Friday, November 25, 2016

Chairs No Time Like The Present

My daughter has played the violin for several years and recently decided to learn to play the cello. After finding a reasonable used instrument (Thanks Greg!), I noticed one of our dining chairs missing from our table, and unsurprisingly found it in her room. Despite the normal backlog of projects, I decided she needed a task specific seat for practice (and my OCD nature needed all the chairs at the table). There are some selfish reasons for this as well, besides that it allows me to procrastinate more on the second phase of the "Epic Kitchen Project" leftovers, it also allows an entry point into chair making.

For the last few years I've hungered to build chairs, but have been largely unable to begin in earnest. While I did make the shop stool in the SSBO a while back. many of the chair designs I want to build have been waiting patiently, generally building in complexity & nuance with each napkin sketch revision. Add to this the inspiration peer pressure from chair makers like Jeff Miller, Chris Schwarz, Peter Galbert, Paul Lemiski, and non-chair makers like Konrad Sauer Throw on top that, positive wworking community peer pressure in the forms of June chair builds and Extravaganzas and you can understand my pent up creative need.

If you also follow me on Instagram you've probably seen my other obsession is scorched & waxed finish (Shou-sugi-ban) especially on red oak. I love this finish (full stop) It has lots of rich texture and a luster like a vintage motorcycle jacket; and since I have a decent pile of red oak (a wood I am otherwise not too fond of) many of my project sketches lean this direction. BUT the scorching process is at times violent and does unpleasant things to glue (your mileage may vary) so I was hesitant to burn (and ruin) a project I had invested significant effort into. I've also been curious as to how this finish would hold up and patina when applied to a chair.

Enter the Perch

This little stool which I was late to Peter's blog for, (I think I was first introduced to by #toolmakersretreat) would be the perfect test bed for me to try out several important skills from saddling seats and "staked" joinery to the process sequence requirements Shou-sugi-ban would introduce. The instruction and videos on Peter's site are more than enough instruction to build a perch, though it's a disservice to not get his book Chairmaker's Notebook. While Peter's design sense is spot on, functionally it needed some tweaks to work for my application


First off, the legs needed to be shortened as a consequence of its function as a cello chair this meant I needed to tweak the rake & splay a bit to maintain the same ground contact patch and avoid it getting tippy, this required a bit of trig to get in the ballpark, then rounding to a convenient angle. The forward lean and stance is good because of the desired posture for cellists. Second, I wanted to avoid turned legs; I have just a short midi-lathe and I prefer the simple (looking) chunky square legs on welsh stick chairs.

I also decided I wanted to try to play with the shape and see if I could bring in some design queues from the violin family. I introduced the C-bout into the back which doubles as a nice grab handle (and casts an interesting shadow). The concave saddling of the seat adds a bit of an optical illusion mimicking the convex arching of a violin top. Finally the tapered legs with a gentle crowning on their faces hopefully give a subtle nod to the fingerboard of a violin.


Galbert works with green wood and hand tools. I love hand tools as much as the next galoot, but I was working with dried oak and not all of the necessary tools, so I did much of the work (saddling, leg tapering) with power tools (kutzall, table saw). Surprisingly, the seemingly obvious thing to do with power tools (contouring the seat with a bandsaw), I did with my bow saw after my only blade broke at the weld with a bang. Still it didn't take long at all. I got lots of hand tool use in the project from drilling the leg holes to bevel cleanup with spokeshaves so I don't worry I've switched to CNC just yet.

Lessons Learned (After Action Report) 

  • Don't trim legs until after assembly, it prevents straight line pounding of the leg during the seating process.
  • Don't think you can predict and pre-finish the tenon stick out (and leave contrasting unfinished wedges), you will be wrong once the pounding begins.
  • I chose flat sawn oak for the seat, since I think it's less likely to split self-rive than quarter sawn oak with racking forces in the seat from the legs.
  • Don't drill 3/4" holes if you plan on using 1" tenons (It makes for a lot more reaming.)
  • A cabinet scraper makes quick work of the scratch pattern left from a coarse kutzall wheel, way better than sandpaper.
  • Kutzall wheels cut excellently, but make a ton of dust.
  • Kutzall really do "cut all", including a nice abrasion on your fingertip if you forget.
  • Surface checking. The scorching process opened up some checks I thought were gone during shaping. Nothing catastophic but likely a consequence of the flat sawn seat material (that started with some checking) and the risk inherent in the process.
  • Crowning the leg faces really makes them richer both in looks and in feel.
  • The seat position on the perch is very similar to what I did on the SSBO tilted and saddled, encouraging an upright riding posture without putting edge pressure under the thighs. My Shop stool is very comfortable, even if it's a bit ungainly from a design perspective. Pete's Perch is attractive and way simpler construction, I wish I had used this as the starting point for the SSBO.
  • I will would make a version for myself about 6-7" taller for my general use. I think this is the kind of seat that is very personal and tweaking it to fit perfectly is well worth the customization.
  • I have a feeling I will be making more of these. Chair building fever is only intensified, not abated. 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Stuff I've made: Book House

I've been meaning to go back and document some of the things I've made prior to starting this blog. Of course life intervenes and I don't get around to it. But last week my baby girl daughter told me that she was done with something I made a long time ago, and I decided I needed to document it somewhere lest it disappear forever.

