An Armful

Now that it's time to make the arms for this reproduction of Vidar's chair, I'm immediately presented with a challenge: cutting the compound angled slot mortise on the rear end of each arm. Now that I've selected the material for the arms and aligned the grain, these angles become very critical. If the mortise angles are off, either the resulting grain direction will be incorrect, or the arm won't align with the top of the front leg. Of course, neither possibility would be acceptable.

The first step is to cut a compound angle on the back end of each arm that approximates the curve of the leg. This is just to get a rough shape for this joint. The angle is actually different than the angle of the mortise; that will be laid out separately.

To lay out the mortises, I clamp each rough milled arm to the front leg; above and then beside an extra long floating tenon projecting from the back leg; each time marking the precise angle onto the arm. Tracing the tenons onto the side and bottom of the arms provides the angles needed.

Once both arms were marked, I then laid out the mortise location on the end.

With a jig similar to that used in previous compound angled mortises, I align the pencil marks on the arm with the cutter on the slot mortiser, clamp it in place and cut the mortise.

I definitely breathed a sigh of relief when I test fitted the arms. The alignment was good. Taking the time and care needed for an accurate mortise, saves time and heartache in the long run.

I marked out the relationship of the arm to the leg in preparation for fitting the joint.

Scribing the curve of the leg onto the arm provides an initial target for the fit.

It looks a bit messy, but I've inserted a temporary tenon into the mortise to prevent fibers from tearing out around the mortise when I use a gouge to rough out the shape.

My first test fit looks nice and even, but it is a long way from a tight fit.

After getting the fit a little closer, I then used a dowel center inserted into the hole in the top of the front leg to determine the exact location for the dowel hole in the arm.

A little more refinement of the fit.

I had a template for the side view of the arms, but I needed to create a template for the top view of the arms from a photograph of another craftsman's earlier rendition of Vidar's chair.

After tracing the templates onto the arms, I cut the rough shapes on the bandsaw.

Most of the shaping of the arms was done with a spokeshave, but the end grain was shaped with files. Unfortunately, files tend to fold over the fibers, especially when the wood has large pores like this ash. so, to open up the pores, I made one final pass using a good, sharp chisel.

Below you can see the final glue-up for this piece. All the woodworking is completed! And just in the nick of time. The day after the glue-up was the final day of the seven week program. A good day to discuss the oil finish and wrapping of the seat with my instructor, Robert. I'll work on the finish and seat wrap once I return home.

My time at Inside Passage has been an extraordinary experience. I learned a lot of new woodworking techniques, and more importantly, I learned about the many, many things to keep in mind when designing chairs; like structural considerations, and the appearance and control of grain graphics. If you've been through the Inside Passage Craftsman Program and are looking into chair making, but don't think you can do the entire Resident Craftsman Program, I highly recommend the summer Journeyman Program. For me, it couldn't have been a better fit.

I've been to Inside Passage three times now, and I find leaving is always bittersweet. While I'm anxious to get back home to the family and to begin using what I've learned, I don't enjoy saying goodbye to all my friends here. The people of Roberts Creek have been great to me and I've met new friends from around the world who also came to Inside Passage to learn. I even received the gift of a plank of yellow cedar from a friend in Vancouver. Thanks Dan! It will make a fine cabinet interior some day.

As they say, "all good things must come to an end", and so must my time on the Sunshine Coast. On my way out of British Columbia, I was lucky enough to visit a few more friends and former classmates from Inside Passage. Here you can see a picture of the coastline as I'm transported via ferry from the mainland to Vancouver Island.

After a couple of days visiting friends on the island (thanks again everyone!!!), I say goodbye to the cool air, tall forests and snow capped mountains of the western Canadian coast. Then it's one last stop to visit a longtime friend in Washington, and I'm back on the long, lonesome highway to Minnesota.

It's been an enjoyable and rewarding first phase of the chair making journey! The woodworking portion of Vidar's chair is complete. And, now that I'm home after seven full weeks at Inside Passage, it's time to get going on the oil finish and last, but not least, wrapping of the seat with Danish chord. I'll be sure to give you a full report next week!

Until then, hej då, and happy shavings!



Craig Johnson is a fiscal year 2012 recipient of an Artist Initiative grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. This activity is made possible in part by a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, through an appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature and by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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