Refinishing a Porch Rocker

We have a mahogany rocking chair on the porch of the showroom.  Last summer, it had been outside for ten years.

For maintenance of this rocker, we had done nothing more than wiping it from time to time with a slightly soapy cloth for cleaning and an almost wet one for a rinse. We did this about three times in ten years. It went out new to the porch as the pale brown of fresh mahogany. In a year, it was a rich, red brown.  Over the years, it became grey brown. Between wipings, it would become unevenly soiled with patches of light and dark. Cleaning evened the color to a pleasing weathered grey–at least pleasing to us. In this photo, the seat has been wiped with a damp cloth, but the rest of the chair is the uneven color of benign neglect. The joints are tight.


Weathered mahogany, occasionally wiped down, would not appeal to everyone, so we decided to refinish this chair, beginning with a deep cleaning. We made a mix of water, Murphy’s Oil Soap, and a 1/4 cup of household bleach. Austin scrubbed the chair and rinsed it well.


We let it dry a few days and sanded it lightly with 220G.


Oiled it.











After the refinishing, we re-wrote the maintenance guidelines on the website,

Outdoor Furniture Maintenance Guide.

We build the seats of our mahogany rockers with openings as expansion joints and we leave the tenons through the arms proud, so that changes in humidity do not stress the seat or make an uneven surface under your hands. The contour of the chair and therefore the comfort for the sitter are the same in our rockers of any wood. Many of these mahogany rocking chairs are used indoors.

Mahogany Rocking Chair

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The Blanco River Flood of May 24, 2015

Recently, a woman came who was taking photos and collecting comments for a book on this town of Wimberley. She took some pictures and asked if we would write a few words or a paragraph on what we like about living here. I planned to write on the big cypress trees along the Blanco River. On the morning of May 25, they were almost no more.

The flood made the front page of the New York Times. One hundred or more houses were destroyed or completely washed away. Maybe fifteen hundred were damaged. More than a dozen people died. The stories of near escapes are chilling and so numerous that it is a wonder more people were not drowned. Most of the big cypress trees went down or lost their bark — thousands of them, some over five hundred years old.

Wimberley flood

Richard Mason Photography

Wimberley flood 2

Richard Mason Photography

Wimberley flood 3

Richard Mason Photography

John Michael who works with us was able to make two trips to the car with chosen items before he had to get away and leave his cabin to flood.

We’ve had floods before. They are a regular occurrence. Sometimes a few houses get water in them. But this one put four feet of water in houses that one would say were on the bluff — and took out the trees.

There is a lot of wood along the riverbank, some of it useable. But because there are few living trees along the river now, the downed trees are the bulwark against erosion and can be nurseries for new trees. Without woody plants along the river to hold the soil, normal floods will scour the soil from the banks and eliminate the possibility of a cool, shady river for those coming after.

We have been working on the effort to preserve and restore the riverbank. Will has skillfully managed a Facebook page: Blanco River Restoration Project. In the first 24 hours, this site had been viewed 40,000 times. There is a lot of interest in this cool, clear River.

Another good thing about this town is the people and their willingness to volunteer and help. The morning after the flood, many hands went to work cleaning up and salvaging. Gary Weeks and Company are today back to work, mostly.

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National Pi Day

This morning, I heard a piece on the radio about National Pi Day featuring a mathematicians speaking of pi and its utility. He said there could be no technological sophistication without calculations involving pi: no automobiles, no space flight. I realized there would be no Weeks Rocker, or any of the chairs we build or plan to build. Or at the very least, they’d be hard to build and likely wouldn’t fit together so well. This is a great day of celebration.

Our chairs, comfortable chairs, are forms of curves and profiles that come together, and fit, at critical points. These points and the relationship between the mating parts cannot be easily described in a way that makes the making of the chair a relatively simple process of precision rather than a more lengthy and haphazard one of “cutting to fit.” But by taking a section (finding a plane) within the solid form, mapping tangents to curves, and solving triangles using pi (and trigonometry), we can build very exact jigs, fixtures, and tools to make parts that meet in space, surface to surface, glue-line tight. I love pi.

