I am making 4 chairs to go with a dining room table I just finished.
I posted a question and a couple people suggested getting Jeff Miller's
"Chairmaking & Design".
Miller talks about how important stretchers are, but most of his chairs
don't have any. And the ones that do seem to be more robustly built than
the ones that don't. At one point he implies that he leaves them out of
curving designs because they are a challenge to fit. That doesn't seem like
an adequate reason.
Under what circumstances are stretcher's important? Presumably they are
less important when there are arms.
I am going to try to take elements from his "Captain's Chair" and his
No expert, but do have an observation to share.
We have a few old maple chairs without stretchers. The legs are fairly
beefy, and are wedged tenons. They make me a little nervous, but are
still solid. But the long, unrestrained legs have splayed at varying
angles, depending on the grain direction, which makes them rock
slightly on a solid floor. And we definitely don't tip them back as 8
year olds are wont to do.
My grandfather built many chairs some singles, some sets, large and
I recall his thought that stretchers were typically added to
compensate for poor structural integrity. Of course, in some cases a
stretcher would be a valid aspect of the design.
One consideration is how weight is transmitted to the bottom of the
legs...is it straight down or do the legs curve/slope toward the
back/front? In the latter case, the downward force acts a bit like a
wedge and will want to pull them off the seat aprons.
Important for what?
Some folks build for art/appearance, and some build for structural
integrity/longevity. For the former, whenever you think they are; for the
latter, when you have any angle on the legs.
Wouldn't there be a minimum angle where the stretchers aren't
necessary? If you're designing the legs as individual structural
members there's no need for stretchers. If you're trying to lighten
the look of the chair by using more slender legs, having the legs act
in concert, as a system, would require stretchers.
Chair stretchers add a lot of structural integrity, especially when
heavy-set people use the chair or if the chair is abused. If
stretchers are not used I will put in what's called a "ships knee"
made from bent wood or laminated strips. The ship's knee is attached
to the legs and underside of the seat with screws.
It looks like an upside down "U," with the top fastened to the bottom
of the seat and each leg screwed into the chair legs. You need two
ship's knees for each side of the chair. It acts like a brace. Most
of the ones I've seen were made from steam-bent dowels. This gives
incredible strength to the legs and eliminated the need for
Grandmom did antique collecting, and the best old chairs (some very
comfy, others elaborately decorated) all had stretchers. Chairs
stretchers, that I've seen, are generally broken before they reach a
Elegance and style matter somewhat, but I get uncomfortable in a chair
that looks like it'd break. And I always expect the long legs of a
to act as levers and break their joints at the seat. The historical
of grandma's collection says stretchers are valuable. So does my
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