My Approach at a Modern Windsor Chair

The Thought of Making a Chair a couple years ago was out of the picture, but soon it became a reality. I am writing this blog so that anyone reading, beginner or not gets an overview of how I approached my first chairs. Also I hope that this blog might describe or give confidence on how simple it can be to make chairs when you have the right answer to the common question in chair making (Such as “what material can I use” ) written right here. I first got inspired into chair making by reading the “Anarchist Design Book” from Lost Art Press, where Christopher Schwarz wrote about the Staked Chair Build. (I believe a lot of woodworkers have). What a Great Project.

So after reading the book, and the Staked Chair Chapter a couple of times I really wanted to make a chair. It was out of question for me not to try, I had to at least give it a shot.

My First fear was, will I be able to find material. I live in southern Alberta Canada, where it’s very hard to find Air dried or green wood, without ordering. Especially the crest, how will I approach it? Steam Bend? Laminate bend? Can I find the right wood to bend it or not. What is the right wood to Use? In the beginning not knowing these questions might make it seem difficult. Then after reading some books, watching videos and doing some research, I finally made up my mind. I made a bending form as described in the anarchist design book, and proceeded with laminating. I used Ash and re sawed Three 1/4″ strips, planed them and laminated them. For me it worked great. A Little messy but it worked for the first three staked chairs I made.

So the other question I had was, What tools do I need that I might not have? Again Christopher Schwarz described this all in his book, and to me the tool list seemed pretty fair and available. Since I didn’t dive into chair making right away I already had most of the tools. I right away ordered the reamer and matching tapered tenon cutter from lee valley. The rest of the tools I had for this project.

The Staked chair seemed pretty simple since I did not need a lathe or any specialty tools other then the tapered reamer and tenon cutter.

There is obviously a lot of different tools to use in chair making depending on the approach. And a lot of different ways of making chairs too. Its like sharpening . Many woodworkers use different stones with same results or similar results. But the end result will still end up with a sharp tool. I used Christopher Schwarz’s approach of making a simple staked chair from the book and went of from there.

Lets skip the staked chair though and go straight to my modern version of a Windsor Chair.

Since my staked chair build, I acquired a lathe and some more tools . Brad point bits for stretchers, wood owl auger bits that I like to use on the spindle deck, extensions for the drill to drill stretchers mortises, I made those myself, since I couldn’t find the right one to buy.

First Material. Green or air dried wood is not an option for me here in dry Alberta (unless spending a fortune). So I went to my local wood supplier, and picked out some lumber. 8/4″ Ash kiln dried for the legs (as straight grained as I could get), 8/4″ (10″ wide) Poplar or pine for the seat. The seat i laminated. I used 4/4″ Ash for the spindles .

For the Undercarriage of the chair: I turned all the legs, stretchers, and spindles on the lathe. The time it would take me to shave the spindles down with a draw knife or spoke shave was unreasonable with kiln dried lumber. Yes chairs look amazing when the spindles can be shaved thinner with green wood since its tougher but that wasn’t a choice I had in the moment. One day I’ll have to take a class with Peter Galbert, or Curtis Buchanan Haha.

When it came to style of turnings, I just made the dimensions and style up to my liking, by looking at different chairs online, in books and what my skills allowed me to make. As for the rough dimensions the legs are 1 3/4″ at the thickest by 20″ long. Spindles are 3/4″- 7/8″ at the thickest part and 18″ long that includes the two tenons going into the spindle deck and crest.

For the Seat I made a template out of some MDF and drew the sight lines on. Drilled some holes so I can use the template whenever needed and just awl the location. For the template dimensions, there are none that I went of off. I took a look at some Windsor chairs and just drew the shape on a piece of MDF. It took me a while to make it look good to my liking and big enough for a butt to fit; and for it to be able to become comfortable. Since everyone has chairs in the house and since I made the Staked chairs before, it was easier to figure out the rough dimensions by just taking rough measurements from chairs in the house and examples online. In the beginning it wasn’t easy to make it look good since traditional Windsors have more of a curve when the spindle deck meet the sides. I wasn’t able to make an arm rest or bend a balloon back, so I went with the style that’s seen in the picture below.

There is always credit to give, and mine goes to Christopher Schwarz because he gave me a foundation to build from. Yes, I also consumed lots of videos online from other chair makers.

The seat on this picture is pine, and I used it on the newest chair I made

As for the Seat shape, that is were most of the fun was for me. Getting to use the draw knife, Scorp, spoke shaves etc. Here is my opinion for beginners, because I had the same question on carving kiln dried wood for seats. Should I use Power tools to carve the seat? Maybe, but hand tools are not bad at all and it works quite well using them on kiln dried poplar or Pine.I have tried both power tools and hand tool carving on seats and while power carving is faster on bigger items, it feels more rewarding with hand tools. Yes air dried wood would be ideal, but don’t think about how hard it will be to shape a seat by hand when its kiln dried.It works. Especially if its pine, it is quite easy and fun. Chair seats are supposed to be dry anyway.

This time though on the Windsor chair I wanted to steam bend the crests, so I ordered some air dried ash from eastern Canada. The steam bending worked very well. I made some bending forms, a simple plywood steam box and a Wagner wallpaper steamer that I got from home depot. (See pictures Below). But again if steam bending doesn’t work out for someone, my advice would be to not quit and just laminate bend if that works. It worked for my first chair.

As for drilling the stretcher, the more I drilled the more I became comfortable. Not if you wait a month or two to make another chair you just have to face the same thing again. At least I do. Its difficult to drill a whole into a leg, thinking about not messing up when the chair is almost done. That’s why jigs are good.

I used Hide glue as recommended by many when it came to the assembly and it made it so much easier. Since then I try and use hide glue on all my woodworking assemblies since it doesn’t give me white hair anymore only grey. I’m not going to dive into how I assembled the chair, because if you are a beginner, if you have come this far into the chair build you probably have the assembly figured out.

One last note, I am not a professional chair maker, I have only made about ten chairs and a bench, so the information in this blog is not a how to, more so a how I made a chair .

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