Well, it took all of a week, but I’ve finally completed the shavehorse. More or less. One of Peter Galbert’s bits of advice from The Chairmaker’s Notebook is this:
Don’t build your first shavehorse out of prized wood you’ve been saving. More likely than not, you will want to change or customize your horse, and an ugly one is much easier to alter or put out on the porch.
This isn’t my first shavehorse, but I took him at his word and used a knotty cypress board for most of the horse. It’s 100% functional as it is, but as Galbert astutely predicted, I’ve already come up with a few changes that I’d like to make. I’ll have to put some hours on this horse before I go mucking with it any more, though.
The ratcheting head works quite nicely, but I’m not yet convinced it was worth the hours that it consumed. For any would-be chairmakers out there, I would strongly recommend building a regular ol’ dumbhead to start off with. After you get comfortable with it, you can always retro-fit it with the ratcheting head if you want – and you’ll probably do a better job of it later on. I wish someone had given me that advice a week ago…
The seat was a treat to carve. I had no desire to cut up my prized 24″-wide, 2″-thick poplar slabs for a Windsor chair seat without first getting a good feel for the process on a lesser subject. This seat came from a 2″ x 13″ poplar board – not quite as dear. Perfect size for a shavehorse seat, though.
I started off by flattening it with a couple of hand planes, then cutting out the profile with a jigsaw (use a sharp, thick blade, unless you want it to wander all over in the thick poplar…I was wishing I had room for my bandsaw in my shop as my jigsaw groaned). I sketched the profile I wanted on the edge of the slab and started hacking away with my adze. I just held it on the floor with my foot (clean shoes are a must, unless you want to dull your adze in a hurry). I need a better way to hold my seat blanks, but it worked fine for a quick job.
There was no joy in adzing the poplar, I’m afraid. It was quite a bit more difficult to carve than the sassafras I tested it out in. I was wishing for some thick sassafras or white pine, but poplar will have to do, since it’s all I’ve got.
I was once again pleased with the performance of the inshave. I was able to refine the rough work of the adze with a surprising degree of control, and it left a nice surface to work with. I did notice, however, that my sharpening job needs improvement: I found out quickly which sections of the inshave were sharp and which were not, and I found myself favored the sections that were sharp.
I followed up the inshave with the drawknife and spokeshave to round over the perimeter. I could have left the seat just like this, and it would have been quite comfortable. However, since I considered this task a practice run for Windsor(s) that I will build, I couldn’t help but follow up with the scraper.
It was more difficult going straight from inshave to scraper than I would have imagined. The curves of the seat looked pretty uniform after the inshave, but the scraper proved that sentiment wrong. I found myself wishing for a travisher. Still too rich for my blood, I’m afraid, but eventually I’ll have to get one, I know.
Since I decided to proceed with the scraping, I pretty much had no choice but to finish up with sanding. Not my favorite task, so I sped it along with the random orbit sander and some 120-grit.
I didn’t aim for a perfect surface, but it still turned out nice when I finally slathered some walnut oil on the seat. I do love the contrast between the creamy sapwood and the yellow-green heartwood. I wish the planks were 100% heartwood, though, because it seems to be so much more workable than the sapwood.
Whatever the seat lacks in appearance, it makes up for in comfort. I definitely haven’t had a seat this comfortable in my shop before.
Well, onward and upward! I did manage to sneak in a bit of work on the Windsor itself over the weekend…