The Non-Electric Chair #15: Making the Chair (Fitting the Seat and Arms)

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Blog entry by lethentymill posted 07-20-2009 01:07 PM 1753 reads 0 times favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 14: Making the Chair (The back frame gets glued up and the chair comes together) Part 15 of The Non-Electric Chair series Part 16: Enthroned at Last »

Working on the seat of the Beech Chair

I closed the shed in October last year and took the toolbox inside as I had no intention of working through the winter on this project – even though it was near completion. The cold damp air is not good for the wooden tools and they deserve better at this stage in their lives even if they have withstood worse in the past…..

So Christmas passed, then January, February, March; finally in mid-April, I re -installed the toolbox and started work again. The frame of the chair was already glued up, all that remained was to joint and fit the seat, and shape and fit the arms. I’ve spoken about the brinkmanship of preparing components for this project; the risks that David Pye speaks about in his book “The Nature and Art of Workmanship” I think that I “get away with it” most of the time but now and again dodgy decisions have come back to haunt me. Well, the Shakers add the occasional error to their work as “only God is perfect” I wish I had to do this artificially …. In fact, isn’t this slightly arrogant of them?

Anyway, I thought I had enough spare seat material in the boards to tongue and groove them, but after flattening the top surfaces and edging them and finding – it’s not working out – they turn out to be an exact fit with nothing to spare. I thought about dowelling them together, hammering beech offcuts through a hole in a steel plate as they used to make dowels, but was concerned about the difficulty of making sure that the dowels lined up parallel with the surface of the seat; the seat must be flat.

In fact, Mr Wake’s toolbox didn’t help by providing any inspiration. There are no Matching planes (for cutting tongues and grooves in the edges of boards) and if I had had enough spare on the boards I would have used the Plough to cut the grooves and the Rebate plane (from either side) to cut the tongues; a laborious way of going about it.

So, as with the Elm chair earlier, I made slip feathers and grooved both edges of each board with the plough fitted with a 6mm cutter.
Mysteriously, a 6mm beech board turned up and a Multiplane fitted with a “slitter”! I have never used the slitter before, but they come as standard on most Multiplanes and usually seem to be blunt and in factory condition, which suggests they have never been used. Despite these less than encouraging signs I found that a professional looking feather was achievable and I would use the slitter again. Don’t try and cut through the 6mm in one pass – turn the stock and work from both sides until it just peels away.

The top surfaces of the boards are flat so when I glued them together I clamped them up with tops pressed down onto the clamps to ensure that the seat was flat. The underside was very rough and I went over it with the scrub plane until it looked better and was significantly lighter. Then I fitted the back of the seat to fit between the back legs (6-8mm back) and marked the seat from underneath in place on the chair. I added 8mm or so all round, to give an overhang, cut to the outside of the line with a panel saw, cleaned up the edge with a smoothing plane and cut a rebate of 10 or 12 mm all round underneath so that the seat could drop in place with plenty of room for movement front to back. I rebated down to just reveal the feathers, leaving about 10 mm of thickness to the overhang.

After cutting off the front corners, I started to flatten the top of the seat with a smoothing plane going across the grain then used the toothing plane along the grain before scraping the surface and sanding it. I formed a quarter round or “pencil round” all round the upper edges, dropped the seat in place and marked, with a pencil, the underside of the seat on the chair frame and fitted blocks to this line (well, fractionally below it) for fixing the seat in place.

I prefer this method of fixing the seat – with an overhang all round – as it allows for shrinkage etc and it is the easiest way to get a perfect fit.

The arms were still in rough form and required more attention from the bowsaw, the spokeshaves and the brace and bits.
I used the auger bit for drilling out the “thumb hole” the distinctive shape at the front of the arms. Someone told me that this is a typical feature of Aberdonian carvers, but I can’t verify that. I used a centre bit to remove the circular mortice underneath the arm to receive the dowel/tenon formed in the top of the vertical component. The rest was done by dry fitting, marking, drilling etc until it was time to glue an arm on and having a little “Gorilla Glue” left in a container I decided to put it to good use here. Yet again I gave thanks for not being born in the days of Scotch glue and the steaming glue kettle.

Fitting the arms of the Beech Chair

-- Allan Fyfe, Lethenty Mill Furniture,

10 comments so far

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27249 posts in 5041 days

#1 posted 07-20-2009 01:15 PM

Allan, you have been working on this for nearly a year now and it just goes to show that you can’t rush craftsmanship. Thanks for taking us through the construction process. It was an enjoyable ride and it is nice to see you enjoying the “fruits of your labor”.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View patron's profile


13722 posts in 4560 days

#2 posted 07-20-2009 01:39 PM

i haven’t looked at your chair bldg. ,
yet , will check that out soon .
seeing you sitting in it by the ocean ,
and sharing your thoughts ,
is a priceless human reflection .
all we need now is you and debora kerr ,
rolling around in the sand ,
and the chair floating away !
thanks burt .

-- david - only thru kindness can this world be whole . If we don't succeed we run the risk of failure. Dan Quayle

View jlsmith5963's profile


297 posts in 4567 days

#3 posted 07-20-2009 06:51 PM

For the youngsters in the crowd:
From Here to Eternity (1953) Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr
classic scene: Lancaster and Kerr rolling around on the beach in passionate, forbidden love-making

-- criticism: the art of analyzing and evaluating the quality of an artistic work...

View Bob #2's profile

Bob #2

3810 posts in 5241 days

#4 posted 07-20-2009 07:01 PM

Isolation,... boredom,.... madness.

Such is the plight of the human animal.

Nice chair.


-- A mind, like a home, is furnished by its owner

View mtkate's profile


2049 posts in 4544 days

#5 posted 07-20-2009 07:11 PM

What a great post. And a very very nice chair.

View SCOTSMAN's profile


5849 posts in 4804 days

#6 posted 07-20-2009 08:00 PM

I saw you sitting in the chair at the waters edge and thought KING CANUTE.LOLAlistair

-- excuse my typing as I have a form of parkinsons disease

View jlsmith5963's profile


297 posts in 4567 days

#7 posted 07-20-2009 09:55 PM

What have we discovered in our costly adventure in space that makes it all worthwhile? Teflon?

And here I always thought it was Tang.

-- criticism: the art of analyzing and evaluating the quality of an artistic work...

View degoose's profile


7284 posts in 4574 days

#8 posted 07-21-2009 12:46 PM

I loved Tang when I was in S.E. Asia with the navy in the 70’s

-- Be safe.

View Bob #2's profile

Bob #2

3810 posts in 5241 days

#9 posted 07-21-2009 07:23 PM

Degoose, I ging to take it that it’s an abbreviation for Tangerine – right?


-- A mind, like a home, is furnished by its owner

View rtb's profile


1101 posts in 4932 days

#10 posted 07-21-2009 11:48 PM

Allen This has been a marvelous journey and I enjoyed every step of it. I’m certain that you chairs will last for generations and I hope that the story of their build doses as well.

-- RTB. stray animals are just looking for love

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