Designing My Shop Stool

Register today to participate in the Shop Stool Build-Off. You must register to win a prize!

I find that making a list of criteria sometimes helps me work out a design. Here is my list of criteria I have for my stool:

  • it should be light enough and easy to grasp that I can easily pick it up with one hand;
  • it should be stable enough that it doesn’t topple easily. This can be achieved by having a wide footprint, a low centre of gravity, or a combination of the two;
  • I like to rotate on my stool to reach things beside me. A flat, convex or slightly concave wooden seat would work fine. Alternatively, it could be sculpted for a single sitting orientation and mounted on a pivot;
  • the height should be suitable for working at my bench;
  • a foot rest would be nice to have;
  • it should be durable and adequately sturdy to avoid racking;
  • it should look nicer than my existing one;
  • the design should be simple enough to be built in a single day; and
  • it should be stable and not rock. This is most easily achieved with three legs, but can also be done with (self) levelling feet.

Some goals that you may have for your stool, but I don’t require, might be to:

  • incorporate height adjustment;
  • avoid using screws;
  • include a sculpted seat;
  • incorporate a bent lamination or steam bent parts;
  • have it match your workbench;
  • incorporate metal, acrylic, or upholstery;
  • be low enough to fit under your workbench; or
  • use up those boards of cherry that you’ve been saving.

Starting tomorrow, I’ll share some of my stool designs (I may end up building three stools during the Shop Stool Build-Off!). Also, check out my Pinterest board for more inspiration.

PS: A registered participant of the Shop Stool Build-Off, Jeremy, wrote a post on his own blog about why he’s excited about the build. He also wrote a more technical post on designing a stool. Below, I have included links to his two articles.

Links:

Purpose Helps Define a Design

Recently, I have been thinking a lot about chair designs.  Last week, I wrote about my wishes for a modern chaise longue sofa and that got me thinking about why I liked that particular form.  I decided that it was partly due to my admiration of the elegant form, and my appreciation of the function.

Chaise Longue (Photo from http://multay.com/)

Chaise longue sofa. (Photo from http://multay.com/)

I realized that this style of chaise longue with a flat seat and half back not only made for an elegant, asymmetrical design, but helped define its usage.  The combination of flat seat and corner back rest made it easy to sit upright with your feet on the ground or, by rotating your body, to sit slightly reclined with your feet elevated.  Slouching allowed a more reclined position.  The tapered back allowed full support for only one user at a time, discouraging a second person to sit upright on the sofa (thus leaving the option of putting your feet up at any time).

Since then, I began thinking about conversation chairs (two chairs built as one unit, side-by-side and facing opposite directions).  I have always liked the idea of the unique design which was pointed towards a very specific intended use.

Conversation chair (photo from http://www.1stdibs.com/)

Conversation chair (photo from http://www.1stdibs.com/)

However, the conversation chair had a very specific design with a clearly-defined purpose.  It did not work well as a dining chair.  It was not intended for use by more than two people.  It could not be placed in a corner or flat against a wall without impeding its function and, therefore, it could not be used in a narrow space.

There were also a few things that I didn’t really like about the design.  While thinking about my own rendition, I first had to rethink the classic design and establish my goals for the design.  Then I had to customize the design so that it made sense to me.

As much as I liked the fluid design of the conversation chairs which often incorporated a flowing S-shaped armrest, I never felt that the design fully lived up to its name.  To me, it seemed like more of a conversation piece than a piece that promoted conversation between its occupants.  I always thought that the design seemed more suited to two people doing their own thing and simply facing in the general direction of each other, with a barrier between them that is not a table.  Eye contact was not promoted and was easy to avoid, since the two people sitting in the chair had to turn their heads to look at each other.

When I began designing my version of a conversation chair, I began by thinking about what I wanted to achieve.  I wanted it to:

  1. comfortably seat two people (and only two);
  2. provide intimacy (dictate close proximity);
  3. promote eye contact;
  4. remove physical barriers (no table, no arm rest between the seats);
  5. minimize and discourage distractions (books, newspapers, phones, laptop computers);
  6. be strong and light enough to be moved around by one person; and
  7. look good.

