Tool Procurement: It’s Going to Cost Me How Much to Build a Windsor Chair!?

As I’ve mentioned previously on this series about my relationship with Windsor chairs (Part I & Part II), I didn’t immediately like them, but I did slowly begin to foster a sincere, but hesitant respect for them. I believe it was Peter Galbert’s magnificent blog that finally pushed me over the edge, head over heels in love. His clear and inspiring writing style sucked me in, and after seeing picture after picture of the wonderful little details that he adds to the chairs – the faceted surfaces from the drawknife and spokeshave, the thoughtful steam-bent curves that add comfort to the back and elegance to the undercarriage, as well as the painstaking finishing work – well, suffice it to say that after following his blog for a year, there was no longer any mistaking Peter’s works of art from the creaky kitchen chairs of my youth.

galbert rocker
Not a factory-made piece of rubbish. Credit: Peter Galbert

Moreover, Peter’s blog introduced me to Curtis Buchanan’s work, whose superlative derivation of more traditional Windsors simply blew me away. Seriously, if you can’t see the brilliance of his comb back arm chair, then you’re probably at the wrong blog. (Or maybe you just need to study up on design some more. You can start here.)

curtis buchanan comb back
Also not rubbish. Credit: Curtis Buchanan

So, what’s the point of all this drivel and gushing? Well, I’m a woodworker. I finally love Windsor chairs. Now, of course, I want to build one. I’ve been buying tools for over a decade, surely I have everything I need. After all, I’ve already built four ladderback chairs with the tools I already own, so I’m ready to hit the ground running, right?

Well, actually, just for shaping the seat, you’re going to need a curved adze, an inshave, and a travisher. Oh, and don’t forget the tapered reamer for the leg holes. And a rounder plane to shape the legs to match the reamed holes. Also, didn’t you re-grind your skew chisel into a scraper about 8 years ago, because you always sucked at it? You’re going to need one of those, too, and you’re going to have to man up and learn how to use it. And that rickety shavehorse you built 9 years ago? That thing was fine for an occasional axe handle, but it’s going to frustrate you to no end when you start working on a dozen oak spindles or a 5′ rail for a balloon-back.

Fine, dammit. How much is all of this going to set me back?

I thought you’d never ask. Kestrel Tools makes a great adze. You want the “Sitka Gutter Adze” at $190. Barr Tools makes an inshave that’s just right for Windsor chairs: $140. Claire Minihan makes the best travishers around for $245. You can’t beat Tim Manney’s 6 degree tapered reamer: $110. Elia Bizzarri makes the rounder plane to match it for $65. A Henry Taylor 3/4″ skew chisel will set you back $51. Don’t forget about shipping for all of that. But, don’t worry about the shave horse, you can make that yourself!

Um…That’s almost $1000. Can’t I just buy a handmade Windsor chair for that much?

Sure you can! But then you won’t get the pleasure of forsaking your long-suffering wife while you piddle in the shop for weeks on end. After all, you’ll probably be sleeping in the shop for a few weeks after draining your checking account for a bunch of tools.

Geez, dude. That hardly seems like a reasonable argument. Surely there’s another way, right? Right?

Ok, the sarcasm has gotten thick in here, so let’s step out of the fog and be serious for a moment. All of the toolmakers listed above are, by all accounts, at the top of their game. I sincerely wish that I could afford to support each of them. But, being the sole source of income in a family four – soon to be five – means that I have to make compromises when it comes to spending money, and that unfortunately includes tool purchases. The point of this post was to highlight just how different the Windsor chairmaker’s tool kit is from a joiner’s toolkit. I’m used to having to buy one or possibly two new tools for an ambitious project (or better yet, asking for them for Christmas!) But buying six new tools? That’s a bit harder to swallow. In my next post, I hope to discuss what I’m doing to bring the starting costs down to something a bit more manageable.

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