Work in Progress
Restoration of a 1965 Chris Craft 18 foot super sport boat
August 4th, 2013
This project started back in April of 2012. It was to be some minor wood repair. At least that is what the client thought. I had done some work on his sailboat, made a new bottom frame for another boat and built him one of my rocking chairs so he knew my work. What we both didn’t know was the amount of work that this project would turn into. And so began what became my biggest and most challenging woodworking project to date.
The boat was upside down in his garage on a few wood dollies. It didn’t take me long to figure out I needed to do a lot of research. On to the internet I went to start my search of Chris Craft boat building forums. The internet is loaded with info. I also went to an antique and classic wood boat show in Lake Geneva, Wi. Lake Geneva is well known for its many owners of fine wood boats.
If you want the short version of this work in progress and now completed project, here is what it looks like as of yesterday, June 30, 2013 on the lake.
Steve Clark, the driver is the owner. He is also a good friend. It is very different in appearance than the original 65 super sport. I don’t have any pics of what it looked like when we started. There are only about 8 pieces of original wood now in the boat. Two of those pieces have the hull stamps on them and luckily they were in reusable shape.
Back to the beginning.
I spent many hours removing the old bottom. Old wood covered in epoxy, fastened with bronze, stainless and drywall screws in different parts. After some discussion with the owner I suggested we not waste any more time being careful but just have at it with the power saw and get it down to the frame. So, this became not just a repair and restore the bad stuff but a “pattern” boat. Pattern meaning just using the old wood as patterns for all new wood.
I was still trying to save the topside wood at this point in time. We now needed to get it loaded up and taken over to my shop where I could really do some damage.
You can see the transom bottom frame member has been removed due to bad rot. This would not have been seen if we hadn’t removed the bottom planking.
It is now in my single car garage. My vehicle will remain parked outside for the next year. I have a 2 ½ car garage next door that is my shop and parking for my wife’s car. She has been patient with me as there were many times that she could not get here car in the garage for various wood stuff related reasons. I lost over 10 lbs working on this project just going back and forth from boat to shop each day. All in all it worked out well.
This is what a 65 Chris Craft Super Sport really looks like. Lots of vinyl which I don’t care for. Chris Craft was trying to compete with the fiberglass boats that were just starting to make the wood boats a thing of the past. We agreed from the start that not to use any vinyl on the new boat but make it completely mahogany.
Isn’t this a much better looking deck? I think so. The stripes are inlayed maple. Caulking deck seams is what Chris Craft used to do. I didn’t want any caulk or duct tape on this boat. I skipped ahead with this pic as you might have guessed.
Curly. Nuuk, Nyuk, nyuk. Why soytanly.
December 31st, 2010
I finished carving one of my favorite comedians. I was planning on making a frame for it until I put it on one of my violin stands and decided it was a nice way to show it. People either liked the stooges or didn’t. I wasn’t a fan of Shemp but if Curly was a part of the short, I knew I would be laughing and later imitating him. Now on to more Chris Craft boat work.
Relief carved from basswood
Making a walnut guitar stand
December 30th, 2010
I make my stringed instrument stands using some of the same bent lamination techniques used on my rocking chairs. I start with 1/8” strips of walnut about 1 ½” wide and 24” long for a guitar stand.
It takes 9 pieces total, 3 for each leg. 3 strips are laminated together using titebond glue and set into a form that is clamped together overnight. I have 2 sets of forms, one for the front legs and one for the rear leg. The curvature is a little different for each one.
I don’t steam these pieces. Steam bending works for some applications but not in this case. Laminating multiple narrow pieces makes for a strong yet flexible part. Sometimes I will use a contrasting material in the middle lamination. Walnut and maple for example go together nicely. Now I have all the parts ready for assembly.
Here I am first gluing the front legs together. A gluing form is used to keep all the parts inline. Next up will be cutting the leg notches into the bases which I have already cut and sanded. I sand all the parts before glue up. All the tools and other stuff on my work bench were used up to this point.
