chat transcript

"Furniture Making"

a Special Guest Chat with
Furniture Maker and Hand Tool Expert

with host
Ellis Walentine

Monday, November 14, 2011
[NOTE: Chris created three excellent slide shows for this chat, at You will want to reference them as you read the chat transcript.]

EllisHello, Chris, and welcome back to WoodCentral.
Chris_GochnourEllis it is great to be back to Wood Central. Thanks for the invitation from you and Stephen.
EllisOur pleasure.
EllisWell, folks, Chris has joined us tonight to talk about furnituremaking.
Chris_GochnourI have some slideshows that may help with our chat. You can access them at You don't have to access them, but it will add some nice visuals.
EllisExcellent, and customized for WoodCentral, too! Visuals make a great difference in our chats. Thank you for preparing these slide shows.
CharlesDo you just build furniture, Chris?
Chris_GochnourCharles, I spend about 1/3 of my time doing commissions, 1/3 teaching and 1/3 writing for Fine Woodworking. I just renovated a new woodshop and have been working out of it for about a year.
CharlesChris, I enjoyed your shop tour video on fine woodworking
Chris_GochnourThe shop tour on Fine Woodworking was my first shop. For 25 years I worked from a studio at my home.
Chris_GochnourThere is another slideshow called the Joiners Bench Studio if you are interested. The Joiners Bench is the name of my company.
Stephen_How much grief did you get about your chisel review Chris?
Chris_GochnourStephen, I may not be privy to all that goes on, but I actually didn't receive a lot of negative feedback. I've noticed people refer to it quite often in their discussions.
Stephen_Glad it went well
CharlesI notice you reviewed the Footprint Beech-handle chisels, Chris
Chris_GochnourCharles, I did review the Footprints. I actually liked the feel of the chisels. They also had pretty good steel. Their downside was that they are only available in four sizes and didn't have much by way of bevel edges.
EllisChris I'm interested to know about this governor's desk that Stephen told me about.
Chris_GochnourOne of the slideshows is titled "Tornado Desk" and will respond to Stephen's inquiry.
Stephen_the trees were blown down in a freak Utah Tornado
EllisThanks for including the process pictures, Chris.
EllisAnyhow, how did you get the commission for the desk?
Chris_GochnourThe commission for the desk came from the Capitol Preservation Board. The State of Utah recently renovated the State Capitol and my desk was part of the commissioned work.
EllisHow does the tornado fit into this picture?
Stephen_The tornado was right next to the Capitol building and some of the wood was used in the desk.
Chris_GochnourEllis, in 1999 a tornado hit downtown SLC [Salt Lake City]. It knocked down about 100 trees on the state capitol grounds. I was asked to select the wood that was furniture grade and to make something beautiful out of it.
EllisWhat an honor.
Chris_GochnourThere was a lot of pine and spruce and fir, but also some hardwoods. Some of the wood was totally useless because of the damage from the tornado. The desk is made out of Linden, Japanese Pagoda and English Sycamore.
Stephen_we have a fairly good old growth urban forest here in Salt Lake
Chris_GochnourA few years after I made the tornado desk they asked me to also build a bookcase credenza and conference table out of the same woods. They all now reside in the governor's formal office. Jon Huntsman, a candidate for president, would have used that desk. It's okay if you don't know him. He is only drawing 3% of the vote. But he's a good guy.
CharlesI dont really call myself a good furniture maker
Chris_GochnourCharles, keep at it. The thing I've learned about woodworking is that it is all building blocks. One step at a time and pretty soon you will develop mastery.
CharlesYes I understand
EllisI was looking at the photos of the desk, Chris. Would you tell us how the top was made?
Chris_GochnourThe top of the Tornado desk was made from English Sycamore that I had sawn into veneer.
Chris_GochnourI laid up the veneers on the central panel. The veneers are about 1/16-inch thick and pressed to a baltic birch core.
