When I took my first class in making Welsh stick chairs in 2003, the instructor asked if we wanted to trace his seat and arm templates.
It would be fair to say that John (the other guy in the class) and I freaked. We quickly grabbed cardboard, paper and pencils and began tracing all the templates. I still have those templates down in the basement, but I’ve never used them.
When I returned home from the class, I took a good look at the templates and realized that almost everything about the templates could be described with rectangles, squares and simple arcs. The rest could be easily sketched in with French curves.
Since that realization, I’ve always made my own templates. And I would rather show you how to make your own templates instead of providing a silly gridded drawing or something that had to be blown up 478 percent on a photocopier and then printed on a plotter.
Here are the tools you need:
- A big sheet of paper (I use cheap newsprint sheets). You also can draw these templates directly on thin MDF.
- Trammel points with one end being a pencil.
- A yardstick
- Drafting triangle
Draw the Seat
Most of my chairs use a D-seat, which looks like a more complicated shape than it really is. It’s simply a rectangle with a half-circle attached to one edge. To make the seat, first draw a rectangle that is 20” wide and 6-1/2” high. Draw a centerline though the rectangle’s 20” width.
Set your trammel points to a 10” radius. Scribe the half-circle arc where the centerline intersects one edge of the rectangle. That’s it.
All of the other parts of the chair – the arms, doubler and the crest all evolve from the seat shape. So, I’ve shown the seat in the illustrations to make this clear.
Make the Arms
The arms for my stick chair are 2” wide and start about 4-1/2” back from the front edge of the chair. Here’s how to lay them out. Start with the seat plan you just drew. The first arc is a half-circle with a 10” radius – just like the seat. Scribe that. Then adjust the trammels to describe a 12”-radius circle and scribe that on your paper.
Now add 2” x 2” squares to the front of your arms to make them longer and to match the shape of the seat. The illustration above shows this clearly.
Now you have the basic shape of the armbow. You can alter this shape to suit yourself. I decided to widen the arms at the front and add a curve to the front area of each arm. This part of the armbow is called the “hands.”
Create the Hands
I made my hands 3” wide at the front. Then I wanted the additional 1” to flow into the original arm so the armbow ended up 2” wide at the back.
This is the only difficult part of the exercise. I used French curves to create this irregular curve. You also could draw an ellipse, but using French curves is faster (for me). Then draw the arc at the front of the hands. It can be a simple arc or an irregular curve. Your call.
The “doubler” is a piece of wood that beefs up the armbow and helps strengthen any short grain. It has the same basic shape as the armbow but is only 12’ wide. Scribe two the arcs – one at a 10” radius with the second at 12”. Then use your yardstick to create endpoints that are 12” apart. Use these endpoints to connect your two arcs.
The crest begins just like the doubler – by scribing a 10” arc. Then set your trammels to draw an 11-1/4” arc. Use your yardstick to create endpoints that are 10-1/2” apart. Join the two arcs using the endpoints as a guide.
All the text above is much more difficult to follow than by simply studying the drawings. Everything flows out of the 10”-radius arc that is the back edge of the seat. Once you get that in your head, everything else is easy.
After you make your templates, you can transfer them to MDF or hardboard. Cut them out and smooth the edge with files and sandpaper. And put them in a safe place. While templates are easy to make, remaking lost ones is a grumpy affair.
— Christopher Schwarz