4. Have Many Seats!
I have done many different jobs in my short life. Sometimes it feels like I have lived just as many lives: bartender, tutor, beach-bum, scientist, businessman, teacher. As far away as I feel from those past lives I have to remind myself that they are all still within me each with their own lessons, each with their own set of experiences, skills and unexpected twists...¶
For the last few years I was working at a small alternative school as a long-term sub. In 2017 I found myself filling in for a Technology Education teacher who could not continue in the position. As a science educator I found the transition to another STEM subject easy. However, at the end of the year the Senior Tech Teacher announced his retirement. Everyone's first question was if I was taking the vacancy next school year. After some thought I decided to take the position as an official staff member. Soon after realizing one thing: I would have to take over the wood shop. The only power tools I'd used before was a power drill. I hadn’t spent much time in that classroom and now I would be expected to teach students how to use the equipment to fabricate solutions to their class work. After a millisecond of pure panic a wave of excitement washed over me as I realized this was finally an opportunity to learn how to wood work! Woodworking had been on my bucket list forever. My grandfather, a stone mason, was very handy but I was too young to learn. I grew older but wood-shop had been eliminated from all of my junior and senior high schools and as an adult I didn't have either the time, space or money to pursue it. The school district gave me safety training on the machines but I didn't feel I had a firm enough grasp on how to use them to create anything. Wanting to do the best job I could for my students, I felt like my only options was to sign up for a carpentry class at the local community college.¶
The first day of school is interesting no matter the age or the place. It is the same double-checking of paperwork, awkward introductions, curiously pensive looks that says, "God I hope this is the right class." That one late person that couldn't find the classroom because they found the wrong entrance to the building, because they parked in the other parking lot, because they hadn't checked the schedule since they signed up for the class a couple weeks ago. 🤓¶
…Any way this would become my home for 9 weeks, three hours every Monday night from September to November.¶
Class was held at the local technical high school and stepping inside the massive open space that held a small house that was under construction, I thought to myself how cool it would have been to learn this stuff in high school. (Also support your child going to trade school. As an educator I work hard to de-stigmatize technical schools and debunk the notion that the "less successful" kids go to Tech schools...BULL SHIT! Your child will fare just as well as long as they are doing something that they can engage in. And there are so many programs that will offer free or near free training. Allowing them to learn a skill without them owing their life to Sallie Mae!... *deep breath* rant over.)¶
My instructor Tim, an Irish expat and full-time carpenter, revealed that our semester project would be building an Adirondack chair. Furniture, COOL! I was game but thinking of the chair and the size of my car (I drive a sedan) I wasn't sure how I'd get it home... But that would be a problem for the future and I had about 9 weeks to figure it out...¶
Not sure what this look is perhaps its the eye of the tiger-- ready to turn that pile of wood behind me into a chair. Or, maybe it’s my disbelief that we will be on the machines the first night.¶
We started the class by going over some safety rules and introduction to using the tools. This was the second safety briefing I'd had in as many months and was so surprised how ...brief they are.¶
For all the many ways one can dismember themselves covering all the do's and don't to prevent such a catastrophe does not take that long to do. I'll admit I am also a little OCD about safety cause 1) SAFETY and 2) I've met the tip of a whirling blade... twice!¶
I worked at a deli twice upon a time and the tips of my right thumb and fore finger have been nicked. Even as I type this the memory makes me shutter and the tips of those fingers begins to tingle in an eerie way. I am grateful to have all of my fingers and feel lucky because it could have been MUCH worse. I say that to say this: I TAKE SAFETY VERY SERIOUSLY! I have no intention on testing my luck a third time.
I was concerned that my instructor hadn't worn his hardhat earlier that day as he started the project with the side members, the most complicated cut in the plans. Not only does it include several curves and specific angle cuts that must be done twice, symmetrically. The side members have multiple duties: they are the back legs and the support system for the sitting portion of your seat. To make matters worse there is nothing I hate more than a lopsided chair or table, wobbling insistently because they aren't level ...so no pressure, right?
The trick is to draw one and cut them both at the same damn time!¶
Same thing with the arm rests. you can clamp them together and use a jigsaw or screw the two boards to one another and cut them on the band saw.¶
The pieces shown are the cross pieces. They will support the back slats of the chair. The lower crosspiece and a rear seat slats work together almost clamping the back slats in place. The rear seat slat is the first piece to become the seat of the chair.¶
The larger piece is for the upper rear cross piece that will support the back slats and the arm rests. Its curved counterpart is discarded.¶
Also photographed is the measuring tape and speed square Tim suggested we buy for the class...money well spent and I still use them today!¶
The only thing I knew about these types of chairs is they were for relaxing which I immediately connected to because that is my favorite pastime. #internationalmanofliesure People speak of them as if they are Lazy Boy recliners but that always confused me because they were hard and don't recline...? 🤔¶
With relaxation in mind I sanded the arms down to a smooth finish using a larger curved router bit on top and smaller one along the underside. I wanted the armrest to gently compliment the curve of my hand.¶
This is one of the legs it was rounded off because I thought about my young nephews running and play-fighting and having sharp wooden edges around didn't seem like a good combo...plus sharp angles don't make anyone relax. Honestly, would you rather run your bare leg against a smooth rounded edge or a sharp 90-degree angle? ...I'll wait... ⌚¶
I once saw a shirt that said "sawdust is man-glitter..." I approve that message! Saw dust can be glitter for anyone but I prefer it to actual glitter. You can never get rid of actual glitter😡¶
With so many pieces completed I can begin to assemble them. Attaching the rear cross brace to the side members and the front cross piece, begins to creates the core of what will become the majority of the chair’s base.¶
Adding the legs, arm rests and upper cross brace completes the base of the chair.¶
This handsome devil knows he's on his way to having a beautiful chair.¶
I went looking for paint schemes because I'm not from a people who've ever owned Adirondack chairs...Until recently, I didn't know the chair's origins are based off another chair, the Westport, made by a guy named Tomas Lee. Where you ask? In the shadows of the Adirondack mountains, I'd say!¶
I primarily have viewed them as the weirdly heavy lawn chairs. As a kid we used folding chairs or rod iron patio furniture. These chairs were meant to be plopped down and not moved. I associate them with places like the Poconos (probably from watching too many summer vacation movies from the 80's). When the discussion in class about color came up I had no idea how to proceed. What colors do other people use? Dunno, however, like with all of life's questions I asked my friend Google and the results I got were very... bright. I get it, summer. Bright colors. It makes sense but this chair was not going to be at my vacation home and I didn't want to relieve the 80's every time I looked at it. I fell in love with this picture of this two-toned chair. Of all of the images google provided, this was the only one that made sense.¶
A quick trip to the home of consumerist intent to pick up stains at everyday low prices… After considering the many options I decided on ebony and summer oak.¶
In the store I realized I had no idea how much stain I needed. I decided to buy the smallest one available that way I could buy a couple and return anything I didn't use.
