Making an English Comb-back Windsor Chair – Part Two

Last December I transcribed some of my old and fragile paper and card patterns onto MDF and by no coincidence whatsoever, one of them was a seat pattern for a mid eighteenth-century Thames Valley elbow chair!

I used the pattern to lay out the seat outline and leg locations on the underside of the elm blank. When cut out, I planed the upper face of the seat and then shaved the edges and lower arris.

The elm seat blank cut out and planed.

I think most Windsor chairmakers would hollow out the seat at this stage, but I find the flat seat surface indispensable for placing squares and sliding bevels on for setting up the back and arm, so I’ll leave the ‘toe hoe’ aside for the moment.

I prepared four 2-3/16″ (56mm) square ash blanks for the legs and turned them on the lathe to the specific shape for this class of Windsor. The cylindrical tenons on the tops of the legs will eventually be glued and wedged into the seat, but for the moment, they are only rough-turned until I’m satisfied they’re dry enough to proceed with. Since turning the legs, I’ve been keeping them indoors and carefully measuring the dimensions of the tenons. Once they’re stable, I’ll turn them to 1 in. diameter.

The four ash legs.

The ash back and arm sticks were shaved to 9/16″ diameter, tapering to roughly 1/2″ diameter at their ends which will be further trimmed to fit tightly in their holes.

Hmm… sticks on their own aren’t very interesting.

The three pieces of ash for the arm were sawn to shape on the bandsaw (actually, the arm ends were profiled as one and then sawn in two). I will screw the three arm sections together with slotted steel screws before tidying up the whole with a spokeshave.

Slightly more captivating; the three piece arm!

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About Jack Plane

Formerly from the UK, Jack is a retired antiques dealer and self-taught woodworker, now living in Australia.
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2 Responses to Making an English Comb-back Windsor Chair – Part Two

  1. Tico Vogt says:

    The American Elm that I know can be remarkable tough and difficult to work with. I haven’t tried any deep carving with it but it wouldn’t be an obvious choice. What are the working characteristics of the Elm you’re using?

    Best,

    Tico

    Like

    • Jack Plane says:

      In Britain, English Elm (Ulmus procera) is virtually the only timber used for Windsor chair seats (I’ve only ever seen a few ash seats and one or two of mahogany and oak), which says a lot about its usefulness. As for its strength, I’ve seen two hundred and fifty year old chairs with two inch thick seats sculpted out leaving a scant 3/8 in. of material in the bottom!
      English Elm is a pleasure to work with; it’s relatively light and presents no trouble with sharp tools.

      American Elm (Ulmus Americana) has a somewhat different nature. Seemingly poplar and even pine are two of the preferred options for chair seats in your country.

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