Deirdre Saoirse Moen

Sounds Like Weird

Brian Boggs Chairmaking Class, Day 1

14 August 2006

Day 1: And then tragedy struck

Since I was so exhausted I couldn’t think Sunday night, I deferred the few remaining tasks until Monday morning. I got up at 6 a.m. and went out to my car for a couple items I’d need.

I had several choices of glue I’d brought with me, but the late hour pretty much doomed me to 5-minute epoxy. While one can use coffee cup lids as a mixing platform for said epoxy, coffee stirrers proved to be a inadequate for thorough application.

I did take pictures of the fully assembled horse, then set off for the class. I finished. Go, me!

I was worried about how the horse would fit in the car with the new assembly, but didn’t think about stresses.

Unfortunately, this was fatal: the dowels I’d just epoxied less than an hour before failed. Fortunately, as I said, a coffee stirrer doesn’t make the best epoxy applicator.

So I arrive to class on time, but am harried, and unload then repark my car, arriving in at exactly 9 a.m. I notice everyone else has a Boggs-style horse except for one semi-styled based on his and half- styled on a more traditional horse.

Everyone introduces themselves. A bunch of us are from California, though I’m the furthest north, several from Oregon and Washington, one from Nevada, and one guy (Phil) came all the way from South Africa for this class and the Windsor class the following week.

I sit down, fiddle with a piece of my horse, relieved that my glue joints did give with a reasonable amount of force. In one case, the joint was too tight to get significant epoxy in the joint and thus was glue-starved; in the other, there was too much gap and too little glue to fill it. Regardless, I was lucky, because that meant the fix was easy.

Initially, I thought about dowels, then realized I should just use threaded rods as a temporary fix, then re-drill the holes out when I had access to a drill press. Everyone else used either 5/8″ or 3/4″ dowels, which would have been my first choice (I even have a lot of 3/4″ dowels), however, my drill wouldn’t drive the 3/4″ bit I happened to have, and I didn’t want to do all of them with a brace (especially being such a newbie with one), so I stepped the dowels down to the next size I had an appropriate bit for: 3/8″.

Needless to say, I was a bit distracted by the morning’s failure, but I tried not to let it get to me.

Brian talked about the goals for each day of the class, which I dutifully took down in my notebook, but I left that in the classroom, so this is without notes.

One of the things he did emphasize, though, was that he recommended that we do every step, and not do everything perfectly. As he said, if we were working on it on our own, we’d take more time, but as class time was limited, we should adjust our workmanship downward. Don’t make everything perfect. Learn what you can.

Monday’s goal in the class was to steam bend all parts, so Brian talked a lot about how wood worked and how steambending works.

We selected our rear leg pieces, then bandsawed off the taper on the front (which starts not far above the rear rungs and goes to the top). We then made the back half “octagonal” (half-octagonal?) with the bandsaw and a vee jig.

Because the piece needed to be fairly smooth to bend well, we then planed down the taper surface to remove the band saw marks. I started out behind (fretting over the shaving horse), so Brian pitched in and planed my other leg flat. Day-um, he’s fast with a plane.

Then lunch was delivered and all work stopped. I discovered that I really really needed to be drinking more water, so I tried to make up for my earlier dehydration by drinking nearly a quart.

About this time, the steamer was ready, gurgling away (but not yet fully hot, because it’s safer to put the wood in when it’s not), and we stacked our legs in (having first put our initials on the bottom of our legs).

After that, Brian talked about the theory of bending and bending forms more, and a lot of people asked questions, some of which I wrote down in my notebook. One I recall was about Shaker oval boxes and why the steam time is so short (typically 15 minutes soaked in hot water rather than steamed). Brian said he wasn’t certain, but suspected that the wood for Shaker boxes didn’t become fully plasticized the way a steam bend would, rather they got just flexible enough to bend around the form. They didn’t need to retain the shape; the drying form and the tacks helped them.

Okay, I’m a heavy person, so one of the things I feared was breaking the wood when using the bending form. Boy was I wrong! Not only didn’t I break it, I actually needed a little bit of extra help to get it fully bent. I suspect this problem is more due to my overall lack of arm strength; I simply couldn’t bear enough of my weight onto the wood to fully engage it onto the form. Fortunately, there were other people around, but it is something I will have to handle differently and plan for if I’m doing this by myself.

