Gragg

Final Space Preps for Gragg Workshop

With all of the steam bending done for the Gragg chair workshop John and I spent a little time reorganizing the attic of the barn, now with only the months of waiting for the students to arrive.  One more workbench to move across the room and it’s all done.

Yes, we hoisted one and made two new benches and began to place them around the perimeter of the space.  At almost a thousand square feet it is a grand luxury for any workshop, and I have only Mrs. Barn to thank for it.  I had intended to leave the level of the barn un-floored, but she recommended, correctly, that if I did lay down  floor I would find it immensely useful  She was correct, again.

So, at the workshop every participant will have a fully outfitted bench plus half of a 4′ x 8′ assembly table on wheels, which are themselves re-cycled platforms for the long-passed Studley exhibit.

One final decorative touch was to tack the graphic panels from the exhibit over the benches.  Whether these inspire or intimidate is yet to be determined.

 

Workbench Wednesday – Hoisting 1, Building 2

In addition to bending all the necessary parts for next August’s Build A Gragg Chair workshop John and I spent some time setting up the attic for the event as it is the only space in the barn large enough for the activity.  I already had two eight-foot workbenches up there, but in order for all the participants to have their own bench we needed three more.

One of them was a simple problem to solve, at least conceptually.  Just take one of the benches from the classroom space on the second floor and host it up with my vintage compound block-and-tackle.  We did accomplish that but we are definitely not as young and probably not as strong as we once were.  Plus John probably weighs about a buck fifty if you put bricks in his pockets.   Even with a compound hoist, a 350-pound bench weighs 350 pounds.

But hoist it up there we did.

For the other two I made two more Nicholson benches after carrying the individual boards up the stairs one at a time, definitely an easier path to glory.  At the moment they are sans vises and holdfast holes but that will be rectified soon enough.

Now my total workbench inventory for the barn is 19, an entirely appropriate number in my opinion.  This is probably the end of the run for new Nicholsons or laminated Roubos as the recent prices for lumber have definitely scared me off.  For example, I recently needed two ordinary (untreated) twelve-foot 2x8s, they were $23 apiece.  The 24-foot 2x12s I’ve been buying for workbenches used to be $54, now they are $97.  Fortunately I had just enough of my old inventory to build these two benches.

Readying for Gragg Workshop 2

I cannot deny that our spirits were vexed at the end of the second day when we had a nearly 100% failure rate bending the seat/back slats.  We re-thought our process and examined the broken elements.  It was then that I noticed ex poste all the failed bends were in kiln dried stock that I had planned for a different used and they accidentally went into the “bend” barrel.  D’oh!  We enacted a couple of minor ex ante revisions and combining these with the proper selection of wood we had perfect results and reveled in a couple days of almost 100-percent success (I think we had one failure and that might very well have been my impatience, bending the piece faster than it could stand).

I’ve had good and bad streaks of steam bending, but these were the most stark examples of the challenges inherent in taking wood to the brink of what it can be forced into doing.  We rejoiced as the inventory of chair parts grew into that which was needed for next August.

For now the chair parts are just hanging off the beam, seasoning until used by the workshop students.  I have some more Gragg projects of my own to work on so there will undoubtedly be more experience interacting with wood, steam, and forms.

Parts Is Parts

During our recent days of work preparing for next August’s “Build A Gragg Chair” workshop my  friend John and I prepped a lot of wood sticks, and bent them to the forms required to become Gragg chair parts.

We got the steam box set up, the forms set out, and set to work.

John hand planed dozens of chair pieces to get them ready for the thermodynamic adventure.

 

Once he had five or six pieces ready to go, he used the template board I created for this purpose and affixed the bending straps to all the pieces.  When you have to execute two 90-degree bends only twelve inches apart in a dozen seconds, bending straps are pretty much mandated.  We used flanged sheet metal screws and plumbing straps and attached them BEFORE they went into the steam box because the brief time to get the bending done after steaming does not allow for the straps to be put in place afterwards.  And since the chairs get completely painted, any staining or screw holes can be dealt with.

