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Gragg Chair Challenge Day 1

As I embark on the Gragg Chair Challenge I thought I would provide some background rationale for the undertaking.

I’ve never built a chair straight through from start to finish so my original thought was to do just that.  I figured if I could get one assembled in five days, then I could with some confidence offer a six-day workshop in making Gragg chairs at the barn.

At issue in part was the starting point.  Frankly there is absolutely no way a six day course could have any degree of success and satisfaction if the harvesting, processing and steam bending of the chair components was part of that syllabus.  Given that, I decided to see what could be done if the starting point was a full compliment of all the chair parts including the steam bent pieces.  Providing this complete set to each student would be a substantial undertaking but I am willing to go down this path provided my success this week.

That is not to say that the harvesting, processing and bending of the chair elements would not be included in the syllabus, just differently than a strictly linear content.  If the class happens I will build into the schedule ~two-hour blocks for one-on-one time going through that entire process with each student so they will have the sense of how I got them to the starting point.  What they will not have to endure is the two or three weeks it will take me to get them there.

Like them, in this exercise I started with a pile of parts sitting on a workbench.  As I proceed I am noting the tool list and also recording the event with my friend Kevin’s GoPro camera in time lapse mode.  At this point I am guessing the finished time lapse video will be about an hour long.

The only hitch in my plan thus far was the realization that I will not be able to set aside 40 consecutive work hours for building the chair.  Not to be daunted I will simply keep close track of my bench time and note the intervals so I can gauge the progress.

For the first eight hours, a/k/a Day 1, I fitted and assembled the steam bent parts and rungs into two identical side units.  Fitting the steam bent parts together is straightforward and pretty quick as everything is simple or beveled butt joints, and at this point, just screwed together in a fitted assembly template (each student would have one).  I would expect this process to be complete by lunch during a class.

The first slow-down in the pace is fabricating and joining the side rungs into this framework.  I make the rungs first, cutting them to length and cutting the tenons on both ends.

The unit  was disassembled and the mortises are chopped though the legs, a fairly quick task as the legs are relatively thin and the mortises only 1/4″ wide.   When all the pieces for a side unit fit together it was re-assembled in its entirety then glued and screwed together.   As soon as a side unit is complete I can pry it out of the assembly template and lay it flat for the glue (PVA) to set a little.

Once I had the two completed side units in hand I began to fix them in their correct relationship to each other, adjusting the splay angles and using spring clamps and spacing templates to get everything just-so.  This takes a fair bit of time to get everything right and can be a vexing task as we are dealing with a lot of parts with no precise joinery to help us out.  But getting this right is critical for fabricating and fitting the cross rails, which is what comes next.

I generally start with the front seat rail, mostly because I have direct access to that area while the chair is in its upright mode.  I notched and placed it where it belonged, held overnight by a pair of spring clamps.

Thus endeth Day 1.

Major Improvement to the Hydroelectric System

A couple weeks ago we had a (literal) gully washer of a storm that dumped several inches of rain in the holler in just a few hours at most (local reports are ~5 inches in five hours, we were in Maryland at the time).  The evidence of the wall of water flowing down the gully was impressive; walking up the creek I could see disturbances six or eight feet(!) above the normal water height.  Sure enough, that much water flowing down the gully wreaked havoc on my hydro system, tearing apart both my dam and the water line itself without permanent damage as the line is designed to come apart, and the rock dam was just a pile of rocks combined with an EPDM membrane.  The dam was completely breached and needed rebuilding.  I decided to take the opportunity of the re-build to install some improvements I have been contemplating since last year.

When I first installed the system many years ago I built a coffer dam a couple hundred feet further up the hill but eventually abandoned that section of pipeline as it was a maintenance nightmare for not many more feet worth of “head” (the height of the waterfall from intake to hydroturbine).  But, my original design for the actual intake configuration worked exceedingly well.  The ten-inch tube was large enough to avoid blockage except in the most extreme conditions, and the screened capturing basin was situated such that the water was wicked down into the tub and the debris washed right on by.

When I relocated the intake to a narrower passage down the creek I changed the intake configuration which worked well enough, but still not as good as the original one.  This one was a screened submerged pipe which had the tendency to clog, requiring a trek a quarter mile up the hill to clean off.  I took advantage of this latest repair episode to make a new intake more similar to the first one which as virtually maintenance-free with (hopefully) nary a clogged nozzle at the business end.

The new unit was a snap to make as I built and installed a “weir” intake, basically a pressure-treated board with a notch and short sluice to steer the water into a screened tub, with the penstock (the pipeline) hooked up to a capturing tub via a shower drain fitting.  Rather than going to the boatload of effort necessary to make the weir water-tight I simply attached a sheet of EPDM rubber to the weir and draped it into the channel I scooped above the dam.  The membrane-lined basin now captures and steers almost 100% of the water to where I want it to go.

