Playing to the Cheap Seats

Several months ago I was issued a challenge to create a piece of period appropriate seating made from Pallet Lumber. Material matters little given a sufficient level of experience with design and construction. The challenge also included that the design should be producible with a minimum number of tools and be of simple construction. An inferred condition was that the chair should be easily transportable.

In a few moments I had a considered idea of what type of furniture would fit the bill. Then I required myself to rethink that first choice, as what constitutes “simple construction” and “minimum tools” is highly subjective. I can do wonders with a crosscut saw, drill, and lathe given the parameters of this project, but a lathe is a rare tool to come by.
Once I had an honest look at the quality of the lumber used in hardwood pallets, the bar was raised a step higher as a significant milling requirement is present to bring these materials into a workable (and eventually aesthetically pleasing) condition.
Then there was the combination of what constitutes “simple” construction while still adhering to a medieval form and style. “How” we put something together is related to how it is intended to function, and which materials we are using to achieve the finished product.

One of my earliest woodworking projects as a neophyte hobbyist was a chair. As a matter of fact, it was a reproduction of the Glastonbury Chair that everyone with an interest in Medieval and Renaissance Furniture seems to take a crack at eventually. Hence, there are a plethora of them, and their presence in the re-creation sphere far outweighs their incidence and eminence historically.
Being that I was generally operating in a woodworking vacuum those days, I leapt into building that chair with poor tooling and little understanding of how difficult such a project was supposed to be. Many years later I hear “modern” woodworkers counsel that chairs are a difficult undertaking and an enterprising project for a novice woodworker to attempt. Since no one told me this when I first attempted to make a chair a decade ago, it never occurred to me. With hindsight, I do see how difficult and frustrating such a goal can be to achieve.

I’ve been wanting to build a chatting chair for a little bit now, but that type of chair would hardly constitute “simple” construction. There are interesting geometries that need to be figured and executed, and knowing many the design would either languish unused of someone would come along to “simplify” the construction even more, departing from the actual form and style that was intended.
The Glastonbury is right out, overdone. The Sedia/Curule chairs are likewise not an option, both for inherent difficulty and for current common-place occurrence. I passingly considered a Queen Ana, but those can be awkward to transport (also known as the Oseberg Box Chair), while the angled frame-and-panel construction of the sides offers it’s own challenges.
Finally I settled on something that has been lingering at the back of my mind for some months as a project to build just for fun. A settel-banc or stryksitten might fit the bill nicely.

A 15th Cen Stryksitten for one. Rikjksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Now those linenfold panels certainly make this a much more advanced project. However, there are many examples of this type of seating, many with very little ornamentation and mostly “negative space” construction. The image above indicates that there are at least occasional examples of this style of seating being designed for one person, while the larger extants show a significant variety of construction styles and ornamentation which will allow a “simpler” construction and “easier” reproduction within the bonsai-like limitations of the original challenge.

Next week, we’ll have a look at the design sketch and the actual pallet material I’ll be using as an example.

This entry was posted in Furniture Research, Projects, Tracery, Wood. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Playing to the Cheap Seats

  1. Jeff Davis says:

    Interesting! I look forward to seeing what you come up with. Thanks for sharing.

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