Advice on Building Chairs
Issue: Issue 5.08
Posted Date: 12/2/2003
Looking ahead to more ambitious projects, a woodworker requested assistance in chair making. Hoping to work his way up to complete a set for his formal dining room, he asked for some basic guidance to designing and building some kitchen chairs.
Learning to make good mortise and tenon joints was the first suggestion. The poster explained that mastering this joint was vital to building chairs that would last for generations! This post also recommended James Krenov's The Impractical Cabinetmaker primarily for its musing on the author's process of building furniture. Another response agreed that Krenov's book was excellent, but didn't think it really had much about chair making. More relevant, the responder declared, were the books American Furniture of the 18th Century by Jeffrey P. Greene and Sam Maloof Woodworker. Look to Chairmaking and Design by Jeff Miller, suggested another woodworker, for the "how to" of seven different chairs. Though he didn't really care to make any of the chairs in the book, the basics of stress and design it covered helped him design his own chairs.
The reason chairs are tough, a veteran chair maker explained, was because they have to be strong, comfortable, and look good! Though it takes extra time, he recommended testing with mockups to get consistently good results.
One poster defined chair design as the combination of strength and practicality and said a builder should plan on spending 20 to 30 hours per chair. It takes so much time, explained another response, because each chair requires cutting many curves, making lots of mortise and tenon joints, doing a ton of clamped gluing, and working with upholstery. But when it's done, he noted, you'd have a set that will last and last.