Jeff Miller’s Chair Design Class in Berea, KY
I took an afternoon off last Friday to go visit my friend Jeff Miller down in Berea, KY. Jeff had spend the last 8 days teaching two different classes at Kelly Mehler’s School of Woodworking in Berea, KY. His first was a weekend class on mortise and tenon joinery by hand, which included an ingenious (and controversial for some) little jig for cutting tenons with a handsaw that rivals the best multi-router or dado blade set-up.
This is one of several jigs, attachments and contraptions Jeff has devised over the years through his experience in making chairs, and the often complex mortise and tenon joinery that comes with many of them. While some people debate the practicality or purity of something like this, it’s performance is exceptional.
Design is in Jeff’s DNA, whether it’s a jig or his latest chair design, they are both beautiful and functional.
His other class was one day away from wrapping up a week long session on chair design as well as prototyping techniques. Every student in the class first worked up concepts on paper and experimented with variations on those designs. One technique was pretty ingenious: take a photo with an ipad, then trace the outline on paper (over the iPad), copy and then play with variations on curves, slats and rail designs. Some of the students moved onto the prototyping stage with poplar, while others worked out more complex designs from 4’x8′ x 2″ thick sheets of green foam builders insulation. While you can’t necessarily sit on the prototypes, they go together quickly, are easily shaped and balance much like a full scale mock up would if it were made from wood. Pretty ingenious.
Kelly was gracious enough to let me poke around his insane machine shop and bench room. Bench room is an understatement, as he is in the process of adding 10 more mini-benches (of the benchtop bench variety) from Jeff Miller’s design a few years ago. We also agreed that this was a much safer configuration than stacking two full-sized benches on top of one another. One other not so small, but probably overlooked detail is the support beams on the first floor: 10″x12″ beams with massive scarf joints, drawbore pegs and configured in a Hay-Rake pattern, all finished with a clean 1″ chamfer. Nice touch.
The folks at Gorilla Glue and O’Keeffee’s Working Hands also provided me with plenty of wood glue and hand cream for everyone. For anyone headed down there next week for Chris Schwarz class on making the Anarchist’s Tool Chest, be sure to ask Kelly for a bottle when you are gluing up your dovetails. I’m sure he’ll have a few spare bottles lying around. 😉