Building a throne for the common man.
by Don Weber
I’m sitting here listening to Fiona Richie’s “Thistle & Shamrock” radio show, thinking of an old friend, John Brown, from Ireland, and the ties between the Welsh and Irish cultures. I’ve been building Welsh stick chairs for ages, influenced by the ancient chairs in St. Faggon’s Castle and those built by John, who recently passed away. I’ve always loved the old chairs of Scotland and Ireland; they’re as rough as you get, but thrones nonetheless.
The Sligo chair, joined and pegged together, has its origins in the early 16th century. A sketch of this type of chair, dated 1832 from Drumecliffe, near Sligo, shows a three-legged, T-shaped seat with a crest piece attached to the top. Claudia Kinmonth, in her book “Irish Country Furniture” (Yale), describes the “Tuam chair” and mentions several reproductions made for Thoor Ballylee, the poet W.B. Yeats’ Tower House in Dublin. Kinmonth tells us that the chair was made with no nails, screws or glue. What follows is my interpretation of this ancient chair.
I’ve taken the liberty of exchanging the flat-planked, T-shaped seat for a more comfortable Windsor-style seat, and I joined the front legs in a Maloof-ian style. The original chairs had a back carved out of a heavy timber. I’ve steam-bent the back plank and also the front legs. The original arms were cut out
and pegged to the back as in the old ones. This is a scribe-and-fit chair; there ain’t no square.
Bending a 2″ x 7″ white oak plank took a lot of manpower until I attached a 4×4 timber with an eye bolt through it to the undercarriage of my workbench and used a come-along to draw the steamed wood down to the form.
The form was made from three pieces of 2″-thick pine, band sawn to shape then bolted together. A piece of angle iron was lagged to the end of the form to attach it to the workbench, and a pair of arms with a piece of black pipe (salvaged from an old bar clamp) passed through holes in the arms to allow me to tighten the bent wood down to the form with wedges driven from underneath the pipe.
Another set of arms with a piece of pipe at top and bottom allowed me to slip the frame over the form with the come-along still attached to secure the other side of the bend. This allows me to release the tension on the come-along and remove the form from the bench when bending multiple pieces.
I try to do several pieces in the steamer at the same time to economize on fuel and in case any of the bending pieces fail. The front legs are bent on a similar form. When all the pieces from the steamer are bent, the forms with the bent wood on them are placed in a drying room I’ve built in the workshop – the only climate-controlled space in my old building!
From the June 2012 issue #197.
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