Chair Design, Please Sit

Chair design is a fairly new design concept. Read Witold Rybczynski’s book called Home and he points out that chairs were used only by royalty for centuries. The idea of comfort only came later on after the Middle Ages. The notion that people could sit unceremoniously slouched around a dinner table took a few more centuries to take hold.

We discover the intricacies of chair design this weekend. Three days of design, engineering, and joinery. What a trio! On Day One we look into the needs of design, function vs. intention, how joinery affects the look of a piece, and how to engineer the important triangle into our chair. We will sketch, build a 1/4 scale aesthetic model of our chair design and then a sittable prototype by the end of the weekend. Good fun.


Cafe chair rail detail Gary



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The Weekend

I switched things around a bit for this summer. Not every week is filled with class time. Maybe I can get some of my own projects down finally.

There are some good week long classes. Windsor Chair Making with Elia Bizzarri is coming up. He’s a fun guy and super talented with hand tools and on the lathe.

Then there’s that guy Rogowski and his Stool Workshop. Five days of fun with one day of mind bending geometry thrown in.

Finally there are three weekend classes planned for July. They start on Friday so they will be long weekends. The first is 3 Simple Finishes. The only true word in that title is Finishes. We’ll cover more than 3 and nothing about finishing is simple. It is chemistry plus alchemy and there is a ton of information to discuss, as well as lots of finishing tips, plus we do samples of all these. We will discuss surface prep, scrapers, coloring, stains, chemical stains, oils, varnishes, and the miracle finish shellac. Oh and wax. And rubbing out. And . . .

Then because Bob my vet asked for it, we’re doing Inlay Secrets. This is great fun and simple, once you know a few tricks. It’s persnickety work at times but that’s what makes it so fun. From straight line to curved work, we’ll be working on inlay techniques that will make your work shine.

Finally, Chair Design Strategy will fill our last weekend in July. This will be fun and cool because everyone knows a chair. But how do you make them pretty enough and comfortable enough and sturdy enough? Lots to consider. We’ll make a scale model in wood and a sittable prototype of your never to be forgotten chair design. Good fun. Join us.

Bench tumultous



SAB Detail Inlayimage

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As If

I haven’t practiced sawing in a while. As if that makes any difference.

It does. I will get to the bench and try my hand at a dovetail and I won’t know where exactly to put my feet. Or rather, I put my feet where I think they’re supposed to go and they don’t feel quite right. Or I don’t feel right and I’m thinking about how to stand instead of standing and cutting. First tail gets done. I start to cut the second tail and I start to feel that things are getting right again. I launch into the third and now I know I’m back home.

It always takes time to find your pace. To find that body memory. It only takes practice.




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Being in the Shop

I cannot tell what woodworking does for most people. For some it is a simple hobby. It is a pastime where you get to work with some tools and build something nice or useful. For others it’s a job, how you make your money and provide for your family.

Still for other woodworkers I think it is an important escape from the world. The shop becomes a spot where you can finally be in control for a change. You alone are responsible for the failures and successes at the bench. You get the credit for both. You also get to finish a job. It’s not taken from you or given to someone else to wrap up. It’s yours from start to end.

Many makers love the variety of tasks and problems that have to be addressed and solved. Lots of hats to wear as the builder of a piece from design to lumber selection and milling,  joinery and assembly, and then don’t screw up that finish. A cornucopia of tasks.

For me it is what centers me and holds me steady. It is my work, my hobby, my career, my drug of choice. When building something I really like, a design that makes me happy, time goes away. I go away. And then I get to build things. I get to work with tools and wood at my bench, in my little world that I have created, and as an added bonus, I get to build things. Lucky me, being in the shop.

1-Tapered cabinet inlay close


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Humility and Ignorance

One of the lessons that every woodworking teacher must learn is humility. Being more knowledgeable than a new student doesn’t mean that you’re smarter [that’s certain] or more skilled. It means simply that you’ve put in more time. You have made more mistakes and after repeating them enough times you do learn to avoid them. But then you forge on to make new ones.

If you, as a teacher, forget that everyone starts from a place of ignorance then each question is irksome to you. Don’t forget. Remember how it was when you started. When I began, my test for strength in a piece I built was to get up and jump up and down on it with my boots on. I was never one for fine tuned metrics.

If it survived, I felt good enough to press on. In ignorance. There is much to learn still. Stay humble.


Transition plane close



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Why not Dovetails?

Hand cut dovetails are a pain in the butt. So some would say. I say differently. They are a giant . . . delight.

Consider the dovetails below, cut by John in last year’s Resident Mastery Program. This drawer is pretty small. Dovetails are overkill for its strength requirements. And yet they add so much beauty to the piece. And these half blind dovetails are actually easier to cut than through dovetails. Hmm.

