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