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3rd August – HWA Challenge and Bob Hope on Chairmaking

11 August, 2015

There were 2 options for the Challenge, A, something with a finial and B, something made with 2 or more materials. We had 16 entries from 10 turners, many satisfying both criteria; and what a high standard they were. You can see all the entries on the website, but here are the first 3 choices of the 53 members who voted:-


1st Choice was Ian Woodford’s spherical box with excellent crisp finials at top and bottom. The box seemed perfectly spherical to the eye with a nicely fitting lid and good grain match at the join. The box sat on a stand which matched the finials. A clear and deserved 1st choice from one of our most experienced turners.

 Ian with cert

2nd choice was Alan Baker’s segmented bowl. Quite apart from the amount of work that must have gone into it, the bowl had a lovely “ogee” profile and was well finished. The spiral pattern of the inlayed blocks becoming larger towards the rim was well planned. Alan is a relative newcomer to woodturning and this piece is evidence of remarkable progress.

Alan Baker with bowl

Talking of remarkable progress, 3rd choice was Dave Simpson’s beautifully finished decorative item based on a pod of contrasting seeds (peas?). A good deal of carving and texturing had gone into this work of art. Dave is quite new to the Club and to woodturning and shows real aptitude.

Dave Simpson  with pod

Whilst the votes were counted and certificates being done by Lynda, our calligrapher for the evening, the lights were dimmed for Bob Hope’s presentation on chair making. Bob suggested a stool is a good item to start with though he had obviously progressed to much more complicated and beautiful chairs. My favourite has to be his Windsor carver with steam-bent arms and back.


It is important to plan ahead. Get the sizing right for the intended purpose or person and draw it up. Also, trying to design matching spindles of the right size on the hoof is a recipe for a poor result. If in doubt, buy a book or pattern.


Traditional materials are ash, oak, beech and, for the seats, elm though this is not readily available since the dreadful disease. The shaping of the seat was traditionally done by hand with an adze though Bob uses an Arbotech, modestly claiming not to have the skill to use an adze. Personally I’d be more scared of the Arbotech.

Bob also makes rush seats but instead of the traditional rushes he uses a paper rush which is applied wet. This produces a very similar result but is easier to use than the specialist rush weaving.


The legs are usually turned with tapered ends to fit the holes in the seat. Drilling the holes has to be done carefully and jigs are recommended to get the angles right. For the legs there are rake and splay angles. The rake on the back legs is generally greater than the front (about 105 degrees compared to 95 to 100) because of the weight transfer when the sitter leans back. Splay is the sideways angle. This is needed for stability but too much and the legs stick out and clash. The holes are tapered so that the joint tends to tighten with use. A parallel hole is first drilled on a tilted table on a drill press then a taper bit is used. The holes for the legs usually go right through and a wedge is inserted in the exposed spindle end. Other holes, like those for the stretchers are blind and they have different angles. This all needs to be worked out carefully and time should be taken to make jigs, however simple, to get all the joint angles right.

Bob and chairs

Bob favours cascamite glue to fix it all together which is hard to beat for the purpose.


Chair parts often involve bending. This is an acquired skill and requires a steam chamber to be made. After prolonged steaming you have a short time to get the wood onto a table and bend it round pegs set out to define the curve. A steel strip on the outside of the bend helps to prevent splitting. Bob finds that there is always a certain amount of spring back afterwards and this can be avoided by using laminated strips of wood glued together.

Many chairs have a lot of plain spindles which are usually not turned but split and roughly sized with a spokeshave then finished with a dowel cutter.


Whilst on the subject of tools, Bob has invested in a “decent set of drills” with sharp central points to avoid wander and sharp edges to stop break-out. He is also happy to use modern methods where they are superior and quicker than traditional ones. An example is a router rather than chisels for mortice and tennon joints.


Asked about finishing, Bob said for durability he uses 4 coats of polyurethane, diluted for the first couple of coats. Alternatively chairs may be painted.


I hope I got most of that whilst counting votes in the dark but if anyone wants to try their hand at making a chair, I’m sure Bob will be happy to give the benefit of some advice. Thanks Bob, great presentation.

Dave Gibbard

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