Several readers asked questions about our splitting parties. Some were curious as to why we do not rive stock all the way to chair parts. Others asked why we do not have the students do the riving. There is one very important reason – waste. Waste of wood, waste of time, and waste of energy.

When I first started teaching in 1980 I began each class with a whole log. I split the log with a maul and wedges while the class watched how it was done. I split it down small enough to then rive with a hatchet and froe. The work was back breaking. That was okay when I was young and full of energy. As I got older, splitting up a log exhausted me before I even began to teach chairmaking. It was like running a 5K race and then beginning to teach while still sweating and out of breath.

When I was done with the demonstration it was the classes’ turn to make its pieces. When the class began to rive they ruined the entire log. The ground was littered with wasted wood. The pieces were all partially split, but the splits had run out, ruining both sides. Why so much waste? Riving is a hard-to-learn skill. A group of people doing it for the first time are not going to have much success.

Students frustrated by the failed attemtps at riving students began making chair parts from hunks of oak the sixe of 2 X 4s. So, what did not end up on the ground as waste, ended up on the shop floor as waste. To top it off, students exhausted themselves making thin chair parts from huge pieces of stock. The class was soon as exhausted as I was. To top it off, making parts from grossly oversized pieces wasted huge amounts of class time that could be better used teaching chairmaking.

The way we process chair stock now results in no waste. The only wood that does not end up being made into chair backs is the bark and areas of the log that are flawed. Flawed wood has knots, crazy grain, or some other blemish. One hundred percent of the good wood is used.     

By processing the wood in advance, we are able to begin Monday morning teaching chairmaking. Of course we explain to the class how we got the oak blanks to this stage. However, we are able to explain the process by drawing pictures and describing what we do rather than exhausting ourselves.

Our splitting parties are very productive. Four of us can process the wood for many classes in a single day. We also process the wood we sell and ship all over the country. Anyone who has studied here has seen the freezer in the catalog building. We open the top and show off a six foot freezer full of frozen chair parts.

A bit of trivia about riving. Like shrive, shriven; and swived, swiven; rived, riven are both acceptable past participles.  Also, the word Reeve like in the Reeve’s Tale by Chaucer comes from the once common process of riving stock.

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A Windsor chairmaker suffered a massive heart attack. The family drove wildly to get him to the emergency room. After what seemed like a very long wait, the E.R. Doctor appeared, wearing his scrubs and a long face. Sadly, he said, ‘I’m afraid he is brain-dead, but his heart is still beating.’

Oh, Dear God,’ cried his wife, her hands clasped against her cheeks with shock !!! “He’s become a Shaker chairmaker.”

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The Shaker chairmaking business was quite slow. A Shaker chairmaker had to earn some more money. He decided hire himself out as a “handyman” and started canvassing a nearby well-to-do neighborhood. He went to the front door of the first house, and asked the owner if he had any odd jobs for him to do.

“Well, I guess I could use somebody to paint my porch,” the home owner said, “How much will you charge me?”

Delighted, the Shaker chairmaker quickly responded, “How about $50?”

The man agreed and told the Shaker chairmaker that the paint brushes and everything he would need were in the garage. The man’s wife, hearing the conversation said to her husband, “Does he realize that our porch goes ALL the way around the house?”


Later that day, the Shaker chairmaker came to the door to collect his money.

“You’re finished already?” the startled husband asked.

 “Yes, the Shaker chairmaker replied, and I even had paint left over, so I gave it two coats.”

 Impressed, the man reached into his pocket for the $50.00 and handed it to him along with a $10.00 tip. 

“And by the way, “the Shaker chairmaker added, “it’s not a Porch, it’s a Lexus.”

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