Not Wrong Enough for a Good Fire

Not Wrong Enough for a Good Fire

- in Art


Yesterday I dry-assembled this Irish Gibson chair and gave it a good squat. It sits very well, but there are some details that are a bit off. Mark Jenkinson, an Irish chair expert and owner of a cider mill, has been coaching me on the finer details of these chairs.

Here are some details I missed.

  1. My back sticks aren’t notched into the arms. On most Gibson chairs there is a small birdsmouth-like notch cut into the arms to receive the sticks that form the outside of the “W.” Curiously, the photos of the chair I studied to make my chair don’t have these notches. I’ll have to change my arm pattern slightly to fix this. Easy.
  2. My seat rakes backward. Mark noted that the Gibson chairs he has studied have seats that are parallel to the floor. Again, the example I studied had a raked seat. That could have been the result of the front legs being replaced. I like the backwards rake of this chair, so it will be interesting to sit in some historical examples to compare the opinions from my backside.
  3. The “hands” on the arms are a bit off. Mine end in a lollipop shape. The originals are more of a half-lollipop. It’s an easy fix to the template.
  4. All my sticks and legs likely need some more taper at the ends. This detail – called entasis – is something I apply lightly. Chairs can start to look real clownish real quick if you taper things too much (at least in my experience). I’ll sneak up on it with the next iteration.

Despite all these flaws, I’m pretty happy with the chair, especially for a first draft. Several people have asked me questions about the chair’s design. Here are some answers.


  1. Does it feel like sitting in a dentist chair? The seat rakes back dramatically! Nope. The rake of the back is about what you get in a Morris chair (it’s 25° off 90°). It’s definitely not a dining chair, but it’s a nice lounger.
  2. Why is it so low to the ground? Earlier chairs tend to be lower for a number of reasons. This one is 15”, which is only 3” lower than a modern chair. Again, I think this is for lounging. The seat height matches a lot of Morris chairs I’ve studied.
  3. Why isn’t the seat saddled? Vernacular chairs don’t feature as much saddling as factory chairs or city chairs. Many vernacular chairs have zero saddling. This is fixed with a cushion or sheepskin. It’s my opinion that saddling is not the No. 1 factor in a chair’s comfort.
  4. What’s with the chunky crest rail? It looks wrong. Actually, I got the crest rail pretty darn right (thanks again Mark!). It adds greatly to the comfort of the chair and suits the shoulders. It also gives a solid feel as you lean back. I think it looks chunky only until you get used to it. Then it looks right.

What’s next? Usually I dive in and rebuild a design a few more times to get things closer to a final design. But I’m going to stay my hand here. Lucy and I are headed to Ireland this fall to meet Mark, see chairs and do some romantic stuff. I’m going to let the real Gibson chairs dictate  my next move.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.

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