Bob_in_NJLink to slides of the Desk:
Chris_GochnourAfter shaping the oval panel, I inlaid an ebony band. I pressed them to the central core using a vacuum bag.
Chris_GochnourAfter the inlay was in, I put a border around the desk. This had a maple core with Japanese Pagoda veneers positioned radially from the center of the desk.
Stephen_how did the sycamore veneer season Chris?
EllisIt looks like you laid the border veneers onto thin ply or something, or are they sawn veneers I'm seeing in photo #9?
Chris_GochnourAll of the wood was kiln dried except for the crotch veneers that are on the door and drawer fronts. The crotch veneers were sliced green and then pressed using two outside plywood panels with paper in between.
EllisIs the core of the top itself of baltic birch plywood?
Chris_GochnourYes, the core of the top is baltic birch
EllisLooks like you're laying the top veneers up with yellow glue.
Chris_GochnourYellow glue is right.
EllisDon't tell Stephen. :-)
Stephen_I won't say a word
EllisOkay, so what part are you rolling glue on in photo #12?
Chris_GochnourAnother glue that I really like to use for veneering is Unibond 800, but Stephen tells me that I should use Titebond liquid hide glue. I plan on giving it a try.
EllisStephen's got the inside track on this.
Stephen_good answer
EllisLet me compliment you, by the way, on this project. It is stunning.
Chris_GochnourThanks Ellis.
Chris_GochnourPhoto 12 is a bent lamination that serves as the cap for the base molding. In photo 11 you can see me bending it around the form. In photo 13 you can see it clamped to the form, as well as one that has been shaped with a router.
EllisTwo unrelated questions... How big is it and who designed it?
Chris_GochnourThe governor's desk is roughly 42" x 72" x 30". It was my own design.
Chris_GochnourNow if I can just get the politicians to make good decisions while sitting at it.
Bob_in_NJGreat design, and beutiful work, Chris.
CharlesBeautiful desk, Chris
Chris_GochnourThank Bob. By the way, if any of you ever travel through Salt Lake City, I will give you a personal tour to see the desk.
EllisThe design is very tricky, as you of all people know, with those curved doors and drawers. I can't tell if the end curvature is a semi-circle or something parabolic?
Chris_GochnourThe curve is more of an ellipse.
StuartChris, where did you get your inspiration for this design. It looks similar to a couple of desks I've seen in historic homes.
Chris_GochnourOn the design...I spent a lot of time studying books on period furniture...Hepplewhite in particular (sorry if I got the spelling wrong). I drew inspiration from these historic pieces.
StuartVery nice work. The wood choices are outstanding!
Stephen_George Hepplewhite's designs are some of the best Federal period influences
EllisThe detailing and the feel you've created are an improvement on Hepplewhite, in my opinion. The desk has such a rich look.
Chris_GochnourEllis, it is indeed tricky, but I'm going to go back to what I said to Charles earlier. One step at a time. If you look at the whole piece it can become overwhelming, but if you approach it one step at a time it comes together surprisingly well.
EllisAbsolutely, Chris.
Charlesok Chris
Chris_GochnourSome of the trees -- like the Japanese Pagoda -- were gifted to the state and planted on the Capitol Grounds. It was rewarding to give the trees a second life.
EllisWhich is the Pagoda?
Chris_GochnourThe Pagoda is most of the trim on the desk -- on the top, on the base molding.
Chris_GochnourThe crotch veneer is the Linden. The figured Sycamore is everything else.
Howard_NChris, how long did it take you to build the desk?
Chris_GochnourI spent ten weeks on the desk working nearly every day for ten hours.
Ellis700 hours
Chris_GochnourWhen delivered the desk the governor at the time had it placed in the Rotunda. The first peice of legislation signed at the desk was a $40 million bill to renovate the Capitol. If you visit SLC, the Capitol is a signature building hovering over the city.
EllisI hope that 40 million was for the desk. :)
Stephen_Did you make two bucks an hour?
