The Non-Electric Chair #4: In Which We Get Down To Work

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Blog entry by lethentymill posted 08-19-2008 09:00 PM 1255 reads 0 times favorited 2 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 3: The Island Part 4 of The Non-Electric Chair series Part 5: Cleaving Wood (part 1) »

You may be wondering when I am going to stop daydreaming and get on with making a chair. The short movie that I produced to accompany this entry provides a ‘short-cut’ to the main action!

It’s just that I know that some people are going to ask “What’s the point in making furniture by hand?” and I think that it’s difficult to explain, I certainly can’t put it in a sentence. I have read entire books by people who have tried to answer this question ( e.g. David Pye – “The Nature and Art of Workmanship”, he is not afraid to try and his theory about risk and design is fascinating ) Maybe, if I was pushed, the best I could come up with would be “try it ! Then you’ll see” and although I know that that’s not a satisfactory reply it may be the quickest and the best explanation for the appearance of these articles – If you don’t want to try it just now, watch it being done in the photos and movies on our website …….. and read the text and maybe you’ll feel more like trying it. I’ve been designing and making furniture for 30 years and showing other people how to do it and learning any way that I can; but I think I would need a whole book to explore why I do it and I think that this way might be the best; hopefully more people will still be there at the end of it. And another thing; it’s like explaining a joke – it loses a lot in the telling.

So you now know about the island – a little about the shed, and a little about the tool chest. I will say more about the shed and tool chest later.

Now is the time to cut the tree down. At the time of cutting, it’s February and even if the wood is slabbed now it’s going to be months before the components will be dry enough to assemble as a chair. I can go on about the shed and the tool box while the wood is drying, gradually working on the components at the same time. My son, Matthew, has been press ganged into activity and is holding up the two handed saw, which is protected by a pine cover.

The tree I have in mind is a beech which has been struck by lightening. It’s about four metres of stump that is going to rot from the top down – it may already be badly discoloured, so now is the time to find out. There is still some life in it; there’s a branch sticking out of the top. Just a word of advice here, it’s not advisable to cut trees down, even if they are your own, without asking the Local Planning Department first. (Pity this isn’t standard practice in Brazil and the Philippines too.)

Now I come to a difficulty with the Toolchest idea. The Toolchest I have contains bench tools as you will see later. It would be hard to see how a two-handed saw could be part of a cabinetmakers kit, far less how it could be fitted in the Toolchest. Let’s just say that it is consistent with the overall intention – It’s not a chain saw; so just to get this out of the way now, the same applies to the other tools that are needed to get the basic materials for the chair before they get to the bench – scythe, spade, adze, wedges, hammer etc.

So off we went to cut this stump down – the blade of the two–handed saw was protected by a wooden sheath. I don’t know where I got this saw from but it is by Sandvik and I expect that it is about 100 years old. I have emailed Sandvik for more information but their records only go back to the 1950s and they have been making saws since 1880. So my guess is as good as theirs. Before using the saw, I gave the blade a good wax and rubbed some more on it each time we stopped for a break. The other saw, which I have sneaked in, features in a tool catalogue by Tyzack from 1908 – it’s a Disston and hardly ever been used, it can be converted to a 2-handed saw by the addition of another handle.

BOTH THESE SAWS WERE WELL SHARPENED BEFORE WE USED THEM and I can’t exaggerate the importance of that, the tree was sawn through from both sides in half an hour and the experience was pleasurable. The first cross-cut when the tree was felled took 10 minutes or so. I don’t expect to convert the world of loggers and potential loggers to throw away their chain saws and do it manually! The point I would make is that careful sharpening is essential for any hand tool, and if anything I was, yet again, surprised by the efficiency of this antique. A very important aspect of any job like this is clearing your feet before starting. We had to dig away the ground, as we were on a bank, to give good stances for working, we also had to clear away branches overhead and low branches from the tree itself.

Remember the 2 –handed saw cuts in either direction (the teeth are sharpened equally on both sides) and both operators should be pulling one after another. It is interesting to note that when you use a saw like this to fell a tree you can hear what is happening – the creaking and cracking gives you more warning of its impending fall and more time to get out of the way!

The problem that crops up with both these operations; felling and cross-cutting is the cut closing on the blade just before you’re through, with felling there is another issue and that is; where do you want the tree to fall ?

This is not a lesson in how to fell trees only a “serving suggestion” but both these questions are answered by using the technique of making your first cut low on the side you want the tree to fall and the second cut slightly higher on the opposite side. It’s the same technique when using an axe, but, in passing, I think it’s unlikely that anyone could have felled that tree in half an hour with an axe.

When you are cross cutting it is essential to get a pivot under the tree at or near the cut, to open the cut as the remaining wood weakens, not to close on the saw and jam it. If you do jam it you will still need to lever open the cut to release the saw.

The two-handed saw is held aloft by Matthew Time to start cutting Timber!

-- Allan Fyfe, Lethenty Mill Furniture,

2 comments so far

View teenagewoodworker's profile


2727 posts in 3192 days

#1 posted 08-20-2008 12:46 AM

very cool! thanks for the post.

View lethentymill's profile


61 posts in 3032 days

#2 posted 08-21-2008 04:49 PM

Thanks for mentioning the reflective vests – we are of course wearing them ! What you forget is that a vest is an undergarment on this side of the pond. Hope that clears that up – glad you like the story !
Regards Allan

-- Allan Fyfe, Lethenty Mill Furniture,

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