How to make hand made curved surfaces look good in a chair bottom

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Blog entry by Nels posted 02-10-2014 01:41 PM 1914 reads 0 times favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch

When I started out working with wood, it was a chore to find any information. I went to used book stores and bought anything that might help and asked any woodworkers I knew. Then Fine Woodworking came along and now the internet. Lumberjocks is the best help I’ve found. There are always several guys who have gone through the same problem.
Now, I’m working on 15 chairs. There have been three difficult parts. The curved back, the back legs, and the chair bottom. I’m currently on the chair bottoms.
I’ve taken a 18” x 18” x 1-1/8” piece of quartersawn white oak and cut several grooves with a dado blade. Next I cut a little more with a router. Then I used a Holey Galahad to rough out the shape. Lastly, I used 40, 80, 120, and finer grit sand paper to finish the shape and smoothness.
The problem is that since the wood is dull it is hard to see the imperfections that show up under a laquer finish. I use my fingers to find the worst problems, but still miss some. For a finish I dye the wood, stain, and then laquer. The surface doesn’t have to be perfectly consistant, it just needs to look good.
Any suggestions?
The pictures are of the roughed out chair bottom and the chair is the one that was a prototype that I made 3 years ago.

10 comments so far

View Isaacnels's profile


2 posts in 1660 days

#1 posted 02-10-2014 02:04 PM

If only you had a son that would tell you about websites like this and then you would be set.

View sras's profile


4827 posts in 3186 days

#2 posted 02-10-2014 03:30 PM

There is an interesting technique for this in the August 2013 issue of Popular Woodworking. I have not tried it, so no recommendations – positive or otherwise.

-- Steve - Impatience is Expensive

View Nels's profile


43 posts in 1685 days

#3 posted 02-10-2014 03:59 PM

I’m trying water and a bright light. That helps some.

View oldnovice's profile


6955 posts in 3425 days

#4 posted 02-10-2014 04:52 PM

One of the “router authors”, cannot remember which one or which book made a tool that may help. The book had only B&W photos and it was not a hard cover book. Spielman???

This was, not a small tool, as it was as tall as a floor standing drill press and was built completely out of plywood.

The router was suspended by a variable length swinging mount that allowed it swing in any direction and make almost any radius curvature in the top of a piece mounted below it. I believe the movement of router could also be limited in nearly any direction. I believe this tool was developed just for the type of work you are doing.

-- "I never met a board I didn't like!"

View jumbojack's profile


1678 posts in 2681 days

#5 posted 02-10-2014 05:09 PM

Since you are using lacquer, wipe on some and in a low angled light source view the seat. I find the setting sun is the very best for seeing imperfections.

-- Made in America, with American made tools....Shopsmith

View Nels's profile


43 posts in 1685 days

#6 posted 02-10-2014 05:50 PM

Yeh, I had an old Oliver book that had a chair carving machine. I also asked 2 shops with CNC machines, but they both didn’t have the programing for this kind of work.
I would worry about the laquer sealing the wood so it would take the dye and the stain correctly.
I do have a window by my work area and sunlight does seem to be the best to inspect the work.

View gamygeezer's profile


166 posts in 1642 days

#7 posted 02-10-2014 07:11 PM

There is a router jig in Woodsmith magazine for June 2012 for sculpting a stool seat. If you log on to their site, you can see magazine covers, and the picture for that month might give you some ideas.


-- What's a vibrant young guy like me doing in a broken down old body like this?

View oldnovice's profile


6955 posts in 3425 days

#8 posted 02-10-2014 09:33 PM

The book I mentioned was The New Router Handbook Paperback by Patrick Spielman.
In that book he mentions a Fox chair seat machine … don’t know if that is still avaiable.

-- "I never met a board I didn't like!"

View oldrivers's profile


1353 posts in 1623 days

#9 posted 02-12-2014 01:43 AM

I have often used mineral sprits to wet the surface, using a back light as you look across the surface you can see the imperfections which needs correcting. The sprits will evaporate without sealing the surface or raising the grain.

-- Soli Deo gloria!

View Nels's profile


43 posts in 1685 days

#10 posted 02-12-2014 12:47 PM

Mineral spirits is a great idea! Water raises the grain, but I’m sanding several more times anyway. I’ll use the MS in the last steps.

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