Chris_GochnourStephen, far less! I actually donated the desk to the state.
StuartThat's a heck of a tax write-off!
Chris_GochnourStuart, you are right. The state had it appraised at $48K. A lot of that is because of the uniqueness/provenance of the wood. It was an honor to build and the commissioned work has come in just fine from the exposure.
StuartOnly drawback is, to see your "business card", you have to make an appointment to see the Gov!
Stephen_sometimes you have to give your work away. It is painful, I know it
EllisDo you always work alone, Chris?
Chris_GochnourEllis, I typically have an apprentice. It seems like I work alone about 50% of the time. Sometimes, depending on the job, I bring on additional help.
EllisChris, how did you build the laminating form for the curved doors and drawer fronts?
Chris_GochnourThe laminating form is made from a series of contoured ribs that are spaced approximately four inches apart.
Chris_GochnourThe ribs are secured to a base panel and then a flexible top is applied to the ribs. I used two 1/4 inch plys here.
EllisAnd did you make the ribs out of junk ply and such, with a top skin?
Chris_GochnourThe first is glued and nailed to the ribs. The second is applied with glue to the first and pressed in a vacuum bag.
EllisAnd, how did you orchestrate the staining process?
Chris_GochnourThe stain is a comvination of dye and pigment. I dyed it first with alcohol dye and followed with a pigment stain. The top coat is lacquer.
EllisAnd why did you both dye and stain?
Chris_GochnourTo me...dyes alone can be too intense. Pigments tend to soften things a bit.
Chris_GochnourI should mention however that dyes really make the figures of the wood pop. That is why I used them.
Ellis. Yes, they complement each other very nicely. Really rich-looking.
EllisThe pigments add depth and character.
Stephen_[He doesn't have my recent book, yet]
Bob_in_NJWhat colors of dye and stain, or was it a variety depending on the wood?
Chris_GochnourI can't recall the exact mix. A lot of my finishes are custom mixed. That is another way of saying that I do it by feel.
Bob_in_NJOk, yes it is a subtle process.
Chris_GochnourAnother favorite piece of mine is the teak dining table shown in the other slideshow.
StuartI like the way the lights above reflect on the table top! I really enjoy the iridescence of teak!
Chris_GochnourThe teak table was made from two slabs of teak. That's all. They measured 35" wide, 2 1/4" thick and 17" feet long.
EllisNice size slabs. Where did you get them, might I ask?
Chris_GochnourI purchased the slabs from Hearne Hardwoods in PA.
Chris_GochnourThe top of the table uses 100" of the slabs. The two pieces were bookmatched and I put a small V-groove down the center so that the slabs stood on their own.
Chris_GochnourThe slabs were just expensive enough that I decided to make a model first of the design. You can see that in slides 3 and 4.
EllisThat's always a good idea, Chris.
EllisSo are the leg joints all that's keeping the table from racking?
Chris_GochnourYes Ellis. And the leg joints are not even glued.
Bob_in_NJso the center joint is << like that?
EllisI was wondering about the joints. Just gravity holds it together, eh?
Chris_GochnourThe combination of the trestles coming up on an angle with the stretchers securely joined make for a really stable table.
Howard_NNow I understand those two slides.
EllisDid you make mating grooves on opposite sides of the stretchers for the legs?
Chris_GochnourYes, I made mating grooves on opposite sides. The stretchers are notched half way through and the trestles are notched half way.
EllisThat's the sophisticated version of the egg-crate joint. All edges are captured.
Chris_GochnourBob, tell me again what you mean by the center joints?
Bob_in_NJI'm trying to understand the V groove mentioned above
Chris_GochnourBob, if you look at the very center of the table you will see a line. If the two slabs had just been glued together, I don't know that you could of picked up the uniquness of the large slabs. The V makes it obvious that their are just two boards that constitute the top.
Chris_GochnourI used the V-groove as part of the design.
Bob_in_NJOk, I think I understand it now, thanks, and very cool by the way.
