One of my biggest struggles so far with “The Stick Chair Book” is that I can’t build a chair the same way twice.
When I start to build a chair, I have plans and patterns. But it takes 5 minutes for those plans to get pushed aside. I pick up a stick for the stretchers and note the arrow-straight grain. Thanks to that, the stretchers don’t have to be a full 1-3/8” square; I can go smaller. The wood for the arm, however, is some fast-growth stuff and feels a little weak. I should beef up its thickness.
It goes from there. I get an idea for how to make the gutter between the saddled seat and spindle deck crisper. Yeah, I’m going to do that on this chair. The person who will get this chair has a round back, and he likes to lean back in chairs – hard. I’ve watched him do it. This chair needs an extra medial stretcher. And I’m going to pitch the back sticks an extra 5° backward to discourage him from tipping back on the chair’s back legs.
Soon, the chair looks nothing like my drawing. But it’s the right chair.
So how do I explain this process to the readers of the book? My plan is to present the chair plans as drawn for an average-size person with a mid-range BMI (body-mass index) and typical popliteal height. Basically, someone who doesn’t exist outside a Pringles’ consumer group study in Ames, Iowa.
And then say: OK, now you (the builder) need to think about the sitter. Are they short? Lower the seat height to avoid cutting off the bloodstream in their legs. Do they have a tall back? You need to increase the length of the back sticks to cradle the shoulders. Do they have long arms? Consider lowering the arm height by 1/2” or so. Do they have a massive hinder? Add stretchers. Wedge them. Widen the seat.
And on and on.
Also, do what I do. Build your first chairs using cheap wood – poplar and red oak in my case. Poplar for the seat and arms; oak for the other parts. Build them without fussing. Hell, don’t even saddle the seat. It might cost you a day of work and $30 in wood. But it will give you $1,000 worth of answers. Especially when you (and the person it is intended for) sits in it.
Then cut the stupid thing up and use the parts for stools. Funny, I’ve built a lot of stools.
— Christopher Schwarz
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