This week, I was designing a curved bench for a patron. To find the number of slats in this drawing, I used pi to find the length of the arc described by the intersection of the seat and back slats — a simple use of the formula: circumference = pi times diameter. The drawings are handy enough to post here.

End elevation of bench

Section -- center of all benches

Plan view of curved benchPi calculations for curved bench

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Conference Room Furniture

The West Texas Rehabilitation Center provides a range of health care services and have since 1956. The mission of this non-profit “is to improve the quality of life of those we serve regardless of financial circumstances.” Over the last decade, we have given several rocking chairs for the annual fundraising auction. They are building a new headquarters in San Angelo. A member of the staff asked us to make a proposal for the furniture of the conference room. He gave us a floor plan drawing showing a 12 foot long, boat-shaped conference table, two buffets, and a wall of base cabinets with book cases above.   In addition, seating for 14 is needed. Mesquite is the wood of choice — for it is the tree, the scourge, and sometimes the delight of West Texas.

The budget is limited. WTRC is dedicated to spending for service, not administration. We can give and we will. But our best and their most dictated fewer pieces and a few compromises to features. The wood will be a mix of mesquite and red oak. (Red oak grows around too.) We won’t be building the mesquite, red oak, and leather rolling office chairs I sketched, only a couple of side chairs for overflow. The wall of cabinets will be simpler. The table will be simpler than our original notion as well. But that table will be the centerpiece of their organization and a challenge for this one.

Drawings made for the proposal:

conference room floor plan

conference table elevation

conference room bookshelf elevation

conference room buffet

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The New Website

Our website presents our work to the world. Most of our patrons find us in a websearch. We built a website early, 1998 or so.   Jim Fish, able webmaster, has managed it since 2000. We have made changes to its structure from time to time and have added to it continuously. We were still hearing compliments on the site, and it was working well enough, but by the beginning of 2014, it needed a major remodeling.

As I dug into the site, it began to remind me of a 100 year old farm house that had been added on to ten times by farmers of varying ability. It was necessary to tear down most of it and begin at the foundation. Here we had a choice to make: Should we continue to build a site from “scratch” using HTML code or should we use a template/content management system, as most sites are now using. We chose to stay with HTML — the more laborious method, but the method that permits a wider latitude of graphic control and, we hope therefore, enables an individual and distinctive presentation.

Simpler navigation, new categorization of products, consistent elements, more and better photos, clearer text — these were the goals. The tasks were myriad. I found that much of the tailoring of the presentation required an analysis of the business: its priorities, costs, and organization. New photos had to be taken and the photo archive had to be excavated, culled, and ordered. More than the site has been refreshed.

I wrote sentences, edited photos, and chose other elements to send to Jim with suggestions for placement. A quick count shows 517 emails, 97 word documents, and 600+ photo files sent to him from June 9 to December 26–the time it took. We also talked on the phone almost daily.

2014 remodel folder

This is a photo of Jim’s file of notes taken from email, word doc, and phone.

The process generated the thought that a two page, print friendly, catalog sheet of each product would serve the clientele well. And then I realized that these sheets will be our catalog of the future — easily maintained and changed. We have printed several versions of catalogs over the years, catalogs that were very nice in your hand, but shortly after ink hits paper one sees something to change — now we can.

The site at launch was 230 pages with 1,278 photo and 81 graphic files. Please have a look. (Note: if you have been to a page on the site recently, you may have to click your refresh button to see the latest version.)

The new homepage

The new homepage.

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Designing a Ladderback Dining Chair

While we were working on our upholstered chair design, (a long and involved process, see previous post), Austin noticed the obvious: We could relatively quickly design a ladderback dining chair as a variation of the chairs we have already developed. That is: Knowing the curving plane that is comfortable to and supportive of one’s back, we could find an arrangement of horizontal pieces (the ladder), use our existing seat, and have a comfortable chair with a new look. Looking at various arrangements, we were pleased at the support and comfort that these pieces could provide. But we could not quickly decide what would look the best. So we are posting the photos below (here and to Facebook) and asking for comments. We have never asked for comments before and don’t know if it is proper, but it may be a way to obtain the results one would get from a focus group.