The rear leg is added to the glue up form. The bases were notched and attached to the legs prior to this. You can see the “U” shaped neck bracket in the center ready to be attached after the legs are complete. I attach the neck bracket with glue and a small brass screw. The U shape is made steaming small pieces, letting them cool in a form and then laminating them together. It also is made from 3 thin strips. Making the stand using laminations gives it really nice grain exposure and makes for a stronger and more durable stand. You don’t have to worry about tipping it over and having a piece break off. The stands are very stable with a guitar or violin on them.
The mahogany neck bracket has been added. The stand is now complete and ready for an oil finish. I like to use the same finish as I use on my furniture. I need to wait for a nicer day to finish as it’s raining today here in sunny California. We need the rain so I’m not complaining. I have plenty of other projects to keep me busy. Next up, more boat work.
Flipping a Chris Craft wood boat
December 2nd, 2010
I have the bottom of this 1965 Chris Craft Super Sport complete and the boat is now ready to flip back right side up to start the remaining topside planks and then the deck restoration.
I have one more final coat of green to apply to the bottom. Next time I paint a bottom I will tint the primer a lighter shade of the final color as the final paint will cover with less coats.
I looked at many videos on Youtube before we attempted the big flip. Some were very entertaining to watch. Some were disasters waiting to happen. The owner of this boat told me they flipped the boat before and told me how they did it. I was a little skeptical to say the least.
The flip took only 3 guys. There were 5 of us total. I handled the camera and the getting nervous part. One of the three was acting as weight counter balance on the rear lifting hoist. Two hoists were used, one at the front attached to the boat eye and one at the rear that did the turning. The rear lift was the kind that car restorers use to turn car bodies. It had been modified for boats. The rear lift had a section of 2 steel tubes that fit perfectly into the exhaust ports of the transom. This section was then clamped onto the hoist. The main part of the rear hoist was it’s turning wheel that was notched with a catch latch that could be engaged throughout the turning process. This is an important feature as it allowed us to turn slowing, lock it in place and look around to make sure all was going ok.
You can see the front hoist attacked to the bow eye. Also the old cushion on the right side ready to use if needed. ( we didn’t need it). One guy in the back (Steve, who owns the boat) is turning the rear hoist. The other guy is just standing on the hoist to act as counter balance and to keep the hoist from wanting to walk backwards. I was the camera man.
Here the boat is balanced on it’s side. We are making sure it has clearance as we go. The nice thing about this system is that a boat can be turned in the same space as it occupies. I made a boat cradle beforehand that was ready to be wheeled into place once the boat was completely turned. The cradle would allow me to move the boat around as needed. I could wheel it outside for dusty sanding or routing.
Success, it only took about 15 minutes to turn very safely. I was totally impressed with how easy it was to do. Steve said it would be easy but I was the doubting Thomas. The following pic is of the hoists that we used. I know they make and sell these hoists commercially but I believe these were shop built. I would recommend using this type of system over anything I have seen demonstrated on the internet. The hoists require a bow eye to be used and the rear hoist requires two exhaust ports. The exhaust ports could be temporary if the transom planks are left off until the boat is flipped. The bow eye on this boat will be removed as we decided to make a “cutwater” for the stem. A cutwater is a metal cover that usually is made of stainless or chrome plated material. It fits over the stem. A cutwater will add that custom look to a wood boat.
The front lift is on the left. The rear lift on the right. You can see the pipe extensions that fit into the exhaust ports and the notched locking wheel in this pic.
1965 18’ Chris Craft Super Sport restoration
October 7th, 2010
Moving day. We are moving the boat from the owner’s garage to the garage next to my shop. Most of the old bottom planking was removed before we made the move to my garage. It was dirty work.
The boat was moved into my small garage next to my shop.
New bottom frames installed
The front stem was in good condition so I removed, cleaned the joints, glued and refastened with new silicone bronze fasteners. The chines were also in good shape so they were also removed, clean and refastened with new fasteners. New silicone bronze fasteners were used throughout.
This is the pile of old bottom frames. They were used as templates for the new frames.
