Highland Woodworking Wood News Online, No. 168, August 2019
 
Book Review: Chairmaker's Workshop
by Drew Langsner
Review by J. Norman Reid

Building chairs from green wood is an exciting specialty in the field of woodworking. And judging from the number of recent books on this subject, it's a specialty of growing interest. For woodworkers seeking to enter this field, Drew Langsner has produced a thorough introduction to the work with his book, Chairmaker's Workshop. A longtime green woodworker and instructor at his North Carolina Country Workshop, Langsner was a teacher by choice, electing not to build chairs for profit on a continuing basis. His long experience in instructing students in chairmaking makes him well-qualified to provide expert instruction on a wide range of Post and Rung and Windsor chairs.

This thorough guide takes the woodworker from harvesting and processing green timber through the steps needed to craft their choice of chairs. Following an introduction to the Post and Rung and Windsor styles, Langsner explores the contents of the chairmaker's toolkit. He favors a smaller workbench; his current bench is built from 2x4s. A shaving horse is essential for shaping with drawknives and spokeshaves; his preference is for the dumbhead rather than the bodger's style. A hewing stump, a separate area for grinding and sharpening, and a place to dry wood complete the essential workshop components.

A variety of hand tools are needed to process the wood and Langsner leads us through saws, wedges, gluts, froes, drawknives, inshaves, spokeshaves, travishers, and hewing and boring tools. Tools for turning are also considered, along with tools for finishing.

A chapter on sharpening, any woodworker's essential skill, follows. Three stages make up his routine: setting the property geometry, sharpening the edge, and polishing. Langsner discusses edge geometry, including roller bevels for drawknives, and reviews the procedures for sharpening the variety of green woodworking tools.

Acquiring proper wood is considered in the next chapter. It begins with a primer on wood and how a chairmaker needs to look at and evaluate raw logs. Topics covered include finding wood, whether cutting your own or buying it from a mill, storing it, drying it, moisture and shrinking issues, and bending it. A final section examines the choices of wood for spindles, rungs and posts and seats.

Following these preparatory chapters, Langsner turns to the construction of a series of project chairs. A chapter on riving stock introduces the practical steps in constructing chairs. This is succeeded by a chapter introducing Post and Rung construction with a ladder back chair with a woven seat. The chapter offers complete construction details, along with many helpful suggestions and advice on fixing problems like loose rungs and errors in boring mortises. This chapter provides the basis for the construction of the chairs that follow in this book.

A separate chapter reviews the types of Post and Rung seating, including the use of Shaker tape, hickory bark, and genuine rush woven in checkerboard patterns. The method for stripping and preparing hickory bark is presented.

The following chapters present a pair of English Windsor chair styles: a stick Windsor and a classic bow-back side chair.

Then come more chairs in American styles: a Post and Rung stool; a Post and Rung child's chair with splayed and raked legs to keep it from tipping over; a rocker; an American sack-back Windsor; a comb back armchair; a continuous armchair; and a sack back settee. The final project in this section is an English double hoop-back Windsor armchair.

Several galleries of black and white photos illustrate classic and contemporary English and American Windsor and Post and Rung chairs.

The final section of the book presents details on building a shaving horse, a chairmaker's workbench, a shop made wood kiln, and a springpole lathe. An appendix addresses issues encountered in building chairs: working with compound angles and designing with wire frames.

Each project in the book is introduced with complete scale drawings, a cutlist, and a discussion of design options. Copious photographs illustrate the construction steps. Any woodworker choosing to build Post and Rung or Windsor chairs will find here clear, detailed instruction that increases the chances of success. The early chapters lay out techniques in greater detail that can then be applied as work progresses toward the more challenging projects that appear later in the book.

This is a highly detailed discussion of green chairmaking and to my eye it is one of the most complete and thorough treatments available. Certainly, a woodworker starting out in this field will find here all that's needed to make a range of chairs progressing from the basic to the more complex. For any woodworker seeking to build Post and Rung or Windsor chairs, this is likely the only book needed. While beginning chairmakers will benefit the most from it, all who seek to build these styles, specially the variety of Windsor chairs, will find valuable instruction and advice herein. This is a very good book and one all chairmakers should include in their reference library.

Find out more and purchase Chairmaker's Workshop by Drew Langsner


J. Norman Reid is a woodworker, writer, and woodworking instructor living in the Blue Ridge Mountains with his wife, a woodshop full of power and hand tools and four cats who think they are cabinetmaker's assistants. He is the author of Choosing and Using Handplanes. He can be reached by email at nreid@fcc.net.

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