Monday, February 28, 2011

Getti'n jiggy with it

It's important to know your limits. Sometimes I can design something I need to finish a project, sometimes I rely on my woodworking support staff.

Here they were when the shop was very young.
(I always made them wear ties, most of them despised me)

And here they are now - 2011
(Mikey in the center handles most of the dangerous cutting)

I've made a total of two jigs in my life. One was for a lap joint, the other for a recessed clock face. Jigs are relatively easy to make. For this chair I'll need to mortise 4 holes for the connecting tenons. I'll be using a 3/4 double fluted bit, and things need to be pretty darn exact when it comes to cutting the mortises.

My staff searched the Internet for a good design. They saw a few of these types of designs, and it seemed simple enough, adjustable, and low tech. All we needed was a piece of Acrylic (Perspex in European terms) to act as the base, and two wood guides for the sides.

Here's the design we're going to copy

This jig makes it easy to see what's being cut, as it's clear, and I can make very small adjustments to the guides.

An hour later and I've finished the base. Tomorrow I will try and find two nice pieces of wood for the guides, and some wing nuts and bolts to hold it all together.

Attached to the router

Almost done!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

More machining

This morning I visited Truxtun again to have the wood planed to final thickness, and cut to size.

The seat before planing


and after

Now time to trim the seat to final size

All the wood is now ready for mortise & tenon cutting, and dowling

Next up, lots of jig making!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Rietveld designs live on

Gerrit Rietveld died in 1964 at the age of 76. he designed the Steltman chair just a year earlier.

(Text via Radio Netherlands Worldwide)

What’s the point of a chair that isn’t comfortable to sit on? Gerrit Rietveld designed his furniture with ordinary people in mind, but they must have asked themselves this question. Straight lines, primary colours and a rigid, hard seat. The world-acclaimed Dutch furniture designer and architect dreamed of mass production, but instead, his work was embraced by the elite. His grandson Egbert ensures that Rietveld furniture is still available throughout the world.

“In 2008, I was at a design fair in Japan. I saw thousands of Japanese visitors passing through each day. Often, when they looked at the ‘Red and Blue Chair’ or the ‘Military’ chair, they’d say, “Rietveld”. Strange that so many people immediately recognised his work.”

Egbert Rietveld works at the airline, KLM, but has also set up a company to make and sell furniture designed by his grandfather.

Egbert Rietveld, and a Steltman chair (possibly life size)

Gerrit Rietveld (1888-1964) enjoyed world fame as an architect and furniture designer. His ‘Red and Blue Chair’ (1918) has become a real icon, and possibly the most copied chair in the world.

Rietveld kept in touch with many innovative architects and artists at home and abroad. They shared ideas and sought to explore together unknown territory in the world of design. The architect joined an artists’ movement called 'De Stijl' in 1919. The painter Piet Mondriaan was also a member.

They used straight lines and mostly primary colours, alongside black, white and grey. Rietveld hoped that his simple designs would catch on with the general public.

Grandson Egbert adds:
“He was always concerned with production. For ordinary people. He didn’t want his products to be expensive and simple. He made one mistake: the public ignored him. Ordinary people thought his chair was too simple, too clean-lined, too Spartan. Maybe even too cheap…like his ‘crate’ furniture during the Depression, which could be bought in kit form or just as a drawing, to assemble yourself from bits of spare wood. But this type of furniture was only bought by the very rich.”

Later in his career, Rietveld distanced himself somewhat from the strict guidelines of the movement. Ida van Zijl: “Rietveld did say that he first had to break everything down, go right back to basics. Later, he began to feel freer in his quest for the perfect use of space. Then came the return of organic materials and round, more fluent form in his work.”

Rietveld went on to experiment with different styles, but it’s his work from the De Stijl period for which he received worldwide acclaim. He also used curved triplex and tubes in his furniture. A small Italian company manufactures some of these designs. But Egbert Rietveld wanted to see more of his grandfather’s work on the market. So, he set up Rietveld-by-Rietveld and has attracted customers from all over the world. No imitation, he stresses, but simply production. True to the spirit of his grandfather.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A good reason to get a new router

I've had the same router for the last few years. It's a Craftsman, and for most projects it's worked ok.

For this chair I need to cut very precise mortise & tenon joints. I will need to use a plunge router, so that rules this router out. The wood is very hard, the bit is a large 3/4", and I have to go about 1 1/2 inches in, so it will really push the routers abilities.

