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!  










Act NOW to be included in FORP II

French Oak Roubo Project Leg ViseRegistration is now open for the French Oak Roubo Project part 2, taking place in Barnesville, GA, November 8 – 14, 2015. This is a truly unique opportunity to take part in a very well-supported build of an extraordinary bench. Leading the build will be Chris Schwarz, Jameel Abraham, Don Williams,  Raney Nelson, Ron Breese, Jon Fiant, Will Myers, and me. We’ll be hosted by Bo Childs, and working at his amazing facility.

Full details at the Benchcrafted website. Don’t think too long about this. It will probably be sold out within hours.

Port Townsend and the Jig of the Week

Port Townsend School of Woodworking nightstandsI just got back from my week of teaching at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking. The class was on building a  frame and panel nightstand (or side table), with haunched mortise and tenon joinery (and half-blind dovetails for the upper stretchers), all of which was cut by hand. In other words, this was a seriously ambitious project for a 5-day class. But also a project that really put into practice the fundamentals of solid wood case construction.

The killer day was Wednesday, which was when we cut and fit all of the tenons to the mortises. It was a long, hard day, but that really put us on the path to completion on Friday. One of the things that helped get everyone through the process was a dead-simple jig.

The walnut block aligns the grooves in the leg and the rail.

The walnut block aligns the grooves in the leg and the rail.

Using the tool

Keeping the walnut block in place and moving the rail back out of the way, I mark out the location of the mortise at the bottom of the groove.

The “jig of the week” was a simple 3/8” by 1 ¼” by 3” block that fit into the grooves for the panel in the legs, the rails, and for the case bottom. This helped with mortise layout and was invaluable in fitting the tenons to the mortises (you could easily tell where to remove wood from the tenon to keep the grooves aligned by sliding this stick out along the tenon while still in the groove in the rail).

"Tool of the Week" in use

The walnut stick shows how much wood needs to be removed from the tenon for perfect alignment of the groove with the groove in the leg.

I’m not sure that this is something that would be as helpful in different situations, but here, where the legs and rails were not aligned flush but the grooves needed to be, it was something everyone used over and over. And everyone’s grooves lined up perfectly.

Port Townsend School of Woodworking Nightstand Class

Nightstand Assembly


Assembling the nightstand

Fitting the nightstand bottom