This delightful 1935 film documents several aspects of the chairmaking trade in Great Britain with a knowledgeable narrator and some great shots of people at work in the forest and the workshop.
Titled “Chair Bodging and Chair Making in the Chiltern Hills,” the film begins in the woods as bodgers break down tree trunks into leg blanks that are then turned and dried in their camp. This aspect of chairmaking – as a form of romantic camping – is on full display here.
Though it’s obviously difficult work, the bodgers seem to be enjoying the process. Some of the best shots include them tapping a beech tree to get water for their grindstone. And making tea using the scraps from the work.
From there the film moves inside, first to a small shop that makes legs both by splitting the work and sawing the blanks out with a circular saw. Finally, the film shifts to a more mechanized factory setting that shows a giant reciprocating saw for making seat blanks. Plus some nice handwork at the bench and some assembly.
Don’t bother turning on the film’s automatic captioning (well do, if you have been drinking and want a laugh).
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. Hat tip to Andy Uhl for pointing me to this film, which I have somehow missed before.
16 thoughts on “Movie Night: 1935 Chairmaking Film”
That was spectacular. Thanks for sharing!
Surprised to see that they were using a large circular saw instead of splitting. Didn’t seem much quicker, if at all, and certainly not safe.
This was a joy to watch. So cool. Thank you!
A very nostalgic clip showing true craftsmen at work. Makes me want to head for the shop.
Never have I ever tapped a beech tree to whet my grindstone.
Their “power tools” are pretty scary!
I wouldn’t want to work that close to a spinning blade with no guards.
What I was impressed with was how they worked as a team. No wasted motions or looking for tools.
What a great find! Thank you for sharing with us. I agree with Tom that some of those power tools look pretty scary! I don’t think that OSHA would approve of them today. Very interesting to see how they dried the legs after turning them. I have never seen them stacked like that.
Very cool! A real gem. Thanks for sharing with us.
Fascinating, reminds me of reading the ‘Firefox’ books years ago. Thanks Christopher and Andy.
Fascinating to see the old ways of doing things. You might have already seen these from The National Film Board of Canada: “A Chairy Tale” where a chair has a mind of its own, and “Chairmaker and the Boys” cute, but nonetheless interesting footage.
I’m struck by a few things in this movie: how dangerous the power tools are, and what a hazardous mess the “factory” is with piles of shavings everywhere. Also heartened by how simple each process looks, and amazed by the mastery of these craftsmen working “by hand and eye”. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you. I assume these craftsmen were seen as working at respectable jobs. With commercial furniture being made in Asia and by machine, I wonder what would be considered equivalent employment today? Peter Follansbee would be delighted to see all the pole lathe work.
Love you guys keep up the good work in this crazy ass world !
Your stuff keeps me centered
Funny coincidence: there’s a great series on German TV that showcases exceptional craftsmen at work – the most recent episode, released a few days ago, covers a chairmaker using traditional methods. He is German, but learned his trade in Seattle. The narration is in German, however (sometimes a bit hobnailed) English subtitles are available:
I found the episode highly enjoyable, and I am not even into chairmaking (yet?)…
I just realised that links cannot be posted here. Anyone who’s interested can look for “Wie man einen traditionellen Holzstuhl baut” by “SWR Handwerkskunst” on YouTube.
Note that I am not affiliated, I just want to share the film because I believe it may be of interest to many LAP readers.
What a beautiful video!! Thanks so much for sharing. The fire looks very satisfying
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