A Wooden Waterfall
The evolution of a master maker's waterfall arm chair
Synopsis: Hank Gilpin has made more than 80 armchairs using his waterfall arm design. The signature arm is cut from a rectangular blank and joins the back leg, front leg, and low side stretchers to form a flat frame. Because of the design, there is no need for side seat rails. See how the armchair has evolved over the years.
Hank Gilpin’s first waterfall armchair (see the back cover) spawned a series of related designs. Building in sets of 2, 4, 12, and even 24, he has made more than 80 of them. The signature arm—“the triple-blip arm,” as he calls it—is cut from a rectangular blank and joins the back leg, front leg, and low side stretchers to form a flat frame. Gilpin borrowed this approach from a chair by Duncan Phyfe, and it makes his chair far easier to build. He first glues up the two side frames, then joins them with the seat rails and crest rail. The strength of the side frames also allows him to dispense with side seat rails, leaving the vertical lines unbroken.
Breaking down the arm
Gilpin makes the waterfall arm itself in a carefully thoughtout sequence, cutting the joinery while the workpiece still has square reference edges, postponing some of the shaping until after assembly to leave a horn that provides clamping purchase. For maximum strength, the arm meets the front leg in a bridle joint and is through-tenoned into the back leg. Both joints are pinned. The narrow verticals are unshouldered at the top where they enter the mortises on the underside of the arm.
The horn will be bandsawn away and the curve cleaned up with hand tools after the side frame is assembled. The joints are then pinned.
Evolution of a chair
The arm in Gilpin’s original chair, designed for visual…