Woodworker's Central
Woodworker's Gazette
Gazette Archive 4/17/98

Book Review: by Doug Smith

Title: Jack Hill's Country Chair Making
Author: Jack Hill
Publisher: David & Charles
Brunel House Newton Abbot Devon

Available through: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.
387 Park Avenue South
New York, NY 10016-8810

Price: $19.95 (Can. $27.95)

I make cabinets for a living, basically just 'boxes', but I have always been drawn to the idea of making chairs yet I have no experience in doing so. I looked at this book to answer two questions: (1) would it inspire me to want to build a chair and (2) would it tell me how?

The answer to both questions is yes... but read on to find out the ups and downs in my coming to that conclusion.

Mr. Hill packs a lot into the Introduction and Part I: History and Techniques, but falls a little short in the Part I portion. I think The History of chairmaking was fascinating but then came 8 pages for 'Tools', accompanied by line drawings. It seemed a bit quick for all the specialized items for chairmaking, from your shaving horse and drawknife to spoon bits and steam-'box'.

The next 13 pages, on Techniques, also seemed to breeze by, with 1 1/2 pages devoted to seat shaping, and 5 paragraphs to seat weaving, not much on the lathe, or how-to on the shaving horse. It seems that Mr. Hill assumes that there are things which you ought to know, and that you are not a complete novice. Out of the first 43 pages only 25 addressed actual chairmaking applications; as I mentioned - a quick run through.

But then comes Part II: The Projects! We are introduced to 13 designs ranging from stools to building up to the double bow Windsor. Here we get visual treats - first a picture of the 'model' project and then an excellent, full-page color photo of Jack Hill's chair. Mr. Hill then leads us step by step through building the project. After following along, I knew I could build the stool! And I was really wowed by his rendition of the comb back chair, and yes I think I could build this one also. He has presented his projects in an order so that you build your experience as you complete each project, (the comb back chair was project #4). I think if I was to build each project in order, by the time I arrived at the last, the double bow Windsor, I could build it also.

The approach to each project is orderly and by the numbers. There is a drawing of each component in the chair, with its dimensions in inches and millimeters. (As Jack Hill notes,"a cumbersome but necessary dichotomy.") Each step is concisely stated with special notes in areas to watch out for. Mr. Hill has also introduced something new to me, in my readings of chairmaking, how to sight the splayed leg angles. For each chair he gives a diagram of your sight angle and the degree from that angle, simplifying things in my mind considerably. This is where he goes to the drill press and angle jig, bringing power to country chair making. I picture Mr. Hill as enjoying hand tool work, but as not being a slave to the Neanderthal ways.

So, yes, I was inspired by some of the gorgeous chairs in Part II: The Projects, but feel that I need to master my own techniques in the shop to be able to build these chairs. Ahhh, all woodworking is practice, practice, practice. See ya in the shop!

Doug Smith

You can visit Doug's website to find more great stuff about his woodworking.

Editor's note: Sterling has graciously provided many new books for review to our members. If you would like to see what new books they're offering to woodworker's, please visit their website.

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