Just finished up a set of Dining Chair No. 3's in walnut along with a set in white oak. Pictured below is the all walnut version as it leaves the studio.
It has been quite the journey since proving the folded paper concept could work. I have gone through many, many sheets of particle board / mdf and more coffee than I care to admit. It has taken days to build, and days to refine and alter. This form could likely keep the building from flying away in case of a hurricane at this point. I am not entirely sure how I managed to sort it all out, but somewhere amongst the caffeine and sleepless nights (possibly related) I sorted through the angles, and the angles where angles meet angles.
The form is composed of 6 separate torsion boxes. Together they give me the angles I require, or at least I certainly hope so.
With the form "complete" I needed to devise a clamping strategy (no way this contraption was fitting in the vacuum bag). A clamping caul system was the only way I could conceive making it work, and so the adventure of making an elaborate set of clamping cauls began. 1.5" thick mdf formed the platens (compound angles meeting compound angles) that would sandwich the veneer with "sprung" beams running across them. Because I won't be able to get a clamp into the center of the panel and I don't own any 12" deep clamps I needed to "spring" the beams. Basically the beams are touching in the middle (peak of the triangle profile) of the platen and around an 1/8" high on each end where the clamping pressure will be applied. As the clamps get tightened they will close that 1/8" gap creating more pressure in the middle of the platen. Simple stuff really.
This is the first of two forms that will be used to make the chair. This one will be used to create a bent ply panel that will form the back rest, arm rests and back legs.
This past autumn I was commissioned to build a chair by a student in the Chair Design class I was co-teaching with Jeff Miller at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship. During the brainstorming / model making / getting creative energy flowing exercise the student (Jed) came up with a captivating model by "simply" folding paper together into the form of a chair. I wish I had decent pictures of the model, but let me tell you, Jeff and I were both immediately drawn to this concept and the potential it had. After a day or two of head scratching our collective brain power was getting pretty mushy, Jed's chair was redesigned capturing some of the elegant lines the model had into a design Jeff, Jed and I were confident in Jed being able to build in just over a weeks time. By the end of the class Jed had created a striking, sit able chair, but he longed to see that original folded together model come to life. Jed commissioned me to make the original design, the endeavour took on a new life.
I knew I had gotten myself into a pretty hefty challenge, but let me tell you, I greatly underestimated what lay ahead. Fold some veneer here, fold some veneer there, voila, chair. I knew it was going to be labour intensive, but what I did not anticipate was the mathematician level of trigonometry / master origami problem that lay before me.
I started in my sketchbook (like always) and came up with a few reiterations of the chair I was content with and started trying to decipher just how to build one of them. After more head scratching I realized I was chasing the wrong concept altogether, and that in reality I wasn't pleased with any of the three concepts I was initially working on. I was trying to merge Jed's original model, his finished redesigned chair and something I thought would be comfortable into a pretty little package. I had ended up in a place with a chair that lacked a cohesive look and feel, I reached out to Jed wanting to discuss the project with him. Jed had no interest in seeing and adding input on the designs, he wanted me to find the right design for myself, to look past the hangups and let my voice be heard. It was a deflating and empowering moment all at once. I took a long walk, enjoyed some fresh air, and realized I needed to go back to the start. I got out the paper, and for what seemed like days folded together both model sized and full sized chairs. From here my current concept was born. I ended up straying a bit from the original model Jed had folded together back in September, but have found a direction I believe will lead to a very unified, refined looking piece.
The plan is to make the chair out of just two parts, seems easy enough right? The first part will be a bent panel that makes up the back rest, arm rests, and back legs of the chair. The second part will be a bent panel that makes up the front legs, seat, and another set of back legs. The two panels will then be joined (glued and bolted) up the back leg. Both panels will be pressed out of commercial veneer with alternating grain direction to essential be shop made plywood, this way it will be strong and stable. There will be relief cuts in the veneer to allow for the panels to split apart (top of the back rest and front of the seat) where the panels change the plane they are being bent on.
Pictured below are a few (of what seems like hundreds at this point) of my mockups. They are cut from paper, cardboard, and one version made out of plywood to get something rigid enough to take angles from and sit in to work through ergonomics.
I know it doesn't seem like much yet, but stay tuned, this will be a learning intensive journey for everyone involved.
I know it has been a long time between posts, the business and life side of all this took priority for a little while. Through January and February I was preparing for and exhibiting at the Toronto Interior Design show as well as relocating to Brooklyn, New York. In this post is a picture from the show as well as the most recent piece produced, Rocking Chair No. 1. It is walnut construction with a steel subframe, the steel gives the piece the structure it requires to take the load of a person. The cool (and somewhat unexpected) thing about it is the chair has no noticeable flex from the cantilevered seat or back, but has a slight flex side to side. It allows the back and seat to move independently from one another as the sitter adjusts in the chair.
I will go back in the coming weeks to post the process of creating this chair as well as posting about a new chair commission I am in the midst of currently designing.
Thanks for following, hope you enjoy.
With the white oak slats twisted into shape and drying it was time to layout exactly where each slat was going to attach to the frame and drill holes in the steel frame for where the fasteners would go. It took a few tries to get the spacing right with the dividers, a centreline was scribed and the holes were set with a punch and hammer. The steel base was clamped down to the bed and using a jig that held the drill parallel to the bed 198 holes were drilled through the 3/16" thick steel. 37.25" of lineal steel were drilled through over the course of two days. As the 66 wood slats got fit into place the same drill jig was used to drill out the wood slats for the fasteners.
A little while back we were twisting the 3/4" thick by 2" wide by 34" long white oak slats to make up Dining Table No 1. We were doing this with kiln dried wood, which typically speaking doesn't steam bend all that well, but given that the most extreme twists for the table are around 45 degrees we tested it out, and it seemed to work without any problems. After one long day and some 70 slats twisted and clamped to the metal base to dry we decided to "test the limits" with the few that remained in the steam box. The slats were steamed for roughly 2-3 hours at 200+ degrees fahrenheit, the results were pretty incredible, to watch the bending happen check out this video.
While co-teaching the chair making course at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship I got an opportunity to design a speculative piece, something I rarely have the opportunity to do throughout the rest of the year while commissioned work is on the go. Below are pictures of the first mockup for a new bar stool design. I usually begin my design process for seating objects by going from a sketch to a full size drawing. The full size drawing doesn't need to be complete from all views, but at least have basic dimensions, shapes and angles roughed out. I then make the first mockup with whatever materials are lying around, in this case plywood, poplar, screws and hot glue to get a rough idea of proportions, shapes, heights and angles. The mockup is a tool used to go back and refine the drawing, see the idea in three-dimension and begin to work through what the construction / process of the piece might look like. It's always best if you can sit in the mock up to gauge comfort of heights and angles, sometimes additional props or stilts might be required.
Things I learnt from this mockup....
I felt the weight of the legs was a bit heavy, so they have been taken down in dimension on the first iteration. Part of this might be the thickness of the plywood seat I had available which is a bit thinner (lighter) then I have planned. I also wasn't a fan of the seat sticking out past the back legs, so that has been reworked. The footrest has been raised, and the front legs have a wider stance to give the seat some splay which will be more cohesive with some of the other tapered forms found throughout the piece. Now to sort out the construction...