Stuzly~Jo forest chairs are built using traditional rustic stick chair-making methods, which have a long history, having been used by bygone woodland craftsmen to create functional furniture from the trees that surrounded them. Examples of rustic stick chairs can be seen all over the world.
The first step in a stick chair’s creation, is to select the branches that will make up it’s framework. Branches are chosen for interesting shapes that combine well together, implying movement, and also for the colour of the bark. Silver birch (Betula pendula) for example, can have branches ranging in colour from white, to orange through to dark brown, all from the same tree; providing a wonderful natural colour palette to work with. Once the choice of branches has been made, they are washed, to reveal the true rich hues of the bark. The bark can also be peeled to display the smooth natural wood.
Round mortice and tenon joinery is used to assemble the branches into a Stuzly~Jo chair. This is an age-old method of joinery which produces very durable joints. The tenons are cut using a specialised cutting tool and mortice holes drilled at many different angles. The rungs, and seat stretcher parts of the chair, that have tenons, are dried indoors, while the uprights, or the leg posts, which have the mortice holes, are left wet, or green. Dry tenons are driven into the wetter mortice holes. As the mortice dries, it shrinks around the tenon and grips it firmly. This is nature’s own joinery and is fundamental to the way green wood workers make chairs. To ensure that Stuzly~Jo chair joints have maximum strength, glue is also used. Sometimes, in the back of the chair, slats made from cleaved and shaved green wood are used as an alternative to using branches. In this case, long slim rectangular mortices are cut using a mortice chisel, and the slats are secured using hardwood pegs.
Green Woodworking Techniques
Stuzly~Jo also uses fresh, unseasoned wood to create chair components, such as back slats and seat stretchers. Wood that is unseasoned is traditionally known as green wood. When wood is green and soft, it is a delight to work with. The process of working with green wood begins by splitting a freshly felled log in quarters, along the length of the grain, using wedges and a wooden maul. This process is known as cleaving. After cutting the lengths needed, the split wood is cleaved further, along the grain, using a tool called a froe, which provides controlled and precise splitting. Wood that has been cleaved along the grain length will retain it’s natural strength, compared to sawn or milled wood, which is much weaker, as the fibres have been cut. The rough chair parts are further shaped using a side-axe and then refined by shaving with a drawknife and spokeshave, while the component is held in a traditional wooden clamping device called a shaving horse. Back slats, prepared using these traditional green woodworking techniques, are softened and made pliable using steam, then bent over a former, to produce a gentle curve, for comfort. This technique is know as steam bending.
Once the frame of the chair is complete, any sharp areas are pared down or removed using sandpaper or a whittling knife. The whole chair is then given a coat of natural linseed oil, which protects the wood, but also enhances the wonderful colours of the bark. Any exposed wood, such as peeled branches, or the sawn tops and bottoms of the legs are protected with natural waxes. Finally, the chair seats are woven with a variety of natural materials, which include seagrass, rush, paper fibre rush and leather, using traditional hand weaving techniques.