Chris Schwarz's Blog

Headed Back into a Chairmaking Head Trip

One of my hobbies is chairmaking. That statement might sound kinda dumb. After all, I’m a long-time woodworker and making wooden chairs is woodworking. No?

No.

Making stick chairs uses another part of my brain. And any time I venture into building chairs I have to re-learn some of the rules. In some ways, chairmaking is more demanding than building cabinets. You have to create great joint strength with little material. You have to use wack-tastic unmeasurable angles. And curves…¦ everything is curved. It’s like a high school cheerleading team , and just as difficult to comprehend.

But in other ways, the craft of building stick chairs is forgiving. If the end result sits well, looks good and endures, then it’s a great chair (no matter how odd the building process). There is less measuring and more “cutting to fit.” The work requires as much eye skill as it does hand skill.

As I legged up a Chinese stool on Wednesday I uttered several unprintable curses. When I drove the first leg home into its mortise I blew out the seat’s grain around the exit hole. I always do that on my first leg.

In fact, I have a theory about chairs. I wonder if people began scooping out their seats (called “saddling”) to remove this blown-out grain. Then they found that these seats were more comfortable than flat seats.

This idea has just as much merit as my “early man had abrasive buttocks” theory of scooped seats.

After messing up the first mortise, I repaired the damage, got some coffee and waited for the glue to dry , and for my head to shift into the proper chair-making gear. It did. The next two legs went in perfectly. And by perfectly I meant that they will be tight when wedged.

- Christopher Schwarz

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7 thoughts on “Headed Back into a Chairmaking Head Trip

  1. Glenn Whitener

    Let me second the wish for how you fix mistakes. There are a million tutorials on how to do things "the right way", and none I can find on how to fix things while your skills are still developing. As to chair making, the curves put me off at this point in my development. I have enough trouble as it is with 90 degree joints.

    One other thing, OT; have you had any complaints about the RSS distribution? I still don’t have the first entry for the Chinese chair on my reader (this is the native one in Opera, and could be the answer to my question). Anybody else seeing this?

  2. Justin McCurdy

    "And curves… everything is curved. It’s like a high school cheerleading team – and just as difficult to comprehend."

    Thanks Chris – consider your quote my new tag line for woodworking forums. That was an unexpected comment that almost had me covered in pop, if it wasn’t for the fact that the path of least resistance was through my nostrils.

  3. Charles Davis

    Was the “early man had abrasive buttocks” theory supposed to be a lightbulb moment for us? Because it was for me.

    I mean what better personalized fit can you get? Off to get to my "sander" waxed and grab a bunch of 80 grit PSA…

    And if your fix to the blown-out mortise were to make in into the article that would be awesome. I wish that fixing mistakes were given more treatment in general (with respect to all woodworking publications), but that’s probably just me.

    If I ruled the world, I think I’d require every project build article to have at least one "you have a good chance of screwing this up and here’s how to fix it"… course if I ruled the world, I’d probably be busy with other stuff and not really have time for woodworking so just disregard what I said.
    -Charles

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