A Welsh Stick Chair for the Apprentice – Part 2

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Sticks, legs (including one spare) and a seat gluing up in the background.

While I wait for the campaign stool tribolts to arive from Lee Valley, I’ve started work in earnest on the Apprentice’s Stick Chair. The seat is 12″ deep, and the oak I have did not quite yield a board big enough. That’s no problem – jointing two boards and gluing them up is a simple task, and always good practice. As I was about to start work on preparing the seat, I remembered a blog post in which Chris talked about the benefits of building two of a project instead of one. I checked my timber stock and figured I’d have enough oak to build a pair of these chairs. It didn’t take much longer to prepare a pair of boards for the seat of the second chair, and I jointed both sets with my No.8 before gluing them up with Old Brown Glue.

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Cleaning the face of each board, and then jointing with the No.8

With the seats clamped up and set aside, I turned my attention to preparing the sticks for the chair back. The historic chair I’m recreating had five 1/2″ diameter sticks, and I had a board of straight grained oak set aside for exactly this purpose. While I love my handsaws, for ripping thin strips off a wider board I much prefer the bandsaw, and after only a few minutes I had ten slightly oversized sticks which will rest for a week or so before being shaped. Unfortunately the oak I’d picked up for the legs did not fare so well – the leg blanks I cut out a couple of weeks ago are all fine,  but when I lifted the spare material down from my timber rack I found that it was riddled with shakes and deep splits, making it entirely unusable. That’s not a disaster (I’d rather material failed on me before I use it in a project!) as I had some nice maple left over from the Staked Work Table which will make for very nice legs. Although maple is not a traditional timber for Welsh stick chairs, that doesn’t bother me too much. These chairs will be painted, so the different species will not be noticeable. More importantly, stick chairs were traditionally made using whatever timber was to hand, including rescuing curved sticks from the firewood pile for combs and arm bows. So the spirit of using suitable timber of whatever species is readily available, is consistent with the ethos of stick chair making.

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This was my first experience of using Old Brown Glue (previously I’ve used Titebond Liquid Hide Glue) but so far I’m impressed.

The two seats are glued up, and next will be to clean them up before laying out the leg positions and drilling the motises. In the meantime, I’ve been spending more time going through photos of the original chair and teasing out the design details. The more I look at this chair, the more I find it utterly charming. The proportions are very eye catching, with the comb almost twice as high from the seat as the seat is from the floor. The rear leg has a bold rake compared to the more upright front legs, and the seat slopes back just a couple of degrees for comfort. Decoding this chair has become a wonderful study in proportions, angles, and construction techniques. One of my favourite details, and one which I will definitely be recreating on my chairs, is a decorative pair of shallow gutters along the top of the seat, either side of the sticks. These seem to be shallower than you’d find on a Windsor chair. While it is just a simple detail, it seems clear to me that the original maker wanted to add some understated decoration to their chair.

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Another 30 second sketch of the chair, from a different perspective. I just hope I can build it better than I draw it…

The one detail which I have been mulling over is the leg profile. The original chair had a tapered cylindrical leg, which looks very nice. But as a recovering octagonalisation addict, the siren call of facets has proved difficult to resist. This is where I get to take advantage of building two chairs simultaneously. The chair with oak legs will have the same tapered cylindrical profile as the original, while the maple legged chair will have a tapered octagonal leg to the same dimensions (maple holds crisp details wonderfully). This will be an interesting opportunity to see what impact changing the leg profile has on the overall form.

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