Heritage Crafts

Chair making

The making of wooden chairs, including Windsor chairs and frame chairs. See the separate entries for Orkney chair making and for general furniture making.
Currently viable
Craft category
Historic area of significance
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire
Area practiced currently


  • Windsor chair: solid plank seat, with the legs tenoned into the seat.
  • Frame chair: a woven seat, with all the components tenoned into each other

Chairs only became a part of general domestic furniture in Elizabethan times, and the demand for chairs began to grow in the seventeenth century. The Industrial Revolution and mechanisation led to a new middle class which provided customers for chairs. While fashionable chairs made from imported woods such as mahogany were mainly obtainable in London and provincial towns, rural people relied on locally made furniture from the ‘wilder’ woods of beech/elm.

Chair making became separated from other woodworking trades through its development as a wood-turner’s chair rather than a joiner’s chair.


Windsor chairs have solid plank seats which are generally hollowed slightly for comfort. A tool called an adze is used for this, and a travisher is used for finer shaping. All the other components of the chair are socketed into this seat. The legs and spindles are generally turned on a lathe, and fixed into the seat using round tenons. Traditionally, these components were made from unseasoned or ‘green’ timber, which are then thoroughly dried before assembly. Often Windsor chairs incorporate curved pieces. These are generally steam bent, a process which makes wood pliable after being placed in a box containing steam for some time. Often the parts of the chair are finished with a cabinet scraper, a small metal tool with a fine burr edge. Traditionally Windsor chairs were dyed with a mixture of shellac and oil. Many contemporary Windsor’s are often left in their natural state.


  • Windsor chair making
  • Orkney chair making
  • Greenwood chair making

Issues affecting the viability

  • Market issues: There are not a lot of chair makers around (perhaps 30 highly skilled makers) – but the market can only support a certain number
  • Market issues: Hard to find the market
  • Market issues: Need for business skills, marketing skills etc.
  • Market issues: The time it takes to make a chair means that a certain amount has to be charged (e.g. £800 for an armchair which takes a week), which significantly reduces the number of potential customers
  • Dilution of skills: There are probably only 30 highly skilled chair makers, but many more fairly inexperienced makers are teaching the craft and passing on their skills
  • Training issues: Chair making courses are very popular with lots of people doing them, but very few of those go on to become serious/professional chair makers

Support organisations


  • Mayes, L J, (1960) The History of Chairmaking in High Wycombe (Routledge & Kegan Paul)
  • Sparkes, Ivan G, (1973) The English Country Chair: An Illustrated History of Chairs and Chairmaking (Spurbooks Limited)
  • Jenkins, J Geraint, (1978) Traditional Country Craftsmen (Routledge & Kegan Paul)
  • Williamson, Laureen, (1986) Woodcrafts in South Oxfordshire: Chair Bodging & Tent Pegging (Oxfordshire Museums), Information Sheet 21
  • Area Museums Service for South Eastern England (August 1975) Exhibition Information: The Country Chair
  • Cotton, Bill, ‘Windsor Chair making: an Oxfordshire tradition’, published in Oxfordshire Country Life, n.d., pp.7-11
  • Cotton, Bill, (1973) ‘Country Chairs’, published in Antique Finder, October 1973
  • Cotton, William, (1980) ‘Vernacular Design: The Spindle Back Chair and its North Country origins’, published in Working Wood, 1980, pp. 41–50
  • Cotton, Bill, (1981) ‘The North Country Chair Making Tradition: Design, Context and the Mark Chippindale Deposition’, offprint from Furniture History, vol XVII, 1981, pp. 42–51
National Lottery Heritage Fund
Swire Charitable Trust
The Royal Mint
Pilgrim Trust
Maxwell/Hanrahan Foundation
William Grant Foundation

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