This website uses cookies to improve your experience navigating our site. By continuing to browse, you are agreeing to our use of cookies.

OK, I understand

The Tools I Use · Bern Chandley, Chairmaker

Creative People

There’s something special about Bern Chandley – although he would likely be the first to disagree.

Using both traditional and modern methods, Bern has devoted his work to meticulously handcrafted Windsor chairs of ‘heirloom quality’. Of course he enjoys the technique involved – he’s good at it – but there seems to be a deeper satisfaction in the knowledge that these robust, yet delicate pieces will likely be passed down from generation to generation, designed to last well beyond the lifetime of their owners.

For this latest instalment of The Tools I Use, we travel to Thomastown to visit Bern in his studio and see how the magic happens.

16th November, 2018

Bern Chandley’s Windsor chair shaping tools. Photo – Amelia Stanwix. Styling – Ashley Simonetto.

Photo – Amelia Stanwix. Styling – Ashley Simonetto.

Photo – Amelia Stanwix. Styling – Ashley Simonetto.

Sally Tabart
Friday 16th November 2018

A carpenter and joiner by trade, Bern Chandley is renowned for his impeccable Windsor chairs, a classic design consisting of a solid timber seat, where everything underneath and everything above terminates in that seat. They offer long-term sustainability, and are not ‘just going to end up on a junk pile’, says Bern. ‘I love how durable they are… what really appeals to me is the inherent strength of the wood, to make a join that can last for centuries.’

This interview was initially over 4,000 words transcribed from multiple phone calls, so I’ve cut it down with a drawknife (read on to understand this hilarious chair joke!) to make it a bit more digestible. Bern’s just that kind of guy  – passionate, generous, and incredibly patient – a quality dished out liberally while explaining Windsor Chairmaking For Dummies to me (yep, I’m the dummy). We visited Bern in his Thomastown studio to take a look inside his toolkit.

1,2,3. Steam bending setup

‘There are a whole lot of bent sections in Windsor chairs to make them comfortable to sit in, and the most economical way of bending wood is steam bending.

A piece of wood is at its strongest is when it’s got continuous grain – it’s basically transferring the strength of the tree into the chair component. You need to have wood that has a continuous grain from one end to the other in order to complete a successful bend.

My steam bending set up consists of a steaming chamber, F-Clamps, bending form, pulleys, rope and a hand winch. I’ll put a straight piece of wood in the steamer for an hour or more depending on species, then clamp it around the bending form and dry for 4-5 days.’

Steaming chamber: 11mm thick PVC pipe. 

Steamers: Earlex wallpaper steamer. Wagner wallpaper steamer. 

Pulleys, rope and hand winch: boating supply shops.

Bending jig made by Bern.

Bending form made by Bern.

Bessey F-clamps

Photo – Amelia Stanwix. Styling – Ashley Simonetto.

4. Shavehorse

‘To shape anything, you need to have it held securely – which is where the shavehorse comes in. My updated version is called a pinhead shave horse, and I couldn’t do the work I do without it – it’s essential to Windsor chairmaking. On that foot vice, I can turn a piece over and over instantaneously and make sure I’m doing an even job without constantly stopping and starting.’

Shavehorse custom made by Bern. 

Photo – Amelia Stanwix. Styling – Ashley Simonetto.

Photo – Amelia Stanwix. Styling – Ashley Simonetto.

5. Drawknife

‘This basically removes a lot of material quickly, I pretty much just use it on the spindles. When I start on [the spindles] they’re a big square section that I need to turn into a round. A drawknife is used to cut off big slices of wood, and get rid of most of the material whilst the wood is still soft.’

Find it here

6. Spokeshave

‘The spokeshave has got a sole on it, which means it rides over the piece and will take down all the high spots, so it evens up the work you’ve done with the drawknife.’

Find it here

7. Travisher

‘This is pretty much like a curved spokeshave, evening up the carved parts of the seat and unifying the shape of all the curved edges in the process of saddling the seat, making it even and harmonious.’

Find it here

8. Mortise drill set up

‘To create the beauty of the geometry of the chair you have to have accurate drilling for the mortises, and this is a way of providing it.  Being able to look straight into the mirrors means I don’t have to cock my head down to line up the drill bit. I’m able to align the side of the drill bit with the side of the square and the bevel, which are perpendicular to each other, in the mirror.’

Mirrors bought from a glasscutter. 

Mirror stands made by Bern.

Square: Starrett.  

Sliding bevel: Shinwa

Bern with a Windsor chair work-in-progress. Photo – Amelia Stanwix. Styling – Ashley Simonetto.

BERN’S TOP Tips

What’s a piece of industry advice you wish you’d known before learning the hard way?

Develop your own designs as opposed to only doing bespoke one-offs.

