Experimental Chair No. 46


Whenever I can manage it, I try to build an experimental chair alongside one of my trusted designs. It gives me a chance to use less-than-perfect wood and see how things that have germinated in my sketchbook look in real life.

This week I started two stick armchairs in walnut – one that will be for sale and a second that might be for fire.

I’m building the experimental chair using the sappier parts of a walnut slab I bought in Lexington, Ky., last month. The board was cut from a street tree, so it’s not like lumberyard walnut. My tree grew fast, out in the open and has some odd coloring and grain, which is typical for a street tree.


The experiment with this chair is the armbow. With a traditional three-piece armbow, the “doubler” – the piece that joins the two arms – has always been a magnet for my eyes. I like the look – it’s traditional – but I’m always looking for ways to make the doubler recede into the overall design of the arm.

After chatting with Narayan Nayar about my efforts to minimize the doubler, he suggested repeating its design elsewhere on the chair. It could be added to the underside of the arm. Or the top of the chair seat. Repetition would make the doubler look more like part of a pattern than an “eye catcher.”

So after some sketching, I decided to use a “double doubler” that has 30° bevels on all edges – one on top of the arms and one on the bottom of the arms. I think I like the way it looks. But I’m going to have to finish the chair to know for sure.


Earlier Experiments
Some experiments work so well they get adopted immediately. A couple years ago I started making my stretchers into double-tapered octagons. Making this shape is a fair amount of work with a plane and a couple cradle blocks on my workbench.

But I loved the double-tapered octagons immediately.


Before embracing the double-taper octagon, I would turn or plane my stretchers into a round shape, usually cigar-ish or with a bulge in the middle. These rounded forms are traditional shapes, but I always thought they conflicted with the facets on the six- or eight-sided legs.

Other design ideas survive on the bench for minutes or even seconds before being chucked into the scrap pile. I try to forget about those ideas before I’m even tempted to write about them on the blog.

— Christopher Schwarz

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20 Responses to Experimental Chair No. 46

  1. johncashman73 says:

    If you have octagonal stretchers, why not octagonal through mortises?


  2. Dave Peterson says:

    I would like to see the process of planing the octagonal stretcher.


  3. John Hippe says:

    I like the look so far. Will be interesting to see it when completed and assembled. I am impressed with your efficiency — the ability to build one “real” project while simultaneously building a prototype. I am still very much in the learning stages where most of my time is spent faffing about trying to figure out what I should do, fixing mistakes, and finding my tools.


  4. John says:

    Have you considered using a cove in the end of the doubler? I like the bevels on the front and back edges and think a cove on the ends might blend it to the arm bow better then the bevel.


  5. Richard Mahler says:

    The octagon stretchers are a winner in my less-than-humble opinion. I too would like to see it being done as it appears difficult.


  6. jbakerrower says:

    Really like the double doubler. Never liked the thick bit in the traditional design.


  7. Andrew Brant says:

    Reminds me of an idea from jazz – if you make a ‘mistake’ during an improvised solo, just play it again, and it will seem intentional. Kind of magic.


  8. Chuck Nickerson says:

    For the ‘double-doubler’, could each of the doublers be thinner, or have you done that?
    That could really reduce the doubler component’s visual impact.


  9. Harry Wood says:

    Slightly off-topic but just a heads-up to say that BBC 1 last night (Sunday 10th Feb) featured a John Brown chair. You should be able to see this on BBC iPlayer.
    The gentleman who brought the chair to be featured paid £95 for it, however the expert valued it at £500


    • Hi Harry,

      Chris Williams passed that link to me and I watched that segment. We agreed it is most definitely not a John Brown chair. Or even a Welsh one. But it’s great that people know the name John Brown!


  10. Pascal Teste says:

    I think your double-doubler will look good. Perhaps you could even go thinner than half the thickness of a single for each? Having two that sandwich the joint will be much stronger than just one on the top. The way you laid out the grain direction and difference in colour on your armbow looks great! From your pics, I think the wood from this street walnut will make this chair look beautiful and distinctive.


  11. Fancy Lad Woodworking says:

    It’s a tough life for a young walnut tree growin’ up on the streets.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. David says:

    I have tended to be a hand-tool purist, but I recently tried Brian Boggs’ method of making octagonal components on a bandsaw (video on Instagram). It’s a simple v-block jig with a notch to accomodate the bandsaw blade. It’s so simple, accurate and lightning fast and each facet requires just cleaning with a plane. From there the tapers could be hand-planed very easily.


  13. Roland Stewart Chapman says:

    I find all of your posts very interesting . Regarding your comments about your eye being drawn inexorably towards the doubler on the chairs arms I am reminded of the Aussie aphorism “Jeeze mate , it sticks out like dogs balls”


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