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As such, it doesn't really have as much to do with sticks and twigs as it does with the people who put twig furniture together. The main roots of rustic furniture making in America reach to the so-called Romantic Movement that flourished in the nineteenth century and was marked by the attitude that contact with nature had a soothing, spiritually healing effect. Summering in the mountains was seen as the clear antidote for the debilitating, relentless, confusing stress of urban industrial living.

As a result, the "Great Camps" of the Adirondacks and the various resorts and retreats in the Smokies, Appalachians, and Catskills sprang up. Their architecture and furnishings reflected the romantic notion of intimacy with nature. More practically, however, the use of native building materials kept building costs down while also employing local craftspeople.

Woodworking Basics

Finally, both builders and users found something immensely pleasing in this crude but beautiful furniture. Many of these characteristics contribute to the appeal of creating contemporary rustic furniture today. There's true excitement in finding, cutting, and drying just the right piece of wood. There's also a delightful bewilderment in the many choices the rustic furniture builder faces in design, assembly, and finishing.

You make what you are. Because simple rustic furniture can be built with a minimum of formal woodworking skill, it could be said to be a translucent and sometimes transparent window into its maker. Every workshop I teach reaffirms this. The selection of woods, and the arrangement, the assembly, and even the intended use of a rustic chair tells more about the person who made it than it does about trees or furniture. A rigid person is likely to produce a straight conventional piece, while a more flexible one will explore the possibilities of wood shapes more freely. When making my own furniture, I try to capture the power of saplings that have fought the good fight—battling for light and nutrients; surviving frost, gypsy moths, lightning, browsing deer, and Boy Scouts.

I want that forest epic, which is written all over the bark, to be able to be read by the people who see my furniture. Secondly, I want to bring humor and illusion to my work. I want some chairs to dance, others to look like they're about to be reclaimed by the forest. Many tweak the nose of high-style furniture by sporting Queen Anne legs and Windsor backs—all formed by natural growth rather than by the lathes of the royal carpenter. Finally, I strive to instill a quiet grace and beauty in my work—a chair or bed is an opportunity to marvel at the airy curves and exploding forks made by the trees.

I want to set this 'beauty apart from the forest and celebrate it. That's what I try to do and—just sometimes—it happens. With the information that follows, you can pursue the same rewarding, if elusive, ends. Use wood that's available. Cut it yourself, and talk to local tree surgeons, developers, or the highway department. Because I sell my rustic furniture, I prefer to cut live hardwood saplings so I can avoid the insect and fungal damage that generally afflicts fallen wood.

Pick wood with character. Look for interesting bends and unusual bark patterns. Such embellishments make for a more intriguing finished piece but require a more complicated process. Certainly the easiest furniture to make is from the straightest pieces, but it can also be the least exciting to view.

Book Review: How to Build Your Own Bentwood Chair: A Guide to Building and Selling Rustic Furniture

Think about the scale of the work. Probably the single distinguishing characteristic among rustic furniture makers is the difference in the scale of designs and the proportion of woods each uses. The relationship between the size of upright posts and the horizontal rails is, to my mind, an essential determinant of beauty in the finished piece. For a first effort, you might try dead standing or even fallen trees. As a rule, however, you'll want to get green wood. Once you have done so, size it roughly into rungs, posts, etc.

How to Build Your Own Bentwood Chair

Dry rungs sound like drumsticks when knocked together. It's less important that the posts or uprights be bone-dry. To minimize the drying time, try to cut wood in the winter months when the sap is down. This also minimizes the chances of the bark falling off. To get started, I suggest you copy or interpret a favorite piece of conventional furniture. Take a kitchen chair to the woods or the woodpile and find twig twins for all the parts. Interesting choices and changes will soon present themselves.

You'll find yourself developing opinions and preferences. In short, your own "style" will begin to emerge. Making a rustic chair that is also comfortable, however, can be like asking a bear to dance. There's a possibility it will happen, but an extremely remote one.

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It's probably wiser, at least at first, to put comfort toward the bottom of your list of priorities. I'll tolerate anything in my chairs that is visually pleasing and not an obvious hazard to my body. In planning your creation, for instance, try to make sure that the back slants backward and that the back decoration and support structures don't protrude into the sitting part of the chair.

Plan to put a comfortable seat in later, or simply use pillows. But also think of all the other uses of a chair: If these functions don't make sense to you, don't make a chair. Try a rustic table or ladder instead-objects in which comfort plays only a small role. There are a variety of ways to put rustic furniture together, depending on the skills of the maker, the use of the piece of furniture, the tools available, and the wetness of the wood.


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Mortise-and-tenon joinery is peg-in-hole joinery. I've cut hundreds of tenons with my pocketknife, but I presently use an antique tenon cutter, the hollow auger, which fits on the end of my hand brace.

Easy Rustic Furniture Build

You could use a hatchet, a lathe, or a saw to score the depth of the tenon, a chisel or knife to chip away the excess, and a rasp to round it off. I now cut mortises with a spur bit on my drill press. Before that I used a hand power drill with a similar bit, and I know many makers who prefer to use a hand brace and bit.

Wallace Eadie (Author of How to Build Your Own Bentwood Chair)

Among the problems with rustic mortise-and-tenon joinery is the shrinkage of the tenon in the mortise and the subsequent loosening of the joint. If both members are dry, this rarely occurs. But there are two ways to get around this potential problem. One avoids it; the other attempts to work with it. The first is the blind dowel tenon.


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  • Mortises are drilled both in the post and in the end of the rung. A single length of kiln-dried hardwood dowel is then fitted and glued into each pair of mortises, and the joint is established. The tenon won't shrink, though there is a chance the mortise might crack around the dry tenon. The second method is the "wet joint. When the piece is assembled, the tenon will absorb moisture from the mortised wood and will swell. When all the wood finally stabilizes, the mortise will have neatly shrunk around the tenon, more than the tenon itself may have shrunk.

    No glue is used, and a firmly woven seat provides the final insurance for a tightly constructed chair.

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    If you have doubts about the strength of a mortise-and-tenon joint, try putting a peg or even a nail through the joint. If you use a peg, make sure it is no more than one-half the size of the diameter of the tenon itself. Another common form of rustic joinery is the nailed joint. After two pieces have been put together or slightly notched, they are nailed in place. The trick to an enduring nailed joint is this: Predrill the hole for the nail in both members, making it just a bit narrower and a bit longer than the nail. Style that does not sacrifice quality, because you want your beautiful woodworking projects to last.

    Save your money for lumber, supplies and woodshop projects that will be necessary for your next steps in the craft. These three woodworking jigs will enable you to make a jig on a tight budget. Do you think about wood joinery as much as we do here at Popular Woodworking? Get your free guide and a free project plan today! Are you looking for trustworthy, free instruction on how to bend wood?

    Superior dovetail furniture is well within your reach. You already know how to make a dovetail joint, in the basic form, with either a dovetail saw or a dovetail jig. These DIY router table plans cover the three basic types of shop-built router tables you might need: Getting SketchUp woodworking software is easy. The hard part is figuring out how to use the software after you open it up.


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