Windsor chair making starts with a freshly cut log. Because green wood is swollen and lubricated with moisture, it is easy to cleave and bend. It is also less work to shape. Splitting wood from a log offers other advantages. First,
it is stronger, because the break follows the wood fibers rather than shearing them, as a sawmill does. And second, wood seasons better if it is shaped while still green. A chair spindle, for example, will season more quickly and be less
prone to cracking than a board, which may cup or check.
If you have access to a woodlot, you can fell your own trees using a chain saw. Otherwise, you may be able to obtain green logs from a sawmill, a local firewood supplier, or your local roads department. You can make an entire chair from hardwoods like hickory, white ash, or oak; but many woodworkers also use softwoods such as poplar and pine for the seat, which are easier to shape with hand tools.
The process described on the following pages for riving, or splitting, a log into spindle blanks can also be used to produce arm, leg, and stretcher blanks.
Splitting a bolt into quarters
Once you have felled a log and trimmed off the branches, saw it into workable lengths, called bolts. For best results, use a chain saw. Split the bolts in half (photo, above), using a sledgehammer and iron wedges; wear safety goggles throughout the operation. To cleave the halves into quarters, stand the piece up, mark the center on the end and drive a wedge into the mark. Continue driving the wedge (right) until the bolt splits.
Once you have split a bolt into quarters, rive each piece into spindle blanks. Outline the blanks on the end of the bolt and split it (above, left), then rive the blanks with a froe and a froe club made from an 18-inch length of dense hardwood, such as maple,
hickory, dogwood or elm. Holding the froe in one hand with the blade offset from the outline, strike the blade with the club (above, right). Twist the froe back and forth, and drive it in deeper. Once the waste breaks off, repeat to make the remaining cuts.
Debarking the blanks
Remove bark from your blanks using a drawknife on a shop-built shaving horse (page 78). Secure the workpiece bark side up under the horse’s crossbar. Then, holding the drawknife
in both hands with the bevel down, pull the tool toward you to shave off the bark (above). Turn the piece around to debark the other end.
Rough-shaping the spindles
Secure a spindle blank in your shaving horse and use a drawknife to shape the stock into a tapered cylinder. For best results, the growth rings on the end grain of the blank should be roughly vertical. Start by squaring and sizing the blank. Holding the drawknife on the blank bevel side down, pull the tool toward you, always following the grain (above). Key dimensions and diameters for the seven long spindles and four short spindles you need for a chair are provided in the illustration at left. Turn the blank end-for-end and reposition it in the shaving horse frequently so you can shape it uniformly. Periodically check the piece’s key diameters with calipers or a shop-made gauge like the one shown on page 77. (If you prefer, you can turn the spindles on a lathe, as shown on page 89.)
2 Evening out the spindles
Once all the spindles are rounded and tapered, use a spokeshave to even out their surfaces. Adjust the spokeshave for a very shallow cut. Handle the tool as you did the drawknife, always working with the grain (above) and repositioning the workpiece as necessary. Form the tenons at the bottom ends of the spindles with a knife, referring to the anatomy illustration opposite.
Shop-made sizing gauge
A shop-made sizing gauge allows you to measure the diameters of chair spindles as you shape them.
Bore holes into a wood scrap, sizing them according to the spindles’ key diameters. Drill a %-inch-diameter hole into the gauge to check the tenon at the bottom end of the spindles, and a %-inch-diameter hole for the top end of the spindles. You can also check a key diameter along the length of the spindles by boring a hole through the gauge and slipping the blank into the hole. The blank is the correct diameter when it jams in the hole at the appropriate pointalong its length.
BUILD IT YOURSELF
A SHAVING HORSE
The shaving horse grips stock securely in place while it is shaped with draw- knives and spokeshaves. Simple to build, the typical shaving horse features a bench, an inclined bridge, and a pivoting arm assembly. By stepping down on the assembly’s foot bar, you can lock your workpiece in position between the bridge and the assembly’s crossbar.
To build the version shown above, start with the bench, which can be hewn from half a log 10 to 12 inches in diameter, or cut to length from rough
3- by-10 lumber. Make the length of the bench to suit your needs.
Next, cut the legs from 2-by-4 stock and attach them to the bench
with angled T half-lap joints, reinforced by screws and braces (right). Cut the two braces from 2-by-4 stock to fit between the leg’s outside edges and screw them to the legs. To bevel the bottoms of the legs so they sit flat and level, set the shaving horse on a flat surface and butt a square board up against all four sides of each leg to mark cutting lines around them (page 79, above, left). Saw the bottoms of the legs flat, then cut the tops of the legs flush with the bench.
Next, saw the riser and the bridge to size; the riser should be cut and beveled so that the bridge is inclined at an angle of about 15° to the bench. Locate the riser about 30 inches from the
back of the bench and screw it in place from underneath. Then screw the bridge to the riser (page 79, above, right) and the front of the bridge to the bench.
Next, build the pivoting arm. The assembly consists of two arms, a notched cross bar, and a foot bar (right). The crossbar is joined to the arms with through round mortise and tenons, while a bridle joint connects the foot bar to the arms. Cut the arms from 2-by-4 stock and bore two countersunk holes through each one for lag screws. Make additional holes through the arms above and below the first so you will be able to adjust the position of the assembly later to accommodate thicker stock. To prepare the arms for the bars, cut a round mortise through them at the top end and a notch at the bottom.
Next, cut the cross bar to length, making it about 3 inches longer than the width of the bench. Cut round tenons in both ends and a V-shaped notch in the middle of the bottom edge to hold your stock. Set the crossbar aside for now. Next, cut the foot bar, making its length twice that of the crossbar to provide an octagonal-shaped foot rest on each side of the arm assem
bly. Cut dadoes in the foot bar to match the notches in the arms, fit the pieces together, and reinforce the joints with screws. With the foot bar attached, slip the arm assembly under the shaving horse and screw it in place with the
lag screws. Do not tighten the screws immediately; leave them loose enough so you can slip the crossbar in place. Do not glue or screw it, but leave the bar free to pivot. Once it is connected to the arms, finish tightening the lag screws.