Not Wrong Enough for a Good Fire

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Yesterday I dry-assembled this Irish Gibson chair and gave it a good squat. It sits very well, but there are some details that are a bit off. Mark Jenkinson, an Irish chair expert and owner of a cider mill, has been coaching me on the finer details of these chairs.

Here are some details I missed.

  1. My back sticks aren’t notched into the arms. On most Gibson chairs there is a small birdsmouth-like notch cut into the arms to receive the sticks that form the outside of the “W.” Curiously, the photos of the chair I studied to make my chair don’t have these notches. I’ll have to change my arm pattern slightly to fix this. Easy.
  2. My seat rakes backward. Mark noted that the Gibson chairs he has studied have seats that are parallel to the floor. Again, the example I studied had a raked seat. That could have been the result of the front legs being replaced. I like the backwards rake of this chair, so it will be interesting to sit in some historical examples to compare the opinions from my backside.
  3. The “hands” on the arms are a bit off. Mine end in a lollipop shape. The originals are more of a half-lollipop. It’s an easy fix to the template.
  4. All my sticks and legs likely need some more taper at the ends. This detail – called entasis – is something I apply lightly. Chairs can start to look real clownish real quick if you taper things too much (at least in my experience). I’ll sneak up on it with the next iteration.

Despite all these flaws, I’m pretty happy with the chair, especially for a first draft. Several people have asked me questions about the chair’s design. Here are some answers.

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  1. Does it feel like sitting in a dentist chair? The seat rakes back dramatically! Nope. The rake of the back is about what you get in a Morris chair (it’s 25° off 90°). It’s definitely not a dining chair, but it’s a nice lounger.
  2. Why is it so low to the ground? Earlier chairs tend to be lower for a number of reasons. This one is 15”, which is only 3” lower than a modern chair. Again, I think this is for lounging. The seat height matches a lot of Morris chairs I’ve studied.
  3. Why isn’t the seat saddled? Vernacular chairs don’t feature as much saddling as factory chairs or city chairs. Many vernacular chairs have zero saddling. This is fixed with a cushion or sheepskin. It’s my opinion that saddling is not the No. 1 factor in a chair’s comfort.
  4. What’s with the chunky crest rail? It looks wrong. Actually, I got the crest rail pretty darn right (thanks again Mark!). It adds greatly to the comfort of the chair and suits the shoulders. It also gives a solid feel as you lean back. I think it looks chunky only until you get used to it. Then it looks right.

What’s next? Usually I dive in and rebuild a design a few more times to get things closer to a final design. But I’m going to stay my hand here. Lucy and I are headed to Ireland this fall to meet Mark, see chairs and do some romantic stuff. I’m going to let the real Gibson chairs dictate  my next move.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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26 Responses to Not Wrong Enough for a Good Fire

  1. thospenner says:

    Happy to see you still have the time to “fool” around

    Like

  2. connell100 says:

    I would like to find out more about Mark Jenkinson. However, it appears I can only find him on Facebook. I don’t have “F___book” (don’t get me started!).

    Do you have a website or some contact?

    Thanks!

    Like

  3. Andy Kev. says:

    They say that when you discover wine, you start with sweet white and then move on to dry white, then reds and finally rediscover the magic of fine sweet wines. You’ve done chests, tables, cupboards etc. and now you are spending much time with chairs which is perhaps the equivalent of good claret. I wonder if you, like the classic wine drinker, will rediscover what you started with. (This is just idle musing prompted by this evening’s glass of excellent Pauillac. Attach no particular significance to it.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve never heard that. It certainly applies to my musical journey.

      One thing to consider is I started with chairs in 1990s – I was just too embarrassed to show them. Not sure if I’m going around the horn now or just getting started.

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment!

      Like

    • mike says:

      I don’t know anyone who took that wine journey. I started with dry reds and 20 years later mostly drink dry reds. I rarely drink whites but will sometimes have an Eiswein after dinner if my table is ordering a bottle. But I prefer bourbon or port after dinner.

      Like

  4. Ken says:

    I like it.

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  5. jpassacantando says:

    After a long day working with human induced problems in abstract world, the blog is a thing of beauty. We’re getting a free design course here folks. Plus I got a new word: “entasis” which, having now read the wiki entry, strikes me as something like my Pink Floyd albums, best understood in an altered state. And, of course, that chair looks cool.