I'm pretty sure this was made late 2002 early 2003 as it was made in preparation for the birth of my daughter (might have finished after her birth.) Still as I look at this piece for one last time, I can't help but think of that time when I thought I would never have a complete enough shop. 


Pretty much stolen a reproduction from a Crate & Barrel or Pottery Barn catalog of the era. I do recall changing up some of the dimensions to either maximize 1X12 material usage (I probably had a spreadsheet formula) or to better fit books. I think it still looks classic, although only as I've went to move it have I noticed that it being >48" in two directions makes it a pain to fit in most vehicles


The project was made with pretty basic materials:
  • Painted 1X12 #2 pine from Menard's, chosen because: A) Home Depot hadn't come to town. and B) Lowes only sold "select" (read $) grade 1X12's. 
  • The back is 1/4" hardboard (!) which was pretty neat at the time because I was able to use some of the material to make a dado jig without additional project cost.


  • Most of the joinery is nails, not the fancy good ol' cut nails either, the bad reputation 4d wire finish nails. Still it's held up just fine.
  • It has a rabbet for the back, routed with my then brand spanking new Milwaukee body grip router (probably it's first use). 
  • The shelves were narrower than the complete 1X12 (to allow for the rabbet), so I had to rip & crosscut on my then new Grizzly cabinet saw. At the time, those 2 items, plus a 1" Stanley carpenter chisel and a Stanley coping saw probably made up my entire kit, (oh yes, also a B&D 1/4 palm sander, which has since died) I bought that cabinet saw after agonizing between Table or Band saw first after a very personally influential FWW article of the day.
  • The top is nailed on (a poor choice as I've found in moving it around over the years), yet it is has angled dovetails at the apex, which shows that even back then I often took on joinery that was beyond my capability. I really don't remember how I pulled this off at the time, but it actually looks pretty good and I don't see major gaps, though it has been painted a couple times.
Looking back at this project takes me back to a time when materials and tools were often limiting factors, but fewer family obligations. Even more than the memories I have from this build, are the countless hours I subsequently spent with my little girl picking books from it's shelves and reading together; watching those books go from board books to Dr. Seuss to Judy Blume and now beyond to thicker books without pictures.

If you know my little girl, you know of her love for books, we've certainly gotten our use from this item and it seems fair to allow her to move on to a Teen style (sigh.) Still, it was with a bit of sadness that I tried to figure out what to do with it. Put it away somewhere? (not a lot of storage space) Put it on craigslist? Bonfire? My daughter suggested we offer it to a cousin who has a toddler daughter. I tentatively sent a text and was overjoyed when I immediately got a positive response, they were just talking about getting one like it. It's in good hands.

More than just the things made, we make memories. Never forget that.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

On Finishing...

If you are looking for great tips and advice on applying finishes,this isn't it. Please try "Flexner on finishing" or other great resources.

There are many types of blogs & sources of woodworking information these days, from people who resurface centuries old resources, those that build things out of pallets, those that are entertaining, those that provide step-by-step instruction and even some places that seem to just add some token content to prop up their advertising. Many provide weekly or even daily updates on what they are working on probably in part to remain "relevant" or make some income stream. I don't begrudge or think they are doing it wrong, most are surely more successful by any measurable standard, but this blog isn't that type. 

I've had intentions of keeping up to-to-date here, posting in-process blogs, and I probably will from time to time, but I'm a bit more reserved than that. Even though I know that not many folks are reading, I've found that often I don't really know how/when projects will end up or which direction they will go and it scares me to show that live in front of the world. 

I've also found that I blog as a retrospective of what I've accomplished for looking back at times when it feels like I am not accomplishing much. But probably the biggest reason is that I've found that I like it a lot when my posts are a story and have some larger connected thought. This usually means they must be at a time when I can reflect on the project, which is usually at the end, when I'm finished. 