A new white oak keel is in the steamer for a couple of hours. This helps soften the fibers to make it easier to bend to the shape of the bottom. The wood was soaked in water for 4 days prior to the steaming.
Sometimes it looks like I’m going backwards on this project.
The first layer on the bottom is 6mm high grade marine plywood set into 3m 5200 adhesive with screws. The plywood conforms to the frame shape easily on the back end but requires many temporary clamps on the bow end.
Walnut Writing Desk Wins A Few Awards
September 22nd, 2010
The last couple of months really went by fast. I was busy with projects and neglected my writing and posting to my blog. The writing desk I built won a few awards at the Design in Wood competition in San Diego and also at the Orange Co fair. The judges for the woodworking competition at the Orange Co. fair were the 3 guys who worked with and for Sam Maloof for over 30 years. I was not aware of this until after the judging. As this desk was inspired by the same style as Sam’s furniture I must have done something right. The desk is my design with one small exception. The two drawers were made like ones I saw in Sam’s shop. I would have liked to have seen the look on the judges faces as they were reviewing them. I copied the joinery because I thought it was continued the flowing curves like the rest of the desk so it fit in.
I was planning on using dovetail construction on the drawers but after seeing his design I had the perfect fit.
The Design in Wood show is the largest woodworking show in the country. The best of show winner was a gentleman from France. His piece was a marquetry picture of George Bush Sr. holding up a crying baby. It was so detailed and deserved the best award. All the pieces were top notch. I noticed that most of the awards went to pieces with the “Wow” factor. Like looking at a perfectly restored 57 chevy impala convertible. Wow. Or a Colt 45 six shooter with the ivory handles or that 15 pound walleye that got away. So, I decided that I’m going to shoot higher in my work and add some inlay or marquetry to my furniture. That is what I have been busy with.
This is a jewelry box I made for my wife. It’s mahagony with walnut accents. The bird on a branch is a marquetry panel that I made first and then inlayed it into the top. The marquetry veneers are 1/40″ thick. I bought a package of all different kinds of exotic veneers to use so the colors you see are all real wood colors. No paint or dyes were used. I use a technique called “double bevel” cutting. Using this method eliminates the saw blade kerf or space. I used some scrap mahagony one this first attempt and half way thru the build I saw that it was turning out nice so just kept that in mind as I worked on the marquetry panel. I really enjoy this very detailed kind of work and it adds the “Wow” factor so now it’s on to some bigger stuff. Like a walnut swivel office chair to go with my desk with a touch of marquetry added. I actually have it finished and am now applying the last 3 coats of an oil hand rubbed finish. Some pics to follow.
Cutting The Legs
July 24th, 2010
I have most of the easier pieces cut for my chair. Now onto the more difficult and time consuming parts, the front and rear legs. The rear legs are similar to the Maloof design. The front legs are shaped and sculptured, not turned. I prefer the sculptured front legs as they give the appearance of a chair hugging you. Once again, I’m using Sam Maloof’s design with some changes. You can see closeups of these joints at mahoneywoodworks.com. It is hard sometimes to understand if you haven’t built one of these chairs. I still have to refer back to my first chair from time to time.
In this pic you can see my 1/4″ mdf templates on the material. Don’t worry about waste when making the legs. It’s more important to get the grain running in line with the chair legs. You may have to angle the template on the material to achieve this. When I purchased the wood for this chair I spent time thinking through each piece so I already had this wood in mind for the legs. You will notice that I have the seat joint area on the rear legs flush with the edge of the board. I want a clean edge here to aid in making the leg to seat joint. I want a good edge also to work with the rear leg to arm joint. Both of these cuts are 90 degrees to the seat. When I have the rear leg attached to the seat you can see this relationship. It maybe hard to visualize now. The wood I choose is wide enough for two rear legs so after I make out the legs I will separate them on the band saw. Don’t cut the shapes just yet. After the legs are separated I now have 2 legs ready for the dado joints. I want to make the leg to seat joint while I have a good, straight edge to work with. I will be setting up my table saw with a dado blade and saw sled. My dado blade is set to 3/4″ wide and the depth of the dado is 1/4″ deep. If you look at the seat joint previously written about you will see what I have to match.This pic shows the two legs clamped together after I marked out the dado. Notice the 5 degree angle. The rear legs will be splayed out 5 degrees. I always have to stop and take a second or third look at this joint angle and make sure I’m cutting the correct surface. The angled dado is facing the front of the chair. The straight dado or 90 degrees to the edge of the material will face the side of the seat.
