One of the barriers to making a Windsor chair are all the specialty tools, including the adze, scorp and travisher to scoop out the seat.
Though I own all these tools and have used them for more than a decade, I sometimes wonder if they are all necessary. How would you make a comfortable and sturdy chair if you didn’t own specialty tools?
This week I’m building a primitive three-legged stick Windsor chair and making it with as few specialty tools as possible. During the design phase I wondered I could scoop out the seat – called saddling – to make the chair comfortable without an adze, scorp or travisher.
After studying some old chairs, here’s what I did.
First I oriented the grain of the seat so it ran from side-to-side instead of front-to-back. My seat might not be as strong in theory, but lots of old chairs like this have survived just fine.
To scoop out the seat I used a jack plane with an iron that has a curved cutting edge. The curve is a segment of an arc with an 8” radius. With the iron set for a rank cut (.02”-thick shavings), I began hogging out the area where the saddle should be deepest. When the plane stopped cutting, I shifted it to the left until it was able to take a cut again. Then I shifted it to the right and did the same thing.
Then I returned to the middle and planed this area again. I repeated this process, fanning out left and right and creating a gradual valley. After 25 minutes of work, I had created a saddle that was about 7/16” deep and rose gradually to the front and back of the chair.
While this isn’t the shape of a saddle you’ll see on a high-style Windsor chair, you do see this kind of saddle on vernacular chairs. And it does make the seat more comfortable.
After refining the shape as much as possible with a jack, I switched to a card scraper and smoothed out the furrows created by the jack’s curved iron.
To be honest, I was surprised how easy and effective this method was. So if you can’t afford a nice adze, scorp or travisher, give this technique a try.
— Christopher Schwarz
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