Maine, Part 1 – Chairmaking

The Backstory

Sometime shortly after I was diagnosed with glioblastoma, I also found out that a spot had opened up in the chair-making workshop at the Maine Center for Furniture Craftsmanship. When the school announced the class and, specifically, that it was being taught by Reed Hansuld and Adrian Ferrazzutti, I was psyched. (Reed was the lead instructor for the entire 12-week furniture-making intensive and Adrian was his co-instructor for the 6-week case piece project embedded in those 12 weeks. And, man, were those guys ever fun to learn from. )

Somehow, though, I had waited too long to register and had to be put on the waitlist. Well, now was my chance, so I grabbed it. Nothing to inject a little urgency into your life like a cancer diagnosis! The R’s and I would be off to Maine for two weeks in the middle of July!

Preparing

If I’m being completely honest, taking a class at CFC is at least partly a thinly veiled excuse to acquire more tools. And buy books. I had a lot of time on my hands, so I picked up a copy of “Just One Good Chair” (whether you know it or not, you’ve seen several of Hans Wegner’s chairs. They’re everywhere).

Some tools were also purchased. But, I assure you their acquisition was entirely justified.

I started flipping back through my notebooks and recreated a couple of the most promising sketches just to get some ideas out. I’m not ashamed to admit that that chair in the upper right is a blatant ripoff of @mokkouyamagen’s work. It’s beautiful; of course I would try to copy it.

Notebook sketches of simple chairs and curve forms

I emailed Reed and Adrian to let them know about my diagnosis to be as up-front as possible, and also just so they would know in case of any kind of medical emergency. When I arrived, I got the biggest hugs from both of them and damned near started crying on the spot.

Should have checked the chemo calendar…

I had only overlooked one, itsy-bitsy, tiny detail. The first week of the workshop was also the start of the first cycle of chemotherapy. You know, the one where the dose I was taking during radiation doubles? Right.

I spent the last few days of the first week of class fighting cresting waves of nausea, struggling to eat enough calories, and just generally kicking myself for thinking this was a good idea. Oh, I also made some 1:4 scale drawings and a poplar mock-up…

The process of making a chair

One of the (many) things I love about making furniture, is how it forces me out of my engineering brain. My engineering brain is so tempted to draw, design, and perfect every little detail before I mill the first board.

But, what I’ve learned from Reed and Adrian is at a certain point, you’ve just got to jump in and start making something. You’ve got to look at it in 3D, walk around it, touch it, sit in it, break it apart, cut it up a bit, and screw it back together. You have to play with it.

Where I landed

I knew going into the whole experience two weeks wouldn’t be enough time to finish a chair. Even then, I may still have converged too quickly. In the end, what I ended up with is a design for a Danish lounge chair with a deep enough seat that anyone (who am I kidding, I designed it specifically for Big R) can sit in it and cross their legs (“criss cross applesauce” as the toddlers say).

Because I want to build a shop at home, I decided not to make another iteration of the mockup but rather a set of jigs I could use to make the chair parts back at home. The gallery below shows the final full-scale side view and the pattern-routing jigs I was able to finish before the workshop ended.

Oh and…

The R’s and I still managed to find some time to go mackerel fishing in Boothbay harbor, complete a solar system puzzle, and have delicious coffee and the absolute best breakfast sandwich in existence at Seafolk Coffee. It was exhilarating and exhausting.

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