Kem Weber Chair Build

disney_weber

Kem Weber (Karl Emanuel Martin Weber) is best known as the architect of the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California.  Walt Disney hired Weber in the late 1930’s (after the success of Snow White) to not only design the studio, but also the interiors and furnishings needed to operate an animation studio. Weber even created a font for the studio that is still used today. The picture above shows one of his chair designs, “The Airline Chair,” being used by some of the animators in the 1950’s, during the production of Sleeping Beauty.  

The studio has a sleek, art deco feel and virtually all of the original structures Weber designed are still in use today. His animation desk has been reproduced many times, and is considered a classic of the golden age of animation.

I chose the simpler version of his airline chair design to reproduce. I confess, I’m a prop builder, and I don’t have the patience for fine woodworking, so the simpler the better. The original chair shipped flat and was assembled when delivered; an innovation we take for granted today.

I started, like I do with most projects, by developing a 3D model. This model was very useful later for creating accurate templates of each piece of the chair.

I took snapshots of each side and laid them out on the material I planned to use. In this case I used clear pine boards 1×8 inches by 8 feet, and I doubled up each piece to give me the thickness I needed. This gave me the opportunity to do lap joints instead of mortise and tenon.

Looking back, it would have been easier to go with mortise and tenon joints. Oh well.

With my templates cut, it was time to start building. Each matched pair (one for the left side and one for the right) were tacked together for the ride through the sanding process. This insured that each piece was identical. The drum sander came in handy for smoothing up all the curved sections. Several dry fits were needed to get the shape and quality right.

After each side was assembled using glue and clamps, the edges were rounded using a 1/2 inch round-over bit in my router. The seat and back (pre-finished 3/4 inch birch plywood) were wrapped with clear pine, using brad nails and pocket screws. After several dry test assemblies, I was happy with the proportions and comfort of the chair.  Glue and screws completed the woodworking.

Upholstery came next. Using high density memory foam and 1/2 inch plywood, I pulled and stapled brown vinyl around the seat and back of the chair.

FinisheChair

After several spray-on-coats of a gloss enamel, the chair was finished. I added a side table, reminiscent of the vintage animation desks of the era. A little deco-style for my art and design studio. Fun to build and VERY comfortable.

But wait, there’s more…

Remember the Kem Weber font?  It’s used throughout the Walt Disney Studios on various buildings. I wanted to reproduce the “Letter A” as shown here on Animation Building as a decorative piece.

I first downloaded the font and made a template, then cut the template into three pieces.

Using the table saw, jointer and miter saw, I cut blocks of clear pine to match the template pieces. I estimated the original letter to be around 10 inches high.

I glued each piece using super glue, and then covered the letter in aluminum foil tape, typically used for duct work. It’s a great way to achieve a metallic look. I learned this technique from the Tested website.

A

I burnished the tape flat using a burnishing tool, and then dulled it by rubbing steel wool in a swirl motion. I’m very pleased with the result, and it only took a little under an hour. Maybe I’ll make the entire sign.

About PhillipFreer
Draws, paints and builds stuff. Designs Theme Parks, places and family destinations.

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