When it’s finished, a beautiful design can have an air of sweet certainty that belies the daily struggle involved in bringing it into being. While building four of his milk-painted beech Wellborn chairs, North Carolina furniture maker Evan Berding found that pursuing his aesthetic vision often meant taxing his skills and stamina.
The chair’s slender parts, all hand-shaped, are linked by 40 mortise-and-tenon joints and two half laps. Each chair required five glue-ups. Berding cut the joints while the parts were square, then did the majority of shaping—with a drawknife, spokeshave, and rasp—before assembly, leaving enough meat at the joints so he could blend the parts after glue-up. He sculpted the doubled crest rail from a single bent-laminated blank so it resembles two parts joined at the ends.
Berding enjoys hand shaping, but with so many parts to make, at times fatigue and exasperation were simply part of the process. Caning the seat was not straightforward, either. To achieve a smooth curve where the seat meets the back, he had to combine round-section warp strands with flat-section weft ones, and doing the weaving “felt almost like basketmaking.” Achieving what he envisions is often a challenge, but, Berding admits, “I can’t not build it the way I want it to look.”