Wooden chairs are props that appear in every production you can imagine. As in life, they are ubiquitous on the stage. This was particularly true of Doctor Zhivago where chairs played a big part in the design concept of the show. Wooden chairs were one of the many props we made for the new musical, Doctor Zhivago. You can look at some of the other props made for the show here. Several chairs of a particular style had been found but several more were required. Finding additional matching chairs was next to impossible so copies had to be made.
Copying wooden chairs
Two essential tools for making wooden chairs are a bandsaw and a selection of clamps. The following steps can be used for almost any chair. Wooden ladderbacks are quite easy as there is little shaping to be done to the timber parts.
First dismantle the chair you are copying. This is usually easy with old wooden chairs as the glue has degenerated over the years so that a well placed hammer blow usually separates the parts. Each part is then traced onto the timber you have chosen to make the chair. Use good quality timber as it is better to work with than cheap pine.
Using a bandsaw cut out all the parts for the wooden chairs. These will need to be planed and sanded to remove saw marks and to ensure matching parts are the same shape.
The relative position of tenon joints and holes for rungs are marked on the new parts. These are then cut out using a mortise chisel or drill for the rung holes.
Dowel joints are best to use for assembly as they are strong and invisible. Use a good quality dowelling jig to ensure correct alignment of the parts.
A jig is constructed to hold the parts in position while they are glued and clamped. This ensures all the wooden chairs have the same shape when finally assembled.
The back section was first assembled as a unit because of the construction of this style of chair.
Next the seat section is dowelled and glued together. Again leave it clamped for a few hours.
The actual seat on this chair was simply a shaped piece of 3 ply with a pattern of holes drilled. This was attached after the chair was finally assembled.
All the parts for the wooden chairs are now assembled with dowels and glue. Clamps hold the chair firmly together until the glue has dried.
Some of these wooden chairs needed to be breakable. This was achieved by using 6mm dowels without glue to hold the wooden chairs together. These break easily and are simply replaced after each performance. This is where using good quality timber is important because you want the dowels to break, not the chair parts.
The completed chair next to the original. You can age the timber of the new chair by removing any sharp corners and applying a black wash. This can then be blended into the timber with a rag and methylated spirits.