How Phloem Studio Makes their Captain's Chair

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By Design Milk / Published by Design Milk
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We have such a great appreciation for handcrafted furniture, where designers put their heart and soul into each piece with the intention for it to last a lifetime and then some.

Ben Klebba, of Phloem Studio, is one of those people making heirloom quality pieces that will always be in style. The Washington State designer has been steadily building quite the portfolio of furniture, including the Captain’s Chair, a simple chair made of a white oak structure and a black rope woven seat. In this month’s Deconstruction, Klebba shares with us how it’s made.

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We make each piece of furniture to order and we start each with a set of drawings and patterns. The Captain’s Chair is no exception. While most pieces are made by hand using traditional wood joinery and tools (run by electricity and by hand), it’s important that we work to high standards and keep everything uniform.

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The Captain’s Chair’s legs are each turned on a lathe. We start with raw lumber and make leg blanks. Each leg blank’s center is marked with a bandsaw at each end.

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We then take each blank and turn it on a lathe. We’ve got a few people turning on a pair of lathes in our shop and it’s essential that diameters come out consistently from person to person and part to part. To maintain consistency, we reference the drawings, patterns and use calipers religiously.

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Legs are eventually sanded and placed in groups of four for each chair. We take time to look at the grain and color of the wood here. Each leg will have stepped mortises routed into two sides to accept the seat rails.

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Meanwhile, someone has been milling up the chair rails that hold the rope seat. These get glued in sets to the legs. Again, we take some time choosing what rails get mated up to what legs.

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Many people that see our Captain’s Chair are curious how the horseshoe arm and back is made. Some people think it’s steam bent, other’s think we use a CNC. We actually glue three large boards together with a mitered bridal joint, and cut the horseshoe shape out. It takes a level of precision to get the joint super tight, along with some time on the bandsaw, the router table, and lots of hand sanding for the finished part.

Typically clients will order sets of the Captain’s Chair. When it’s time to attach the horseshoe to the leg frame, each one is fit individually. This takes a bit of handwork fitting the tenons into the mortises.

After the frames have been fully assembled, we apply 3 coats of of finish. Once dry, it’s time to weave the rope. We use a polypropylene rope, used in some sailing lines. It’s very contemporary in look and feel, with a yacht weave, made of synthetic materials, resistant to water and rot. It does not stretch as much as a natural fiber rope would over time. 

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Each chair requires 220 feet of rope. There are two strands: one piece 130 feet long running left to right, then another 90 feet long weaving front to back. Our weave was inspired by Shaker weaves my dad had done on chairs with wide cane. It takes between 3 to 4 hours to weave one seat.

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We date and stamp each piece of furniture before they head out to their final home to enjoy a lifetime of use.

Published Caroline Williamson.