Wednesday, July 27, 2011

What the Spokeshave Gives, It Can Suddenly Take Away!

In almost every one of my seven day rocker classes there is a student who brings a spokeshave. They always ask why I don't recommend use of a spokeshave to shape spindles and other rocker parts. The next question is usually "Can I use mine?" After demonstrating the proper use of the shave, everyone is full of excitement because they have been saved from the demon rasp.

The spokeshave is almost the perfect shaping hand tool. What it can do in the experienced hand is to execute almost finished surfaces, efficient fairing of inside and outside curves, crowned and rounded over surfaces and beautiful cuts on end grain. Wow! All of these cuts make up the process of shaping rocker spindles. Then why don't I use it in my DVDs?

Windsor chairmakers use the spokeshave for shaping spindles almost to the exclusion of other possibilities. Do they know something I don't?

Back to spokeshave use in class. So, I generally give permission and the exuberant woodworker starts out rounding over the front of the spindle by making the facets that I teach. They sail along and everyone is impressed with the work and suddenly the shave grabs the reversing grain and without the experience to feel it before it before it lifts and pulls a big chunk of reversing grain out .......... Yuck! We have TEAR OUT!

The spokeshave is one I use and love. It can be used to tremendous advantage shaping rocking chair spindles. The problem is one of great risk for the user who can't easily feel the difference in the slicing of the iron and the tearing of the grain as it is being lifted by the iron. It is subtle and in an instant can ruin a project. I want all woodworkers to become proficient in using the spokeshave and enjoy the beauty of its use. The rocker class with the clock running, seven spindles to make and limited resources is not the place to learn. Unlike Windsor spindles that have been riven to provide straight grain, the sculptured rocker spindle is usually an "S" curve with reversing grain and many surprises.

For years my favorite spokeshave has been a cherry Dave's Shave that I bought for a Michael Dunbar Windsor chair class. I have a nice collection of others but the Dave's Shave just feels right to me. I have a nice Brian Boggs Lie-Nielsen with a radiused sole and although it has seen considerable use it just doesn't cut as well as my Dave's Shave. The Lee Valley shaves are very nice and also have a great feel, although I do not own one as of this writing.

The Auriou rasp and Microplanes and such really don't care so much about grain. They don't leave the great surfaces like the shave but they work. In stock with reversing grain especially figured stock the rasp is a hero. It will save you the tragedy of dreaded tear out.

Now you know!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Building A Cradle with the Late James Grisham

I received a call for help from a sweet lady named Linda Grisham. Her story was very interesting, the kind that tugs at your heart and keeps you from forming the word "No" as a response.

Linda explained that her husband James was a woodworker and had built several Maloof style pieces of sculptured furniture. He'd finished several rockers and was working on a cradle when a drunken driver hit and killed him during one of his early morning bike rides near Carrolton, Georgia.

Linda said she found me through Highland Woodworking in Atlanta, GA. She asked if I would finish the cradle because their first grand child was due in June. See what I mean?

Linda and her son Todd Grisham arrived at my studio one day with the cradle and its frame. The cradle as delivered to my studio is pictured with my work bench. It looked absolutely "Maloofian". A walnut frame with double stretchers and a cradle with coopered ends and a walnut strip basket between them made up a large cradle for the new Grisham baby. I would take the challenge, but not for pay. Thanks would be enough. How do you charge for a project like this one?

I have often imagined my unfinished projects at my passing. My family will not know what to do with them, my tools or wood stash. When attending woodworkers' estate sales, I have often felt empathy for the departed woodworker and their families. This project brought these thoughts to the forefront.

Right after taking this assignment, a lot of good happened. I was blessed with the Martha Stewart Show appearance and had two full rocker classes. I scheduled the project for late May and here it is June 9th and I’m just finishing it up. Todd and his wife Alyson are awaiting the birth of a girl due on June 12th. I have been racing the stork. I finished it on the 12th and delivered it on June 13th in time for the "Baby Grisham Girl" to come home to on Monday.

