Introduction: A Suite of Seats - One Board Chair Challenge

About: Hey there! My name is Chris and I live in Massachusetts. I have been a teacher since 2006 and love the fact that I have the opportunity to bring real-world, hands-on skills to my students. I love learning new …

Did you know that a group of chairs all in the same space is called a "suite"? No? Well, I didn't either until we were trying to figure out a good name for the 30 completed sitting devices built in our Makerspace, each using only one single 1"x 6"x 96" rough pine board. The chairs were going on display, complete with laser engraved tags and instructions for the staff and students to vote on their favorites within the suite. But, let's rewind a bit here. How did this project develop? Where did we come from to get to this point? And, most importantly, why is it a great project for any Makerspace class to attempt?

In this Instructable I want to share with you all the details you need to know to run your own "One Board Chair Challenge" and how to put your own "suite of seats" on display to show the amazing skills your students have developed.

The ultimate goal presented to each student / student pair was "To design a robust, semi-portable, and aesthetically pleasing sitting device (i.e. chair, stool, bench, etc…) using only one 1” thick x 6” wide x 8’ long pine board"

I am a high school Makerspace and Woodshop teacher at Ralph C. Mahar Regional High School in Orange, MA. A small, rural high school with a diverse population of students, I take a structured, hands-on, employability-focused approach to teaching my shop classes. I am hoping that what is presented here will help you develop your own project or if you like, you can use this project from start to finish as is.


This is a project best suited for a Makerspace that has access to a fair amount of equipment and materials, and it works best with class sizes of 15 students / class and under (10-12 is ideal, but then again public education has a hard time making that happen). The materials needed for this project are pretty simplistic:

  • 1" x 6" x 96" rough (or S4S) pine boards. You will need enough of these boards for one per each student or student pair. We got ours from a local saw mill for about $0.75 / board foot but they were completely rough cut and needed to be jointed and skip planed prior to distributing to the students. The upside to this was that the boards were thicker than the typical 3/4" S4S boards you could get otherwise, but the jointing and planing obviously added a fair amount of work for me to complete.
  • Lots of sheet rock screws of all different lengths. These were donated to us by some contractors who had piles of extra boxes and they work great for joining pine together as long as it's not going to live outside.
  • Wood glue
  • Paint, stain, other finishes

As for equipment, I tried to keep my Makerspace students focused in just my Makerspace shop and out of the Woodshop as much as possible. I am going to talk about the skills tests each student needs to pass to use equipment in the shop, along with details about that equipment later on, but here is what we have available in the Makerspace Shop:

  • (4) 14" Bandsaws
  • (1) 12" Sliding Compound Miter Saw
  • (1) 10" Chopsaw
  • Multiple handsaws
  • Multiple chisel sizes
  • Drills and Drivers
  • Hammers
  • (1) Drill Press
  • Forstner Bits
  • Squares, tape measures, rulers, etc...
  • Electric jigsaws, circular saws, drills, sanders, etc...

Step 1: Order and Prepare Materials

Here in Central MA we are blessed with a plethora of forests, and in those forests are myriad trees. One of the main species of faster growing, easy to work, and stable woods we have is white pine (Pinus Strobus for you dendrology dorks like me). With lots of trees surrounding us, we have a fair number of small saw mills, both circular saw and bandsaw mills. We order 500 board feet at a time for both our Makerspace and beginner Woodshop classes and have the sawmill deliver to our small rural school. At $0.75 per board foot it's a pretty solid deal for rough cut common grade white pine. The problem we have run into is that without the wood being finished on all four sides (S4S) my co-teacher and I have a fair amount of work ahead of us jointing and planing the surfaces enough for the students to start using them. Moving forward we are going to buy our lumber from another local sawmill that kiln dries and provides S4S lumber for approximately $1.00 / board foot. This will vastly decrease our processing time with our 8" jointer and 13" benchtop planer, and decrease the wear and tear on both of the machines. Keep this in mind when you do decide to purchase your lumber... your time, especially as an educator, is worth more than $0.25 / board foot.

Step 2: Equipment Training for Each Student

Students in my Makerspace classes all need to pass basic machine competency and safety exams before they are given the privilege of using the Makerspace machinery. We own a handful of small bandsaws, a 12" sliding compound miter saw, a 10" chop saw, a drill press, multiple drills and drivers, then a number of battery operated and AC powered tools such as circular saws and jigsaws. We also own other Makerspaceish equipment such as laser cutters / etchers, 3D printers, CNC routers, and sewing machines. All of this equipment was made available for my students to use for the One Board Chair Challenge. Very few students decided to use the laser, routers, or sewing machines for their projects, and truthfully I only wanted to have a few students utilize those tools since this project is much more focused on design strategies and prototyping with basic materials. As for the woodworking equipment (bandsaws et al), the students first watch a demonstration that I provide which includes basic identification of the parts of the machine, safety of the machine, and then skills to safely use the machine effectively. Students then complete a written safety exam which is in the true/false format along with a parts identification section. I take photos of our equipment and then remove the background image of the photograph (using and then use Google Docs to enter a drawing with the labeled parts. This ensures that the students know the exact parts / location of parts for the specific machines they will be using in this class. The caveat I tell all of my students is that they will encounter different sizes, brands, models, and formats of the same equipment as they continue on from here, but the basic safety and skills necessary for each piece of equipment is 99% transferable, the parts just might be located in a different spot or there may be more or less bells and whistles with a different piece of equipment.

