Thomas Jefferson’s Campeche Chair
This past week I attended the “Working Wood in the 18th Century” conference in Williamsburg, VA, as I have done for the past five years. Each year the conference has a special theme, and this year it was all about Thomas Jefferson, his furniture, and Monticello. As usual the Williamsburg cabinetmakers and joiners displayed their special talents in reconstructing several pieces of Jefferson furniture and Monticello architectural treatments.
For me, the specimens of furniture were quite unusual – e.g., writing tables with adjustable ratcheting mechanisms and split legs that pull apart. But the chair was especially striking as it seemed an anachronism in 18th C. Monticello. It is a Campeche chair which to Jefferson, was the most comfortable in the mansion.
Here is the overall assembled view in SketchUp.
Not shown is a thick leather sling which is tacked on to the stiles and seat rails. This sling, typically without underlying upholstery, forms a comfortable lounging surface.
The joinery is straightforward with through mortise and tenons, and a lapped joint for ‘X’ bracing of the stiles and seat rails.
Here is the exploded view in SketchUp.
I created the SketchUp model from a side view picture. Here were steps I used to create the model.
1. Import the picture as an “Image”
2. Scale the picture to full size
3. Use the Line and Arc Tools to reproduce the shape of the back stiles, arm supports, and seat rails
4. Add thickness to these shaped parts with the Push/Pull Tool
5. Assemble the parts which are all SketchUp components
6. Create the lap joint with the Line and Push/Pull Tools
7. Add tenons to the rails, arms, and arm supports
8. Use the tenons to mark out the mortises (with X-ray views)
After creating the model, I made various Scenes showing details of all the components and also the orthographic views as follows:
I created full-size templates in X-ray mode to help with layout of all the joinery on the back stiles and seat rails.
Revision Note of January 2011: In reference to the dimensions shown above, I would now recommend adding about 2 to 4-in. to the width as looking at the front view. Also, I would extend the upper section of the back leg about 4-in. in length. This will move the crest rail upwards and increase the overall height of the back about 4-in.
Also, pleaae refer to later blog posts that show cleats for fastening the leather sling, and show a routed-out shape in the crest rail for the positioning of the leather. See http://www.finewoodworking.com/share/html/30840
And here is the X-ray template for the seat rails. These will be extremely effective in laying out the joinery on the ash lumber I will use.
This conference, in demonstrating the high-end skills of the Williamsburg artisans, continues to be an annual inspiration for me.
P.S. This note and addendum I’m adding one year later in January 2011. I want to share a revised model and ortho of a larger version – it is about 4 inches taller and also substantially wider. It also has a more inclined back angle. I believe this may be closer to the chair size owned by Jefferson.