Motivation and Forward Progress as a Craftsman
One of the things I like to do when approaching a new woodworking project is to introduce a new technique. This has helped me grow tremendously over the years. When coming up with an idea for a new project I will pick a new technique that I want to learn or experiment with and then design the project around it. As an example, my Circular Logic Coffee Table was designed around the idea that I wanted to do something with interlocking circles.
Introducing this one idea forced me to overcome some serious hurdles. I had to build trammels to cut the templates for the rings, I had to build jigs to align the upper and lower rings so that I could cut the joinery, I even had to build a small roll bender to bend the brass for the inlays and to 3dprint a bearing for my slot cutting router bit to achieve the proper 1/8th in depth for the inlay. Figuring out solutions to these problems is, in a way, more valuable to me than the final piece of art. I’m always looking for that next problem to solve.
When I designed my desk, I wanted to play with advanced dovetail techniques, non-symmetry, and a leg design inspired by a table done by another craftsman.
When I decided that I was going to make our dining room chairs I had never built any chair other than an Adirondack chair from some plans back when I first started in this craft. I bought Chairmaking and Design by Jeff Miller and read through it a couple of times then I started to sketch. I can’t tell you how many drawings I threw out before I finally told myself to just wing it. I just could not get a feel for it through the drawings. Sometimes you have to just jump right in. I had decided on some basic measurements like seat and overall height but the rest I just made up on the fly. I’m a big fan of incorporating curves into my art. I think it adds a lot of detail to a piece and prevents that “just a bunch of boards glued together look” so I started with making a template for the rear leg and introduced a couple of curves then did the same for the front legs. That was the end of the easy part. Everything after that was figuring out angles, angles, and angles. How much did I want the rear legs to flair out? How narrow did I want the back of the seat? How wide did I want the front of the seat? What angles did I have to cut the seat bracing to accomplish that? I wish there had been a camera in my shop recording how many times I sat on a tape measure or held an MDF template I had just made up to my ass to see if I though it was going to work.
I also wanted to incorporate a technique that I had only done once in the past, bent wood lamination. This technique involves making a template/mold with the curves in it that you want then resawing the material into thin sheets, gluing and stacking them, then pressing them down onto the curved mold with either Harbor Freight’s entire inventory of clamps or putting it in a vacuum press bag. I chose the vacuum press.
After hours of work and countless pieces thrown in the scrap bin, I had a prototype I was mostly happy with constructed out of excess maple that I had in my shop left over from my Workbench and Kid’s Loft Beds builds. I knew at this point that I wanted to introduce yet ANOTHER new skill into the final chairs…power carving. Power carving is basically putting an abrasive or bladed disc on your angle grinder and hogging away massive amounts of material to sculpt the wood into something that hopefully doesn’t look like you just took a chainsaw to it. I knew from the prototype that I needed to really sculpt the crest rail (the piece at the top that connects the two legs and supports your back) better than I could with the tools that I had available, and while I was at it, I might as well sculpt what I like to call "The Ass Groove” into the seat bottom.
Power carving ended up being the messiest thing I had ever done in woodworking. Hours spent behind a respirator and pockets full of sawdust and shavings finally produced a good final product.
All in all, this project was exceptionally rewarding and I look forward to making the other 6 after a break to do a commissioned curio cabinet and removing and replacing our rear deck. I’m excited to figure out what technique I want to learn and incorporate into the next project. Maybe some marquetry? Who knows, but I’m sure it will be fun to try.