Bannister back chair – preliminaries I

Call me cautious, but before I jump into a new project, I like to practice the skills and techniques that are going to be used, if they’re not routine.

The Bannister back chair gets it name from the “halved” balusters, used as splats.  These are usually made by “split” turning.  When prepping stock for split turning, most turners will glue sections (half of the finished section thickness) together, separating them with “brown” or craft paper.  Upon completion, the work piece is rived, yielding two finished “halves”.  This process works well for items that are to be used as surface decorations.  However, it is not unusual for some grain tearout to occur (especially with modern glues).  This is not a problem if the inner surface won’t be exposed in its final use, but the inner surface is the “show” surface on bannister back chairs.  Smoothing the show surface after riving will reduce the detail diameters, literally changing the shape of the baluster.

Another method is to cut the lengths somewhat longer than required and fasten them together using screws.

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Care should be taken to insure that the inner faces are in complete contact (any minor warp to the inside).  The drive spur should be positioned so it will not act as a wedge and a “cup” type center will be very helpful.  The additional length may make dealing with deflection a bit more challenging, but the final product should be well worth the effort, especially in this application.

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One Comment on “Bannister back chair – preliminaries I”

  1. Jack Plane Says:

    I have to challenge your description of “banister chairs” from a historical viewpoint. I acknowledge the difference between the English and North American languages and nomenclature, but ‘banister’ back chairs are not so called because of the shape of the vertical back ribs, but for their baluster-like back stiles. They were known as banister back chairs when the infills were caned with or without horsebones – before baluster silhouette rib infills became fashionable.

    Bowett writes (2002):
    The term ‘Bannister back’ is frequently cited in Thomas Robert’s bills in the 1690s. Some modern authors use the term ‘bannister back’ to describe a chair whose back panel is filled with vertical ribs or slats, sometimes cut as banisters in profile. This interpretation is especially prevalent in North America, where chairs of this type are relatively numerous. Although the term seems apposite, this is probably not the meaning understood by Thomas Roberts and his contemporaries. Roberts’ bills suggest that the ‘banisters’ in question were the two main back posts of the chair, and hence a ‘banister-back’ chair was one on which the back posts were concentrically turned in a ‘banister’ or baluster profile. For example, in a bill of 1693 Roberts described ‘12 Cane Chaires of wallnuttree carved handsome horsebone round the backs and foreparts fine cane and Bannister backs’. The backs of these chairs could not be both carved horsebone and filled with banisters. Rather, the back panel was caned within a carved horsebone frame, and the back posts were ‘banister’ turned.
    Some bills of Roberts’ contemporaries suggest a similar interpretation. In 1693 Francis Lapiere supplied to the 6th Earl of Dorset ‘2 Kane chaires Japan’d black with Bannister backs… £0.18.0’. The backs of these chairs could not both be caned and banister-backed, unless the term ‘bannister’ described the style of the back posts. A more plausible contemporary term for the chairs with vertically slatted backs was ‘with ribs in the back’ or, more simply, ‘ribb back’t’. Roberts billed a number of chairs of this description between 1690 and 1710.


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