Whenever I can manage it, I try to build an experimental chair alongside one of my trusted designs. It gives me a chance to use less-than-perfect wood and see how things that have germinated in my sketchbook look in real life.
This week I started two stick armchairs in walnut – one that will be for sale and a second that might be for fire.
I’m building the experimental chair using the sappier parts of a walnut slab I bought in Lexington, Ky., last month. The board was cut from a street tree, so it’s not like lumberyard walnut. My tree grew fast, out in the open and has some odd coloring and grain, which is typical for a street tree.
The experiment with this chair is the armbow. With a traditional three-piece armbow, the “doubler” – the piece that joins the two arms – has always been a magnet for my eyes. I like the look – it’s traditional – but I’m always looking for ways to make the doubler recede into the overall design of the arm.
After chatting with Narayan Nayar about my efforts to minimize the doubler, he suggested repeating its design elsewhere on the chair. It could be added to the underside of the arm. Or the top of the chair seat. Repetition would make the doubler look more like part of a pattern than an “eye catcher.”
So after some sketching, I decided to use a “double doubler” that has 30° bevels on all edges – one on top of the arms and one on the bottom of the arms. I think I like the way it looks. But I’m going to have to finish the chair to know for sure.
Some experiments work so well they get adopted immediately. A couple years ago I started making my stretchers into double-tapered octagons. Making this shape is a fair amount of work with a plane and a couple cradle blocks on my workbench.
But I loved the double-tapered octagons immediately.
Before embracing the double-taper octagon, I would turn or plane my stretchers into a round shape, usually cigar-ish or with a bulge in the middle. These rounded forms are traditional shapes, but I always thought they conflicted with the facets on the six- or eight-sided legs.
Other design ideas survive on the bench for minutes or even seconds before being chucked into the scrap pile. I try to forget about those ideas before I’m even tempted to write about them on the blog.
— Christopher Schwarz
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