A Tale of Two Chairs, Part 1.

Two recent arrivals, both sad cases, but not beyond redemption; both are old and quite frail: they have seen much,  and one of them at least has suffered much too, and has come down in the world:

19th. c. Windsor     Inlaid arm chair

The first is a sturdy English Windsor bowback. The seat is shallowly carved, the turning is somewhat clumsy, the legs and arm posts heavier and more bulbous than the more elegant Windsors of Southern England and the Chilterns, and the back-bow and arm-bow are likewise rather heavily proportioned. The double-bead turning on the legs and the form of the back-splat indicate a more northerly origin - possibly Yorkshire or the East Midlands. It has been around for at least a hundred years, and all things considered is sound enough – except for a nasty cross-grain fracture in the back of the arm-bow, right on the sharp steam-bent curve close to the point where the back-bow joins it on the left hand side.

Widsor arm break
The owner, an elderly lady, though younger than the chair by some score of years, was quite rightly worried that the fracture might become a full-blown break, and would like it to be repaired.

Ideally one would like to remove the entire broken bow from the chair in order to get at it, but this is not going to be possible. Well, it might be possible, but it would be really nice if it could be done in situ.
Unlike a "joined chair" (four legs, front rail, side rails, back rail, stretchers etc. etc. all morticed and tenoned (or doweled), a Windsor chair is quite hard to disassemble into its component parts, particularly so when it comes to the upper bows and spindles. The arm supports are often surprisingly hard to remove from the seat, since a wedge has been generally driven into the support tenon from underneath the seat. Likewise the spindles and back splat can also be hard to remove, especially considering the probable fragile nature of the old wood. Sharp blows from the shot-weighted rubber persuader are more likely to result in broken spindles and bows than anything else, and there is something peculiarly dispiriting about inflicting further damage (and the necessity for more repairs as well as awkward explanations) on a venerable piece.

So, take a deep breath, a sharp tenon saw, and cut straight across the sharp curve of the back-bow and remove the fractured section at the same time leaving a flat surface suitable for gluing in a new section of wood.


The saw-cut has been made, and can now be cleaned up with a sharp block-plane (one half of the surface having contrary grain), checking for flatness and trueness.

A suitable piece of wood can then be glued and clamped to the bow (in this case a piece of white oak, even though the original is something else, possibly ash). Here the glue is epoxy (strong, good on end-grain, gap-filling if necessary, and with no possibility of some later restorer wanting to knock it apart). When the glue is well cured, the block can be shaped to follow the curve and profile of the bow:

Repaired break  

The grain of the wood and the species are not ideal, but after colouring and some coats of pigmented button shellac to match the opaque and distressed finish of the original, it will hardly matter.


Finally the whole chair is given a good overall cleaning and waxing. A localised rub with beeswax and burnt-umber with a little lamp-black will add a convincing patina to the repaired section.

The second chair clearly comes from a different stratum of society, but its country of origin is anyone's guess.  The main problem was an extraordinarily clumsy repair to the broken join of the right arm with the back: a sheet-metal flap hinge had been cut up and then screwed to the arm and back to secure the damaged joint. Moreover there were a number of previous repairs to the back structure which were both decoratively and functionally quite inadequate.


An elegant repair.

After disassembling the back, things looked like this:


(Enter stage left: horses and king's men).

To be continued.