Windsor chair repair

Hi All,
I have a lead on some antique windsor chairs that need fixing. Question is, do I want to invest the time to do it.
They need spindles replaced, stretchers replaced, crest rails replaced. I think I'd have to do steam bending, turning & such. Should I run and hide? Or is there a furniture repair book that might help me thru the process?
TIA,
Steve
--
Stephen Anthony

"I fear we have awakened a sleeping tiger and filled it with a
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On Wed, 14 Jan 2004 20:38:22 +0000 (UTC), Stephen Anthony
If these are "antiques" (meaning old, rather than one of last week's beanie babies) then check the age and rough value before proceeding. English windsors are still nearly all in firewood territory, but older American chair go for crazy prices, even the common stuff.

Every woodworker should make a windsor chair from scratch. I'm no great fan of the things as furniture, but everyone should have done a green chair from scratch at least once.

Crest rails and combs is unusual. usually it's loose tenons and a few lost or broken turned parts.

Probably. Both are fun, and techniques worth having a go with.
Turning is unavoidable. Most old Windsors have worked loose, and this often means that the stretchers between the legs are simply lost. Thin spindles or splats may break. Legs are usually still usable, but the tenons are loose or damaged. Turning up new ones is generally the easiest solution.
If you've a broken tenon, then it needs replacement by whatever is most appropriate. In extreme cases this might involve a lose tenon (of something that's strong in thin section - elm is good) with a narrow peg inserted into a hole drilled in the end of the spindle. After this is dried, turn the new tenon up to match the hole of the old one.
Don't use green timber for turning spindles, certainly not on an old chair. Spindles should be dry when fitted, ideally into a green seat or comb (so that it locks on further drying).
If you're doing paintwork, there's no substitute for real milk paint. It's also a good way to camouflage a worn chair. Milk paint is one of the few finishes that I do any "distressing" on (Google this newsgroup).
Split seats are a problem. Butterfly keys inserted from beneath are one of the best fixes. You can do these very quickly with a router jig and some matching butterfly stock sawn up in a length. You can also use iron strapping underneath, but the ironwork needs to look period, not modern steel.
Apart from oddities like the American "eared" chairs, there are few repairs to comb-backed chairs I've seen that needed steam bending. Generally combs will come off or break the spindles before they break themselves. Bending such a new comb is easy enough. A steam box isn't hard to make (Google - I've posted on them before), but you might need a hefty steel jig, some big clamps and an assistant to get it into place. Mine is a slice of propane cylinder cut open (it's easier to unroll a narrow cylinder than to roll a flat sheet) with angle iron welded across the back to get the curvature right.
If it's a hoop back or a sack back, then breakage is more common. These are also tricky to steam bend, as it's a three dimensional bend. You really need to build a full size jig for this, usually by knocking pegs into a large log. Another problem is that unless your bending is perfect (and you've jigged for each chair) then the old spindles will probably no longer fit and will need to be re-made.
As always for steam bending, use the very best of straight-grained green stock and split it by riving, not sawing. Anything else drives you mad with splitting out. It's a lot easier to bend oversize split timber and cut it down afterwards than it is to bend thicknessed stock.

I don't know a repair book for them, but there are plenty of green woodworking books (such as Mike Abbott's) about that will tell you what you need.
-- Do whales have krillfiles ?
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On Wed, 14 Jan 2004 21:52:03 +0000, Andy Dingley
(edited for brevity)

All good advise for repairing an old chair, but at what point is it like my grandfather's axe - the handle's been replaced three times and the head twice.
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Why not buy a book on making a chair? Make A Windsor Chair by Mike/Michael Dunbar is out of date but of a great help. Some technique in this book is not correct and out of date.
Drew Langsner's The Chairmakers Workshop is very good. This book is up to date.
Both books will help with making replacement parts.
By all means use green wood for turning. For one thing its easier to turn then dry wood. It also dries to an oval shape rether then a round shape, thus giving it the same shape as the originals. Spindles and strecthers must be dry when joining.
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For the S/H price of those two books, I can have a Windsor chair made for me !
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On Mon, 24 Jan 2005 01:36:23 +0000, the inscrutable Andy Dingley

Yeah, the price the Dunbar book is fetching is outrageous, isn't it?
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