I now separate the two legs and using the table saw sled cut the dadoes. I have a 5 degree tapered wood shim that I use up against the sled fence to maintain the correct degree. I will always clamp the piece to the sled when making cuts so I have no movement. This joint is a vocal point and closely looked at by most woodworkers. We are always checking out each others work. Before I actually cut the leg dado I will make a sample cut on some scrap material, using the digital caliper to verify the depth and width of the cut. I can use this sample piece to see if the dado will fit the seat cutout. The dado should be a snug dry fit. If it’s sloppy it will show up in the end. I find the rear leg to be easier to fit as you are only working with two adjacent sides. The front legs are harder in that they have 3 sides to fit.
I will cut the front legs at the same time. I don’t like changing blades so I want to make all the dadoes once. The procedure for the front legs is the same, mark out the pieces with the templates, keep the leg material square all 4 sides. I will use 8/4 material and add a 3/4 piece to what will be the outer edge of the leg. I now have legs that are 2 1/2″ thick. The width of the leg needs to be sized to the total width of the seat cutout, which in this case is also 2 1/2″. Look at the front seat notch, a 2″ notch plus 1/4″ rabbit on each side equals 2 1/2″ total. This needs to be matched prior to making the dadoes. Once I have the width matched I will use the router table to make the round over on the two inside corners. You only have to round over 2-3 inches, don’t round over any more as you need square edges to complete the rough shaping after the dado has been cut.
This pic shows the layout of the front legs prior to adding the 3/4″ piece to the outside edge. You could cut the dado and then add the 3/4″ piece. I like to add the piece first so that when I start the cutting I can continue with the rough bandsaw cutting of the profile. I make another sample piece that the same size width about 12″ long and route the 1/2″ round over. Check the fit to the seat. I find that some sanding of the rounded over corner will be required for that perfect fit. All these angles, round overs, dadoes and joints will be highly visible to take extra care. When I’m making these joints I think of how Sam Maloof demonstrates his techniques. Watching his videos you get the idea that it’s easy. Well it was for him, but for me, I like the material clamped and the router stationary. I want to be able to play my guitar and piano when I’m finished.
Here I made the dadoes on the 3 edges. Next I will make the 1/2″ round over on the 2 inside corners. Slide the legs over the seat joint and mark the correct corners. I say this as I once rounded the wrong ones. So now I double check. Take care with the router and sneak up on the dado area. You don’t want any blowouts of the corner. Now I’m ready to cut the legs to length and bandsaw the front and side profile. The front legs appear to be short but keep in mind that I will adding a 2″ thick block to the top. This block will be the transition piece to the bottom of the arm. It will be the width of the arm blank and about 6″ – 8″ long. After I bandsaw a profile on one face, I will save the cutoffs and tape them back on. This makes it easier to cut the other face profile. For these profiles I will use 1/8″ mdf templates as they bend. You will lose your drawn profile for one side after the first cut so remarking is required.
This pic shows the added 3/4″ piece on the outer side. I added this piece after making the dadoes. The leg has been band sawed on the front edge. I’ll mark the side profile next and cut to shape. Be careful not to cut into the curved area that meets the dado. Leave it a little proud. After I have all the profiles cut, I will dry fit the legs to the seat and mark with a razor knife the top and bottom of the joints. I can then remove the legs, clamp them in my workbench vise and shape closely to these marks. The final shaping to the seat is after they are glued in. I want to get them as close a possible before glue up as this cuts down on the shaping and sanding to the seat. I find cherry to be harder to shape into the seat than walnut. The darker woods help any imperfections. Don’t use this as an excuse for a poor joint. All the joints should be perfect. I spend most of my time on these pieces while in the dry fit stage. After I have all the profiles cut and sanded to shape I will round over the edges as much as I can staying away from any transitions.