These goals helped me determine the form of the chair.  The first goal was the easiest to achieve and the last one took the most work (I’m still not there yet).

Is there Such a Thing as a Contemporary Chaise Longue?

Before delving into the topic of this article, I felt the need to comment on a couple of things:

  1. the original spelling was “chaise longue“, which meant “long chair” in French.  Here in Canada (and in other parts of the world too, I suspect), I have sometimes seen it written “chaise lounge“; and
  2. I have always thought of a chaise longue as a piece of furniture for sitting on with an end and a back that gradually reduced in height, and perhaps a second end as well.
Chaise Longue (Photo from http://multay.com/)

This is what I think of as a chaise longue. (Photo from http://multay.com/)

Although chairs with an extended seat could be called chaise longues, for the point of this article, I excluded them.

I don't think of this as a chaise longue.  (Photo from http://www.miliboo.com)

I don’t think of this as a chaise longue. (Photo from http://www.miliboo.com)

Last weekend, I was in a furniture store when I noticed a chaise longue.  I’ve always been attracted to seating furniture and have always liked analyzing its lines and comfort, and this chaise longue was no different.

After a cursory look at the form, I sat down crossways, with my feet flat on the ground, my back against the sloped, upholstered back rest.  Then I pivoted and swung my legs up onto the extended upholstered seat.  I found this position equally comfortable.  I liked that the back rest wasn’t reclined as most lounge chairs seemed.  However, I could slouch if I wanted to sit in a more laid-back position.

Only yesterday did I realize that every chaise longue that I’d seen was a period piece.  Even a search of the internet yielded no contemporary versions.

Just in case you haven’t already guessed, I am thinking about designing a chaise longue.  I’m not sure what it will look like, but it’s a pretty safe bet that wood will be one of the primary materials used.

Three-Week Chair, Prototype #4

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 prototyping.  Previously, I posted a review of prototype #1#2 and #3.

During the build, I referred to the chair as version 4, not prototype 4 because I hoped that I would be satisfied with the end result.  As it neared completion, I realized that although it was clearly my favourite of the four designs, it still needed refining.

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This design benefited greatly from the previous three prototypes on which I worked out the critical dimension and angle of the back rest.  Here is what this design taught me:

  • I got the dimensions and angle right so the chair was comfortable;
  • the aesthetic of the design was okay, but I wasn’t quite happy with the overall form; and
  • the whole chair tended to sway side-to-side.  The sway seemed to come from the frame itself and not from the joint at the bottom stabilizing cross member.  This may have been a problem with the design itself or with the fact that ash was one of the more flexible woods.

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In three weeks I designed and built four prototype chairs and learned a lot along the way.  However, I wasn’t able to finish the design process but I discovered what worked and what didn’t work, what I liked and what I didn’t like.  It was a good challenge and I enjoyed the journey.

In a way, it was my own version of the Telephone Game Design Experiment (why not sign up to play?).

This slideshow includes all the pictures I took during the build.  I welcome any feedback you may have.  You can follow my live updates via Twitterfacebook, or Tumblr.

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Three-Week Chair, Prototype #3

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 prototyping.  Previously, I posted a review of prototype #1 and #2.

While the first two prototypes each required less than a day to build, the third needed part of a second day to get to the stage where I finally understood it.  This was where I left it.

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For the sake of time, I did not fully sculpt the chair, but I shaped it enough to understand how it would look completed.  Had I continued, you would have seen the following changes in this prototype:

  • all the seat slats sculpted like the front one;
  • all the backrest slats sculpted like the top one;
  • the ends of the seat slats cut so that the seat narrowed towards the back;
  • the seat stretcher trimmed where it protrudes through the spine;
  • the base and frame components rounded more at the edges and carved to flow into the ribs; and
  • the spine tapered in thickness towards the top.

IMG2711

This design had a lot going for it and it was a huge step in what I felt was the right direction.  This is what I learned from prototype #3:

  • I was able to successfully construct a seat using cross lap joints that was strong enough and didn’t sway side to side – even in a softwood like Douglas fir;
  • the straight backrest with ribs was comfortable;
  • the variation of bridle joint that I used allowed me to easily adjust the shape of the chair spine and also provided ample glue surface when I wanted to make its position permanent; and
  • this four-legged base was stable and more elegant than the previous version.

