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Buying an Office Chair

Buying an Office Chair

Choosing an office chair.

Many of us will spend more time in our office chair than on our sofa’s, in our cars, or, unfortunately, in our beds. After nearly 20 years selling office chairs, here is some basic information and advice on evaluating and choosing a good chair.

[(tl;dr) Get one with a molded foam seat, adjustable mechanism, and with a 5 year or greater warranty.]

Parts of a chair: A standard office chair, task chair, computer chair, or whatever you want to call it, is made up of 5 primary components: Seat, Back, Mechanism, Cylinder, and a Base.

  • Seat: This is possibly the most important part of the chair since it is what you spend the most time interacting with (and by interacting, I mean your rear-end is touching it). The most important parts to the seat (to you), is the foam (*or mesh).  
  • Back: Probably the second most important part, since a lot of the time, the other part of your body that interacts with the chair is going to be your back pressing against the back of the chair. Be it mesh or foam/fabric, here it is fit that makes the most difference to what is comfortable.
  • Mechanism: This is the part under the chair with the knobs, levers, dials, or other dealy-bobs that control the functions of the chair, such as: tilt, tilt lock, seat depth, back angle, etc. The mechanism is what allows a chair to do different things for one user (e.g. tilt back in the chair) and/or allow the same chair adjust to fit multiple different people.
  • Cylinder: Why separate the cylinder (the pneumatic part that makes the chair go up and down) from other small parts? Because it is the part that fails first. And the first thing a cheap chair skimps on.
  • Base: Not very exciting, but is the part that consists of the (usually) 5-star plastic or metal base and casters.

You get what you pay for (mostly). What a chair costs to manufacture is divided up between the six parts listed above, along with labor, overhead, shipping, etc. There are thousands of chairs on the market and it is a very competitive landscape, which is good for you because it means everyone is looking to make a better product that costs less. So, what to look for in each part?

  • Seat: Good foam cost money. A cheap chair has cheap cut-foam. It is low density and wears out very quickly resulting in your behind essentially sitting on the plywood underside of the seat - not very comfortable. The quality of the foam is the #1 thing that makes a chair last longer. I know this because I have sold pre-owned chairs for 20 years, and a cheap chair is shot after a year of use and unsellable on the used market whereas a high-quality chair’s seat might be perfectly serviceable after 5 years of being sat in full-time. Molded Foam is typicall higher-quality and lasts longer.
  • Fabric is less important here because often the foam wears out before fabric, but decent quality fabric is also something that costs money and no cheap chair has it.
  • Back: Probably the second most important part, since a lot of the time, the other part of your body that interacts with the chair is going to be your back pressing against the back of the chair. Be it mesh or foam/fabric, here it is fit that makes the most difference to what is comfortable.
  • Mechanism: Cheap mechanisms either do very little, or break when trying to do too much. A good quality synchro-tilt mechanism (sometimes with seat depth) is a standard go-to mechanism.
  • Arms: Most task chairs have arms that go up and down and adjust in width. They also may swivel, pivot, and adjust in a variety of other ways. To be honest, most arms function fine, and unless there is a specific need, are not a distinguishing factor.
  • Cylinder: Better chair should have a better cylinder. Check the warranty on the cylinder specifically if you don’t want to worry about it breaking after a year.
  • The Base: Really any base is fine.

So what chair to buy? One that is comfortable to you! I always say that buying a chair is like buying a pair of shoes, it is hard to say what will fit and feel good. But in general:

Adjustments: One that has more adjustments in the mechanism will be more likely to fit more people. This is why larger companies buy chairs with many adjustments (which are typically more expensive) as it has the best chance of working for a majority of the users. However, if you are just buying a chair for yourself, you might not need additional adjustments (like seat depth adjustment – if the seat fits as-is).

Seat: Sometimes higher quality foam sits a little firmer than softer, lower quality foam. So while you want your rear-end to be happy, realize that the softer the sit is up front, might mean it will wear out sooner – more true for a less expensive chair.

Warranty: The warranty offered by the manufacturer does say a lot about the overall quality of the chair. A basic imported chair may have a 1, 3, or 5 year warranty (you want one that has at least 5 years). And a domestically made chair should have a 10 year or lifetime warranty.

All in all, spending $200-$500 should get you a good quality chair. Chairs prices much less than that and you will be skimping on some key parts. Spending more might get you some cool features or a specific aesthetic, but probably not much more in overall quality. But putting your butt in the chair, and testing it out, is the best way to know if a chair will work for you! To that end, Ducky's offers demo chairs to loan for most of our chairs if you want to try before you buy!