This pic shows the small transition block at glue up to the arm. The arm has been rough shaped, the transition block has been attached to the top of the leg. I first attach the block to the leg using a long screw and epoxy. The block needs to be precut to the front shape of the arm as it will make shaping easier later. You will also notice the curve marks that I use to shape the leg to the underside of the transition block. The arm will be attached to the leg but the leg has not been glued to the seat. After the arm to leg assembly I can now shape the transition block to the arm on my workbench. It is much easier to shape before as you are only dealing with the arm and leg and not the whole chair.
Here you see a finish arm to leg piece and the other leg/arm in the rough. I skipped ahead abit as I need to show the arm process. The arms can be somewhat intimidating but I do enjoy making them. I’ll cover the arms next.
Cutting The Back Braces
July 11th, 2010
The back braces are a focal point of the chair as is the seat, headrest and arms so I want to pick the material with the most eye appeal. The process for cutting the thin strips for the back braces is the same as for the rockers. The difference is in the thickness of the strips. You will need 7 total back braces. Each brace will be made of 4 pcs. The strips should be about 3/8″ divided by 4 or .375 (3/8″) divided by 4 = .094 each. When all 4 strips are laminated together they should be 3/8″ total. I will be drilling 3/8″ holes in the seat and the bottom of the headrest for each brace. In summary, I will cut 28 strips, actually 30 strips as I like to make a few extra, 1 1/2″ wide by .094 in thick about 33″ long. Take your time in selecting your wood for the braces. I like to cut from 1 wide piece and match the front and back of each brace so when they are all laminated and in place on your chair you will see the grain matching. Your material stock can be 4/4 keeping in mind that you won’t see the surface of the 2 inner laminations. First rip your wide stock to 1 1/2″ wide pcs. A 10″ x 33″ pc will work. Mark the front and back of the material before ripping so you can match the grain of all 7 strips. When I have the braces all glued up I will then rip them down to 1 3/8″ wide. I start with 1 1/2″ wide knowing that the glue up will not be perfect but I can use my joiner to plane one edge straight and the rip to the desired width.
These are my back brace glue up forms. I will glue up two complete braces at a time. Use wax paper inbetween braces and your forms so the squeezed out glue will not adhere to them. The small piece on the top form is my template for the ends of each brace. You can also see the spreading glue bottle I use. It rolls the glue out in a nice even layer. The back braces and rockers should be made early on as each glue up requires an overnight before unclamping from the forms. You could make multiple forms if you have enough clamps. I have plenty enough to do while the braces and rockers are in the clamping stage.
Cutting thin strips for the rockers and back braces
May 27th, 2010
After I have the seat finished and sanded to 220 grit I will start the cutting process for the rockers and back braces. I don’t like cutting thin strips. I don’t know of many woodworkers who do. I see lots of discussions in the woodworking forums asking about how to do this safely and with little waste. I make my number one priority safety. Waste is what it is and unless you are in a large production shop I don’t think spending a lot of time worrying about waste from the saw blade matters. The rockers are each made of eight (8) thin strips, laminated up in a form, clamped for 24 hrs and set aside. I only use one set of forms so I have to glue up the rockers in two steps. It’s okay to glue up one rocker, the second rocker, and the back braces on different days as they will be assembled in the very end. I will cut all the strips at one time. Each strip for the rockers will be 1/8″ x 1 1/2″ x 48″. You will need 8 strips per rocker and a few extras for the stacks at each leg connection to the rockers.
The picture shows the different layers and the stack at the leg connection making up the rocker. Here I used a walnut strip as an accent. Each “stack” at the legs will be made of nine (9) pieces total about 10″ long. I add the stacks to the rockers after I glue up the rockers. Set the stack pieces aside until the chair is ready to attach to the rockers. You will want to make sure the chair is perfectly balanced on the rockers first.
I made a jig for cutting the narrow strips. It isn’t fancy but it works.
