Chairmaker’s Notebook: The Best Chairmaking Book on Earth

A few weeks ago I stopped by the home office of Popular Woodworking to go to their Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event. It’s always fun to take a break out of my day to play around with their tools. While I was there, I tried their No 5 1/2 jack plane that cut such nice shavings it almost got me thinking of quitting restoring my old Stanley planes.

Along with Lie-Nielsen, Lost Art Press was there selling their books and apparel. I took a peek inside one of their newest offerings, “Chairmaker’s Notebook”, to see if it was something I wanted to open my wallet for. I love books about making chairs. I’ve read over a half-dozen of them over the years including John Alexander’s “Make a Chair from a Tree: An Introduction to Working Green Wood” as well as Drew Langsner’s “The Chairmaker’s Workshop”. In fact, if I was ever a professional woodworker, I’d probably be a chair maker. So, I decided to bite the bullet and purchase the book. Needless to say, I’m glad I did.

I read a few chapters a night as I wanted all the information to absorb. What I love about this book is that it takes you through all the aspects of building a chair. From buying a log at a sawmill, to setting up a chairmaker’s workshop, to modifying and sharpening your tools, to assembly and finish. Peter even gives you a scaled model of a “sightline ruler” so you can photocopy it and make one yourself. It’s by far the most complete woodworking book I’ve ever read. Absolutely nothing was missed when writing this book.

As an example of how well this book is written, in the beginning, Peter talks about buying a log from a sawmill and what to look for when picking a log. He tells you not to buy the veneer logs as they tend to be too expensive and go for a premium. He says you should ask for “veneer rejects” because those logs will work just fine for building chairs and will be a whole lot cheaper. He then goes on to recommend that you bring a chain with you to wrap around your log so that the guy on the forklift can gently lower it down on your trailer instead of slamming it down breaking your trailer in half. It’s first hand stories like this that really sets this book apart from other books I have read.

A few years ago I made a few Windsor chairs of my own, but I used kiln dried lumber because I had no idea how to go buy a log. Regretfully, had I owned this book at the time, I would have made my chairs a whole lot better.

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Along with the excellent information in the book, Peter is also one hell of an artist as he drew all the pictures in the book. In fact, the pictures are so well drawn, that you know exactly what he is describing in his illustrations.

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If you have ever been intrigued with building a chair, then I highly recommend that you add this book to your library. You can buy it from The Lost Art Press.

“The Art of Joinery” by Joseph Moxon and Chris Schwarz

A few years ago I attended the first Woodworking in America conference in Berea, KY. While there, I picked up the book “The Art of Joinery”. The book was originally written by Joseph Moxon about 300 years ago. Chris Schwarz rewrote parts of the book in plain English and added a bunch of photos with captions under them.

It’s a good book that is a quick enjoyable read but unfortunately it’s no longer in print. So one day I was browsing eBay and saw that somebody was asking $400 for the book. I thought to myself “yeah right”. Then I searched amazon.com and saw people were asking $500 for their copy. I knew those prices were ridiculous but was intrigued what the book was actually worth. So, I threw the book on eBay last week with a starting bid of $39.99 and watched where it would go. It ended up selling for $59.12 plus shipping.

I can’t remember what I paid for the book but I think it was only around $8.00 -$12.00. Chris Schwartz signed the book with his name on the first page which may have helped its final selling price. Pretty good return on my investment if you ask me. In fact, it makes me want to buy a couple dozen copies of “The Anarchist Tool Chest” and drive across the Ohio River to Chris’s house to have him sign the books.

Making crown molding with a complex molding plane

While in the process of building a Bourdonnais French style bookcase I needed to make some crown molding for the top.

I wasn’t about to go out and spend money on some pre-made crown molding. That would be the easy way out. I have a boat load of antique molding planes in my shop, so I decided to put one of those bad boys to use.

The first step in make making crown molding is to get the stock prepared. I ripped a couple of pieces of straight grained poplar 5/8″ x 2″ x 6′ long. It’s important to get wood with grain as straight as possible to avoid tear out caused by the plane’s blade.

I then chopped off a section of one of the boards to use as a test piece. Placing the piece in my sticking board, I began running my molding plane over the board to create the Roman ogee profile. After a few strokes, the shape was completed in about five minutes. By the way, my sticking board is similar to the one based off of Jim Toplin’s in the book “The New Traditional Woodworker” by Popular Woodworking Books.

The next step is to create the angles on the board so that is works as crown molding on the case. I took the board over to the table saw and set the blade to 30 degrees. Once I set the fence to the proper location, I ran the board through and then flipped the board over to rip off the same 30 degree angle off the other end of the board.

I then took the molding back to the bench to finalize the profile. I used a block plane and just knocked off the top corner. This corner should be 90 degree to the 30 degree angle cut on the table saw so that it will lay on the case properly. (It’s really helpful to have a small sample piece of crown molding laying around so that you can use all the angles on the molding as a template for your piece).

Once the profile has been completed, a light sanding with 120 grit sand paper helps clean up any chatter left by the molding plane. I use a styrofoam sanding sponge and some sticky sand paper to sand the profile.

After sanding the only thing left to do is attach it to the case. Always make more molding than you need. There may and will be parts of the molding where the plane falls out of line a little bit and the profile won’t match the rest of the board. You simply cuts those parts off and use the rest.