I am providing you with the safety exams I created for my Makerspace classes. You are welcome to use them directly as is or you can make a copy of the document and insert a picture of your own specific piece of equipment. I am also providing you with another cool thing we are using to keep track of our students as they move through our classes here at Ralph C. Mahar Regional High School. I decided to create a "Digital Passport" of sorts to keep track of which students have successfully completed the written and practical exams for each tool we use in either the Makerspace or Woodshop. This just started this year so it is a work in progress, but thus far it is working well. I have included a copy for you to view and possibly utilize.

Step 3: Introduce the One Board Chair Challenge to Your Students

Once the students have a solid understanding of each piece of equipment under their belts (I don't even think kids wear belts anymore) it is time to move on to introducing the goals of the newest project. As you know with any new project presented to a group of students, you really got to sell it! You may have mentioned earlier on that this was the project they were going to work on after they learned all of the necessary aspects of the equipment in the shop, but you will still need to really lay it on thick about what a unique opportunity this is and how the sky is the limit in regards to their design... all while using only one single board to make the entire thing.

Step 4: Students Design and Propose Their Ideas

For this particular project I teach my students some very basic skills surrounding sketching and scaling. Using 1/4" graph paper we talk about a 1:4 scale (where 1" on the graph paper is equal to 4" in the real world) and how we can use the graph paper to get at least a rough model of the design. We discuss drawing straight lines and creating annotated drawings so that I will be able to decipher their ideas and meanings even if they are not standing next to me (yet another important skill for any student to have). Before they put pencil to paper though they have to complete some basic research to determine what they want their chair to look like. Using the power of the internet they search through the myriad options of chair designs out there to determine a few styles / designs that appeal to them. From there they reflect on why those designs appeal to them and how they could complete a similar design using the constraints they are presented with; limited materials, limited skill, limited time, limited tools. You can see how this is all formatted in the document I provided for you at the start of this Instructable. As you can tell, the format follows the Engineering Design Process relatively tightly to encourage students to think both like a designer and an engineer throughout the entire process.

Step 5: Layout and Preparing for the First Cuts

Students use their drawings (both those on the 1/4" graph paper and those on blank computer paper) to begin laying out their designs on the provided board. Once they have successfully detailed their entire design and have created all the necessary adjustments in their drawings I meet with each individual / pair of students to discuss the validity of their ideas. Once they are given the go ahead by me they can pick out their board from the pile and get at it! I am the only educator in the Makerspace shop so it can be a bit trying at times bouncing between the woodshop, the makerspace shop, and the drawing / drafting area, but since we have spent so much time on tool safety and proper behavior in the classroom I am confident in my student's level of professionalism in the classroom... most of the time :)

I make sure to clearly explain to my students that they only get this one board to complete the project and that it is imperative that they measure twice (or ten times) and cut once. I jokingly say that our board stretcher is down and it doesn't look like we have the parts to repair it anytime soon.

Step 6: Managing the Project As an Educator

Being extremely organized is the most important aspect of this project and it does involve a fair amount of prep work prior to the project's start day. Ordering lumber, milling lumber, teaching power tool safety, tuning up tools, getting supplies, etc..., etc... can really add up for an already busy teaching schedule. Utilizing each and every moment to its fullest is an obvious necessity. As the project progresses it is imperative to give the students consistent formative feedback to help prevent any large issues developing with their project and to keep up the student morale (this can be a difficult project for students who have not had the opportunity to work with wood and power tools). Being consistent with your expectations from the onset is also extremely important. If you look at the document I provided for this project you can see that I delineated the project for both the student and the educator. This helps streamline the process and in a way, due to varying ability levels in the classroom, staggers the students / pairs so that some are still drawing while others are beginning their first cuts on the sliding compound miter saw. If you had all the students needing to use the same tool at the same time the project would become frustrating for everyone. This staggered, and somewhat independent approach to the project allows the students to utilize the entire space effectively but does result with you ping-ponging around the shop.

Step 7: Final Products From the One Board Chair Challenge

This was our first go at this project and I have to say that the final results were great overall. Most of the chairs met the challenge of being strong enough to hold my weight and being comfortable (at least somewhat). A few of the chairs really were impressive, especially given the constraints the students had. While building the chairs the students were highly motivated, entirely invested in the project, and truly seemed to enjoy the process. I am proud of what the produced and know that they have learned many important skills and techniques through the process. A quote I keep on my board at all times is "One Skill For Success" to help encourage my students to develop at least one key skill that could lead to employment opportunities in the future.

Step 8: Get Your Local Community Involved!

I decided that I wanted our staff and the other students to see the great work produced by the Mahar Makers so I set the chairs up in the library with a laser engraved name tag on each. I included a QR code to access a Google Form where they could vote for their top chairs in various categories (which chair appears to be the strongest, most comfortable, most unique in design, overall favorite). This added another layer to the entire project because it showed the students that their work wasn't just restricted to the classroom and that it could be shared with a broader community. You could, of course, go beyond the walls of your school and share the final results with the parents, guardians, and other community members in your district.

Step 9: Closing Thoughts and Student Reflections

Throughout the semester my students are required to update their Digital Portfolio to help further their reach and to share the great things they do in the class. The students included a section in their digital portfolio for the One Board Chair Challenge based on a rubric I provided them. They also received a grade based on the performance and quality of their chair. Having some level of summative assessment at the end of a long, multi-faceted project is important for both student and educator reflection. I enjoyed going through their portfolio submissions and was proud to see how closely their submissions mirrored an Instructable posting. As this project matures and the quality increases my plan is to have students submit some of their best designs to Instructables, but for now I must say I am proud of my students and very happy with their final results. I hope you consider taking on this unique project in your Makerspace or Woodshop and please do not hesitate to reach out to me with any questions you might have.

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