Song of the Drawknife

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Synopsis: Curtis Buchanan builds his “democratic chair” with the bare minimum of inexpensive tools and materials with surfaces directly from the drawknife, embellished with a bit of milk paint.

Curtis Buchanan’s traditional Windsor chairs, with their slender silhouette, impeccably crisp turning, smooth surfaces, and polished, opaque finish, are exquisite expressions of the form. His rough-hewn “democratic chair,” so named because it’s meant to be buildable with just the bare minimum of inexpensive tools and materials, might seem a bit of a departure. But from the beginning of his career in the early 1980s, when he was working in an unheated log shop with a tiny kit of tools, greenwood chairmaking has been for him more about the experience of making, the pleasure of using the tools, than about the finished piece. Among his first tools were a drawknife and a shaving horse—“which go together like peanut butter and jelly,” he says—and he’s been using them with an almost guilty pleasure ever since. His new chair is a work song to the drawknife. Instead of seeing its bold facets smoothed over by more refined tools, the drawknife, in this chair, gets the last word: Nearly every surface is straight off its blade. When it came to choosing a finish for this chair, Buchanan highlighted the drawknife work with a translucent washcoat of milk paint.

—Jonathan Binzen

From Fine Woodworking #277

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