IMG2712

These are some of the changes I’m considering for the next version, which will probably be the last one I make before the show:

  • quality hardwood (likely ash), instead of Douglas fir;
  • a different base design, possibly connected to the underside of the seat which means a smooth L-shape for the seat and backrest;
  • more ribs for the backrest;
  • a slight curve in the backrest – possibly a mild S curve;
  • more curvature and taper for the ribs; and
  • completely sculpt and finish the chair.

This slideshow includes all the pictures I took during the build.  I welcome any feedback you may have.  You can follow my live updates via Twitterfacebook, or Tumblr.

Three-Week Chair, Prototype #2

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 prototyping.  I posted a review of prototype #1 HERE.

This was what prototype #2 looked like when I left the shop Thursday night.  (It was sitting on a scrap of plywood just so that it would sit flat.)

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I had a lot of mixed feelings about this prototype – some things that showed potential and other things I did not care for at all.  This is what I learned from prototype #2:

  • I was able to “curve” the spine of the chair with a series of mitre cuts to provide a more upright sitting position.  The resulting faced spine could have been shaped into a flowing curve;
  • a 1-3/4″-wide spine was too narrow to lean against comfortably;
  • the “ribs” that cross the spine made the back rest comfortable, but the highest of the three was positioned just above my shoulders so it didn’t serve any practical purpose;
  • my head rested against the spine only, above the top “rib” which was comfortable;
  • 17″ was a good width for the seat and 19″ was a good height for the seat;
  • at 16-1/2″, the seat was a good depth and I would not have wanted it to be any deeper; and
  • the stability of this base was also decent and it took effort to tip the chair sideways.  However, because of the large amount of contact area between the chair and the ground, it tended to rock.

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

  • the seat definitely needed to be shaped to remove the rectangular shape and bulkiness;
  • I liked the idea of a curved spine and ribs and it would lend itself well to sculpting;
  • the lower half of the chair has a lot of visual mass, but the top half has very little so the chair looks imbalanced; and
  • I’m not sure whether I liked or disliked more things about this chair, but either way, it helped me begin to figure out where prototype #3 will be going (and where it won’t be going).

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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I have not started the third prototype, but have some ideas of where I want to take it.  I welcome any feedback you may have.  My next day to work on the Three-Week Chair will likely be Monday.

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.

IMG2629

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.

Chair in a Tree

Saturday was a full day in the shop.  After breakfast, I went down to the shop and built 90% of a chair which will be installed up in a tree.  (In case you missed it, here’s the back story.)

ArtWalk Tree Art I documented my progress live on Twitter using hashtag #FlairWW (follow me @FlairWoodworks) which was useful because each update had a time stamp so followers could see the rate at which I progressed.  I compiled the photos and Tweets into a video (duration – 22:41).


This is the fourteenth slide from my PechaKucha presentation.

C.Wong-14

Something Like That

Art in the Trees

This year, I will be exhibiting in Port Moody’s ArtWalk.  Opening night reception will be at the Old Mill Boathouse at Rocky Point Park on Friday April 12, 6:30pm-8:30pm and ArtWalk will take place the following Saturday and Sunday along Clarke Street.

Artists will be hanging art in the trees to promote the event and my idea is to hang a piece of sculptural furniture.  I want to make a chair that is missing a back leg.  Upon installation, the tree will become the back leg of the chair.

ArtWalk Tree Art This Saturday, March 23, I will begin building (and hopefully finish) the chair.  It will be a live Tweet-Along that you will be able to follow here:  tweetchat.com/room/flairww

Follow me on Twitter – @FlairWoodworks.


This is the eleventh slide from my PechaKucha presentation.

C.Wong-11

Maple Slab Table

Interview of Chris Wong

Fellow woodworker and blogger Kenny Comeaux recently interviewed me about design and inspiration.

Read the whole interview on his blog, The Wood Ninja.


This is the sixth slide from my PechaKucha presentation.  

C.Wong-06

Ash Chair (and Inspiration)

Inspiration and Initial Experimentation
Prototype #1
Prototype #2
Prototype #3