With the legs firmly seated and set in each specific mount, we had ourselves a tall and goofy stool. All that is missing a the seat back to make this thing a chair. The legs are arranged such that their is a slight tipping backward so when one sits down they are actually tipped back into the seat back, into the repose that the chair itself invites.
I knew that the back was going to be the most difficult part of this build. It is a single curved piece made up of a couple different laminations. The original chair had roughly a 3/16" thick back. It was remarkable how well it's held up which made it seem all the more well thought out and well tested (and making our efforts that much more critical). A big theme surrounding this chair was that if they could make it 60 years ago that there should be no reason why we can't remake it today with all our fancy gadgetry. Turns out that this is a great way to ramp up the pressure and stress we applied to ourselves.
Several attempts at making a mold for creating the back were tried and failed miserably. I was desperate to make just two successful backs to get these prototypes done but this was unsettling because one-offs were fine for one-of-a-king pieces but disastrous for attempting to test an actual production method.
I turned back to the CNC crew. They sculpted a perfect three dimensional negative from the model and produced a plug that was perfect in everyday. But there was a huge problem with our approach. The seat back is not only curved but it also sits into a curved and angled groove. What is brilliant about the original back is that the thin lamination they used also remained fairly flexible. This aided their efforts in manipulating the back into the groove which also helped to create the best feature of the chair, its sculptural shape where the back takes on a conical feature as it deflects. Our challenge, to increase the thickness of the back with another layer of 1/8" core material. To double this back thickness and still be able to put it into the groove worried me.
We made a new mold. We eliminated the third axis and essentially cut semi circles that stacked up in a length. The third axis had to happen in the groove and so we gambled on a shape for the mold that was sort of halfway between the top of the back where the curve was mellow and the bottom of the back where the curve was severe.
It worked. Beyond the actual veneer, we actually pulled off the experiment. A replica chair made completely different with a thicker seat back and custom aluminum leg attachments.
Everything seemed to running smoothly enough. Our initial steps were taken; we lived up a capable CNC mill that could overwhelm our more traditional Luddite-ness as we would speak to them with our hands in a form of unknown sign language as we tried to make motions and sounds to stand into the vacancies for words we could not find. Figuring out the deeper groove for the seat back was easy enough. I always knew making the back itself was going to be the hardest part of this entire process but I wasn't ready to face that directly.
I chose the leg scenario next. I had the legs turned by my friend and that was easy enough. The production of this chair wasn't so much about woodworking for me as much as it was a management of contiguous forces that really needed to converge at a happy point. Managing this, the seat parts, the leg parts, the laminations and the material prep, all of this is the beauty of this chair, compressed into a story never to be understood by anyway. Just sat upon like any other chair to be sat in that succeeds in keeping one's bottom free from the indignation of such close proximity to the ground.
Leg production = Easy. Straight, tapered legs with a tenon. But how to attach them? The original chair had tapered mortises for the legs. Not exactly easy as I continuously set my gaze towards the future and a production run. Each leg had a splay angle as well so there were two angles to fight with for each leg. I tried catching one of the angles with a shim leaving the splay to simply be aimed in it's particular direction. The shims failed along the line of the screw which was no surprise. It was really more of an experiment to at least catch a break creating one of the angles and allowing for a straight plunge for the mortise rather than eyeing it, a surefire way to make it impossible and embarrassing down the line.
I flipped over a chair we have at home which did not have as much complexity to the legs as the ones we were grappling with. That chair had metal mounts that the legs screwed into via threaded studs. I told our CNC boys about this and how I wanted to figure out how to translate that method to our chair. More sign language conversations, even some paper this time and we had the conception of a plan. Their brilliance lead to our own custom puck mount with a angle applied to it and then dialed in towards the splay and viola, beautiful.
It seems like years ago that we embarked on a tough assignment replicating a chair to spec for a new client. Not only is the client new and big and exciting given the possibilities of the relationship itself but building a chair to spec with the implications of a vast production run layered on the suspense and stress.
