I was fascinated by a reproduction of a piece of British campaign furniture that Chris Schwarz did for Popular Woodworking magazine, a few months back. I had a small hobby lathe and some 8/4 walnut lying around so I thought I would give it a try. I didn’t know a thing about leather work, but I figured that if I failed at the leather, my wife could do those pieces in canvas on the sewing machine. I purchased an inexpensive piece of veg tanned leather from Amazon.com and some dye, rivets, and tools from Tandy leather. I spent way more than I had planned, but this is what I consider research and development…
I have a Large format printer at home so I laid out all the leather on the computer and printed full size patterns. This worked very well because I could test fit the patterns and make adjustments without ruining any leather. This is another one of those projects that I didn’t take photos of until I was finished, so I don’t have many detailed shots. The leather that I bought and dyed looks nice for a more rustic setting, but in retrospect, I should have just spent a bit more and bought a prefinished piece of leather.
I finished the walnut with polyurethane. I created a simple jig to support the legs in a way that I could spin them while I finished them. I also laid the cross bars on two crisscrossed nails at each end. since the tapered ends of those pieces are hidden, you never see where the nails touched the finish.
A little side note for anyone who may build one of these, leather on polyurethane makes a lot of noise whenever you move in the chair. It sticks on the poly, then releases and sounds like you have trouble controlling your internal gas flow…
I have had to repair this chair once when someone flopped into it and ripped out all the rivets along the front. I made a new seat piece from my left-over leather, but this time I made it longer so the rivets weren’t right at the edge.
The original chairs used button studs for the arm straps to hook onto, but I had just finished building a guitar and thought guitar strap buttons would actually work better.
The design of this chair is more complex than it seems. The way the leather attaches to the wood actually works to pull the chair together when you sit on it. When you are sitting in it, it is very comfortable. The more you lean back , the more support your lower back gets. I am getting ready to build another prototype, though with a few design changes. For one thing the back of the seat is 10″ off the ground and the arms are made of leather. This presents a problem for people who are not as light and flexible as they used to be. I have had to pull people back out of the chair because they couldn’t manage on their own. While the back is extremely comfortable there is no support for your head if you want to lay back.
I plan to build my next one out of oak and canvas. It will be several inches taller and perhaps a few inches wider. I am going to attempt to incorporate a headrest and solid arms. Since the chair is designed to be broken down and transported in a bag, the solid arms will still have to be collapsible or removable. Also, the back tends to rock back and lay almost flat when unattended. I plan to add weight to the bottom of it, it will be even more necessary if I add the weight of a headrest.