By Jeff Miller
I tend to think of Chippendale chairs as highly ornate. But there are startlingly simple examples of the style as well. After encountering some of the simpler versions of these chairs, I became fascinated. I love the interplay of curves and angles, the simple yet bold form and the feeling that this chair could fit in almost anywhere. So I decided to build my own moderately faithful version. Interestingly, the joinery found on the originals is in some ways easier to execute by hand. Using some tools and processes about which I’ve written before (see the Online Extras), along with some simple additions, cutting accurate joinery is easy and reliable. This article will focus on that joinery and how to make it simple to execute by hand.
Features of the Chair
The most notable design features of this chair – and most chairs in the Chippendale style – are the splayed and curved back legs and the twisted side rails and stretchers. There are also the “ears” that provide some additional material in the crest rail for the joint with the rear legs. Structurally, the most interesting elements are the angled mortises and straight tenons with angled shoulders found on the side rails and side stretchers. These are not much harder to cut by hand than an ordinary mortise-and-tenon joint, but grow in complexity when cut by machine. The splay of the legs comes from the angled shoulders (from top to bottom) of the back rail – these, too, are easily cut by hand, but aren’t much harder by machine.
The Back Legs
Start work by making two patterns for the back legs and layout this profile on the backs of the two legs. Cut the profile and smooth the convex and concave curves. Lay out the flat section on the front of the legs where the side rails will join the legs. Mark an X from opposite corners. Plane the center of the X until you reach the limit lines of the flat section. The Front Legs Mill the front legs 1″ overlong for now. You’ll cut the extra off after mortises have been chopped and the tenons fit. Now lay out the locations for the side rail, front and lower back rail mortises. Layout 1⁄4″-wide mortises for now; you’ll re-scribe and pare to the 5⁄16″ finished dimension after chopping. Additionally, lay out the mortises for the lower back stretcher.
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