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.