Rocking chair #9 African Mahogany

Started 12/1/2017

Completed 7/14/2018

Maple accents strips, curly maple plugs

Gloss wipe on poly cut 50:50 with mineral spirits

This chair was built simultaneously with chair #8: different headrest shape and different size, but definitely efficiencies obtained in decreased machine set up time. Marking all parts carefully at all times prevented mix-ups.

Not too much to say that wasn’t discussed in the build for chair #8, just a set of photos.

Wood darkening

The last photo was taken to show that this mahogany definitely darkens with age: the current chair is left, chair #8 in the middle, chair #6 on the right (a year old). You can see how much darker (with less contrast between “stripes” the oldest chair is, and if you squint you can convince yourself that the middle chair has already darkened after only a couple of weeks. Of course that could be normal variation on color, but I don’t recall a difference when selecting boards.

Back brace mirror image symmetry

This chair and the last both got the “symmetric” back brace treatment, where the grain pattern of the right braces are mirror images of the left braces, and the middle brace is a glue-up with seam running down the middle.

If it wasn’t for the extra hassle of making that middle brace, I’d probably do this for most or all my chairs going forward, but not sure it adds that much. It is the one design element that lacks “bilateral symmetry” in the original design, so I am inclined to continue this despite extra work involved.


Rocking chair #8 notes – African mahogany

Started 12/1/2017, completed 6/29/2018

Finish: Minwax gloss wipe on polyurethane, cut 1:1 with mineral spirits, one coat wipe on wipe off.

Some notes regarding what I was trying to achieve with this chair build, and things I might choose to do differently in future builds.

First, the chair as a whole: still very much a Hal Taylor design, with the exception of the shape of the headrest and the extension of the rear legs above the headrest joint (the “horns).  The latter are a characteristic though not invariable feature of a Sam Maloof rocking chair, although Sam built his chair with the headrest grain running horizontally, while I continue to build using Hal’s coopered vertical grain headrest. This not only is a better design from the perspective of wood joinery between leg and headrest, but for a strongly striped wood like this african mahogany it achieves a much better harmony with the wood figure throughout the chair.  See below.


The “view from the top” shows the typical paddle-shaped arms with the cove cut forming a hollow, a nice wide surface for resting the forearms, as well as the figure and symmetry of the seat and arms.


And here’s a head on view. Note that the curves for the headrest top and bottom continue into the rear legs.  More on the headrest and the horns further down the blog post.


Symmetric back braces

One of the new things I tried with this build is mirror image symmetry of back braces. Not my original idea, but I’ve forgotten who on the Hal Taylor chair group discussed this previously. The left/right symmetry is achieved by flipping some of the lams over.  The symmetry is then close to perfect. When I say “close to”, I mean that the figure changes a little from lam to lam in the flitch, but using a thin kerf (ca 0.60″) circular saw blade in the table saw to cut the lams minimizes the figure change from one lam to the next. The photo shows 8 consecutive laminations cut from a board, the flitch order from left-to-right 1-3-5-7-8-6-4-2, with lams 2,4,6, and 8 flipped over. Lams 7 and 8 will be glued edge to edge and the center 1-3/8″ cut out to form the central back brace face lam.

I could have changed the design to make a back rest using an even number of braces (no central brace), which would avoid the edge gluing, but that would require making a new back brace hole template, which I didn’t want to attempt for now.

The following photos shows the fixture I made to facilitate edge gluing the thin lams. The wedges keep the joint tight, and the long bow clamp keeps things flat while drying. Wax paper (actually Cheerios bags I save) keeps glue squeeze out from sticking to clamps or fixture.

Next is a photo of the back of the chair, showing not only the symmetry of the seat and legs, but also the rear side of the back braces.


More on the shaping of the headrest and horns.

The back of the headrest is contoured to a convex “belly” shape, which is a Maloof thing.  This presents opportunities and challenges in the transition to the horns.

