The Itchy & Scratchy Design Process

american-welsh-stick-london-IMG_4157

The American Welsh stick chair I built in London last week. It’s made from European oak.

When I travel overseas, I sometimes take melatonin to help my body adjust to a new time zone. The good news: I think it works. The weird news: I have the strangest dreams when I take it.

This month, I’m in the U.K. to teach a few classes, take in some sights and do some serious chair research in High Wycombe, Wales and Ireland. Right now, I’m in London teaching a couple classes organized by Derek Jones at the school where he works, London Design & Engineering UTC.

On the night after my plane arrived, I was tossing about in the hotel bed, worried about the details of the chair class that was to begin the next morning. I took a tablet of melatonin and dreamt of chairs.

In the dream, I made a stick chair using plywood. The plywood arm was only one piece (and it had a doubler laminated on top). Here was the weird part – I was totally calm about the one-piece arm because there is no short grain in plywood.

Then I saddled the plywood seat and was fascinated by revealing the plies below with a travisher. It was like making a topographic map. The legs and crest were also plywood. The sticks were solid wood (I think).

When I woke up, I took a long hot shower to calm my pre-teaching jitters and realized that my dream wasn’t entirely stupid. In fact, by the time I had dried myself off, I had resolved to build a plywood stick chair.

Yes, I know you don’t like it. Please file your complaints with our Complaint Office.

Heck, I don’t even know if I like it, but I do know that I have to build it. When an idea gets under my skin – even a stupid idea – the only way to exorcise it is to construct it. So I’m going to pick up some Baltic birch ply when I get home and give it a go.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
This entry was posted in The Anarchist's Design Book, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

47 Responses to The Itchy & Scratchy Design Process

  1. Tyler says:

    Curtis Buchanan uses plywood to make the topographic seat maps for his plans, so it looks like you are in good company!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Robert Riley says:

    Sounds like a good idea to me. Should be interesting and would make a good project or article.

    Like

  3. Choirboy says:

    While I don’t think it would work in my house, I think it could actually be a pretty neat piece for some homes; perhaps mid-century modern. Do it, and then post the results on here, because I think it sounds interesting!

    Like

  4. Bill says:

    Go for it… sounds great. Can’t wait to see the outcome. Sounds like a good substrate to ply your trade…..

    Like

  5. ralmcc7yahoo.com says:

    Chris, I have been taking the same sleep aid for 3 years, I have not had any plywood chair dreams, but have been chased by a huge tiger in a very old house. Been shot at by ex-wife.
    So you got off easy. Ralph

    Liked by 5 people

    • Gerald says:

      Ralph, you may have got off easy too, depending how you feel about tigers with guns and ex-wives chasing you through a very old house. Just saying.

      Like

  6. David Wheat says:

    Shouldn’t ignore the source of inspiration. Conceptionally, it has a lot of potential. I look forward to seeing how it develops.

    Dream on!

    Like

  7. Mike T says:

    I’ve heard that a “side effect” of melatonin is stronger/more vivid dreams…..but it is a completely safe and natural sleep aid…..sweet dreams!

    Like

  8. John Koenig says:

    You may find it too crude, but I recently carved some Baltic ply using a Kutzall Extreme wheel on an angle grinder. It was really effective, with a surprising amount of control!

    Like

  9. pahern1947 says:

    Chris,
    I built a sculptured rocking chair a few years back. It get’s more comments from visitors to our home than my other hand made furniture
    It ‘s in a special way attractive.
    Patrick

    Like

  10. Kyle Barton says:

    When in Ireland, if you get down to Dingle remember to visit Foxy John’s. You have probably heard of it, it’s both a pub and hardware store. So there’s really no reason to ever leave 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Josh Cook says:

    This would go well with Paul Sellers’ laminated plywood workbench.

    Like

  12. Rick says:

    Just curious Chris, it looks like that chair above is not using through tenons for the legs? Or is that just my eyes can’t see them? If so, do you feel you are loosing any strength this way? Assume these are tapered tenons? Beautiful looking chair, you are really honing your craft and it shows.

    Like

  13. Richard Dunmore says:

    Enjoy the autumn Beech Wood landscapes, a natural resource for the furniture industry when your travelling to High Wycombe.

    If you have time to wander through central London down St Martins Lane, have a look at No’s 60-62, the former workshops of Thomas Chippendale, who ended buried in a paupers grave just down the road under what is now the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. His client”s didn’t pay the bills!

    As a furniture historian have you ever considered Chippendale? He created the first international lifestyle brand with the publication of the “Director” catalogue. Was he the greatest Woodworker?
    Is there anything more to say about his work, and does he have any relevance for todays woodworkers? And I wonder just how good are his chairs to sit on?

    Happy creative dreaming in London.

    I have three BBC / V&A documentaries: “The Genius of British Woodworking” if you have not seen them?