In the second picture you can see a strip that has been cut still along side the “push leg”. The “push leg” as I call it is on the right side of the blade up against the fence. It is about 30″ long. It could be made 48″ long with a fixed stop block on the end. I will use this same jig when cutting the shorter strips for the back braces. The smaller push block on the left keeps slight pressure on the material as it passes thru the blade. I have an adjustable stop block on the end for different thicknesses of material I’m ripping. Something I noticed when posting these last pics is the saw blade guard plate. You should use a “0” clearance plate which is what is in the second pic. I changed to the 0 clearance plate before ripping the stock. This is very important. Don’t try to rip narrow material without using the 0 clearance plate. You can make your own plate or buy a ready made. I know some who buy the hard plastic cutting boards at Home Depot and make them. I will be trying that next as I need to make some for different size dado cuts. If you have the proper saw blade for ripping you won’t need to use a jointer after each pass. I run the strips through my drum sander with 120 grit paper. My saw cuts a very clean edge so running it through my sander one pass takes care of any inconsistencies. Wow, that’s a big word.
Here you can see all the strips cut and ready for glue up. Notice the walnut middle strips in the center. I like to look all the pieces over and decide which ones will be on top as these will show the most. The others don’t really matter. Now to get my rocker forms. If you are making the forms take your time. This is a critical form to make. The curvature needs to be correct for a smooth rocking motion. You want your chair to rock like it’s on air and not over a bunch of marbles.
Here you can see the eight (8) strips glued up and clamped in the 2 piece form. I use Saran wrap to keep my rockers from sticking to the forms. At some point I may add some metal strips to the form sides to eliminate using the plastic but that is for another day. I”ll set this form aside for 24 hours and start another process. Maybe the back legs. Need to get the templates out again.
I have the templates for the rear and front legs on the material and checking for grain patterns. This is where you may get some waste as you look at the grain direction. Don’t hesitate to use different pieces of material to get a better pattern or grain direction. The tendency is to not have any waste but again, I think it’s more important to get the piece cut from the right section of material. I’m going to stop for today but before I do I want to post my writing desk that I have been busy working on. It has been selected for judging in the San Diego Design in Wood Competition. I’m very happy and excited about this.
Notice the legs. Look familiar? I will make a swivel office chair to match next. I didn’t have the time to get one built before the submittal deadline. I had the pictures of this desk taken by a very good professional photographer. You are only allowed to submit 2 pictures of your work so I thought I would spare no expense in getting my desk accepted. Not sure a chair would be accepted as the selection committee sees a lot of chairs. When I was designing this desk, I tried to keep in mind what Sam Maloof said he looked for when judging furniture pieces. He said he looked for good designs and it’s just as important that the piece is functional. Why make a chair that looks good but is uncomfortable to sit in?
Carving out the seat
March 24th, 2010
It’s been a few months since my last post. I’m finding out that writing takes just as much time as building a piece of furniture. I have been busy making a small size writing desk. I wanted a desk that would be used for writing and some laptop computer work. Before I could get started on my desk, I had to design it. Most of my work as a carpenter, superintendent or project manager in construction started with a set of plans drawn by an architect with all the info one would need to complete the project. Starting without a design is something I had to learn to do. I’m getting a little off the subject of my rocking chair but be patient and read on as I’m getting to it.
I started on a Monday morning sitting in a chair with my drawing notebook, the same notebook I used when taking my first computer class back in 1984 (that is some interesting reading I might add), a small ruler and pencil with a good eraser. Now comes the hard part. Where to start. Well, I actually had the idea for the legs already. I hate to throw out any scraps of nice wood, especially walnut or cherry. I saved the cutoffs from the back legs of a chair because I couldn’t throw them out. I was looking for some scrap one day and grabbed them from the bin and as I held them I had an inspiration. I was looking at an end set of legs for a desk.
