Updated: Sep 23, 2020
Bog chair / star gazer / Viking chair / birth chair
These are four different names used for chairs that all have a very simple design in common.
The bog chair is a chair designed to be used on the soft, supple ground of bogs. In order for the legs not to sink into the soft wetland, a simple design was invented with the aim of dividing the weight evenly over a larger surface
There are 2 different designs.
The first one is based on a mortice and tenon connection where the seat is fitted through a hole in the upright back support. This is the more stable option preventing the chair from accidentally coming apart.
The second model is referred to as half joints where both pieces have a gap equating to half the total width which can then slot into one another. This design is more simple to produce but less stable when used.
A Brief History
The bog chair was used by peat cutters who spent several months a year in the boglands cutting and drying peat during the summer. Here originated the commonly used name 'bog chair.'
Because these chairs were used so frequently on the moist grounds of the bogs, they didn't have a very long life expectancy and over time they were used less and less. As a result, it is rather difficult to find bog chairs nowadays.
Some can still be located in the north of The Netherlands in a region which covered the old Frisian and Anglo Saxon territories.
The Netherlands to Belgium
In his book; Verdwenen venen: Een onderzoek naar de ligging en exploitatie van thans verdwene venen in het gebied tussen Antwerpen, Turnhout, Geertruidenberg en Willemstad, 1250-1750
Literally translated: Lost veins: An investigation into the location and exploitation of now-vanished bogs in the area between Antwerp, Turnhout, Geertruidenberg and Willemstad, 1250-1750)
Dutch historical geographer K.A.H.W. Leenders explores the history of the profession of industrialised peat cutting against the backdrop of the mid 13th century.
With this in mind, it could be argued that because these people were the main users of bog chairs and due to the very simple design of the chairs themselves, it is perfectly acceptable for us to assume they were used throughout the entirety of this era.
Interestingly, my recent survey of over 10,000 experienced woodworkers who were asked to date the chairs based on their structure in accordance to any knowledge they might have about the historical usage of wood connections over the centuries, yeilded the following results:
0% of the experienced woodworkers estimated the chairs age to be under 1000 years old.
32% rated them to be between 1000-2000 years old
68% believe the chairs to be over 2000 years old.
Although the usage of these chairs gradually decreased in the Netherlands over time, some farmers (known in Dutch as Boeren) who moved to South Africa, took the chairs with them. And it was there that the chair survived the passage of time, until it’s rediscovery in the early twentieth century.
By this point, the design found in South Africa naturally had some adaptions to better suit the harder grounds there. The tenon sticking through the mortice was less wide and the Board with the mortice formed a discontinued bottom line to create a three point contact with the ground instead of the two wide contact points. This created more stability on harder surfaces.
As the purpose of the chair has changed over the years, so did it's name.
In parts of Africa we also find this chair going under the name Birth chair.
However, it is worth noting that it is so far unclear whether these birth chairs originated from the european bog chair or if they had their own origin. Due to the clever yet simple design of the chair is very possible that these chairs were tried and discovered independently in other parts of the world.
The name Viking chair is the latest name often used for these chairs.
Although we can not prove that the Vikings actually had these chairs, they were in fact famous for their longhouses which were mainly build with mortice and tenon connections. So, the chance that they came up with these chairs at some point is extremely likely. But the name Viking chair was most likely added to the chair to make it more sellable.
In my opinion, the simple fact that these chairs have such longevity and appeal and have crossed centuaries and continents with only mild adaptions is evident of their design ingenuity. But most importantly of all, how can we leave out the simple fact of how incredibly comfortable they are? As they tilt the sitter to an angle that is restful for both spine and neck, once you have tried one you it would not be surprising if they were made a permanent fixture in your home, garden or campsite.