“Windsor”, wood burning on oak veneer by Joshua Miner III
I’ve always loved traditional Windsor chairs, as much for their structural invention as for their comfort, durability and elegance. The general form evolved regionally throughout the UK in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Many speculate that the chair originated as a byproduct of the charcoal-making industry, and were collectively manufactured by itinerant woodsmen who seasonally managed woodlots and copses. These woodsmen, or bodgers, would work with simple tools- axes, froes and pole lathes- to make a range of products directly from the forest including wagon wheels, rakes, pitchforks and woven ‘wattle’ for fencing and house construction.
Each tree would yield a product unique to its material attributes. Some woods were easily split, some bent when steamed and some, like elm or oak, were remarkably tough and were sawn into boards.
from “The Seasons and the Woodman” by D. H. Chapman
Each process of manufacture would require a distinct set of tools and skills. The early Windsor chairs synthesized many of these into one form, and were typically made by many hands, often geographically disparate. The ‘hub’ of the Windsor chair, its major structural component, is the seat itself, which supports the legs, backrest and armrests as well as the sitter. Typically made of elm, the seat of a traditional Windsor chair best demonstrates this wood’s structural attributes- it is exceedingly difficult to split, is dimensionally stable, and its cell structure binds fibers across the grain. Elm shapes well, and a board can be carved thin and still manage to support a load across a relatively wide span.
I’m beginning to experiment with a contemporary reinterpretation of the Windsor chair, starting with a series of tests press-forming thin laminations of elm into complex contours.