Many things were immediately expected by me. The largest and most apparent, prototyping = failure. It's always hard to put a time and price on the unexpected and to this end, writing an estimate to aforementioned new/exciting client that doesn't completely strip the shirt off my back and does not scare them off. I expected to lose my shirt (which isn't hard to do nor is it much of a surprise when one does in this business). I guess my play was not to lose the rest of my clothes and have nothing to show at the end but a pile of firewood and spent band-aids.
Armed with a full set of plans, I set out trying to find a CNC fabricator that would be patient enough to come along for the ride, build some trust and stand beside me as we cast our gaze into the future towards a production run. I found these boys in Williamsburg. Look up Rush Design if you are serious about doing something all the way. This project goes nowhere without their fastidiousness. Thank you guys...
First step, develop the seat plate. Everything step of this project needed to well planned with an eye towards the future and speediness in production. I was thinking Model T's rolling out before we had the first stages in line ready. So how to do that? The flat cut shape is easy enough but the tricky part was the groove in the back for the curvilinear seat back. The groove needed to be beveled in order to create the rake of the back and this is something I wanted no part of creating in the shop. Everything about this process continually made my think about how these guys made this thing in the first place, decades ago before any of these modern conveniences we have today. I tried not to cut my abilities down in this regard, different times, different measures, different circumstances.
The first go-round was successful. a quick and dirty fit of a stand-in for the back looked like the original. But our first failure....
No problem. Dial up the boys. "We need a deeper groove." "No problem." New seat plate proves successful with deeper groove, cue the first unexpected failure and unforeseeable cost. Keep it moving.....
After tangling with this table for awhile, she finally made it to her new home in Park Slope. A shade less than 4 feet wide and two shades shy of 9 feet long, I'm fairly pleased how solid this table winds up feeling and how much the tapered angles everywhere help lighten it's presence. I am particularly fond of this Laurent Charlet design and hope to tackle it again someday soon.
We have an abundance of various work about to overwhelm us in the shop. A table or two, a rather complex teak shelf unit and our first go at prototyping some chairs. But first up I am earning it on this table (which is another effort at the Walnut Table, Table CB, only this time in White Oak). Again, designed by the amazing Laurent Charlet, it should be noted loudly that I have my hands full with building this stuff. Laurent, by and by, has pretty much designed all of the furniture aside from a few exceptions. The problem I have with this web template is that I can adequately assign text to things. So perhaps this can carry a little acknowledgement for a bit until I can figure it out.
I'm not sure if this project will make it onto the project roll call as it doesn't quite fit in with the rest of the work. I mostly think the majority of visitors will just see a boring door and not pay it much thought. And that's fine. I think a good door should be a background piece, no provocation for the most part. Beyond whatever level of ornament, a good door opens and closes with a smooth travel. It closes with a thud, sturdy. The hardware is smooth and dignified. One notices a door when it sticks, requires a shoulder and a foot to push it closed, announces usage with squeaks and let's the cold air in via less than visible means.
This was a hard project with a lot on the line. I thank Mr. Bill Watson for sticking with me through some revisions on the drawings. Without such nice drawings I'd probably be out a bundle of money.
I'm proud of this door and the effort put into it. It's near the top of my list of accomplishments as it is dynamic on several levels, has a particular need and use and was made in the strictest sense as per the historical requirements for the neighborhood. It isn't very often that the shop can put something out into the world, in full view, and hope that it just blends in with the other backgrounds of Brooklyn.
In a short year of re-upping business ventures, Workshop has made new efforts to push our own ideas on design and construction. An invitation from a patient and trusting client lead us to build on our past experiences making countless boxes. We've pushed a little more into figuring out how to minimize our finisher's hand at the same time increasing our own and limiting costs.
Plus I go to put to bed a door pull experiment I have been wrestling in my head and a tapered foot process that was sketchy at best.
Let me begin with a claim; often enough woodworking seems like silly business. It's silly because being a practice for such a long time, you know, since people picked up tools and started manipulating them, where do we go from here? There are so many iterations of woodwork, so many different levels or needs for a specific process. But I must say that I find laying in wooden keys to be the most disappointing. This and live edge furniture. Sure, I am down for some Nakashima anytime at any point in the day but only him.
I'm truly fine with emulation but to a point. Keys are wonderful in that they are oddly structural, a suture slowing up a wound in a flawed piece of wood. Part of me can't knowingly accept some 'green' furniture, essentially giant slabs of tree held together by stitches when that same tree could be milled a little further and become a dozen more things. What is the obsession with making puzzle pieces and then hammering them into place? Let's grab the torch George laid bare and keep running with it. We have to. Keys are a dubious act, showcasing one's ego and their ability to overshadow a fine chunk of wood using a chisel and sandpaper.
If you must squish a butterfly into wood, set that thing deep, earn it. This isn't a piece of marquetry. It can't function 1/16" down. Set it deep. Let it be wood and not metal. A metal butterfly is a shiny beacon calling out your own gleaming incapacities. Butterflies are high school journals and ones that everyone else has already read. We know you.
Grow up. Mill some sticks that are straight and true. Work the wood rather than surrender to it. There are plenty of Knock-Off-A-Shimas to go around and really, let there just be the one. Let's move on. Or maybe do a lightning bolt instead...
I was asked if I wanted to take on the big entry door project for the last renovation job I managed for my GC buddy. I agreed to do it. I have never built a legit door like this before; a landmark specified door at the top of a stoop in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. It's a real classic with arched top, beveled glass, lots of mouldings and raised/recessed panels. Figuring that I have built all sorts of things over the years that it would be great to learn this specific process out and it was an absolute education.
Surveying the old door was not a one-shot deal. I had to go back numerous times to find answers to discrepancies, popping off lengths of moulding for replication (as the door needed to be recreated to satisfy the landmark approvals) and understanding the site conditions a little better.
Mock-up for the client.
2 strangers and 1 colleague asked me why I built my own stave cores rather than buying them pre-made. I guess I'm just not jaded enough? Because I like what I do and am fine taking the long way? It's all a part of the learning process. Why not give it a shot?
It's been a long few weeks. The door is hanging on its hinges right now with some paint hopefully drying well enough before this next cold snap. I'll write a little more soon and hopefully have some pictures of the finished product soon...
A quick media console project found its way into the shop. Mr. Lincoln Nelson handily dispatched of the task for us and did a very fine job. Laurent Charlet gave us this design to crank out as per the client's wishes. All of the seams are paper veneered over to ensure no cracks develop overtime.
Lincoln and I had a nice paneling mission a couple weeks back. This is about a 12' long by 10' tall run of teak veneer core material that we sewed together with dominos, all suspended all French cleats. Really good job for a really nice client and contractor. I'm grateful for the chance to make new acquaintances.
Baked, my favorite local bakery and coffee source, opened a new location in Tribeca recently. I helped them out with a sandwich board setup to spice up the sidewalks at both joints. Thank you technology for doing the hard part.
Thank you to everyone whom contributed or sent around the word about our fund raising effort. Though the campaign is fully funded with a little more than a week left in it's duration, we will let the time run out before it closes so that I can gather a little material ahead of time and give myself a head start on production. A little extra money won't hurt as more things can be invested in to make the shop better overall.
The advent of Workshop's reopening is directly related to it's new home. Not only are we setting up in a new location but the location is also under our direct control. To this end the hope is that we can create a healthy co-op environment which fosters interesting work and bustling with craftspeople from different backgrounds and skill sets that add to the overall feel. I owe a lot to the handful of shops I was in previously and look to them as critical locations for learning from other broad fields of experience. Taking over this pre-established shop is a feat in and of itself. I would like to outfit it with one critical machine that I cannot afford right now. Please follow the link for a full introduction to our Kickstarter campaign.