Scapa Crafts

Traditional Orkney Chairs

Our speciality!

 Driftwood chairs are the most authentic traditional Orkney Chairs and are made just like the old original chairs would have been in days gone by. This was important to Jackie:

"I choose to make driftwood chairs as this is how the chairs were originally made. In the olden days folk would comb the shores for timber washed up or from shipwrecks as Orkney has very few trees.  Such wood was in great demand for fencing, fuel, and of course, for chairs.  Most folk working the land were good with their hands and most families, or certainly every community, would have someone who would make things and do repairs.  A chair would be no difficult task to them and the owners would be pleased with a chair which kept out the draughts and was comfy. The Orkney chairs were simply made with whatever wood was found and often lots of smaller pieces would be cobbled together."

This is a far cry for the time and care Ian devotes to making a driftwood chair today:

"Every piece of driftwood is different.  Some is quite hard, some is very soft white wood but it's unpredictable.  Sometimes I'll spend hours working out how to get the pieces I need only to find the wood splits when I cut it more finely.  Driftwood chairs can take up to 11 hours longer for me to craft than a chair made of wood which hasn't been in the sea!"

But it's worth it...  in February 2013 a huge driftwood log was recovered from Sandwick in South Ronaldsay.  It gave four magnificent chairs...

The wood from the huge driftwood log was reserved and bought long before the chairs were made.  The chairs went to owners in Orkney, Scotland and England.

Driftwood chairs are beautiful works of art and a prized possession for the home.   The type of wood varies and can be red or white in colour.  The wood for the chairs above was tested by dendrochronologist, Dr Willy Tegel, www.dendro.de and found to be Douglas Fir.  Various types of pine, which is much whiter in colour, can also be recovered from the shore.  Where the driftwood is relatively hard and deep in colour, as above, we recommend a natural oil finish.  Where the wood is soft or white in colour the honey finish is a good option - White Driftwood below.

Owning a Driftwood Chair

"Driftwood chairs have a richness and character all of their own.’ Jackie.

If you would like your own Driftwood Orkney Chair please get in touch with us.  We don't always have driftwood available but are always on the look out for it!  If we don't have any when you order we will put you on a waiting list.  However, normally we have a small but steady supply. 

Sourcing our driftwood

Driftwood planksDriftwood planks & straw

The last logs have all come from Orkney's most southern island, South Ronaldsay.  Here the Atlantic Ocean occasionally washes up logs.  They are nearly always a type of pine or fir from Norway or North America.  Jackie has various people in Orkney on the look out for good logs for Scapa Crafts Orkney Chairs!

Working with driftwood requires special care compared to the hardwoods such as oak, sapele or walnut as Ian notes: “It needs to be sawn up, properly dried, then you choose only the best pieces for the chair, we don’t use any wood which has been damaged by the sea, seaworms or sea beetles.  You also don’t want any big knots as they would weaken the strength of the chair. It could be years in the sea.  When you cut saw it open you can smell the sea, quite salty.’

Scapa Crafts were delighted when three excellent logs were found on the west coast of South Ronaldsay in January 2013.  As Jackie says, "Every driftwood log is an expedition and an excitement and this was no exception!"  Jackie's granddaughter Nicola's photos below tell the story of the huge red driftwood log...

 

Recovering the huge red driftwood log...

 Moving if off the beach and up the cliff...

Home, stacked then planked ready to make chairs.

 October 2013 Smiles all round as the most beautiful quartet of chairs is completed from the Red Driftwood Log.

The same beach also provided three white, smaller, thinner driftwood logs...

 

"We had been told there was a very big log on the west coast of South Ronaldsay with a thin one near it in the same cove along with another long, slim log on the east coast shore which is more unusual.  We had a tremendously high wind in the third week of January and set off to take a look the day after, thinking we might be too late and the thin logs could have been washed away.  We tried the west coast first where the full moon and west gale force wind would have been right in the cove.  The local farmer told us he'd seen the waves come over the top of the low cliff so we weren't too hopeful.  To our amazement there were not only two logs but three!  The sea had taken in another one and totally changed the position of the other two.  The great big log had been moved over from above the high tide mark to over 300ft along the beach and was lying below the tide line.  It was soaking wet and a deep red colour whereas before it had been bone dry and white.  It took four of us to push it up the beach a bit.

We returned a couple of days later with a chainsaw, reinforcements and a tractor.  It was amazing easy really, we got her cut into three big pieces and the tractor took her over the cliffs. The two thin logs we just needed to half."

We weren't so lucky with the log on the east side, it was gone.  We thought the tide must have taken it away again but we later found out it had already been salvaged for firewood. So that bit wouldn't be made into an Orkney Chair!" 

Chairs from White Driftwood Logs 

We also found some whitewood logs at the same beach as the red driftwood log and made this chair.  It had a pink hue when made which gave stunning marking in the graining when the honey finish was applied.

                                                      

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