Change is good, right??



I find myself facing yet another chapter in the long, varied saga that is my health, and yes, changes are afoot. I’ve been getting too many serious infections related to the dialysis treatments I’ve been doing, so I’ve started the process of switching over to a different treatment mode. The most significant change is that it will be harder to travel. Because of this, I need to significantly reduce my out-of-town teaching for next year. My hope is that this will give me a chance to heal up, and that I can go back to my current treatment regimen – and busy teaching schedule – after a break.

I’m also hoping that this gives me the opportunity and the time to concentrate on writing my next book! The original target deadline for completion has already passed, and I’ve still got a great deal of work to do. The work on this book has been exciting and extremely challenging; I’m trying hard to map out the design process in a way that makes sense for someone who is not a designer.  I’m hoping that the book will be truly enabling.

This will also give me more opportunity to develop some of the new chair designs I’ve been playing around with; ideas that have been vying in vain for my attention over the past couple of years.

I also plan on doing a lot more teaching in my own shop next year, although I haven’t put together my schedule yet. Too much is still up in the air. I won’t know what my treatment schedule is until late November, and it would be foolish of me to schedule classes before I know that. I will post that schedule as soon as possible.

Chippendale Chairs at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking

Chippendale Chairs from the classI’m back from the Port Townsend School of Woodworking for over a week, now, but I wanted to write a little about the class I taught. This was by far the most challenging class I’ve done – at least from my end. My goal was to get a class full of students to build a sophisticated chair using almost exclusively hand tool joinery. We incorporated what is now years of my work developing methods, jigs and systems for cutting complex angled joints with accuracy and repeatability.

I did more preparation for this class than for any other class I’ve taught. I needed to make special historically inspired tools and jigs (Chairmaker’s saws and Tenoning Frames), develop some simple paring and chopping guides.

Mortise Paring Jigs

A simple and an adjustable (and angled) mortise paring jig

I also had to  work through the building process in a way that students of varying skill levels (from talented beginner to pro) could handle it. I also had to prepare the “kits” of parts for the chair, which consisted of pre-cut rough parts for all of the components. Then there were drawings of the chair, detail drawings of the joinery, and patterns for the shaped parts to create.

It all went well, although we lost power during a wind storm on the last day. This only really affected the shaping of the crest rail, back splat, and saddle, which we were cutting on the band saw. The hand tool work went on as planned.

There were a few keys to the successful build:

  1. PortTownsendChopping

    Chopping an angled mortise.

    We used mortise paring guides; simple, shop made blocks with fences that helped guide the chopping – whether it was for straight or angled mortises – and then paring of the mortises. This helped keep the mortises under control. Good, clean mortise walls are key to a good joint.

  2. We fit the tenons using a router plane. This ensured that the cheeks were flat and parallel, and once everyone got the hang of taking off just a little bit at a time, the fitting went well.
  3. Fitting tenons with a router plane

    Fitting the tenon cheeks with a router plane

    We cut the shoulders using a Chairmaker’s saw, holding the work in a Tenoning Frame. I wrote about both of these previously, both in Popular Woodworking, and here. This is what these tools are designed for, and they do the job amazingly well. They take a challenging process and make it simple.

  4. We used wedges for the two main angles in the chair. One wedge was for the outward splay of the back legs (and it also helped lay out the twist in the side rails, the optional stretcher mortises, helped cut the angled tenons on the back rail, and also worked as a clamping caul for the back assembly). The other wedge was for the splay of the side rails, and was just as versatile. I’m not sure how I’d build chairs without wedges. And I think the students got a good taste of why I feel that way.

The most difficult part of building the chair? There were four joints where we couldn’t use router planes for fitting. Relying instead on shoulder planes proved challenging. Even though these are considered the standard tools for this job, shoulder planes take a lot of practice to use effectively when fitting tenons, and there were more than a few of these joints that had to be patched and reworked as students got the hang of the tools.

There’s no question that a router plane (I’m speaking mostly about one of the modern versions from Lie-Nielsen or Veritas) makes fitting tenons much more reliable. If this is something you haven’t tried, it’s worth giving it a shot. It’s not a universal replacement; as we saw with this chair, there are joints that call for other tools. But the router plane is a terrific tool for tenons.

Measuring for the front rail

Measuring for the front rail

The Toccata Rocker is finally done (and photographed)!

The toccata Rocker

photo: Fine Woodworking/The Taunton Press

Leading up to Handworks, I was working hard to finish my new Toccata Rocker design. I just managed to get the last coat of finish on before the event, but I didn’t have time to get a decent photograph until last week. Asa Christiana from Fine Woodworking was visiting to shoot photos for two articles, and he graciously agreed to shoot the rocker as he was photographing another chair for one of the articles. So here it is!

