By Christopher Schwarz
From the outside, it seems like you need to harvest special wood from the forest, buy a bunch of exotic tools, master a lot of crazy angles, and learn high-tolerance joinery to make a chair that is comfortable, strong and approaches sculpture.
The truth is that everyday woodworkers – farmers, amateurs and people in other trades – made wonderful chairs using a handful of common woodworking tools and whatever wood was available: dry, wet, soft, hard or the branches pulled from a tree.
“The Stick Chair Book” explores the craft of these “hedge carpenters” or dabblers who built chairs for the everyday home. The chairs they made weren’t designed to impress the neighbors – they were designed to be comfortable, stout and (if you have a good eye) nice to look at.
After 20 years of building vernacular stick chairs and studying historical examples in the U.K., Europe and North America, author Christopher Schwarz has figured out how anyone can design and build these chairs without a lot of gear.
Here are the things you don’t need to build a stick chair: a shavehorse, drawknife, steambox, green wood, lathe, froe, beetle, cant hook, axe or even a passing knowledge of geometry.
Instead, most of the work is done with saws (a band saw speeds things up), a drill or brace, a jack plane and maybe a couple specialty tools if you want to saddle the chair’s seat. You can use any kind of wood, even stuff from the home center.
“The Stick Chair Book” is divided into three sections. The first section, “Thinking About Chairs,” introduces you to the world of common stick chairs, plus the tools and wood to build them.
The second section – “Chairmaking Techniques” – covers every process involved in making a chair, from cutting stout legs, to making curved arms with straight wood, to carving the seat. Plus, you’ll get a taste for the wide variety of shapes you can use. The chapter on seats shows you how to lay out 14 different seat shapes. The chapter on legs has 16 common forms that can be made with only a couple handplanes. Add those to the 11 different arm shapes, six arm-joinery options, 14 shapes for hands, seven stretcher shapes and 11 combs, and you could make stick chairs your entire life without ever making the same one twice.
The final section offers detailed plans for five stick chairs, from a basic Irish armchair to a dramatic Scottish comb-back. These five chair designs are a great jumping-off point for making stick chairs of your own design.
Additional chapters in the book cover chair comfort, finishing and sharpening the tools.
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About the Revised Edition
From the author: "When I first wrote 'The Stick Chair Book' in 2021, I was also fighting cancer. So I hammered out the text with urgency and the desire to record every fragment of information I knew about chairmaking.
"To be fair, that’s usually how I go about writing all my books. But then I typically take a couple months off, put the manuscript aside, then revisit it with fresh eyes and a sharpened pen. My final revisions remove about 10-20 percent of the original material. The stuff I cut is usually chapters that don’t match the tone of the rest of the text. Or I snip sections that aren’t as relevant as when I first wrote them. I also smooth out the writing and add bits of information I’d forgotten during the first brain-to-fingers dump.
"And that’s exactly what I’ve done for this revised edition. As a result, the text is 10.1 percent shorter than the first edition. It’s more to the point. And it’s where the manuscript would have ended up under normal conditions."
“The Stick Chair Book” is 584 pages and printed on a brilliant white 70# matte coated 6" x 9" paper. The pages are sewn, glued and taped for durability. And the whole thing is wrapped with 98-point boards that are covered in cotton cloth. Like all Lost Art Press books, it is produced and printed in the United States.