It feels as though there have been a lot of books about chairmaking. In recent months,
I've written reviews about several of them. Perhaps that's what led me to think, when I
got a review copy of Chris Schwarz's latest rendering, The Stick Chair Book, that it was
superfluous, given what preceded it. Frankly, I opened the book with a rather ho-hum
expectation. It is, after all, a lengthy tome, weighing in at over 600 pages. And it looked
dense, the kind of book that puts you to sleep in minutes if seated in a soft chair.
Boy, was I ever wrong. Because once I opened its covers, I found out that this is not
merely another chair book but a revelation and an inspiration. Before I picked it up, I
was certain that I'd never try my hand at chair making. But I had not read many pages
before Chris convinced me that not only could I build a competent example but that it
was something I needed to take on in the not-too-distant future.
It needs to be said that this book is neither tentative nor speculative. It is, rather, the
distillation of Chris's nearly two decades' experience building stick chairs, a form he
clearly loves. The result is a guide to all the elements of chair construction and a
collection of advice about how to avoid traps and pitfalls. It is a compilation of
accumulated knowledge, freely shared in the interest of enabling woodworkers
everywhere to succeed, even in their earliest endeavors.
A volume of this depth might well have been dry. Okay, let's say it: it might have been
boring. But it's not. Chris brings a familiar light tone and frequent humor to the text,
which makes it not merely approachable but also compelling. I had trouble putting it
down. Had Chris thought to include a few cliffhangers, I might well have stayed up
beyond the wee hours turning pages. OK, confession time: I did stay up beyond the
wee hours devouring it. It's that fascinating.
So, what's to be found between the covers? An early chapter answers the question of
what wood should be used for stick chairs. The simple answer: whatever wood you
happen to have can be made to do. Then there's the matter of specialized tools for
crafting chairs with spindles and guttered seats. Yes, such tools exist, and you may
want to get hold of some of them, but you can probably get by with the tools you already have, at least for your first chair. So, while you can certainly spend a lot of money on
those special tools, you don't need to do so.
Chris then defines the extensive range of forms that make up the stick chair genre.
This, though, is preamble to the real meat of the book, which is a detailed walk-though
of all the steps to making a stick chair, no matter what specific design you've chosen.
This highly valuable part of the book—and it makes up about half its pages—details all
the things to consider, as well as errors to avoid, at each stage of construction. I won't elaborate them here, other than to say that this encyclopedia of hard-won knowledge is
easily worth the price of the book.
The final third of the book is devoted to issues of design. After first considering comfort
in chair design, Chris presents detailed plans for five chair forms that can either be
modeled or used as the basis for further modifications to suit individual preferences.
The book concludes with helpful appendices on finishing, wood strength, tool
sharpening, and answers to commonly asked questions.
This book, as is true of all Lost Art Press books, is clothbound with a sewn binding. It is
made to last. It's richly illustrated with color and B&W photographs and drawings that
clearly show the steps needed to build a chair.
So, who will benefit from this book? Chris's experience will be a valuable resource for
any chairmaker, whether seasoned or prospective. Its thorough content will enable
anyone who is not all thumbs to build a satisfying chair. And it accomplishes this goal
without any off-putting math.
As I mentioned, I never intended to range into chair-building. In part, this was because I
feared I would fail. But I'm now convinced that I will succeed if I follow Chris's advice
and apply his lessons learned.
This book is, in my estimation, an instant classic. It is not only of immediate value but
the knowledge it contains will guarantee it an enduring future. To be honest, before I
picked it up, I did not think I needed a copy for myself. But now that I've read it, I know
differently. That's why I bought a copy for my own library and use in the shop.
If you have any curiosity about chairs made with spindles and sculpted seats, it will be
well worth investing in a copy for yourself. I highly recommend this book.
Find out more and purchase The Stick Chair Book
at Highland Woodworking
J. Norman Reid is a woodworker, writer, photographer and woodworking instructor living in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains with his wife, a woodshop full of power and hand tools and two cats who think they are cabinetmaker's assistants. He is the author of Choosing and Using Handplanes: All You Need to Know to Get Started Planing by Hand, and co-owner of Shenandoah Tool Works. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.
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