Build a Handsome Chair with Limited Tools
Part 1: Seat and undercarriage. Curtis Buchanan gets to the basics of chairmaking with this Windsor made exclusively with a few basic hand tools.
Synopsis: Part 1: Seat and undercarriage. Curtis Buchanan gets to the basics of chairmaking with this Windsor made exclusively with a few basic hand tools. The design dates back to the 1990s when he was working on a green initiative in Latin America. This chair is made with only an ax, scorp, drawknife, and some clamps. Part 2 will cover the spindles, posts, and crest rail.
I’ve heard it said that poverty makes for a good cook. In 1983, I fit at least the first part of this saying very well. Forced to make chairs with only a few basic tools, I pushed those tools as far as I could. With no bandsaw, I learned to use a bowsaw; with no power drill, I used a bit brace. Not having a spokeshave, I pushed my drawknife far beyond the point where I might otherwise have abandoned it for a more refined tool. Taking these tools past what seemed a point of diminishing returns built my skill and helped me maximize the ability of the tools. My work became more efficient, more enjoyable, and of higher quality.
Simplifying your life, or keeping it simple, is not easy with the whole world pushing and pulling you in the other direction. For some, the goal is to climb El Capitan using just your hands and feet. For me, making chairs with the simplest of tools is the ultimate; adding superfluous tools, jigs, and gizmos feels like a reverse evolution.
Slowly, though, we all seem to evolve down the path of more tools, redundant tools, a larger shop to hold the tools. While I still clung to my bit brace, I did find, after 35 years, that I had a plethora of fine spokeshaves, travishers, scrapers, tenon cutters, a Oneway lathe, and two bandsaws. I started to hear students commenting on how expensive it would be to tool up for green woodworking; and I would want to scream, “NO!” But as I stood back and looked at my shop and the shops of other chairmakers, I saw what the students were responding to.
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From Fine Woodworking #292