Designing an Armbow

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One of the parts of my next armchair that I’ve struggled with is the shape of the armbow. On my most recent chair, I used a maple arm that was cold-bend hardwood. It’s a sleek look, but I decided that it was too complex for “The Anarchist’s Design Book.”

So I decided to go back to the first stick chairs I built in 2003 and use a three-piece armbow. This form of arm is chunkier, but you don’t need to bend anything, and it can be really strong if you orient the grain so it follows the curve of the arm.

The armbow is 7/8” thick and 2” wide for the most part. Then it swells to 2-3/8” at the hands. Well, swells isn’t the right word. I began expanding the radius of the outside of the arm along the front 4”. How did I do this? French curves.

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Then I used a second french curve to make the front edge of the armbow.

This was not all one flash of inspiration. This was four iterations. Draw it on paper. Cut it out in 5mm underlayment plywood. Stare at it until I hate it. Repeat.

I kept doing this until I didn’t hate it.

Then I cut out the arms in some air-dried locust (thanks Brendan!).

Tomorrow it’s back to working on the seat.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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6 Responses to Designing an Armbow

  1. nrhiller says:

    Gorgeous wood!

  2. Wade Holloway says:

    I like the looks of this arm rest a lot and doing it in 3 pieces instead of bending will make it easier. But I am mainly interested in the seat and on hollowing it out. I have two seats already glued up but keep putting off on hollowing them out mainly because I am not really sure of the technique and afraid of messing it up. So personally I would like to see a little more info on the seat that you are starting on tomorrow if at all possible.

    • Hi Wade,

      The best description of how to saddle a seat I know of is in Peter Galbert’s “Chairmaker’s Notebook.” I don’t know how I could improve on it.

      If that doesn’t click for you, my advice would be to get a lesson in person. That always helps as it is a 3D sculpture.

      • Wade Holloway says:

        Thanks for the guidance, I had forgot about that resource. Order placed. Thanks!

  3. willowatt says:

    Is this the same type of process John Brown and Chris Williams uses on some of their arm bows? Really interested in how that all goes together. Looks like there may be dowels involved in some of the photos I’ve seen. Hope to see more details about this process. Nice work, thanks!

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