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?
"I fear we have awakened a sleeping tiger and filled it with a
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
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
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
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 ?
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
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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