Howard_NIs the table now in a private home?
Chris_GochnourThe table is in a private home here in SLC. The owner has purchased several pieces from me.
Howard_NAre a lot of your commissions to people that live in SLC?
Chris_GochnourHoward, for 25 years I have been able to work exclusively by word of mouth. Consequently, most of my work is in the Intermountain West.
Stephen_A little more than the Wild West out here
EllisDo you use A2 knives in your compass plane?
Chris_GochnourEllis, I just use the stock blade, but working in teak you have to get comfortable sharpening the blade frequently.
Chris_GochnourYou may also notice that the chairs that accompany the table are original Hans Wegner chairs.
EllisI wondered about that, Chris. That's a remarkable collection right there.
Chris_GochnourThe owner purchased the chairs in two different groups -- I believe on eBay.
EllisYour table is in good company with the Wegner chairs.
JohnPI must run. Chris the desk and the story are fantastic. I tip my hat to you and your talent.
Stephen_night John, thanks
Chris_GochnourThanks John for joining us.
Chris_GochnourBecause of the curves and angles of the base, hand tools were critical in the construction.
EllisWhat a pleasure it must have been to crosscut those big teak legs with your handsaw.
Bob_in_NJThe slides of the teak table show lots of hand work, do you prefer handtool work over power tools? Or is it that the teak table lent itself to handtools?
Chris_GochnourI am a real advocate of developing hand tool skills because they open up so many doors in construction and design.
Chris_GochnourIn slide 8 you can see where I am scribing the saw cuts. I am using a knife and referencing off my bench top. After the trestle was scribed I used a handsaw to cut it and a hand plane to perfect it.
EllisYou needed to scribe both sides, so you could cut at the proper angle...
Chris_GochnourEllis, you have that right.
Jack_EI am guessing, again your design?
Chris_GochnourYes Jack, this is my own design. The clients wanted something with a Danish modern feel and yet also up to date.
EllisThe edge looks steeply undercut in the model.
Chris_GochnourEllis, yes I beveled the underside of the table top so that it had a lighter feel.
EllisWhat is the rest of the edge detail like? Soft and rounded or angular?
Chris_GochnourAll of the bevels had to be done by hand. Getting that slab to a table saw was out of the question.
Chris_GochnourThe table top edge is all beveled. The base of the table is slightly softened.
Bob_in_NJIn slide 12, is that a setup for softening the edges?
Chris_GochnourSlide 12 is putting a profile on the edge of the tressle using a template and then pattern routing.
EllisWhat are you working on now, Chris?
Chris_GochnourEllis, I just finished a large hutch that was designed to house a flat screen TV. It had four doors that would bifold and then push into the hutch.
Chris_GochnourCurrently I am doing a cherry bedroom set that consists of two dressers, two nightstands, a bed and a mirror. it is in the arts and crafts style.
EllisArts & Crafts, as in a Gochnour-inspired A&C, or in some particular vein?
Chris_GochnourThe bedroom furniture is Gustav Stickley designs. The only departure is the cherry instead of white oak.
Chris_GochnourThere is one final slideshow on Slideshare of my current studio if you are interested. For the first 20 years, my shop was at my home. Four years ago I was on my way to a hardware store and saw a distressed property for sale.
EllisAre you always this neat, or is it just because the shop is new?
Stephen_that is just a little too clean
Chris_GochnourYes it was clean, Stephen. Those photos were taken just as I moved in.
Charlescool workbshop Chris
Jack_EI looked thru that. I'll spend more time there but its impressive.
Chris_GochnourYou may want to check out my old home studio. Fine Woodworking profiled it in their April 2000 issue.
Chris_GochnourYou'll note in slide 2 and 4 what a distressed property I purchased. The home was built in 1910.
Bob_in_NJhow long did the renovation take?
Chris_GochnourI continued to build commissioned pieces, but spent a lot of time at the new shop. Year one was the exterior of the home. Year two was the interior of the home. And year three was the shop. I don't live in the home. I use it for a showroom and office.
