Thursday, March 3, 2016

Chair 1

I've titled this post optimistically 'chair 1' because I hope to make more chairs in the future. This one was very much an experiment, and there are many things I would like to correct for the next.


To attach the seat of the chair to the frame, I chiselled out two perpendicular grooves on the bottom of the seat. This is the kind of work that a CNC router would do very well. However, once I found the right technique, it went pretty quickly. I just had to make sure to be very accurate with the tracing at the beginning because I am counting on the snug fit between the grooves and the frame to hold the seat in place.

First, using the flat side of the chisel, I marked the sides of the groove down to the depth I wanted.
Then, using the bevelled side of the chisel, I knocked out the material from the middle.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

For want of a press

Drilling a hole through a piece of wood seems simple. But I keep doing it wrong. I've been trying to make 1cm holes to fit my 1cm dowels. Since I don't have a drill press, it is impossible (at least with my level of skill) to be perfectly vertical and stable while drilling. This means that the side where I started is slightly larger than 1cm. The dowels still fit snugly but you can see the shadow around them. On the back side, the wood kept splintering as the large bit poked through. I tried putting a piece of tape, but that didn't help. I managed one or two times to drill from both sides, but that meant that both sides had that slightly larger radius from the drilling inaccuracies. 
However, the shadow line disappears after sanding because it gets filled with sawdust.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Le poids de l'hêtre 2

I bought my beech from a local wood supplier. They have stacks of off-cuts and I chose some pieces. They measured the volume, and multiplied that by the price per cm3. I can understand why the substance itself, 'untransformed', has value. Beech is a hardwood; it grows slower. The pieces I bought have a close grain and almost no knots. The tree from which they came must have been many decades, if not centuries, old. And, someone had to do the preliminary work of finding that tree, cutting it down, stripping the bark and squaring it off into blocks.

In respect for the raw material, I try to minimize waste. Even when I make mistakes and wish I could start over. This has resulted in some ad hoc design choices for the chair. One of the back legs split while being planed, so I decided to replace it with a dowel. 

Sometimes I have to remind myself why I'm doing this, why I don't just go to Ikea. There is the design freedom and customization; there is the tactile knowledge and satisfaction acquired through the work itself. There is also the luxury of having and working with solid wood. No thin veneer on particleboard, no assembly of layers, this chair is just beech. Even the dowels I'm using to reinforce the mortise and tenon joints are made of beech. 

My criteria for the design were the following: simple to execute, no metal fasteners, able to be disassembled and packed flat for transport. I chose to make two 'h' frames, assembled with mortise and tenon joints. The 'h' frames interlock at a right angle and will be braced by the backrest and seat. I've been having trouble with the backrest- I keep cutting the wrong angle. So I've had to use a bit of glue, even though my initial idea was to make do without.

Thursday, December 24, 2015


A while ago, during my Master's degree, I saw a fellow student using a drawknife to shape the legs of chairs. I admired her competence and the elegance of the tool. (See some of her pieces here.) 

A friend of mine has inherited many tools from his grandfather. When I saw the drawknife, I asked if I could borrow it. I soon realised that it is a tricky tool to master. Even a very slight change in angle can change drastically the way the blade bites into the wood. I tried to make the same stroke multiple times, and each time had a different result. Partly because of my human error, partly because the action of the blade on the wood also depends on the direction of the grain within the piece. 

It worked fairly well to taper a dowel; there were only a few times when it grabbed more than I would have liked. When I started using it to soften out the edges of my rectangular pieces, there was more trouble. I found it worked well in a certain direction, but as soon as I turned the piece around to do the other side, it would grab and splinter the edge. 
I think it depends on the way the piece was cut. In the picture above, you can see that the fibres are angling outward against the direction that I was pulling the drawknife, so it's obvious that splinters would happen much easier.

To finish rounding the corners, I ended up using a rasp, which is much easier to control.

Le poids de l'hêtre

The title of this post is a play on words. In French, Milan Kundera's book 'The Incredible Lightness of Being' translates to 'L'incroyable légèreté de l'être', and the word for beech wood is 'hêtre' which of course sounds exactly the same.

So, I guess I don't really need to explain- beech wood is not at all light. It is hard and heavy, but very nice to work with. It planes beautifully, responds predictably to filing and sawing, doesn't warp, and holds an edge well. I can see why it is a favourite for furniture making. Now I just need to improve my sawing skills!

I have a new toy (well, a new tool...): a Japanese saw. I like it because the blade is tall but thin, so it acts as a guide for itself. It makes straight cuts easier. I'm trying to make a chair out of beech wood so it has been very useful for cutting tenons.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Spoons 2 and 3

Although walnut is beautiful when polished, I am questioning whether it was the best choice of wood for spoons. I find that as soon as I get the spoon wet (i.e. eat something with it) there are tiny fibres that come out from the surface, making it less smooth. I have put many coats of oil and rubbed a mixture of oil and beeswax onto the surface, but it still doesn't seem to be completely waterproof. I think I'll test out beech for my next spoons.