Of Chair Design and Chair Classes

by | Jan 28, 2024 | 3 comments

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted on this blog.  It seems that spending hours each day sitting in front of a computer writing a book,  limits my motivation for sitting in front of a computer writing a blog post. Oh well. The book is coming along great – I have a few small sections to write, a few hundred photos to take and I’m waiting on Lost Art Press to read it and tell me else I should do.  I’m glad they’re busy.  I am too.

There’s been lots of unexpected rabbit holes.  They are all fun.  The biggest one has been trying to work out how Samuel Wing designed the chair.  I sat down one night six months ago with a pair of compasses and, within an hour, realized that his seat were designed with classical proportioning:  all the major arcs of the seat periphery were related to each other and to the overall size of the seat.  Several weeks of work followed trying to figure out what it meant.  I sent several emails calling for help, filled with photos like this:

Mack Headley, former master cabinetmaker at Colonial Williamsburg, responded with this:

I found your diagnosis compelling. The numbers add up to some potential patterns. 15”/6=2.5”x5=12.5”/2=6.25″

I scratched my head for awhile and asked if I could come for a visit.

At the beginning of January I drove to Richmond, visited friends and ate the best Chinese food of my life, then drove to Mack’s shop where he and his wife promptly fed me lunch. After four hour’s work, we came up with this:

A vast  step forwards.  We’re still working on it though.  When we’re done, you should be able to draw the entire seat pattern on a blank sheet of paper using nothing more than a rule, square and five or six compass settings and be done in fifteen minutes.  On my way home I stopped at Colonial Williamsburg and visited with Brian Weldy at the joiner’s shop and spent a couple hours in the collection looking at loop back joints  (there’s more options than I can count).

Back home, I did a demo at the state history museum:

And got ready for my first 18th Century Chairmaking class (or at least the first one anyone has paid for):

Eric Cannizzaro came to hang out and make pitch forks:

Pole lathes predominated for the first day.

Then we split and bent the bows:

Carved the seats:

And bored them with spoon bits:

Then we stooled it up:

And put the backs on unobserved by the camera’s prying eye:

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Bob Vale
3 months ago

…. and we bored with spoon bits. If my eyes are correct you are boring with a wooden bit extension. Fascinating… to me. More info and maybe a picture? Thanks.

Randall
3 months ago

Great post Elia! Nice pics, those students look very happy and satisfied with the results of tackling a challenging project!

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