Anatomy Of An Office Chair Part 2: The All Important Seat

This week we move on to the heart of any office chair, the seat. It's easy to think that the seat doesn't matter too much as long as it's comfortable. Nonetheless there is a lot more to office chair seats than it may seem. The chair may have loads of levers attached to it, however if those controls don't pull the right strings they won't be of much use.

It's not the levers that matter it's what they control and the way the seat operates that is important.

Seat functions
At first glance the seat of an office chair appears to be the place to park your butt while you work. While this is true there is a lot more to it than this. There are 2 functions that are critical if you are going to stay comfortable for any length of time.

Let's dive into them now.

Seat depth adjustment
When you sit for prolonged periods you may well find you suffer discomfort in your legs. One of the main reasons this happens is because the depth of the seat is wrong for the length of you legs.

seat slide

Seat Depth Adjuster on HAG 4400 Chair

So what results is your legs aren't properly supported and muscles get overloaded leading to pain.

A good seat will include a means of adjusting the depth to suit your legs.

This is usually done with a lever allowing the seat to slide forwards or backwards to set it to the correct depth for your comfort.

On some chairs the back moves in and out, overall it achieves the same result.

That's one problem solved, here's the next one to fix.

Seat tension adjustment
We all need to relax and recline in our task chair from time to time. Imagine if you just sat hunched over your work all day and couldn't recline, it would be a nightmare wouldn't it?

tension knob

Tension Controller On HAG H09 Chair

Nearly all office chairs recline, however it's only useful if it's easy to use.

Humans vary a lot in size and weight. Consequently when you recline in your chair it needs to be tuned to your weight so you can do so smoothly.

This is achieved by an under seat adjuster, usually a knob set centrally at the front. Turning it one way increases the amount of pressure required to recline easily. And the opposite way to decrease the pressure needed.

There is nothing worse than constantly fighting with your chair when you want to lean back. With a tension adjuster your problem is over and it's a one off thing too. Set it and forget it.

And some manufacturers have even automated these problems.

Self adjusting seats
Quite a few chairs now are designed to automate these settings.

Quite simply as you sit in the chair it senses your size and weight and automatically compensates without the need for any manual adjustment.

As technology improves more and more seats will come with useful like this.

So that's taken care of the critical functions you need, lets turn to the finishes office seats come in.

Seat upholstery
More often than not the seat will be finished in either fabric, leather, vinyl or mesh. In the case of the first 3 they can all be applied to the same basic make up which usually comprises a foam core supported on either a wood or plastic under frame. In the case of mesh it doesn't have these components and is usually self supporting being stretched over an outer plastic frame.

Let's consider each finish in a little more detail.

Fabric upholstery
This is the commonest finish and comes in a huge range of colors and qualities. It's always a good idea to check how hard wearing a material is and this is usually expressed as the rub count. The higher the number the better.

Leather upholstery
Leather varies hugely in quality. So when you see a leather chair for $50 be assured the leather will be of very low quality. If you want a good leather you should look for a hide finish. This is premium leather and doesn't come cheap, expect a 3 figure on cost for the best ones.

Vinyl upholstery
This is useful for where you have a finish that may get dirty quickly and can be easily wiped clean. It's also used as faux leather on many cheap chairs.

Mesh upholstery
The great thing with mesh is it's breathable and allows good air circulation. This is great for those hot sweaty summer days. There is also a wide ranging difference in the quality and comfort of mesh upholstery. Poor quality ones should be avoided as they don't support you properly and just sag as you sit on them.

Top quality mesh is often built up in multiple layers in a 3d structure to ensure your body is properly supported.

Selecting the right upholstery for your needs will come down to personal preference and available budget.

Here's a quick summary of what we've covered.


  • The functions on an office chair seat are critical for good comfort
  • Seat depth needs to be adjustable to fit your legs
  • Seat tension needs to be easily changed to match your weight
  • Some chairs adjust automatically
  • Upholstery may come in fabric, leather, vinyl or mesh

In the next post we move on to chair arms and what you need to look for and avoid.


How A Black Friday Office Chair Deal Turns Into A Bad Dream: The Illusion Of Apparent Quality

Picture this, it’s Thursday night the Thanksgiving meal was great but you’ve eaten far too much and you're dozing in front of the TV. You start drifting off to sleep and before you know it you're dreaming about all those Black Friday bargains.

You're wandering around this giant big box retailer taking in all these irresistible offers and as you turn the corner into the next aisle, there it is! A beautiful gleaming office chair, in black leather too and the chrome base glistens invitingly at you.

“Man this looks great.” you say, so you take a seat in it, “Wow this is really comfortable.” you tell yourself as you slowly sink into its welcoming arms and gently recline back.

