Making an English Comb-back Windsor Chair – Part Four

At the end of my last entry I had run out of daylight, so today I took a spokeshave and eased the front edges of the seat scallops so they won’t dig into the back of the sitter’s thighs. I also removed some of the surplus from the top of the leg tenons and sawed the kerfs in them to accept the ash wedges.

The undercarriage was glued together and into the seat using horse sauce with the addition of some urea to buy me a little time while I wrestled with it all. The wedges were dipped into the horse sauce too and driven into the tops of the legs effectively locking them solidly in their mortises.

In the absence of a level cast iron saw table, I set the chair on a perfectly levelled sheet of particleboard and placed a bubble on the back rim of the seat to level the chair. I measured the seat height and then scribed the bottom of the legs using a scrap of wood of the requisite thickness.

With the chair laid on its side I sawed the surplus off the bottoms of the legs. The chair was then placed upright on the particleboard again to confirm it was stable. It wobbled just perceivably. Again, I used the bubble to level the seat and determine which leg was the culprit. It was the front left leg which only necessitated a few pull-throughs with my 40-grit leg leveller.

A few swipes with the leg leveller shortened the long leg.

The tops of the legs were sawn off close to the seat and the entire seat was then cleaned up with a spokeshave and a couple of scrapers.

Final clean-up of the seat.

About Jack Plane

Formerly from the UK, Jack is a retired antiques dealer and self-taught woodworker, now living in Australia.
This entry was posted in Furniture Making, Seating and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Making an English Comb-back Windsor Chair – Part Four

  1. Devin says:

    First off, I am really enjoying your blog. It is exceedingly rare to find some that knows about furniture in addition to how to make furniture. Delightful! I grateful that you omit the basic steps and stick to the exceptional parts. Sometimes I feel like I’m wading through an instruction manual, but not here.

    And I’m Sorry for the late comments here, but I’m gradually making my way through the archives and I have a burning question about the leg lengths.

    You marked the legs by setting the chair on a level surface, then shimming the legs until the seat was level too. I saw this technique elsewhere recently and it, well, seemed rather new-fangled. Not that you have restricted yourself to using only old techniques… but I have wondered about the origins of the Levelling Technique.

    Levelling the base and then the seat essentially gets their planes parallel to each other. Any distance up from the base is then guaranteed to be equidistant from the seat… within your ability to read the bubble, both on the base and then on the seat.

    An alternative technique is to invert the chair onto a (non-levelled) base, measure up from the base (e.g., pinch stick or rule), and mark the length anywhere on a leg (or even multiple marks). Then any straightedge connecting the marks on two legs will also be parallel to the base & seat… within your ability to measure up perpendicularly from the base (which is the seat, too).

    So here’s the burning question: Is the Levelling Technique something you prefer to do? Perhaps it’s how you learned to do this? Or is it historically how it was done?

    I just have trouble picturing the chairmaker levelling his bench, then levelling the seat with shims, then cutting a block to the correct height, etc., etc. The Inversion Technique only requires a flat surface and being able to hold the measure perpendicular to the surface. Incidentally, for an 18″ measure, small errors in staying perpendicular to the base (i.e., not quite perpendicular) cause even smaller errors in the measure (i.e., legs very close to 18″). You could use a square to guarantee being perpendicular, but just eyeballing seems to be good enough that the chair doesn’t rock.

    Oh, well. I have a nasty habit of asking, “Why?”



    • Jack Plane says:

      Thanks Devin for the kind words.

      I have not come across any descriptions of how past chair-makers levelled their seats – if they even bothered at all. I suspect close enough was good enough. There weren’t many level floors, so there wouldn’t have been much point in levelling chairs to any great degree.

      I have used the methods you describe, but my current work table is very easily levelled (I just kick one or more of its legs), so I levelled it first with a bubble and then did likewise with the chair seat.


      Liked by 1 person

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