Revamped Dining Room Table and Chairs

As promised, I decided to throw up some before and after pictures of the dining room table and chairs my wife and I have been working on for the past few months. As you can see, the $10 chairs Anita picked up at a thrift store weren’t that attractive, but she saw the potential in them.

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A little bit of chisel work, paint and new fabric brought them from the ’70’s into the new millennium. Anita picked out the fabric at IKEA in order to save some money so the chairs end up being super cheap.

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My farmhouse table I made twelve years ago was a massive beast, but it served it’s purpose. After replacing the top with 2×10’s and reducing the width of the table, it fit better in the room.

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In the end, the chairs and table look great with the decor of the room. I’m not sure if the Windsor chairs at the ends of the table will stay, but for now they provide extra seating for when we have company over (which is never).

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Visting Brian Boggs Chair Maker

If your wife comes to you one day and tells you that she wants to go to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC to see how the Vanderbilt’s lived, tell her “sure, let’s go.” Then while strolling the Biltmore Village below the mansion, shopping at all the retail stores, head a block East and take a right on London St. There you will find the studio of chair maker Brian Boggs.

My wife and I visited his shop this past weekend while in Asheville. The building he operates out of is nothing fancy. In fact without noticing his sign out front, we almost passed it up. When we walked in, I looked at one of his chairs and sat down. His wife Melanie looked me up and down and asked “are you a woodworker?” I said I was and asked her how she knew. She said that most woodworkers will walk in and immediately sit in one of his chairs.

Melanie was nice enough to spend a few minutes with us and explain some of Brian’s furniture. She even took us into his shop area where we were able to sit in his new Sunniva outdoor swing. The thing was impressive and very comfortable. You can see the swing here on his website.

I don’t have any photos of his shop because I thought it would have been rude to do so. All I have to say is that it is worth the time to stop by and swing in for a visit if you’re in the area. The amount of 16/4 mahogany he has in stock was probably worth more than my house. However, if you do visit, don’t expect to have a long conversation with Brian about woodworking. He was extremely busy while we visited. One of the things that I noticed about his shop is that I didn’t see a table saw. He may have had one, but considering a lot of his work is curved, him not owning one doesn’t surprise me. He does have a sweet Old Iron band saw that looked like it was the staple of the shop.

After the tour, I asked Melanie if Brian would like some hemp oil to try out. She went into the shop and asked him if he did. It must have peaked his curiosity because he came out and asked me about it. I told him it’s made from hempseed, is solvent free, contains no VOC’s, is environmentally friendly, but is not readily available in the US. I gave him a small 4 oz container of the oil and wrote down the website where he could buy it. Whether or not he will use the oil on his furniture in the future remains uncertain, but being able to give him something he was unaware of was pretty cool.

Fixing a Childs Rocking Chair

My wife’s cousin’s husband (does that make him my cousin in-law?) has a childhood rocking chair he wanted me to fix. My wife Anita brought to me and asked me what I could do with it. I looked it over for a few minutes and noticed that it had old glue repairs and screws all over the place trying to hold everything together. It must mean a lot to him if he tried so hard to keep intact, so I decided that it I’ll give it my best to return this chair to its former glory.

The first thing I had to do is carefully disassemble the top of the rocker and save as many pieces as possible. The seat was a piece of MDF that I was going to use as a template for the new seat.

The crest rail was all beaten up so I had to cut a new piece out of poplar using the original as a template.

I then used the holes off the old crest rail as a pattern for the new crest rail and drilled the appropriate size holes.

Since I was using the seat as a template, transferring the holes to the new seat was easy. I simply stuck the auger bit in the hole at the appropriate angle and drilled through. I realize that in theory that this doesn’t exactly work because the angle in which I drilled the holes through the new seat won’t perfectly line up with the where the holes are in the original seat, but the difference was miniscule and not enough for me to be concerned with.

After the holes were drilled, I shaped the seat on the band saw and cleaned up the edges with rasps and files.

I needed to make new spindles underneath the arm stretchers as one of them looked like a dog chewed on it. Luckily I had a couple of short 5/8″ dowels that would work.