CharlesChris I like your planer
Chris_GochnourYes, Charles, it is a good old Powermatic 180.
EllisI have one just like it, Chris.
Chris_GochnourBirds of a feather flock together.
CharlesThose are good planers? How do the Powermatic 180 or Powermatic 100 planer compare to benchtop planers
Chris_GochnourCharles, the old planers are very powerful and capable of moving a lot of material. Oftentimes, however, their finish can be a little rough. The benchtop planers are not nearly as aggressive, but can typically yield a very fine finish.
EllisBenchtop planers can usually handle more delicate work. I've planed veneers down to 1/16" with a little high-speed benchtop planer, but a big machine would eat up that delicate stuff. It has a lot to do with cutterhead speed.
Bob_in_NJyes I used my benchtop to pare down some shim pieces yesterday to a little less than 1/8" with no problems.
Chris_GochnourEllis, you are exactly right.
Bob_in_NJI imagine some of those rougher finshes might be helped with the new helical cutter heads?
Chris_GochnourBob, I'd love to get helical cutter head for my Powermatic. It is on the wish list.
Bob_in_NJYes, I only imagine it myself because they are $$$$$$$:)
Chris_GochnourBob $$$$$ that is why it is still on my wish list too.
Bob_in_NJI sensed that Chris..
CharlesI dont think I would ever upgrade my benchtop planers
EllisYou'd need a good reason to upgrade, Charles. Like a heavy production schedule or greater capacity.
EllisDo you build only furniture, or do you do architectural commissions, too?
Chris_GochnourEllis, I focus on freestanding furniture.
Chris_GochnourI have done many commercial pieces -- reception desks and conference tables.
EllisYou seem to work in a variety of idioms. Do you prefer one style over another?
Chris_GochnourEllis, I basically build what people commission me to do. My personal preference, however, is A&C and Shaker that is updated with contemporary details.
EllisYes, I think most of the old styles can stand some new interpretation.
Bob_in_NJI like the Shaker style with a modern twist to it, a little embelishment etc.
CharlesI like Shaker and Mission Furniture
StuartChris, I have read several of the articles you've had in the magazines, and I've enjoyed every one . you have an honsty in your designs, and a lack of "contrivance" that I really enjoy. Keep up the good wok! I've got to run gents. This has been a very interesting chat. Thanks Ellis and Chris!
Chris_GochnourStuart, my pleasure. Thanks for joining us and thanks for the kind words.
Chris_GochnourOne thing that I did in my first shop and I replicated in my second is to put a wood floor down in my bench area.
Stephen_easy on the feet and legs
EllisNo rubber mats?
Chris_GochnourStanding on your feet for 8-10 hours a day can be taxing. I find the wood is aesthetically beautiful and comfortable for my work.
Chris_GochnourEllis, I do have one rubber mat, but I don't use it much.
EllisI have a nice thick, old Oriental rug under my bench. Very comfortable to work on. :)
Stephen_I have a couple of rag rugs on my shop floor
Bob_in_NJA wood floor is a lot warmer than a concrete floor, too.
EllisYes, my back won't tolerate hard floors.
Bob_in_NJMy rubber mat always seems to be someplace other than where I'm standing
Chris_GochnourSince I was able to modify the shop to my preferences, I made sure I had a lot of windows. There is a lot of natural light and it makes all the difference.
EllisYou like north light and south light?
Bob_in_NJYes I noticed the windows, I've been working out how to add a couple more to my garage/shop
Stephen_Put windows on the north side for more uniform lighting
Bob_in_NJSort of a toss-up between windows or wall space for storage etc.
Chris_GochnourI agree with Bob on the wall space/window balance.
Jack_EIs that front facing East or West and is that the only side with windows?
Chris_GochnourJack, the windows face west. I have two other windows on the East and one on the north.
Chris_GochnourFour total windows facing west.
