Chair Construction

aboutphotoMy name is Chris Harter and I own and operate a one-man Windsor chair and fine furniture-making shop. I have specialized in reproducing the traditional American Windsor chair for over thirty-nine years; with each chair made individually, by hand, using traditional tools and construction methods. Traditional handmade chairs are not to be compared to a manufactured chair. The process used in constructing a traditional chair is superior to the manufactured chair. Also, because of the use of hand tools, the chair has a visual appeal which can only be found in a handmade piece.

All materials, except for the seat, are hand rived from a maple or oak log. This process allows me to get the straightest grain and maximum strength from the wood. Riving the materials also allows me to take advantage of the natural shrinkage of the wood in the joint assemblies throughout the chair. This along with wedges and glue are what keep the chair tight for generations.

The spindles are hand riven from an oak log. Each spindle is then shaped by hand using a draw knife, spoke shave and scraper. After forming them I set them aside to fully dry before assembling the chair back.

closeup2The legs, stretchers and arm posts are hand riven from a maple log then turned on a lathe while still green. This is done by hand and not with a duplicating lathe. The tenon ends of the legs and stretchers are dried while retaining the moisture in the rest of each piece so that when assembled the joints will shrink around the inserted ends to make a tight joint as shown in photo. This natural shrinkage process is used throughout the chair and is what keeps the chair tight for years to come just as back in the 18th century. Any bent pieces, the arms, bows or crests are formed green also, then steamed to make them pliable for bending.

This process is timed so the pieces retain moisture until after the chair is assembled when it will dry and shrink around its connecting parts.

The seat is cut from a clear, white pine plank and hand planed to a two-inch thickness. Only hand tools are used to sculpt the seat. For assembly of the chair all the holes are drilled ‘by eye’ using the traditional brace and bit method.

It has taken me years of experience to develop the skills to use these hand tools properly. Because I don’t use templates or mass production methods, I must work ‘by eye’ to get the right proportions, curves, and angles. This helps me produce chairs that are distinct in their appearance, possessing a fine ‘aged’ quality that is pleasing to the eye. The American Windsor chair was originally a painted piece of furniture. I work with traditional milk paints and offer both my standard aged-paint finish; or my ‘distressed’ aged-paint finish. I also offer a stain and varnish finish.

Each chair comes branded with my name, which will add to its value over time. The finished Windsor chair is truly a functional work of art, built to last many years and destined to become a cherished heirloom. Side chairs start at $825., arm chairs at $1120. For any questions, please don’t hesitate to give me a call, or send an email. You can also visit my showroom located on Route 20 in Madison New York. My workshop is open generally Monday through Saturday. If you are planning a visit it is best to call first and make an appointment. I would love to see you and look forward to working with you very soon!