Assembling the back panels

This series of blogs is partly a record for me and any interested colleagues of how I make lath-back chairs in a production run (albeit 6 at a time) and also for my customers to see how their chairs are coming along.

Yesterday I finished making the last of the parts for the 6 chairs, I intend to make before Christmas. Most of them have spent some time drying around our wood/burning stove. As well as the bits I have made over the last few weeks are 4 crests and cross rails I made 3 weeks ago.


So today’s project was to assemble 4 back panels while all yesterday’s rungs and rails are drying. I suggest starting with one of the crests, as the mortices will be less obvious, so by the time I get to the cross-rails (where the joints are more obvious) I should be in the flow. The mortices are spaced 6cm apart and marked with a bundle of nails (leftover from nailing floor boards) which punch a line 14mm long. A neat idea is to use 6mm drills at each end of the mortice with a 5mm drill for the centre hole. This removes a lot of the waste but minimises the danger of the centre hole being slightly out of line.

Using a 12mm chisel, a thin mortice chisel and a gimlet, I removed the waste from the mortices.

After running a spokeshave along the surface, the mortices were relatively neat.

5 mortices drilled and cleaned

After the 4th crest had been morticed, I started on the cross-rails. Rather than holding these using a shallow bending jig, I made a special grip to hold the cross-rail when carrying out the morticing. This held it more firmly, which makes a big difference.

a cross rail in a softwood jig

With 40 mortices  made it was then a matter of shaping the laths to fit each one individually. This was the first time this project became rather tedious. Listening to BBC Radio 4 was not a good idea as I nearly nodded off at one stage. After a cuppa, and a blast of Bundhu Boys from the i-pod, things picked up. I thought of old Philip Clissett who is quoted as saying ‘if you are not singing, you are not happy’. He’d have certainly preferred the i-pod to Radio 4. I also thought of my son, Dougal on his X box game, going over and over the same challenge, trying to knock a second off here and a second off there. Refining the process is an integral part of any craft, be it Warcraft, chair-making or pottery.

Having fitted the end 2 laths and the bottom of the centre 3 laths, I could measure the exact lengths of the centre ones before wasting time shaping their tenons and then having to cut them to length. By the end of the day I had succeeded in assembling the 4 panels but there’s still a great deal of cleaning up to be done before final assembly.



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