My first  idea was to create a concave hollow in the horn, and I roughed out the hollows using a bent gouge (a #7 or #8 I think).  I just couldn’t resolve all the divergent edges that presented to me.  I believe Maloof did put this type of hollow in his horns, but his rear leg was much narrower back to front at the headrest joint, and I think that the hollow works out better in that scenario.  So I used my trusty rasp to remove the hollow and transition to a more or less flat surface.  Hopefully the following three photos show this.



Next is a purposely somewhat unflattering view of the horn from the side, emphasizing a few things I’m not satisfied with:
1. should the profile of the horn from the side be squared off, as I ended up doing, or curved in some way.  I still can’t decide, but this photo makes it look less than beautiful I think.  An unresolved problem.
2. I made a measurement error laying out the three holes for the screws bringing the headrest/rear leg joint together, and as a result the plugs are not even.  Measure twice, drill once, right?  Not a big deal but once it’s pointed out it’s an obvious slightly odd thing.
3.  The “adder piece” for the rear leg that makes the leg/arm transition more graceful still gives me a lot of trouble.  For one thing, depending on the figure of the wood, the adder piece can look a lot different from the wood it’s glued to, even though it comes from the opposite side of the leg billet.  In this case the adder has strong vertical figure but the outside of the leg doesn’t, which is less than ideal.  Also there’s significant color variation.  It actually doesn’t look nearly as bad as it appears in the photo. I know that the mahogany darkens with age, so the differences will gradually fade.

There’s also the issue of difficulty getting a really thin glue joint when attaching the adder piece to the leg: if it isn’t perfect, there will be a wide bit of glue visible when feathering out the adder piece, as often happens in my hands.

All of these difficulties have me wondering whether the problem the adder solves, which is achieving a smooth flow between the leg and arm, is at the expense of creating several new problems. Is it worth the trouble?  I don’t know what Hal thinks but it’s been bugging me for several chairs now and I’m trying to come up with another design that doesn’t require the adder.img_0565

New front leg build

Here’s a view of the front leg including the leg-to-seat transition.  This is the “bandy legged” style front leg (there’s also a straight version as viewed from the front).  This is the first time I changed the build of the front leg to move the glue seam from the middle of the leg to the joinery area.  I like this because the seam in the middle of the leg sometimes leads to figure or grain mismatch.  It also wastes less wood,  as instead of using two full-length billets glued together, you just glue a small block where the joinery is cut.  However, in designing this new method, I didn’t make this adder block long enough top-to-bottom, which forced me to make the radius of the leg-to-seat transition smaller than intended.  It’s OK, but I’ll use a 5″ long adder in the future, not a 3″ adder.


The next photo shows an intermediate step in shaping the front legs.  The temporary blocks at the end are to create a stable platform when cutting the joinery.  Why four front legs?  I was building two chairs simultaneously, the legs for the small chair described in this blog on the left.  The adder blocks should have been 5″ long, not 3″ as shown, to get a gentler transition from the horizontal seat to the vertical leg.


Next is, more or less, the same view of the other front leg, but showing a little more of the front leg-to-arm transition.  Some folks are grinding off much more of the bottom of the arms to remove almost all of the (flat) side edges.  I do remove a lot of material but haven’t quite gotten to the point of thinning the arms to an edge.  Maybe next chair?


A view showing that there are still side edges on the arms, though much wood has been removed through freehand shaping with angle grinder.


The final photo is a top view of the right arm and seat, for no particular reason, except perhaps to remind myself that I could grind off more of the inside edge of the rear leg/arm transition to straighten out the transition – there’s a bit of a convex curve there:


I hope you enjoyed this tour through the build of my latest Hal Taylor design rocking chair (with a hat tip to Sam Maloof).  Please feel free to comment (constructive criticism only please).

Rocking Chair #7 notes 

-lightly plane seat boards prior to glue up and make an effort to keep boards aligned and flat, then thickness sand at least until all outside edges are of equal thickness, ideally whole blank is flat (top not so important as seat will be sculpted, but bottom will have to be sanded flat at some point).

-change headrest radius to ca 30″ for small up to 33″ for large using sin formula and headrest width. Goal is to have final headrest subtend an angle of 40 degrees to match the 20 degree cuts on rear legs. 