I must say I have never finished another man’s project. In this situation I tried to look for clues as to what James Grisham was thinking, the lines he was seeing and the methods he was implementing in designing and building such a piece. I removed a lot of material making lines that will move the observer's eyes.

The walnut was very brittle. It was almost too dry as if his shop had been in a basement with a running dehumidifier. I asked Todd about the location of his dad's shop and a possible dehumidifier and it was a "Bingo" on both guesses.

Titebond III was new on the market (I believe) in 2008. Squeeze out was everywhere and it did not come off easily. It was just too gummy even after all this time. On the good side the glue line was not visible.

The coopered ends were joined perfectly and all the project needed was a lot of shaping and sanding. Yea! Sanding is great fun! Well, it’s the results that count. My Festool RAS 115 grinder and RO-90 sander were big assets along with a lot of good old hand sanding.

In the Maloof tradition, the hardware used for hanging the swinging cradle should be durable but not visable. I hung the cradle on steel pins that were epoxied into the frame arms. They mate with bronze bushings in the cradle's extended arms.

I could feel James’ presence with me all the way. When I pass, I hope I am not assigned to a sanding station in heaven. I'm pretty sure that if there is one I have been sent to a certain theological destination of unending punishment. I also hope someone will finish an important project like this for my family.

May God bless you James Grisham. I think I know you.


Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sculptured Rocker Classes at Popular Woodworking's WIA2011

I am amazed as you, but thanks to Ches Spencer (a fellow that doesn't understand the meaning on "NO") and others, I will be a presenting instructor at WIA 2011, September 30 - Oct. 2 in Cincinnati Oh. (actually across the river in the N. Kentucky Convention Center) . The list of other instructors is a who's who of icons like Brian Boggs and Roy Underhill. I am a relative who's that!

Come if you can! It will be a blast. One of my Ohio students will be assisting me at the show. Enrollment is limited and will sell out quick next month.

Making a Coopered Chair Seat

A deeply contoured, coopered seat makes a great invitation to sit down and rest some weary bones. The coopered seat (or saddle) has highlighted the work of Sam Maloof and other contemporary chair makers for years. Charles will clue you in on all the angles and how to join them together. He will demonstrate the process of sculpting the contours using the band saw, angle grinder and die grinder as well as rasps and scrapers. He will provide a question and answer session to allow you to find out how a coopered seat can be adapted to your next chair, stool or bench project.

The Art of Sculpting Flowing Furniture

Have you grown tired of working flat, square boards? Have you been dreaming about crafting a piece of furniture that looks like it is moving even when it is standing still? Charles will demonstrate how he sculpts chairs to become flowing, organic pieces of art. Even if you are more of the engineer than the artist, you will be able to design and build using curves. Your work will never be the same. You will learn to use hard and soft lines to transition between surfaces and furniture parts. Charles uses both power tools and hand tools to create furniture that will move you to start thinking in lines, shadows and curves, Oh my!

The Ultimate Seat to Leg Joint

A great chair joint has mechanical strength, has maximum glue surface, can be easily adapted to various angles and is visually stunning. This joint can be crafted with a table saw and 2 common router bits. It may look complex but is very simple. Learn how to design with your projects utilizing joinery that will set your work apart from the rest. Charles will demonstrate how to first cut the joint and then fit it using a router plane and a sanding block. A question and answer session will follow the demonstration.