Finally getting to some workbench leg mortises

This is a problem because I haven't finished much in a long time. My last real project was my split top Roubo workbench, which aggravated a shoulder injury and I had to pull off that project to recover. (I have recently gotten back on that wagon and am making some progress.) I have a bit of a psychological problem with unresolved projects, so that also for the most part doesn't let me go on to another project until I have finished the previous. If I do, I have something nagging me deep within telling me to go back and finish. I want to make some chairs in June, so I need to finish this up first.

You're sure it's not load bearing right?...
The largest obstacle has definitely been the "Epic Kitchen Project." I haven't mentioned it here, but if you follow me on Instagram (or look in the IG sidebar here#EpicKitchenProject), you'll know it's been underway for quite some time... While we call it a kitchen project, in reality, about 50% of my house sqft is being reconfigured. It's in a couple phases, and while I've completed the primary portion, combining the old kitchen, dining and living rooms (with only a few small cosmetic things to finish), I haven't yet started on the new dining/laundry/media room that will be reconfigured from the previous family room.

More recently, I took up another hobby that requires some time. Back in November, I started running because I needed the exercise and figured that couldn't aggravate my shoulder problem further. (I promise that I won't be turning this into a fitness blog...ever.) I fell into a small competitive group of my friends that vie for "most miles" bragging rights each month. Even though I'd never run a race, the peer pressure encouraged me to run the half marathon held in Champaign each year. As I began the training, I figured I'd start the marathon training and then back down when I couldn't hack it. By the time that reckoning came, I was too committed and decided to "just do it".

As race day approached, the weather forecast was horrible. Rainy, windy and cold (high 40°'s) presented conditions I hadn't trained for. There was a very high probability that the race could be cancelled. This stressed me immensely. While I had never had a bucket-list goal of running a marathon, I had done too much training build-up to just cast it aside. I'm not a guy that "runs marathons," so I also struggled with putting it off weeks/months and continuing at that level of training to finish a different marathon. I got some incredible hi-tech drymax socks, and became determined to run no matter what. Now I understand why people do dumb things like run marathons or climb mountains in bad conditions, and die; the training invested distorts good judgement into bad. In the end, the thunderstorms held off and while it rained steady all day and was only ~50°, I was able to run. I was wet. I was cold. It was challenging to run the distance; but I finished. I'd even met my goal of under 4 hours (3:59:51 whew). 

It wasn't everything I'd hoped for, but I had finished with something I was proud of. It made me think about so many of life's projects, blogging, woodworking or otherwise, we prepare, but are presented with obstacles and challenges along the way. When we keep at it, we can be happy with what we actually can accomplish.

We are out of Popcorn!

Breakfast in bed, or the attic.

After the desolation

Building Walls & Skills


Paint brings it together

Kitchen boxes, in boxes

Reminds me of some sort of Mondrian art

Laxarby only comes in Black in the US, time to learn about white lacquer

Traditional molding techniques, cheaper than "colonial" and much better looking

Customizing the bar cabinet doors

Monday, April 11, 2016

Inky Art Project

Since my daughter started attending middle school in 6th grade, she has been enamored by the art projects on display each semester. In her school, the eighth graders create a final art project of their own choosing, it's wide open and many of them pour out effort and personality, even though the teacher merely sets a minimum of 5hrs effort for the project. My daughter, "Inky" (not her real name, I'm just paranoid), from the day she started wanted to do something grand and probably beyond her ability (looks like it runs in the family), and I have quietly sat on the side, hoping that she'd want to do something in wood. By the time 8th grade came around, we knew she wanted to do something that would also link to her primary passion, music.

At first suggestion, she wanted to make a violin either real or some sort of scale model but that was not practical, or realistically possible given her skills, with a little guidance she was hooked on the idea of replacing the rickety folding metal music stand she used with a nice wooden version.

So off she went to Pinterest and the like. Of course she was instantly drawn to the iconic Maloof and Esherick stands that were also way above her ability and not realistic to complete within her time frame. With a little more gentle guiding we found the CH Becksvoort music stands. Which in his typical shaker style are "simpler", though certainly not easy to complete and not lacking at all in the design.

We settled on "Stand V" for inspiration since we were both drawn to its vibrant angles. We laid out a full size pattern based on her decisions on what would fit her usage and design tastes, not directly copying the original, but tweaking to fit. Materials would be from what we had on hand, and after looking at what was possible, Inky settled on the classic high contrast of walnut & maple. 

The other rules set forth by the art teacher is that parents may assist with power tools etc but the student must be around through it all and be involved. For whatever reason, a backsaw can bring poor Inky to tears so I figured I would do the cutting of lines but have her involved in the layout and cleanup work around the numerous compound angled half laps. She always participated in each step along the way, though sometimes I did some "elf" work to complete the step to meet the timeline and keep each step from becoming a drudgery. We figured she spent >30 hrs herself fully engaged in learning and making, so she certainly put herself into it and exceeded the requirements.

