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A unusual union

Rustic chair with Maloof inspired seat

Ever since I first saw Sam Maloof’s work, I have been an admirer of his, and I've always thought, “some day I will attempt something in his style”. So, in a very humble way, this is homage to a great Master Woodworker.

Spring is such a wonderful season and the re-birth of nature, the return of the storks from their winter “retreat” and the blooming magnolia in front of our house, are all signs of God’s faithfulness. The One who put the planets in motion and keeps them in their orbits, is also the One who put in the stork’s brain a compass and a prompting to return every spring to the place of their birth, and it is fascinating to watch them mend their nests from the year before, lay eggs, and bring forth a new generation of storks.

Some of the first signs of spring

Early spring is also a time when I like to go out into the woods and harvest sticks for making rustic chairs. Not far from where we live, along the shores of a man-made reservoir, there’s an abundance of hazel and a camp or pruning saw makes quick work of cutting a good sized bundle.

After bringing it home, I move right away to remove the bark which comes off easily this time of year with just a pocket knife. Removing the bark prevents insects from burrowing in it, and storing the sticks in a dry, shaded place keeps splitting to a minimum.

In the past I used to do this with my woodshop students, but now that I’m retired and there doesn't seem to be as much interest among kids here in these types of projects, I enjoy it on my own as a quiet, contemplative activity. After peeling off the bark, I store the hazel in the shed to dry. The drying process is very important, and takes several months depending on the conditions. This year’s harvest won't be ready to use until next year, making this a project that requires quite a bit of planning ahead, but it's well worth it.

Making a rustic chair is fun and doesn’t require any of the expensive tools that one normally associates with woodworking, like power saws, planers and such. In fact, I make a chair using only hand tools, except for carving the seat. One might ask, “Why a chair?” If you stop and think about it, the chair is the most used piece of furniture in a household and even an odd-looking one like this one will find a place somewhere.

When it comes to dimensioning it, I take the measurements from another chair that I find comfortable. I then cut all the pieces and with special tenon cutters, I cut the tenons. Having these calibrated tenon cutters and the corresponding drill bits, makes it easy to join the parts together. After assembling the chair, I pin all the tenons with ¼ inch dowels.

The assembled stick chair ready for the seat, and the hand tools used to make it.

In the past I used wooden slats or woven straps for the seats of these rustic chairs, but this time I decided to make a carved seat, “like Maloof’s”, since I had a nice piece of walnut that turned out to be just the right size without having to glue-up a blank. To hollow out the seat, I used the “Lancelot” chain-saw rimmed disk on my angle grinder followed by a “Kutzall” shaping dish and some serious scraping with a specially shaped scraper. The seat is finished with 3 coats of tung oil, while the rest of the chair has a coat of clear acrylic which will prevent it from yellowing. Four screws attach the seat to the front and back stretchers. I think the rustic simplicity of the chair’s stick structure, contrasts nicely with the bold grain in the highly finished walnut seat, bringing it into focus.

And in closing, I'll leave you with a fun fact about storks: did you know that storks stay with the same mate as long as they live?

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1 Comment

Cathy Jones Vinson
Cathy Jones Vinson
Apr 30, 2022

Voicu, I am so respecting of how industrious you are and all this excellence in all you produce. My first thought is always the same: I wish I had this in my house!

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