Chris Schwarz's Blog

How I Glue Chair Mortises

This is a stupid trick. In fact, I’m sure you have a better way to do this. But I don’t.

This week I glued up a couple Welsh stick chairs – each had 12 spindles and 28 through-mortises that must be glued and wedged. The top spindle deck of each chair was one massive glue-up, with 20 mortises that had to be done all at one whack.

And even though I used liquid hide glue, which has a longish open time, I still was super fast as I applied the glue. Plus, I couldn’t scrimp on adhesive. Dry joints do not cut it in chairmaking.

So when I glue up a mortise, I place the ring finger of my left hand or the tenon itself up through the underside of the 5/8” diameter mortise until it almost fills the mortise up to the top. Then I fill that cavity with glue and remove my finger or the tenon – slowly enough that the glue coats the walls of the mortise evenly.

This is the fastest way I have found to apply glue to a chair.

But wait, there’s more.

When you push your spindles into the through-mortise, the male part of the joint tends to scrape the walls of the mortise and remove the glue. The best way to prevent this is to put the meaty part of your palm on top of the mortise as you push the spindle in from the bottom.

When you feel the spindle touch your hand, remove your palm from the work.

This simple hand motion does two things. It forces the adhesive back into the joint. And it gets your hand really messy. Have some rags on hand.

Christopher Schwarz

Chairmaking Uses a Different Part of Your Brain
So here are some of my favorite links for resources for would-be chairmakers.

• “Welsh Stick Chairs” by the late, great John Brown. When I first read this book I decided to become a chairmaker. It is one of my all-time favorites.

• “Chair Notes” – Peter Galbert’s blog – is a must-read for chairmaking. He is happy to share techniques, and I have picked up some great tips there. Three words: Lines in Space.

The Windsor Institute – Mike Dunbar’s school – is a great place to learn chairmaking. The level of instruction is the absolute highest I have experienced.

• “Chairmaking Simplified” by Kerry Pierce is a great introduction to the craft. Pierce is an excellent maker (I own one of his chairs) and he has a lot to share.

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