These are the inside top cutoffs from the back legs of the rocker build. When the back legs are rough shaped I narrow the inside face about 5/8″ in. I’ll show that process in my next few posts when I get to the leg shaping. If you rotate the pic counter clockwise you will see what I saw at that time. So now I’m feeling like I have a start to a design that is keeping with the type of rocking chairs that I have made. So, here I sit withI my desk complete and ready to take to the photographer for some good pics. I plan on submitting this desk to a woodworking competition that will take place this coming July. Good pictures are important for showing your work to others that can’t see first hand what you spent so much time on. The first thing I want to do when looking at what I think is a very nice piece of art or furniture is touch it. Feel the finish. Some woods just seem to come to life when all the finish has been applied. The grain and patterns that light can change will draw your eyes to differnt parts and areas for a closer look and feel. You can’t get the same feeling when looking at a picture but a good picture helps in that it makes you want to see more. Keep checking back and in a month or so, I’ll post what I hope will be a good picture of my desk. So where was I?…………………oh yah, the carving of the seat. Get ready to get very dusty.
I would suggest you take your seat outdoors. I will be using my 4″ grinder with a medium Kutzall disc. I have already maked out the seat area that will be shaped. The deepest section in the back will be 3/4″ deep and end up 1/2″ deep at the front of the chair. The shape will flair up in the center front. I have small 1/8′ holes drilled into my template at 9 locations that will act as guides for my depths. I use these holes to drill 1/8″ holes to the proper depth. Using a brad point bit will leave a small mark that final sanding will remove. I use my drill press to get the depths correctly drilled. Sam Maloof did this work using his bandsaw to remove a lot of waste prior to glueing up the pieces. I stand corrected again as I was correct in my previous post in that he used a total of 5 pieces for his seats. 4 or 5 doesn’t really matter for me. I think if you are just starting a chair for the first time maybe 4 pieces without bevels would be easier to master. By that I mean the seat blank will be flat. With Sam’s chairs the pieces were beveled on the sides which saved him some grinding work when shaping the seat bottom. You still have to shape the top either way.
I think one thing to keep in mind is that this is a chair I am building and I am free to make any changes I want unless you have a client that has very specific dimensions. I am very inspired by Maloof’s work but also want to make it my work. So, If your seat profile isn’t exactly like mine or his that’s not a bad thing. These are dimensions that work for me. When I get to the actual grinding it may change because of an “oops”. Went to far! Now what? Don’t panic just adjust the matching side or area and keep going. Grab some cheap pine boards to practice and you will find it’s not as hard as it first looks. It still is dusty. Wear a good mask and put on the eye protection. Word of caution, the Kutzall disc will take away skin very quickly. Be mindful of setting down the grinder. Wait until the motor stops. I will take a folding work table outside and clamp the seat to it. Warn the neighbors and fire department first and keep the kids back. You will find that once you start shaping, the grain pattern may change and expose some interesting patterns. You may also encounter some insect holes, knots or other imperfections. Not to worry as it’s wood.
I like to start on the back deepest areas and work my way forward. Picture yourself sitting in wet cement and waiting until it hardens. The impression you would make is what we are trying to achieve. I actually thought about doing something similiar to that with drywall compound and making a mold to look at. After doing a few chairs you kind of get the hang of it. Or, you could get one of those expensive CNC machines that can make thousands of the same piece. Yuk, how boring is that. After you get most of the waste removed you can sit in the seat and feel where you need to shape.
This is the very high tech sander that I use after I get finished with the rough grinding process. It’s a 6″ grinding pad with a 5/8″ bolt for a handle. I will use 60 grit paper to start, then 80 and all the way up to 220 grit and then stop. I want to fit the legs and cut the side and back profiles before finish sanding. I know that when dry fitting the legs and shaping the legs to the seat will make some scratches so I wait until the legs have been shaped and glued to the seat before final sanding.
In this picture you can see how the front seat area rises up to a dull point in the center. When you get to this point in the shaping, hopefully you didn’t run into your seat dowels or biscuits used to join the seat blanks. Not sure I mentioned this earlier in another post. That would be an important tip. Make sure your dowels or biscuits are low enough so that you won’t expose them during the seat shaping. You can also see the sapwood high lighted in the center. This worked well for this chair.