Use a Travisher for a Smooth Chair Seat

Excerpted from Peter Galbert’s “Chairmaker’s Notebook.”

The next job is to smooth the carved portion of the seat until there are no distinct bumps or transitions, leaving a surface ready for scraping. For this, I reach for a travisher.

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Some users prefer a compass plane, and when I started I made and used one. In my experience, the travisher is a more versatile tool, so my compass plane sits rarely used. The compass plane does excel, however, at getting even curves at the back of long settees.

The travisher can be tough to get used to because folks often roll the tool back while pushing it to find the cutting edge; this makes the tool take a heavy cut and jams the throat with shavings. Using a travisher or spokeshave requires a movement that is counter-intuitive and must be practiced.

Fig. 19.24 Hand position and pressure is essential to travisher technique.

Unlike when using a carving tool, where lowering the handle actually raises the edge out of a cut (like a spoon in ice cream), these tools take a deeper cut when the handles are dropped back. To come out of the cut with control and not have the thick end of the shaving clog the throat, the tool must be rolled forward at the end of each stroke. This is a strange action and no one should expect it to feel normal at first. Practice this “stroke” without engaging the blade, just riding on the surface and exaggerating the rolling forward at the end of the stroke, jutting your wrists forward. I know it feels wrong, but it’s right. To see the illustration of this motion, refer to the section on pitch-adjusted tools in Hand Tools: Sharpening & Use.

Fig. 19.25 Cutting the back of the seat to match the travisher.

Like the inshave, I use the travisher across the fibers while skewing it in the direction that the end grain descends. This allows me to traverse the transition areas without getting hung up in the end grain of the opposing side. A subtle crisscross pattern will help create an even surface.

The shape of the travisher is also helpful in creating a consistent curve at the back of the seat. Cut in front of the gutter until the shape of the seat matches the shape of the travisher. If you want to make it deeper, skew the travisher. If the tool won’t cut in the center of the curve any longer, check to make sure that there isn’t material holding it up in the surrounding areas.

The travisher is one of my favorite tools. I use the various portions of the blade to refine the curves of the seat with a speed that allows me to “see” the seat take shape and make subtle adjustments as needed.
Rubbing your hand with its palm flat across the seat’s surface can help to detect any bumps or dips. At this point, the initial depth holes should be barely visible, if at all.

Fig. 19.26 Smoothing the surface with the travisher across the grain.
Fig. 19.27 Examine the surface for areas that need refining.


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