To reduce(?) the risk of further storm damage I filled the new basin with rocks, hopefully it will steer any flood-like waters above the weir.  If not, I’ll just track down all the parts downstream and reassemble them.  It only took a couple hours for this assembly.

This was the really easy part of the day’s work.  As I reassembled the penstock descending down the hill I learned that there was a mud impaction somewhere in the line.  Finding the blockage and removing that took way more time than rebuilding the dam,  But finally it was done and the hydroturbine was humming along.

I’m even contemplating putting some electrical heat tape on the nozzle/plumbing at the bottom next to the turbine to see if I can extend the working season for the system.

We Hold These Truths… (needed now more than ever)

Some version of this post is presented annually at this time – DCW

As our nation seemingly is intent on tearing itself apart we would be well-served to reflect seriously on the document encapsulating the mission statement for the greatest nation ever known to man (the US Constitution WAS NOT the founding document for the nation, I believe it merely established the rules for its governance [admittedly now generally unknown and ignored] which is not the same thing).   I am unabashedly proud to be a partisan in the cause of Life, Liberty, and Property (the original wording) and find The Declaration to be the most noble document ever created by mankind.  I pray you will read and reflect on the ideas expressed by men who pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to pursue the path of liberty.  Reading it is much like reading the Minor Prophets of the Old Testament; more up-to-date regarding the human condition than tomorrow’s headlines.


IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

The 56 signatures on the Declaration appear in the positions indicated:

Column 1
Button Gwinnett
Lyman Hall
George Walton

Column 2
North Carolina:
William Hooper
Joseph Hewes
John Penn
South Carolina:
Edward Rutledge
Thomas Heyward, Jr.
Thomas Lynch, Jr.
Arthur Middleton

Column 3
John Hancock
Samuel Chase
William Paca
Thomas Stone
Charles Carroll of Carrollton
George Wythe
Richard Henry Lee
Thomas Jefferson
Benjamin Harrison
Thomas Nelson, Jr.
Francis Lightfoot Lee
Carter Braxton

Column 4
Robert Morris
Benjamin Rush
Benjamin Franklin
John Morton
George Clymer
James Smith
George Taylor
James Wilson
George Ross
Caesar Rodney
George Read
Thomas McKean

Column 5
New York:
William Floyd
Philip Livingston
Francis Lewis
Lewis Morris
New Jersey:
Richard Stockton
John Witherspoon
Francis Hopkinson
John Hart
Abraham Clark

Column 6
New Hampshire:
Josiah Bartlett
William Whipple
Samuel Adams
John Adams
Robert Treat Paine
Elbridge Gerry
Rhode Island:
Stephen Hopkins
William Ellery
Roger Sherman
Samuel Huntington
William Williams
Oliver Wolcott
New Hampshire:
Matthew Thornton

And, They’re Off!

Actually it’s just me and my sticks and my video studio Roubo bench and my friend Kevin’s ultrawide angle GoPro Hero 4 set up as a time-lapse camera, all of us working together as together we embark on the Great Gragg Chair Challenge.  Originally my rough plan was to work non-stop for a week to see if I could get a Gragg elastic arm chair built in that time.  It was a preposterously optimistic endeavor, not the building of a chair in 40 hours but the notion that I could get five consecutive full days to complete the task.  Silly me.  Instead I will just have to keep track of my time and note when it ends how long it took.  If it works out, I’ll schedule a “Make A Gragg Chair” workshop for next summer.

Workbench Wednesday – Cypress Planing Board I

Photo courtesy of William Duffield

In great part thanks to my friend WilliamD’s demonstration of his mini-workbench at an SAPFM Chapter meeting in Fredericksburg VA several years ago, and more recently Youtuber Adrian Preda’s video on making his bench top planing board, I’ve been motivation to build a bench-top mini-bench type accessory or three.

For decades I used a pair of Japanese-style mini-sawhorses and a small torsion box for the purpose of raising the working surface to be most amenable to my creaky 65-year-old back and failing eyes.  Finally I was able to carve out a little time to work on a first version of this tool.  This was a very simple planing board, I will make my version of WilliamD’s much more complex tool once I get this one done.

Preda’s approach to making his board was not one I chose, but the configuration and some of the features he integrated were absolutely inspiring to me in moving this project to the top of the pile.

Looking through my pile of wood scraps I settled on gluing up a two-piece top slab of cypress, dimensioned to a slightly full 8/4.  I prepped the two pieces and glued them together with PVA into a 12-1/2″ x 2-1/8″ x 37″ slab and set it aside for a couple weeks until I could get back to it.  A couple weeks turned into six months.  Sigh.  Even though I had  interruptions by more urgent items I never stopped thinking about this mini-bench and how it could enhance my work.