A Sigh of Relief

I was finally ready this weekend to begin the undercarriage assembly for my chair. It was a bit nerve-wracking. There are several hours’ work in the leg and stretcher turnings, and I was in no mood to ruin them with a ham-fisted boring job.

It’s not at all intuitive to deduce the proper boring angles. There are four legs, three stretchers, and six joints that connect them all together. And there is precious little room for error. And even if you know the right angles, how do you ensure that you’re drilling at that precise angle?

It turns out that there is indeed a method to the apparent madness. I watched this video by Curtis Buchanan twice last week in preparation for this exercise.


At the heart of process is a very simple but very ingenious jig that holds your workpiece while you drill and lets you see the angle that you’re drilling with the help of a bevel gauge and a mirror.

Buchanan jig

I spent Saturday morning building my own version of the jig out of some cypress and poplar scraps.

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This is the view while you’re boring – you can just glance over to your left to line up your bit with the bevel gauge, which is set to the appropriate drilling angle.

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With the jig built, I was able to bore the legs quickly and accurately. When it was time for assembly, the joints went together snugly and without complaint.

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I wedged the legs through the top of the seat, trimmed them off, and finished scraping and sanding the seat.

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I did get a little overzealous while I was trimming the legs flush with a gouge – I ended up taking a chip out of the seat right beside the gutter! Luckily I was able to locate the miscreant chip and glue it back in place with a dab of superglue. The chip is just to the left of the leg-hole, but you’ll never see it again once this chair gets painted.

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The end is nigh.

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A Lonely Craft

It’s an unusual treat for me to actually have the opportunity to hang out with a fellow woodworker. We’re a scarce bunch, I suppose. Rarer still is the elusive green woodworker – those who make spoons, bowls, chairs, chests, etc. starting from green logs rather than dried lumber. Actually, as of two weeks ago, I had never met another green woodworker.

A couple weeks ago, I joined a green woodworking Facebook group and took notice when one of the posters referred to Cumberland Island, GA as “right across the state line from me”. Cumberland Island is less than 3 miles from my home, just across the St. Mary’s River. Just where is this guy? I sent him a message and asked where he was from. Turns out there is a fellow green woodworker just 20 minutes down the road from me in Yulee, FL.

We made plans to meet up at my house to swap stories and carve spoons. He brought along some fine red maple and I picked out a great crook to work with. I got to try out some new spooncarving knives (I still don’t own a hook knife – just a couple of bent knives –  but using Joey’s convinced me to put a hook knife on my Christmas list).

He brought along some of his own spoons to show me, as well as some from carvers all over the world. I have only seen my own spoons in person – most of what I’ve learned is from the internet – so it was a thrill to discuss the different styles and forms with someone who really understands hand-carved spoons. I also found a willing ear to talk about my Windsor chair. I know my wife is tired of my blathering about it.

I love this craft, but it has definitely been a lonely one for me. The irony of that statement is that spooncarving has the potential to be one of the most social woodcrafts of all – it doesn’t require a shop, the tools are few, and the materials are free. I find few things more enjoyable than to sit outside on a nice day and chat while carving, so I’m thankful to have made a green woodworking friend so close by. Thanks, Joey – let’s do it again soon!

Joey (right) and I with the fruits of our labor.

Here are a few pictures of my spoon from the maple crook:

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A Post on Posts.

After getting my feet wet with the baluster leg turnings, I proceeded on to the most difficult turning on the whole chair – the posts. In case you need a refresher on the chair parts:

Terry Kelly
Photo credit: Terry Kelly

The posts are the two turnings that frame the spindles above the seat. They are 22″ long and 1/2″ in diameter at their slightest dimension. If you’ve never turned wood before, then let be just say that your tools must be razor-freaking-sharp and your concentration must rival that of a Buddhist monk lest the spindles start vibrating like a coin-operated motel bed. This was the most challenging turning that I’ve ever attempted. Made the legs feel like I was turning rolling pins.

Straight-grained wood is a prerequisite for these parts. Riven wood would be ideal, but I have air-dried wood that was sawn. The grain isn’t perfect, so I’ll have to make it perfect. I start by knocking off some of the ugly with a hand plane so I can see the grain lines better.

Then I strike a line parallel to the face grain and lay out all of the cuts.


Then some quick work with a Skil saw, and I have a stack of turning blanks.

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Now I can examine the edge grain. Most of the blanks have very straight grain, but a couple of them have some defects that will need to be addressed.

The blank on the left has a small pin knot. I’ll make sure to locate the knot in a wide section of the turning. If it were located in a narrow part, like a cove, it could weaken the turning too much. The blank on the right does not have straight edge grain. It curves midway through and runs out to the right. I won’t be able to get a 22″ post out of it, but I can cut off the end and get a 16″ stretcher, making sure to located the lathe centers such that the grain runs straight.

I select the best blanks for the posts. These are turned down to 1/2″ in their narrowest dimension, so if the grain isn’t perfectly straight and free of defects, they simply won’t be strong enough to stand up to the rigorous life of a chair.

The stretchers seemed like child’s play after completing the posts. I turned them out in short order from the remaining blanks. I also turned one additional leg to replace the one that I messed up.

Stretchers (1)

The turnings are now complete, and the underside of my lathe is ready to be cleaned out!

Stretchers (2)

Stretchers (3)


Four Pale, Shapely Legs

Two weekends ago, I turned some legs from green live oak for my Windsor chair. They turned out nicely, but the only problem is that I’ll have to wait at least a month – maybe two – before they’re dry enough to use. I’m the impatient type, so I began considering what my other options might be, and I decided to turn a set of baluster legs from some dry red maple that I can use in the meantime. Though it’s not the preferred wood for baluster legs, I’m convinced that the red maple will be plenty strong. The live oak legs can wait for my second chair.

I started with some 2″-thick maple planks and sawed out a set of 2″ x 2″ x 24″ legs blanks, being careful to follow the grain as I marked them out, rather than the edge of the boards. I popped the square blanks on the lathe and quickly roughed them to round.

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Four roughed-out leg blanks.

The maple was absolutely delightful to work with after turning the live oak. Long, creamy ribbons of wood spilled from my gouge like strands of spaghetti. I didn’t think dry wood was supposed to turn this well! I never turned much maple since it’s so bland compared to more colorful woods. I didn’t know what I was missing! Compare the maple shavings on the left to the stiff, brittle shavings from the live oak:

The baluster legs required much more skill and attention than the simple bamboo turnings that I did previously. The first one took well over an hour from start to finish, and I still screwed a few things up. I’ll probably need to make a replacement. Nevertheless, it still turned out pretty nice. The second one went much more smoothly, and by the third, I was really in a groove.

I decided to time myself on the fourth leg, but by that time it was well past midnight and apparently my body was letting me know it was time for bed. I had trouble concentrating, had a few “Oops” moments, and the leg didn’t turn out quite as well as my second and third. I think it will still be fine to use, though. My time from start to finish was 25 minutes on the final leg. Elia Bizzarri says he’s able to turn a baluster leg in 10 minutes, so apparently I still need plenty of practice. I hear it gets easier after the first thousand or so.

Can you pick out which leg I’m planning to replace? The error is subtle…

Edited to add: Kylie picked out the goofed-up blank. It’s actually not the mineral streaks that I dislike, though – the chair will be painted, so those won’t show. I turned the bead too narrow and the fillet above it too wide. I’m probably the only one who would ever notice, but the cat’s out of the bag, now. Here’s a closeup: