BY

JOHN A. FRY

CUSTOM CRAFTED FURNITURE

 

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This commissioned set of chairs was designed to surround a beautiful walnut antique pedestal dining table. The upholstered seat is done with hand tied springs.

The client and I started with several photographs of design elements that she wanted incorporated into the chairs. I drew up concept drawings and once approved, I constructed a complete prototype out of poplar and made the first set of ¼” hardboard templates for all the curved pieces.
 

These are all the master templates. We made several changes to the design after seeing the prototype. We refined the legs, added quite a bit more curve to the bottom of the vertical side pieces, changed the angle of slope to the back, altered the design of the curved crest rail, and reduced the thickness of the walnut reveal on all exposed edges that would not be covered with fabric. We basically refined the whole designed. The prototype templates were reworked several times.
 

After rough cutting all the lumber to oversize and milling to four-square, I marked the pieces using the templates and trimmed “to the line” on the band saw. Using double stick tape, I then routed all the curved pieces to the templates on the router table.

Because the legs curve on two planes, they would need to be cut in one direction, then using double stick tape, the block would be re-assembled and sawn on the second side.
 

Here are the front legs rough cut to shape. The finished legs will be 1-1/2” square at the top, and taper and curve to a 1” square at the bottom. To accommodate the dual plane curve, the leg blanks were milled from 12/4 stock to a 2-7/8” finished blank. Notice all the waste that is removed during the preliminary shaping.

The back leg members are cut from an 8/4 blank that is 5-1/2” wide.
 

After a lot of cutting and routing, all the main frame pieces are blanked out, but there is still a lot of shaping, hand sculpting, routing, and rabbeting left to do, and of course all the mortise and tenons still need to be cut.

The project calls for six chairs, and because it would be very difficult to go back and re-create any one individual piece, I have made two or three extra pieces of each part as a backup in case something goes wrong, or gets damaged, along the way.

I chose twin mortise and tenons for these joints and used my FMT mortise and tenon jig for perfect fitting joints.

The mortises were cut in all the legs before any more sculpting was done to give me as much solid, square stock as possible to clamp to the FMT jig.
 

For the next week or so, using the oscillating spindle sander, spokeshave, card scrapers, rasps, files, and sandpaper, I hand sculpted 32 legs to final shape. It took about 40 minutes a leg.
 

Because the rear legs join at 45 degree angles to the back seat members, I chose to use loose tenons in these joints. I made a router jig/template to cut this set of twin mortises in all the back frame pieces.

With this many chairs and this many tenons, I made long strips of loose tenon stock. I used a 5/16” bead bit on the router table to form the edges and sawed some glue relief grooves on each face.
 

Using a stop block, I cut them to length on the table saw sled.
 

With the lower frame parts and the legs completed, it was time to start working on the upper chair backs and supports. The curved upper back crest rail would be made by bent lamination. I re-sawed all the rail stock from 5/4 stock and maintained flitch order so the rail would appear as solid wood. I constructed the form and used my vacuum press to laminate two backs at a time.
 

The laminations were jointed on one edge and ripped to width on the TS. Using a simple set of support blocks stuck to the sled and a center line and an alignment reference point of the sled's fence, I trimmed the ends. This set up allowed me to make these cuts at 90 degrees to the sled base and parallel to each other. This is very important because the ends will be mortised and tenoned to the side pieces.

I built another fixture to hold the curved back true and square in the FMT and cut the mortises in the ends.

These back crest rails required a lot of work. After the bottom edge of the back was cut to a gentle curve, the top was also shaped, and a rabbet for the upholstery webbing and fabric had to be cut on both the front and back edge of the curved bottom. I just clamped two rails together at a time to support the trim router and cut them all.
 

Another curved fixture and router jig was made just to cut this one small rabbet to accept the center back support. This support is a very important part of the chair’s internal structure.

The upholsterer’s rabbets needed to be cut on every chair member that the fabric will attach to. Here I am cutting it in the rounded rear seat piece.

After cutting the rabbets in all the front, back, and side pieces, I dry fitted all the frame structure together and made this corner router template to set on top of the assembly and rabbet the upper legs to match the sides.
 

The front leg method won’t work on the back legs due to the vertical supports, so I made an MDF guide bar that I could clamp all around the back of the seat in a horizontal line with the completed rabbets. I used a flush trim saw to notch the rear legs to make the upholstery line mate with the frame rabbets.
 

I drilled and dowelled the vertical side pieces and the side frame. They will be attached with epoxy and two screws from below. The side piece is still not totally shaped yet.
 

The tapering and shaping of the back legs is finished and this is a quick dry fit of the four loose tenons in each leg.

There will be an “upholsterer’s bar” that runs horizontally across the back vertical pieces about 1 ¼” above the seat level. This will be used to stretch the webbing and fabric. I had to layout and dado all the parts that will support this bar before glue up.

I glued the chair up in four phases. The two front legs and the front seat rail is the first phase. The sides, back seat rail, and back legs were glued together next, using this front assembly for alignment. Then the two assemblies were glued together, and finally all the vertical members of the back were glued up last.
 

After the final glue up, the internal corner blocks were attached and the countersunk screw holes for the side rails were plugged from the bottom.

I made one more bent lamination form for the upholsterer’s bar and glued five pieces of 1/8” bending ply together in the vacuum press. I made one large sheet of the bent stock.
 

After the sheet came out of the press, I sliced it into the individual bars.

Here the upholsterer’s bar is glued and screwed into place. Because the back webbing and the seat fabric are all pulled under, or attached to the curved bar, this is an important part of an upholstery frame piece of furniture.
 

After all the construction and glue up, there was still quite a bit of hand shaping and sanding left to do to smooth all the joints together, and some detail shaping like this top rail and back joint.

I had to try to match an antique walnut table that had a very gold walnut tone. The finish schedule was a blend of Behlen’s Solar Lux NGR dyes, American Walnut and Golden Wheat. Followed by a brushed on coat of 1-1/2# amber shellac, rubbed back with 0000# steel wool, and then three coats of Minwax Tung Oil Finish.

The Chisel and Bit medallion gets installed under the back seat rail.
 

Here is the set of six chairs ready to go to the upholstery shop.

This is a very high end upholstery job. The seat is done with stretched webbing and hand tied springs. These chairs are very comfortable.

 

Chisel And Bit Custom Crafted Furniture

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