Ten sticks of wood and basic skills are all you need to make this ultra-comfortable (and portable) seat.
By Christopher Schwarz
Furniture historians tend to paint the Arts & Crafts movement as a turning point for modern furniture design – where style turned its back on the ornate excesses of the Victorians to embrace the simple lines of what was to become the more utilitarian furniture of the 20th century.
I won’t dispute that assessment, but it neglects a long-overlooked piece of furniture: the Roorkhee chair. Named after the British headquarters of the Indian Army Corps of Engineers in India, the Roorkhee chair was developed in the final years of the 19th century as the British military become more mobile following humiliations it suffered in South Africa during the Boer Wars (1880-81 and 1899-1902).
Weighing less than 13 pounds, the Roorkhee chair breaks down quickly, takes up little space and is shockingly comfortable. Because it has no fixed joinery, the legs and stretchers move to accommodate uneven terrain and any sitter.
Blog: See how the tapered tenons and conical mortises are cut.
Blog: Learn how to age the steel hardware for this piece.
On the Web: Read all of the author’s articles about campaign-style furniture.
In Our Store: “Chairmaking Simplified,” by Kerry Pierce. Read more
Learn how to choose and use these versatile shaping tools.
By James Mursell
As a Windsor chairmaker and spokeshave maker, I use a spokeshave more than any other tool. I have three: two straight shaves (large and small) and, for hollowing wood, the curved specialty shave called a travisher.
My introduction to spokeshaves came at school where we had traditional wooden shaves with the blades held in place by friction. When they were sharp and set correctly they were great, but because they were old and well-used, the tangs often slipped in the body. That resulted in a sometimes unexpectedly thicker or finer shaving – not an endearing feature.
I’ve spoken with many people at woodworking shows, and I am amazed by how many still have their grandfathers’ spokeshaves, but rarely use them because of the same problems I suffered during my training. This is a shame because spokeshaves are remarkably versatile tools for shaping wood.
Article: Read Christopher Schwarz’s article on “Metal-bodied Spokeshaves.”
Web site: Visit James Mursell’s web site to find out about his spokeshaves and other tools, and details about his chairs and classes.
Tool: Find out more about the Lie-Nielsen Boggs spokeshave.
Book: Get James Mursell’s book, “Windsor Chairmaking.”
In Our Store: “Woodworking in Action” Volume 2, Volume 4 and Volume 6 feature Windsor chairmaker David Wright. Read more
Quick inspections reveal much about a piece’s age and possible origin.
By Bob Flexner
A while back, my wife and I were visiting friends who wanted to show us their collection of antique furniture. At one point we went into their bedroom and I headed directly for a very old-looking chest-of-drawers. I pulled the top drawer open about 3″, looked at the side of the drawer and felt the exposed bottom.
The husband yelled out from behind me, “No! That’s my wife’s private drawer.” Followed immediately by my wife’s reassuring, “Don’t worry. He doesn’t even see what’s inside the drawer.”
And that was true. I just wanted to date the piece by how the drawer was made.
Over the years of working on hundreds of pieces of antique furniture, I’ve developed a quick and fairly accurate system for dating and determining the origin of any piece of furniture containing drawers. Here’s how I do it.
Blog: Read Senior Editor Steve Shanesy’s report on his repair of a valuable antique drawer.
Article: Learn four great methods to construct drawers.
In Our Store: “Flexner on Finishing” – 12 years of updated columns in a hardcover book illustrated with beautiful full-color photos. Read more
By Bill Wells
I have long used my car’s scissor jack for house and shop projects including lifting a settled deck and leveling workbenches. And when I needed to install a new set of cabinets in my shop, I realized that a pair of these jacks would be perfect for positioning and leveling them.
I picked up a second scissor jack and clamped both to a scrap piece of 3⁄4″ stock to provide stability. I also blocked them up so the scissor extension was sufficient to lift the cabinets into position. The arrangement at left shows the jacks on my workbench, securely holding the cabinets. I can easily raise and level the cabinets with just a few turns on the jacks. I now use these whenever I install cabinets.
The benefit of a scissor jack is that it is strong, lifts smoothly and can be precisely adjusted. And you won’t strain your back hefting heavy cabinets. You can pick up a used jack or two at an auto salvage yard for a very reasonable price.
