Perfect Shoulders

shouldersAn 18th-century chairmaker’s saw makes 21st-century work easier.

by Jeff Miller
pages 34-37

The graveyard of obscure and forgotten tools is large, densely packed and many layers deep. Many of these tools richly deserve their pauper’s burial. But once in a while you come across a tool that does things that are quite remarkable, and you wonder why it ever disappeared in the first place.

I didn’t go rooting around for an old tool to dig up and bring back to life. I was simply trying to find a better way to cut tenon shoulders for some of my more complicated chairs. Cutting accurate, well-aligned shoulders, even on a straight tenon, is fairly difficult; cutting them on these chairs, where I had curved parts and angled shoulders, is especially so.

I devised a solution, then discovered that earlier chairmakers – of course – had long ago faced the same problem and had come up with a rather elegant solution. But elegant or not, it went the way of so many hand-tool techniques.

The technique relies on a couple of tools that appear to have been in use mainly in France. The armchair maker’s saw (Scie Spéciale pour le Fauteuil) was used with a vise-like tenoning frame (or jack), and another layout tool, called a bilboquet, which I chose not to resurrect (in its stead, you will need to make a simple spacer block for setting up the work). With these easily made tools, it’s possible to cut straight (or angled), perfectly-aligned shoulders on even curved workpieces.

It’s worth noting that my adaptations are not attempts at a perfect reproduction. They were my attempt to make useful tools for my specific needs. But I have been surprised by how generally useful these tools are.

Blog: Get a free chapter from the author’s “Foundations of Better Woodworking.”
Blog: Read Jeff Miller’s blog posts about a simpler version of a tenoning frame (hint: no dovetails) and using the frame to hold angled and curved pieces.
Article: Imagine what’s it’s like to relax in Jeff Miller’s 988 Chair – is it akin to a bed of nails?
Article: Read Christopher Schwarz’s profile of Jeff Miller and his work.
In Our Store:Foundations of Better Woodworking,” by Jeff Miller.

From February 2014, issue #209

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