This is not a stool

This is not a stool. In other words, it is not a time stamp for the point when the designer accomplishes the pursuit of that buzz question: “can anything be a stool?”.

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Instead we see this object as a tool kit of individual components. Separated, individual and unique in their own way; and each carrying their own narrative of their making. However, each object is the product of the batch process – all follow a specification allowing them to be almost entirely identical. From the point of view of the Birch Ply seat, for example, the making process is one of doubt and unnatural manipulation. This first stage in fabrication is about the selection of that particular material with the explicit intention that it is there to be contorted and bent by the heavy force of clamps and jigs. Prior to this stage however, there is the meticulous task of first cutting to size the ply and checking the midpoints are aligned in a dry run of the task, before applying the resin glue Carcomite to each layer and securing it thoroughly.

If a degree of pessimism hangs over the making process, the expectation that anything and everything will go wrong, then from its inception the idea of the components of the object are constantly under the scrutiny of the designer being sure all elements are in place and ensuring the protection of the material (the use of the blocks in this case against the cold force of the clamps).

As stated previously, this is not a stool. It is a suggestion of what a stool may be if all pieces come together in such a way that it can be recognised as a stool. Another element that may support this is the use of the circular saw and the slot mortiser in the formation of mortise and tenon joints to form ‘legs’. Setting these to the precise measurements allow for the repeat process cutting grooves and rebates.

There is a trust in this particular joint. If done correctly it will fit securely, and in fitting the central beam into the mortises of the legs (having been measured top to bottom, shaped on the table router and finally clamped and glued with the vice with careful measurement) these components form a well-crafted object. Carefully plotted designs within designs for further designs. In exploring the multitude of joining methods between many materials, they are perhaps the focal point for the conversations around the designer, the user and the efficient object. What do we as consumers expect from our furniture in the present? Companies at the forefront of mass produced items such as ‘IKEA’ and ‘Habitat’ have their own seemingly definitive answer to this question, manifesting in cheap, easy to assemble goods where the designer has stripped the process away almost entirely. Similar examples can also be seen in the work of designers like Michael Marriott, whose furniture such as ‘Craft Table’ (2010) bring further ease and minimalist design to the household using only components fitted together with slots and cable ties.

Michael Marriott, ‘Craft Table’ (2010) available at: http://www.michaelmarriott.com/furniture/craft/ [accessed: 29/10/18]

 

But our object is not a stool. The batch process allows for the tools to be set up in such as way that the pieces may be planned thoroughly. The acts of crafting the draw with mitered joints, must adhere to the whims of an ordered process. We would cut the miters in the two lengths of poplar following the groove on the router because this is far more efficient than having four pieces.

Once cut down on the chop saw, the lathe holds the aluminium bar tightly for cutting the hole. The skills applied to crafting this part alone form a coherent series of steps from this point to using the grease and tap wrench to carve out the screw thread. All, once again, under a precise hand and certainty that the thread is vertical (usually obtained by hanging the bar loosely before clamping in the vice). Wet and dry and steel wool perfect the metal. Unlike when working in wood, metal will harbor all the damage that may be done to it during the process of its crafting. With wood, there may be points when damage may be removed, but this proves more difficult with metal when it comes to the finishing. This is another point at which the crafting of the elements of what we cannot call a stool must be carefully thought ahead and set in an order which allows for mistakes to be avoided and the finish to be preserved.

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Where wood can be rescued: the breakout from using the router caused the groove to split when the aluminium rail was inserted, but could be fixed with PVA and pressure. 

This act of finishing the components follows right to the end as we wind down to the final piecing together of these separate entities. The process of sanding down the legs, rounding off the edges and subtly shaping the seat to breakdown the rigidity of the material, softening it for our use. It is then the act of lacquering and waxing that preserves the wood and protects from moisture damage, perhaps even diverting from the strictness of common batch and mass production processes and leaving room for individuality.

Here, wood stain and wax is applied to the draw to break up the colour and add further interest to this piece. The wood itself on the inside of the draw tells its own story about the life of that particular tree, and these decisions may be made by the designer to negotiate with the visual interests of wood (the knots, the burn scars etc.) and the appeal for a client if selling is the prime motive.

Considering that our object is not a stool, because the function of a stool is to prove the designer’s ability in crafting a stool for sitting on, let us instead pose the components forming our object as learning tools. They are markers of a certain way of thinking applied to making, and demonstrate a range of potential methods that can separate these components from each other, despite them sharing a common material. We may also consider how, this final object represents a point where ‘the stool’ does not have to fulfill a linear transaction, i.e. sold by the maker to client, in a sense this has been explored already in a multitude of ways with the rise of multi-purpose and easily-maneuverable furniture (a response to current socio-economic conditions in living?). With this we may also ask where the designer situates themselves in the present when it comes to competing with these industries? But we may also consider how crafted objects such as this can pose as vehicles for the setting up of design opportunities – interventions perhaps, or performative narratives where the everyday can meet with the unusual design object in public space, opening new talking points and discussion around the possibilities for exploration. There is also room for critical reflection regarding the design of objects in this case. The designer Jerszy Seymour often plays with the possibilities of furniture as discussion points for the nature of production and materials. His work ‘Workshop Chair’ (2009) employs the use of the biodegradable material Polycapralactone for joining the wooden elements together. In doing so, it allows people to draw questions about how these materials may be used in a wider, more accessible context and place the construction of objects further into people’s capability (in essence, the reverse of what may be considered the role of the traditional crafts-person).

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Jerszy Seymour, ‘Workshop Chair’ (2009) available at: http://jerszyseymourdesignworkshop.com/project/workshop-chair-2009/#3 [accessed: 29/10/18]

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