Michael Thonet Goes With the Grain

The bentwood No. 14 Chair is a chair you know.  It is more produced than any chair in the history of man.  Can you picture it?   It was called "the coffee shop chair" or the "chair of chairs" and below is a photo of one of the 50 million or so produced.

The primary inovation of this chair was the use of complex fixtures and steam bending to create the simple and comfortable light-weight form.  Using this technique, Thonet was able to overcome the orthotropic character of wood by keeping the wood grain all in the same (and stongest) direction.  Unlike metal, wood has dramatically different strength in the different three axis.  The strength along the grain is many times greater than across the grain  or radially.  A bit later, Alvar Alto demonstrated his command of the othotropic material with this chair...

Sometimes woodworkers can get the wood to bend with just steam and some muscle, other times they rely on a process of laminating multiple thin sheets together with glue.  Either way, it demonstates that if one is aware of and repects the unique properties of wood, amazing things are possible!