I’m delighted to say that, today, I finished a commissioned chair I have been working on for a while now. It is a retirement gift for a gentleman who is heading off into the sunset to play golf and relax after a lifetime of work.
The brief was to create a chair, that is aesthetically appealing, comfortable, and not too far from the traditional idea of a greenwood chair – basically a nice, traditional armchair, with a good dollop of character.
When I work I like to find wood that is interesting and enables me to create in the physical what is forming itself in my noggin. This often means that finding the right materials can take as long as the actual making. I was looking for good sturdy legs to give a sense of solidity – but I also wanted a back that sloped gently away from the occupant, so that when they sat in the chair and leant back they reclined slightly – this chair had to invite relaxation, encouraging the sitter to settle in and sit for a while. After a morning in the woods I found suitable candidates. I also found the front legs, the arms (a little oversized) and the spindles for the back. The spindles were a rich red hue from last years growth. In fact 2 of them had a beautiful golden mottling in the bark that created a kaleidoscopic effect.
Once home with my stash, and after a good coffee, I set to peeling and then scraping the under-bark from the legs and arms to reveal the beautiful white wood. This took a few hours on a cold and wet morning, but the effort soon warmed me through, and the end result was worth it. This done I set to marking out and cutting the legs to the lengths I required. I always cut a little long to allow for final trimming and finishing. The legs on the right of the chair have imperfections and growth damage that I retained as they add interest, but also show that the wood is in its natural state.
For the stretchers I selected some wood with an interesting texture and colours enhanced by lichen growth – once sanded the effects of the lichen can be seen in the bark and create a range of colours appealing to my eye. The stretchers on the front and back of the chair are of the same wood for continuity, while those joining the front to the back are smooth barked with the gorgeous mottled gold and red colouring
So, once I had decided what was going where, I set to measuring, marking, boring mortises, cutting tenons and tentatively fitting it together to see how it went. Once satisfied, I started the construction in ernest. At this stage it’s like a big wooden Lego kit.
The first bit to go together was the back spindles, which, once I was happy with, I put into the back legs, so that the back of the chair was complete. Thankfully it went together easily and the legs were flat and level when stood upright. Then the front legs were put together and joined to the back frame. At this point the chair has taken shape and can be set on its legs to see if it sits – it did. I was very, very pleased – no trimming, twisting or banging required.
The seat I cut in 2 pieces from a beautiful rough cut piece of seasoned beech, retaining the wavy edges. I shaped it to fit tightly around the legs, and the 2 halves to fit together with an irregular, but flowing line. The shaping of the recesses to fit around the legs I did with an old blacksmiths file, and took the better part of a morning – but, again, I think the time and effort were worth it. I then sanded it to within an inch of its life, before sanding it some more. I wiped it with a damp cloth to raise the grain before giving it a final sanding. I was a little disappointed to see that there were dark irregular lines running perpendicular to the grain – these are a result of the cutting, seasoning, and drying of the rough timber. Now, though, I think they add character – they will fade in time as the entire piece ages and darkens.
The arms were attached, at a slightly lower height than standard, making them, to my mind, a little more comfortable and inviting, encouraging a long sit. I left these over-long, so that as the wood dries from its green state, I can trim them if the ends split, removing the cracks.
At this point in proceedings I wanted to see if I was achieving my goals for this chair. So, I took a beautiful old meerschaum pipe, loaded it, and settled into the chair for a long smoke. I sat, engrossed, enveloped by soothing, fragrant smoke for over an hour, sitting further and further back into the chair. It was perfect, and, I didn’t want to get up. The chair is very comfortable – wether sitting upright, leaning on the arm, lolling about, slouching, snoozing, or leaning forward working on a carving. This is a lovely chair.
So, I left it to season a little, for the sap to dry, and the surfaces of the green wood to settle. About a week later I started sanding, and carefully trimming – getting into every crevice and nook. I was thinking of rounding the arms to make them fit the palm of a resting hand, but, as I sanded I became engrossed in the ring grain – still a variety of soft greens and creams – a testament to the living wood and its journey. Each perfect ring was a year in the life of the little tree – each telling a tale of the climate for that year and the growing conditions. As the wood dries and ages, the colours will change, but the story remain. I decided to leave them – after all, Less is More!
More drying time, a move into the house, to help it along, and then waxing, waxing, waxing and more waxing, interspersed with furious bouts of buffing. I think I lost a few pounds in the process, but again, the result is worth it.
So, as I look at this chair now, I am pleased, but, already thinking about my next chair. It is done – ready to go to its new home. I hope the owner likes it as much as I do.