You pull a few of the levers just to see what they do and you start thinking about your own computer chair and all the pain and discomfort it’s been giving you lately. This is just so much better you reason and the price is a steal at only $99.99, so you buy it.

Then this dream of an office chair takes a turn for the worse, in fact it ends up being a complete nightmare. It’s 2 months on and you still haven’t found a really comfortable setting as you continue to experiment with all those levers.

You're thinking it would help if there was an instruction sheet telling you what they all do. And as you pull the rear lever on the right it throws you right back in the chair again and you lose all your settings, damn!

And now you start thinking and you realize this new chair is no more comfortable than the old one. It seemed really comfortable when you first tried it on Black Friday and yet it’s all gone lumpy and hard now. Even the leather has lost its luster and is becoming dull and brittle and you begin to regret ever setting eyes on it.

Suddenly you wake up as some old movie is blaring out and you realize you fell asleep and better get to bed. And you're real glad the new office chair was just a bad dream and you vow to resist any shiny new seats when you're out shopping tomorrow.

Unfortunately many will make the mistakes our Thanksgiving dreamer did, only for real. Here's why these deals are too good to be true.

Any chair around the $100 mark will always be based on apparent quality and not true quality. What is apparent quality? It’s making all the exterior parts look top dollar, so you get the leather upholstery, the glossy chromed base and an array of adjustment levers.

And so, it’s the bits you don’t see that where all the corners get cut. The cheap crappy mechanism based on 25 year old technology and made from low grade steel. The padding usually made from packing grade foam or even bulked up with clay to make it seem dense, little wonder it soon goes as flat as pancake.

The only thing on the seller’s mind is price and how they can keep the cost of the product down, kind of scary when you figure out after the retailer’s cut less than half the chair’s cost went into the parts. And that’s not allowing for any labor costs – as the old saying goes “if it seems too good to be true then it probably is.”

So, how can you avoid buying another of these bad dream seating disasters?

It’s crucial to make sure any office seat includes 5 vital functions, to enable you to get it properly adjusted for your needs and support, you can read all about them here.

Don’t be fooled into thinking because the label says it’s an ergonomic office chair it must be fit for purpose. The term ergonomic when related to office chairs has no exact definition, it merely becomes the hype used to sell you an inferior product when placed in the hands of less scrupulous marketing men.

Always check the warranty, anything less than 2 years almost certainly means it’s a poor quality chair. After all, if you make a product the warranty represents the confidence you have in the product and you are hardly likely to offer a multi-year guarantee if you know that certain parts will only last 12 months.

Let the guarantee period act as an indicator of the likely life span of the chair, Humanscale offers 15 year warranty on its seating, there's confidence for you.

Realize you cannot be sure a chair will be comfortable by sitting in it for a few minutes in a warehouse or showroom and pulling a couple of levers. To truly know if it is right for you will take days as you fine tune and alter settings to suit you, it’s a personal thing.

Insist on a decent return period whether you buy from a retailer or through an online store, typically look for 30 days because if it isn't working for you after a month you will need to return it.

Lastly, if the thought of spending more than $100 on a new chair is hard to accept think about how long you spend in one each day. Chances are it’s not far off the time you spend in your bed and I bet you spent more than a $100 on that.

And so, look on it as an investment in your health, comfort and productivity and avoid those bad dream chairs. Here's a quick summary of some quality office chairs which will serve you for many years to come.


Padding Doesn’t Make An Office Chair Ergonomic

Remember back in school when you had to write an essay usually it had to be a minimum number of words.

You would sit there thinking how am I going to write that much on this subject? And then after a while you would resort to padding and stuff it full of unnecessarily long sentences and repeat things to get the word count up and make it look good.

Reality was your teacher saw straight through it and you were in trouble for stuffing it full of useless content and told it was all padding.

Guess what a lot of office chairs are just the same, you see them all the time in the discount office supplies stores, great puffed up padded low grade foam and usually with very poor quality leather upholstery. And yet as you try it out sinking into that heap of foam it feels like it's really comfortable.

And for the first 10 or 15 minutes it probably is comfortable, it is only after you have been sitting in it for a couple of hours comes the realization it's not comfortable at all.

Why is this? It's because there is no real structural support it's a bit like sitting on a giant sponge, it just moves to wherever your body weight is forcing it. Before you know it your body has adapted a most unhealthy posture as your lower back rounds like a medicine ball and the discs in your spine start bulging into a really unhealthy shape resulting in back pain.

It only gets worse because in time what generally happens is the low quality foam flattens out with repeated use and your once fluffed up padding becomes more like sitting on a rock.

There is nothing wrong with padding on an office seat as long as it is of good quality and well designed. There is a world of difference between low grade packing type foam rubber and high quality polyurethane foam carefully sculpted to follow body contours and of high density designed to retain its shape for years. This is why companies like Humanscale are able to offer a 15 year warranty on its Freedom chair.

