Building a Windsor chair had been on my list of things I've wanted to do for many years. I've always loved the form from the first time I ever saw a sack back Windsor and have since come to develop an affinity for many other styles; the comb back and the continuous arm, as well as the less conventional, like the writing arm chair and the Windsor fan chair.
After considering taking classes at Mike Dunbar's Windsor Chair Institute in Maine (too far away and too much of a "chair factory" type setting for me) and one of Elia Bizzarri's classes at Roy's place (the dates just never lined up for me) I got the nerve to approach Charles Boland of Storybook Joinery when he was demonstrating at the Mount Vernon Colonial Craft Fair about taking one of his classes. Well, a couple more years went by and in that time I got to know Charles a little better from seeing him at other colonial market fairs and through the new Chesapeake chapter of the Society of American Period Furniture Makers (SAPFM). We developed a bit of a friendship and between his knowledge of Windsor chairs and learning how much he researched and knew about the history of Windsors and history in general, I decided that he was the teacher for me. It was time to try to set a date for a class and make this happen.
We decided on the second week of February, 2014 for a sack back chair class in Charles' beautiful shop in Springfield, WV. I was so excited. I'd check in with Charles once a week or so to let him know how much I was looking forward to it and to just keep in touch. Then, on the morning of January 7th, after sending Charles an e-mail the night before, once again expressing my excitement of the quickly approaching class, I got an e-mail back from Charles saying he needed to talk to me, could he call. Well, it wasn't a good phone call. In the early morning hours of the 7th, a very large truck lost control on icy road conditions and plowed into Charles' shop, knocking it 3 feet off the foundation and doing extensive damage. I was heartbroken about the prospects of my class being cancelled, but felt even worse obviously for Charles losing his shop like that. Building and selling Windsor chairs and fine period furniture is Charles' livelihood and now suddenly he had no place to work. Not surprisingly I got an e-mail two days later saying that he had tried to find other accommodations where he could teach my class, but to no avail. I was extremely disappointed but obviously I fully understood.
Fast forward a few months and a 3 1/2 week stay in the hospital in March/April. By this time, Charles had learned that his shop was salvageable and was well on his way to getting it back in shape. I contacted him about possibly rescheduling the class and he said possibly in October. Well, Jen wasn't too excited about the prospect of me making that kind of drive and being alone away from home for that long with the health issues I was having. So, unbeknownst to me, she called Charles, explained the situation of my health and my subsequent diminished strength and stamina, and asked if he thought I could handle the physical demands of building a chair and if there was any chance he would consider coming to my shop to teach me. He graciously agreed to do just that and tailored the class to fit what he thought I could physically handle. Needless to say I was thrilled and very touched that he'd agreed to do such a thing to help me out. We talked back and forth about it several times and settled on the first week of June for him to come and teach me to build a chair. I was SO excited and at the same time, so fearful something would go wrong to derail the plan. Well, nothing went wrong, Charles made it here, and I had one of the most enjoyable woodworking experiences of my life. The rest of the story can be told in pictures. Thank you Charles for helping me to attain one of my woodworking goals. And thanks for being a good friend.
|Day one. Shaving spindles on the shave horse with the spoke shave, in |
|Leg holes drilled. Now for the spindle holes.|
|Day two was mostly about shaping the seat. Here,|
beveling the bottom of the seat with a draw knife.
|After some adze work, continuing to shape and refine the|
seat with an inshave.
|Smoothing out some of the marks left by the inshave|
with a compass plane.
|Reaming the holes to accept the tapered legs. The reamer|
and I were not on very good terms. I couldn't seem to get
this part right no matter how hard I tried. Oddly, my
struggle with the reamer seemed to amuse Charles. :-)
|Legged up at the end of day two. Still a long way to go|
with but one day left.
|Drilling holes in the arm with a brace and a spoon bit.|
LOTS of holes to drill on a sack back. This was the most
physically taxing part of the whole build for me.
|Seating the spindles with a brass mallet and listening for|
the dead thud sound that lets you know you're there.
|Chiseling a split to accept a wedge in the top of one of|
|Worn out at the end of the class but some kind of happy|
with my chair.
|The Master and the aspiring student during day two. Mr. Charles Boland,|
who came dressed in great period outfits every day of class, adding to the
experience for me.
|A week or so after the end of class with three coats of|
Salem Red milk paint. I was tempted to stop here and
have a red chair. I'm glad I didn't.
|And after a couple coats of Pitch Black milk paint.|
Again, I was tempted to call it finished here.
Again, I'm glad I didn't.
|The pretty much finished chair, after rubbing down with|
0000 steel wool to let some red show through the black
and then coating with several coats of danish oil. THIS is
the finish I was looking for.
|Signed, sealed, and ready to be delivered. (To my wife and the living room)|
|The sack back Windsor in it's ultimate resting place after a few coats of|
paste wax. So very pleased with the way this came out.