Sunday, November 16, 2008

Brian Boggs seminar

At the Woodworking in America conference, Brian Boggs lead a seminar called "Understanding Wood for Chairbuilding." Listening to Boggs talk about trees is like listening to the Car Talk guys talk about carburetors. He knows them inside and out. I think if Boggs hadn't become one of the leading chairmakers of his generation, he would have been a chemist or some other kind of scientist. I have to admit a lot of what he said went straight over my head. But I did come away having learned a few interesting things.

Boggs harvests his chair parts from specific parts of a log. He described it as being similar to the way you cut up a chicken. You don't take a whole chicken, cut it into slabs and cook it. If you did that, you'd get white meat, dark meat, bones and cartilage, organs and all the rest in each piece and it would be a mess. Instead, you cut off the wings, you cut off the legs, you cut out the breast and so on. It's similar with a tree. He gets the back legs, which he steam-bends into the shape that is the signature of a Boggs chair, from the lower part of the tree. He gets slat material from higher up in the log. He gets front legs from quartersawn sections of lumber.

Another fascinating topic was his discussion of end grain. I've always followed the gospel that end grain is not a glue surface. That's generally true except for when hide glue is used. Boggs gave an example of a contest he heard about in which woodworkers were challenged to join two pieces of wood at a right angle to produce the strongest joint. They could use any method they wanted. All the joints were tested for strength. The woodworkers had entered all kinds of complex mortise and tenon arrangements, dovetails, pinned joints, etc. Someone laminated the corner. But the entry that won, and won big, was a simple miter joint fastened with hide glue.

The trick is that you apply a thin coat of hide glue to all surfaces of the mortise and tenon and let that dry. The end grain pulls in some of the glue and bonds with it. Then you coat all surfaces again and assemble the joint. The new layer of glue re-activates the surface (and just the surface) of the old coat. The action of hide glue is to pull things together. Boggs said that if you dribble hide glue onto glass, it will chip out pieces of the glass as it dries. I had no idea it had that kind of strength. Pure protein, as Boggs described it.

Boggs went into all the other kinds of glue that he uses and lots more about steaming and chairmaking, but it's far too much for me to go into here. Suffice it to say that it was great to hear from someone so knowledgeable about his craft. And it's all the more inspiring when you know that Boggs started with the book Make a Chair Out of a Tree and about $50 worth of tools and built his business from there.

You can see his catalog at You can see one of my posts on Boggs here.


Satin Matt said...

Great post...very informative

RBookout said...

The gluing information was one of the interesting elements of this talk for me, as well, and I think there'll be a lot of "old brown glue" sold as a result...another item that was interesting to me was that, when joiniing wood, Brian thinks not just cross grain/long grain, but radial/circumferential/long grain since circumferential growth with humidity can be twice the radial growth.