Philosophical thought for the day:
Without experience you don’t know the pitfalls and potential problems of a project, it’s only by trying something new that you discover them.
That thought came about during my time spent caning a seat for the set of dining chairs I made back in 2009. This was before I had my WordPress blog and was using the Blogger platform. I’ve looked to find information on their construction but unable to locate that in the archives but here is a LINK to the original chair. This one pictured is the final prototype made of Red Oak. The laminated back is Canarywood which is what the final set of six were made of. Following my wife’s lead of entering painting competitions I thought entering this chair in the Design in Wood competition sponsored by the San Diego Fine Woodworkers was worth pursuing. To my surprise, it was juried in to the show and awarded an Honorable Mention!
As the years have gone by, the original fabric on them is beginning to fade and show some age. Some of my recent projects have included woven seats like this one for our clubs Christmas Challenge. I really like the look and feel a woven seat provides but you need a chair that has narrow stiles to wrap the grass around. I happened to see an antique chair with an insert so thought this was a feasible option! Notice the word “thought”, like my philosophical rant at the top of this post that’s the key word of the day!
The idea was to create a frame to wrap the cord around that would fit in the seat opening. The original chairs have a seat of plywood and foam. Using 5/8″ by 1 1/8″ Poplar and lap joints was how the frame was made, decided to stick with hand tools for this project since that’s the best way to maintain those skills. It would have probably taken as much time to set up jigs, blades, etc. to machine the joints out.
Because of the angles, gluing the frame up was a bit tricky but by maneuvering the torsion boxes around proper clamping was possible. The next step was adding blocks at each corner to fill in that space but the more important reason for them is a positive stop for the grass. These were scribed to match the corners where the side rails met the leg and front rails. They are located square in relationship to the front rail and overhang the frame by the diameter of the seagrass I’m using, about 3/16″. No strength is required so a simple rub and clamp glue joint is sufficient. Now we begin the weaving process, here are the highlights in slideshow form:
Time spent weaving a seat is really quite enjoyable! Well, until the strand of grass breaks in a place you can’t add another on, or you lose count and make two wraps where you should of made one, or you have too much slack in a weave you made 3-4 courses ago, or ………..! Seriously though, weaving is enjoyable. Kind of like running my ultra marathons where instead of one foot in front of the other repetition it’s one strand over the other, count and repeat. I get this material from Franks Cane and Rush out of Huntington Beach, he’s been very helpful and is a reliable source for all types of chair materials for me.
So, let’s go back to my original, philosophical outlook on this project. I was feeling pretty good about the weaving. It does take time but is very relaxing for the most part. Just put SOS on the radio, sing along and don’t lose count. Occasionally the strands do break since Hong Kong Seagrass is a natural, twisted material. I found that by wetting it for about 10 seconds in warm water it’ll work a bit easier. Here’s the major pitfall I discovered after completing the insert. Because the chair was designed for a slipseat, I placed the corner supports about 5/8″ below the top of the rails to accommodate a 1/2″ plywood base. With the seagrass wrapping all the way around the corner blocks no longer fit flush with the tops of the rails and have an unattractive appearance. The insert looks okay on the sides and front but at the corner block it shows the frame underneath. I had thought of making corner blocks that wrap around the edges but that would create a very delicate piece with a good chance of breakage. This chair is really comfortable and will go back to my study with the Seagrass seat, the others will be re-upholstered with a better quality material.
I now have the experience needed understand the pitfalls and potential problems of this type of seat construction. To design a chair with a woven inset requires the corner braces being placed lower to accommodate the inset and grass. Since these were glued and screwed into place, modifying the chairs is out of the question but —- now I know!