When I set out to design a new chair, I begin with historical examples. Photos are helpful, of course. But I prefer to lean on chairs I’ve studied in person.
When Lucy and I visited Ireland in 2019, our itinerary was built around museums, people and places that had collections of old Irish chairs. Luckily, all of Ireland is beautiful, so there were always lots of other things to see once I got my Recommended Daily Allowance of old furniture.
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After we returned to the States, I spent 2020 building a few more Irish Gibson chairs after studying about 10 examples on the island. During the trip I became enamored with the boxy Irish armchairs. Photos don’t do them justice. This year I decided to explore the boxy armchair form to figure out if it was an appropriate chair for beginners.
The chair shown here is not a copy, but is what I call a “plausible” piece. It’s not designed to fool anyone that it’s an antique. But it would look OK on the movie set of “The Commitments 2: Eurovision Leprechauns.”
The seat is made from a gnarly piece of scrap soft maple, which is similar to European sycamore. The rest of the parts were split out from oak I had sitting around the shop. All the parts were shaved with spokeshaves and planes. No sanding. Heavy toolmarks and tear-out were left as-is.
The finish is what I jokingly call the Far East Wales finish (read about it here). It is not designed to fool anyone that it is an antique finish, but it allows this new chair to fit into a room filled with antiques.
About 10 minutes after finishing the chair, I knew what had to change for the next generation.
This chair’s backrest tilts 10°, which is pretty typical on old chairs. It’s fairly comfortable with a pillow, but I prefer a tilt of 20° (or more) for the backs of my stick chairs. The entasis of the sticks didn’t thrill me. I tapered them too dramatically to fit into the arms. Also, I decided I wanted to see what the chair looked like with octagonal legs.
I started building the next chair before the black wax was completely dry on this chair.
— Christopher Schwarz