Building a Set of Kitchen Chairs


Prototype Kitchen Chair

It all starts with a prototype

Before I started on the project of building a set of kitchen chairs for my son I thought I better build a prototype.
Since I had never built a chair before I thought I had best start simple. And what could be more simple than this chair. Four legs and a back. No rungs, no bending.
For the most part I was quite happy with the result, it was even surprisingly comfortable. But there were a few problems, no deal breakers but disturbing nonetheless. The biggest issue was that if you put this chair on a slippery floor, like the bamboo floors in my house, the legs flexed out enough to notice. It was not dangerous but noticeable. When you sat on it you had this moment where you wondered, is this chair ok? But fundamentally I liked the chair I just realized I was going to need rungs in the legs to make this the chair I really wanted.
Armed with that knowledge I pressed on to make four chairs for my son’s apartment. They would need a slightly bigger seat, and 3 rungs but I was satisfied this was it.


Working out the sight lines

The seat is the heart of the chair

To begin I had to work out the sight lines so that I could get the proper rake and splay angles on the legs. This is where building the prototype really helped, I knew what I was after and roughly how to get there. Although if you look carefully at the image on the left you will see. It took a couple of tries to get it right.

Boring the Seat

Setting up to bore the seat

Then it was just a matter of clamping the seat blank to my saw bench and boring and reaming the sockets for the legs. This is where it actually pays to build custom tools. I made a custom bevel gauge with an overly wide handle and a tall wooden try square that stands nice on it’s own.These tools were great to use as references for staying on my sight lines while boring.
Preparing the legs and back supports

Preparing the Legs

As you can see above I do not own a lathe. But I am not sure I want a lathe for these chairs. I have come to really like the asymmetrical look of the legs I made for my stools, and shaping them with simple hand tools is one of my favorite parts of building things like this. I go for a look where the bottom of the leg ends up teardrop shaped and the last quarter of the legs length appears to turn back in toward the inside of the chair.


Dry fitting

Assembling the chairs

After fitting all the parts I was ready for dry fitting the chairs and getting a final look at the design. What I found at this point was that my new seats looked bad. After examining the chairs and comparing them to the prototype I realized why I was happy with the prototype and totally unhappy with the new chairs. It actually was not a big change, I needed to make the radius on the back corner larger. When I did this the form of the seat suddenly felt much more balanced and pleasing to the eye.
All I had to do then was shape the seats, glue, trim, and finish. Which was a workout with my drawknife, planes, and scrapers but it was fun.
In the end the chairs were very sturdy and I think good looking.

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