Those of us in developed cultures take chairs for granted. No matter where goto work, to the doctors office or to a bus stopthere is usually plenty of seating available so that we may take a load off our feet. And even the most basic of mass produced chairs are a welcome sight for the weary. Sure beats sitting down on a log, or squatting. Despite the incredible evolution in chair design over the past several hundred years, too many examples exist that are not comfortable and not well built nor well-designed. Some, like the chairs designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright succeed exceedingly well on one front by fail on two others. His high-backed chairs are striking to look at, but dont look too closely at the joinery (put together by carpenters) nor even try to sit down for more than a few back-breaking minutes. My theory is that he didnt like people overstaying their welcome at his home.
One of my favorite chair designs is the Shaker rocker. Now heres a chair that was built for longevity, has simple, beautiful lines and will keep you comfortable as long as you wish.
Chairs pose unique challenges. For one, a chair engages more intimately with your body. You will feel poor design in the small of your back. A chair has to be strong to put up with occasional racking forces. And a chair (well, most chairs) has to be light enough to move around easily. To build a good chair, one must understand their engineering and ergonomics.
Despite these issues, chairmaking can be simplified and accomplished with the most basic of tools. You can make a crude but functional chair using nothing more than a froe to split a log, then shape the parts with a drawknife and spokeshave. If you add a lathe and some basic steam bending tools, your chair making ability soars, allowing you build very elegant and comfortable seating. And if you have a fully equipped workshop with the basic machines, your chairmaking possibilities are limitless.
Many woodworkers shy away from making chairs, or even stools. Granted, there are not too many square parts to most chairs, and compound angles are somewhat intimidating. But the articles in this book, reprinted from Fine Woodworking magazine, should help dispel any questions or fears you may have about chair building. Not only can you build them, you can make them better than the average commercially made models.
Anatole Burkin, Editor-in-Chief,