The photos are cell phone snapshots of rough mockups, so imagination is required.

Which of the chairbacks below is most appealing to you?

Do you have any comments, general or specific?

Ladderback chair designs#1                                                   #2                                                     #3

Ladderback chair designs 2#4                                                      #5

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Designing an Upholstered Dining Chair, Part One

The last addition to our catalog of dining furniture was the Heflin Barstool.  We developed it in response to requests for a barstool with a back — designed and built to our standards of comfort, style, and durability.  It has been proven.  On the website, there is a page describing its genesis:

The way we do it, the design and development of a chair require a very large investment of heart and mind, time and money.  To make that investment, we must perceive a need and receive an inspiration.  It’s not all toil; it’s some fun.

We are now responding to a new category of comments and requests, for example:  “Do you have an upholstered seat dining chair?”  “We need color in our dining room.”  “Wooden chairs are kitchen chairs and upholstered chairs are dining room chairs.”

We have an idea, and we are designing an upholstered dining chair.

We have studied upholstered chairs, researched the literature, queried others in the trade, and experimented with materials and arrangements.

First, we had to choose the category of seat to develop.

Will the upholstery be on a panel that sits on the finished wood chair frame, will it be on a panel that drops into the chair frame, or will it be directly attached to the finished chair?  We chose to design a chair with a drop-in, upholstered seat, where the upholstery is an integral part of the sculpture.

Knowing the category of seat, we were ready to test.  We built a “fitting booth.”  The fitting booth has adjustments for the pitch of the elements and for the relationship of the upholstered seat to the lumbar support.  Since we are using our proven lumbar and upper back support, we have not had to develop those curves and surfaces, a big plus.

Chair Fitting Booth

Upholstery being a new medium for us, the fitting booth has been in the shop for months. Many friends and visitors have helped us find the way.

A fitting booth trial

Another fitting trial

Another fitting trial

How do we keep flesh from being compressed between bone and the wood of the upholstery frame without using so much cushioning that you feel “perched on top, rather than settled into?”  (This is a quote from a perceptive client helping us test.)

Concurrent with testing webbing and foam, we developed the upholstery frame shown below.  Note the sculpted relief and imagine the “settling into.”  There is relief at the front for your thighs.  There is relief at the back to locate your hipbones so that your lumbar is supported by the chair splats and to make room between bone and wood.

Upholstered Seat Frame

For the webbing over the frame and under the cushioning, what is the best material?  What is the best spacing and tension for it?

We ordered samples of webbing with different widths and flexibility and tried different spacing and tension.  In the photo on the left below, I am applying some webbing.  In the photo on the right, I am tearing out some webbing.  We could have taken many such photos.

Experiments With Webbing

What is the best density and thickness of foam for the cushion?

Again, we ordered samples.  We ordered various densities and thicknesses and tested them with different webbings.

Fitting Booth

I rigged up a way to test the difference in compression of latex and polyurethane foam with wood scrap and a bucket of bolts.

Testing Foam Seat Padding

Here is the booth with some of the materials we used for testing and some failed upholstered seats.

Fitting Booth

The typical upholstered frame used today is a piece of plywood with a hole cut in it and webbing over it.  We tried one of those early on, knowing it was not going to work, for when sitting back in such chairs, your tailbone is right over wood at the edge of the hole cut for the webbing.  In the top photo below, you can see the point of contact at the tip of Austin’s finger.  In the lower photo below, you can see the relief for tailbones that we have formed on our seat frame.  Sitting back in our chairs is essential to experience the comfort of the lumbar support, and they are designed to locate your hips and tailbone deep in the chair seat.

Unrelieved Seat Frame

Relieved Seat Frame

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