The Material I Use When Prototyping A New Chair Design

I received this question in episode 1 of the Ask Brian Boggs Show:

When designing a new chair, do you have a preferred material that you use, or is it just whatever you have laying around?

I think that the person asking this question is referring to the prototyping process, and we keep wood on hand for that. Depending on the design, I might choose pine, poplar, or if it’s a part that is under a lot of strain, and we’re actually going to test the seat of the chair, the sit quality of the chair, then I would more likely use red maple. I keep all those woods on-hand, because they work quickly, work easily, and they’re relatively inexpensive. I’ll often use plywood if it works for a specific part. I’ll model pieces in just whatever I’ve got laying around.

It just depends on what I’m trying to do. Because we’re always set up for steam bending, and we have a lot of forms already of different shapes, I can often generate a steam bend quicker than I can create that part in another wood. In that case, I’ll use probably a soft maple, because it bends well and sets very quickly. It just depends on what the design is, what the demands of that design are, and how far I want to go into prototyping, and what questions I want to ask or answer in the prototyping process.

I no longer need to really test the sit quality of a chair, because we’ve got those lines, angles, and curves recorded, so I know what those are. Those are standard for every design. What I’m often testing, almost exclusively testing, is what the piece looks like in the 3D form as you walk around it. How do all those parts relate to each other, and does it feel like the image felt like when it first came to me? To do that, it doesn’t really matter what the wood is. I’ll often paint the piece black so that I can better see it and see how the parts relate.