Make a Chair from a Tree

When a tree is felled, its green wood is wet and easy to work with simple hand tools. As the wood dries it becomes hard and difficult. Old timers would shape chair parts from green wood cut from a small tree nearby, assemble them without nails, and as the wood dried it would shrink into a tight, strong, beautiful chair. This lost art was rediscovered by the author of this book, John Alexander. But now the book itself is long out of print, and used copies go for $350.

In the 35 years since the first edition of the book, the author has kept refining his process (while undergoing a gender change; John is now Jennie) and has produced a video of her highly refined process. In many ways the video is even better than the book. Sample excerpts of the video can be seen here. Alexander promises a third edition of the book.

If the idea of making a chair from a tree interest you, the Greenwoodworking website is worth checking out.

-- KK  

Make a Chair from a Tree DVD
$28
Available from Greenwoodworking

Sample Excerpts:

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Understanding Wood

Wood is one of the most versatile materials known. You can coax it into uncountable forms. However It exhibits extremely complex behavior, as if it were still living. This tome dives deep into woodology, and returns with great insight into what wood wants. It is essential understanding for anyone wishing to master working with wood.

-- KK  

Understanding Wood
Bruce Hoadley
2000, 280 pages
$27

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

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A knot is the basal portion of a branch whose structure becomes surrounded by the enlarging stem. Since branches begin with lateral buds, knots can always be traced back to the pith of the main stem.

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Various shapes of red pine have been dried and superimposed on their original positions on an adjacent log section. The great tangential than radical shrinkage causes squares to become diamond-shaped, cylinders to become oval. Quarter-sawn boards seldom warp, but flat sawn boards cup away from the pith.

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A wafer cut from a kiln-dried plank of white ash shows no symptoms of stress (left). Another section from the same plank, after resawing (center) reveals the casehardened condition (tension in core, compression in shell). Kiln operators cut fork-shaped sections that reveal casehardening when prongs curve inward (right).

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Most of the boards in the drying shed at left are restrained by the weight of the others. At right is a similar, simpler setup, where the wood is protected by a sheet of corrugated plastic. In both cases, the boards are stacked in the sequence they came off the saw.

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Red oak end grain cut with a ripsaw (right), which mangles the cell structure, and with a crosscut saw (left), which severs the fibers cleanly.




Woodworker’s Hand Tools

This guide by Rick Peters is an exceptionally fantastic review of great hand tools, particularly those for working with wood. Here I discovered cool hand tools I didn’t know about (after all these years!), and I learned a lot of useful tricks for tools I did know about.  Peter’s aims his advice at just the right level of intelligence and detail, telling you exactly what is most useful, and nothing more.

This is smartly illustrated book is really a bunch of cool reviews of woodworking hand tools.

Sample excerpts:

curve

A flexible curve is basically a lead rod that’s covered with a vinyl sheath. This clever lay-out tool can be bent into small, graceful curves and is especially useful for reproducing a curve from an existing part, such as pressing it around a cabriole leg that you want to reproduce. Flexible curves can be found in most woodworking catalogs and at most any art store.

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saw

For large saws (like a crosscut or rip saw), the easiest way to protect the teeth is to cover them with a short length of garden hose. You can buy this by the foot at most home centers. Make a slit the full length of the hose with a utility knife, and slip it over the teeth. You may need to temporarily attach the hose to the saw blade with duct tape until the hose straightens out.

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spokeshave

Originally designed to shape spokes for wagon wheels, spokeshaves still find a home in many shops today. I use mine when I shape cabriole legs, add a chamfer to a curved edge, or need a round-over on a curved part. In use, a firm grip is essential, and the tool may be either pushed or pulled. I generally prefer to pull because this gives better control.

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sandvik

Sandvik files (and other abrasive tools, like their sanding block), are all faced with a special steel plate that has a series of holes punched in the surface to replicate a variety of abrasive grits. What makes this work is that the holes are punched in the metal with great accuracy. And unlike sandpaper, which wears quickly, the sanding plates last considerably longer. When they do wear out, you can purchase a replacement plate.

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-- KK  

Woodworker’s Hand Tool
Rick Peters
2001, 192 pages
$15
Technically out of print, but used copies available from Amazon

Available from Amazon