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Victorian chair steps - WIP

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AndyT

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It's time I made something again. I don't have the excuse that it's too cold - my workshop is in the basement, and although it's very well ventilated (to make sure there is plenty of air for the gas boiler) it stays at around 15° which suits me fine.

I have decided to make a chair which converts into a pair of steps. It's not an original idea - there was one on this threadquite recently. I want to use a slightly older design, from a reprint of Paul Hasluck's 1903 Handyman's Book.

This is what it should look like:





I have some suitable wood, which used to be the sides of a small (broken) Victorian cupboard that some neighbours were throwing out. I thought that inch thick boards 15" x 60" were too good to throw away:



I'm not sure what wood it is - maybe walnut? It's quite soft, and does not have very interesting grain, but works beautifully.

I spent quite a long time making a full-size drawing, on a piece of lining paper, so as to understand the construction properly and work out the sizes of everything. I then wrote out a cutting list and planned how to get all the bits out of my two boards. On paper, there was enough wood.

Planning it out for real, there were a few flaws to be worked around - a knot, screw holes for hinges, and a join along one of the boards, but there was still just enough.





A little bit of sawing later, and I had a pile of bits.



I thought I would start with the long back legs. Disaster!

I had accurately laid out and cut all the parts that were on my cutting list - but these should have been 36" long. On my list they were 32" - and that's what I have. There is no sensible way I can lengthen the main structural piece - and indeed, not enough wood now. I shall just have to make some more, out of some other wood. It won't quite match, but maybe I can find something close enough.

There will now be a pause in this project while I try to cheer myself up, and ask if there is any suitable advice about how many times to measure before cutting or anything like that!
 

condeesteso

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Andy - there are a few things I like here. The steps design, that has a lot of potential, the 15 degrees, and the wood. If I get my shop up to 8 I'm chuffed and quite comfortable. I have a strong suspicion the wood is 'satin walnut' which appears often on later Victorian pieces. It's very nice, close to walnut colour (maybe a tads lighter) and easy to work whilst being well-behaved. Interestingly it isn't walnut at all, but Liquid Ambar, native mid-states North America. It may have got its informal name by being a lower cost substitute, but it's very nice in its own right.
Let's see progress, and I promise pics of a fluted leg soon as it warms a little.

p.s. once you get a finish on it it'll look even better, but yes, it doesn't exhibit much grain variation.
 

kirkpoore1

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That looks like a very cool project. Sorry to hear about the misreading of the plan. I look forward to seeing how it works out, and hearing how sturdy it is.

Kirk
 

Mike Saville

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Will follow this one with interest. Are you following the victorian design in terms of moulding etc or will you do something more contemporary?
 

AndyT

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Thanks for the interest and kind words.
Douglas, I think you're right about the wood - Satin Walnut fits the bill.

I'm pleased to say that my pile of salvaged wood has yielded a piece of something which is just about big enough to cut two new back legs which will at least match each other.

I will try and make this as close to what is in the book as I can, which means turned front legs - one chance at getting them right and matching!

Incidentally, I found a chair which is very close to this design in many of its details (except that its legs are not turned) at an on-line antique store:



which shows me what to aim at!
 

alex8_en

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Hi andy,
I don't think you need to dispare just yet, you can do what I being done on the stairs all the time-continue your leg with another piece with a dowel especially if you are turning it its a perfect way to hide a difference in the grain
 

AndyT

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Ok, here's a quick update on progress so far.

This is the alternative wood for the long back legs where I cut the first wood too short. They are square, not turned, so the dowel trick wouldn't work for these, but thanks for the tip. I'll need to cut it very carefully, but there's just enough. It's sapele I think - it used to be a bit of a neighbour's conservatory. (I do like re-using old wood!)
Luckily there is a bit of a kink in the grain just where I need it.