I needed to put a 1/2″ tenon on them to fit in the 1/2″ holes I drilled through the seat. I used my tenon cutter and brace to do the job cutting a tenon on both ends of both pieces.

The test fit looks pretty good. Now I needed to make 3/8″ dowels for the back spindles.

I didn’t have a 3/8″ dowels on hand but I do have my Stanley No 77 dowel machine with a 3/8″ cutter in it. I actually sold this tool on eBay earlier this year, but the guy I sold it to claimed it was damaged in shipping so he returned it. I took it as a sign that I should keep it.

I grabbed some maple and cut 7/16″ square stock on the table saw. I then took the stock and shoved it into the cutter while turning the handle which makes the cutter head spin cutting the square stock round.

In no time flat I get perfect 3/8″ dowels. I cut them to size and stuck them in the holes to act as the back spindles.

After some sanding and glue, the rocking chair is back in business. Now Anita will paint it and give it back to her cousin’s husband.

UPDATE 12/24/13

The rocking chair has been repainted just in time for Christmas. My wife Anita did a nice job painting it with chalk paint and distressing it a little bit. We’re on our way to my Anita’s cousin’s house to deliver it to her husband. I’m sure it will be well received.

Discovering the faults of production type chairs

My wife and I were browsing Half Price Books tonight when a wooden chair caught my eye. What I saw was a screw on the top of the chair where the side was mortised into the top.  So I grabbed my phone and took a couple of pics.

I turned the chair around and I saw the tenon and how small it was in relation to the size of the mortise.

The amount of slop on the tenon was astonishing. Seemed like there was a 3/16″ play all around the tenon. I couldn’t tell how much difference there was between the thickness of the tenon and the width of the mortise but there wasn’t any glue residue on the tenon. You would think with all of the stress put on a chair that the manufacturer would be more attentitive to the proper size of the mortise and tenon joints in their furniture. Just another reason why it’s better to buy furniture from craftsmen who care about their work.

When good chairs go bad

So I’m sitting at the table one night with my wife when I hear a loud crack and a thud hit the floor. A look over to my right and my wife is sitting on the floor with a dumbfounded look on her face. Seems the windsor chair I made seven years ago finally gave in and failed. No way was I about to blame it on the cheese cake she ate 30 minutes earlier so I quickly grabbed the chair and noticed where I made my mistake. I turned to her with a red face and apologized. Talk about embarrassing.

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It was the tenon on the leg where it attached to the seat. I made the mistake of not tapering the leg all the way into the seat but rather, I turned a 3/4″ tenon at the end instead. At the time I was building the chair, it was an easier thing to do but that tenon created a weak spot in the joinery and the years of use as well as the changes in humidity in the seasons finally made the joint fail.

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I didn’t want to throw the chair away since the top half of it was still good so I decided to lick my wounds and make new legs for the chair. This time the right way and not the half-ass way.

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I drilled relief holes in top of the seat where the legs popped through and removed the remaining tenons from the seat. Next I took the four holes and tapered them with a tapered auger and some files and rasps.

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Then milling up some stock, I turned four new legs and three stretchers. Using my shaving horse, I trimmed the corners of all the parts before I turned them on the lathe.

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Once the legs were turned, I fitted them into the new tapered holes of the seat for a nice fit. Trial and error was key here as I constantly had to check the hole for the proper taper.

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Once all four legs were dry fitted I measured the distance between the legs and turned three stretchers. Two on the side and one in the middle connecting the two. Then I used hot hide glue and glued all the parts together. Hide glue gives me a lot more open working time than yellow glue and is the glue of choice for a lot of chairmakers.

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The chair was back in business. I just needed to clean up the top of the legs that poked through the seat and drive a wedge on top so they won’t move in the joint.

Then it was time to trim the bottom of the legs flush with the floor. Since the chair rocked a little bit from the unevenness of the legs, I took a piece of sandpaper, laid it on my table saw and sanded the longer leg even to the rest of them.

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All I have to do now is sand and repaint the chair and it’ll be good as new. Oh.. and remake the legs for five other chairs.

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