Tools that help you shape
pound with persuasion.
Thanks to schools such
as The Windsor Institute, there are probably more
people making traditional Windsor-style chairs today
than there were when this country was young. More
than 3,000 students have passed through the doors of
Mike Dunbar’s school in New Hampshire, and there’s
no way to tell how many more have taken classes at
other schools around the country, such as Country
Workshops in North Carolina.
All this chairmaking
has created a demand for the specialized tools of
the craft; and some specialized vintage chairmaking
tools are getting harder to come by every year –
travishers and real vintage spoon bits, for example,
are quite scarce.
toolmakers have long been happy to equip these
blossoming bodgers, but recently the larger tool manufacturers have entered the
market for chairmaking tools.
have long been a specialty of antiques dealers and
cottage toolmakers. Now a couple of larger
toolmakers are beginning to offer these tools, and
more are in the works.
And there are a lot more new hand tools on
the drawing board that you’ll see in catalogs in 2005 and
2006. Look for travishers, compass
planes, specialty rasps, rounding planes and even more
As I’ve become enamored with
building stick chairs, I’ve put a fair number of these new tools
to the test. Some of them are so good that I think they also
deserve a spot in woodshops that don’t (yet) have a chairmaker
Chairmakers use a variety of
spokeshaves to shape the sweeping curves and spindles that are
part of every Windsor chair. When working with green wood that
has been rived from the stump, most chairmakers prefer a
traditional wooden shave with a low-angle cutter.
But thanks to
the urban chairmaker, a good number of us work with air- or
kiln-dried wood that has been sawn instead of split. And so the
metal-bodied spokeshave with a higher-pitched cutter has become
an important tool.
Both Lie-Nielsen Toolworks and VERITAS – the tool-making arm of
Lee Valley Tools – now manufacture metal-bodied spokeshaves that
easily exceed the quality of many vintage spokeshaves.
When I first started making frame
chairs years ago, I went hunting for vintage shaves for my tool
kit. After examining more than 70 old-timers I was struck by how
poorly manufactured many were.
Here’s where you can see the difference
between the premium shaves and the inexpensive ones and many
vintage ones. The bed of the premium shaves has been machined
flat. The bed of the inexpensive Indian-made shave is simply a
With the exception of a few Preston
shaves, most tools had their irons bedded on a rough casting –
there was no machining or even finishing beneath the iron. It
was no wonder my Record shave chattered like a set of false
teeth when faced with anything tougher than poplar.
Both Lie-Nielsen and VERITAS decided to make
shaves that had characteristics of a high-quality bench plane.