Windsor Chair

Inshave Tools

The top of a Windsor chair seat is traditionally sculpted by hand. With shaping tools like the spokeshave, inshave, and drawknife, it is possible to customize the seat for its user.

The Windsor chair is a study in contrasts. Originally designed as an artless furnishing, it is now considered to be a sophisticated example of modern chair making. The simple elements of a Windsor—the sculpted seat and the hand-shaped legs, stretchers, arm posts, and spindles—belie the precise engineering required to assemble it. And despite its relatively lightweight components, the Windsor chair is very strong and durable.

First made in rural southern England, Windsor chairs came to North America in the mid-18th Century. Perhaps as a result of its practical design and unsophisticated construction, the style quickly flourished with America's pioneer homesteaders. The foundation of all Windsor chairs—whether the sack-back version featured in this chapter, the comb-back with its high backrest, or the continuous-arm type—is the solidwood seat. Traditionally cut from a "green" (or freshly felled) log, the Windsor's seat represented an important innovation in chair making. In earlier styles, the back of the chair was an extension of the legs. This meant that the rear legs had to be bent to provide comfortable seating and were attached to the seat frame with relatively complex joinery.

The legs of a Windsor chair are not bent. Instead, the back and leg assemblies are independent, anchored separately to

The top of a Windsor chair seat is traditionally sculpted by hand. With shaping tools like the spokeshave, inshave, and drawknife, it is possible to customize the seat for its user.

the seat at whatever angles suit its user. All of the chair's parts are joined with round mortise-and-tenons—a fairly simple joint to produce. Some woodworkers contend that one of the benefits of making a Windsor chair with green lumber is that you can take advantage of the hygroscopic, or moisture-absorbing character of wood. By drying the leg tenons prior to assembly and fitting them into "wet" mortises in the seat, a snug joint will become even tighter. Once the joint is assembled, the tenon will absorb moisture from the wood surrounding the mortise, swelling the tenon and shrinking the mortise. Other chair makers choose instead to use seasoned wood for the seat, which will be less likely to crack as it dries, and reinforce the joinery in other ways. The joints in the chair featured in this chapter are glued and many of them— such as the leg-to-seat joints—are further strengthened by wedges inserted in kerfs cut in the end of the tenons.

A final advantage of building a Windsor chair is that the entire process can be done with hand tools. Although the legs and stretchers can be turned on a lathe (page 89), they can also be shaped—along with the spindles—using a drawknife (page 76) and a shop-built shaving horse (page 78). The seat can be cut with a bowsaw (page 84), then shaved and adzed to its finished shape.

The sack-back Windsor chair shown at left was finished with milk paint, a traditional finish for American Country furniture. Available in powdered form and mixed with water to a paint-like consistency, milk paint reflects the simplicity of the Windsor chair; it is best applied by brush.

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How To Sell Furniture

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