The art and science of making a Wishbone Chair

The Danish design arguably played the central role in shaping the European style of the 20th century. Contributing largely to what is known today as Scandinavian mid-century designers, the legacy of Danish creators includes countless dining and lounge chairs, couches and sofas, lamps and even accent elements. But, ok, I am being a bit subjective here. 🙂

This diverse and rich collection of Danish masterpieces is easily recognisable throughout the world. However, there is one name that stands out, especially among the global audiences – and I’m talking, of course, about one and only, the master of the chair, Hans J. Wegner, the creator behind the famous Wishbone chair that captivated the hearts of millions.

A masterpiece of Danish modern

With a hand-woven 120-meters paper cord seat, 14 wooden parts, more than 100 individual production processes and 2 and a half months of production time, Hans Wegner’s Wishbone chair (also known as CH24 and Y chair) has been continuously in production since 1950 when the first models went out of Carl Hansen workshop. Ever since then, this design got no updates or edits, but also hasn’t lost even a bit of its elegance and popularity. As a part of Wegner’s well-known mid-1940s collection of chairs inspired by the portraits of Danish merchants sitting on the traditional Ming Dynasty Chinese chairs.

Deeply rooted in Scandinavian sensibilities and the core postulates of Scandinavian mid-century design and Danish modern, the Wishbone chair is simple, yet elegant, undoubtedly functional, even though it is highly sophisticated. And all of these qualities are perfectly mirrored in a complicated and delicate production process. So, let’s take a look at how exactly each and every wishbone chair is made.

Wishbone chair production process

Each Wishbone chair consists of 14 different wooden parts made and joined by hand, plus the hand-woven paper cord seat. The focus on carpentry skills in the production process is a lasting testament to Hans Wegner’s amazing skills for woodworking and joinery. The elegantly curved backrest is always made out of a single piece of wood and is arguably the most important part of the Wishbone chair. A long process of steam-bending is used to perfectly bend the backrest into the characteristic shape without compromising its integrity. This involves using a special machine that will direct steam into a compartment containing selected piece of wood. This process will last one hour per every inch of thickness of the piece.

With steam bending, timing is crucial and this is where the expertise of the craftsmen really comes to prominence. Too short steaming process will cause the wood to crack when bent, while too long process will cause the outer layers to wrinkle. A perfect and smooth curve characteristic of the Y chair backrest requires impeccable timing and skill.

Once the backrest is completed, only the traditional woodworking methods are used in order to assemble the frame of the chair. By this point, the Wishbone chair will already be 3 weeks in production.

Finally, the recognisable seat is to be hand-woven by an experienced specialist, using as much as 120 meters of paper cord for one seat. Only the manual approach to this task can ensure the unprecedented comfort that the Y chair is known for.

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