Woodcraft

‘I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, and three for society.’ Henry David Thoreau.

I make chairs using traditional green woodworking methods. Each of them has a personal name. This armchair is called Ishi and was made by hand using unseasoned timber from Clissett Wood, Herefordshire. The newly felled ash is cleaved, sawn, then shaped using a draw knife on a shaving horse. The back legs and slats are steam-bent and the whole chair assembled without glue, using the natural shrinkage of the wood to produce tight joints. The seat is woven from the bast (inner bark) of a wych elm, a technique adopted from Native Americans.

The design is based on chairs made by Phillip Clissett in the nineteenth century and developed by contemporary green woodworker Mike Abbott. Clisset was a Herefordshire craftsman whose work was made famous by Ernest Gimson of the Arts and Crafts Movement, who copied his designs.

I named this chair ‘Ishi’ after a man believed to be the last Native American to have lived most of his life completely outside European American culture. He emerged from Californian mountain country in 1911, and lived at the Museum of Anthropology at the University of California until his death in 1916. Ishi was a bridge between two worlds. Similarly, this chair emerged out of ‘the wildwood’ and acts as a link back to an older world of traditional woodcraft, ancient woodland and slow time.

Making these chairs is an exacting process. Below are photos I took while making a chair called One For Solitude, from ash and yew with a wych elm bark seat.

1. Chop down ash tree in back garden with help from neighbour.

2. Make steamer. Obtain yew log recently felled from convent across the street. Shape yew back slats and steam.

3. Place yew back slats in former.

4. Assemble side panels.

5. Apply bees wax.

6. Ask the chair what kind of seating it would like.