Monday, May 13, 2013

Big Man, Big Chair

Before, I get going, I want to mention again that there are spaces in the class that I am teaching starting on the 20th at Kelly Mehlers. Usually during a class where we make a chair, everyone has a topic that they want to cover, but time doesn't allow. This class is for all those topics and more, it's not just about making a chair, it's about Chair making. Besides building shavehorses, we will go in depth into chair design (recreating the chair below), we'll grind drill bits, get our tools sharper and better tuned than every, make some tools (adzes and sloyd knives), go over various techniques for constructing chairs that folks always ask about such as the duckbill joint and we'll be building the rocker jig that I recently built and going over the fine points of rocker making. We decided to do this class based on the constant requests of students in the chair making classes and I hope you'll join us.

There are some simple landmarks that guide most chair design. The shoulders are wider than the hips etc... Following this logic leads to most chairs having the shape of a section of a cone. But there is more to it than that. The body can be viewed as a  series of conical sections that lie at angles to each other.
I decided to take my recent cardboard chair mock up one step further and use my friend and fellow chair maker Dan as a subject. Dan is 6 foot and forever tall, so I thought it would be an interesting case study. I doubt Dan has ever sat in a chair that was truly sized for him, so we dug back into the lawn mower box and got to it.

We started by making a stable stand in for the stool part of the chair, and a cut out that I use for my largest chair seat back.

 Then we bent a strip of cardboard to fit the inside of the cut out and screwed them together.
Next, we cut tabs on the top of the cardboard at a good height for Dan.
And matched the curve at the top of the lower piece to define the next section.
This section tilts back and acts as the support for the rib cage.
The plank at the back gives support for the upper rib cage, which is enough to make the chair stable and "sitable".
We followed the same tab making process and fit the next section which is the zone where the shoulder blades are located. This area tilts back more than the rib cage zone to give clearance.

 Then we fit the top piece that acts as the headrest. We used a couple of curves cut into plywood to open up the shape where needed and add a little support.
Dan declared it comfortable, although he is so used to sitting in "tiny" chairs, that I think it is a wholly new feeling for him. I sat in it as well and found it actually quite good for me as well, except that the relief for the shoulderblades hit me somewhere around my the middle of my shoulders!
Rocket was especially interested in the process.
Here, Dan is using the laser to help guide where to map out the spindles, which is the next step.
When we first started, Dan mentioned how nice a permanent, adjustable version of this would be, but at the end of the hour that it took us, he said that the cardboard was so easily manipulated that he didn't think it necessary.
I can't wait to see the finished chair.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Box Shaped People

I bought a new push lawn mower the other day, and like a two year old at Christmas, I had much more fun playing with the box than with the mower.
I've spent lots of time thinking about the shaped of the spindles in the backs of chairs and because I use spindles, it's easy to get stuck thinking vertically. But the shape of the human body doesn't follow a singe vertical curve at every spot. So I started thinking about the relationships as they proceed horizontally. With the hardy cardboard, I mocked up this chair back by aligning four curves. It is surprisingly comfortable and sturdy.

 Each curve is actually slightly cones shaped. It was easy and took only a half hour or so, but it confirmed a lot of what I have been doing with my spindles and encouraged me to go even further.

Here is the view of the back. I started by pinning the piece together with drywall screws and adjusting them as I saw fit.

Then I took the small blocks of plywood and spun the screws until the plywood was sucked tight to the cardboard. The single board clamped to the workbench puts the support in just the right spot so I can rest my weight on it. From there, I mapped out the spindle shapes and will be making some patterns and dummies to further test it out. We will be working with this more to design some chairs at the class that Greg Pennington and I will be teaching at Kelly Mehlers in a couple of weeks.

As you can see in the chair below, I have been highlighting similar shapes in the flat spindles of my chairs for some time now.

This is my first walnut rocker with hickory spindles. Over time, the hickory will mellow to a lovely amber and the walnut will lighten. I didn't know exactly how I would feel about the contrast, but it is striking in person and quite pleasing.

I've accentuated the chamfers on the spindles which adds a lot of interest to their blonde color.
And spring is here, so we've got some new chicks in the house!!
Ten ladies should keep the whole neighborhood in eggs. The are growing like weeds, it's almost disconcerting.
And I opened up the goat paddock into the woods so my kids could climb rocks and eat shrubs.
In case you don't see them, here they are, livin large, just like the rest of us.

Friday, May 3, 2013


I noticed that this is my 501 st posting on Chairnotes! My best days always include working out something or learning something and posting about it. I am trying to steer my activities to encourage these behaviors. Thanks for sticking around.

I'm a bit of an insomniac. But I'm not one of those toss and turn, stress about how much sleep I'm losing insomniacs. I get up, get dressed and enjoy an hour or two of peace and quiet with no phone ringing and no meaningful work. I indulge in lots of rambling thoughts in these wee hours.
Recently, I've been spending nights listening to lectures and stories by Richard Feynman. He was one of the great minds in physics of the twentieth century, and his ramblings fit perfectly with my mood. Then, over breakfast, I retell his stories. If you haven't heard Feynman speak, he sounds like my Uncle Jay from New York, but stick with it, because like Jay, his brilliance comes along unexpectedly.
This one blew my mind.

Here is one of my favorite talks, and it's about trees, so I figure it fits.

I've bought a new drawknife the other day, shocking, I know.
It's a Barton #7. Barton is one of the only makers that used a geometry that distinctly lends itself to use bevel up. I have always liked the large gap between the blade and the handles, it makes seat carving a snap.
Many of the Bartons are quite large, but this one is just right.
The steel in this knife is superb and I was so excited when I sharpened it, that Claire suggested that I name it "Feynman", and so it is.