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.