Peel yourself a settle

Twig furniture is experiencing a comeback in popularity. The first chair I found of this type had been exposed to the weather for many years on an open porch in the woods of central Maine. It was grey and weathered, but still comfortable and sturdy. The iron nails pinning the parts together had rusted and stained the wood, but held with firm tenacity. It was there, ready for rest, at the end of each hike.

This was the first chair I had seen like this and I assumed it had been made there. Since then. I’ve found two others so similar they must have been made by the same person or group of people. The second chair I came across belonged to a retired minister’s family in Surry. N.H. It came with only one clue to its origin: The chair had been bought by the Mrs.’ family back in the I930’s and had been made in Appalachia. The third chair of identical type was found in a yard sale, and came complete with a rather wild tale of buccaneers and smuggling. By its mere presence, however, it suggested this type of chair must have been fairly numerous at one time.

One rainy day. a friend and 1 decided to make a chair from the original design. The cedar trees growing near the abandoned logging road would provide the lumber. Our tools included a bow saw, pocket knives, a rusty hammer, and a similarly rusty box of nails. I notched a stick for a measuring device and marked off the existing chair.

The chair plans here differ from the original only in the curved brace under the chair frame. The original had straight braces cut at a 45° angle. I felt the curved brace would be more graceful as well as easier to cut.

Five hours later, with the constant advice of my five-year-old son, we finished. It was very satisfying to make a chair with simple resources. I had been challenging myself with more and more demanding projects for the past few years, and a return to the simplest of tools was very relaxing.

Choose wood that’s limber and bendable. Although wood choice may be limited to what’s available, several characteristics are important. If you’re going to peel the wood, choose a species that will not be gummy or resinous to clothes when peeled. Try to get a light, strong wood that will not split when you nail it.

Cut a quantity of wood as thick as your wrist, tapering down to the size of your little finger. The back and bent seat will require branches up to 6’ long, as straight as can be found.

Cutting the parts to length with a bow saw is the safest and easiest way. If shop equipment is used, several safety practices should be observed. Cutting round and irregular stock is not a safe practice on the table saw. The stock may shift and roll and nasty kickbacks are possible. If the branches are trimmed on the band saw.a V-block should be used to keep the wood from rolling and breaking the blade.

Nail two end frames together as shown in Figure 1. The wood you use should be no thicker than your wrist, or the furniture may appear too clunky when finished. Next, join the end frames together to form the basic frame (see Figure 2). Make the frame 6″ narrower in the back than at the front.

Nail on three supports (A, B, and C) for the back and seat parts as shown in Figure 3. Part C on the armrest must be nailed slightly behind the rear legs to provide a comfortable, backward lean. Let parts B and C hang out 6″ or so from the chair frame on either end. They will be trimmed to size afterwards.

Add three back bows and a brace under the chair as shown in Figure 4. Choose the back bow parts carefully. They must be straight and limber. If the butt of each piece has a slight crook, they are easier to secure to the chair. Nail the butt end first, and bend the small end down to be secured. Reverse direction on the next bow. The back bow parts nail behind part B and in front of part A. Trim off the excess from part A and B that hang out beyond the back bow parts. Finally, bend and nail a brace under the front frame of the chair to add rigidity.

Nail part D in place. It should be located so the seat branches will butt into part D and then be bent down and nailed to the frame and eventually to the back bow.

The seat branches should be selected to be as close to the same thickness as possible. Note that the seat twigs are close together on part B as shown in Figure 5. They spread apart slightly over the length of part A and fan out gracefully over the back bows. Space these branches close enough for comfort, and nail first in part B; then spread and nail the other ends to part C and the back bows.

Nail two boards under the chair to the legs. This will keep the side frames from spreading apart over the years.

For the final fitting, sit in the chair with a pocket knife, and whittle off any knots and protrusions that feel uncomfortable. Whittle chamfers on the armrests and parts that show. Perhaps, to settle future arguments, whittle your name and the date the chair was made.

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