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Sawing Logs: How to mill logs to make chairs

In the fall of 2022, I was lucky enough to get to spend a couple of weeks in the Virginia shop of Jeff Lefkowitz. I was there to review and document his process for teaching the Boggs Berea Ladderback chair.

And during my visit, Jeff took me to meet Shea Alexander of Alexander Brothers Woodworking and Lumber.

We were in search of a sawyer who could supply the high-quality material we needed to make these chairs.

Shea had already caught the chairmaking bug but, until our visit, he had been focusing primarily on Windsor-style chairs. Since then, Shea has built several Boggs chairs and has become a trusted material source for chairmakers of all styles.

As we picked through Shea's extensive selection of lumber, we got into a discussion about the ideal way to mill logs to make chairs and, in particular, the Boggs chair.

I was a little slow to grab my phone and hit record, but I was able to capture the important parts of the conversation.

A note about dimensions: The discussion we're having in this video is specific to building the Boggs-designed Berea Ladderback chair. The final thickness of the posts is 1-5/8 inches. The rungs are about 1-1/16". The rough dimensions we talk about here are meant to give us just enough waste after we've maed the parts. If your parts a re bigger or smaller, adjust your rough dimensions accordingly.

Getting straight grain - Sawing vs splitting

I thought you had to split wood to get straight grain!

Well... That's the best way to do it when you have wood that splits well. Woods like ash, hickory, or oak.

But there are plenty of customers who want chairs made from Maple, Walnut or Cherry. And these woods don't like to be split.

So we turn to the sawyer.

Sawing slats and rocker runners from the log

Quarter sawn material makes for the strongest and most stable slats and rocker runners.

We saw these right out of the center of the log.

An 11/4  (2 - 1/4 inch) slab is thick enough to yield 6 slats. That comes out to two sets of chair slats or one set of rocker slats.

Anything left over from this slab is also prime leg material.

Sawing legs, posts, arms and rungs

Once we've got our center slab(s) we can take a one or two 8/4 (2 inch thick) slabs from above and below the center of the log. We'll use this for front or rear legs. Anything left over can be used for arms or rungs.

The final thickness we cut to is 6/4 (1-1/2 inch). This is only good for rungs and arms. So make sure you've got enough material for all your posts before yuo commit to these cuts.

A 20 inch log is small?

Let's say you found the perfect 20 inch diameter log with minimal sapwood and a perfectly centered pith.

When you cut out the pith and account for the sapwood and bark, the log goes pretty quick.

So look for straight logs and buy morte than you think you'll need. I budget between 10 and 15 board feet of clear lumber for Boggs chair.

Keep the sapwood

Unless you cut down a healthy tree and immedialty mill it yourself, you probably don't want to use sapwood in the chair. Once you cut the tree, the sapwood has no immune system. It's the first part of the tree to fall prey to bacteria, fungus, and pests.

But if you don't have a twisted log, and you've done a good job of leveling the pith on the mill, the line between sapwood and heartwood is a great place to find straight grain in a board.

What about length?

The longest posts in a Boggs Side Chair or Arm Chair are just under 4 feet. So we try to buy boards that are at between 8 foot, 6 inches an 9 feet long.


Appearing in this video:

Shea Alexander - Alexander Brothers Fine Woodworking & Lumber

Items noted with an asterisk (*) are affiliate links. You'll pay the same price and support my work when I receive a small commission from the retailer.

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