To build a chair…

I am taking a course on chair design from Pacific Northwest College of Arts (PNCA). This course differs from the more craft oriented courses I’ve tried in the past. It’s taught at an art school, by an art major. There is no discussion about joinery or materials. Basic ergonomics are covered in a two-page handout. Many of the students wear tight, brightly colored pants and have t-shirts with artistically-designed ironic sayings. I feel a little out of place there with my carharts and wool. Still, I thought; it would be good for me to approach the craft from a different perspective.

We started out with a series of 100 quick sketches. Of these, we narrowed possibilities down to 4, re-sketched each a dozen or so times, and selected one for construction. The idea was to build a mock-up of an actual chair – quick and dirty. I’ve been enamored of late of the Appalachian ladder-back chairs by Brian Boggs (The Boggs Collective), and Russ Filbeck and my selection for mock-up is derivative of that style.

Russ Filbeck; Large Ebonized Rocker

Brian Boggs Classic Ladderback chair

Balsa Wood and hot glue chair model- brought to you by the good folks at Ridgid Tools.

I wanted however to do a three-slat chair with a carved seat.  I wanted arm rests, but they needed to be low enough such that the chair fits under a standard dining room table. The arm rests should also not get in the way when playing a stringed instrument such as a guitar.  I envision a chair that could be used at the dining table and also on the front porch.

Our class supplied materials were plywood and two-by-fours, and I supplemented this with the purchase of a small amount of bamboo veneer from Bamboo Revolution. I hope to experiment with this new materials workability and applicability to fine furniture.

I knew that the material limitations would mean that my mock up would provide limited information about the necessary solid-wood joinery. Instead, I thought I might investigate the optimal seat angle, arm-rest height, and rear leg splay, sweep and height. I also hoped to figure out the placement, angle and radius of the ladders making up the back.  If I could nail these angles and proportions in a mock up I’d save considerable effort and expensive materials when it came time to build the chair for real. At least, this is what I hope to discover…I’ve got 3 weeks left of class.

Here are a few shots of what I’ve come up with thus far. As you can see- my obsession with this craft is spilling out into other areas of the basement. And one of these days I’ll get a decent camera instead of using my iPhone…

Rear legs splayed at 6 degrees and angled relative to seat by 12 degrees. At this point I’ve left a bunch of “meat” on the top half of the rear legs in order to leave room for back-rest placement.

Figuring arm height- rear legs have not yet been splayed and are inset too shallow on the seat.

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