The Sculptured Rocker - A Study of Form and Function

The sculptured rocker is a true American art form as inspired by the work of Sam Maloof and others. Find out how why this rocker is so comfortable. How it is crafted to endure the stresses of rocking. Learn about hard and soft lines and how they invite a sitter. Explore the design uses of the flattened "S" curve and how they enhance the chair's form while adding support to the sitter. Charles will explain every part of the chair from geometry to construction and answer your questions after the presentation.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Rock'N Chairman University Offers a NEW 5 Day Build Your Rocker Class

Seven days is a long time! Especially for a young 62 year-old like myself. I enjoy the classes especially in my new location and facility, BUT!
  • More woodworkers will be able to attend 5 days than 7 days because of the cost and the time commitment.
  • The price is $1800 including the walnut.
I have decided to try a more compact class focusing more on the joinery and shaping. A jump start if you will. Less in class spindle shaping and such. The woodworker will find a walnut kit waiting at their bench ready to build. The class will begin with contouring a prepared set of seat boards before cutting and rabbeting the seat to leg joints. After gluing up, the seat will be shaped with a grinder and the legs will be marked and the dados cut and fitted. The front legs will be rough turned and the back legs profiled. An arm will be fitted and the the headrest attached. The sleds will be glued on a form. Woodworkers will watch a demo to see how to shape the arm and headrest and all participants will shape at least one spindle.

That's a heavy order for 5 days, but generally do-able. Now more woodworkers will have the opportunity to build a great sculptured rocker and become a Rock'N Chairman!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sanding A Sculptured Rocker or Daddy Aren't We There Yet?

"If you are a fine woodworker, do you have to like sanding?" I had a student ask me this salient question yesterday. He was building a Krenov style table at my woodworking school and hand sanding the gentle curves of the table's legs. The answer for me is this - I do not like sanding "Sam I am"! I do love the results of my efforts.

Final sanding of a rocker is a marathon not a sprint! Sanding a rocker takes a lot more time than the initial roughing out. I can build a rocker in a couple of days. Sanding is something different. I use to do it by hand then I found some time savings from using an angle type drill with a 2" disk and an interface pad. The drill was a good one but did not last under the punishment. The disk would also fly off the interface pad with just a little speed. Then I moved to a pneumatic sander with another 2 inch random orbit pattern. Speed was hard to control and there was no dust pick-up except my nose and a dust-pan.

Because of all of the variations in surfaces and the problems with sanding the seat contours and under the arms, I can't use a 5" random orbit power sander because they it's too big, bulky and just plain too hard to work with on this project.

It takes some true grit to remove the rasp marks and scratches made by 24 grit paper on my Festool angle grinder. First sanding with my new Festool RO-90 at about 40 to 60 grit is still in the realm of shaping, you must work out all the highs and lows in a surface or discrepancies in a hard or soft line and reconcile one part or side to the other for the sake of symmetry. I consider myself still shaping until I get to 100 grit. Just establishing a consistent scratch pattern is the next order of business. The Festool Rotex Sander is just the best tool I have found for removing rasp and grinder scratches and preparing the first consistent scratch pattern to most of the chair's parts.

As for scraping I do continue to scrape all the way up to 100 grit in the shaping mode. After establishing the overall shape. I usually will lightly scrape the entire piece.

How long is the journey and how many stops do we have to make? How fast can we do it? Sanding a rocking chair is more about quality than quantity. You have to sand with each grit until you have:
  1. Established a consistent scratch pattern all over the piece or area.
  2. Removed all deviations or exceptions to the the surface you are preparing.
  3. Softened all hard or knife edged lines to the touch.
You must utilize all the grits once you start. (24, 40, 60, 80, 100, 120, 150, 180, 220, 320, 400, Then the 3M pads (red, gray, white) taking it to 1000 grit (if you are sanding a ring porous wood like walnut). Do not skip around. It's important to know what grit with which to start and when to stop. I start with the most effective grit that accomplishes the above. It also has to be the highest grit (by number that will do the job). You can't effectively sand a project like this with 24 grit scratches all over it with 100 grit paper! So you must start aggressively with at least 40 or 60 grit paper by hand or with power. I usually use the higher grits like 180 + to provide softening.

Well daddy are we gonna walk (sanding by hand) all the way or ride in a car (use a power sander)? Their are some places on the rocker where you really need to sand by hand. Such as the front leg to set at joints because of the inside radii. You can get a feel for the wood and its smoothness, how much pressure is necessary and just get intimately acquainted where the paper meets the rocker.