The chair is obviously a close cousin to the Toccata Chair, with a couple of significant differences: I came up with a completely different front leg structure (the addition of the rocker changed what needed to happen with the legs and arms), and carved the seat. The front legs now extend through the seat, with a very complicated joint that could well be tweaked a little in future versions of the chair.

The design is the result of pursuing an old structural idea for a chair leg (which morphed into the slatted structure of the back), combined with some inspiration from Windsor chairs.

The chair is incredibly comfortable, and rocks beautifully; the culmination of years of working with issues of comfort and balance in chairs.

Handworks: the place to be this weekend

This is the place to be this weekend if you are at all interested in hand tools. Almost all of the important hand tool makers will be there, the setting is fantastic, Roy Underhill will be talking, and in nearby Cedar Rapids, you can check out the Studley Tool Chest and Workbench at their only public viewing for the foreseeable future. For more information, go to:

Studley Calipers
I’m looking forward to seeing you there!

The classic Chippendale Chair – a great project to build by hand

Chippendale ChairMost of my furniture designs are decidedly contemporary. But I’m always looking at period furniture as a source of inspiration. A couple of years ago, I was doing some research into chair design and I found myself powerfully drawn to the basic form of the Chippendale chair. This chair can be almost modern in its appearance, but it is still classic 18th Century design. I decided I had to make one.

What is particularly intriguing about this style of chair is that is was typically made by hand. It’s a project that still builds well by hand; some of the joinery is actually easier by hand than with machines. I’ve been working on methods that make the process much more manageable than you might expect. These are simple ways to control some of the more challenging aspects of chair design; namely, coping with the angled joinery.

Angled mortises can be mystifying, but an angled block of wood with a fence can make them almost foolproof. And tenons with angled shoulders can be a real pain if you’re trying to do them by machine, but by hand they are no harder than straight tenons. And some historic jigs that I’ve been working to resurrect make the process even simpler than with machines. And the jigs themselves are simple to build and work with.

After building a few of these chairs, it occurred to me that this would be a terrific project for a class.

Building this chair is very much like building a Windsor chair: it’s a project that seems complex, but it’s a piece that was originally designed to be built using hand tools and it’s far more manageable than you might think. The techniques may be less familiar than Windsor chair techniques have become. But what you learn is also much more applicable to the rest of your woodworking. Mastering mortise and tenon joinery and shaping and smoothing curves are gateway skills to a whole world of better woodworking.

I’ll be teaching a Chippendale chair class at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking (in beautiful Port Townsend, WA) from August 24th– 29th. Port Townsend is a beautiful waterfront town at the northeast tip of the Olympic Peninsula, with great food and plenty of other things to do nearby (among other things, Olympic National Park is close – the mountains form the backdrop for the town).

I’ll also be working on a video on how to build this classic chair for Lie-Nielsen Toolworks. We’ll be recording a couple of weeks before the class in Washington. So I’ll definitely be bringing my A game to the class.

Chippendale chair details


Using the Wood Stretcher to attach the rockers on my new chair

Lower assembly on rocker My new rocking chair design is coming along very nicely. But there have been some real challenges. At the moment, the front legs/arm supports are single pieces of wood that pierce the seat (which extends back to make the rear legs). This joint is my usual brand of crazy, but that’s not the problem. The front legs need to be glued in place to the seat before I can move on to attaching the rockers. But the front legs point in a different direction from the back legs. And the tenons on the ends of the legs point in different directions as well. So they don’t fit in the mortises in the rockers. And there’s not enough flex in the assembled parts to force everything into place (I tried).

 Cue the Wood Stretcher. I laminated the rockers, so they are exceptionally strong. But they do flex a little, with very little risk of breaking. Flattening them out a bit by pulling down on the ends with clamps doesn’t just take some of the curve out; it effectively lengthens the rockers a little. Just enough, in fact, to allow me to slip the tenons into the mortises. Releasing the clamps lets the rockers spring back, and locks the joints together, making the attachment between the legs and the rocker pretty much impossible to get apart (without flattening the rocker again). It’s incredibly cool to see this work.mis-aligned tenonStretching the RockerTenon now aligned with mortise


Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event at the shop March 20-21

Daed Toolworks Large Miter PlaneIt’s time to welcome back the folks from Lie-Nielsen Toolworks for their annual Hand Tool Event in my shop. Joining them will be Raney Nelson from Daed Toolworks and his extraordinary planes, and Matt Hicks from Plate 11 Workbench Co. (there may be others, but I tend to be one of the last to find out). Everyone is bringing their A-game.

Hours: Friday 10 – 6, Saturday 10 – 5

I hope to see you there! I’ll be working on a new Chippendale chair, which is the subject of upcoming classes and a new video I’ll be recording this summer for Lie-Nielsen. I’ve also got a new rocking chair under way.