I placed them into the already heating box and waited for them to reach maximum temperature, which in my set-up is about 200 degrees.

Using a state-of-the-art steam box seal we set the timer and waited the requisite time, 25 minutes for the arm and serpentine pieces, 45 minutes for the bent seat/backs.

On the first day we had good success especially with the thin pieces, only one failure out of eight or ten attempts, but on the second day we had a string of failures approaching 50% when bending the continuous seat/back slats.

At that moment we could discern no reason for the degree of failure  We needed to re-think our process.

Prepping (for Gragg Workshop)

I could probably maintain a steady stream of posts exhorting you to prepare for the ongoing (and upcoming) societal chaos, but since this is a mostly woodworking blog I’ll just keep it there.  My commentary on the global status quo mostly remains reserved for private correspondence.

Since deciding to host and teach a “Make A Gragg Chair” workshop next August I have been focusing in on preparing the fourth floor space and the necessary chair-making elements for that enterprise.  This week my dear friend John has come to work with me in both aspects, which include the mundane (tidying and reorganizing the space) and the sublime (steam bending all the elements needed for five chairs — I will be making one right alongside the students so they can witness the way I do things, not simply receive my instructions on that).

I described myself to some visitors last week as “someone who is congenial with well-developed social skills but is entirely comfortable being alone for weeks and months at a time with just Mrs. Barn for company,” I find the circle of friends whose company I seek out is pretty small.  John is one of those men.  Our week will be one of productivity, in-depth discussions of forbidden topics, and maybe even some way-out-of-bounds activities reflecting the fact that I live in a just-barely-free jurisdiction and he does not (some/many/most? “public officials” have clearly mistaken 1984 as an instruction manual rather than a cautionary tale.).

So together John and I will take a pile of sticks and turn them into chair parts.

Stay tuned.

Final Gragg Video Session

It seems like it was almost three years ago that videographer Chris Swecker and I met over lunch to brainstorm about producing videos in the Attic Studios of The Barn On White Run documenting the entire process of building the premier version of a Samuel Gragg Elastic Chair.  Oh wait, it was almost three years ago.

Last week we actually concluded the video capture portion of the project in our 18th (!) recording session, resulting in almost 34 hours (!!) worth of electrons in the can.  Or, 68 hours if you calculate the close-up work that was simultaneous to the wide screen shots.  Now comes the tedium of my reviewing every second of video to create Cut Sheets which are the road map for Chris to execute the editing and final assembly.

This final session was a bit of a grab-bag as you might expect, completing the project but also juggling in several other elements to be captured in a non-linear schedule for the day.  In a conceptually linear recitation of the content, we began with the primed chair, then mixing the fill putty and inserted it into all the spaces that needed a bit of filling.

 

That was followed by a through sanding of the entire surface in preparation of the final cream-color base coat.

We wrapped up that portion with a discussion of the variety of striping brushes in my kit, followed by a short demo of pinstriping.  The entire pinstriping process is too lengthy to record live so we will instead rely on a gallery of step by step still shots for instructional purposes.  If you will recall the recorded the painting of the peacock feather by my dear friend Daniela last year.

We wrapped up the content with a final session of our bonus video on the restoration of my first full-to-the-brim Gragg chair from a decade ago that had its arms crushed.

It has certainly come a long way.

I now have to construct the entire contents into chapters, the subjects of which are likely to be:

  1. Harvesting The Wood

2. Preparing The Stock

3. Creating the Patterns

4. Building The Forms

5. Steam Bending The Elements

6. Assembling the Side Structures

7. Fitting the Seat and Crest Rails and Rungs

8. Fitting and Installing the Continuous Slats

9. Fitting and Installing the Seat Slats

10. Sculpting the Chair

11. Painting

12. Pinstriping

13. The Peacock Feather

14. Bonus – Conserving the Damaged Gragg Chair

My goal is to have each of these sections 45-60 minutes long, perhaps with more detail than a casual viewer would like but more akin to what a maker would want.

I am diligently reviewing the raw videos for an hour or two each day and will forward the Cut Sheets to Chris as they emerge from the process so he can begin the editing and assembling right away.

