Three-Week Chair, Prototype #1

On June 30th, with other projects in the shop wrapping up, I realized that I had three weeks until Port Moody Celebration of Wood Woodfair.  I knew that I wanted to have some new work for the show and got the idea to design a chair. That night I started taking some measurements, and the next day in the shop, I built the first prototype.

My goal with the prototype was to prove that the concept of a chair with a single upright had some merit and was worth refining.


I was pleasantly surprised at the success of this first prototype.  Honestly, I was pretty sceptical at the beginning, but that doubt faded when I was able to sit in it. This is what I learned from prototype #1:

  • the angle of the back rest beam was appropriate for a lounge chair, but not for a dining chair;
  • the width of the back rest beam was comfortable to lean against;
  • the head rest was a nice addition;
  • 11″ was too narrow for a seat (which I knew beforehand but didn’t have anything wider);
  • 21″ was a little too high for a seat (I meant to locate the top of the seat at 19″, but instead set the bottom of the seat there);
  • 13-1/2″ was okay for a seat depth (front to back), but it could have been greater;
  • the flat seat was surprisingly comfortable – not phenomenal, but not bad;
  • the stability was decent and it took effort to tip the chair sideways; and
  • the joinery I used was rock solid, even without glue.

Studying the design of the chair, I realized some things:

  • proportionately, it looked too narrow;
  • the head rest seemed to be too big and blocky;
  • it looked like a Frank Lloyd Wright design;
  • I didn’t have very much more material that is 3-3/4″ thick (used for the beam), so I would need to source some more, laminate material, or modify the design if I intended to make more; and
  • there weren’t many curves, and I was okay with that.  But I wanted to experiment with adding curves too.

This slideshow includes all the pictures I took during the build.  You can follow my live updates via Twitterfacebook, or Tumblr.

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Prototype #2 is already underway, but I welcome any feedback you may have.

14 thoughts on “Three-Week Chair, Prototype #1

  1. Chris,
    I think the prototype has merit. I do think it could benefit from some curves.
    I think the upright would look better with an s curve… But unless you have a very large timber, it is unrealistic unless you get into bent laminations.
    You could hollow out ( gently or slightly) on the rear under the seat and the front of the upright between the seat and the rest.
    I’m sure you have plans to sculpt some things, as is your custom .
    I think it would lighten the look. The large solid upright needs some softening, as do the seat and rest, but in my opinion, I would not go too delicate looking.
    The beam ( which is the heart of the inspiration) begs for some bulk and mass.. Just lightened enough.
    My 2 cents..
    Keep up the great work

    1. Mike,

      Yes, I had thought about an S-curve and I might modify this prototype to incorporate that. When I built it, I wanted to keep things really simple so I avoided that extra step. Now, I might go back and carve in that S-curve as well as sculpt it.


  2. Also, if you needed to move the angle of the rest forward, you could cut the beam and join it with a double open mortise and tenon( or large finger joints) pinned with dowels. The joint would need to be bomb proof at any rate. This may not match your original intention of a single upright, however.
    You could also keep the beam as is, and float the rest forward on a cool looking frame( that may be a fun exercise to ponder)
    this would take most of the beam out of resting the lower back on it, so the rest may have to be longer. Also, you wouldn’t want the beam to stick too far out in the rear.. Bit of a balancing act lol.
    I’m not sure if any of my suggestions are along the line of what you are thinking .
    Hopefully, if nothing else, thinking about it and ruling out what you DONT want will still be of help haha.

    1. Mike,

      I like your idea of cutting the beam, mitring it, and rejoining it in a more upright position. I could make the S-curve that way, too! Thanks for mentioning that – it had not crossed my mind.


      1. No problem, Chris. It’s the nice things about prototypes, you can get the scale and feel down and see what works and what doesn’t .
        It’s a bit of a tricky joint, if the angle of the mitre is shallow.. Perhaps some large dominos? Would be a clean look but not sure if there is enough depth. That’s why I originally suggested the bridle/ open mortise. I’m a sucker for exposed joinery haha. I’m sure whatever you decide will be strong and look amazing.

        1. Actually, thinking about it, a shallow mitre would probably be easier with a domino.. And the slider makes the miter easy to cut . Quicker for multiples, too, if you end up making a dining set. Imagine cutting two or three tenons by hand per joint( especially if you make more than one per chair for an s curve) times 6-10 chairs for a dining table.
          Yikes! Haha

          1. Mike,

            For prototypes, anything quick is good, as long as it does the job. I mitred and curved the spine in the second prototype and held it together with Dominoes and packing tape (so it can be taken apart if needed).

            To make the curved spine in real life, I may either bandsaw it from a single piece, laminate plies, or work out some kind of joinery. But that decision can wait.


  3. Hey Chris,

    I’m not on Twitter , so I’m commenting here.. What about for the seat, if it’s not glued in yet lol, is to leave 6 or 8 inches in the middle where the joint is, ripping 2 pieces off each of the sides, and half lapping them back on with cross members like you did the spine above.
    Then you could shape the whole gridded up seat. Just a thought.

    1. I guess of you did it, you would need a cross member at the very front where the back of your knees are. I would cut a rabbet to the depth of the halflap to cover the end grain of the pieces parallel to your legs when you sit..

    2. Mike,

      Interesting ideas… keep ’em coming! I’m putting #2 to bed and have a pretty good idea where I want to go with #3. Hint: It won’t have a solid seat!


      1. I really liked the spine.. I know it’s not condusive to sculpting, but I liked the flat facets on the inside.. Mind you, they may have just blended with the square seat blank lol. I liked the lower base, but not really the cross member( no offense)
        I can’t think of a better alternative however. I look forward to number 3 !

  4. i am interested in seeing the final version…the straight lines are nice, and I wonder what turning the whole thing into curves would do?

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