The ancient and most recognizable woven pattern on open frame seats is the diagonal cross pattern using rush, aka cattail. Because it is so time consuming to do and so expensive to have done, many alternate materials and patterns have been developed. On this page we introduce flat materials made from oak and ash and from reed formed from the core of the rattan plant.
Splint is actual thinly shaved sections of wood, typically ash or oak. Splint is available in widths from 1/4" up to 1 1/2", so varying looks can be achieved based on the width chosen, though the overall impression with splint is a more rustic, informal look. Splint is typically woven in the herringbone weave but can also be done in a diamond or diagonal cross pattern. Distinctive with splint is the wood grain that adds to the interest of the weave. Splint can also be stained and finished.
Flat reed is another material, like cane and wicker, that is a product of the rattan plant. It is also available in a wide range of sizes and can be woven in a variety of patterns. Why would someone choose flat reed over splint? Reed is less than half the cost of splint, it has a more uniform appearance (no wood grain), it is more flexible for tighter weaving in smaller sizes and it comes in longer strands so can be woven on larger frames. Like splint it can also be stained and finished.
Flat oval is similar to flat reed in that it is also a product of the rattan plant, comes in varying widths, can be woven in the same patterns, is uniform in appearance, is flexible, can be woven on any size frame and can be finished. The difference is that flat oval has one domed, or oval, surface like binder cane and shaved slab. So, even though flat oval is most similar to flat reed in material, it can be used like binder cane or shaved slab when you want a stainable material for your weave. What serves to limit the usefulness of flat oval is that its thickness becomes a factor. In wider dimensions it is fairly thick and can feel uncomfortably ridged. In narrower dimensions it is fairly thin and is somewhat fragile.
Splint woven in a diagonal cross pattern. The grain lines of the wood are easily seen.
Flat reed woven in a herringbone pattern. Though there is variegation in color, no grain.
Flat oval woven in a zig zag pattern.
These rustic chairs originated from the need for furniture in frontier areas where your furniture had to be obtained from the resources around you. Stick furniture was definitely not an emblem of wealth, it was a symbol of self-sufficiency. Now, however, ownership of original stick furniture has become an emblem of wealth because it is so unique and so rare. Most of the stick furniture you find is actually reproduction work. It is nice, but lacks the naturally uneven lines, imaginative connections and thoroughgoing inventiveness of original nineteenth century stick furniture.
Because stick furniture was a frontier phenomenon, rough hewn splint made from the wood of local oak or ash trees was the most common seating material. Below we offer a photo of some original splint that we replaced. Sad to see the old go, but the chair was useless and ugly with it. For those concerned with value, yes, replacing the original diminished the chair's potential investment value, but making the chair usable and attractive again increased its practical value. (The sample of original hand hewn splint is not from a stick chair, we will show the chair itself later on this page.)
The photo to the left is unnecessarily large if our purpose was simply to show a beat up old seat that needs to be replaced. You could understand that in an instant with a thumbnail. What we want you to see clearly is a primary indicator that this is hand hewn splint. Notice the irregular widths of the splint. Along the front rail this is very easy to spot. More subtle, and difficult to see even with a photo this large, is the variation of widths in single strands.
To reproduce the original variations we use different widths of splint or reed as we did in the sample of reed above right.
The original material on this chair was splint. You can see breaks here and there which are characteristic when splint is aged and brittle. As is often the case, this customer was more concerned with cost than the material used so opted for the lowered cost of flat reed.
This rustic stool came to us with a binder cane seat in a herringbone pattern. The customer kept the pattern but opted for the much cheaper flat reed as can be seen below.
You don't need to see a close up photo to tell this needs a new seat!
The two chairs were stored in different conditions, the one on the left spent a time out doors and has a resulting weathered look. Both chairs have been rewoven with spint.
The natural wood creates a more pronounced stripe than reed. Light reflecting from wood pores creates this effect.
Badly weathered chair, needing refinishing and reweaving. The reed used in the weaving could have been stained and finished but the customer wanted the contrast.
You can probably tell that this is the chair that belongs to the seat featured at the top of this page. The hand hewn character of the splint is not evident without the enlargement. This customer chose to use flat reed instead of splint. We varied the widths of the reed to approximate the appearance of the original pattern.
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Flat reed was used to weave both the seat and the back of this chair. The seat features a diamond pattern. The back is too narrow to weave a full diamond and instead a double diamond was used. Another pattern often used on narrow backs is a chevron pattern.
The chair to the right had spint and was rewoven with splint. Besides the pronounced wood grain pattern seen in the detail photo, the strong striping pattern should be a clue that this is splint.