 

Penultimate Gragg Video Session

Notwithstanding the harried pace of the summer, videographer Chris Swecker and I were able to finally nail down some dates for collaboration in the video studio, a/k/a the barn attic, to finally wrap up the electron capturing portion of the project.

This next-to-last day of recording was consumed entirely with a discussion of the joinery and assembly strategy for the chair overall, and sculpting the edges and details of the chair which gives it the elegance it possesses.

One more session and then it is all editing, all the time.  Which gives me two giant projects to edit and massage.

 

Generational Gallery

Currently in the studio there are three generations of my Gragg chairs, beginning with the very first one completed in 2011 (nearest the camera), a second one that was one of two begun three years ago and whose construction has been filmed (on the work bench), and a third one from the ongoing  Gragg Chair Challenge to be also include in the video project that will have its final in-studio session on Friday.  Given the “special feature” of restoring the original chair so badly damaged at a woodworking show all three chairs are integral to the video project.

Though they are fairly close in the timeline, they each mark an important development in my work of making them.  This in turn is reflected in the amount of time required for me to make them.  The first one took me almost 250 hours as I was working out many of the construction and decorative details.  The second one was about half that time and the third one even faster by the time it is finished.  Still the greatest expenditure of time on the whole project is the pinstriping, which takes me about four days to complete.

My revisions of the construction process in particular continue to progress, even this week I implemented an approach to the construction that will shave several hours off the construction.  Given that all of the construction is reverse-engineered based on examining the painted originals with their hidden and obscured internal details and deducing the assembly regimen, I have broad latitude in recreating Gragg’s work.

Gragg Chair Challenge Overtime

After completing the assembly of the chair structure I moved on to the sculpting of its elements with a variety of gouges, rasps, knives, spokeshaves, spoonshaves, and more, until it was elegant and comfortable  (It is.  Very.).  In another eight hours or so I had it ready to begin painting with a shellac-based primer.  This allowed me to see any lines that did not flow as I wanted, and to re-address them with my edge tools.   Further, it identified any areas where fills were required.

I make my own fill putty similar to Gragg’s beginning with an oil-based primer and thickening approximately 1:1 with pulverized limestone from the garden center (he used lead white as the filler).  Applying that into holes or joints as needed, I actually do not sand the fills, nor the shellac primer for that matter, until after I apply the subsequent heavy oil primer layer.  This gives me plenty of body to cut into with sandpaper.  My goal at that point is to yield a smooth-yet-faceted surface revealing the tool work that goes into making the chair.

Soon I hope this chair will be ready for me to deliver to my friend and colleague Daniela to paint the peacock feather.  Then for me it will be on to new adventures in the World of Gragg.

Stay tuned.

If you are interested in participating in the August 2021 six-day workshop to fabricate a Gragg chair, drop me a line via the “Contact” or “Comments” sections of the web site.  At this moment there is one spot remaining.  If it is successful I will undoubtedly schedule another for August 2022, 2023, 2024, to infinity and beyond.

 

Negoru Boxes

Today I wrapped up (mostly) three of the “rubbed through” boxes and have put two to work to hold some of my smaller Gragg sculpting tools.

This one is black-over-red.

This one is red-over-black.

I did both of these with pigmented shellac with lemon shellac as the film forming component.  I added Bone Black and Vermillion Red powders to taste, then three or four clear coats over the top after composing the pattern with wet sanding.  Since these will get jostled at least if not outright “beat up” I have no plans to bring them to a mirror surface.  I might rub them out with some Liberon steel wool and Mel’s Wax once the surfaces get really hard in a few weeks.

It is nice to have most of my smallest brass spokeshaves in the same box.  I bought four sets of the ones offered by many tool merchants 35(?) years ago and am delighted to have them on hand.  With duplicate sets I have total freedom to modify them as needed.  These tiny tools are amazingly productive but it takes strong finger tips and a good “feel” for using them.  Fortunately Mrs. Barn lets me massage her feet for a couple hours most evenings so my hands are up to the challenge.