Save the Chairmaker, Save the World!

My first chair but, not my design. Built back in 2005.
My first chair but, not my design. Built back in 2005.

As you’ll see in my Gallery, I’ve made more than my fair share of ‘square-framed-things’ since I first took up woodwork as a hobby in 2005. At college, I like to take the opportunities to almost push myself and try new things; which is why I have decided that, for my final year [six, if you include the three-years of Carpentry!], I will be tackling ‘The Chair‘. They say that, if you can make a chair then, you can make anything

Current design of the chair Olly is building.
Current design of the chair at college.

This is something I’m designing for myself; my a*se, my dimensions for my comfort. I see this as a stand-alone item that I will be able to relax in. At a later date (if I can find the space, indoors…) I would like to build myself a writing desk. So, without making the chair too ‘comfortable’, I’d also like to be able to work from it.

The ladder chair unfolds in to a short ladder!
The 'ladder chair' unfolds in to a short ladder!

One of the first pieces I made at home was actually a chair, way back in 2005; armed with little more than a pile of PAR southern yellow pine, a Makita jigsaw and a terrible, cheap 10in. table saw! Oh, and not forgetting the book from which the design was copied (The Essential Pine Book).

Note how the back legs taper inward from the top.
Notice how the back legs splay inward from the top.

So. After reading several books, scribbling away in my sketch book and spending another couple of weeks watching the hours pass on Google SketchUp, I was getting tired, needing to cut some wood and so, began the mock-up!

As you can probably tell from these photographs, I wanted to include a fair bit of shaping in to this project (some may say I have overdone it…). The seat will also be carved out to (hopefully!) suit my posterior and, in a nod to the late Sam Maloof, it will be housed directly in to the legs.

A subtle curve has been added to the stretchers.
Stretchers have been given a very subtle curve.
Both rear legs kick out towards at the bottom.
Both rear legs 'kick out' at the bottom.

I’m generally quite satisfied with the design in its current state [apologies for not taking a side-on shot, without which you cannot fully appreciate the curves of the legs]. There’s still a decision to be made on the shape of the back splat [wide vertical rail] as I feel the one you can see (approximately 6in. wide) leaves too much of a gap either side. Gary (my tutor) thinks that two slats look better. I may leave this decision until I’ve bought all the wood, so that I can let ‘it’ do the talking – if I find a really nice length that can be book-matched then, I’ll look in to it […working ‘on the fly’ – wasn’t that Krenov? Now, all I need is a nod to Alan Peters and I’ll feel I’ve payed my respects for this year! :)].

Curving the back rail in this way improves comfort.
Curving the back rail improves comfort.

Timber selection is giving me a bit of a headache at the moment. Really, it’s got to be British and I’d like to work in something I haven’t used before (which rules out oak, ash and the usual suspects). I have this idea to use walnut for the seat and possibly for part of the lamination in the back splat. Chestnut was the first species to come to mind. It looks quite like oak (if you can find it!) but, apparently, it’s not as strong as oak and may not lend itself as well to thinner components as other species’ would (thinking of the curved stretchers and short-grain issues). Gary also said it can be quite “carroty” to work (like kiln-dried timber), which may put off with all that shaping… Elm is another I may consider although, I do have concerns as to the stability of this wood. Well, if it’s easier than ash to shape with hand tools then, I think it’s worth considering! 😉 Again, I’ll also need to consider whether I’d be happy to build a desk in the same wood later.

Olly found two slats provided less comfort.
I've found that two slats are less comfortable.

All comments and thoughts would be equally welcome and appreciated at this stage. If little else, you may want to think twice before embarking on a similar project in a hurry – in chair design, it seems as though most of your time is spent on developing your ideas in to a practical  solution. The making time should be minimal, by comparison. Not only are you looking to create something that looks good but, it’s got to be functional; fit for intended purpose.
Chair with one central splat.

Now, if I can just get the hang of this HTML business… It may look okay right now but, it’s taken two-nights and I’m convinced these photos have a mind of their own!! 😡

Less images? More text?! I’m not sure what the answer but, as with woodwork, I’m sure I’ll pick it up somewhere along the way! 😉

3 thoughts on “Save the Chairmaker, Save the World!

  1. Hi Olly, I’m still following your progress here.

    About the Chestnut, I’d have to say what you’ve been told is true. I don’t think it really splinters on short grain as I once made an oval table top out of it and it worked really nicely actually. It is a bit stringy thou which could cause you grief in the long term.

    More pictures and more text pls!

    1. Thanks, Chems (and, also, to everyone else who’s replied previously!).

      How easy was it to find? Did you find a local supplier with plenty in stock? Down here, there doesn’t seem to be much about; bits and pieces, really. If I went a bit further north and probably to Oxford (as I did with the brown oak last year) then, I reckon I might be able to find some.

      We did find a reasonable ‘offcut’ of chestnut last week. When college reopens again next week, I’ll have to have a play and see what I think.

      I’m definitely thinking of walnut for the seat! 😉 I’d like something which provides a ‘warm’ contrast to that, rather than the stark contrast against something like sycamore. Maybe I will end up working with oak or ash again?! 🙄

      1. I got it from Good Timber in Northampton.

        If you want me to pick it up an send some down I’d be happy to.

Any questions? Please get in touch.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.