Chair Chat no. 8 with Rudy and Klaus: Rock Paper Turd

Editor’s note: This week, we discuss a vernacular low chair where function has exceeded form. As with chairs, so also with humans – when a large chunk is added to your seat, you’ll end up looking out of proportion. Oh, and we also play a round of the classic game “Rock Paper Turd.”

And don’t forget: We don’t authenticate chairs – we just talk about what we like and don’t like. 

As usual, we don’t know much about the chair. Its age, if the chairmaker had a big-bottomed wife or if he had a dog that could whistle. What we do know is that the seller says this: “This is a 19th century primitive Welsh ash low back chair. The measurements are: 59 cm wide, 40 cm deep, 29 cm seat height.”

Rudy: 29 cm seat height! That’s only about 11,417322834645 inches.

Klaus: Ah, the metric system. What’s not to like. You know what they say: The Americans go metric, inch by inch!

Chris: Ya, 11,417322834645″ is not a lot when it comes to seat height..

Klaus: OK, it’s time to bring out the gimp!

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Rudy: Mommy, look at my battens!

Klaus: Is this a children’s chair? Or it was made for some Welshman with amputated legs?

Rudy: Yeah, this is more like a creepie height.

Rudy: Such a creepy sight.

Chris: Waiting for one more rhyme! Jam Master Rudy!

Klaus: Yeah, bring it MC Rudy!

Rudy: …It’s not a delight!

Rudy: Ah.. dude, the pressure!

Rudy: …I hope its joints are still tight!

Klaus: Standing ovation! They might!

Rudy: Thanks! But seriously, the chair has a lot of battens under it. And I can see that the seat has split?

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Klaus: Hmm, isn’t that just an added chunk to the seat? A modified chair, as John Brown would call it. We’ve talked about that before.

Rudy: Yes you’re right. This is another modified chair. No split.

Chris: I think this chair would look more balanced without the modification.

Klaus: I agree, Chris. The D-shaped seat is really nice, but the add-on makes the chair lose its proportions.

Rudy: Yes, exactly. Now, the back legs seem to go through the battens, but the front legs…

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Chris: Perhaps the modification was added later with the battens helping it along. Anyway, take away that mod, and it appears nicer.

Klaus: How many battens are there?

Chris: I see three battens.

Rudy: I see two wide ones and one turdy one.

Klaus: You find turds everywhere, Rudy.

Rudy: The turd batten looks older than the other two.

Chris: Here’s my guess. The two inner battens are original. The legs go through them. The third was to help hold the modified seat on. And it might be missing a batten on the other side.

Rudy: That would make sense. As there are no legs going through them.

Klaus: Yeah, good theory. CSI (Chris Schwarz Investigations) strikes again!

Chris: I think this is a lovely form.

Rudy: It is! But I do agree that the front of the seat shouldn’t be there.

Chris: Take away the modified seat maybe, remove the turd batten – and you have a really petite thing.

Klaus: This is a beautiful variant of the vernacular low back chair. Made for comfort and long lasting.

Rudy: The seat is very wide, too.

Klaus: Indeed. Some old vernacular chairs were made to accommodate a certain person. This one was perhaps made for someone with a large behind.

Chris: That armbow – the way it matches the curve of the seat: A+++

Rudy: Yes, I was looking at that arm. A thing of beauty. And quite thick, too.

Chris: What’s the story? Sawn? Branch?

Rudy: Looks pretty continuous to me from the top.

Chris: I agree.

Klaus: I’d say it’s bent, maybe. But if so, that’s a heavy bend.

Chris: I’m going to guess it’s a branch. Too many cathedrals on the top of it.

Klaus: That’s a perfect crook then.

Rudy: A natural defect on the back, too.

Chris: That implies a small branch to me. And bending a piece with that sort of defect seems daft.

Klaus: Good points. I rest my case.

Rudy: Is that a small under bevel on the arm?

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Klaus: Seems like it.

Chris: Maybe. I love how the arm and seat match. Very Welsh-ish to me.

Klaus: Yes, this maker knew his stuff.

Chris: Look how worn the back of the seat is. Bugs. Repairs. And I am guessing that its thinness is why we have those big battens.

Rudy: It looks like it is a pine seat?

Klaus: The dealer says ash. Which was very common for Welsh chairs.

Chris: Pine seats are more common in Ireland. And wood types are hard to call with photos. It takes a good eye. I usually don’t even guess.

Klaus: And with 200 years of farts and paint it becomes even more difficult.

Rudy: Wet farts, this one. Look at the mangled back portion of the seat.

Chris: I love how the armbow is pegged to the sticks. All the way around.

Rudy: Yes, that is a very nice feature!

Chris: Also. Very little rake and splay here.

Rudy: Yeah, I guess because the chair is so wide the maker thought he could get away with it.

Klaus: Looks like that indentation in the arm is the same as the in the back of the seat. Could they be from the same piece and perhaps explain their perfect match?

Chris: I think they are from different trees.

Klaus: How come?

Chris: If the arm is a branch, it would not have been attached to a plank like the seat.

Rudy: Yes, the seat being a flat board and the arm a branch. Two different pieces, one wide and one thin.

