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Bob Dillon Windsor Chairs

A Few Facts About Windsor Chairs

First, A Little History:

It is widely agreed that the Windsor chair was developed in the early 18th century in the vicinity of Windsor, England. But as to who invented the thing in the first place, there are only theories. One suggests that a spinning-wheel maker was responsible. The splayed legs of his elegant machine are reminiscent of Windsor chairs in both decoration and geometry, while the wheel supports translate into arm-posts, the spokes into spindles. Add some bent wood to contain the back and you've got something we might recognize as a Windsor chair.

Or maybe it was a wheelwright, or a turner -- or a farmer. In any case, by the 1720s they were widely available in England's southern counties, usually painted green, intended as garden (lawn) chairs.

A couple of decades later, however, it was American Windsor chairs, built principally in Philadelphia, that were becoming known worldwide. In the Colonies frontier life, for many, was giving way to middle-class prosperity with its attendant demand for fashionable goods. There were also great numbers of tradesmen and vast reserves of raw material to supply them. Finally, there was the Windsor chair itself, still a relatively new concept, ripe for inventive interpretation.

The early, rather large Windsors, which by the 1760s were becoming known as Philadelphia chairs, induced New York and New England makers to produce finer and lighter styles, culminating in the most daring of them all, the continuous-arm. Suddenly Windsors were stylish and comfortable, and inexpensive enough to be purchased in sets. And purchase they did -- six, twelve, twenty-four at a time. For the wealthy they were an economical way to accommodate large groups; for average folks a few chairs for the dining table.

Construction:

Construction-wise there are two types of wooden chairs: "joined" chairs, and "stick" chairs. Joined chairs are held together with mortise-and-tenon joints in which a square or rectangular tenon is fitted into a similarly-shaped pocket called a mortise. This type of joinery is quite strong, if robust enough; it is the same used to construct timber-frame houses. But it is time-consuming and expensive to process -- and was especially so in the 18th century when there were no machines to help out. Consequently, only expensive, formal chairs were made this way, and less expensive chairs were "stick built."

Stick chairs are characterized by round tenons fitted into round sockets. Round tenons were, and are, easily turned on a lathe, while sockets are simply bored with a drill.

Before the introduction of the Windsor, the most common stick chair was the ladder-back. Since the back on this type is an extension of the legs, typical examples were stiff and uncomfortable. Attempts to improve the design by bending the back or angle-boring the sockets led to mixed results.

The Windsor, by contrast, separates the back from the legs, allowing the back to recline for comfort, while the legs splay for stability. This triangulating geometry also contributes to the strength of the chair.

Materials:

From the beginning Windsors were simple, relatively inexpensive chairs, intended for daily use. While formal furnishings were made from fine woods such as walnut and mahogany, chosen for their bold color and figure, Windsor makers used a variety of woods selected for their structural qualities and mixed them indiscriminately -- birch and maple for their ability to take sharp detail on the lathe; oak, hickory and ash for strength and bendability; pine, poplar and basswood for their workability and light weight. The resulting mixture was unified with a finish of paint.

My chairs are principally made from red oak, white birch and white pine. The oak, used for the backs and spindles, is rived (split) directly from logs to ensure straight grain and hence maximum strength. Legs and other turned parts are made from riven birch. And my seats are hand-shaped for two-inch thick white pine (and occasionally poplar).

The result is strong, light-weight, delicately-proportioned chairs made the same way as their 18th century predecessors, thousands of which are still in usable condition today, two hundred and more years after their creation.

Choose a Finish For Your Windsor Chairs

Traditionally, Windsors were simple, everyday chairs which required no more finish than a couple of coats of paint. Perhaps the best product on today's market which reproduces the look and color of eighteenth century paint is milk paint. Milk paint is an all-natural product consisting mainly of milk, lime and earth pigments. The look and texture are a little crude; the colors are genuine.

FINISH CHOICES:

Regular Paint: This basic finish consists of two coats of milk paint smoothed with steel wool and then coated with linseed oil. Milk paint alone creates a flat, almost chalky surface; the oil brings out the color of the paint and gives it a dull sheen.

Distressed Paint: This finish begins with a light brown stain followed by two coats of milk paint. I then rub the paint off appropriate corners and edges, creating the impression of wear through long use. Linseed oil competes the finish.

Unfinished: I offer two choices in unfinished chairs:
  1. Level 1: The back and seat are sanded, but the turned parts are generally as they come off the lathe. This is the level of sanding I use to prepare chairs for painting.
  2. Level 2: The chairs are thoroughly sanded including spin-sanding all the turned parts on the lathe. This is the level of sanding needed to prepare chairs for staining and/or clear finish.
Please see the note near the bottom of the Price Page regarding prices of unfinished chairs.

Options

The sack-back, continuous-arm and rocker are available with carved "knuckle" arms, or the simpler "paddle" arms.

The fan-backs and the bow-back dining chair are available unbraced or with a pair of bracing spindles.

Packaging

All chairs are wrapped in bubble-wrap and enclosed in a carton. Side chairs can be packaged two to a box. Sometimes an arm-chair and a side-chair can share a box. Chair prices include packaging.

Settees must be crated. The crating fee for a 50" settee is $100; crating for a 72" settee is $150.

Shipping

The customer is liable for all shipping charges.

Chairs shipped to addresses in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and some cities bordering those states, can be shipped via SPEE DEE Delivery, a Minnesota-based package delivery service. Rod-backs, my kitchen bow-back, children's chairs, barstools (up to 29" seat height), and stools can be shipped UPS. Larger chairs shipped outside the aforementioned states must go motor freight. Settees are shipped via motor freight in all instances.

Please contact me for a quote of the shipping charges for the order you are considering.

Place an Order or Ask a Question

All orders must be accompanied by 30% deposit. Add up the total, multiply by 0.30, and round to a convenient whole number. If you know exactly what you want, you can simply mail me a note with a check for your deposit and I will reply with a receipt and the date I expect to ship your order.

But chances are you will want to contact me to discuss shipping times or finish or options or... anything. I can be reached by mail, by phone, or by email. The phone is best for discussing particulars, but however you choose to reach out, I look forward to hearing from you.

Bob Dillon
Bob Dillon Windsor Chairs
4724 Barnum Rd NW
Hackensack, MN 56452
1-888-875-9868 (call day or evening)
bob@bobdillonwindsorchairs.com

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Copyright©1999-2002 Robert A. Dillon