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.
I’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.
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:
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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
Most 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.
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.
The 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.
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.It 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.
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.
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.
I 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 “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).
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.
I have a few classes coming up that offer interesting opportunities to learn some of the less commonly taught skills.
April 21st through 26th in my shop, I’ll be teaching how to make my slat-back chair. This is both a chair basics class and a class in some really sophisticated techniques. And it’s all very do-able. You’ll learn about cutting and smoothing curves, and also about lamination as a way to make exceptionally strong, thin curved components. The joinery on this chair covers what you’d need for almost any other joined chair; and I’m excited to be able to show off all kinds of methods for making even the most complex mortise and tenon joints simple. Chairs have been my focus for the last 30 years, and this is a chance to tap into the insights, techniques and tricks that I’ve learned.
On May 9th – 11th, I’ll be at the Wortheffort School of Woodworking in San Marcos, Texas. The project here is a small stool or table (it works and looks good either way). This is an opportunity to master hand-cut mortise and tenon joinery, and there are a few dovetails thrown in just for fun. Mortise and tenon joinery is the backbone of all woodworking; it’s the best joint for joining parts in most furniture projects. But it somehow gets short shrift compared to the dovetail (its showy, and much more famous sibling). I’ve been cutting mortise and tenon joints using countless different methods since my very first days as a woodworker. And I’ve been teaching what I’ve learned (and continue to learn) for almost 20 years.
And then on May 19th through 23rd, I’ll be at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking, in Port Townsend, Washington (a spectacularly beautiful town on the Puget Sound) I’ll be teaching a class on building case pieces. The project is a small nightstand, but the fundamental construction techniques apply to all kinds of traditionally joined casework. We’ll cover frame and panel construction, mortise and tenon joinery, and half-blind dovetails; along with gluing up and smoothing panels, ship-lapped backs, and more. This is an ambitious project, but it all comes together beautifully, with lots of methods that make the seemingly difficult much easier.
So what’s the hidden agenda? Throughout each of these classes, I’m secretly trying to make you a significantly better woodworker. I’ve been pretty focused over the past few years on what really makes a difference in a person’s woodworking abilities (leading to the publication of my book, The Foundations of Better Woodworking); stuff that doesn’t get a whole lot of play in your typical book or article. And I’ve found that this foundational stuff makes a huge difference for my students. I’m constantly looking out for little things that I can help you to understand what you’re doing better, and ways you can use your body more efficiently and accurately to get the work done.
And don’t miss the Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event taking place in my shop this coming weekend (April 11th 10 am – 6 pm, and April 12th, 10 am – 5 pm).
I’m excited to announce that I”ll be teaching at the New English Workshop in March of 2015. I had met Paul Mayon (one of the founders of this new British woodworking school) at Handworks last May, and Paul recently invited me to come over to teach. In my excitement, I somehow promised I would come up with a new stool design for the class; I’ll write a bit about that process next time.
Paul has put up a couple of great blog posts on the New English Workshop website. The most recent of these relates his reaction to our recent, wide-ranging phone call, and continues with a bit of a review of my book, The Foundations of Better Woodworking (Paul also gave the book a great review in the British magazine, Furniture & Cabinetmaking). The earlier post is a little harder to characterize (Charles Bronson? I’m cool with that). You’ll just have to scroll down to see.
I’ve just posted my teaching schedule for 2014 in my shop. I’m still nailing down some of the out-of-town stuff, but will post that as it firms up.
For now, I know I’ll be in:
San Marcos, TX (Wortheffort Woodworking School) the weekend of May 10-11,
Port Townsend, WA (Port Townsend School of Woodworking) May 19-23,
Warren, ME (Lie-Nielsen Toolworks Weekend Workshop) July 26-27,
Franklin, IN (Marc Adams School of Woodworking) September 29 – October 3.