With 40 acres of trees to choose from, Jim Desjardins has an abundant supply of raw material for his handmade Windsor chairs.

Windsors are those familiar spindle-backed wooden chairs often associated with Colonial times. There are many variations of this style, many of which are now made using power tools. But Desjardins prefers the more traditional method, using hand tools almost exclusively.

Desjardins estimates it takes 30 to 40 hours to make one chair, the amount of time he spends each week in his brightly lighted shop next to his old farmhouse in Fairbanks. He’s been making furniture for a while but started making chairs only about five years ago. He has made about 60 chairs in all, most recently making them in his new shop, which has multiple windows. His family calls it “the factory.”

He was so proud of his first chair, he said, that he took it to the house to show his wife, Theresa. She wouldn’t let him keep it in the house, he said. So he hung it in a tree, and later burned it.

A few years later, Theresa saw an article in Country Living magazine about Mike Dunbar, who runs a Hampton, N.H., school known as the Windsor Institute.

“You like to make chairs, why don’t you learn to make them right?” she asked him.

In 2002, he spent a week at that “mecca of chair-making” learning from the Windsor guru to construct a replica of a 200-year-old chair using 200-year-old technology – no electricity, only hand tools powered by muscle.

Desjardins said they started with a log and a slab of pine for the seat.

Like pretzels

Every aspect of handmade chair-making is painstaking. When he fells trees from his woods, Desjardins looks for maples, oaks and pine that are straight without too many knots. But you never know for sure until you cut them open, he said.

He splits the logs using a froe, or splitting maul.

Then the hardwood splits are brought up to the shop, where they are worked green, still wet and supple. Using a sharp draw knife, Desjardins begins to shape the wood into round dowels that will become legs and spindles. His only electric extravagances are a band saw for cutting the basic seat shape from pine and a lathe for rounding dowels and patterning them. Once the turnings are complete, they need to dry about a week.

Arms and setback frames are steamed and bent “like pretzels” around forms and then hung in the shop to cure.

Meanwhile, the pine seats are shaped.

The process of hollowing out a seat begins with an adz, a curved ax that Desjardins wields while standing on a pine slab. Once the hollow is roughed out, the slab is clamped to a workbench and worked using a curved draw knife called a scorp, a compass plane and a tool called a travisher.

Desjardins makes Windsors in several styles and sells them at Sugarwood Gallery on Broadway in Farmington. They range from $200 for a standard high-back to $588 and change for a writing chair, which has a desk arm and little drawer under the seat.

As a friendly black Lab named Streamer wanders in and out of Desjardins’ wood-heated shop, the furniture maker picked up a pile of wood shavings from under a bench where he had been shaping a dowel and draws a deep breath.

“I love the smell,” he said, with a serene expression, eyes half-shut.


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