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Contemporary Morris Chair and Ottoman


Contemporary Morris Chair and Ottoman

Curved and laminated arms grace a timeless design.

By Laurie McKichan

A good book, a warm light, and a comfortable reclining chair–what more could you ask for? For a woodworker like me, it would also be the satisfaction of making that chair in my shop.

For inspiration, I turned to a famous chair named after William  Morris, a mid-19th century English artist whose back-to-the-basics philosophy influenced a later generation of Arts and Crafts artisans. His firm popularized a large chair with high, broad arms and an adjustable back. Other manufacturers soon adopted the style, particularly Gustav Stickley, who transformed it into an icon of early 20th century American design.

I’ve modernized the chair by lightening its lines, adding some curves, and using cherry, rather than oak. The curved arms and back presented the biggest challenge–my solution was to laminate these pieces and form their shape in a vacuum bag veneer press (see "Go New Places with a Vacuum Bag Press"). This sounds like a high-tech piece of equipment, but it’s readily accessible for small shops or individual artisans, the very people Morris and Stickley held in such high regard. I also used a sophisticated machine, the JDS Multi-Router, to make all the joints (see “The Ultimate in Router Joinery”). Neither the vacuum bag nor the Multi-Router is essential to making the chair, however. Lower-tech methods will work fine.

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Click on any image to view a larger version.

Recline or sit up straight: the chair’s back has 8 different positions.

Begin building the chair by making the arms, which are composed of six laminations glued over a stiff, curved form. Assemble the form by gluing curved supports to a base.

Bend and fasten 1/8" hardboard to the top of the supports to finish the form. You should now have a smooth, evenly curved surface for bending.

Resaw wide pieces to make the bending laminations. Saw the laminations for each arm from a single 2" thick board. Stack the laminations in the order that they come from the board.

Use a trim roller to apply Unibond 800 glue on the laminations. This glue has a very long open time, but requires wearing a respirator. Keep the pieces in order so their edge grain matches.

Place the laminations on the bending form, cover them with paper to absorb any glue squeeze-out, and slide the assembly inside a vacuum-veneering bag.

Remove all the air from the bag using a vacuum pump. Atmospheric pressure compresses the bag and laminations over the bending form, creating the curved arm.

Joint one side of each arm, then rip the opposite side using a bandsaw. Use a featherboard to hold the work tight to the fence. This one has a magnetic base.

Cut the arms to length. Tilt the blade 14° and use the bending form to support the arm. Cut both ends at a 14° angle.

Lay out curves on the rails using a bent stick. I prefer a commercially-made device called a “drawing bow.” It has a strap for bending the bow so your hands are free for drawing the curve.

Rout mortises for all the joints, which are assembled with loose tenons. The JDS Multi-Router, with its sliding table and horizontally mounted router, is perfect for mortising both rails and legs.

Glue the loose tenons into the rails first, then assemble the chair. Use one wide piece or two narrower ones. The tenons are mitered because the mortises meet inside the legs.

Fitting the arms to the back legs takes special care. Mark the tenons using an angled guide piece, then cut them so the arm slides straight down onto the leg.

The back slats are laminated and curved, just like the arms. Make a new bending form for the slats, and use it for support when you cut the slats to length.

Cut mortises in the back’s slats using the Multi-Router. Support the slats on a board to hold them square to the bit.

Glue the back. Clamp the assembly to a piece of plywood to keep it flat. Use a dowel to align the holes that the back pivots on.

Install a slatted frame to support the seat cushion. The screws go in a narrow opening between the slats. Drive the screws using a flexible shaft.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker October/November 2008, issue #138.

October/November 2008, issue #138

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