    Like

  14. Indy Mike says:

    Please post pictures of the completed project. I think it has great potential,

    Like

  15. It’s an excellent idea. But it could be excellent-er if you used some shop-made plywood from colorful contrasting species. Imagine the swirly saddle!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Brian Barney says:

    Do I smell a hint of a new book? The Plywood Anarchist maybe?

    Like

    • Rob Young says:

      I think that smell is the formaldehyde dust coming from the carving of plywood seats.

      Breathe deeply, embrace the embalming.

      Like

  17. Pascal Teste says:

    Funny, I was looking through the book “1000 Chairs” last night and some pretty cool plywood chair designs were done in the 50’s. Curious to see what you will come up with.

    Like

  18. Al says:

    Was always a fan of the (bent) plywood and steel chairs my highschool had. The steel bits were painted a sparkling sky blue and they ply was clear varnished birch. Found a pair being thrown out at the dump 5 or so years back. Besides them being made in 1953 and still serviceable, the amazing thing is how comfortable they are, even if they are a bit short. I hadn’t thought of plywood for a stick chair but that might push me to build the 3 leg adb chair as Ive got some 1 1/4 ply laying around.

    Like

  19. Sam viall says:

    Boy when I travel the Army makes me take Malaria pills. You want to talk about some crazy dreams, think Roy Underhill with a CNC driven transitional plane buzzing thru dovetails.

    Make sense? Woke up screaming No! And what the H E double hockey sticks did I just watch.

    Like

  20. Steve Vlahos says:

    I’d love to see that chair.
    I envy your ability to live, eat and, literally, sleep woodworking. Although I also dream about things woodworking, I usually wake and soberly head to work. This article demonstrates that you definitely ARE living the ‘dream’. Remember that next time your in a hotel room somewhere fretting about the next class that most of us would line up to attend if we could.

    Like

  21. lignumvitay says:

    Do it! I want to see pictures!

    Like

  22. Rob Suppes says:

    Most of my strange dreams involve some sort of sword-fighting which is both disturbing and exhilarating. I should probably start taking more melatonin to have some woodworking-related dreams (and to give my wife a peaceful sleep; apparently it’s not pleasant to sleep next to someone having a sword-fighting dream).

    Like

  23. Roland Stewart Chapman says:

    Nice one Mr Schwartz , a good dream

    Like

  24. Quercus Robur says:

    Well, hallucinations-inducing drugs aside, plywood is actually an excellent material for chairs, and in many cases it is the last part that fails – especially curved backs, which can be quite strong. Ragged edges are bit of a problem, though.
    That said, I am not too sure about digging topographic maps in the saddle, it doesn’t feel right. But do go on, please. 🙂

    Like

  25. Rudy Everts says:

    Make a chair from a dream

    Liked by 4 people

  26. What does UTC stand for? It sounds like something for which one would need to visit the groinacologist and get antibiotics.

    I’ve never seen a Nicholson bench with square and flush Roubo legs, and a built-in German style cabinet. Interesting.

    Like

  27. Robin says:

    Interesting: should be an attractive seat. Plywood legs?

    Like

  28. goosehillwoodworker says:

    Chris,
    That’s not a crazy idea at all. A couple of years ago I was fascinated by an article I read about a member who made incredibly beautiful furniture, including chairs, out of carved blocks of laminated Baltic birch plywood. Using a combination of hand tools and (I think) a multi tool and grinder. The results were fantastic, with the layers of the plywood revealed to present graceful swirls of contrasting color. His work was sanded to a high polish before being finished with a clear varnish. I’m sorry but I don’t remember the makers name or the magazine, but it made me want to go out and try it myself. So…..go for it!

    Like

  29. Jason Lester says:

    What’s the story on those benches in your post photo? They look interesting, like a combo of a couple of different styles.

    Like

  30. Kevin Hedin says:

    You might enjoy looking at the chairs of Charles Eames if you haven’t already.

    Like

  31. Steve C says:

    Is case you’ve forgot, there is more than 1 complaint dept. out there. 🙂

    Like

  32. Aaron says:

    It is certainly more practical than a model of Devil’s Tower made of mashed potatoes.

    Like

  33. barron says:

    My first though is it might look pretty good. My second thought is that it might be a slightly less expensive way to build a practice chair before attempting on solid wood.

    Like

  34. John Gerlach says:

    Jane Austin says go to to Bath. Great wood and mechanics preserved shop and you can use your driver’s license for collateral and paddle a beautiful wooden boat up the river. Then go Kew Gardens.

    Like

  35. Dan says:

    Seeing Itchy & Scratchy makes me think of the Simpsons which leads my brain to this quote from Homer about a dream. “He (or in this case, Plywood chairs) appeared to me in a dream and I knew that was special because I normally dream about naked…Marge.”

    This is clearly a sign from God. Run with it.

    Like

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