I looked at routers on line, and thought I was stuck paying around $200 for a Bosch or a DeWalt, BUT then I thought I'd see what Craftsman has to offer. Since it was a holiday, they offered a 2 HP, 1/4 + 1/2 inch bit size, standard router with an additional plunge base for only $80! Sweet deal. It gets good reviews online, and from the part numbers used, it's supposedly made for Sears by Porter Cable.

Sears No. 17543

I haven't even gotten to the best part. Is it the sawdust collection attachments? Nope. Is it the really crappy soft carrying bag it comes with? Nope. Is it the green light that glows telling you it's plugged in? Nope.

Take a look at this photo shot in the dark. Isn't that the coolest? Blue LED lights built in to the router. Now it's much easier to see all the mistakes right as you're making them.

It looks like it's going to lift off at any second!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Planing, jointing, and gluing begins

Today I picked up the White Oak wood. It took a bit of jointing and planing to square the wood, and it's almost perfect. I say almost because it has not been planed down to the final thickness. That will be done when the seat has been glued up. At that point all the pieces will be planed together

One of the three cut pieces

When I lifted one of the three pieces of White Oak I laughed. It is INCREDIBLY HEAVY!
Imagine a sumo wrestler holding a huge piece of lead. Then imagine his anvil selling coach came along and jumped on his back. It's that heavy.


Truxtun Hildner is my go to guy for my hardwood needs. He has a shop in Martinez, Calif. called The Hardwood Resource Inc. If you're in the N. Calif. area I highly recommend him. Not only can he obtain any wood you might need, he can answer any woodworking question as well. He has a really friendly golden retriever too!

Truxtun planing the wood

I've laid the pieces out for the seat, and placed 1/2 dowels where they will go. I decided to use dowels instead of biscuits when I found out how heavy this is. I think it will add support. The dowels are 4", but I will cut them down to a smaller size before gluing. There's no way I can get that dowel in that far in without the glue and friction stopping it.

Laying out dowel pattern

As I'm laying out the dowels, the doorbell rings. It's my neighbors boyfriend who has brought me two small cupcakes that she made. I set them down next to my tiny seat parts, on my tiny chair. This must be fate. What are the odds you get small cupcakes as you work on a small chair?


Back to work. I use my new self centering jig to drill the first set of holes.


I used the dowel centers to mark the corresponding holes in the other piece. I said a prayer, and put dowels in to test the alignment. It worked. I then glued and clamped the first half of the seat. Tomorrow I will do the other half, then glue both of those pieces together.

Glued up, and resting

Next post- plunge router time!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

My chair has arrived

It just happens to be in a solid form at the moment! The piece is 10 ft. / 304.8 cm long, and 9 in. / 22.9 cm wide. It cannot be cut or jointed until Monday, so then I will pick it up and laminate the seat together first.

In raw form

It looks rough at the moment. That wont last very long.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I'm getting a pretty sweet discount

At least that's how I see it. The auction below sold the Steltman Chair for a whopping $23,691 USD / 17,433 EURO. That's incredible. As I see it mine will cost approximately $160.00 USD / 117 EURO. Of course after my death mine will be worth approx. $20.00, or used for kindling.

That's a good auction!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Let's talk about heights

I was doing a small mock up of the Stetlman Chair today. It's small. Smaller than I thought. People back in 1963 must have been very tiny. From the looks of it it would be perfect for the person who works with Santa in the North Pole. I never thought I'd sit much on it, as much as I'd throw a jacket across it. Now I think it would be perfect for holding a pair of gloves (size small), a set of car keys, or maybe a can of soup. That's ok. For reference I made a chart showing the chair's relative height.

Reference chart.

Monday, February 14, 2011

It's good to have family

Over the weekend I was able to borrow some tools that I'll need to build this chair. I have carpenters squares, but not one that is really large. My father has one that is perfect for this project. I have borrowed it, along with a smaller one I may not need.


My brother in law was kind enough to loan me his Dewalt Biscuit Jointer. This is an important tool I need to assemble the seat part of the chair. The seat will be 4 separate boards glued together using biscuits and wood glue. If I didn't have this tool I'm not sure what I would use. I'm off to a good start.

Borrowed Biscuit Jointer!

Excellent tool loaning Brother In Law (and chef extraordinaire!)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Zig Zag hacking

The Zig Zag is a pretty impressive chair. Small, solid, and literally cutting edge. I wish I could afford a Cassina reproduction, but maybe someday I will try building one. Until then, here are some different interpretations of the design.

Cassina version

A burnt version

If you are an elderly Rietveld fan, you may like this one

This one blends two Rietveld designs into one

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Baby chair in action

The future Dutch Finance Minister Witteveen in the kids chair Rietveld made for him.

