I have been making Windsor chairs for years and I am still as fascinated with them as when I began. This chair’s durability is legendary-a fame that is well earned. There are many Windsor chairs that have survived 200 years or more of hard use but remain as solid as the day they were built. The secret is in the joints, which are highly engineered.
Like most common chairs, Windsors use socket construction-a round tenon that fits into a round hole. There is very little edge grain around the circumference of a hole to create a good glue joint. Because most of the circumference is end grain, a round tenon in a drilled hole is a very poor joint that soon comes apart. Its only virtue is that it can be produced quickly and easily. To make it work some additional strengthening is required.
The major joints in a Windsor are those that connect the turned legs to the seat. These are held together with a locking taper, similar to the device that holds-or locks-the drive center in a lathe’s headstock. The leg tenon is made cone-like while the part is still in the lathe. The hole in the seat is then fitted to the tenon with a tapered reamer, a type of conical bit inserted in a brace. When assembled, the tenon and matching hole lock together, securing the joint. Should the joint ever loosen, the weight of a person sitting in the chair tightens it again, whereas in other types of chairs the act of sitting actually wears the joints.
A Windsor’s legs are connected by a stretcher system. The chair maker ensures that these joints remain permanently secure by assembling them under compression. The trick is to measure the distance between the legs while the chair is being assembled. The stretchers are then made slightly longer than the measured distance. Being a tad too long, they push the legs apart. For their part, the legs hold the joints in compression. As a result, they cannot come apart-even if the glue fails.
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