In 2008 I attended the first Woodworking In America conference in Berea, KY. The presenters included some of the best cabinetmakers in the country. I was mainly interested in improving my hand tool skills. Little did I know that the most exciting presentation I would see that week wouldn’t come from a cabinetmaker at all.
On the second day of the conference I had a two hour block of time on my schedule that was empty. I looked through the list of presenters and there was a guy named Brian Boggs who was giving a lecture on chair design. I didn’t know the first thing about chairs, but I thought I might learn something useful. It was the right decision. When I left Brian’s presentation I was giddy with excitement. Brian spoke about wood and construction on a level that was beyond me and yet so exciting. Brian was so passionate and so knowledgeable about his craft that it was contagious! He also had a few of his chairs on hand. They were beautifully designed but when I got a chance to sit in them I was simply amazed at how comfortable a wooden chair could be. I knew that I would have to build one of these chairs some day. That day came last week.
Jeff Lefkowitz is an instructor for Brian Boggs Chairmakers. His shop is in Strasburg, VA. For years I had dreamed of taking a chairmaking class with Brian Boggs, but the time off and travel to Asheville made it impossible. However, a couple of months ago I discovered that Jeff was now giving classes on Bogg’s Chairs in Virginia. Although I was very excited with the prospect of taking the class it was the jigs that pushed me over the edge. After talking to Jeff on the phone he mentioned that if I wanted to cover the cost of the jig materials that while I was working on my chair he would build the more complicated jigs. That was a deal! Not only would I leave with a chair, but the jigs to build more of them!
Jeff’s classes are limited to a maximum of two people so you can be assured of a personal touch. When I arrived at Jeff’s shop he had a manual in a three ring binder for each of us. Jeff is a graphic designer by trade and it shows. He has created an excellent manual. It goes step-by-step through the entire chair building process. It even has complete measurements for all the jigs. After looking at the manual I felt completely at ease without taking any notes at all. I was able to just relax, listen to Jeff and digest the information he was teaching. It was a great experience.
The first day started with selecting lumber from the woodshed. This is when Jeff’s organizational skills first became evident. We were selecting wood to use to make the rear legs of the chair, but we had to steam bend them and then let them dry for several weeks. No problem, we would actually be bending the legs for the next class. The legs we would use for our chairs were already bent and dry, but we got to go through the entire process none the less – which was excellent. This continued throughout the course. Jeff always had things organized and ready to go. There was never any last minute scrambling.
Brian’s production method relies heavily on jigs in order to achieve the precision it takes to make a chair that lasts a very long time. Although this class focused on building a specific Bogg’s chair using Brian’s jigs, Jeff always made sure that we understood the concepts at work – how and why the jig works. These are concepts that would apply to any chair should you decide to branch out and design your own. Although the dimensioning of the chair parts and milling of mortises is all done with machines most of the parts are shaped by hand. In particular the rear legs are completely shaped using a drawknife, spokeshave and card scraper. This was my first time using a drawknife and under Jeff’s tutelage I found it quite enjoyable. Jeff clearly has a passion for teaching.
I have taken many woodworking classes throughout the years and I have often finished feeling less than satisfied with the return on my financial and time investment. That is certainly not the case with Jeff’s class. The Bogg’s Post and Rung Side Chair class with Jeff Lefkowitz is the best money I have ever spent on my woodworking education. Although Jeff’s manual has all the information I would need to build the jigs for the chairs it would be quite a project just to get them done. To bring home a chair, a set of jigs and an excellent manual truly empowers me to make more of these chairs. I can’t wait!
After I got home, unpacked everything and put it on my bench it looked like Christmas! No only did Jeff build most of the jigs, but he made us a pair of custom mortise glue applicators, a story stick and drill depth stop bushing!
Building this chair was a really great experience. I hope you get to build one as well. I know you will love the experience.
Jeff is also the primary blogger at Brian Boggs Chairmakers. He blogged our entire class build. So if you want to see details about how these chairs go together click here to take a look.
Jeff has an excellent blog series on the different aspects of the side chair – from angles to wood movement. I highly recommend reading it.
If you think you might be interested in taking a chairmaking class with either Brian or Jeff you can find details here.
Follow Jeff on Twitter @jlefky.