American Heirlooms - February 2020




Trade: A skilled job, typically one requiring primarily manual skills and special training.

Windsor chairs date back to the 16th Century and are characterized as wooden chairs with turned spindles and legs, steam-bent backs, and all the compound angles required for a pretty design.

After I completed school, I enjoyed developing my craftsman skills. My craft was surrounded in Windsor chairs, and the processes included lathe work, drilling, cutting, gluing, and sanding the wood. I spent a lot of time figuring out how different tools and techniques improved the results whether it was designing a balanced chair or learning to sharpen brad-point drill bits, creating chip-out free turnings on manual or automatic lathes, working on the seat “dish” design, or preventing the bowed back from chipping while drilling it.

Pocket hole machines allow a craftsman to drill a hole at a particular angle and join that piece to a second one.

The uses for these materials have undergone a transition from a direct stain and clear varnish technique to a mixture of stains and paints. These elements have since transformed into painting an entire piece with bright beach colors to today’s popular look of distressing the wood for an antique feel. Finally, I watched the change from a traditional spray gun to a high- volume, low-pressure spray gun. This puts the coating under extreme pressure and reduces the amount of spray that floats into the air, away from the wood, and is wasted. Auto-mixing pumps for catalyzed varnishes have also created predictable coating quality and durability. Packaging Originally, customers picked up their pieces when they were complete, but we have been packaging more products for domestic shipments. Recently, we’ve begun shipping internationally, too, such as the cabinet that went to Sweden and the table that went by air to Australia. While the disciplines behind the craft do not really change, the fashion in this world of furniture and cabinets shapes the way we construct our pieces. Even if today’s consumer often prefers chairs that are “square frame” to the Windsor, our craftsmanship still requires the same understanding of wood and tenacity in problem-solving.

As I’ve developed my skills, the trade has continued to grow, too. Here are just a few common examples.

China Cabinets China cabinet boxes were originally constructed out of solid wood panels, designed to allow for the expanding and contracting of wood through the seasons. Depending on the customer’s preferences, veneers over plywood are sometimes used today. The shift from wood-on-wood drawer slides to ball-bearing slides and eventually the current, self-closing, under-mount slides has dramatically changed usability on the drawers. Then came the consumer’s change of preference from china cabinets to buffets. As the formal dining room has gone away, so has the "Sunday China" and thus the need for the china cabinet. Tables The extension table has changed the least. We still use solid wood tops and dovetailed wooden slides. However, three inventions changed the way tables are made. These include the pocket hole machine for fastening aprons to the tabletop, the leaf drilling machine’s perfection and flattening capabilities, and the CNC, which allows for a cleaner more precise cut than handheld tools. The legs are also now bolted to the aprons with two hanger bolts instead of one. Finishing There have been many changes to the techniques, design, and materials used in the varnishing process. To start, the materials have transitioned from lacquer to precatalyzed lacquers to catalyzed lacquers to varnishes. Today, some pieces are finished with polyurethane.

–Ethan Zimmerman

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