Indispensable Gragg Chair Tool #1

Over the coming weeks I will be posting periodically about the tools I use to make a Gragg chair in order to help next August’s class attendees begin to assemble their tool kits.  I will emphasize the peculiar tools and perhaps describe how they are used in the process.  The tools will be presented in no particular order, merely in the sequence they pop into my head.

I will say that tool #1, the spokeshave, or more particularly brass mini-spokeshave(s) is integral to establishing the lines of the curved contours and thus spends a lot of time in my hand.  I use about a dozen different small spokeshaves, but that is because that’s what my inventory of spokeshaves consists of.  Petite wooden spokeshaves are also fine, but I only have one of these and have not been able to find many more.  Certainly my favorite (upper right) is one we made when I was working as a patternmaker in a foundry and cast our own tools.  As I recall the iron for the tool was made from an old saw blade.  Its sole is shallow enough that it can work on concave, convex, flat, and chamfered surfaces.

The spokeshave on the upper left might be the one most familiar to you as it was sold in a three piece set, one flat, one convex, and one rounded, from a number of tool purveyors back in the day.  I am pretty sure I bought four sets of them at the time and there are still large numbers of these floating around the interwebz and tool swap meets.  The two spokeshaves on the bottom were picked up along the journey over the past 40 years, the one on the left very similar to the one I had from the pattern shop and the one on the right is from a pair of “lamb’s ear” spokeshaves from some auction somewhere.

Given that the ultimate elegance of the Gragg chair is only partly due to the sinuous bent  elements, much of the remaining contribution is through the further shaping of those elements via spokeshaving.  Once the chair is assembled from the steam bent pieces, almost each of those pieces gets sculpted in place with the spokeshaves to present the unified whole.  I have tried to shape all these elements prior to assembly but found that even then I had to go back and harmonize them all, so now I just do almost all of the shaping of those cross sections after the chair is all together.  This requires very small spokeshaves to get the job done.