The post-and-rung ladderback is our best introduction to the skills needed for any type of traditional chairmaking. The elegant ladderback has been described by woodworking author and editor John Kelsey as a “masterpiece of economy and simplicity, of comfort, strength and beauty.” When this style has two back slats it is sometimes called a “mule ear” chair.
Chairmaking courses at Country Workshops go back to 1979 when J. Alexander taught our first post-and-rung chair workshop. In the first years the class project was a stool; we knew how to make the full chair, but not how to teach it in a 5 day class. Over the years there were many class refinements. For instance, we experimented with various methods for forming the rung tenons. The tutorial is now 6 days, giving us time to make a double slat, bent back chair, complete with a woven Shaker tape seat.
The ladderback tutorial begins with riving billets from a freshly felled, straight grain red oak log. Cylindrical wet/dry mortise and tenon joinery is explained in theory and then put to practical application. Class participants learn to shape their chair parts using a drawknife and spokeshave while seated at a shaving horse -- or one of our innovative shaving mules. This is followed by steaming and bending the back posts onto specially shaped forms. Tenons are hand-crafted at the ends of ëbone dryí rungs. Mortises -- round for the rungs, and rectangular for the slats -- are bored or chiseled in the air-dried posts.
After the chair frame is assembled, fresh greenwood back-slats are rived and shaved, plasticized in boiling water, and then fit into slat mortises in the rear posts. Weaving a seat with colorful Shaker tape completes the chair.
Tuition for the 6-day tutorial is $1625. Tuition includes the use of specialized chairmaking tools, all necessary materials (for the chair frame and Shaker tape seating,) your private room accommodations, and meals. And you will take home a handsome and comfortable heirloom chair. Class size is limited to 4 registered participants, plus our summer intern.