Thinking about building an heirloom chair? Check out this DIY project where I had a very unique experience as a first time heirloom chair builder!
The process of taking raw material and turning it into something functional, has always struck me as a magical process. So to have the opportunity to start by splitting a log then spending my days transforming it’s pieces into a finely crafted piece of furniture, that will most certainly lost my entire lifetime, is extraordinary.
Throw in the fact that I’m in the tranquil Tennessee countryside surrounded by hand tools and good company, there is no wonder I always come back reinvigorated and at peace.
Greg Pennington is a master chairmaker in Hendersonville, TN who I met only a year ago but who I feel like I’ve known lifetimes. Not only is his friendly demeanor infectious, but he is an incredible teacher full of valuable knowledge and information.
Building at Greg’s always starts the same, with splitting a log to then turn into a piece of furniture. He not only teaches you how to use the traditional tools for this task but also the reason behind it.
If you split a log along it’s grain and let it dictate it’s path then it will be worlds stronger than a similar piece you cut at the bandsaw or tablesaw. And if you’re interested in building a chair to last a lifetime, and then some, then that strength is needed. This is just one golden nugget of information I learned from Greg during the class.
I’m predisposition to feel at home in a shop because it’s very much my happy place. However, Greg’s shop brings on a new level of joy and comfort that I don’t experience anywhere else. The atmosphere, and the work, makes me feel relaxed, at peace, and meditative even. It’s an environment that I can potentially joke with a friend on an adjacent shave horse, or sit in an easy silence and listen to the unique tool noises.
Greg is making chair making more accessible by offering templates for several different chairs, jigs, and rockers, this one included. There are links in the description for Greg’s class schedule as well as the templates available.
Greg’s class offers me the opportunity to use an assortment of tools that I don’t typically incorporate in my normal projects. Coming from using mostly power tools, it’s interesting and exciting to me to see and understand which hand tools takes the place of which power tool.
I’ve done power carving before where I’ve removed a lot of material at once to try and shape something, and it was very satisfying. But it’s just a different sort of satisfation, using a scorp and feeling the sensation of removing one chunk at a time.
Then moving to a tranvisher to smooth out the rough marks left from the scorp…
then moving to a spoke shave to remove the rough marks left from the travisher…
to then move to a card scraper and be left with an unmarred seat that looks smooth and flawless.
Making this very traditional Windsor chair, it’s easy in the sense that Greg won’t allow you to mess it up, but it’s a lot of work. It’s full of details that require patient and attention but the fact that it takes so much intentional thought and movement, makes the end of the week’s result that much more satisfying.
It’s a little surreal to me that I will have this item for the rest of my life. Wherever I go, this chair will be with me. Then even after I pass, it could very well go through another person’s lifespan as well. I can only think of one or two other things that share the same longevity. So this is special, and my hands made it, out of a tree.
Sticking to the traditional Windsor style, after I perfected the chair, I painted it with Real Milk Paint. First with two coats of red then two coats of black. The idea behind the color scheme is so when wear spots start showing up on small areas of the chair, slight red will show through instead of bare wood.
I’m using Real Milk Paint for this final finishing touch. Real Milk Paint is known for their traditional color palette which is based on antique furniture. This is an environmental friendly, non-toxic, powedered paint where you just add water. The fact that it comes in a powder form means it doesn’t have a shelf life and also gives you the freedom to mix up your needed amount on a project to project basis. It has an extremely fast dry time of 30 mins so I was able to get all my coats of paint done in a single day instead of prolonging the steps over multiple days. I love Real Milk Paint because it acts much like a wood stain, in that it absorbs into the wood rather than lay on top of it. This allows for all the intricate details of the piece to be seen, even through the paint.
If you’re curious, the tape on the bottom is applied before paint, so that after things are buffed and prepped for oil, I would have a clean spot to sign and date my work before applying a few coats of oil to it.
If you are looking for a project as a relaxing escape or a unique learning experience, I highly recommend taking a class from Greg. You’ll not only be able to take away a mind full of useful information but also an heirloom piece of furniture that you’ll always be proud of.
By the way, Greg has some templates and patterns to help you build a chair on your own. Check them out here.
Awesome work, beautiful chair, and wonderful experience, thanks for sharing April! ????????????????????????????
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