Making a Chair Really Fast / a Conceptual Workshop

Introduction: Making a Chair Really Fast / a Conceptual Workshop

Hey Out There,

So. This is a little bit different than you might be used to out there in the land of how-to's. I'm not going to exactly teach you how to do something concrete, but instead, how to explore a conceptual space through a workshop. It's called Making a Chair Really Fast (Or an Exercise in Quick Decision Making and Following an Idea Through to the End). In many ways, this Instructable is also about teaching, working with a group, and helping other people make something rad. It's about learning to be a better facilitator of workshops, especially in a shop environment.

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Step 1: So You Have an Idea... (Mine Is a Chair)

So you have an idea. Or maybe you have a whole bunch of ideas. Maybe relating to a problem you're working on, or maybe relating to a condition that you see out in the world. But the point is, you have ideas, and you're in a community. This is also a workshop about thinking fast, about making a decision and sticking to it. In this case, the workshop is about learning how to sketch in 3 dimensions at human scale, and about taking and making a decision, and carrying it through the design process.

Step 2: The Chair

The chair is an amazing design object. Full of deep symbolism, designers, architects, artists, and craftspeople world wide for millennia have made and designed chairs. I opened the workshop with a short lecture and discussion about the chair and the constraints of the workshop. In this case, everyone knows what a chair is. But what is the idea of a chair? How much chairness does a chair have to have before it isn't a chair anymore? It's important to have constraints. Without them, it's like staring at a white sheer of paper, looking blankness and possibility in the face. It's easy to get overwhelmed. I set the following constraints:

  • Each participant received three pieces of 8' foot long 1"x2" douglas fir strips. They were not allowed to use any more wood than this.
  • The joinery method must be integral to the construction, that is, no ornament that is not an integral aspect to the chair's creation. You could bring in alternative materials, but, within reason, they must be integral.
  • The idea of chair itself. What is a chair? What does a chair need to do? What does a chair need to be? How does a chair need to perform?
  • 3 hours for everything (well, a little extra for the presentations at the end). Time is of the essence!

After the lecture and discussion (short, about 15 minutes), I armed everyone with wood, and we went to the workshop.

Step 3: The Shop / Sketching

At the shop, we went though the basic steps. Everyone should quickly think of a main thrust for their chair, an idea that hold the whole thing together, that each person would follow through to the end. This is critical. There isn't a lot of time for deep thought in a workshop like this. And the idea is to take the gesture, the critical thematic element, and play it through each aspect of the chair. It's important to stress this to your participants. They need to land on something quickly, sketch it out to have an idea of what they are getting after, and move forward with cutting wood.

Adjustments can be made as the participants cut and shape their wood. The idea is to learn to work through the problems with your hands. To think with the material and the tools.

Step 4: Getting to It / Making + Doing

This is the bulk of the workshop. The participants work away at their conceptual (or not) chairs. Again, the idea is to move quickly (but safely!). Things that you can do to set up the shop, and things that are good to point out as rapid ideation and prototyping tools are:

  • Setting the cross slide up on the table saw at the proper height to make it a quick station for people to make cuts
  • Setting up the bandsaw fence for rip cuts at half depth, so people can re-saw their wood
  • Setting up glueing stations with clamps and brad nailers
  • Setting up screwing stations with drivers and screws
  • Making angles with sanders - it is often easier to do a rough cut and then tune with standing floor sanders like the belt or disc sander than nailing a tough angle on the first try

When you're running a workshop, it's important to move quickly through the room, constantly circulating, asking people questions both about their ideas and their process. By being proactive, people are generally less shy about talking about a question or concern they might have. Offer help, demonstrate but don't do – let people hold the tools in their own hands, give them ownership about the learning process.

Step 5: Time!

It's important to remind people that time is of the essence. The workshop is about doing and making, sketching gesturally at human scale. There is less "thought" than would typically happen if one was deigning something slowly and methodically. We are making rough prototypes at best. Sometimes accommodations have to be made in consideration of finishing.

As the facilitator of the workshop, it's important to be both considerate and firm, and strike the correct balance between the two.

Step 6: (Note - Clean Up)

I always say that it's better to leave a shop cleaner than when you found it. Make sure that in the workshop, you leave 15-20 minutes for ample clean up time. A clean shop is a safe shop, and it's a time for everyone to work on something together.

Step 7: Presentations

Presentations are also an important part of the workshop.

The workshop begins with my lecture, and it ends with the converse – everyone presenting their own work to the group for feedback and commentary. Important notes for a good presentation session:

  • Always remember to take pictures!
  • Ask each person to talk for a set amount of time, say 3 minutes, about their work, and then open it up for feedback.
  • As the facilitator of the workshop, it's great to always always to do things:
    • Ask a question – showing that you tracked their progress through the workshop, and asking the participant to open up a new place of thinking about their work
    • Provide both a strength and an opportunity for growth

Step 8: The End

This ends the "how to" on the rapid chair making workshop. I think that it's an interesting space that intersects participation, making, design, and prototyping at scale. Please let me know if you run the workshop, and send feedback, ideas, and comments my way!

Thank you!

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    2 Discussions


    5 years ago

    This Instructable is a great idea, I did have one odd question for your workshops specifically though, do you allow a timeslot for shop safety at all? Aside from the completely off the topic question, I love the idea that you have presented here :-D Good job :-D


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    I always do a little reminder in the beginning. In this particular shop, which is at an academic institution, everyone who is in the shop has passed a safety orientation. I always go around, especially in the beginning of the workshop, and ask folks to roll up their sleeves, tuck in long hair, and the like, and am eagle-eyed when people are using the "more" dangerous tools.

    Thanks though! It always pays to be safety aware.