Top three creative resources?

1. Museum furniture collections.
2. Libraries.
3. Social media

Most visited website related to your work?

A blog by American maker Peter Follansbee.

Favourite stores to shop for your tools?

I buy directly from the tool makers – some of my favourites include Caleb James,  Lie Nielsen and Claire Minihan.

what are you listening to when you work?

It’s the golden age of podcasts so I get through quite a few – my favourite woodworking podcasts at the moment are  Woodworker’s Podcast and Against The Grain.

Favourite books related to your practice?

Chairmaker’s Notebook’ by Peter Galbert
Welsh Stick Chairs’ by John Brown
Windsor Chairmaking’ by James Mursell
Chairmaker’s Workshop’ by Drew Langsner
The Men Who Made The Celebrated Chairs, Windsor chairmaking in Tasmania‘ by Denis Lake

View Comments

Similar Stories

Studio Visit

The Melbourne Furniture Designer With A 'Softer' Approach

Softer Studio is the emerging Melbourne-based furniture label making a big impression, with its playful and accessible range.

Made of Ballarat

Meet The Leather Crafter Keeping Traditional Techniques Alive

In Made Of Ballarat spirit, we speak to Jess Cameron-Wootten about moving his workshop from the big smoke to the historic city in regional V...

Studio Visit

Bern Chandley

Bernard Chandley is a proper old fashioned furniture maker, with a passion for Windsor chairs.

This Week

News

Exploring Colour + Pace Through 'Blue And Green Music'

A brilliant new exhibition from Sally Lee Anderson takes cues from an evocative Georgia O’Keeffe painting.
Sally Tabart
  24 hours ago

Architecture

A Sustainable Home, Designed To Connect To Community

The sunny and generous renovation of a California Bungalow in Northcote, by Gardiner Architects.
Miriam McGarry

News

A Unique New Line Of Meticulously Handwoven Bags

Introducing George – a limited collection of bags exploring the relationship between object, material, and human interaction.
Sally Tabart

Interiors

Stand-Out Kitchens To Inspire

Kitchen ideas and inspiration from our interiors columnist, Lauren Li.
Lauren Li

In Print

A New Monograph Celebrating One Of Australia's Most Captivating Female Artists

As the new book series Mini Monographs hits shelves, we offer a look inside the first volume, honouring bold painter Del Kathryn Barton.
Sarah Darmody

Art

The Local Gallery That's ‘Light Years’ Ahead

Sydney’s Michael Reid Gallery celebrates lightbox photography with a pioneering new exhibition.
Elle Murrell

Architecture

A House Revived From The 1990s

CO-AP Architects boldly re-imagine a 1990s semi-detached home in Balmain, Sydney.
Miriam McGarry

Interiors

The Winners Of The Belle Coco Republic Interior Design Awards

Take a deep dive into the Belle Coco Republic Interior Design Awards for 2019, announced last night in Sydney.

News

A Month-Long Third Drawer Down x David Shrigley Pop-Up

This decade-long collaboration between Melbourne’s kookiest gift store and the renowned artist is open for business!
Sally Tabart

Modernist Australia

A Rare Opportunity In Melbourne's 'Bagel Belt'

A five-bedroom 1970's gem in Caulfield North, and it's for sale!
Patricia Callan
  22 hours ago

On The Market

One Of Fitzroy’s Most Iconic Homes Is On The Market

Your chance to see inside (and maybe own!) the most intriguing house on the street!

Studio Visit

New Work From A Favourite Local Artist, Super-Charged With Colour + Pattern

Melbourne-based artist Gavin Brown opens a new exhibition of works today, inspired by the sights, flavours, and moods of travels through Asi...
Elle Murrell

Homes

From Caterpillar To Butterfly - A Truly Transformed Home!

Take a tour through the incredible Sydney home Terri Winter of top3 by design shares with her family.

Architecture

The Joyful Renovation Of A 1940s Home

A sensitive and surprising renovation to a 1940s brick home in Ascot Vale by Taylor Knights.
Miriam McGarry

A Day In The Life

A Day In The Life Of Melissa Leong, Food Writer + TV Presenter

We spend a day with the multifaceted foodie, who has recently made the move from Sydney to Melbourne!
Sally Tabart
  6 hours ago

Similar Stories

Studio Visit

The Melbourne Furniture Designer With A 'Softer' Approach

Softer Studio is the emerging Melbourne-based furniture label making a big impression.

Made of Ballarat

Meet The Leather Crafter Keeping Traditional Techniques Alive

In Made Of Ballarat spirit, we speak to Jess Cameron-Wootten about moving his workshop from the big smoke to the historic city in regional V...

Studio Visit

Bern Chandley

Bernard Chandley is a proper old fashioned furniture maker, with a passion for Windsor chairs.