The Non-Electric Chair #13: Making the Chair (Front Frame)

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Blog entry by lethentymill posted 03-03-2009 12:42 PM 1721 reads 0 times favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 12: Breaking out the Beech - Part 2 Part 13 of The Non-Electric Chair series Part 14: Making the Chair (The back frame gets glued up and the chair comes together) »

I wish I knew more about mushrooms and toadstools; Inkcaps appear from time to time, and rubbery, orange or brown alien things are there in the short grass some mornings and gone a few days later. Wrens are bobbing about outside the window today looking for insects in the bushes, maybe it’s the “flying school” wrens – they’ll be around all winter as they don’t migrate, and in the spring (RSPB website) the males will build several nests and the female will choose the nest she likes best. “Well, I did like the one you showed me last, but the one before it had a nicer kitchen….. but, I didn’t like the view…….”

It is now 6 weeks since I roughed-out the chair components. I’m quite pleased with progress, the balance between drying and preparing components has worked well and the chair should be ready by the end of the month. But I’m not complacent ! Anything might happen yet – and probably will if I don’t concentrate.

I added a bowsaw on the basis that Mr Wake had a bowsaw, because there is a blade for one in one of the top drawers. I added a scrubplane which I made up out of a knackered jackplane. I made templates, but always with the tools from the toolchest. I have had to use hand saws, wedges, clamps, a wheelbarrow and a scythe but have stuck to the original intention of avoiding machines and electricity.
Isolated in the shed (not all the time!) with a limited and antiquated collection of tools has taught me a lot. I haven’t used all the tools in the chest by any means but the ones I have used have been more than adequate for making the chair. Making the prototype elm chair was a good preparation. There have been some surprises along the way, but the most rewarding experience has been finding out more about the spokeshaves. There will be more about curves in the next part of my blog. The job today is to prepare the wood and mortice and tenon the front frame for gluing up.

Marking out the joints is done with a sharp pencil, a ruler and a mortice gauge (2 points – fully adjustable). There isn’t a mortice gauge in the toolchest so I have to use a couple of the marking gauges.
Is the joint between horizontals and verticals flush ? Well, I did a survey of the old chairs that I have and the rails are flush in some places and up to 2mm back in others ! So, in the drawings I have shown them flush for simplicity– a 9mm joint at 9mm back (i.e. 9mm shoulder – see drawings) as the rails are 18mm thick. I prefer them back a couple of millimetres, and I set the gauges accordingly – 9mm tenon and 9mm shoulder on the the cross rails and 9mm mortices at 11mm back in the verticals. There is a tip that may be worth mentioning – Mark from the face every time and even though the thicknesses of your components may vary (as they are handmade) the joint will always appear perfect.

For cutting out the mortices, I used a mortice chisel, slightly smaller than the width of the mortice, and a cabinet – making chisel, as broad as possible for cleaning up the sides of the mortice. To save time I employed a brace of Mr Wake’s and an auger bit (drill) slightly smaller than the width of the mortice, there were two other benefits from using this;
a) it cut the full depth of the mortices – 25mm, and
b) most important of all, it established the angle of the mortice.
In the front and back frame the horizontal rails fit into the uprights at 90 degrees, but the side rails are at 7degrees to these frames. This detail is common to all the chairs of this type that I have seen – the front frame is wider than the back. You can miss this out and make the back frame the same width as the front frame, then the seat is still a reasonable size (I’ve noticed that we need larger seats than our ancestors had) and all the joints are at 90 degrees. The seat is now rectangular in plan. Definitely a good idea if you are trying to “speed up, standardise and get them out the door”.
I have tried this and it looks awful!

This angle (b) is not hard to achieve and repeat if you make a jig like the one I am using in the video clip – you can also use the jig to provide a “stop” for the drill (a). Not a bad thing if you value the components that you have prepared – you definitely don’t want to see the threaded bit of the drill sticking through the other side. By the way I did not make spare bits for my chair, so I was not willing to take any unnecessary risks.

The tenons were just sawn out using a tenon saw and the joints were fitted individually before gluing up. I cut and fitted the top rail first then clamped it together, checking that it was square and the joints were tight. While that was clamped up I marked out the tenons on the bottom rail so as to get the neatest fit for the joints. I prefer to make the front frame first; it’s a good “warm up” exercise before the main course.

After dry fitting all the components of the front frame I glued it together. I left the side rails and the angled mortices into the front frame till later.

Opening the Tool Chest

-- Allan Fyfe, Lethenty Mill Furniture,

4 comments so far

View MsDebbieP's profile


18619 posts in 5013 days

#1 posted 03-23-2009 08:53 PM

Seeing someone build using handtools is such a different experience than watching the power tools go..

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

View Zuki's profile


1404 posts in 4929 days

#2 posted 04-12-2009 12:17 AM

Neat planes.

It is a little frustrating when a rough cut piece does not offer much “wiggle room” when you are cutting to size.


-- BLOG -

View dubsaloon's profile


622 posts in 3646 days

#3 posted 01-02-2011 09:51 PM

Thinking mans wood working.

-- The works of evil people are not the problem. It is the "Good" people standing by and watching not speaking up. Dubsaloon

View lethentymill's profile


61 posts in 4461 days

#4 posted 01-07-2011 01:33 PM

Thanks for all the comments. A bit of encouragement always goes a long way!

-- Allan Fyfe, Lethenty Mill Furniture,

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