The Black Chair / ‘Y Gadair Ddu’

2nd December 2014

Drumlord were delighted to be commissioned by the Welsh Government to work withCardiffUniversityto produce a life-size 3D printed replica of the famous Bardic Chair, ‘Y Gadair Ddu’ (The Black Chair), as part of a series of events to commemorate the centenary of the start of the First World War.

The original chair was hand crafted in 1917 by Eugene Vanfleteren, a Belgian carpenter living in theUKas a refugee from his war torn homeland.  It was to be presented to the winner of the ‘Bardic Chair’ at the 1917 National Eisteddfod atBirkenheadPark.  The winner that year was Ellis Humphrey Evans, better known as Hedd Wyn, a poet killed in action at Passchendaele six weeks before the ‘Chairing of the Bard’ ceremony.  At the presentation the empty chair was draped in a black cloth and henceforth became known as y Gadair Ddu or the Black Chair.

The project began withCardiffUniversityreceiving a digital scan of the original chair and developing a 3D CAD file from the resulting data that could be built as a series of SLS models.  The first challenge was to divide the chair into sections for building in SLS.  Drumlord worked with a team of University technicians to devise a way of splitting the 3D file of the chair into sections that ensured the minimum disruption to the intricately carved patterns and features of the original chair while allowing for the finished SLS’s to be assembled into a structurally sound piece of furniture.

Once built, each part had to be assessed for dimensional accuracy and straightness and we then undertook a process of straightening all the parts that showed any sign of warping that occurred during the build.  These parts were heated at high temperatures in specially manufactured jigs and braced during the cooling process to bring them back into their correct shape.  After completing a trial assembly our craftsmen designed a hidden ‘threaded bar and bolt’ structure that could be drilled into the sections of the chair to allow for each part to be assembled securely.  It was this steel skeleton that enabled us to knit together the SLS sections and ensure that, once fully assembled, the finished chair was as solid and stable a structure as possible while keeping the steelwork hidden from view.

The trial assembly also revealed where there were gaps in the SLS joints and misaligned patterns.  Our craftsmen used a range of traditional model making techniques to fill and blend all jointed areas to ensuring the continuity of the intricate and complex patterns within the original carvings.  Once the blending and finishing was complete the chair was primed and spray painted the clients’ chosen colour. 

This was a wonderful project to work on and allowed us to show how the very latest technologies can be combined with already well established, traditional techniques to deliver top quality models.  The original chair is very much a part of the cultural history ofWalesand the reproduction is a reverential nod to a rich and important past while also looking firmly at the future.

Y Gadair Ddu will soon be embarking on an extended tour of theUKand Europe and will appear at many events that commemorate the First World War before taking up its residency at St. Fagans National History Museum in Cardiff.

The Black Chair

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