer trees.


Measuring Length

I have a method I use to cut my pieces to length that might be helpful to other builders. After I bore the seat holes and adjust my legs to the final position I spread the legs a bit to find the best compression load, the proper angle to bore in the front and back legs(I use feel for how much compression I want.I bore the holes in the legs at the proper angles and return them to the seat. I hold the legs in this spread position again with a stick so I can measure the distance from the bottom of the leg hole in the front leg to the bottom of the leg hole on the rear leg.

Tool: I have used a PVC tube 5/8 or 1/2" outer diameter and a dowel that fits in the tube as telescope to measure length from end to end. I cut the PVC tube to 9" and the dowel to 9" and mark it with inch marks so as I elongate the dowel to the base of the hole I can read the exact length I want to cut my stretcher to have the compression load I have selected for the particular chair. The PVC tube holds the stretcher angle "dead on" so you can see the dowel go right in the other hole. This is a quick and cheap little tool that will give you great results for less than a dollar. No math required. Hope this helps. Like to hear if anyone tries it. Good Luck. DO 9/22/02

Wetting Dry Wood

Tip: For those of us who cannot get fresh cut wood and have to rely on seasoned stuff.. To replace the water in your wood, first steam your timber as for bending, then dunk it while hot into a bath of cold water, I use plastic plumbing pipe, as the timber cools it draws in the water, you may have to top up your tank as the timber cools, if you need more water in your timber, repeat the process a second time. Seal the ends and put aside until stabalizes and dries to the % that you would normally use it..the wood will now behave more like air dried timber.. K.P. 8/3/04

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