The Festool R-90 Rotex Sander helps me sand on the go fast side. It uses a 3" disk and an (accessory) interface sponge pad so that it does a great job of making constant contact with the contoured surfaces without removing the lines that I have worker so hard to make. The detail that remains is very crisp. After roughing out the chair and shaping it with a collection of rasps both powered and unpowered, I can start with 40 grit hook and loop paper and work my way up the schedule. This saves time and produces outstanding results. The sander is easy to hold and move around the chair. I like to sand as much as possible before I start gluing up the chair. I finish by gluing, fairing in the parts and sanding the transitions. Like most Festool products, dust extraction is easy and excellent. It works in two disk modes. Rotex is fast and aggressive, the other random orbit. After 40 grit I seldom use the Rotex mode. They also have a red and gray 3M pad equivalent that makes burnishing very easy.

Then I go over everything with a white 3M pad by hand. It looks like I have a very slight coat of finish on at this time and it will tell me what I missed. Yes the blemishes just jump out. Then only back up as much as is necessary grit wise to remove the alien inhabitants (I'm not sure I know what I am talking about).

Sanding stars, flap wheels, inflated sanding domes, drums and such can all be used to move the sanding down the road.

Now, does A fine woodworker like to sand? The answer is .............. NO!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

How did Sam Maloof's Rocker Inspire Us with Just a Glance?

What makes Sam Maloof's work so attractive at first glance? When I saw my first picture of his rocker in the old 1983 article in Fine Woodworking, What jumped out at me and said, "Wow"? What inspired all that has been said and done by woodworkers and lovers of fine furniture based on that initial look at his rocker?

Maloof was a master woodworker, designer, finisher, personality and other things wonderful but my thought is to capture all of us so totally with that first glance he used something strong, powerful and quite probably unintentional. Maloof was a master of designing the lines of his chairs around a series of flattened "S" curves. The "S" curve is also called a cyma curve or a french curve among other names.

The allure of the "S" Curve may be based on the power of the human form. Yes it is sensuous. A kind of rough southern gentleman saw my Maloof inspired rocker and exclaimed, "The seat on that chair looks like my wife's **** looked when we got married"! I know he was on to something.

Sam's chairs are a series of almost continuous "S" curves. Looking at the rocker from almost any position the curves are long open , reversing radii that just make you feel good as they seem to resolve themselves with a gentle reverse just like the resolution of returning to the major chord in a musical composition. Rarely did he use a tight radius.

The easiest example to observe is the flow of the rocker sleds as they reverse from a 42" radius. Study pictures of his work and you will see! For starters observe one of his arms and a leg from his high back dining chair. How many "S" curves do you see?

I'm teaching a weekend demo class at the Maloof Inspired School of Woodworking the 26 &27 of this month. I'll be demonstrating the methods and tools used to apply "S" curves to your chair.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Martha Stewart Show Meets Charles Brock and the Maloof Inspired Rocker

See the Maloof Inspired Rocker Segment from the Show

Click here for a slideshow

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I Got the Call!

My daughter Emily, and my wife Sheila and I were on our way to Nashville on Friday January 7th to celebrate my granddaughter's birthday party. We were in two different cars as Emily was leaving from the party to drive home to Cleveland, Ohio. We stopped to eat in Birmingham and Sheila was telling me that this was a family outing and I shouldn't be checking my Blackberry. She said, "There is nothing big that you will receive on that thing today"! My phone went off in that instant as we got into our different cars. The person identified herself as Barbara Fight the producer of the Martha Stewart Show. She said Martha would just love to have me on her woodworking show that will be taped January 19th. I said, "Yes"! Barbara told me Martha's brother Eric Scott, whom I had taught a year ago in a seven-day rocker class, considers me his woodworking teacher, mentor and a master woodworker. Both of us would be on the show with our rocking chairs. I called Sheila and told her of the invitation and haven't heard anymore about checking my Blackberry.