Chris: I think the indentation on the seat is bark. Typical underbevel.

Klaus: Chris, sometimes you’re so clever! Often, I mean.

Chris: Usually I’m dumb as a rock.

Klaus: Me too. That’s why you seem so clever to me.

Chris: One last thing I adore about this stool: The way the legs transition from facets to smooth. Very much a shaved look.

Klaus: Ooh, that’s nice. I didn’t see that until now. I’ve actually never seen that before on other chairs. They’re octagonal at first and then smooth out towards the floor. That’s super nice.

Rudy: Neither have I! I love the sticks too. They are very balanced.

Chris: I like this one a lot (especially pretending the modification isn’t there). OFF WITH THE MOD!!!!

Rudy: Burn the WITCH!

Chris: Free your stool from the tyranny of the mod!!!!!

Klaus: Haha. Well, alrighty then, we should move on to the next chair!

Chris: Rudy, you want to go next? Or should I?

Klaus: You can decide with “stone scissor rocks?” Uh, what’s it called again. Stone, scissor…

Chris: …turd.

Klaus: Stone rocks turd!

Chris: Turd covers stone!

Rudy: Turd fart jokes.

Klaus: Turd definitely covers stone!

Chris: Scissors cut turd!

Rudy: Paper wipes turd!

Chris: OK. I’ll go next!

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18 Responses to Chair Chat no. 8 with Rudy and Klaus: Rock Paper Turd

  1. Steve V says:

    This was another good one- made me sentimental about the toilet chair.

  2. Brian McGann says:

    Could this chair have been made as a milking chair instead of stool? It would explain the wide seat for sliding back and fourth, and the back for the sore back of the farmer. He could lean on it sitting or getting up!

  3. Dean Morrell says:

    I wonder if seats were fashioned to match a naturally bowed arm? Any record of finding arm bows in the wild, dressing the branch, then using that to scribe the back of the seat? I mean, if I didn’t care if my chairs match, this is how I would save a lot of effort and planning.

    • Yes. This is described by Emyr Davis and Chris Williams in Chris’s book about John Brown. In Wales, many times the chair started with the branch – the arm – and the seat shape flowed from that.

  4. Daniel Williamson says:

    Being so low, and with modifications clearly made to it, I wonder if the chair started out at a normal height, but then the seat started deteriorating and they decided to add the battens at the same time as the seat extension? And if so, wouldn’t the easiest way to do that be to saw the legs off at the bottom of the seat, pound out the through tenon from the top, add the battens, then re-taper the legs to go back in? Could explain the low height. I have no idea. Just spitballing.

  5. Daniel Williamson says:

    That theory could also explain the facets near the top of the legs. A drawknife employed on previously round legs to begin the taper.

  6. Drew Langsner asked me to post this on his behalf:

    It’s a lovely chair, excepting the battens.
    Two points:
    1) Large people can sit on low chairs. But short people are never comfortable on high chairs. Almost anyone can be comfortable sitting on a smooth log of about that height. And we have no idea who this chair might have been made for.
    2) Maybe more relevant is that when these chairs were made many people didn’t own a table. These are poor folks’ furniture. Sitting allowed you to set things on the floor…food, ale, whatever. Because chimney’s were often not efficient – if existent, the air quality was better down there.

    • Klaus N. Skrudland says:

      Excellent points, Drew! Thanks for chiming in. A pleasure to have you on board. A lot of these low chairs were probably also used directly around the hearth or in front of the fireplace, too. Another aspect we haven’t talked much about, is that the height was also good safety measure for Welshmen who drank too much ale and fell out of their chairs!

    • Rudy Everts says:

      Some very good points. I agree that the lack of a table makes a higher chair less necessary. Something we chairmakers don’t take into consideration, as times have changed. And sitting closer to the ground made you able to breathe better and closer to your beverage – two important points. The only thing harder would be getting up, but I guess people were used to it and used different muscles.

  7. Perry says:

    Perhaps the big-bottomed Welsh mama had twins. This would provide a stable platform for warming their soiled bottoms before the homestead fire and of course care and feeding to include wiping of turds.

  8. The pegs create a very nice line along the armbow. I wonder why they are in blind holes where the sticks’ mortises are not.

    Also that will not be a popular request amongst you guys, but I am really curious about the joinery involved in those “modifications” seat extensions. In which LAP book is that best covered? Thanks in advance!

    • Rudy Everts says:

      We can only guess about the joinery, as none of us have taken apart any antique stick chairs (though it would be fun to remove the modification on this one). We have seen seats that were reinforced by visible pegs from the front. My assumption is some makers used dowels to reinforce the joint, but that is only a guess. Often times a joint seat is reinforced by cross battens, as seen on this example as well as Bohemian chairs (google: “brettstuhl”).

  9. 2cmundus says:

    Welch Garden Gnome Chair. LAP’s next?

  10. Curt Lavallee says:

    Given the size of the seat and the height of the chair (it goes to 11 – inches), I have to figure it was made for one of the members of Spinal Tap.

  11. mgmoody42 says:

    29cm? That’s only 1.55 hands! Small indeed!

    • Klaus N. Skrudland says:

      Only 0,5 Norwegian hands! Or 7 German hands. Small indeed!

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