Another Gibson Chair

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Last week I built a second Irish Gibson chair while Narayan Nayar photographed the construction process.

Though this chair has its faults, it’s much closer in appearance and construction to the originals I studied at Mark Jenkinson’s place this fall. Mark and I are planning a short book on this chair that will be along the lines of John Brown’s “Welsh Stick Chairs” book. But that project will take a little time to research – plus I want to first build another dozen of these chairs.

I’m fairly happy with the construction process I’ve devised for these chairs. Making a Gibson is an easy chairmaking experience – perfect for the beginner. And that’s what makes this project particularly exciting.

I built this chair with only two electric tools: a small band saw and a battery drill. No shavehorse, lathe, drawknife, adze, scorp or travisher. No steambending or green woodworking. Every operation was done at a standard workbench with few specialty tools (a couple tenon cutters are helpful but not necessary).

The legs and sticks are sawn out (with special effort to get dead-straight grain) and then shaped with a jack plane and a block plane. The tenons can be shaped with a block plane or you can use a tenon cutter to speed the process.

The arms and seat are sawn out and shaped with a rasp and a spokeshave. The crest is glued up from three sticks of maple, sawn out on the band saw and then shaped with rasps and a scraper. (The crests of original Gibsons seem to have been cut from one huge chunk of wood – no laminations. I couldn’t get wood of that size at our lumberyard.)

I chose this tool set after looking at the tool marks on original Gibsons, which (we strongly think) were made in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I found evidence of band saw marks and circular saw marks. The facets on the legs and sticks are clearly shaped by hand – not with a lathe. It could have been done with a drawknife, but I suspect that handplanes were just as likely to be used – especially to make the flats on the sticks for the back.

What’s wrong with my chair? I split one of the arms during assembly. One of the features of the Gibson is how two of back sticks are notched into the arms. The tension between the stick and the arm helps stabilize the chair. I added too much tension. Way too much tension, actually. Now I know what is too much and can dial it back for the next chairs.

Also, the back sticks seem a little thin to my eye. I probably shaved them a bit too much and need to start with wood that is 1/16” or 1/8” oversized in width and thickness.

But the chair sits well. The broken arm is repaired. And paint did the rest of the job.

— Christopher Schwarz

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About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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38 Responses to Another Gibson Chair

  1. Tony Wilson says:

    Can I preorder the Gibson chair book today? 🙂
    But seriously, folks…. I hope you understand the wonderful inspiration you guys (the whole LAP crew) give us old hobbyist woodworkers. I retired this year, and my goal is to fill the house with home made furniture. I’m starting with the John Brown book and the new Anarchist Design book; I figure it’ll take me 50+ years to complete all the projects on my list.
    Thanks.
    Tony

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  2. Jason McSpadden says:

    Chris,
    Thanks for your on going good, creative, and inspirational work! How fun it is to be challenged almost weekly by your curiosity, study, skill and fearlessness. What a gift you are!

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  3. You had me at “– not with a lathe.”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pascal Teste says:

    Cool chair! Must be difficult to get the crest to line up with the seat and not twist? Many opposed angles with the sticks. Do the legs tenons go through the seat? Hard to tell with the paint. Are you going to shape the seat on your next ones, or are they typically flat? Nice colour.

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  5. Kevin Adams says:

    Really like the shape of the seat, brings it all together. Were there ever any 3-legged Gibsons in your research? Thanks, nice work, keep going!

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    • I don’t think so, but I will check my archive.

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      • Kevin Adams says:

        Probably not the more I think about it since it’s such a “leaning back” kinda chair. Would not be as stable with 3 legs. I saw a gorgeous 3-legged stick chair recently (you did, too) and I’d like to try it. Sent pic to CW. Thanks, Chris, talk soon.

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    • tsstahl says:

      Interesting you said that. My first thought when I saw the picture was ‘it has one too many legs’. I’m not even sure where the thought came from since I’m a design idiot.

      Still, the trademark W shape of the back spindles just screams “sit here, I can take it”.

      My thanks to Chris for the introduction to yet another interesting type of project.

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  6. Klaus N. Skrudland says:

    Wow. There is so much to like here, the curved and rounded crest, the square spindles, the chunky short sticks, the very low seat height, the color.. this chair has a personality. It’s like an old and loveable grandma sitting in the corner with a large and welcoming lap! I really liked this one! Much more refined than your first Gibson, although I somewhat fell in love with that one, too. Thanks so much for sharing! Very inspiring for us chair nerds. I’m going to have to try and make one of these soon! Two quick questions: The back area seems a bit narrow in between the ends of the armrest there. I’m probably wrong? And are the legs not mortised through the seat?

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  7. Tony Zaffuto says:

    This chair design speaks to me! Are there any variations with some sculpting of the seat?

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  8. For your book, you’re going to need a hand drawing of a Gibson Girl in a Gibson Chair.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. woodgeek says:

    Does this chair qualify as “staked”?

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  10. B Lansford says:

    Beautifully simple.
    May I ask the seat dimensions? It looks much more compact than the American Welsh stick chair. Sure do appreciate they lack of a doubler. Seems that would speed up the build possibly.
    Thanks for this lovely distraction. Looking forward to to attempting one soon!

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  11. Neal says:

    What a beautiful form that chair has. The “mistakes are fixed, but in fact they make the whole thing seem even more like something my grandfather would have built for the parlor. May I ask about the finish? I can see that it’s probably an oil paint and seems to be brushed on but was curious about what it is. We used linseed paint and milk paints shortly after WW II when I worked with my grandfather and great-uncles (mostly fetching and holding things) and I remember the lovely matte finish. Mostly because that’s what was available at that time and place, I suspect.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Rudy Everts says:

    The chair looks great, the paint job is spot on, period.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Rudy Everts says:

    Don’t worry, I’m sure it will get better in a couple of days

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  14. Jimmy McAleavey says:

    It’s beautifully moody. The LAP Chair of Poetry perhaps.

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  15. Rob says:

    Are the leg tenons tapered or cylindrical?
    Thanks

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  16. Kapow says:

    this looks incredible. What was the paint?

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  17. RickG says:

    If you mentioned species used I missed it. Oak? Ash? Mixed?

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  18. Chris, I really like the look of this chair! And I love that it is created with so little, making it accessible to more people. I’ve often thought about the dichotomy of how easy (sic) it was to make a table and how difficult it was to built the chairs to go around it. For the first time, here I see chairs that might honestly be made by the craftsman who can build the table.

    That said… the chair seems a bit heavy to me. Maybe the thickness of the crest rail? Definitely the lack of undercutting on the seat. Do you have any plans to lighten the look of it? Or do you not see any problem with it? I know you’re trying to stay true to the original design…

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