Making Chairs. By Hand. With Greenwood. (Video)


Photo: Richard Hare Chairs

Using 16th, 17th and 18th century hand tools, such as an adze, draw knife, spoke shave, side axe, and in-shave, Richard Hare crafts 100% handmade chairs and fine furniture. Even his pole lathe is human powered, as the operator presses a leg against pedal whose resistance is provided by a springy sapling.

Richard's chairs use the greenwood technique, which has a strong culture in England. (along with the sustainable coppicing of woods, where appropriate species of tree are lopped just above the ground, so they can regrow with an existing root structure.) Richard suggests that greenwood techniques produce a more robust chair, because the inherent strength and resilience of the tree is retained. Additionally he is able to make a chair without need of fasteners like screws or adhesive.
Photo: Richard Hare Chairs

The reason offered to the increased strength is that the green timber (recently felled and not seasoned) is not cut, but rather split or cleaved along its length by the insertion of wedges. Richard says cleaved timber is more like steel, whereas the more conventional cut or planked timber could be likened to cast iron.

Originally from New Zealand, with woodcraft training in the UK, Richard is now resident in the NSW Southern Highlands of Australia. His work is very much a hands-on process all the way through. He personally choses the tree to be felled for each project, and then completes all aspects of the chairs construction with only hand tools.

Whilst Richard Hare has decades of experience, he is happy to pass on his knowledge, via intensive workshops, where participants become intimately engaged in the craft making their own chair. More info at Richard Hare Chairs

Jan Saltet and Green Wood Chairs, is another Australian firm in much the same field, although interestingly they've chosen to use electric drills to make their joint holes. They note that a 25 year old tree yields about 25 chairs.

Alison Ospina also of Green Wood Chairs, but in Ireland, runs courses, like those by Richard, noted above. She is also the author of "Green Wood Chairs: Chairs and chairmakers of Ireland"

As noted earlier, greenwood skills go back centuries in the United Kingdom, so it is no surprise to find that the legacy of this ancient tradecraft continues on in that part of the world. There is the Green Wood Centre and the dedicated website Greenwoodworker, which includes a good look at the heritage of the practice.

TreeHugger writer, Leonora, previously made mention on TreeHugger of the not-for-profit organisation, GreenWood, whose mission is to teaches men and women in poor countries to become skilled artisans and producers of high-value woodwork, empowering them to act as forest stewards, safeguarding a sustainable supply of raw materials for their artisan production.

Fellow TH writer Sami Grover even tracked down three videos of the GreenWood program in action. Here's one for your edification.

There are umpteen more artisans and enterprises out there keeping the greenwood furniture skills alive. If you like your furniture free of Medium Density Fibreboard (MDF), formaldehyde, or even hex keys, it's worth given them a look-see.

Tags: Chairs | Forestry | Furniture