One of my biggest struggles so far with “The Stick Chair Book” is that I can’t build a chair the same way twice.
When I start to build a chair, I have plans and patterns. But it takes 5 minutes for those plans to get pushed aside. I pick up a stick for the stretchers and note the arrow-straight grain. Thanks to that, the stretchers don’t have to be a full 1-3/8” square; I can go smaller. The wood for the arm, however, is some fast-growth stuff and feels a little weak. I should beef up its thickness.
It goes from there. I get an idea for how to make the gutter between the saddled seat and spindle deck crisper. Yeah, I’m going to do that on this chair. The person who will get this chair has a round back, and he likes to lean back in chairs – hard. I’ve watched him do it. This chair needs an extra medial stretcher. And I’m going to pitch the back sticks an extra 5° backward to discourage him from tipping back on the chair’s back legs.
Soon, the chair looks nothing like my drawing. But it’s the right chair.
So how do I explain this process to the readers of the book? My plan is to present the chair plans as drawn for an average-size person with a mid-range BMI (body-mass index) and typical popliteal height. Basically, someone who doesn’t exist outside a Pringles’ consumer group study in Ames, Iowa.
And then say: OK, now you (the builder) need to think about the sitter. Are they short? Lower the seat height to avoid cutting off the bloodstream in their legs. Do they have a tall back? You need to increase the length of the back sticks to cradle the shoulders. Do they have long arms? Consider lowering the arm height by 1/2” or so. Do they have a massive hinder? Add stretchers. Wedge them. Widen the seat.
And on and on.
Also, do what I do. Build your first chairs using cheap wood – poplar and red oak in my case. Poplar for the seat and arms; oak for the other parts. Build them without fussing. Hell, don’t even saddle the seat. It might cost you a day of work and $30 in wood. But it will give you $1,000 worth of answers. Especially when you (and the person it is intended for) sits in it.
Then cut the stupid thing up and use the parts for stools. Funny, I’ve built a lot of stools.
— Christopher Schwarz
19 thoughts on “Making Book Part 14: Not Again”
That back would look great upside down.
After seeing the first picture I can’t wait to see how the kayak turns out!
I wish I had a teacher like you !!!
But you do. It’s called reading his books and blog. On a similar note (pun intended), with modern technology you can basically have a lesson with any great musician you like. Pick your favorite tune and performer and play along with the recording. Copy what you like, ignore what you don’t. Think i’ll go learn Bach’s e major partita from Bela Fleck https://youtu.be/Xxavhjb_7JU
I’m interested in the stools – collecting design ideas right now
I have an elegant little rocking chair (150-200 years old?) that is too large for a child, not likely made for a teen who would grow out of it, so clearly meant as a ladies’ chair when ladies of the era were often less robust than today. It is in wonderful, near mint, condition though evidently used quite a bit, but I have had to, more than once, without being too insulting I hope, ask lady friends not to seat themselves in it! In fact, I have no acquaintances, even the most petite, who could safely sit in it. So, why do I have it? Because if it is so beautifully made and wonderful to look at.
In my attic I have a full set of mahogany dining chairs with cane seats (inherited from my wife’s family) that are far too light and delicate for any of us ‘healthy’ moderns to use! It is a bit sad that they remain hidden where no one can enjoy seeing them. All these chairs were indeed made with individuals or corporeal types in mind, but, alas, who can now sit in them?
I am new to this craft, and I am struggling to find exactly where to buy the stock. I have a hard time finding anything at box stores with the width and fitness to experiment with these chairs. Does anyone have any advice specifically on what to look for at the box stores?
Sorry: “width and thickness.”
Every big box store is different and has different stock. Ours stocks red oak and poplar. Others will stock white pine and alder or fir. If your big box stores aren’t stocking what you need, try searching for mills and yards near you with WoodFinder.
Also check Craig’s list, Google maps and yellow pages. In omaha there are at least half a dozen lumber yards and a guy who sells interesting stuff out of his garage. The only store that came up on woodfinder in omaha (using several searches) is woodcraft which has good selection but is very expensive.
After many tables, my first chair introduced the concept of “comfort”. Odd that one would want to build something both beautiful and comfortable. So I purchased some plans for a beautiful chair, built it following the plans and sat it in. Yeap it was beautiful and uncomfortable. I kept the beautiful parts of the plans and after two years of trial and error I figured out how to make a chair comfortable for a particular user.
I made a set of videos on designing comfortable wooden chairs. Here is the link – https://youtu.be/0jTdoVWmJWA . I am a much better woodworker than a videographer but maybe there is something in the video that will help. The videos are short step by step process for working out heights, angles and widths.
As far as changes go… Baking is chemistry, you need to follow the formula (recipe): Cooking is not; if you like garlic, add some, if you don’t leave it out. Modifications often help not hurt. So go ahead make them, but make sure they’re good. Has any of us have not made a modification to a plan to fit our stock, tools or liking?
(So how do I explain this process to the readers of the book?). I think it’s okay to explain to people that 99.9999% of all chairs you’ve ever sat in have been made for the “non existant middle person”. So at the very least this chair will be as comfortable as any you’ve experienced. Make it – enjoy the process- learn- then follow a few formulas to customize the next one. I thinks it’s the rare woodworker who makes just one chair.
Popliteal is a new one for me. Many thanks
“Fitness” is entirely appropriate.
It’s funny how poplar and red oak are classified as cheap wood in the US while here in the Australia when they were being sold at Masters were classified as prized timbers and therefore were very expensive to buy.
It is similar to living on the west coast of the US. I see all those references in print or on the interwebs to Southern Yellow Pine.
I’ve never seen SYP for sale anywhere.
Douglas Fir, now that is common. All those print articles for dealing with SYP’s tendencies don’t really apply here.
Gee Chris, don’t rush me. :<} I’m still building saw benches, stools and tables from cheap wood, even though I have a perpetual supply of ash and white oak. I call it “practice” and “learning,” never to arrive at “perfection.” But that’s life isn’t it? And I’d be adrift without your excellent teaching.
Really looking forward to the “From a Chair to a Stool” book sometime in 2022…
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