During my early research into Roorkee chairs I received at least a dozen e-mails from chairmakers and fellow woodworkers with this simple message: Turn back; the Roorkee is a bad design.
Many of these woodworkers had sat in mid-20th century versions and reported that it was like falling into in gunny sack with an anaconda. There was no support for your lower back (or any other part). And after a few minutes you lost blood circulation to your legs.
The Roorkee chairs I had built to that point weren’t like that at all. So I persisted in refining my chairs based on what I’ve learned about building Windsor-style chairs during the last 10 years. The result is a chair that I can sit in for hours at a time. Others agree with my assessment. Last weekend I took one of my Roorkees to the Lie-Nielsen Open House where people lined up to sit in it all weekend.
So what’s the difference between the chair in “Campaign Furniture” and the killer gunny sacks? Take a look at the chair above.
This is a mid-20th century copy of a copy of a copy of a Kaare Klint chair that was made to maim you. Mark Firley of The Furniture Record blog bought a pair of these chairs on my behalf so I could study some of their details.
There are several things that make this chair somewhat uncomfortable. Here is a short list.
1. The material is a flimsy vinyl backed by jute. So it actually is a vinyl-covered gunny sack. You might be able to get away with a thin material in the seat, but not for the back. The back offers no support.
2. The back is too short. This short chir back presses your flesh back above your lumbar. A thick material (such as 8 oz. leather) that reaches to your lower back supports the lumbar region quite well.
3. The thigh straps are flimsy and narrow. Out of the four thigh straps that came with the chairs, three were broken. Without these straps, which run under the seat from left to right, your legs get pinched on the front rail and go numb. I’m going to make a wide, leather thigh strap for this chair and see if it helps.
4. The rails directly under the arms. These prevent the arm straps from stretching too much (a good thing), but they are uncomfortable after a short while. Imagine relaxing your arms on dowels; that’s what it feels like.
To be fair, this chair has its charms. The tapered tenons fit into their mortises with a slight compression fit. This makes the chair feel stable and still allow it to move to adjust to an uneven floor. I’m going to have to play with this idea in my own chairs.
The other charming thing about it is its overall look. I can only imagine how many wife-swapping parties this chair saw.
Speaking of that, I had better burn the vinyl upholstery.
— Christopher Schwarz