Chinese Gate Bench-Progress 2

As promised or threatened, depending on how you look at it, I have completed the formal proportional drawing for the Chinese Gate Bench.  When I design a project I first establish the controlling distance/dimension.  In this case, the height of the seat is of paramount importance.  I’m sure there is a scientific way of determining the optimum height of a bench.  Nope, that’s not how I worked it out.  I just sat on a bunch of stuff until I found a comfortable height.  About 19-1/2″ seems about right.  I’m average height, 5′-10″, and a 19-1/2″ height puts my feet flat on the ground and is easy to squat down onto.  Any lower and it feels like I’m falling onto it.  Any higher and my feet aren’t flat on the ground.  When this happens it feels like I’m balancing on the seat and start looking for someplace higher to put my feet.  Think about a bar stool, I bet you always, almost instinctively, put your feet on the rung.  Anyway, I decided that about 19-1/2″ was the height to work to.

I also knew that standard dimensional lumber is what I would be using to construct this bench.  That means the seat thickness would be 1-1/2″.  That left me with 18″ or ~460mm. I find the metric system much easier to use with proportions.  I then began breaking that 460mm down to find a Module (D) that I could manipulate for the entire design.  In this case D=23mm.

There is no magic formula for establishing the rest of the parts.  There is a good bit of trial and error to find what looks best to my eye.  The one thing I try to establish with my designs is that the height to width is a whole number proportion.  Examples would be 1:1, 3:5 or in this case 2:1.  This establishes an end view to this bench that is twice as high as it is wide.

Length in this case is arbitrary.  The bench I’m building is relatively short to fit into it’s intended space.  I could just as easily make this bench much longer using this same drawing.  Typically I follow suit and make the length a function of the Module just to be consistent.

If the proportions are correct, I can easily scale a project up or down and the project will still “look” correct.  A common comment I get on this blog goes something like..”I didn’t realize how big/small this was until I saw it next to XYZ.”  I like these comments because it means that my proportions must be correct.  Think about doll furniture.  Those pieces that are perfect scale models of the real life pieces look correct.  Those where the thicknesses of pieces are off seem jarring and are immediately recognized as small.

Enough of all that.  Here is the drawing for the bench.


Instructional Drawing: Chinese Gate Bench

Greg Merritt

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11 Responses to Chinese Gate Bench-Progress 2

  1. Wesley Beal says:

    When did your interest in woodworking bring you to an interest in design, and the specifics of design that you follow?

    So far, any design decisions I make, other than “this has to fit in this hall space” or whatever, are done with my gut. What “looks right.” Part of me associates detailed lists of measurements and parts with more industrial scale work, and part of what I enjoy about my woodworking is how much I disregard that whole mentality.

    But that’s all about how we manufacture our pieces, not how we design them.

    How did that interest get sparked?

    • gman3555 says:

      Wesley, good questions. Prepare yourself for a long boring story…

      For as long as I can remember I have been interested in design. It’s that interest that has driven me to different ways of creating things. Knot tying, leather working, a little metal working and of course woodworking.

      For a long time I did just as you describe. I built pieces to fit and that looked “right” to me. Maybe a few sketches, maybe not. That worked fine but it started to feel more like guessing than designing. I wanted a more systematic approach.

      I make my living as a mechanical designer and design commercial trailers and truck bodies. However, the approach I use in my work is far too rigid and confining to translate to furniture design. I also didn’t have anyplace to work and I was frustrated trying to get my ideas on paper. So I floundered for several years and made nothing at all.

      A few years ago I managed to build a small shed, 8’x12′. This little shed motivated me to find a way to finally design and build my ideas. My first stroke of luck was finding Paul Sellers’ blog and then he started Masterclasses. About the same time I also started reading George Walker’s blog. Soon after that came his book with Jim Tolpin, “By Hand and Eye”. That book changed everything for me. Proportions!

      Designing with proportions just made sense to me. It’s systematic but very flexible. It still allows designing what looks “right” but I no longer feel like I’m guessing. Now I can’t seem to work fast enough to get my designs on paper.

      My obsession with joinery is a whole other long boring story.


      • Wesley Beal says:

        Thanks Greg. All our stories are long and boring to most others. That’s why I started a woodworking blog, so I could drone on and on about woodworking stuff without annoying folks that weren’t interested. Thanks to the internets, all us boring folk can find each other.

  2. kb9jlo says:

    How long is the bench going to be?

    • gman3555 says:

      The bench I’m building will be about 33″ long to fit by my front door. But the design should work just fine for benches out to 8foot long. When I build one that needs to be longer, I’ll make the length equal to some multiple of the Module. This bit isn’t absolutely necessary but just the way I do it.


  3. Alex A. says:

    Looks awesome. I have some Chinese pieces on my bucket list so I look forward to seeing how it goes.

  4. Siavosh says:

    Gonna echo everyone else’s comments, and also note that the design drawings are works of art by themselves. If I drew those, I’d frame them and hang them on my wall 🙂

  5. Misha says:

    I quite agree that proportion is essential; it should please the eye.

    • gman3555 says:

      Thanks for that. Proportions don’t receive a lot of attention in the woodworking community. In the artistic world, proportions are usually of paramount importance. There needs to be more of the artistic world brought into woodworking. IMHO


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