All about the moaning chair

It’s called the ‘moaning chair’. The meaning becomes self evident, usually after passing your last piece of some expensive or exotic lumber through the table saw, only to discover that you’ve mistakenly ripped it to 8 inches, not the 9 inches you actually needed.

At times like these, there’s only one thing to do. You sit down in the moaning chair, as the sinking feeling spreads through your body like a cold November chill, and you realize the implications of your mistake. You stare at the too-narrow piece, desperately trying to find a solution. Joinery covers a multitude of sins, you say to yourself, while strategizing on how you might spline an additional piece onto the now-ruined board. No, that’s no good, you realize, because although the nearly invisible joint won’t be seen by anyone, you will know it is there, a constant and permanent reminder of your rashness and stupidity. You mentally assess the thickness of your wallet as you contemplate another run to the fine lumber dealer, knowing that you’re going to feel a bit foolish, asking for just a few board feet of Honduran Mahogany from the same batch you bought the original stock just a few days earlier. You can almost envision the faint smile on the dealer’s face as he realizes that you’ve either mis-measured… or mis-cut. You hope he doesn’t repeat that old cliché from the world of craftsmanship: measure twice, cut once.

Engineers, craftsmen, and woodbutchers all need a moaning chair. The purpose of the chair isn’t restricted to just those times when an errant saw cut or slip with a sharp chisel causes you to bemoan your mistake. The chair is also a wonderful thing for resting while wondering what ever motivated you to want to build this project in the first place… or, for those rare times when, smugly satisfied, you want to simply sit and admire the work you’ve done. It is a place to rest your feet when you realize that you’ve been standing at the bench too long, obsessively trying to fit that tenon into that mortise with nary a hair’s width of gap between the two.

My own moaning chair is an office chair, on casters, the modern kind with a height adjuster and neutral grey fabric covering. It is, of course, a broken chair (why else would it be sitting in my garage, covered with sawdust?). The tension spring that modulates the reclining mechanism is broken, which means that, once you sit down on it, you’re fully tilted back; it’s a good thing there’s a sawhorse or other object nearby to rest your feet. It’s a comfortable chair.

I need it more often that I’d like to admit.

Copyright 2003 by Norm Bernstein

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