I am going to give a try at making a Windsor. I have access to many
good bending hardwoods (red and white oak) and although I am always
concerned with wasting wood, I am going to give hand riving a try and
probably end up sacrificing a few BF of good wood.
My question is in regard to the seat. From my not-so-extensive
research, poplar and white pine seem to be the most common woods to
make the seat. I have heard basswood and a few others make a good ass
rest also. I have never heard anyone speak of Yellow Pine as a seat
however. I live near a mill that cuts SYP (Loblolly is the prevelant
species) and I would have unlimited access to tons of it. Yellow pine
is significantly harder than white, but some people make seats for
Windsors out of hardwoods, so how hard would it be to carve a seat from
SYP? Maybe is there another reason people stay away from it?
I look foreward to responses, and any warnings and tips anyone may have
for my somewhat blind ambitions into the world of Windsors.
: My question is in regard to the seat. From my not-so-extensive
: research, poplar and white pine seem to be the most common woods to
: make the seat.
Real Windsor chairs are made with English Elm which has the property of
being very difficult to split. This is very desirable because of the
reliance of the entire structure on the integrity of the seat, and the
proximity of the many holes.
Because of its un-splittability, I once made a 'Windsor' chair with a
plywood seat. It worked OK, and some people liked the pattern formed by the
shaping of the seat.
However the shaping was so tedious and dust-making, that I would not
Jeff Gorman, West Yorkshire, UK
Email: username is amgron
I made 8 Windsors and I used basswood for the seats. It is easy to work
and it sits nicely, too.
For the spindles and the bows you can also use hickory or
pecan....anything with a straight and tight grain. Be sure to try to
rive the spindles when the wood is still green and also work them while
green....it's a lot easier.
I didn't have access to green maple for the undercarriage parts so I had
to buy 8/4 maple. Be very careful selecting the maple and try to get
some where the grain runs straight along the length as possible. (that's
where riving really helps you since the blanks will follow the grain
I taught myself to make windsors, much like you are about to. It's worth
it. They are a blast. Gathering the needed antique handtools was a
challenge, but now many people make reproductions of the original antiques.
They're pricey, but they're out there. Thanks to Mike Dunbar, the windsor
chair is pretty popular these days. I fear there are more people making
them than buying them -- Mike probably makes more money from his classes
than he does actually selling chairs.
As for the seat, I use 2" rough cut pine from a local saw mill. I buy it
wet, and sticker it until it's dry and stable. Most any soft wood will work
great for a seat. Traditionally, the seats were pine, the spindles and
back were red oak, and the legs were maple or birch. I can't see any
reason the yellow pine wouldn't work. Basically, if it's soft enough to
scoop with your adze, scorp and travisher, you're all set. I've never done
anything with a hardwood seat. I've heard that butternut is a nice working
seat wood too. If you have any questions, I can try to answer them for you.
So far, I've done maybe a dozen chairs, so I'm not an expert or anything,
but I have built the loopback, continuous arm, sackback and my next one is
going to be a writing arm.
There are special chair-making tools (scorp, spoon bits, travister,
shaving horse, wood steamer, etc) and specific skills to go with
them. I made a settee using yellow pine for the seat, hard maple for
the legs, and cherry spindles for the back. A pine seat is fine, but
it will dent and scratch more easily (than a hardwood) with use.
On 19 Dec 2004 19:40:58 -0800, firstname.lastname@example.org wrote:
Some other reasons to use a soft wood for the seat -- when you drive the
hardwood wedge into the tops of the legs (assuming you use traditional
through tenons) you make the wedge a little larger than the hole -- when you
drive it in, it will bite into the soft seat material and "lock" itself in
place. This, combined with the stretchers pushing the legs apart, will
prevent the leg from turning in the socket over time.
I made my grand-daughter a small windsor chair and use a 2x10 to provide
material for the seat. The only hard part about using yellow pine is trying to
sand it. The grain is pretty pronounced and the hardness of the wood varies
from early to late wood. The chair turned out all right and I haven't seen any
excessive wearing or denting. If that is the wood you have available, go ahead
and use it.
Apex , NC
Bloody brits! :)
AMERICAN Windsors -- according to Wallace Nutting -- the legs were green,
the stretchers dry. Each stretcher had a shallow groove, and the green leg
shrank around the bulb, securing it. If the windsor seat was green, it
shrunk with the green leg, The legs, when the did not completely penetrate
the seat, was sometimes secured in this manner: A hole was bored, increasing
in size with the depth. A fox-tail wedge was merely started, and as the leg
was driven home the wedge penetrated and spread the end to conform with the
I believe I've seen photographs showing the ends of those green legs
in hot dry sand or near a heat lamp drying the ends just prior to
being inserted in the green seat. So I suppose one could
theoretically get the benefit of using green in both places.
Yes, I still do that. hot metal bucket of sand works pretty good. Dunno if
it does any good or not. In Mike Dunbar's book, he does it, but then in
later articles I've read by him, he says it's not necessary. I don't know.
I just like the looks of all the legs sticking out of the sand I guess! :)
Wallace nutting was most likely mistaken, and he probably just guessed
as how the chairs were made. Green wood was green for turning, but for
joinery it stunk. People that have followed his ideas find they come up
with a less succesful chair.
Gee, I've been meaning to but have never made a windsor chair, but it
seems to me that using SYP for the seat would be a bit of a bear, as
it's pretty hard, the grain can be an issue, and its a bit sappy, as
everytime I used it I had to soak my table saw blade to get rid of the
pitch residue. It might be a real bear to carve out. Personally, I'd
go with the white pine or basswood tradition as folks have been making
these chairs for a long time and those boys figured this out long ago -
why reinvent the wheel, especially for your first try. If you were
making a hunnert or so of these chairs maybe the wood cost/availability
would be relevant. My 2 cents.
It depends on your design. If you compare the joinery details of US
and UK chairs, the UK chairs have thinner cross-grain sections that
would be a weakness if they weren't made of something like elm.
One of the few US "Windsorish" chairs I've seen that used elm as a
seat base was Nakashima's Conoid, yet because the back edge of the
base is relatively straight, it doesn't have much of a short-grain
Yeah, from the sitter's POV, probably no difference...but from the maker's
POV.... I wouldn't want to make a maple seat, for instance. Lots and lots
of knucklebustin work. At least IMHO. I'll stick with white pine. Much
easier on me and my blades.
Reason for elm is that it's almost unsplittable. Since the legs are tapered
to wedge in as the butt hits, it's a real asset. Else, you almost have to
put a shoulder on the leg to prevent it splitting even a thicker section.
Worthwhile substitutes would be other curly type woods like yellow birch, or
stringy, long grained woods.
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