Apparently, people who do a lot of steam bending, Brian included, have a commercial sauna for same. The mfr also sells a lot of them to people who make hockey sticks. Not something I would have expected, eh?

While we were waiting for the slats to heat up, and during a lull when other people were doing other tasks, I asked Gary Rogowski where the nearest hardware store was and decided to take a side trip there so I could pick up the parts for the horse repair and be done with it.

So, side trip to Wink’s, which is an awesome, awesome hardware store. It’s kind of like an auto parts store — you ask for the hardware and they find it for you. When I wanted to double-check how large the nuts were (outside diameter), the guy whips out his little gauge to check. I was going to need a hacksaw. I didn’t realize the guy had gotten one, so I saw they had a Starrett one hanging up and I selected it.

“Oh, you want the Cadillac,” he says.

“I have a fondness for Starrett,” I say. That’s when he mentions that the gauges they use are also Starretts. I immediately heart them. The other guy up at the counter is being helped with a more complex problem. The woman helping him is suggesting intelligent possibilities for his design problem. Not just a bolt pushed out the door, a whole freakin’ service to solve customer’s problems. Imagine that.

I go to pay, and the clerk asked if I owned the PT in the lot. I said that I did, and he said that my front passenger tire was low (and it was). So, not just great hardware service, but great human service too.

I get back to class and Brian’s just gathering everyone back to talk about drawknives and drawknife safety. Basically, he said, drawknives caused more blood loss, more stitches, and more people going home early than all other tools combined. Keep your drawknife covered. Don’t put it down near ANYTHING else — frequently, the injuries occurred while reaching for something near the drawknife. Obviously, I need a better cover for mine….

Speaking of which, my biggest disappointment today, which will sound silly to some of you. I was secretly hoping that Brian would be bringing some unreleased LN kit, specifically in the form of drawknives and the like. Nope. In fact, he had none at all. Some of us brought stupid little carver’s drawknives. One guy had the Barr medium, which Brian thought was way too big. I believe someone else had a Curry, same problem. Boggs pointed out that most drawknives weren’t made for chairmaking and were balanced for different applications. Never knew that.

So, by this time, the chair slats were ready, so another round-robin of bending started. Because it’s easier, Boggs suggested we bend one side first, then the other, then bend in the middle, as it’s much easier to get a complete curve. One poor soul had the misfortune to break three chair slats in a row. In one case, he was bending it only in the middle, but other than that, there wasn’t any obvious reason (that I saw) in his technique that would cause failure. Once we’d held the slat to the bending form for 20 seconds, we then put it into a form for drying. Basically, this consisted of a plywood board with two boards battened to it, each cut with a 45 degree edge (bevel to the inside, of course). The battens were 1″ closer together than the slats were long. Interestingly, on a previous occasion, I’d calculated the back bending distance at 1.07″, so it’s good to know that my calculations were pretty close.

Once we finished with the bending, we were done. I was exhausted (too little sleep three days in a row, tired from the agony of defeat.

I went to find a gas station, but got turned around and wound up going south rather than north. Found a little tire store that was happy to put air in my tires. Gratis. I wish I remembered where I was so I could tell you more about how cool they were.

When I got to my hotel, I needed a nap, so I picked up some of the complimentary orange chamomile tea and snuck up to my room.

Now it’s dinner time. Tomorrow, I’ll go in an hour early and put the rod and bolts on so I can use my shaving horse. Wish me good healing thoughts, please.

Oh, wait, I forgot one thing. I’d been dreading one aspect of this class: the fact that we were also going to use hickory. As it turns out, the hickory rungs were already prepped for us. Boggs used to have students do the rungs themselves, but he said they looked dead by the end of the week, and he figured they weren’t learning anything additional by doing the rungs themselves. Go, Brian! We’re also using maple instead of the cherry I’d hoped for, but that’s cool. This stock is air dried from a tree Brian felled and sawed for best chairmaking yield, which isn’t the same as best clear lumber yield.

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