– use hot melt glue to attach headrest to resaw circle jig. 

-use compass plane to remove bandsaw marks from comvex front surface of headrest. 

– consider making bigger crosscut sled to accommodate seat blank and rear legs.

-draw 1/2″ line on front of rockers before placing under legs to locate rear stack. 

-cut the 8 x 3.5 x 1.5 transition blocks for front legs earlier in process or set aside rough lumber. 

-consider making booties for leg bottoms to protect. 

Tuning up a Bulgarian Bearded Hatchet

March 22, 2015

I am a sucker for bargains.  In need of an adze for bowl carving last year, I took a chance on an eBay listing for a new bowl adze made in Bulgaria, only $40 or so!  It arrived a few weeks later, and while it needed a fair bit of sharpening work and had a poorly designed handle (too long and thin), the steel seemed decent and the shape of the business end was nice. 

I’ve been interested in the carving hatchets listed in for quite a while, but haven’t wanted to spring for the $120-$230 that the listed selection of Swedish steel goes for. I’m sure they are a pleasure to use and of top quality, but I’m still on the fence whether greenwood spoon carving becomes a major hobby or a minor part of my overall woodworking activities, so after noticing an eBay listing for an appealingly-shaped bearded hatchet,  I decided to take a chance on getting a decent carving hatchet from the same Bulgarian fellow, Ivan Tasev, who supplied my adze last year.  At the time, he had two listings for hatchets of the same design but one slightly larger than the other. Since shipping was only slightly more for two, I opted to buy them both for about $85 including shipping to the U.S.  Both are small, slightly under a pound each including the handle, the heads around 200 grams or 7 oz. 

On arrival, I found that both hatchets were ground to a fairly narrow bevel of 25-30 degrees but not sharp by a long shot, as I expected. What I did not expect were the rather crudely made ash handles, both of which were quite loose despite double wedging. I suspect the handle wood was not sufficiently dry when hafted but in any case the hatchets were not safe to use as delivered.  You can see the gap between the handle and eye in the photo below:


A design feature I didn’t like was the relatively narrow space between the handle and the bearded part of the axe head: I like to hold the handle in this space when using the axe head like an ulu or parer, and it is difficult to do so without knuckles hitting the back of the blade. The following photo illustrates this and shows the ground but unpolished edge. 


So I went about trying to get the hatchet into usable condition.  

First I drilled out the wedges and removed the handle from the axe head. I then ground the back of the beard slightly back – just a mm or two – to give more knuckle clearance.  I sharpened the edge to a symmetric flat bevel approximately 25 degrees, starting with a file, proceeding to diamond plates from coarse to extra fine, then sandpaper on plates to 2000 grit, then polishing compound on MDF, then a leather strop charged with chromium green compound.  Sharpening and stropping took about an hour and left a satisfyingly sharp edge, which to me means able to cut pine end grain cleanly. 

I thought about fashioning an entirely new handle, but since the now slightly shortened original seemed usable, I decided to dry it thoroughly in my kitchen oven, then refine the shape slightly with spokeshaves.  Refitted to the eye and wedged with cherry, it’s now a tight fit with no wobble. The handle still seems a tad narrow for gripping but is acceptable for the time being.  The newly hafted and sharpened hatchet is on the left in the photo, the unmodified smaller hatchet on the right:


The hatchets came without sheaths, and clearly could use them.  I made one with some inexpensive vegetable-tanned leather I bought last year on eBay, some leather snaps, contact cement, and waxed thread. Only my second attempt at a sheath that I think came out reasonable good-looking and that fits perfectly : 


The final test of the hatchet was done this morning, using a piece of applewood branch that had been buried along with my chopping block in a mountain of snow until just a week ago. I only worked the branch into a spoon blank for ten minutes or so, but the hatchet cut very nicely (as it should being newly sharpened) and more importantly held its edge in some pretty tough applewood: the polish is a bit scratched up but there is no visible distortion of the edge and it still passes the fingernail test. So I think it’s a keeper. Now on to fixing up its little brother. 


Length 5″

Weight with slightly shortened handle 14.5 oz

Length 14″