    Thanks Chris.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Despite its flaws, this is still a chair that you can use. That’s quite an accomplishment and you should be proud. As they say, practice makes perfect!

    Shoot, if I tried my hand at this, I’d only complete the “air” in chair lol.

    Great effort though,really!

    Like

  7. jpbturbo says:

    I like it.

    Is the left arm sitting at a different angle?
    Maybe it’s just the pictures messing with my head since the overall shapes aren’t very familiar.

    I’m excited to see where you go with it.

    Like

  8. Gregory Betit says:

    The crest drail is chunky. You said it.

    Like

  9. TA Blank says:

    I think I’d really like this chair. Lower to the floor, raked seat, raked back, I can slouch down and kick my feet out in front of me, wouldn’t need a foot stool. I think you’ve got it. This is a relax and enjoy the world chair. All it need is a side table with wee dram of Irish.

    Like

  10. John H says:

    How did you get the curve in the crest rail? How thick is the crest rail? Did you stem bend it? I like the look of the chair, especially the rake. It looks very comfortable!

    Like

  11. johncashman73 says:

    I looked through his Instagram, and the notched arms for the back sticks and the half-lollipop arms are nice touches. They stick in the brain — once we’re told to look for them. It underscores the ways in which a design undergoes replicative drift.

    Like

  12. Tony R says:

    Seat height on older chairs can be uncomfortable for today’s population. People, on average, are taller than in the past. Also, older people, seniors as I’m called, find it easier to get up from a taller seat height, a couple of inches makes a big difference. So maybe there is no perfect seat height. I like your Irish chair but still prefer a Windsor, to each his own.

    Like

  13. Pascal Teste says:

    Interesting design. The chair looks alive, searching for a human with its radar dish looking crest rail, arm rests ready to capture a behind and pull it down onto the seat. All made out of maple it looks like?

    Like

  14. Interesting to see how low the chair is to the floor. I’m curious if you know if chair heights have generally risen as we’ve grown taller over the centuries? And I like chairs with seats that are raked like this one because my butt slides back to the spindles. I think I’d like sitting in this one!

    Like

  15. Matt Witmer says:

    I noticed the two benches in the background on the left are “propped up” with a piece of wood to make them higher. Just curious as to the purpose. I bought all of your bench books and made mine to the height that you instructed so I can use hand tools effectively. I’m guessing you wanted them higher for a certain procedure.
    I like the chair. I’m sure you will tweak the design as time goes by.

    Like

  16. oltexasboy says:

    Chris , if you have answered this question I missed it sorry. So, how do you tell a windsor from welsh stick chair,or Irish ? This weekend I saw, what at first glance looked to be a “W” back windsor but the back splat was all wrong.The arm rail wasn’t continuous etc. etc. With the exception of what we classically see or call a Windsor chair (Windsor institute chairs) what are your markers for determining which is which?

    Like

    • Windsor chairs are English in origin and are based on patterns from that country. They can be made anywhere (U.S., Wales, you name it). They have definite forms (sack back, rod back, bow back etc.) that you can find in any book on Windsors.

      Welsh chairs are made in Wales. They don’t follow the English patterns. In fact they might pre-date them. Most were made by the end user. Not a factory.

      So it’s really a matter of buying a few good books on Windsor chairs (there are tons). And then study the few books on Welsh chairs. The differences will then jump out at you.

      Sorry I can’t provide a simple sniff test. Maybe someone else can.

      Like

      • jonathan green-plumb says:

        I have made a few stick back chairs in the past and have studied the Welsh and West Country types as well as the Irish ‘hedge-chairs’. I am curious about some of the criticisms of your chair that you have received, as if there is a formulaic manner to the making of them ?! A few years ago I acquired photos of all the stick back chairs that are in the collections of the St Fagans Museum in Wales. The aspect that makes them so wonderful is their ingenuity and widely stylistic differences. The common features are underlying; flat seats, raked legs, mortise and tenon construction and so on, but not the standard features that many of the Windsor chairs have. Your chair looks good and if it looks like it will be comfortable I think there is much value in trusting gut instincts to the making of such chairs.

        Like

  17. Klaus N. Skrudland says:

    In musical terms, a Welsh stick chair is Bob Dylan. A Windsor is more like Steely Dan.

    Like

  18. Steve S says:

    What colors will they come in. Love the chair

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