The Upper & Lower Crest Rails
Note: When I talk about the many parts of this chair, I name them as if I were sitting in the chair.
Now that you’ve completed your back splats, it’s time to create their future home. And that’s where the crest rails come into play.
Seeing that these two parts are going to be readily seen from both front or back, I wanted to make sure that I picked out some really nice blocks of cherry with exceptionally beautiful grain. And I’m so glad I did. It seems as if this is the part that your guest’s eyes will gravitate to right away. Plus, the upper crest rail is the very first piece your friends and relatives will touch.
My dad used to tell my brother and me, “If someone walks up to your woodworking project and you see them rubbing and touching the wood with a smile on their face…then that’s the best compliment you can ever witness.”
The very first thing I did to these parts (once the wood was picked out) was to cut them to final dimensions. That is…in block form. No curves yet.
Important note: Remember to include the length of the fixed tenons on each end of each piece.
Now make yourself a nice template to use to draw the outline onto either the top or bottom of each upper and lower crest rail blank. I made mine out of a scrap piece of 1/4 inch plywood.
Once your template lines are marked on each piece, it’s off to the band saw to cut just the backside convex curve. Why just one curve? Because to make the tenons on each end, I needed to keep one face flat in order to clamp the part into my Leigh mortise/tenoning jig.
Seeing that this cut is a fairly tall cut, especially on the taller upper crest rail, I decided to make sure that my band saw blade and band saw tabletop were perfectly perpendicular with each other.
After getting your band saw set properly, go ahead and cut out all convex curves on all upper and lower crest rails. Take your time and stay just outside your pencil marks. (Using the proper width blade will help with sanding these parts later.) I would suggest at least a 1/2 inch blade.
Once you get the hang of it and you’ve got your rhythm down, they’ll start stacking up like cord wood.
Upon the completion of all rear convex cuts on the upper and lower crest rails, I chose to sand those fresh cuts down to a near finished stage. I’m not so sure gang-clamping them together saved me time or created more time…but it was fun nonetheless.
As I moved through this fairly large project, I quickly discovered that by stacking and labeling each part, it was easier for me to keep track of how many of which part I had done. Note that I also marked the “top” of each piece. I did this because I wanted to make sure that I ended up with the nicest edge facing up. If there happened to be a minor flaw, I’d make sure that the flaw was on the underside of the crest rail.
Next I created yet another template that allowed me to easily mark the locations of the “centers” of the four small mortises that will eventually be the home for the small tenons on each end of the back splats.
Unfortunately I sold my dedicated mortiser just before I decided to build these chairs. I actually did purchase yet another one, but it showed up damaged, so I sent it back…and never did order another. This tool would have made the crest rail mortisers a fairly easy task.
By using the template shown in the photos above, all I had to do is mark the center of each mortise, and then drill out most of the waste with a 3/8 inch Forstner bit.
I went one step further (probably a waste of time…but it worked for me) and made another template to mark the four sides of all four of the crest rail mortises. Once marked, a little chisel work…and your four mortises are complete.
The next step for your upper and lower rails is to cut away the concave front face of each upper and lower crest rail. So, it’s back to the band saw. Staying just outside my pencil mark allows me to finish sand up to that line.
The last couple steps involve cutting the curve on the top side of the upper crest rail, and face sanding all parts down to their final finish. I used my orbital disc sander with 220 and then 320 grit paper. Take your time with the sanding of these parts. There just might be some dips and bumps created while cutting them out with your band saw. Use your hands. Feel the surface. Plus, the curved cut on the top of the upper crest rail needs lots of TLC with sanding. Now that my chairs are done, I can see a few ripples in that area that I missed. Hey…they’re homemade!! :)
Lastly, I’m throwing this photo in just in case I forget to somewhere down the road. I found that this Stanley shoulder plane does a really nice job at making your tenons just the right thickness.
See you at the next chapter…
Dale “Gramps” Peterson.
-- If at first you don't succeed...DO NOT try skydiving.