In some ways I would be proud to have “Bodger” on my CV. The gentlemen who made chair spindles in the beech woods in and around Buckinghamshire when Charles Dickens was writing were called Bodgers. It’s hard to see where the connection with “botching a job” comes from but there probably isn’t one, apart from the fact that they come from the same, older, root. Bodgers were not “botchers” or “butchers” or “cowboys” even, they were skilled woodsmen who cleaved beech wood and then turned the sections on pole lathes, there and then, amongst the trees. A truly “lean” operation.
The components they made were for Windsor chairs and similar spindle type chairs; a style that is a real classic. Maybe it was the ready supply of cheap components that made it so common – allied with the elegant designs – there is a problem, however; the use of these short components means that there is a weak point at the back of the seat – spindles or legs, become loose, come out, break. Stresses are not transferred right down to floor level as they are in “chammer” chairs, the main structural element is the thick and solid seat, and years of use and changing temperatures take their toll. I’ve mended a few and, I can promise you, that’s the problem area!
Chammer chairs – and it’s one of these that I am making – were mostly made of pine (softer than beech) and although I have yet to do a survey, I think they have lasted just as well as Windsor chairs; so there !
The shed, then, is the workshop; where I can work, out of the rain and away from the phone, and keep the toolchest in the manner to which it has become accustomed. It also houses a workbench which complements the hand tools – it doesn’t matter how good your hand tools are, without a good workbench you can’t do much. Holding the item you are working on securely is essential.
This shed is only a few years old, but was leaking badly – the “tarry felt” roof was letting in water, even the horizontal boarding of the walls was not impervious. I decided to extend the shed by 900mm (does it look unsymmetrical on the right hand side?) to give space for the tool chest and give my daughter something to laugh at when I bash my head on the roof every time I take a tool out of the chest.
As I was rebuilding the shed anyway I chose to put clear corrugated plastic in the roof over the bench. There is no electricity there, of course – no heat or artificial light; so I don’t work there during the wintry months and I take the chest into the Mill for a warm up.
Wasps decided to take up residence in my absence and built their bikes along the roof as an act of defiance and wrens tried to nest again in a notch in the roof. I wish the wrens well, but recalling what the wasps did to my grapes in the greenhouse, I moved them on.
The shed has a back door now to give a free flow of air on warm days and a view of the larches. It also means that I can work on long pieces of wood at the bench.
I made the bench of pine and fitted it with an old vice at one end. There’s also an antique vice forming an end vice to work in conjunction with “dogs” morticed into the bench top. With these two vices I can hold most pieces of squared wood. The bench was hand made last year, after work on the shed ceased, and this gave me a preview of what the tool chest offered to the eccentric chair maker. I had spent three days cleaning the tools up, but that wasn’t the same as using them in earnest.
Did I cheat? Well, I did use the hand morticing machine for the base of the bench.
As time goes on I will accumulate other aids and jigs etc but felt that a sawhorse was essential to complete the set.
I am aware that the sections of beech and elm drying in the “tent” are not square and will present problems soon when I come to flatten and straighten them further.
However, before that I want to delve into the tool chest – give the wood more time to dry – and let you see, at last, what Mr Wake had at his disposal 100 years ago, and what I am going to use to make the chair.
-- Allan Fyfe, Lethenty Mill Furniture, http://www.lethenty-mill.com