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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

How Turned Chairs Were Made

The turned chairs produced by American craftsmen for fully two centuries are of three kinds, the slat-back, the spindle-back, and the corner or roundabout on the diagonal thus making a chair that fitted easily into the corner of a room. As we seldom see one of these chairs stripped of its seat of either twisted rush or woven splint, we do not often have the chance of examining the structure. If the stripped corner chair illustrated is studied for a minute or two, it becomes evident that all its parts, except for the surmounting U-shaped arm, are simple turned or square members, each with its function.

This chair structure has much in common with the steel skeleton of a modern building before it has been encased in concrete and masonry. But where steel work is held together by rivets, the uprights, seat rails, and stretchers of this chair are joined by either mortice and tenon or socket joints made tight by wooden pegs driven into bored holes. The result is a chair of simple construction and great strength with ornamentation achieved by vase-shaped and ring turnings of uprights and stretchers. Originally this chair had small knob or pear-shaped feet which have disappeared, either worn away through use or cut off to lower the height of the seat from seventeen to about fifteen inches.

Structurally, the other two types of chairs were made of much the same turned parts and put together with pegged mortice and tenon or socket joints. With the slat-back, as the name implies, the back was formed of three to five slightly concave horizontal slats. The spindle-back had slender simply-turned spindles placed vertically and socketed into the top and bottom cross-pieces. These turned chairs were made very early in America-by 1650 or before, and continued to be produced by country craftsmen until 1860. Among the last were the slat-back rocking chairs which the Shakers first made for their own use and later peddled in considerable quantity from town to town in New England and New York State.

Making corner or roundabout chairs started about 1720 and continued for about a hundred years. Many were made for taverns as they were wellsuited for the hard use they underwent in the tap room. Maple was the chief ,vood used but some were made of an assortment of native hardwoods, such as ash, oak, birch, and beech. Such chairs were frequently painted a bottle green or finished with New England red filler. Since this was the intended finish, what or how many different woods were used did not matter. Consequently, the old craftsmen took what woods were at hand in turning out parts, providing they were well-seasoned and free from knots or other blemishes that might reduce the necessary strength.

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