The Non-Electric Chair #12: Breaking out the Beech - Part 2

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Blog entry by lethentymill posted 02-09-2009 12:08 PM 1706 reads 0 times favorited 1 comment Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 11: Breaking out the Beech (part 1) Part 12 of The Non-Electric Chair series Part 13: Making the Chair (Front Frame) »

I have to “rough cut” the curved pieces of the chair now and, to come back to the jig-saw question, you can’t use a jigsaw to cut a curve in 90mm beech. Admittedly it’s not very easy with a bowsaw but it is possible. What if you halved the piece of 90mm wood, cut it with a jigsaw, and glued it back together again? – Yes, you could do that; but there isn’t a jigsaw in Mr Wake’s box, nor is there a power point in the shed. End of discussion.

The other alternative, if you remain uninspired by the film of me bowsawing for ages, is of course a bandsaw.

However, don’t buy a bandsaw without giving it a trial run and putting it through its paces – a cheap bandsaw may be no more able to cut 90mm beech than a jigsaw.

A final word on this issue; I am cutting beech in this project – beech is used for making plane bodies, so it’s not soft, it is very dense. These chairs were normally made of Scots pine (we usually call this redwood now) and it is a lot softer. The kits that I supply for making these chairs are also redwood and, like the antique ones, they should easily last a couple of hundred years – in fact they should be just coming into their prime in 2200.

When I selected slabs for the back legs I had it in mind that I could perhaps get two legs out of one piece. There is a good reason for this – I could economise on the sawing; if one leg can “nest” in the other one. In fact, I could save myself a lot of sawing. In the past at Lethenty Mill we have made sets of similar chairs in the workshop and have been able to cut up to six or seven legs from one slab, saving time and materials.

Using the bowsaw I have to be very careful to cut square (at right angles to the surface). You may also feel that a little care with adverbs wouldn’t go amiss, but “squarely” is just wrong. It sounds wrong and I don’t care what the spell checker says…
Funny, it ignored it!

There are some straight sections in these legs and I cut these with the rip saw as it was easier.

I haven’t gone on about the spokeshave yet but now is a good time to hold it up to scrutiny. Curves are not easy – straight edges are a lot easier and there are lot of tools in Mr Wake’s toolchest for cutting, truing and dressing straight edges – and most of these are pretty useless on curves.

There are not many tools for curve cutting in the toolchest and they are mainly spokeshaves – two of which are handmade – and he may have made them himself. There is a small wooden compass plane, not in bad condition so maybe not used a lot. I only used it for making templates from thin material (by the way it is a good idea to make wooden templates from the paper ones that I include in the Lethenty Mill project manuals, the wooden versions are far easier to use).
The workhorse is the spokeshave, and the more I get to know it, the more impressive this ancient implement is. Wikipedia says that prehistoric spokeshaves were made of stone, so they go back into prehistory. It also says that we can only surmise that they were used for shaping spokes (why?) and arrows and paddles (and probably any curved surface). In fact if potatoes had been discovered…. I suppose the potato peeler is a spokeshave in a way and if you hold onto that thought for a moment, it helps you to see how the spokeshave is used – like a potato peeler.

Anyway, it occurred to me that the lack of curve cutting tools in the average toolbox is not just because of the difficulty of designing them and man’s predilection for straight lines (and the obvious connection), but also an indication of how good the humble spokeshave is for shaping all sorts of curves – not just spokes. I have seen coopering tools and some of them are obviously members of the same family… I won’t go on.

When I speak about the bowsaw, I always mention the spokeshave and show people how to use it, because when you see how useful they are, curve cutting can be less of a chore. In this case, where the work is heavy and demanding, you can cut straight lines with the rip saw leaving slow curves on, and finish them down to the line with the spokeshave later on when the wood has dried a bit more.

So, I brought the spokeshave into the picture at this point not because I used it for roughing out the curves but because I would use it in the final stages of dressing the components, and I know I can rely on it to give good results.

Roughing out is about leaving on just enough material outside the line to give room for shrinkage, dimensional changes and what I call “creative latitude” – you can call that mistakes if you like!

-- Allan Fyfe, Lethenty Mill Furniture,

1 comment so far

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1969 posts in 4991 days

#1 posted 02-09-2009 12:40 PM

Allan -

Excellent video and discussion! Thanks for sharing. I am looking forward to more of these as you do battle with that piece of beech!



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