Jack_EOk I see the one of the others now
EllisChris, where do you teach?
Chris_GochnourEllis, I teach each semester two furniture making classes at the Salt Lake Community College. Once a year I also teach a hand tools only project/class at Snow College in Ephraim, Utah. They have something called the Traditional Building Skills Institute. It is a lovely town in central Utah. About once or twice a year I teach at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking in Indiana. Finally, I sometimes teach at various woodworking guilds on a invitation basis. This weekend I will be in North Carolina at the Triangle Woodworkers Guild.
EllisWhere do you keep all your clutter?
Chris_GochnourIn my old shop.
Chris_GochnourMy wife is begging me to purge.
EllisThis is big news.
EllisIf you can get by without it, why have it?
Bob_in_NJWow, I can't imagine a wife wanting you to 'get rid of that junk'.....
CharlesCould you post the workshop link agian Chris?
Chris_GochnourShe finally got a place to park her car after 24 years. I will say that it is the only thing that fits in there other than my treasures/junk.
EllisMaybe there's hope for us.
EllisI would just love to have a clutter-free shop.
Bob_in_NJJust depends on the severity of the OCD, ADHD or whatever their calling the wide open creative mind these days
EllisBeautiful spaces, Chris. Congratulations.
Stephen_Might be a business opportunity, traveling around and organizing woodworkers workshops?
EllisSounds like punishment to me, Stephen.
Stephen_it wouldn't be cheap
EllisWell, folks, Chris is going to hit the trail shortly. Anything else you'd like to know or say?
Bob_in_NJYeah, but in the middle of reorganising I'd find some tool or other and wander off on a tangent making something with it.
Stephen_Thank you Chris
RayTThanks for organizing this, it was very informative.
Chris_GochnourBob, I like your point about creative minds.
Stephen_...and thanks, Ellis. Great Chat
EllisYes, thanks so much for coming, and for those superb slide shows.
Bob_in_NJChris, thanks so much for a very enjoyable look at the fine work you do. It gives me hope for my future!
Chris_GochnourIt has been a real pleasure to share some time with you good folks. Ellis and Stephen thanks for the initation and keep up the great work at WoodCentral. WoodCentral is a great asset for the woodworking community.
EllisIt was great. I'll be publishing an edited log of the chat in the next few days.
CharlesChris thanks for chat
EllisThanks for you kind words, Chris. I'm so glad you joined us tonight.
Chris_GochnourWhen you edit it make sure you fix my spelling errors!
Jack_EThe slides were a big help
CharlesEllis thanks for hosting
EllisI'm going to put other words in your mouth. Haha
Chris_GochnourLet's do it again sometime.
EllisIt will be a pleasure.
Chris_GochnourUntil then...happy shavings! Good night.
Chris Gochnour discovered the pleasure of building things by hand when he made his own skateboards and snowboards as a teenager. His enthusiasm for carving turns on a board was eventually replaced by a passion for creating fine furniture out of boards, something he has done now for over two decades. During this time, he has created a large portfolio of fine furniture, and, along the way developed the skills to become one of the premier hand tool specialists in the country. Chris currently teaches traditional woodworking skills at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking (Franklin, Indiana), instructs woodworking teachers at the Traditional Skill Building Institute at Snow College (Ephraim, Utah), and frequently contributes hand tool articles, fine furniture projects, and tool reviews to Fine Woodworking magazine. He is an enthusiastic champion of using traditional hand tools such as planes, chisels, and saws in the modern woodshop. Chris teaches and writes about how traditional woodworking tools are often the best tool for the job because they can cut down on setup time, result in more precise joints, and eliminate the need to use cumbersome jigs, and perform tasks that are not possible with machine tools. Working wood with traditional woodworking tools is his pleasure and passion in life, a passion that comes to life on the weekends when Chris finds old and neglected hand tools, restores them and gives them a second chance at life. His other passions are his wife of 26 years and his children Rosie and Theo.