Thursday, August 20, 2009

Have You Seen This Chair?

If you have, please let me know if you have more information about it.

A reader from Texas, Abi Parris, sent these photos to me. They were taken on her trip to the UK a few months ago and this particular chair is found at St. Mary's Church in Chepstow, Wales.

It looks as though it was made to break down for travel or storage. If all the pins are removed and the leg assembly is pulled away from the rods, the half-lapped legs look like they come apart, and the chair then folds up.

The shape of the chair and the carvings add to its coolness. Looks like oak to me. Also looks like something that I need to add to my
bucket list.

Within a millisecond of posting, a reader added this link in the comments: Glastonbury Chair

Photos of the original Glastonbury Chair
Here are plans I found online: Chair plans
Here are more fun plans: Folding Chair
Do a google search for "Glastonbury Chair plans" for even more links.
Here's a cool book on the subject: Medieval Furniture


Unknown said...

It is a Glastonbury chair.

They are a lot of fun to build. It does break down into individual pieces. Takes a little work to get it put together, but it is pretty comfortable when done.


Kari Hultman said...

Thank you!!! Wow, that was fast. :o)

Unknown said...

I must have seen it right after you posted. I didn't even realize it. The first time I built one I used the plans from this book.

I seem to remember having a little trouble with the measurements, but it all worked out in the end. I have not done the carving on them, but it looks like you have a good handle on that part anyway.

Kari Hultman said...

Kris, it says in the wikipedia link that the chair does not fold, but does disassemble. Seems like an easy thing to do--to make it fold. Does yours?

Unknown said...

The most it will really fold is if you take the arms off, the back will fold down. Because of the way the legs and arms attach, they form very sturdy trianglular structures. In order to make the legs fold, you would have to remove the leg from point where it attaches to the back of the seat. That might let it fold forward to the tenon on the front leg. Then the seat should fold down against both of them, and if the arms were off and the back folded forward, it might fold into a bulky package. The biggest issue is that the leg would come of of both tenons at the same time, but you could just put it back onto the center one.

I am a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism ( and often travel with such furniture for camping. One thing I have done for portability while still trying to maintain an easier set up is to go ahead and permanently build the seat and back into a unit by pinning the seat and back side rails into the tenons. Then all that has to be done to finish the set up is put the arms and legs on. It is much faster than trying to assemble the entire structure, and I can set the seat assembly on the seat of the car and pack on top of it.

Woodbloke said...

Kari - not very comfortable at the festival though - Rob

Unknown said...

You definitely want seat cushions, but the arms are surprisingly comfortable, even with that point sticking up. There are also a lot of variations on the arm pattern out there.

Stephen Shepherd said...

It may be made to disassemble for transportation but I doubt it is a folding chair.


Unknown said...

No. It does not fold. And it actually is pretty comfortable.

I'd be very, very cautious about using the Diehl book as a legitimate set of plans. I've made a half-dozen of the chair, with a few variations, starting with the plans in the book. As mentioned, it has problems with the measurements and is outright wrong on a few points. Let be know it you are seriously planning on doing this project and I can gather some info on the original along with some points on the Diehl plans that'll make them more useable and give a better reproduction of the original, if that's your goal.

Kari Hultman said...

Jeff, if you wouldn't mind, that would be great if you have more details about building the chair correctly. I'd really appreciate it. You can email me directly if you'd like:

Or you can share your information here--whichever is your preference.

Paolo said...

Beautiful object.
We live so far....otherwise I would propose you to collaborate in this project. I'd like to have this chair to carve, but I have not a shop an the tools to realize it. I'm trying to find here a carpenter interested in this project.

Megan Fitzpatrick said...

are you taking commissions? I want two (to go at the ends of my medieval-inspired dining table) - a Glastonbury chair has been on my list for a looonnngggg time. sigh.

Kari Hultman said...

Paolo, I hope you're able to find someone who can build the chair for you. Good luck!

Fitz, did you build your dining table? I'm sure you could build this chair, especially since there are plans online. The carving looks like it might be more time consuming than the construction, but there are other carving designs online that are not as difficult.

david w. ancey said...

I can't say anything about this particular chair, but it is one of two styles used by bishops, who would travel (usually on horseback) to visit their parishes. Hence the need to reassemble it. The other style is the faldstool, see the recent Woodwork article on the savaranola chair. Most chairs of this latter type would fold.


Father David

Kari Hultman said...

Cool, David. Here's one article I found about the other chair: "A classic 15th-century scissor chair was named after the charismatic Dominican monk Girolamo Savonarola. Once, only the most wealthy could afford an exquisite, hand-carved chair with the scissor-like principle that allowed it to be folded and easily moved".

L. Wayne Precht said...

I have made a pair of these from the Diehl book (sans the carver so far). They do not fold, they disassemble. Do not be fooled by the straight lines of the chair, this is a fairly advanced project. I would rate it an 8 or a 9 on a scale of 1 to 10 for your typical amateur/hobbyist woodworker. There are some subtleties in the construction that make it easy to make firewood.

As a fairly accomplished hobbyist, it took me 80 hours to make a pair of these chair including a simple oil/vanish finish, but no carving. And I did have the advantage of advice and guidance from a professional woodworker that had previously made a few of these, so I used his jig to rout slots in the round pins to hold the wedges, etc.

Going from memory (I built these about 2 years ago), the specific problems with the Diehl book: the cut list omits the front seat rail and some of the text makes you wonder if the author actually built the chair or is conjecturing a sequence. For convenience, we chose to glue the seat back completely together and the back seat rail to the seat. Otherwise you would need 2-3 people to assemble the thing. After using them several times, I can now assemble it pretty quickly, but the pins are (now) labeled :)

Like many such projects, mill your lumber close, but not down to the listed dimension. Final dimentions need to come off the evolving project as it comes together. Subtle variations in the width of, say the side seat or back rails, have a significant impact in the joinery. Drill the holes for the pins only after verifying the location.

The hard part of the project is the last significant step: fitting the arms. The 3rd of Kari's photos shows the issue: the back is narrower than the seat by the width of the side seat rails. Therefore the arm needs a 5ish degree bevel on the inner face at the top of the back and a matching bevel on the seat end. Actually, there are two on that end so the front to back legs lie flat.

Some folks alter the design to make that a straight joint (by making the back wider than the seat), but the resulting chair feels confining, the spreading arms follow your shape better and is far more comfortable.

I can say that they are quite comfortable. My wife prefers a seat cushion, however, I find that unnecessary and makes me sit too high to use the arms properly.

It's very portable for such a substantial chair. My version comes apart into 4 legss, the leg spreader, the two arms, two side seat rails, the back and the seat. And, of course, 8 wedges.

Kari Hultman said...

L.Wayne, thank you for taking the time to write down all of your advice. I appreciate the help! It does sound like it's a trickier project than first meets the eye. Should be lots of fun. Think I'll do a mock up in pine first.