The benefit of prototyping
My friend, Les, recently reminded me that, since I’m about to be a Grandfather for a second time, we should build some high chairs. As both of us are interested in period furniture, we quickly determined that these should not be your typical “Babies are Us” variety of high chair. We decided that something from the 17th century would be appropriate. Pyramidal shape, turned stiles and stretchers, woven seat, bent back slats were the features we were looking for. We found that there are a lot of illustrations out there in “cyberland”, but not much dimensional information.
Both of us are used to working without plans. It’s usually a pretty simple process to “scale and proportion” most designs, if you have some notion of what the furniture design “norms” are. But I would guess most of us have had the experience of completing a project, only to stand back the “required ten feet” and realize that something just doesn’t look “quite right”. Maybe the legs are too skinny or too chunky. Maybe the drawers are a little out of proportion to one another. A whole host of things that need to work together to create an ascetically pleasing product may go awry.
We concluded that most stock used for 17th century turned stools and light chairs was usually about 2″ square. I suggested that we draw up our story sticks and get to turning. Lester, the voice of reason, posited that it might be a better idea to sacrifice a bit of secondary wood to test our theories, before we made a lot of extra work for ourselves. I immediately concurred, not because of the intellectual content of his suggestion or the reach of his experience but simply due to the fact that he’s older than I am.
So, dividers and calipers in hand, we laid out what we thought was an acceptable design. We agreed that 1 3/4″ would be a good finish diameter. As the stile was 36″, we were well within the parameters of Vitruvian discipline. However, when we took the finished product down from the lathe, we were both surprised to find that the piece looked “pretty clunky”; not really in keeping with a well-made child’s chair from that period.
As it was late in day, Les volunteered to turn another prototype for comparison purposes. It turns out that 1 3/8″ is a considerably better diameter for this design. That section will provide more than adequate structural strength to support the youthful occupant and will be far more appealing to the eye.
So the lesson is; save money, save time and produce a better outcome by making prototypes (and listen to older people).