I started with my back slats, they easily fit in my car and I could take them home to paint them in the basement.¶
I'd never really used a stain before but after a few YouTube videos I feel confident enough to begin. I learned that treating the wood with mineral spirits first would help clean the wood as well as bring out the color variations in the wood when staining. Which is great because I'd selected my back slats based on their wild grain patterns.¶
After a coat of mineral spirits it was time to stain. The internet let me know that the goal with stains is to avoid multiple brush strokes. Long sweeping brush strokes would be the name of the game. This would not be like painting a picture. I needed to be intentional and deliberate to get a good seamless stain.¶
That's a sexy piece of wood. 😉¶
Once the stain dried you had a noticeably difference the color that elevated the natural tones in the wood and made the grain pronounced in an understated way.¶
I took the slats back to class to work on positioning them correctly on the chair. Any doubt I had about the subtle difference the stain made was made very clear when placed next to the remaining untreated parts of my chair. My instructor even remarked that he would never expect such brilliant results from staining pine. In my head, I brushed my shoulders off ...cuz' I do thangs!¶
Assembling in class let me see what how the chair was coming together as well as pre-drilled holes to disassemble later when it was time to stain the remaining parts.¶
...Purdy! Getting the positioning of the back slats perfect takes a bit of finesse starting from the center you line up the middle slat and fan out the other four slats using lots of clamps. It helps if you can find something to act as a spacer.¶
Back to the basement. Time to stain the base. I began by removing the arm rests and upper rear cross piece with the mineral spirits. I typically like to stain and paint before I assemble because I don't like seeing paint wedged in corners or missed spots from where the brush couldn’t reach. I did not completely disassemble the base before staining for a number of reasons 1) all the parts would be black and 2) I did not want to take the chance of weakening the already bolted and secured pieces and end up with a wobbly chair. ...Oh yeah and... 3) the instructor made me glue the parts together while assembling. 😒¶
After a coat of spirits and time to dry it was now the moment of truth ...adding the ebony stain. This stain did not behave like the other because the ebony was a mixture of stain and polyurethane so it was a bit thicker and therefore brush strokes would be very visible if I was not mindful during application.¶
I made a point to brush with the wood grain for the most part I had no issues. Looking closer aome part showed some wood grain but mostly long brush strokes. 😣 This was not what I wanted-- I had to change techniques. I sanded and started over.
As much as I wanted to fight the air I accepted it as part of the learning process. This time, instead of a paint brush I used an old cloth and rubbed the stain into the wood.¶
I was much happier with the end results.¶
I took the stained piece back to class for the final assembly and the last day of class. At last, I could see the final result. And, I got several compliments on my color choice. I also noticed that some of my classmates had chosen to go with the "summer" paint scheme I'd seen online. 😎¶
The next day I took my chair to work to show my students what hard-work determination and craftsmanship looked like. What it looks like to try something new, how learning never stops and how good it feels to accomplish something. I even used many of these photos in a PowerPoint to illustrate my journey.¶
It was also a flex to show them I knew what I was doing and worth listening too. 💪🏾 😉¶
Oh! and for those of you wondering how I got the chair home, much less to the school (and back)... one night in October I was going to see the movie “It” --alone cause I'm a G-- but I never make it because a cab driver backed into me at a stoplight.🙄 So, I needed bodywork done on my car and that meant a rental. While the work was done I had an SUV to haul around my new creation. Things just kinda work out for me. What can I say? I do thangs!¶
The kids I worked with are not easily impressed but showing this project to them and telling them that they are completely capable of building something similar really piqued many of their interests. I had several coworkers test out my chair. Many asked if I was taking orders to build them a set for their homes. The school nurse remarked that she didn't like Adirondack chairs because they were uncomfortable and that mine was different --she loved it!¶
How do you know you've crafted intrigue? ...When you turn skeptics into believers... And if the haterz don't believe you tell them to have many seats.✌🏾¶
What do you think of the chair? Would you sit in it? Do you think you could make one? What are some other color combinations you think would be awesome on a chair like this? Let me know below.