Making chair legs

Yesterday I had a lovely day outside my workshop starting to make use of the ash logs I collected in the rain a few weeks ago making things out of trees. I had stacked the logs carefully as they had come out of the tree trunk.

an ash tree stacked under cover.
an ash tree stacked under cover.

I barrowed one of the sections from the best section together with a section from the butt section up to my cleaving brake outside the workshop. (In fact I didn’t get round to using the butt section).

 2 sections in the barrow

Using a selection of three froes, I cleft the section to yield the material for 6 long legs plus lots of other bits. It was surprisingly sensitive to pressure from the froe, which is why I used the micro froe for the later stages, so that the split wouldn’t run too far along the log before I could control it’s direction.

cleft in half with very big froe Starting to cleave the second halfThe blanks for 6 legs plus 5 other lengthsP1060127









Four of the legs came from just under the bark and had perfect grain. The other pair were from the inner section and had a slight wiggle near one end so I cut them shorter………..and the sun came out – wonderful! I made a peg to hold the ‘curtain ring’ which is the gauge to determine a uniform thickness for the leg.





Sunshine at last a curtain ring peg








However perfect the grain may appear, it is never going to be perfectly straight, which is why the process of cleaving and shaving has the advantage over sawing and turning to maximise the strength of the fibres running along the whole length of the leg.

wood is never dead straight









Out of the other 5 lengths I was able to make 6 front seat rails and 16 laths (to be bent in the next day or so at the same time as the legs.

16 back laths 6 front seat rails






I also managed to make a couple of crests and a back seat-rail out of the remainder as well as 2 large tubs of kindling and a few little bits of firewood but it was to dark to get a pic by then.

A wonderful way to spend a relatively benign December day.


Winter finally arrives

It’s over 3 months since I last wrote on my blog – not good! We had a wonderful summer in the woods which extended into October with a great 3-day course for Grounded Ecotherapy – a group from London. Looking back, one of the main highlights was the two beautiful full moons in September and October and how the kind summer weather just seemed to keep going.

Now I am prompted to write, having visited the woodland workshop to find the tarpaulin roof blown half away. In previous years a group of volunteers has helped me remove the large tarp and replace it with a smaller one just over the crucial bits in the middle of the workshop. Last winter (20010/11) we left the tarp up, and despite the frost and snow, everything survived OK. I am now contemplating whether I have been unlucky with it blowing off this week or whether I was very lucky that it survived last winter. I think probably the latter.

There’s lots of interesting stuff on TV and Radio4 at the moment. The bunch of British teenagers staying with the Amish was quite inspiring. In particular the lad from London who seemed to lead a pretty aimless life in a hostel at home, who struck up a really good relationship with their Amish host and within a few days really became involved in the constructive lifestyle and the hard work. On the radio this morning a family spent a week living a stone-age lifestyle in Denmark and as each day progressed, their children steadily warmed to the experience of basic, yet constructive living. It did remind me of a week on one of our courses only we have all the good aspects (open fires, baking bread, fulfilling activities, good company, simplicity) but manage to avoid nearly all the bad bits (uncomfortable clothing and bedding, wet footwear, no hot cuppas).

Over the last few decades we have become complacent about our wealthy western lifestyles and we need to return to a closer relationship with the basic aspects of our lives. We have to get away from investing money to enable us to buy what we want. We need to invest effort and enthusiasm, which delivers far more fulfilling rewards. I realise that my tarpaulin blowing down is telling me the same message. It has made me realise that the annual ceremony of packing up the workshop for the winter is a valuable part of the cycles of the year. We’ll get up there on Saturday and put the workshop to rest for the winter properly. Next spring will give us the occasion to rethink how it should be resurrected and nudge us to make all the little improvements that are needed.


Going with the Grain – Making Chairs in the 21st Century

Going with the Grain – Making Chairs in the 21st Century
Ever since the surge of interest following the Mastercrafts programme broadcast in February 2010, things have been pretty hectic in the world of green wood chair-making. After a great run of courses last year, I settled down for the winter to complete the new book, which had been bubbling away for a few years. Despite having helped in making more than a couple of thousand chairs over the years, I found that while working quietly on my own, several innovations cropped up as the process evolved. This resulted in May with the publication of the 3rd book in the ‘Green wood trilogy’ entitled ‘Going with the Grain – Making Chairs in the 21st Century’. Due to a complication, which meant that it needed a new ISBN (the unique number for every book published) the book only became available in the mainstream book-sellers in July. We are delighted to say that it will also be distributed in the USA and Canada by Chelsea Green Publishing.

 This ground-breaking book takes a radical approach to working with unseasoned wood. Although it starts with the centuries old techniques of cleaving and shaving, it then incorporates modern technology such as tenon-cutters and cordless drills to enable anybody with basic hand skills and a few simple tools to transform a fresh log into a superb stool or chair. Because of its innovative approach, new tools and techniques are cropping up all the time, so to run alongside the new book is the new blog ‘’ in which we hope to keep abreast of any developments in green wood chair-making. For those who would like to see it all in action, the blog will contain short clips of film to bring it all to life.

 While all this has been going on, courses have been going very well at Brookhouse Wood, and this year’s main assistant Tom has fitted in very well making a great team with his fellow assistants Jack and Leo. All this activity has held up the announcement of the 2012 course programme, but at last it is available, and we suggest that if you are interested in a place on one of the courses, you book it as soon as possible, as there have been many enquiries over the last few months. You will find full details of the courses in the website, which has been recently updated to reflect all this activity.

 If you haven’t yet discovered the delights of making green wood chairs, then I hope you will either purchase a book or come on a course sometime soon.

Mike Abbott