The Non-Electric Chair #11: Breaking out the Beech (part 1)

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Blog entry by lethentymill posted 01-14-2009 12:48 PM 1506 reads 0 times favorited 2 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 10: Waiting for Beech To Dry Part 11 of The Non-Electric Chair series Part 12: Breaking out the Beech - Part 2 »

The timber is still moist to the touch and heavy, probably about 28% moisture, but it will be easier to cut in this condition and will dry quickly with a smaller cross-section. It is time to rough-cut the components. You may remember that I have already selected and prepared pieces for the main members – the back legs.

All this hand-work makes you think of efficiency in a way that you may never have thought of it before. If you have ever cycled around the countryside and taken a wrong turning – it’s the same sort of thing. You can’t just swing round, as you can in the car, and “drat it, I’ll have to do that again”. It is serious this time – the expletive is more colourful, and the thought that you will have to crank the thing up the hill that you have just hurtled down – well, it’s not fair!

So, you try to cut corners – your brain goes into overtime as you avoid mistakes and look for quick solutions. If you go too near the line (or over it) you might not have enough width in this component to do the job. You might have to make another one; and this one will be no use.

As a rule, I try to cut out my largest pieces first. Not only when I’m doing this kind of “extreme woodworking”, it is good practice when you are using machines and “drat it, I’ll have to do that again” comes up. This time, though, it’s more crucial.

I’m also looking for shapes that will give me the most components for the least effort. In this project I was able to get the four (18mm x 35mm) bottom rails out of one piece of wood.

I was taking a bit of a risk (economically – you understand); this piece would have been wasted if I had only managed to get one (18mm x 70mm) seat rail out of it.

This example may not appear to make sense mathematically, but you didn’t see the contours of the piece of wood and four small components are less demanding (i.e. give you more flexibility, more choice,) than two larger ones.

So, efficiency, economy, effort, risk all these words keep coming up and will beg the question, “Why not use a machine, why make life difficult?” My answer is to ask another question, “Why do people learn the violin if it’s easier to get a tune out of an electric organ?” Answer me that. Would people turn up in large numbers for a performance of Bach’s B minor mass at the Royal Albert Hall played on the massed electronic organs of the BBC Electronic Organ Ensemble? Would the players even want to turn up?

I digress, but when I am struggling with a bowsaw that was “working fine an hour ago” (not blaming the tools, of course), I feel there must be an answer for the sceptic – the person who says in a stage whisper at an evening class: “Just use a jigsaw, that’s what I would do.”

Anyway, the practical aspects of sawing and preparing components for this project are easier to get to grips with if you have a look at the video clip that accompanies this chapter. Although the wood is quarter-cut it may move a bit as it dries, so it’s better by far to leave two or three millimetres of tolerance and more on the larger pieces, especially the back legs. This process is called “roughing out” after all. You can fine tune this later when the wood is ready to be finally trued up, dressed to size and made into a chair.

The sawing along the grain is done with a rip saw. The planing is done; first with a “scrub” plane, for quick results, then with the jack/rebate plane and finished off with the triplane or jointer. All these are made of beech and have wedges for keeping the blade in place, this means that the blade adjustment is all done with tapping; either the back of blade for a deeper cut or the rear end of the plane for retracting the blade.

I always start a new component by planing a flat “face” on it to work from. I then use a marking gauge to establish a line, parallel to this, for my first cut. If the component is large and/or irregular, I gauge this line all the way round, ends as well, so that I can turn the wood in the vice and cut from both sides and eventually from the other end.

I try to resist the temptation to rip the piece of wood apart when I think I have nearly joined up the saw cut from both ends. (The grain can tear and spoil the job!) Don’t do it – it’s only a few more cuts.

-- Allan Fyfe, Lethenty Mill Furniture,

2 comments so far

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 4814 days

#1 posted 01-14-2009 05:27 PM

Allan, it’s fun to watch you work. Good information here as well

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View kiwi1969's profile


608 posts in 4294 days

#2 posted 01-15-2009 02:34 AM

Hand tool work and cycling are both pursuits good for the mind and body and at least you can talk to the camera without yelling over a screaming power tool or a screaming neighbour! very nice simple video thanks

-- if the hand is not working it is not a pure hand

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