Friday, 21 July 2017

Welsh Stick Chair

This is the most amazing chair in the world. Not because it is particularly nice to look at or because of its flawless construction, this chair is amazing because it exists. The fact that I actually managed to complete this chair is a miracle. There were several things working against me; firstly there is the problem of time. As a full-time History teacher with a young family it is sometimes difficult to find large blocks of time to do woodwork. This isn't so much of a problem when it comes to my usual work: bowl turning, spoon carving and other small projects that can be finished in an evening. It was much more difficult to keep momentum with the chair, especially as I was spending a few hours working and ending up with only a pile of sticks to show for it. There were also tools that I needed to acquire and sourcing the right materials too, but by far the biggest obstacle was the fact that I'm a bit of a chicken. Cautious is probably a better way of putting it. Whenever I try something new I like to read about it first, then I like to read something else about it and then, before I start I like to read about it. This was no exception, in fact the journey started with this post about several books that I'd been reading in preparation, that was two years nearly before the chair was finished and I included several other books in-between, in fact I could probably just pile up my chair-making books and sit on them.

Some of the books I used to help me
Something that made me even more cautious was the fact that this was the first time I had ever paid for wood. Usually I manage to salvage logs from tree surgeons and friends, but this needed something  big for the seat, so I bought a slab of ash for £40 that I thought would be big enough for at least one seat. I'd decided to make a Welsh stick chair for a few reasons, the most important one being that in their traditional and purest form, these were unique chairs made by the user. This is what Bill Coperthwaite would call a democratic chair, or an anarchist chair according to Chris Schwarz. This is a concept that really resonates with me. The second reason is that they allow for a bit of rustic charm and I felt that my skill level could cope with that. As a result of this decision there were no plans to work from and instead I decided to use this picture as my guide.

This turned out to be a much more difficult approach than I had anticipated as I didn't have a single measurement or angle to go by. I should have worked out one measurement and then scaled everything up, but I didn't, I just made it up as I went along. 

So, in December 2015 work began when I went to a friend's house to split up some big oak that had been taken down in his back garden. 

Tools ready for action
Nick with the spoils of the day 

Lovely slabs of green Oak
Working with this oak was absolutely fantastic, but I quickly learned an important lesson: straight trees don't grow in back gardens. As I was riving and shaving the Oak down to size I realised that there's straight and there's straight and with no real competition for the light, back garden trees are a bit slouchy. This was even more visible with the Ash that I decided to use for the legs. This had come from the garden of another friend and as a result the front legs are a bit like bananas, but that's ok, as my Dad used to say whenever his DIY efforts weren't perfect "we'll make a feature of it."

One of the most enjoyable and frustrating elements was making the crest rail. This involved hewing and then planing a section flat and square, which I'd never really done before. Peter Follansbee's book on the joined stool was a big help here. Planing the green oak was one of the most satisfying things I've ever done. The smell was amazing. 

After getting it to the right dimensions, I then had to steam it and bend it to the right curve, again, something I had never done before. I ended up having to do it four times as the first two weren't the right curve and the third one broke whilst I was bending it. This slowed me down more than anything else.
Bending jig mark 1 (not long enough and not enough curve.

This was the final version that just about worked.
Shaving the legs and the spindles was good fun, but I did a lot as I wanted plenty of spares in case something went wrong. I'm pretty sure this was responsible for my tennis elbow, something which slowed things down further. 

A pile of sticks
Riding the shave horse
More shaving
Check out the footwear
Boring the holes in the seat was probably what made me most nervous as I didn't want to ruin this precious wood that I had paid for. I made a model as recommended by Drew Langsner, so that I could work out the compound angles and then I worked slowly.

This model made from MDF and coat hanger wire helped me to work out the angles  of the legs.
By May 2016 everything was ready except for the crest rail, which, as I mentioned previously, had to be remade for the fourth time. 

Then Summer happened and the whole project was shelved until December, when Richard came round and we finished the project off together. 

I was tempted to paint it like the one on the picture that I used for inspiration, but in the end I just finished it with Danish oil and a beeswax paste. We had a lot of people round for Christmas (17 for Christmas dinner) and so it got a lot of use and approval. The boys love it and will often argue over who gets to sit in Daddy's chair. If I speed things up a bit, I might be able to make them one each before they move out.  

1 comment:

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