It sure helps when you have accurate plans to work from...

There's nothing worse than having to guess a dimension. There have been times I've tried to re-create a piece of furniture, and haven't had actual sizes to work with. Most times it doesn't look quite right when finished.

Fortunately I have the plans for the Steltman Chair. These come from the how to build Rietveld book (see below post).

Here's the first page:

It took me a few minutes to look at the dimensions and understand what was going on. I've never heard the term "to the gain" before. A short translation: "a.(1x) 44 x 100 x 635 (back post, 600 to gain)" means A is the name of the piece, (1X) means you'll need one of these, 44 x 100 x 635 is the size in MM of the piece that you start with. The "gain" size is shorter, meaning the size (in this case 600) is the FINISHED length. The The extra 35mm is the size of the tenon that inserts into the matching piece of wood.

"to gain"

Here's the second page, and I have added dimension conversions from MM to inches: (if you notice a mistake in my calculations please let me know!)

Here is an exploded view of the chair, with each piece labeled:

My wood supplier wont have my wood until next Sat, so in the meantime I will get some other items together...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Getting my tools together...

I went to my local hardwood supplier, but they were out of 2" White Oak. I should have some by next week.

In the meantime, I will try and find the tools I need to build the chair. So far I've picked up some nice 4" long by 1/2 diameter hardwood dowels. These will be perfect for joining the pieces together. I don't think they make many dowels that are larger in diameter than 1/2".

To drill holes at 90 degrees, it's important to have some kind of guide. Some drill free hand, or use a drill press, but since I don't have a press, I decided to pick up a Self Centering Doweling Jig. This little device aligns itself directly in the center of the piece of wood, and gives a 90 degree angle to the wood for drilling. It will help me a lot. Once the holes are drilled on one side, you insert the small silver dowel points (they're the round pointy things in the photo). Then you press the pieces of wood together, and it makes a small mark so you know where to drill the other piece to be fitted.

I'm not sure yet how I will handle the mortise & tenon joints that are required. I might invest in a plunge router, and use that in conjunction with a table saw.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Who is this Rietveld guy?

Gerrit Rietveld was the son of a joiner and began work as an apprentice to his father. He afterwards set up in business as a cabinet-maker. Rietveld designed his famous "Red and Blue Chair" Red and Blue Chair in 1917. In 1918, he started his own furniture factory, and changed the chair's colors after becoming influenced by the "De Stijl" movement, of which he became a member in 1919, the same year in which he became an architect. He designed his first building, the "Rietveld Schröder House", in 1924, in close collaboration with the owner "Truus Schröder-Schräder". Built in Utrecht on the Prins Hendriklaan 50, the house has a conventional ground floor, but is radical on the top floor, lacking fixed walls but instead relying on sliding walls to create and change living spaces. The design seems like a three-dimensional realization of a "Piet Mondrian" painting. The house has been a "UNESCO" "World Heritage Site" since 2000.

Rietveld broke with 'De Stijl' in 1928 and became associated with a more functionalist style of architecture, known as Nieuwe Zakelijkheid The same year he joined the Congrès Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne. He designed the "Zig-Zag" chair in 1934 and started the design of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, which was finished after his death. He built hundreds of homes, many of them in the city of Utrecht. His work was neglected when rationalism came into vogue, but he later benefited from a revival of the style of the 1920s thirty years later.

His most famous design is probably the Red Blue chair, or the Zig Zag chair. Both chairs are reproduced today, and are available through Cassina.

Red Blue

Zig Zag

Rietveld, sitting in one of his early Red Blue prototypes:

The chair begins...

I'm a fan of Gerrit Rietveld, and admire his simple geometric furniture. Twenty years ago I built his Red Blue chair, although mine was finished in natural maple. Now I'm going to try my hand at building his Steltman Chair.

The Steltman chair was designed by Rietveld for the Steltman Jewelry store located in the Hague. Made in both left-handed and a right-handed version, the chairs for the jeweler Steltman were mirror images of each other and originally covered in white leather. After Rietvelds death, the chair was reproduced in a simple wood design. It is available today from the Rietveld-by-Reitveld company Click Here, run by his family, to produce quality furniture reproductions from his original designs. The Steltman chair costs approximately $2450.00 USD.

I will be using plans from this book:

Available from Amazon: Click here

Here is a picture of the original chair, covered in an off white leather:

Here is how I hope my finished chair looks:

Here are two oak versions with painted finishes: