The process of taking raw material and turning it into something functional has always found me to be a magical process. So it is extraordinary to have the opportunity to first split a tree trunk and then spend my days transforming its parts into a finely crafted piece of furniture that is sure to be lost for a lifetime.
Given that I’m in the serene Tennessee countryside, surrounded by hand tools and good company, it’s no wonder I keep coming back strengthened and in peace.
Greg Pennington is a master chair maker in Hendersonville, TN, whom I only met a year ago, but who I feel have known lifetimes from. Not only is his friendly demeanor infectious, but he is also an incredible teacher full of valuable knowledge and information.
Greg’s building always starts the same way, with dividing a tree trunk and turning it into a piece of furniture. Not only will he teach you how to use the traditional tools for the task, but he will teach you why.
If you split a tree trunk along its grain and let it determine its path, it is worlds stronger than a similar piece that you cut on a band saw or table saw. And if you are interested in building a chair that will last a lifetime and some more, then this force is required. This is just a golden nugget of information that I learned from Greg in class.
I am inclined to feel at home in a business because it is very my happy place. However, Greg’s store brings a new level of joy and convenience that I don’t experience anywhere else. The atmosphere and the work make me feel relaxed, peaceful and even meditative. It’s an environment where I can potentially joke with a friend on an adjacent shaving horse or sit in a slight silence and listen to the unique tool sounds.
Greg makes the chair more accessible by providing templates for a variety of chairs, fixtures, and rockers, including this one. The description of Greg’s schedule and the templates available contain links.
Greg’s class gives me the opportunity to use a number of tools that I don’t usually include in my normal projects. Since I mainly use power tools, it is interesting and exciting for me to see and understand which hand tools take the place of which power tools.
I’ve done power carving before, which was removing a lot of material at once to shape something, and it was very satisfying. But it’s just another kind of satisfaction to use a Scorpio and feel like you’re removing a piece at a time.
Then go to a van to make up for the scorpion’s rough tracks.
Then go for a spoke shave to remove the rough markings from the Travisher.
to then go to a card scraper and have an unmarried seat that looks sleek and flawless.
This very traditional Windsor chair is easy to make in the sense that Greg won’t let you mess it up, but it is a lot of work. It’s full of details that require patience and attention, but the fact that it requires so much deliberate thinking and moving makes the week’s outcome all the more satisfying.
It’s a little surreal to me that I’ll have this item for the rest of my life. Wherever I go, this chair will be with me. Even if I’m over, it could also go through someone else’s lifetime. I can only think of one or two other things that have the same longevity. This is special, and my hands made it out of a tree.
After perfecting the chair, I stuck to the traditional Windsor style and co-painted it Real milk color. First with two red layers then two black layers. The idea behind the color scheme is that when wear marks show up on small areas of the chair, a light red instead of bare wood shows through.
I use Real Milk Paint for this finishing touch. Real Milk Paint is known for its traditional color palette based on antique furniture. This is an eco-friendly, non-toxic powder paint that just adds water. The fact that it is in powder form means it will not last and gives you the freedom to mix the amount you need from project to project. It has an extremely fast drying time of 30 minutes so I could do all of my paints in a single day instead of extending the steps over several days. I love Real Milk Paint because it acts like a stain on wood by being absorbed by the wood instead of lying on it. This allows all of the intricate details of the piece to be seen through the color as well.
If you’re curious, the tape is applied to the bottom before painting so after polishing and prepping for oil I have a clean place to sign and date my work before putting a few coats of oil on it.
If you are looking for a project as a relaxing haven or as a unique learning experience I highly recommend it take a class from Greg. Not only will you be able to take with you a mind full of useful information, but you’ll also find an heirloom piece of furniture that you will always be proud of.
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