Desk drawer John RMP7 -001














Also think about the value of this hand cut work. It’s not just to hold something together forever. It’s a statement about how you consider your own efforts.  What you think them to be worth. It’s pretty apparent how Matthew in our current Distance Mastery Group feels about his work. He’s darn proud of it and he should be.

Join us June 15-19 and learn to cut some dovetails with us. Or improve your skills at it. I guarantee that you will get better at the table saw by doing so. And you’ll get better at dovetails too.

Dovetail chest Matthew DMP #12 013













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Taking Down a Tree, Part Two

The tree is down. No ceremony was performed for it. As a street tree, this maple had a pretty good long run. I was sorry to have to remove it but seeing it fallen over on top of a car would have made me a bit sorrier. It was half dead as was plain to see this spring and rot would soon take over the trunk. So.

It was actually pretty cool to watch how the arborist, Aaron, took it down. He roped up and started dropping limbs, both dead and alive from the top on down. When he got close to the crotch is when I became really interested.

Where you make your first cut determines so much about the kind of wood you might receive from the tree. About 7′ up, we had two big limbs split off from one another. This crotch area can reveal beautiful grain. You could already see some spalting on the outside of the tree and some ripple in the grain. I wanted to capture all that in some slabs so I had Aaron cut off just about the crotch split.








From there, he switched out chainsaws to one with a rip blade on it and made two rip cuts so we could maximize the crotch wood. Almost lined them up but that’s a tough cut to nail. It’s a big kerf too. You can see right through it.

019   021






Once he got the log split, then he crosscut the sections down. This is when it became apparent that there was some real pretty wood here and a bunch of rot as well. You can see how the right side, the dead side, is starting to rot out from the center. That’s how it goes whenever you cut down a tree. You never know the surprises that await.


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Taking Down a Tree

I hate cutting down trees. As much as I love the wood that comes from them, there is still something about cutting down a tree that seems to me an affront. A crime against the sky. Certainly it is a loss of some valuable shade in the heat of the sun. And it changes a landscape, a street view.

But it was half dead and once cut, discovered to be rotten inside. It had to come down now in a noisy if controlled fashion rather than taking out someone’s car some chance day. It was a good sized tree and it had a good run of time. Pretty looking wood. But all wood, wet and fresh from a saw cut, looks like Christmas. I do still hope for a good slab or two.

The thing about cutting a tree down is the finality of it. It’s up and standing and a pain in your side and maybe a hazard and in a few hours, it’s gone. Like it never existed. I don’t like cutting down trees because it makes me feel just as temporary. Maybe even more so as I was younger than that tree. Still I’ll try to make something out it instead of just burning all of it. Now that is a crime.










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Do Good Work

How can anyone afford to do good work these days? Isn’t the strain of surviving enough to make mediocre work good enough? As that famous poet once said, You gonna have to serve somebody. So who’s it gonna be? Your landlord or the voice inside you asking you to do it right this time.

I can’t choose for you. I can only choose for myself. These were the standards I said I had to adhere to and if I couldn’t meet those then it wasn’t worth doing. Yeah, some days those standards were higher than others. Yep, some days I wanted to jump off a cliff rather than do the nitpicky goddang minutiae, why-in-the-hell-worry-‘bout-that-spot kinda work I can get involved in sometimes. Sometimes that money losing work is enough to drive you crazy.

But when it’s done right, when the job is done, and you’ve done it 4 times just to get it right and you step back and you look at your work, the ability to be able to say, It was done right. That was worth a lot to me. Cheap taco dinners usually, but worth eating them in order to be able to walk away satisifed. Mastery ain’t for everybody. That’s why it’s called mastery and not mediocrity.


Signature Piece by Mastery student, Patrick McGlade, 2014


Signature Gallery Detail Pat RMP7 001

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My Transmutable Bench

In the middle of a storm, commonplace things change. My bench for instance. When building a piece for a deadline, my recognizable bench becomes a place of chaos, a haven for every tool, every piece of scrap wood, for every note and drawing, dull tool, and a ready to hand assortment of screws and sandpaper, most of which I will not use. A place for everyone and everything. Emptying it will take days.  It becomes not just a symbol of my own tumult. It is a signal of the state of my mind. Seemingly hundreds of items collect across it at once and I am able mostly, if no one disturbs the clutter, to find the things I need in order to build. But it is transformed before my eyes. It is a tableau of my life, of my mind. It is stunning and I say it is a sign of intelligence with so many “ideas” strewn about.

You on the other hand may find it vaguely recognizable if true.

Bench tumultous

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