So don't get taken in by a so called ergonomic computer chair with loads of padding as chances are the initial comfort it gives will rapidly disappear.


Are Office Chairs And Loan Cars Like 2 Peas In A Pod?

Recently my car had to go in to the local auto repair shop for a few days and so they arranged a loan car for me while the work was done.

I arranged to swap cars over Sunday evening to save time and I get to the repair shop early evening in the dark and it's raining when I pick up the keys and get in the loaner.

Turn the ignition key zip, nada, nothing not a spark of life, so I double check it's not in gear and all the usual things, still not a thing. In the end I go and knock up the owner, turns out you have to put your foot on the brake to get it to work – doh!

Next, where are the widow wipers, found them pretty quick and then there's the back screen wiper this takes a bit longer. Not surprisingly there is no gas in the tank so I head off to fill up, cue drama number two how to unlock the filler cap cover, sorted it eventually turns out you need to press the key fob twice to release it. It was only after a day or so and reading the handbook I got everything figured out.

And it strikes me how similar it is with office chairs whether inherited or new.

Here's a recent tweet from Twitter I saw:

“Guy just delivered my new office chair and had to train me on how to use it. I wish I was kidding.”

It's like the car isn't it? We think we know how to drive them, there all the same aren't they?

I've lost count of the times I've seen comments like – “only had the chair 3 years and I finally found out how to make it recline.” Or “help, how do I adjust the height on my office chair” etc.

When you think about how long you spend every day in your office seat it's surely pretty important to have it set up properly for your personal use.

It's not surprising people suffer so much back pain and discomfort from their chairs, going back to the car scenario you know what it is like when you get in your car after it's been in for repair and the guy road testing is a lot bigger or smaller than you, chances are you won't drive it a yard until you get the driving position readjusted back to your settings.

So, it's worth taking a little time to check your chair is set up properly for you, do you know what all the adjustments control? If you are unsure and know the make and model visit their website and download details on how adjust it properly.

You might just find you will be a whole lot more comfortable afterwards.


Office Chair Or Bed Which Do You Spend More Time In?

Depending on how much sleep you need there is a good chance you may be spending more time in your office chair than your bed. Certainly, this could be the case during the week maybe not so at the weekend.

Nonetheless it's likely the amount of time you spend in one or other is fairly similar, either way it is a lot of time to be sitting and surely it makes to invest in a quality office chair to maximize comfort, health and productivity.

Think about it for a moment and ask yourself what did you spend more on your office chair or your bed? Chances are it was your bed and yet people frequently gripe at spending more than $100 on an office seat yet I bet their bed cost well over this.

When you are putting in serious hours doing office work you absolutely owe it to yourself to ensure you have a decent chair, one designed to give you proper support and help you keep comfortable during those long work hours.

And once you buy a good one it will last as long as your bed and you won't find yourself driving down to the discount office supplies store for another of those $70 close out clunkers every 18 months.

Here's a useful article to make sure you get the right features and functions on an office chair and there is a video too showing you what really matters.


The Comments People Actually Made About Their Office Chair

In this second post on what people really think about their office chair it's time to look at what the different categories of people felt.

It wasn't all that surprisingy New Chair was the biggest category, those lucky enough to get a new chair often relished in bragging rights and why not? A good number of people funded their own chair purchase, whereas others had the luxury of a new office chair supplied by their employer.

Generally, the comments were positive –

  • “my butt is not so sore”
  • “really enjoying new chair”
  • “new office chair is worth every dollar I paid”

Next, came those seeking advice on where to buy a good office chair from, typical of these comments were –

  • “where can I buy a good office chair?”
  • “needing to find a comfortable office chair that doesn't break the bank”
  • “looking for a real office chair”

Predictably pain weighed in as the next most common topic, clearly there are loads of people suffering discomfort and sitting in dire office seats as can be seen by some of the comments –

  • “oh my back”
  • “my back is killing me”
  • “my back pain is worse this morning”
  • “I'm getting pain again in my neck”

A good number of posters confirmed they were going to get a new chair, with quite a lot of people actively looking for a new office chair and intending to buy one that day.

Perhaps it wasn't altogether surprisingly most talked of calling in at IKEA, Office Max, Costco or checking Craigslist with the emphasis on getting a bargain or buying on looks rather than selecting a quality product.

In the last category came Ball Chair enthusiasts who had abandoned the mindset of a conventional office chair altogether and resolved to make a fundamental change to their style of office seat, most were positive in their comments –

  • “stability ball is much more comfy”
  • “fitness ball…is working well”

In the final part of this post I'll offer my analysis on these findings, watch out for this next week.

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