News from the Land of the Tiny Pelvis

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

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24 Responses to News from the Land of the Tiny Pelvis

  1. “Computer… these 16 1/2″ long rails are too short for my gut. Please increase their length to accommodate my increasing berth. Send the parts to the replicator in my quarters. Kirk out.”

  2. John F. says:

    Did you misread the third sentence of the James Kirk quote as “To them and their posteri(ors) will we commit our fu(rni)ture?”

  3. fitzpatm says:

    “To business that we love we rise betime, And go to it with delight.”

    I’m pleased with the Will. But, um, my hips will not fit comfortably in 16-1/2″ – not so pleased to be reminded of my propensity to consume too much cheese.

    • Publius Secundus says:

      OK. The chair standard is now one Megan wide. Or for some (most) of us, a Megan and a half. Or 1.618 Megans, as appropriate for the bucket seat to fit the bucket. And we like the quotes from Francis Bacon a/k/a Shakespeare.

      • fitzpatm says:

        “I do not bite my thumb at you, sir/but I bite my thumb, sir.”

      • Publius Secundus says:

        I commend you to Mark Twain’s “Is Shakespeare Dead?” Yep, that tremendous lawyer and man of letters Bacon was very accomplished, writing all those things ascribed to Will, the ne’er-do-well theater operator with no education who almost never left the village. And yet, do you insult with your thumb?

  4. Shannon M. says:

    I just measured the chair that I am currently sitting in. It is a rather comfortable office chair with arms. The distance between the inside of the arms is ………….. 161/2 in. Since there is no “side” to a Roorkhee chair, there is plenty of “spootch” room at the sides, as long as the seat supports your pelvic bones.

    Lest someone think I’m just petite, I’m 6’1” and weigh 205. I’m not so sure the extra 11/2 in would make much difference, but since you are making both, I guess we will soon know for sure.

    As an aside, do you think a canvas seat could work on this chair, or would it stretch too much?

  5. John Cashman says:

    I just measured my thigh, halfway between hip and knee. Nine and a half inches. I do not see a Roorkhee in my future.

  6. Barrie Hope says:

    What about, “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there” – L P Hartley. And the quote from Hamlet is fantastic – finely crafted like a Krenov cabinet.

  7. Dave says:

    1.618 The Golden Megan.
    A new standard is born!

    • fitzpatm says:

      ugh. Call it the Golden Cheese (that is, after all, the reason for the increase in size)

  8. Lee says:

    The seats in the La Scala Opera House in Milan are 13-1/2″ wide.

  9. Lee says:

    The seats in the La Scala Opera house in Milan are 13-1/2″ wide. Granted, these were the “cheap seats’, but could you imagine sitting through three and one half hours of Wagner with that little butt room?

    Lee (the saw guy)

  10. Greg Miller says:

    The original campaign chair I copied from many years ago was 18″ between the legs, so I stuck with that. Maybe it’s a subtle anti-collapse measuring device. If you don’t fit the chair it’s keeping you from busting one of the two rails which take all the weight! There may be a serious side to this idea. A wider chair may need heavier sections of timber.

    I made many of these lovely chairs over the years, and had only two rail breakages. I replaced the rail each time at no cost to the customer. One time, it was a “falling shake” in the timber that I had missed – those hidden fractures across the grain can be very hard to pick in some of our Australian hardwoods. The other time, a front rail sheared off right at the point where the tapered tenon entered the leg. In this case a very large person had plonked their bulk down onto the chair heavily – maybe in an effort to fit between the front legs. They ended up unceremoniously on the floor, between the upright legs and with the leather chair arms up under their armpits. Must’ve been quite a sight! Hope it was soft cheese.

    Incidentally, Chris, I spotted the reamer in the brace in the background to the picture. Did you get that custom made? What is the timber you’ve using for the legs?

    • lostartpress says:


      I still owe you a box of stuff for helping me. I haven’t forgotten… just been busy.

      The wood is mahogany. The reamer is standard from Lee Valley. I also used their spoke pointer. Here’s a video I’ll be posting tomorrow:

      And I ended up with 18″ after some experimentation.

      Thanks for your insight.

      • abtuser says:

        Thought about buying those from LV a while back, hesitated as I thought they might violate some type of ‘modern made’ rule. Now I know better. On the list. I also covet the Rigid Spindle/Belt sander on the self in the background.

  11. tman02 says:

    I think the wider chair would be more comfortable for most of our commodious brethren.
    Yes there is “spootch” room in the original, but it would seem some of us would have parts overhanging, and that does not strike me as comfortable.

    Also, I like your James T. Kirk quote – at least I can understand what it is saying.

    The “Golden Cheese” – a gal after my own heart!

    “Life is great. Cheese makes it better.”
    ― Avery Aames, The Long Quiche Goodbye

    • Rascal says:

      Groannnnnnn! Seriously, better nutrition and health care have allowed us to realize our proper growth potential so we’re just bigger people than even a few hundred years ago. And to be sure, some of us (myself included) do enjoy our cheese, not to mention chocolate and sudsy liquids. So it stands to reason that a modern human would not be comfortable in the La Scala seats, and might need a bit more room (and possibly beefier tenons in the stretchers) in the seat. Just a matter of scaling up slightly. And a note to Megan… I never met a woman who thought her beam wasn’t too wide. In my expert opinion, the vast majority look terrific to me (there was no pun intended by the use of the word vast in that sentence; honest!)

  12. Peggy Schneider says:

    “I have less culture than a petri dish at the CDC.”
    Ha ha, thanks from the microbiologist in the crowd!

  13. Kenny Horne says:

    Funny how I never noticed that Chris’ divider logo is strikingly similar to the uniform insignia from Star Trek…

  14. Stu says:

    Seafood.. sausage…

    Carry on.

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