There were of course many lessons to learn on this project, one is that many lapped joints at compound angles are tricky and would really benefit from machinery and a bit of "jiggery". We laid everything out and cut by hand so she would get the experience, but in retrospect, a table saw and a jig would be better (sorry if I offend you with my willingness to callously slaughter innocent electrons) she also learned how to use dividers, keep to a deadline and fix mistakes, both with patching and with adding new design "features". 

The real lesson I hope both my kids are learning from projects like this, is that woodworking and making things are just a natural part of life, fluidly moving from a way to fill a functional need or express an artistic desire.

Sunday, September 20, 2015


My uncle passed away 18Sep15 after many years of fighting cancer. A few weeks ago I wrote him a letter. I share it here to remember a man who was the embodiment of the builder and to encourage everyone to take the time to tell those that matter that they do. Do it today. We are going to miss you Mike.

Uncle Mike,

Sorry this letter has taken so long to write. I've owed it to you for years, but I've kicked it down the road a long time, always thinking I was being "positive" and had no worry about running out of time or that you didn't need to hear me say it. Now, I realize it doesn't hurt anyone to take a minute and tell the people that have positively influenced your life that they are appreciated. I wanted to let you know how grateful I am for your helping me grow up and become who I am today even when you weren't consciously trying to influence me at the time.

Thank you so much for the things you've taught me. You've taught me the value of hard work, and to do things right and by-the-book, to get a high quality result that will last. You've also shown me that some times you need to buckle down and "get stuff done" even if you haven't done the thing before. This was evident in your encouraging young me (and even my kids) to stretch their abilities and accomplish real work on projects, not play work, but real honest hard work that they can be proud of.

Other times in my life you put your trust in me with your vehicles, while it may not be memorable to you, these events played a role in me growing to be confident and independent. For instance, I learned what pedals did what and how to ease out a clutch at idle in your truck outside that strip mall place we cleaned up. I learned what it was like to check out a truck before you buy it when you bought your diesel and you took me along. I took my first unlicensed solo trip in your car when tools or something were needed and I was the only one available. Along the same line, thanks for having me mow your lawn, I'm sure you paid me more than my work was worth at the time, but I appreciated having money of my own for the first time ever and this set me on a path of not being afraid to work hard for a living.

But most memorable is your caring young-at-heart attitude and hard working spirit. I know most of us Wrights can be perceived as loudmouthed know-it-alls (we usually do know a thing or two), but I think the way kids are always drawn to you demonstrates how warm, kind, and approachable you really are. I can't remember how many times you asked me to come help someone (I did help a few times) but I know that you have always been there to help someone with a roof or something else that needed fixing. This has set a bar for me in humbly helping others who need it. I hope that I have learned this lesson you've shown. Throughout you ordeal, we've only talked a few times about your cancer. And even those have been light and superficial. Maybe it was me being awkward or maybe it was me still feeling like I'm "the kid" and  it's such a "grown up" topic, but now I can't delay in saying I'm going to miss having my Uncle Mike around for a time, and while I hope that's a long time from now, if it's not, I'm thankful I know I'll see you again soon. And I know we'll be right back at work together. We often use Isaiah 64:21-22* to refer to equality in the new world, but I also know that you won't stop at just building a house for yourself. No, you'll be building far more houses than you'll occupy, I can't think of you not building stuff, or helping others build.

Thanks for everything you've built with, and in, me.

All my love,

*Isaiah 64:21&22"They will build houses and live in them, And they will plant vineyards and eat their fruitage. They will not build for someone else to inhabit, Nor will they plant for others to eat. For the days of my people will be like the days of a tree, And the work of their hands my chosen ones will enjoy to the full."

Friday, May 29, 2015

Enjoy Jeff Burks' Posts More With This One Weird Tip!

If you are like me, you follow a lot of blogs, mostly on an iPhone. So today I'm digressing briefly to pass on a tech tip. (I'd guess that android has something similar but I don't use, so can't comment)

Many woodworking blogs are picture laden, but short on words, while others may be a little "less concise" and pretty verbiage heavy (myself included here). For instance, I really enjoy the stuff Jeff Burks' digs up, but often found them fall to the bottom of the unread pile, until I found that you can easily get them read to you. Siri's voice isn't perfect but usually surprisingly good enough (especially with the enhanced mode enabled). I was recently showing this feature to someone else and found Apple had updated this hardly known feature to now allow a two-finger swipe down gessture to begin reading. (Previously you had to select all, and then tap "speak") This pairs nicely with "reader mode" in Safari, for pages outside my RSS feed. Try it, you'll like it. 

Here's how. Start in general settings.
In use: