The post-and-rung ladderback is our best introduction to the skills needed for any type of traditional chairmaking. The elegant ladderback has been described by woodworking author and editor John Kelsey as a “masterpiece of economy and simplicity, of comfort, strength and beauty.” When this style has two back slats it is sometimes called a “mule ear” chair.
Chairmaking courses at Country Workshops go back to 1979. The winter tutorial is now 6 days. The extra day adds 20% to the class time for this challenging course.
“Chairmaker’s University” is our new 10-day course format. The pace slows down and there is time for covering aspects of chairmaking that cannot be included in the 6-day tutorial. Added subjects and activities include: a walk in the forest, where we identify and evaluate various potential trees for chairmaking; an excursion to our local saw mill where we can look through a selection of logs for class use, chain our oak onto the trailer, and haul it to the workshop; tool selection and sharpening; design concepts and practicalities; chairmaker’s wood technology (moisture content, differential shrinkage, etc.); and vernacular chair history. We will also incorporate a special “air foil” front rung to help support the woven seat.
Chairmaker’s “U” Part A begins with our Welcome Supper on Sunday, June 14 and closes after lunch on Friday, June 26. Part B begins on Monday, June 22. The course ends with a Farewell Lunch on Friday, June 26.
During the weekend break class participants are welcome to stay at our accommodations, but we will not be serving meals until breakfast Monday morning. An alternative would be checking into one of the many possibilities around Asheville various hotels, b&b’s, or a mountain campground, The Asheville area has numerous places to visit, scores of good restaurants, brew pubs and live music venues, plus mountain biking, hiking the Appalachian Trail, white water rafting, and much more.
The project work for both versions of the course begins with riving billets from a freshly felled, straight grain red oak log. Cylindrical wet/dry mortise and tenon joinery is explained in theory and then put to practical application. Class participants learn to shape their chair parts using a drawknife and spokeshave while seated at a shaving horse or one of our innovative shaving mules. This is followed by steaming and bending the back posts onto special bending forms. Tenons are hand-crafted at the ends of ‘bone dry’ rungs. Mortises round for the rungs, and rectangular for the slats are bored or chiseled in the air-dried posts.
After the chair frame is assembled, fresh greenwood back-slats are rived and shaved, plasticized in boiling water, and then fit into slat mortises in the rear posts. Weaving a seat with colorful Shaker tape completes the chair.
Tuition for the 6-day winter tutorial is $1450. Tuition for the 10-day Chairmaker’s University is $2,125. Tuition includes the use of specialized chairmaking tools, all necessary materials (for the chair frame and Shaker tape seating,) your private room accommodations, and meals. And you will take home a handsome and comfortable heirloom chair. Class size is limited to 4 registered participants, plus our summer intern.