Planning for the Show

This trip to Nashville was a quick one. We went up one day and back the next because I was starting my annual January rocker class on Tuesday the 11th and finishing on Monday the 17th. On Tuesday, I received all the details in an email from Barbara's assistant Allie Wyman. I was to fly from Columbus to New York City on Tuesday the day after the class finished. I didn't have much time because I was teaching from 8:30AM - 7PM daily. On Monday I met with Cecil and Bettye Cheves and chose one of the five rockers I crafted for them to be on the show. On Tuesday, I had to crate the rocker for transport to the show, teach, meet with the producers and Eric for an hour-long conference call, and manage my business simultaneously and at the same time, too! My trusted friend and teaching assistant Mark McGowan crated the rocker and got FedEx to ship it. Atlanta was still frozen in from an ice storm and he found the only possible way to get it to Manhattan in time. Thanks Mark! Allie and I were able to finish planning the script and all the details through a series of over 40 emails. The plans were set including my daughter Emily joining me in New York for the adventure along with my valued business associates Curt Jarrell and Gerry Hicks, the owners of Newco USA Industries. The local newspaper and the ABC affiliate covered the story of the appearance and my rocker class. Wow!

The Adventure Begins - Day One

I started the day with a final editing of the script for my segment and emailing the changes back to Allie. Then I packed and headed to the airport. Martha's staff purchased airplane tickets that had me flying from Columbus to Atlanta then to LaGuardia in New York. Flying from Columbus is a game of chance. When it works it is great but when it doesn't, it's terrible! I reported 45 minutes early and waited until they invited us to approach the Delta counter. The clerk recognized me from the newspaper story that morning with glee and then announced, "Your flight to Atlanta has been canceled"! She said I should drive to Atlanta and pick up a later flight. I drove up, found some high priced parking and checked the bag containing my hand tools. I called Allie and told her I was finally getting on a flight. She re-scheduled the limo for a 6:30 PM arrival in the Big Apple. Freddie from Jersey was there at baggage claim with a sign saying "CHARLES BROCK". He whisked me into town to meet my daughter and friends at the Fashion 26 Hotel. It didn't seem real!

The Martha Stewart Show - Day Two

Part 1 - Getting Ready

We walked a block down to the studio and entered a secure door at 7:30 AM. Only to learn the shows taping had been rescheduled for 11AM. This was really good. I finally got to breathe a little. We returned a little early and went through a security check. We followed the catacombs of narrow hallways and stairs until we entered another security door and entered the studio. The studio is made up of offices for the show and all things "Martha Stewart" in addition to the shows production set. One hundred people are on payroll to tape most shows with about 60 being permanent employees. Our first stop was our "green room" which wasn't green, but glassed on two sides. It was kind of a fish bowl. It contained a conference table for seating up to 10 guests, a large TV for a monitor and a long side table with an awesome grouping of 10 Emmy Awards. The staff waited on us hand and foot as we met the other guests on the show. The staff was assigned to put us at ease and help us to be successful. I wanted to know where the rocker we shipped was located, if it arrived in good condition, etc.? They answered everything. These professionals have great people and organizational skills. Eric and I were reunited and thoroughly enjoyed catching up. Very quickly we were entertained with a tour of the studio. Emily was in heaven seeing Martha's perfection. There is nothing temporary about the set. It is huge at 16,000 square feet. The kitchen area is in the center and is designed based on kitchens in two of her homes. As you can see on TV her choices for colors are again perfect. They are meant to be neutral and make everything featured on the show really pop. The cabinet drawers are all perfectly organized with liners and containers. They even have a picture on the inside of each drawer to show where its contents should be returned. There is no wasted space. When she is facing the camera to the right there is a best of everything test kitchen with multiples of everything and 6 cooks. This is where we first encountered Martha who was approving some recipes and some completed dishes. She came over and introduced herself and met each of us. She was very charming in a warm way. She explained that her lip was better and that a flesh colored piece of tape had been placed over the 9 stitches. You couldn't tell unless you looked closely. After thanking us all for coming we continued with the tour. The left side of the stage contained an enormous green house with LED lighting used for grow lights. A multi-use set was in front of the greenhouse. This is the area where my segment would soon be taped. Audience seating was in a gallery behind a short knee wall with two groupings of chairs up close for extra special guests. Every chair had an assigned seat. I worked out my segment with various assistants. We found clamp on vises and everything was set in place to show Martha how to carve a back spindle for the rocker. Then everything was removed and returned in perfect order for rehearsal. We were led back to the green room and were fed the best lasagna and meatballs I have ever enjoyed along with a salad and deserts. They were prepared during a food segment taped in the morning. I was able to watch while the other segments were rehearsed with their producers. Martha doesn't attend the rehearsals. After the rehearsals the producers meet with her and they prep her for about an hour. Then she goes to wardrobe and makeup, then its time to "Tape to live" as they say. I rehearsed my segment with Barbara. She told me to just talk to Martha and it would be great. Then I dressed for the show with my leather apron and Irish wool hat. Deb came and took me to make-up. I now know how important it is to have a make-up artist like Deb to even everything out by taking off a few splotches and lines here and there. Then back to the Green Room to wait my turn. A gentleman was assigned to Eric and myself to escort us onto the set at the appropriate time. Right before it was my turn, Barbara came in and said just tell Martha what you want her to do and take charge and she won't have to work so hard to pull it together. I liked hearing that because I'm use to taking charge of the story. Just don't tell my wife!

