Feeling Gravity’s Pull

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I’ve built three chairs during the last three weeks and, in the words of “Sesame Street,” “one of these things is not like the other.”

The first two chairs are right out of the forthcoming “The Anarchist’s Design Book,” and are for customers and to show my students what a finished chair can look like. But when it came time to build this third chair last week, I didn’t have a plan for it.

I stared at my parts for a bit and then did what I tell all my students: Work with what you got.

I had a partial seat with some odd mortises bored into it from when I was demonstrating how to calculate compound angles without trigonometry. The armbow was a leftover – the lesser son of a batch of five oak arms I made when roughing out some parts. The legs had some defects that had to be removed by tapering the legs more than usual. And I didn’t have sticks or a crest.

If this were a cabinet, I’d draw up a careful plan in CAD to ensure that the oddball parts would fit into a cohesive whole. But when building an outlier of a chair, sketches don’t help me much. It’s all by feel. (And sometimes I get the feeling I should dump the parts in the grill.)

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The legs looked to me like they needed some stretchers – they were thinner than usual. But I didn’t feel it needed a full H-stretcher. So I used an old undercarriage design where you put stretchers between the front and back legs only. Nothing goes left to right.

I know: What the heck? Why would someone do this? Here’s my take. Stretchers that run front to back help brace the undercarriage when some naughty boy tips the chair onto its back legs.

So what does the medial stretcher (which runs left to right) do? I use that stretcher to put the whole undercarriage in tension so I can use legs with more rake and splay than usual. The legs of this experimental chair, however, don’t have as much splay as on my typical designs. So I omitted the medial stretcher.

On the sticks, I decided to put five long sticks in the back and omit two of the short sticks. It used exactly the same amount of raw material as a regular four-stick chair. Why did I do this? I like the negative space created by the gap between the short sticks and long sticks. I used to do this on chairs many years ago and felt like revisiting it.

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The five-stick back is just as comfortable as the four-stick back. No, the center stick doesn’t violate your spinal column.

The crest is also a step backward. I tried four different crest rails – they are like trying on chapeaux whilst at the haberdasher, said me, never. After some struggles I conjured up an old crest design that added to the hourglass shape of the chair.

After the whole thing was together I showed it to Megan Fitzpatrick and my wife, Lucy. I was afraid I’d made a dog’s dinner. They both said it was one of the nicest chairs I’ve made.

Today I finished it up with satin lacquer. This oak has a beautiful grey cast and the lacquer (which is more water white) will preserve that color. An oil and wax finish would obliterate the grey cast with their amber tendencies.

In all, I can say the chair is a wonderful sitter (for both tall and short people). I’m a bit bemused that I used long-discarded design elements to finish it up. But that is what these parts demanded, I guess.

The chair is now sold. This chair doesn’t have a home, and so I’m selling it as a prototype – $800 plus actual shipping costs. If you are interested in it, send me a note through my personal website.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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15 Responses to Feeling Gravity’s Pull

  1. Richard Mahler says:

    I like everything about it: the lesser splay of the legs, their lighter weight, the open space between the arm and comb sticks, no forward rake of the arm sticks, and I always appreciate stretchers on a chair! I agree it is one of your nicest chairs.

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  2. “I stared at my parts for a bit and then did what I tell all my students: Work with what you got.”

    Ouch.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Richard Michael Brunelle says:

    I am no expert. But I think this be a very fine chair.

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  4. This whole thing has a feel of “I accidentally made a chair”

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  5. woodworkerme says:

    I love the chair ,I love that you left out two short sticks to leave a an open space for the thing on my hip to rest without pushing my back into a wired angle. If you don’t mind I am thinking that this is the chair I would like to build in October. my first real chair.

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  6. Pascal Teste says:

    Nice work! With this one I find that you have achieved to transform a traditional form into a very modern looking design. Really beautiful lines, and the finish is perfect. Bravo!

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  7. krexhall says:

    I really like this chair. It has a unique look that appeals to me.

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  8. jayedcoins says:

    Looks great! Dare I say the negative space between the long and short sticks, along with the odd number of long sticks and the symmetry it provides, gives the chair some Windsor-y characteristics.

    I like that the stretchers are completely different to what we see in everyday. Both the lack of a center stretcher and the way they’re riding low.

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  9. Klaus N. Skrudland says:

    It’s beautiful, Chris. Chair reductionism at its finest. Inspirational. Thanks for giving us a walkthrough of the creative process, too!

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  10. Brian says:

    I agree with everyone else, the best of your always beautiful chairs.

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  11. MIke says:

    best chair yet

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  12. Joe says:

    Fables of the chair construction…

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  13. nrhiller says:

    I love seeing the ways you modify a basic design. And “like trying on chapeaux whilst at the haberdasher, said me, never” is so good.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Will Highfield says:

    I have a picture of a stick chair you made in 2011. It was my favorite of your projects until now. This chair is a dandy. I think you’re on to something. Of course, I am partly welsh on my grandmother’s side.

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  15. Colorado Cowboy says:

    The chair can only be identified after … Where was it when you read that trilogy, at the end of the day when you enjoyed a puff on a pipe, you shared a whiskey with your father. For me, that seat is a bench, and part of what makes it the bench is where it is – out on the porch, by the main door of the shop, in the yard, where I can see the sinrise or set,, in the sun on a cold wnter day.

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