Posts Tagged ‘Lath-back chairs’

Some serious chair production

With a picture in my mind of mornings in a spacious workshop and afternoons on the beach, I had agreed to spend a week or two in West Wales this summer helping my colleague Peter fulfil his order of 40 chairs to go to a hospice in Denmark.  The best laid plans and all that…………

By the time we had reached early October, we agreed that I should do my bit in my workshop in Herefordshire, then just spend a couple of days delivering my produce and assembling a few chairs together in his workshop. I spent a week making and bending a load of crests, cross-rails, laths and back legs, then loaded them along with some more ash logs into my van and drove over to Pembrokeshire. I arrived to find Peter and Nikki working away in what he had referred to as a barn – not some romantic timber structure but it did have a roof, 4 walls and a pair of doors that opened wide. On my arrival we carried the fruits of my labours into his workshop for Peter’s inspection.

For somebody who had just spent 6 months assisting running courses, Peter had established an impressive chair-production workshop, with an eager team of co-workers, Nikki, Merlin and Alec, who all spent various lengths of time gaining invaluable experience in a production situation. Alec was now back home and Merlin was away for the week, leaving just Peter and Nikki, so the three of us spent the remainder of the day assembling back panels. Most impressive to me (and well-placed in the autumn sunshine) was the work-bench, made out of a fire door that he had bought for £5, with a leg in each corner and a little bracing – simple but effective. At one end hung his F-clamps, within easy reach when needed. (When I arrived home to my own workshop, I put this idea to use by adding a rack for clamps to help hold down my bench when steam-bending.)

I stupidly left my camera tripod in Peter’s workshop, so was unable to take a decent photo of the spectacular collection of 24 chairs, which Peter and his gang had already assembled. Some of them had already been seated, using knitted polypropylene cord, making for a very light, attractive, comfortable and long-lasting seat.

Two dozen lath-back chairs

Chairs stacked in Peter’s spare room

Seeing these chairs stacked and ready for shipment brought to mind Philip Clissett’s contract for 100 or so chairs for the Art Worker’s Guild in London in the late 19th Century. Could it be that Peter’s project is the largest single order for hand-made greenwood chairs in the last 120 years?

The following day we returned to the ‘barn’ where we squeezed together numbers 25,26 & 27, briefly assisted by Britte (sorry if I got the name wrong), the lady who had placed the order.

25,26 & 27

3 more chairs assembled, leaving 13 to go.

Peter and his team now have 3 weeks to complete the chairs before they set sail for Denmark, after which he & Louise with their Welsh-born baby daughter, Gwen re-locate to Sweden on the next phase of their remarkable lives. I look forward to seeing some pictures of this collection of chairs in the hospice ……………..and to following the progress of this inspiring young family.

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Chairs completed and collected

Christmas holiday in the Abbott household always seems to run until our son, Dougal’s birthday on 13th January, so now we are slowly returning to our normal routine.

Making chairs for a living

Over the 30 years of my career, the central part of my business has been devoted to running green wood courses through the summer based in a workshop in the woods. During the winters, if I haven’t been distracted by writing books or by moving home, I would occasionally make some chairs to order. Over the first 12-15 years I must have made about  three dozen double-bow Windsor chairs but I am now unable to find any detailed records of who purchased them all. Here’s a pair from a batch of three that I made last year, having not made any for about fifteen years. I was reluctantly persuaded to make one for an old customer, so I decided to produce a set of three, making use of a beautiful old elm plank that had been lying at the back of my workshop for the last ten years or so. During this process, I realised why I had stopped making Windsor’s in favour of the simpler (and to my mind, more comfortable) lath-backs.

Double bows

Chair 11

Documenting each new chair

Last winter, thinking that I was soon to give up running courses, I embarked on making a series of lath-back chairs – a design that has steadily evolved over the last ten years at Brookhouse Wood. To assist with my records, I decided to give each new chair a number as well as the ‘M ABBOTT’ name stamp and to document each one in a special ‘Chair book’. Last year’s chairs are 1-4 and the elephant’s eye, settin chair that I made in November is number 5 . The 6 chairs that I was busy with throughout December are numbers 6 to 11 but for some reason, I completed number 11 first and that was collected before Christmas.

 

 

The deadline for the set of five was not till into January, so I waited to seat them until my daughter, Nettie came home on holiday from university to lend an extra pair of hands. She is studying Maths & Philosophy, which I reckon makes her well qualified to work on interesting chair-seating patterns.

Apart from a few minor details, (hopefully the subject of another blog for the chair-making nerds amongst you) I am now pretty happy with the chair structure but the seat pattern is still developing, so after each one was finished, we’d work out a variation for the next one.

These chairs had been commissioned by Ian, who had come from Australia to attend a course last May. Being unable to take the chair home with him, he gave it to his sister-in-law Hazel, who then said she’d like a full set. In early January, Hazel arrived with her sister and with Phil, who had a big car to carry the chairs.

Collecting chairs 6-10

I’ll now print off the pictures of my first dozen or so lath-back chairs and paste them into my new chair book. I also intend to copy this information into a ‘Chair’ page on my new website – but all in good time!

I’m still waiting for Peter, my assistant from last summer to confirm an order for about 40 chairs for a theraputic centre in Denmark, which we plan to work on along with a colleague called Ben. In the meantime I have agreed to place some chairs in an exhibition in September (2016) at Twenty Twenty Gallery in Much Wenclock in Shropshire. So it looks as if I shall at last become a chair-maker to keep me busy when not running courses in the garden at home.