Making the Chippendale Chair
The way to a chair is to mind your flats and squares
Synopsis: Eugene E. Landon says all the variations of Chippendale chairs hang on a common framework. Landon explains in this article how to build a chair, tackling challenges like angled mortises and tenons, curves, and fitting shoulder joints. You’ll need some handtools, and the back-post templates shown in the article. Determine the angles you’re dealing with and then start with the back posts, he advises. He explains how to shape the tenons with a chisel and lay out the mortises. He details the elements involved in measuring and scribing the angles in the back seat rail and crest rail. After instructions on assembly, he advises that you build these chairs in batches. Extensive drawings and photos illustrate the article.
Chippendale chairs come in a profusion of designs: ladderbacks, Gothic backs, pretzel backs, some with ball-andclaw feet, some with intricate carving and detailing. The list could go on and on. Yet there’s really only one Chippendale chair, because all the variations hang on a common framework. If you can master the chair in this article—it’s not really difficult—you should be able to see your way clear to building any of the others. This particular design can be found in The Philadelphia and Chair-Maker’s Book of Prices, second edition, 1795 (no copy of the first edition has yet been found).
The apparent problem in building a chair is that the seat is trapezoidal and the back posts not only curve, they splay out from the floor upward. This means that most of the chair’s mortise-andtenon joints are not at 90°. To compound the situation, it would seem that all those curves must make it very difficult to cut and fit shoulder joints. Well, the problems look a lot worse than they are. In making this chair…