Part 2 - We're Live!

The woodworking show started with Nick Offerman (TV actor and star of "Parks and Recreation") showing Martha how to make a boat paddle. David Lancaster showed her how to turn a bowl and Eric showed his wonderful Connecticut High Boy, fish carving and bowls before introducing Martha to the rocker he made in my class last year. Martha said, "When we come back we will introduce Eric’s mentor and teacher, master woodworker Chuck Brock." Then they brought me out, I was standing under all those lights, which by the way were not hot. Immediately I wanted water. They brought Martha water and she placed it under the workbench on a little stool. I really wanted that water but the director said, "Three, two, one, now we are live!" All I can remember was being told just have a conversation with Martha. We finished the spindle and all of a sudden her photographer was snapping pictures of all of us. Then pictures of just Martha and I. Wow! Then she sat in the rocker I had crafted and said, "This is great! I can see me sitting here reading and just enjoying". I was sitting in Eric's rocker next to her having a conversation with her while the photographer continued shooting pictures.

After the Lights Dimmed

Fine Woodworking Magazine's editor and his staff greeted me after the show and we talked about Martha 's show put woodworking and woodworkers in the spotlight for a change. I was assured by the carpenter that she would re-crate the chair. We said goodbye to all and Emily and I taxied to Saks 5th Avenue to buy gifts. Martha had agreed to join us for dinner and made reservations at her favorite restaurant Ciano. She was unable to attend but what a treat. The veal was amazing! I saw the Empire State building while walking back to the hotel and slept like a log that night. The next morning Anthony (Pavarotti’s driver for seven years) drove us to the airport.

Final Thoughts

It was a blast! I enjoyed watching the show and was more than pleased seeing the first run of the show on Friday. It will also re-aire twice before it is archived on her website.

I felt like I represented everyone in my hometown of Columbus, Georgia and every woodworker working in every shop or garage around the world. This was a pure blessing from God. The love of the Lord can bless us with more than we could ever dream. You can be next.


The following people just make everyone around them better. They have inspired and taught me unselfishly. I owe each of them for any success I have had or will have:

Sheila Brock, Emily Brock, Keri Price, Stephen Price, Cecil and Bettye Cheves, Chris and Sharon Bagby, Mark McGowan, Eric Scott, Doug Hall, Bert Scarbrough, Curt Jarrell, Gerry Hicks, et als.