This is how it's supposed to work when you use a full-size drawing - you lay the wood out on it and mark directly.
Here I'm locating a mortice in a back leg which I'll cut while it's still all square:



Before:



After:



And then to the bandsaw to cut off the front edges:



and then separate a leg:



That old 70s Burgess bandsaw is perfectly adequate for this sort of cut, which just needs a bit of planing to clean it up:



I was wondering about how to plane up to the angle, but it seemed to be ok with just slewing the plane around. I used a scraper to get the last little bit smooth.
I cut the similar mortice on the second leg while the underside was still square - much easier.

The next few hours were mostly spent planing some of the smaller pieces to size. This satin walnut is a real treat to work with - absolutely clear, very mild and easy. I was getting full width full length shavings almost all the time, as you can see:



resulting in



This was followed by some careful marking of angles:



On a job like this it is really useful to have more than one bevel gauge, so you can handle the pieces in any order without having to reset a tool.

In a similar way, I like to use a lot of marking gauges, and have one for each repeated dimension on a project. To keep track, I just put a bit of masking tape on the stem and make a note:



I decided to put a little bead along the bottom of the seat rails. This is always hardest at the ends of the piece, where you lose the effect of a fence, so I did the beading before cutting the tenon shoulders off. I used an old Stanley 66 beader, with a Veritas cutter in it. (The fence is a home-made replacement.)



This is about as far as I've got so far, with the first two slanted mortice and tenon joints done. They do seem to be quite a lot harder than square ones!



Looking at how much more there is to do, I realise this project may take quite a while, as I will only be doing anything major at the weekends, but I'll keep the w-i-p pics going as much as I can.
 

condeesteso

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Excellent Andy - the step chair design is wondeful. Trying to look at the work progress but get distracted by the tools!! Jim has a Burgess 3 wheeler and he rates it very highly too. By the way, I really like the shaped square section legs on the pic of chair above...maybe?
 

AndyT

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condeesteso":3ldiw4t4 said:
Excellent Andy - the step chair design is wondeful. Trying to look at the work progress but get distracted by the tools!! Jim has a Burgess 3 wheeler and he rates it very highly too. By the way, I really like the shaped square section legs on the pic of chair above...maybe?
Just don't look at my bench!

I was planning to turn the front legs - like the design in the book - and to see if I can manage to make a pair that resemble each other! I've already glued up two 1 1/2" squares in readiness. But I like those square, decorated legs on the antique one too, and am a bit tempted. But How would they have been made? I've seen a description somewhere of using an overhead router passing side to side across a batch of legs somewhere - not a hand technique - but does anyone have any more useful ideas?
 

condeesteso

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Re the square section legs my guess (and seen in Pop Wood ages ago) would be to leave full section square stock each end as support, and maybe also leave full section in the middle too, removing that last. Then an mdf template and your Burgess.
A 2-point guide is clamped to the left of blade so points go around the blade and touch the template on the cut line (just to waste of it). The template is fixed on top of the stock hence I suspect leaving a centre section until last would be helpful.
(Says he who has yet to attack the fluted leg elsewhere :oops: )
I just thought they looked very nice within that overall design, but it is your chair/step of course!
 

AndyT

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Ok, another weekend, and I've been thinking about legs!

I'd planned to have turned front legs, as in the original design, but quite like the square section tapered ones in the antique shop. Without benefit of Harry Hill, how do I decide which is best?

I thought I'd do an experiment. This project is feeling quite taxing, and my woodturning is pretty rudimentary. Although I'm ok on free-form handles and suchlike, I've no track record at all on making sets of things, or working to a definite dimension. So, I found a bit of soft-ish hardwood, planed it down square and marked it out from my plan. It's slightly skinnier than the 1 1/2" I'll be using, but not much.

Some time later, this is as far as I got: (proper turners, look away now!)



I'm not pleased with it, and I think it's pretty obvious why. Time for a rehearsal of the other style.

