One of the things I most like about making furniture is something that’s rarely talked about: It is a lot like being a 15th-century explorer.
You sometimes venture into places that you think are new and untouched, but like the Genoese, you find that people have already been there and built great things. What you do next could make or break your piece’s design.
As I’m building these Roorkhee chairs I’m using an original as a pattern and trying to stay as close as possible to the vintage lines, materials and measurements. As I turned the legs, I found that the cylinder shape near the top of the legs is not just decorative and it’s not just intended to reduce the weight of the piece.
It is, instead, a perfect grip for the human hand. The cylinder on the original is 1-1/4” in diameter and 3” long, with a wide bevel at the top and bottom (which is no fun to turn, by the way). When complete, this grip makes it easy to pick up the assembled chair and move it. Brilliant.
Modern interpretations of the Roorkhee have stunted this cylinder or turned it into a vase-like turning that isn’t easy to grab or hold. Stupid moderns.
Another good detail: The original chairs are exactly as deep as they are wide. This allows all the rails to be interchangeable. So when you assemble your Roorkhee in camp you don’t have to label your parts – tab A into slot B. No matter how you assemble it, it always comes out the same. Newer commercial versions of the chair add width but not depth. This requires the user to pay more attention when assembling the chair.
And this is the point in the project at which I think I must depart from the original. The original chair has 16-1/2” of space between the legs. Stop reading for a minute, pick up your tape measure and determine how wide you are at the hips. I’m 15” wide. That would give me 3/4” of space on either side of a traditional Roorkhee.
When I build stick chairs, I have always used about 18” between the spindles or legs of the chair. When I build Morris chairs, it’s usually about 23” of space. My gut says I should make these chairs have 18” to 19” space between the legs. It is, after all, designed for lounging.
But my gut can be wrong, like when I thought it would be a good idea to eat one more seafood sausage. So I’m going to make a version with 16-1/2” between the legs – but I’m going to use cheap poplar dowels for the rails.
Then we’ll see if my gut fits. Literally.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. As I wrote this blog entry I kept thinking how furniture could be an “undiscovered country.” To impress Megan Fitzpatrick, I thought I’d trot out the Bill Shakespeare quote about that from Hamlet:
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
But that’s not me. I have less culture than a petri dish at the CDC. This is more my (lack of) style.
This is the final cruise of the Starship Enterprise under my command. This ship and her history will shortly become the care of another crew. To them and their posterity will we commit our future. They will continue the voyages we have begun and journey to all the undiscovered countries, boldly going where no man – where no one – has gone before.
– James T. Kirk