Designing a Dining Chair

I'm nearing completion of the second and likely final prototype on a new dining chair design, and I'm getting really excited about getting some finish and upholstery on it. That will all be done soon, and I'll post more pictures when its complete, but I thought I would go back and trace my design process for those who are interested. 

The goal was to create a new design which would continue my line of three-legged danish-modern inspired chairs. With the armchair and lounge chairs already designed and with several of each built, I already had something of a starting point, but the big difference with this design was that it would not have arms. Without arms, I knew I would need to work in other ways to stabilize the legs, and drew in a pair of stretchers just a few inches off the ground as shown below in an early small scale drawing. For those who don't know, most of my design work is done by hand.

I took those small scale drawings, scaled them up to full size and set about creating a full scale mock up. Drawings are great, but there are things they will not show you. A full sized mock up made of scrap wood and cardboard may not allow you to test all the ergonomics or feel the weight of the finished piece, but it is something you can walk around and really see how the angles of the legs interact as you look at the piece from different angles. It also provides an opportunity to test out a variety of revisions without significant investment of cost. The shape of the seat and back rest were parts I really had to agonize over at this point, but cutting pieces out of cardboard is quick and doesnt cost anything. With this step complete, the mock up is taken apart, and the pieces become the templates for the first prototype.

Legs were turned, rails were shaped, joinery cut and eventually pieces were assembled. Sounds easy, but a lot of work goes into a chair like this. For example, that back leg is turned for most of its length, but the angled bit and curve at the top are cut after turning, and the curves are shaped largely by hand with a spokeshave. It takes time to create a smooth transition and curve with enough tension for visual interest.

As soon as the pieces were assembled, glue had dried, and I was able to put the laminates seat panels in place I knew I had a problem. While the pair of stretchers between the front legs and from that one to the base of the rear leg prevented the legs from splaying, they did nothing to prevent the back leg from swaying back and forth. I had not adequately appreciated how the arms of the other pieces prevent that motion. Prototyping is all about learning, and I was being taught an important lesson. I had several friends with experience designing and building a variety of things and had them lean from side to side against the back rest. We talked the problem through and I came up with an experiment: Adding cables from the base of the rear leg to the corners of the rail across the front. My hypothesis was that the chair needed triangulation between the bottom of the rear leg and the front rail. Tightening that cable created a marked improvement in the stiffness of the design. The cables can be seen in the picture below.

For the second prototype I replaced the cables with wooden stretchers and did away with the stretchers down low. I also decided to switch from 5 blind tenons to 3 wedged through tenons for joining the rails. To create space for both stretchers to pass through the back leg, I had to leave additional mass near the bottom of the back leg. I also drilled those holes before turning which involved a fairly complex setup on my drill press. The shape of that bulb was refined by hand after the leg had been turned.

Now that this second prototype is glued up, and I've had a chance to sit in it, I am really pleased to say that the revisions are a success. The back leg is very stable and I am very pleased with how it looks. The angled stretchers are dramatic and absolutely functional. As always, I'll continue looking at the design critically, looking for whatever small revisions I think will improve the design, but at the moment I'm looking forward to finding that first client who would like some of these made. Pricing will be the same as the arm chairs; $1175 in plain fabric. Fabric with patterns or leather will be a bit more. If you are interested in commissioning some of these, let me know. I'd love to build more of them. Pictures of this piece finished and upholstered should be up within 2 weeks.

Wessinger Woodworks at upcoming events!

Hello Folks,

Its been a productive fall with new designs in built and more underway, including a new lounge chair that will be completed within the week. There will be two easy opportunities to see my pieces in person without making an appointment, and with all the holiday cheer you can possibly stand. The first will be on Saturday, December 12 at ADX during Gifted. I will be displaying my pieces including (with a bit of luck), one of my whale sculptures. The second will be Sunday, December 13 from 12 till 5 at Portland Center Stage during their Holiday Bazaar. 

To be finished in time for these events: The lounge chair!


Oh, Social Media

Hello Folks,

The fall has arrived and several new designs are currently in the prototyping stage of things. The new designs include a lounge chair version of the Hilltop Side Chair and a pair of coffee tables. I couldn't decide whether I wanted to do a coffee table with a solid top or one with glass insert in the middle above a shelf which could be used to display things. I've been referring to the latter as the curiosities coffee table while Liz has been calling it the natural history museum. Either way, Instead of deciding which to build I decided to build both! The pieces are coming along nicely and the coffee tables in particular will be completed within a few short weeks.

I also wanted to announce here that I have started an Instagram account! I am typically a pretty reluctant social media user, but I've gotta say I've enjoyed being able to share pictures of different angles on the chairs, work in progress pictures, and a variety of other things that simply don't fit here. This will be the best place to watch my new designs come together. Check it out. My feed is public, so anyone can see what I post, and say hello if you feel inclined! Find me at wessinger_woodworks.


Chairs available now.

Hello Folks,

With the first run complete, I'm happy to say that I have 5 chairs available for purchase. I had 4 of them upholstered in the same blue fabric as the prototype. I just love the color, but for the last one I wanted something different. From the beginning I wanted the 5th to stand out and to make a very different statement. I wanted it to display the versatility of the design. Where the blue color is cool but also lively and fun as the fabric picks the light up differently from different angles, I wanted to see how sophisticated the chair could look in black leather. I also wanted the wood to be something special for this chair, and selected a board with spectacular flaking. I hope you like the result as much as I do. It's been thrilling to see the 5 completed chairs together.

After sharing these chairs with some interior designers I have been in touch with, the question of whether they could be upholstered in other materials came up. Though all the chairs are currently upholstered, I would be happy to have any of them re-upholstered in a material of your choice. Depending on the material the cost would be between $90 and $120 to re-upholster a chair. Solid fabrics would be on the lower end of that range while fabrics with bold patterns or leather would be on the higher end. If you are interested in this option let me know, and I would be happy to work with you.

Also, if you are in town or you will be visiting Portland and are interested in seeing them in person and of course sitting in them, let me know. I'd be more than happy to find a suitable time for you to view them. 

-Bill

A quick status update and introduction

Hello Folks,

Through one means or another you have arrived at my furniture business in its infancy. Congratulations, in a few years and with a little luck you just might be able to say to someone that you were there when it all began!

At the moment though, there are a few final details I am completing before my first pieces go up for sale, but if you look around the site you will see that some of the initial designs that have been created. Many more designs have been sketched and are ready to prototype. A first small run of the Hilltop Side Chairs is nearing completion. As soon as the first of those are ready for upholstery and some of the legal niceties have been filed, the commerce section of this website will go live and Wessinger Woodworks will officially be open for business.

In the mean time, here is a picture of one of the chairs of the initial run. Almost every curve on the arms and rails was revised following the prototype, and I think it makes a huge difference. Some of this initial production run will be upholstered in the same blue fabric as the prototype, but I am considering making some in other colors as well. Perhaps one using a patterned Pendleton Woolen Mills fabric? Perhaps another in black leather? Stay tuned to see.