I drew the shape in on my full-sized drawing, imitating the photos of the antique chair as closely as I could, transferred marks to the wood and knifed in all round:



It keeps two sections full-sized and square, which should help a lot to make it even. At this staeg the design turns into a series of points where I need a saw cut, either 1/8" or 1/4" deep. Not too challenging - look, no hands!



For the main tapers, a bit of chiselling at the end enables me to get the bandsaw blade in to get the bulk off:



so then it's a question of getting the surface smooth. Not so easy to plane it, with the ends in place. I got the best results with careful chiselling:



This trial piece is redwood, which is much less forgiving than the satin walnut will be. The design has some small mouldings, so I experimented on these using some newly bought Japanese rasps, and some old gouges:





The rasps work well, but the gouges are best. The real thing will be tidier, I promise.





So that's about as far as it goes this weekend - it's been too sunny and warm to stay indoors!

Obviously, the tapered legs win, as I have some chance of making them without giving up in disgust. I'll keep you posted, but progress will be slow!
 

condeesteso

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Very nice legs indeed Andy (the chair) - I'm sorry you had probs with the turned ones, but pleased too #-o . These are going to look great!!
 

AndyT

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A quick update on a slow project...

I've nearly made the two proper legs now. The procedure was pretty much the same as the rehearsal. Lots of stopping cuts, either a quarter or an eighth of an inch deep:



Chisel out the waste and level off to required depth:



Saw out the long tapers on the bandsaw (two opposite sides, then mark and saw the others) and the short tapers by hand (like cutting tenons). Smooth the flat surfaces with paring chisels and a cabinet scraper.



Carve the mouldings with gouges and chisels. Result so far:





And for anyone just here for the tool spotting, here are two totally gratuitous shots of the tools used this afternoon, including one that I bought new (shock!):





That's all for now - to be continued.
 

condeesteso

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Outstanding. Very crisp mouldings, all with hand tools too. I am certain this is going to look very good. The small router plane looks handy, a record I imagine... which one?
 

AndyT

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condeesteso":1f13z6ia said:
The small router plane looks handy, a record I imagine... which one?
It's the Stanley 271 - ideal for this sort of job.

Thanks for the compliments - they will help me make the effort to finish it - it's feeling a bit daunting at the moment!
 

AndyT

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A bit of an update - though there's not much to report.

I've been thinking about how to soften the lines of this chair a bit - I don't like furniture with hard, sharp edges. One possibility for the back legs would be a simple bead, like I have done already for the rails under the seat. On this scale, I think I favour a scratch stock rather than a moulding plane. This is my scratch stock - made for me by a friend.



You can use either end of the fence - square or round, and the end has a saw cut in it so you can bury the edge of the cutter.



Another detail is that the underside of the crosspiece is a double bevel, not flat. This lets you adjust the angle and work pushing or pulling. In that respect the simple user-made tool is better than something like the Stanley 66 which will only work in one direction at one angle.

On an offcut of the leg, I could make a nice bead like this:



but that leaves the problem of what to do at the top of the legs. I can bevel the top off towards the back, and the scratch will still work ok through the end grain, but it looks wrong if I just end the bead with the back of the legs flat. I spent some time fiddling about with a few variations, and have provisionally decided to leave it very simple, just putting a small radius along all the long edges instead, front and back.

I spent a few more hours planing components to size, which is relaxing for me but boring for anyone else, so I have not documented that in detail.

I have also been cutting mortice and tenon joints on the back slats:



which makes it possible to pretend that these miscellaneous bits will somehow fit together and make something:



but it will be some time yet before the pile of extra bits on top of the toolbox are all done!
 

condeesteso

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Andy - I'm amazed this thread isn't attracting a lot more attention from the hand tool lot, and generally all the furniture makers here. It's a gem, honest. Scratch stocks alone are worthy of a thread (I've been guilty myself).
The step chair is taking shape very nicely - keep the pics coming and plenty of tool info along the way. And I'll be interested in choice of finish too. Fine work indeed.
 
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