The chairmakers’ hitch

Chairmakers hitchDavid Fisher’s blog post about holdfasts and ratchet straps this afternoon prompted me to put down the plane and pick up the camera to share something I’ve had in my head for a while.

Last week was London Craft Week. I missed most of it. Passing a shop on Upper Street I saw the aftermath of a seat weaving demonstration from Danish Modern furniture makers Carl Hansen. The batten across the stretchers is tensioned by a bottle screw. It looks as though this setup is specific to one chair – the Hans Wegner CH23.IMG_3243

I don’t make runs of chairs so need more flexible methods. Rather than a bottle screw I use a Truckers’ Dolly. I feel a bit of a fraud holding forth on knots. My dad taught me all the knots I know (and teaches marlinespikery) and he still has a head full of them that I didn’t have the patience to learn. He uses the Truckers’ Dolly for securing loads to his trailers. This varies from tensioning a tarpaulin to holding down a boat. Last year we tied a large, wet, oak log to a trailer with this and it didn’t shift a millimetre for the fifty mile journey. When I was a kid we decided to test the power of it and added several purchases along a length of line. The extra purchase more than compensated for the increased friction and we pulled a small willow stump from the ground. However it’s not designed for dynamic loads; holding static loads securely is its strength.

Here I’m using a simplified version. Dad would have a few improvements, I’m sure. He’d want a directional figure of eight rather than that overhand knot on a bight and he’d get at least one more purchase on there.

Here’s how it’s done:

  • Secure the holdfast to the bench with a firm clout.
  • Tie a round turn and two half hitches to the holdfast.
  • Take the line over the stretcher or batten and put an overhand knot on the bight.
  • Take the line back round the holdfast and up to the bight.
  • Through the bight, pull down hard. The chair will move slightly if it isn’t perfectly aligned over the holdfast.
  • Pull down hard on the purchase and take the line around the whole mess with two half hitches. These will pull it all together tensioning it even more.

If you have space you can add more purchase to it with more bights until the friction becomes more of a hindrance than the purchase helps. Leather over the stretcher will help prevent slips and leather on the batten across two stretchers will add some padding.

11 thoughts on “The chairmakers’ hitch

  1. Probably not a directional figure eight; more probably a half hitch held in tension by the purchase.
    I was a little surprised by the two half hitches around both parts, but I can see the point.
    Do you need more purchase? Wouldn’t that tend to break the cross bits of wood (?name) ?

    With the deepest respect for your skills,

    Your Dad

    Liked by 2 people

      • Knots are like edged tools; you need very few, but it’s good to have specific ones for a purpose.
        You can tease me about my knots if I can tease you about your planes!

        I was fascinated by the combination of holdfast and trucker’s dolly. I’ve used a similar purchase to hold logs still while I use a chainsaw. Is there any evidence for medieval craftsmen using ropes to hold things still while they work on them?

        Liked by 1 person

  2. No evidence of medieval craftsmen doing so that I’m aware of but in some parts of the world practices using the same tools as medieval times and rope as a hold-down have survived. I’ll lend you “Woodworking in Estonia”. It shows a chap seated at a low bench with his foot in a loop that pulls across a workpiece in front of him.


  3. You’d be better served not to make your bight with an overhand knot. Cinched up too tight they may be difficult to impossible to take apart; hence the moniker “hatchet knot”. Better, and easier in my humble opinion, to tie a proper truckers hitch, which is really a half a sheep shank with the standing part passed through to power. A simple half turn, or two (creating in effect a clove hitch), around your bight easily comes out after being hardened down. Actually, easier to tie than following my description.
    Sorry, had to put my two cents in. I’ve been using a trucker’s hitch for nearly 50 years now, though I’m not a trucker, but a mariner.
    I enjoy your blog immensely. I especially like the looks of your boot box. such and simple yet elegant design. I’ll be making my own soon.
    Thank you. Now reading your earlier posts.


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