Thursday, December 27, 2007

New Year, Old Chair

Since starting Chair Notes, I've gotten a lot of contact from woodworkers seeking information and inspiration as they embark on their first chair. With the coming of the new year, I thought it might be appropriate to show my first chair. For years this chair languished in dark corners, a reminder of all that I didn't know when I started chairmaking. Now it has a special place, where I see it daily, as an expression of honest enthusiasm and willingness to embrace new ideas. Awkward as it is, it is my favorite chair.

While living in Manhattan, I was looking for a change from the cabinet making that I had been doing. The noise, dust, danger and sheer massiveness of the work didn't bode well for my long term. I also knew too many "woodworkers" who had barely touched a piece of real wood in years, plywood proves to be a more realistic provider when paying for space, machines, electricity, employees and materials. So I rented a tiny shop, shared with a guitar maker, and set out to find something that I could make in a small quiet space, with effective hand tools, cheap materials and most importantly fun.

Over the next year, inspired by a magazine photo of Curtis Buchanan's Birdcage sidechair, I worked through learning the technology of working green wood into chairs. What I didn't know, was that I'd taken on one of the toughest chairs to make. Every piece above the seat is curved and must meet up like a seamless net (you can see some places on my chair that I would never call "seamless"). And I can still recall scratching my head for hours trying to figure out a system for drilling and measuring the "box" stretchers. I think you can see why my attitude towards my first chair has changed from dismissal to amazement, after all, it has four legs that touch the floor!

To those of you making your first chairs, I have one piece of advice, keep them close. Proficiency will come soon enough and you'll come to appreciate the earnest leaps of those early works.

1 comment:

greg said...

That is an amazing first chair Peter! Maybe some day I'll attempt a bird cage. I'm not allowed to keep my first chair in the house. It's up in the hayloft somewhere; a misproportioned ill-shaped ladderback on which I learned to never again use paper-bag fake rush- and a thousand other lessons.

Thirty years later the chair is still pretty solid, which is testimony to John Alexander and Dave Sawyer in their generious sharing of green wordworking techniques they relearned for us all.

Your blog continues their good work, and this giving spirit.

May the New Year bring you health and all the prosperity you can handle.