Friday, April 1, 2016

FDR chair: finally

Except for finishing and the arms, the chair is done.  It's glued-up and every joint is pegged:  

I am not going to tell you it is perfect.  All of the joints on the outside are tight but on the inside there are a few gaps in the .00X" range.  The chair rocked about 1/8", likely a result of my trimming the compound angle joints on the seat rails, which I solved by trimming the legs on the longer diagonal about 1/16" each.  There is the grain mismatch on the right rear leg/arm.  I give myself an A-.  My standards keep going up as my skills improve, so I can never achieve them.  That's good and bad.  For the most part, I don't think about this after the piece is complete and it keeps me striving to get better.

I went back to the lumberyard and they still didn't have any 5/4 or 6/4 QSWO; the whiskey distillers continue to buy it all.  I had to buy an 8/4 piece:

$54!!  I also bought Pendleton wool upholstery fabric for the seat.  It is usually $84 per yard but they are having a 30% off sale on remnants:

It's more than I need but I can use it for other things and I really like the pattern.  All told, materials for this chair will cost almost $300!  Yikes.  Maybe that's the reason the chair isn't reproduced commercially, that and the fact that it takes so much hand work to build it.

I have reluctantly given up on the idea of making an exact copy of the original from photographs and an inaccurate construction drawing, so I contented myself with making a template for the arms that looks right and seems to match the photos:

Basically, I made the curves by placing nails at strategic points and bending a thin stick around them.  The width changes very subtly from the front, at 3", to the back at 2 1/2", so that it will mate up with the back, just as I think the original does.  I tried to do this in a way that isn't noticeable by having the outside curve in a little bit more than the inside.  The paper template is mounted to thin baltic birch plywood.  It is surprising to me how much the eye and the fingers can detect a smooth curve.  I just kept making very fine cuts with a spokeshave until I got the shape I wanted.  It also seems to fit my arm quite well.  I continually think that the design of this chair is just right, a testament to the skill of Ray Neufer and Margery Hoffman Smith.  This is an example.  I now realize that the front of the chair is just enough wider than the back so that the outside of the rear legs line up with the inside of the front legs.  So much goes into the design of a great chair.  Few people will really notice, I know I didn't, but the details matter.

Ray Neufer made several copies of the chair later in his life, this one for example.  It clearly doesn't exactly match the original, especially the shape of the back, but I don't think he cared.  You'll notice he has a grain mismatch too.  I feel better.


  1. I'm starting to like the look of this chair Andy. At first I thought it was ugly but this pic sans the arms has a certain grace and charm to it. Is that board for arms about 6bf? $8-$9 and up is what I would pay for it if I can find it.

  2. 6.6 bf. Seems expensive to me.

  3. What a major accomplishment, it looks great.