Tricks online: We post tricks from the past and film videos of some Tricks of the Trade in use in our shop. They’re available online, free. Visit popularwoodworking.com/tricks to read and watch.
Small changes can make a big design difference – and help train your eye.
By George R. Walker
How do you dial in the proportions on a furniture design? I used to pose that question a lot. Perhaps what makes this puzzling is the fact that small differences can have a dramatic effect. The line between the merely good and the dazzling is often blurry. Face it: Most of us aren’t setting out to create a masterpiece; we’d just like to be able to make solid, confident design decisions and create furniture we’re proud of.
For many years, whenever I’d spot an eye-catching bookcase or chair design, I’d question the maker about how he or she found that sweet spot. But even experienced builders often have difficulty answering that question. I often heard, “trust your gut.” That’s code for, “Build a lot of furniture and eventually your eye for proportions becomes second nature.”
No doubt – there’s no substitute for experience. But for many of us it sounds like a long journey. Even if you accept a long journey as part of the equation, a road map would be nice. I don’t want to set out on a journey to Savannah, Ga., and end up in Newark, N.J. (no offense to the Garden State). The good news is that our woodworking tradition offers some helpful insight to help us cut through the fog. With a little practice you can begin to trust your gut and not have to wait until you’ve designed and built a lifetime’s worth of furniture.
Blog: Read more from George R. Walker on his Design Matters blog.
In Our Store: George R. Walker’s DVDs, “Unlocking the Secrets of Traditional Design,” and “Unlocking the Secrets of Traditional Design: Moldings.” Read more
The end grain holds the secret to what stock to use where.
By Robert W. Lang
The single-most important factor in the appearance of any woodworking project is the selection of the material. This isn’t what species to use or what color of finish; it is the choice of which board goes where. The wrong grain pattern in the wrong location can make even the most finely crafted piece look like junk.
While appearance is always subjective, there are traditional approaches to grain placement and orientation that are based on how wood behaves over time. In the grand scheme of things, these arrangements also appear harmonious to our eyes.
This is similar to music. You may want to write a non-traditional song, but the best-sounding notes and chords will be those that have evolved and been used for centuries. Good furniture design, regardless of style, calls for arranging the wood in ways that make sense both visually and structurally.
The key to understanding how any individual piece of wood will appear and function stems from where that piece of wood was when it was in the tree. It is rather simple to discover that by examining not the face, but the end of an individual board.
Article: Read “Why Wood Warps,” by Glen D. Huey, from the Summer 2009 issue of Woodworking Magazine.
Magazine: For an in-depth look at “Composing With Wood Grain,” read the Spring 2009 issue of Woodworking Magazine. Read more
Design your tool storage from the inside out.
By Adam Cherubini
I currently store my woodworking tools in a traditional cabinetmaker’s/joiner’s tool chest. In building that chest, I leaned heavily on surviving period chests as well as images dating from the period. Over the years I’ve been an advocate for these sorts of chests. But I’m not convinced of their popularity with modern woodworkers.
This year at the “Woodworking in the 18th Century” conference in Colonial Williamsburg, North Bennet Street School (NBSS) instructor Dan Faia showed images of chests made by the school’s cabinetmaking students. NBSS focuses on traditional cabinetry and many students and graduates build reproduction furniture. So I was a bit surprised to see no chests resembling mine. The students’ chests were more similar to Gerstner’s machinist’s chests than to 18th- or 19th-century-style cabinetmakers’ chests. I pondered how such chests could hold any cabinetmaker’s tools. Where would one store a half set of hollows and rounds? A ripsaw? A try plane? What are these students being taught?
It took me a minute to arrive at an answer: Most woodworkers don’t have or use any of the tools I consider absolute necessities. These boxes probably held some tools familiar to me (such as chisels and dovetail saws), but they likely also contained hex keys, screwdrivers, dial indicators, combination squares, rulers and other things either I don’t use or don’t associate with woodworking.
Blog: Read Adam’s Arts & Mysteries blog.
Video: Watch our video visit to Gerstner & Sons, in Dayton, Ohio, makers of machinist’s tool boxes.
In Our Store: “The Arts & Mysteries of Hand Tools” on CD. Read more