Plate 11 Workbench Co.

Wearing out another keyboard….

It’s a good thing I tend to forget how much work goes into a book.

I’m now in the thick of writing my new book, tentatively titled (in my mind, at least) A Furniture Design Companion. Despite going through this process four times previously, I had forgotten just how much work goes into writing a book. Writing, writing, and rewriting over and over again, only to rewrite some more. And all this before an editor even sees it and starts the process going again. I really do tend to wear out a keyboard per book. But despite all of this work, it’s been very exciting.

This is obviously a book about furniture design. And in the first chapters, I’m attempting to describe how it is that we can create new and interesting things. The first chapter in particular deals with some of the mental processes that are at the root of creativity. And much of what I talk about, although geared towards designing a piece of furniture, is just as relevant to many other creative endeavors, including writing a book.

One of the most important aspects of designing something is becoming fully engaged in the process. You don’t design casually. You have to dive headlong into the process, and commit to doing a fair bit of work in order to find a creative solution. Designs don’t come to you unbidden; you put in your blood, sweat and tears to find and develop them. Of course, this is as true of writing (and any other creative endeavor) as it is of design.

Although I had plenty of ideas about where I wanted this book to go (and had outlined it thoroughly), I had to start writing seriously to make real sense of my ideas and to get them to take shape effectively. Not only that, but the first draft was something of a mess. But even that was a necessary step towards writing (or designing) something that works. It’s just as important to sift through all of the ideas and pick out the best ones as it is to come up with the ideas in the first place.

Another of the things I talk about in the book is that you often find yourself frustrated during the process of design. As painful as this might be, this frustration actually has a role in the creative process; it helps to engage more of the brain in the search for creative possibilities. There’s a catch, though. To access this additional processing power you usually have to step away from the struggle and stop thinking about the problem that’s causing the frustration. And that is often when you find a solution.

I’ve had many of these moments of frustration as I struggle to express my ideas. And most often, I make important breakthroughs not when I’m writing, but rather, when I’m doing something else: on my walk to work, before falling asleep, or even when planing a chair part smooth.

What this boils down to is that I’m writing about creativity as I create. And much of what I talk about is actually comforting as I go through challenging process of designing, developing and refining my book. And as I get closer and closer to expressing what I would like to say, I find these early chapters to be helpful in my own struggles. A good companion indeed.

2015: New Classes, new projects

I should have had my schedule of classes for the first half of 2015 posted over a month ago. But things didn’t work out that way. I wound up spending 10 days in the hospital with a double infection, and recovery has been slower than I expected. Unfortunately, the interruption forced me to hold off on getting everything together in a timely way.

N.E.W. StoolThe schedule has a bunch of exciting new project classes that I’ve been developing over the last year. First, there’s a stool project that combines traditional joinery (with a twist) and some really fun shaping. This is a piece that I developed for a class next July at the New English Workshop.

Next up is building a Shaker side table (or nightstand) using hand tools. We’ll prepare the kit of parts for you, but all of the shaping, smoothing and joinery will be done by hand. This is the subject of the online video I did last summer for Craftsy. If you want to get a sense of the project – or want a less expensive video lesson on building the table – click here. You can save 20% off the list price for the online class with this link.Shaker Side Table

The final new class is Building a Contemporary Cabriole Leg Coffee Table. This table incorporates a really cool leg/apron design that strongly harkens back to traditional Cabriole legs, but one that fits in with less traditional rooms as well. I wrote about these legs in the June 2014 issue of Popular Woodworking.Contemporary Coffee TableIt is worth mentioning that I’ve been teaching here in my shop for 18 years now, and prices for most of the classes have not really changed in all that time. As expenses have not remained nearly so constant, I’m finally raising prices on some of the classes. Given the small size of all of these classes, I’m trusting that you’ll still find them a great value.

Shaker Nightstand Online Class

Shaker Nightstand


I spent some time over the summer shooting a video class on building a Shaker style Nightstand (or side table) with the folks from Craftsy. The class is now up and running on their site.

This is a class on using hand tools to do the joinery and shaping on the table. I cover jointing and gluing up a top, and then flattening it by hand. I talk about hand chopping the mortises, sawing the tenons, and then fitting the joints properly. Also covered is shaping the bevel on the underside of the top and tapering the legs with hand planes, cutting table buttons and mortising the aprons for the slots so the buttons can attach the top, and assembly and finishing techniques. Underside of Table

The table itself is incredibly versatile. I think we have eight or ten of them (with some variations) in various places around our house. They work next to traditional as well as contemporary pieces. And although the design is so subtle as to be spare, done well, the piece has a lot of impact.


Click here to get $10 off on this class!