I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: Steam-bending is one of the most satisfying processes in all of woodworking. There is something uniquely rewarding about taking a green log, splitting and shaving it to reveal a stiff, straight stave, then magically transforming it into a bendy, pliable thing that conforms to a sinuous shape upon your command – all within the span of a few hours. Amazing. (I wrote about my dirt-cheap steam-bending rig here, by the way.)
The stock that I chose for this chair’s continuous arm rail was apparently very good, because I didn’t experience so much as a single lifted fiber. After a week of air-drying and a couple of days in the kiln, the arm rail was set and I was ready to finish off the spindles.
Shaving spindles is meditative work for me. I quite enjoy the predictable nature of the way the riven oak works with the spokeshave. No reversing grain, no hidden knots. Just shave the bottom and the top tenons round and to the proper dimensions, then shape a symmetrical, gently arcing swell in the middle. Shave, test fit, shave some more, re-test, until you finally get a nice, tight fit into the mortises. It’s quite easy to overdo it and get the tenons just a hair too thin, so concentration is required. Fortunately, I had two trusty shop helpers who were making sure that I maintained focus at all times.
Soon enough, I had 13 spindles plus the two turned arm stumps fitted nicely into the seat.Once that was accomplished, it was followed by a painstaking process of measuring and drilling the arm rail, then sawing and shaving the spindles some more so that they all fit properly into the arm rail.
Many hours later, it was finally time for glue-up. This was my first continuous-arm, but I had done enough dry-fitting to predict that it would not be a pretty process. My prediction was, predictably, correct. There were 15 holes in the arm rail, with 15 corresponding spindles that all had to be seated simultaneously, and in the proper position. Then all 15 spindles needed to be split and wedged to clench them irreversibly tight. Everything came together as planned, but I was not masochistic enough to attempt to video-tape that process.
At some point that night, a bleary-eyed wife wandered into my shop and rather gruffly informed me that it was 3 AM. I had just finished shaving the spindle tips flush at this moment, so I proudly stepped aside to display my meticulously wrought creation. “It’s pretty,” she said flatly, “but it’s still 3 AM.”
Then I remembered that I had forgotten to consult my handy graph for the appropriate hours during which to present my work to my wife:
Oh well. I snapped one last picture and turned in for the night.