Month: March 2012

Wavy Ladder-backs

British post and rung 1730-1830

British post and rung 1730-1830

I was asked to replace some broken rungs and tighten up a set of these chairs, eight all together, two arm chairs and six side. When I went to look at the chairs they told me a great aunt in Long Island gave them the set along with a dinning table that she brought back with her from a trip to England.The chairs looked familiar and while going over them it was obvious they were old and original. By old I mean like 1700’s and by original I mean the first of that design style. This style is still in production today. I knew I’d seen it before and started rummaging through my books and there it was first in Drew’s book “The Chair Makers Workshop” in the “Historic Chars from Britain” section. He got the picture from Bernard Cotton’s book “The English Regional Chair.” Cotton dates it  c 1780.  So with the info the client gave me and seeing the chair in the Britt section of Drew’s book it was obvious to look in Chinnery’s book ( and its the only book on Brittish furniture I have). There it was!

Taken from Victor Chinnery's book "Oak Furniture the British Tradition"

Taken from Victor Chinnery’s book “Oak Furniture the British Tradition”

These chairs have such a presence, their parts are very stout, the post are about two inches thick and the proportions are big compared to modern chairs. I can see a woman in all the dress they wore or a man with a big coat sitting.  Homes weren’t as warm in the winter in the 1700′ as they are these days.

I like the construction, some parts were sawn probably in a pit  and some were rived from the log. All being green,that’s the neat thing about this construction wet post’s assembled with dried rungs and slats.Parts were made with a draw knife and shaving horse, some sections turned using a pole lath, and other parts made with a hand plane at the bench.


I was taught to use the best quality log for green woodworking, but that’s not an easy thing to come by when starting

tear out on rung from when it was split out or rived from the log.

out so there were times I’ve tried to use a bolt that has a twist or knots, its not good fun and much work, the wood in these chairs is worse than anything Ive used,  lots of knots and twist or wayne. At first look I thought it was Ash wood and the research said they were made from Oak, Ash and Elm. I now think they are Elm, if it is Ash then man that’s one scuzzy tree, but Elm can be a twisty knotty mess more often than Ash or Oak and its strength and availability made up for workability in those days.That’s just my thinking. We don’t have too many Elm here in the north county due to a blight so I’m no elm expert. There was one where I used to live it was big and old. When some branches were trimmed I grabbed a couple firewood size pieces.The hold down on my shaving horse is made from that picking, strong stuff with lots of silica in the wood that feels gritty and dulls edges quickly.

They put the tear out on the bottom of the rung so you don’t see it, unnoticeable until you look under the chair. Now days a piece like that would be discarded. The back post are turned above the seat and square below with a chamfer on all four edges that looks like draw knife work. The seat rungs are tangent to each other locking them together inside the post.


The grain in this back post could not have been split it must have been sawed out.
















Not much fun here,just hand planing the saw marks off there is resistance and tear out.


I really want to date theses guys to the 1730’s, don’t know why just a feeling. Bet these chairs were a mass produced item that was quickly assembled with the emphasis on proper joinery and speed. We cant be there when they were made but we can speculate, not as much fun as knowing with out a doubt but keeps you digging for more.

I told the owners what I discovered and suggested getting them appraised before I mess with them. They are in that process now I’ll post what come of it when I find out.I’m thankful I got to see these chairs.





200+ year old Bark on the sides of the back post. The current owners didn’t notice. That would never fly in today’s standards.