12 Lucky Students Make American Hardwood Chairs

Bonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0 Floating Chair

Called "Out of the Woods: Adventures of 12 Hardwood Chairs", this small exhibition is a project investigating the lifecycle of hardwood chairs. It's a collaboration between the Royal College of Art and the American Hardwood Export Council.

Twelve lucky students each got the chance to make a chair out of the American hardwood of their choice. Their design was developed into a working prototype with the help of a furniture company, plus the whole project was monitored by sustainability experts who produced a life cycle impact report.

The result: some fascinating chairs but more importantly, a great way to bring sustainability alive for product design students by highlighting the environmental impact of design and material choices.

Bonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0 Tree Furniture

What is Life Cycle Analysis?

It is a way of measuring the environmental impact of each chair. Being able to measure the impact of the product and the materials that go into the making of it. The students had to record all the details of production, including the weight and volume of timber, time taken to do each step, materials used. This was then calculated so as to give an accurate environmental impact of each chair. This science will build a knowledge pool so that eventually there will be a credible basis for the measurement of environmental impact. Lectures on life cycle impacts at the outset of the project set the issues in context for the students.

© AHEC

Here is an example of a life style impact analysis for the tree trunk chair above. It was made out of American cherry and a tree that was recently felled. With just three horizontal cuts and a portable sawmill, one end is left pristine and untouched. Given that it is a tree trunk it has a long life span and will be serviceable even when no longer in perfect shape.

Bonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0 Leftovers Chair

Nine different kinds of leftover hardwood are used in this classic Windsor chair. It is literally leftovers: the spindles are dyed using a mix of berries, onion skin, pomegranates, beetroot, saffron and paprika. The seat is pickled in a vinegar solution.

Bonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0 Well-Proven

This one is made of American Ash. Knowing that 50% to 80% of wood is wasted in production, the students decided to use waste shavings and bio-resin in their piece. They used an existing mould (why re-invent the wheel?) and filled it full of their mixture of resin and shavings and voila. Not gorgeous, but definitely recycled.

Bonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0 Num.4

This is the most complex, even though it looks like the simplest. The legs pass through the seat's structure to make a very firm and strong mechanical connection.

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