Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Staying Flexible

As I set out to design my recent rocker, I did my best to refine and refresh my goals as a chairmaker. It's easy to get caught in preconceptions and force of habit, so staying flexible has become a primary goal.

One of the parts of chairmaking that I love is shaving wood at the shavehorse. Sitting quietly as I follow the fibers and form shapes is a real joy. My recent rodbacks have fulfilled a great deal of my aesthetic curiousities, but have pulled me too far from the shavehorse (and towards the lathe).

The shaving is also the key to unlocking the amazing strength and flexibility of the wood. It seemed like focussing myself back at the shavehorse might be fun as well as an asset to the comfort of the chair.

I spent a lot of time looking at other chairs of many styles, and found myself captivated by the ladderbacks that I saw in John Alexander's book Make a Chair From a Tree.

In his book, John shows how far a chair can be trimmed down to essentials. For instance, his slats are less than a quarter of an inch thick! Well, that got me thinking.
So this recent chair is all about flexible wood.

As you'll see, many of the elements of the ladderback have found their way into this piece. Below is the joint where the crest and stiles come together. I have borrowed the square mortise (boy is that fun to chop) and the square pegs. I also found that the relief along the front thins the stile out enough to create a lot of "give".

Here is the spindles in their rough form. They are just below 3/8ths of an inch thick. I shave, steam and bend them. Then, I form the tenon at the bottom and go about refining them.

What you see above are the arcing lines that define the locations of the details. The bottom line is where the spindle is relieved on the front and back from around 1/2 inch to 3/8ths inch. The next mark up is where the width of the spindles flares to 1 1/16 inch wide. And the top mark is where the spindles begin to taper to the 3/8 inch top. The effect is subtle but creates a more visually interesting field than keeping them all uniform and also give the widest support to the part of the spindle that bears the most weight.

I'll be showing the assembled chair soon. By forming a curved back, out of thin pieces, the top of the chair is extremely comfortable and capable of forming to the sitter, while offering good support. I think this one might even usurp my trusty continuous arm rocker as "my chair" in the living room!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Be carefull Pete - when you get started down the ladder back road, it can be very addicting. The subtle curves of the back posts, splayed legs, slat curvatures can offer endless possibilties.
I have seen many good windsor chair makers, but only a few good ladder back chair makers.

have a great day - Scott Estepp