Friday, January 29, 2016

Dining Set Tutorial #6: Captains Chairs

This is where we get to the custom furniture part. My clients (aunt and uncle) were split on the chair back design.  My uncle enjoys lower back support, as do I.  My aunt, not as much.  The compromise was to make two captains chairs with a different back.  This added several hours to the build, but also gave me the opportunity to push my skills and creativity. 

I should note, this is some of the most technical handwork I've pulled off to date, so I'll attempt to explain as best I can. I know, pictures do most the talking. If your not adept with joinery terms, you may need to google a few terms. 

Anyway, notice the captains chair below is glued up without the back slats. Well, in order to give some lower back support, the back slats are going to go all the way to the seat. So, I can insert the custom backslats later when I install the seat. 

Here we go, finding the right curve with a lowly 2x4.

More curly cherry from my stash. This is 2" thick stock, so I cut the slats on their side, so to speak. Sorry, the pencil marks are difficult to see. 

I contemplated pattern routing these pieces. However, there's only ten slats.  I conceded to do most the work by hand. Well, first I roughed them out on the bandsaw. Then, I smoothed one side with handplanes and spokeshaves.

Referencing the smooth side, I used a marking gauge to get a uniform line (for thickness), and went to the bandsaw again to trim the rough side. This was effective to achieve respectable uniformity for custom pieces. 

Once the slats were reasonably smooth, I started the tenons. The bottom tenons were straightforward. I cut the cheeks on the bandsaw, and the shoulders with hand saw (couple pics down).

 Some of the top tenons were at a bit of an angle. So, with the lower tenon installed in the seat, I marked and cut these one by one.

Lots o' little tenon cutoffs.

Here you can see a large, red ogre orienting the back slats....while sliding the seat into place. I was sweating this part, but it worked.

You get the idea (backslats not fully installed in this pic).


Little pattern/design I made for the armrest riser. Notice there are rabbets cut on one side (tablesaw).

For small-batch parts, I like to cut and smooth the first, then use it as a pattern. The hand plane is just a flat reference.

Not a big fan of drum sanders. But, when there's tight curve that will be best smoothed that way, I have little drums I can chuck on my drill press.

How to join the armrests?  Well, a purist might use a sliding dovetail or the like. I just can't justify the strongest possible joint in every case (nor are clients willing to pay for the labor intensive joints, every time).

So, this is where the rabbets on armrest riser come into play. I marked the side rail of the chair and sawed kerfs for a hand-cut dado. This was a little nerve racking on a nearly completed chair.

Chisel out the waste, plane for a snug fit and.... fasteners (gasp!). Yup, screws...whatever. I don't use them very often, but sometimes they're the best way to reinforce an awkward joint.

Use good quality screws, and install them correctly (pre-drill).  By the way, Sam Maloof, the most celebrated American chairmaker, reinforced his joints with fasteners too.

Armrest design I came up with:

Lining up/marking the armrests. 

The armrest with nestle in a little dado as well.  I looked at a couple Amish furniture places and they didn't even go to the effort of the dado- just screws.

Sometimes I just like to mix it up. For these dados, I cut the lines with a hand saw, and cleaned out the waste a router and a 1/8" straight bit.

Installation included hide glue and the afformentioned screws. The fasteners are all counter-sunk and plugged.

Yup...a glued dowel plug. Later sawed flush and planed.

Alright, armrests are all installed. The seats will have to be installed after finishing.

A final reinforcement for the chairs are these corner brackets. Ya, they're screwed in too. I have no doubts about my joinery, but I want these buggers to last a couple lifetimes. The corner brackets are just insurance.

Next up, we need a table to go with the chairs.

Thanks for reading and shoot me any questions you may have.

Take care, Dan Westfall