Practice makes....? - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Practice makes….?

 In Arts & Mysteries Blog, Woodworking Blogs

In anticipation of making this chair, I carved several ball and claw feet and several full legs, including one with the knee returns attached. I’m a firm believer in practice. But it doesn’t always make sense to cheap out. I used basswood, which in retrospect was a mistake. Bass carves differently than mahogany…different enough that it’s better to use the real thing.

When it came time to start construction of the chair, truth is, I still looked at it as practice. I knew I wasn’t going to be satisfied by the results. So I used scrap mahogany. Some of it (the better stuff) came from the family boat shop. The leg stock was dense and oily and had a beautiful brown color. The rear legs were stock from a bed my friend Rod sold me years ago. It too was dense and nice.

But the rails were just 4/4 scrap from Lord knows where. Light in color and weight, these pieces carved significantly different from the other pieces. The material felt weak and deflected under the gouge like pine. I’m fairly certain all of it was the same species.

The really nice thing about mahogany (and very likely the reason for it’s popularity in the 18th c) is that it’s easy wood to cut, but it has a crispness to it. It’s almost like cutting dense styrofoam.

So I was disappointed with the way this crest rail came out. If I had it to do all over again, I’d do ALL of my practice with decent quality mahogany.

Practice makes you more comfortable in an activity. But not all practice makes perfect.


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  • John Barker

    Excellent chair; i.e., excellent choice and execution. I’ve always felt the Philadelphia Chippendale chairs to be one of the finest pieces from the colonies in the period. I was very excited to see the article as I am hoping to pick up some tips on making the chair for future reference.

    I have to ask about one aspect of the most recent PW article where you are discussing the through tenons and such. One picture shows the back of the crest rail and it has clearly been machined with a router. I thought your philosophy excluded the use of power tools. Why the change?

  • Rick Lasita

    I find practicing with woodworking, and carving for me, helps me get better, and I can see immediate results. Practicing on the driving range with a golf club is another story 🙂 I’m not sure what "perfect" is in woodworking though. That would be a great debate to have over a cold beer someday.

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