From Disposable To Indispensable

I’m in the midst of a spate of Gragg postings, mostly because that’s what I’m doing a lot of and I don’t think posting a steady diet about working my way through a book manuscript is all that interesting.

In building a Gragg chair there are two steps that are immensely time consuming.  The first is  fitting the rear seat rail into the side units, which serves to unify and distribute all the weight stresses.  This takes about 4-8 hours for me to do this one element, it depends on how much magic is in my hands and how well my good eye is working that day.  The other is cutting 17 open dovetail pocket joints, two on each of the six short splats and the front rail fittings for the five continuous splats.  No way to put lipstick on that pig, they are nothing short of tedious.  It generally takes me up to two days to finish them.

Cutting the insides of a dovetailed open mortise is just a pain, or at least it’s a pain by the eighth or ninth one.  I’ve used a variety of tools and approaches — a saw, bench chisels, a skew chisel, utility knife, and especially a fish-tail flat gouge.  The last was especially helpful but store-bought versions were just not quite right.  The splay of the tool tip was too modest to really get into the sharp inside corners.  I made a custom one for this purpose a couple chairs ago but for the life of me cannot find it now.  Instead I decided to make another.

Looking through my box of derelict or disposable tools I found a 3/4″ Stanley “Handyman” chisel.  It was a cheap almost cheezy tool of unknown provenance that still had the factory bevel and back.  I recall modifying two of its siblings into 1) a dovetail chisel for small corner dovetails and 2) a small, short 3/16″ mortising chisel (this was before I fashioned my set of mini-mortise chisels out of plow plane irons).  The thickness of the 3/4″ chisel steel is laughably thin for typical woodworking, but the thickness was precisely what I was looking for.

With my stationary grinder I created an extreme splay on the fishtail end of the chisel.  Being careful and cutting in from the side I managed to avoid de-tempering the bevel.  After running it through my usual sharpening routine I gave it a try.

Absolutely splendid!

It is now an indispensable part of my Gragg tool kit, executing the task perfectly.  Even better it reduces the time for cutting one of the dovetailed pockets from an hour to 45 minutes or less.  Admittedly, since all of Gragg’s chairs are painted thus obscuring the exact nature of this joint I had to reverse-engineer something that I thought seemed right.

When you have to do 17 of them for each chair, ease and speed count for a lot.

Making this chisel was an extremely well-spent 90 minutes.