I have been building early American furniture in my shop for the last 35 years. I began building Windsor chairs in the 1980’s. When I retired from my job as a biologist in 2009 I decided to make furniture – especially Windsor chairs – full time.
Many Windsor chairs have been around since the late 1700’s. The secret to their longevity? It certainly isn’t the glues that were used; today’s glues are stronger by far. And it isn’t due to metallic fasteners, which simply weren’t used at all. Rather it’s due to an intimate knowledge of the woods and techniques used in their construction.
The wood for the turnings and bent chair parts are split (or “rived”) rather than sawn, following the grain and assuring a stronger product for its size. Thus, spindles and legs are thin and delicate, yet strong enough to withstand day to day use for decades.
Also, joints are assembled using green wood technology, which means that tenons (the ends of spindles and legs) are dried to attain their minimum size, but the mortises (the holes into which they fit) are green, allowing them to shrink around the tenons as they dry so that they will not come apart.
I also build tables and smallware using traditional methods such as mortice and tenon joints and hand cut dovetails. All of my furniture is built of solid wood; no plywood.
Much of the furniture I sell is finished to emulate natural wear. I build up finishes of several layers of stain and milk paint, gently distressing it to mimic age and natural use. The resulting furniture is durable, attractive, and at home in casual settings.