What is the difference between a factory-made and bench-made chair?

The log arrives home ( a chair in its rawest form)

Johnson bar, splitting wedges, mallet, froe, hatchet, sledge

Splitting the log behind the shop

A factory chair is made from kiln-dried lumber from the mill. The seat has a shallow saddle and the spindles and legs have been turned from lumber that often has areas where the grain runs across the piece, making weak spots. The strength of the legs and stretchers rely on glue to hold them together. As the humidity levels change in your home, the wood swells and shrinks, causing the glue joints to fail.

The crooked grain in this piece cannot be used for a chair

The neighbours think I’m running a still

My steam-bending unit

The parts for a bench-made Windsor are split or “rived” from freshly cut logs, ensuring the grain runs along the full length of the piece. Special drying processes are used, so that only the tenon is dried. A dry tenon is inserted into a wet mortise. As the mortise dries, it shrinks around the tenon, making an incredibly strong, permanent joint. The hand-carved seat is deeply saddled to provide comfort that can’t be found in a factory chair. Curved parts and the spindles are made of red oak or ash. These woods are used because their properties allow them to be easily steam-bent and because of their flexibility, giving the back of the chair a little “give”. Maple is used for the legs and stretchers for its strength, and pine is used for the seat because it is easily carved.

Removing a steamed piece ready to be bent

Hand-split billet in the lathe waiting to be turned

Turned leg

These, and other methods of construction not used in a factory ensure the bench-made Windsor will be lighter, stronger, more comfortable and more aesthetically pleasing. All this takes more time and effort, but the results are worth it!!

Brace with tapered reamer, scorp, travisher, spoon bit, spoke shave

Scooping out the seat with the gutter adze

Finishing work on the seat with the travisher

Completed undercarriage of Durham County Writing Arm Chair

Top of tapered leg tenon, split and wedged

Durham County Writing Arm chair with 1st coat of milk paint (Niagara Green)

Second coat of milk paint (Barn Red)

Finished product (ink well, pen, spectacles and cute kid not included)