Sunday, December 18, 2016

Onken Morris Chair

Popular Woodworking has a compilation book entitled, "Arts & Crafts Furniture Projects." I've built a couple of pieces from that book but I've been coveting a Morris chair that belongs to my favorite author (Christopher Schwarz) for some time now. This chair was built Oscar Onken and his "Shop of the Crafters," early last century.  Onken's work is a German/Hungarian take on the Craftsman style, which is why I'm so attracted to it. 

Obviously the plans can be found in this book but I'll share a little practicality and method for pulling it off.  It begins with some 8/4 quartersawn white oak.  I made the big mortise detail with a dado blade on the tablesaw - several cuts raising it each time. 

I've mentioned that I added a Festool Domino XL to my shop earlier this year.  That bugger's just too slick when knocking out joinery. I've got a triple tenon brewing here. 

The frame went together fairly quickly and I enjoyed making the curves.  

The arm detail requires a lamination. I took some care to cut the armrest extra long and use the cutoff to lap over. This way the grain would match. 

Such a cool armrest.  Notice I shaped and smoothed the rear curve before I glued it up. Then, I cut off what I could with the front and busted out the rasps.  This task reminded me that I need some higher quality rasps. 

Little handwork on the side panels. 

And a glue up with my shop elf. 

I highly recommend an ottoman/footrest for any Morris chair. Adds a lot to the comfort. 

The back frame was pretty straight-forward. I bought a leather hide off feebay and prepared for finishing.  

Now, I usually go with walnut-colored Danish oil for an A&C finish.  I like how the grain pops with that stuff. However, I figured I'd try one of those multi-stage processes to imitate the ol' fumed oak look. 

Here’s the regimen:
1 – Transtint Brown Mahogany dye

2 – Seal the dye with dewaxed shellac – thinned Zinnser Sealcoat

3 – Dark walnut Gel stain, any brand. Lather on and buff off. If it dries to fast, you can wet a rag with mineral spirits and activate it. Takes some tinkering to get a look you like.

4 – Clear coat, I’ll use satin poly. Some like amber shellac to give it an amber tone. I used satin poly. Couple coats were enough.

This finish was a lot of work. I'm fairly happy with the end result. It looks good on this chair, but I may try something easier next time.

Finish cured, I installed some jute webbing for the seat.

Then it was off to the upholsterer. This can be the frustrating part of the project - actually finding an upholsterer. They're a dying breed. Some thoughts on this predicament and my preference of leather over textiles:

  • Leather- I usually shop at Tandy Leather for an upholstery hide. Look for a hide with no holes or big brands (yes branding iron scars). At least 40-45 sq ft in size.
  • Tandy leather is waaay cheaper if you get the business price. Either make an acct, or see if your upholsterer has one. Fortunately you only need a single hide for a Morris chair. Feebay is another option. I’ve never spent more than $130 for a hide.
  • Your upholsterer should know but you need fabric somewhere on your seat cushion...or you will be sitting on an air pillow that slowly deflates every time. Some put fabric on the bottom. Some do the back edge (by the zipper) so you can flip the cushion.
  • The upholsterers I’ve used actually prefer that you provide your own hide or fabric. Look for small time upholsterers that work out of their home or whatever. Ask the local fabric store if they know one. $50-75 labor per cushion is as good as I’ve done. Big shops will ask 3 times that. 
  • Good foam ain’t cheap. Expect to pay $40 a cushion or so.

Off to the upholstery dude she goes..


Here she is, home from the upholsterer.  Pretty comfy.  I shall read and relax here;-)

Take care and go make yourself a Morris chair.

Dan Westfall

Dec 2016