Highland Hardware Wood News Online No. 9, February 2006

Master Craftsman Curtis Buchanan

Curtis Buchanan

The Windsor style has been around almost 300 years. Classic lines gracefully framing negative space have led some to refer to the chair as utilitarian sculpture. Master craftsman Curtis Buchanan makes his Windsor Chairs in much the same way they were made 200 years ago. His small, one-man shop is a 16’ x 20’ timber-framed building with enough doors and windows to invite the outside in. Tucked away in his backyard, it is located within the heart of Tennessee’s Jonesborough Historic District, but feels as if it were out in the country.

Buchanan started making chairs full-time in 1984 after deciding that he wanted to find a way to make a living working out of his home in western North Carolina. He learned the craft from Dave Sawyer and hasn’t stopped since. In 1985 he moved to Jonesborough where he currently resides with his wife and two daughters. In addition to building chairs, Buchanan teaches chairmaking in many craft schools both here and abroad, writes woodworking articles and grows Christmas Trees. His chairs are in the permanent collection of the Tennessee State Museum, the Southern Highlands Craft Guild and Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson.

Living among the diverse forest of the Southern Appalachian Mountains gives Buchanan access to a constant supply of high quality logs. These logs - oak, hickory, ash, maple and walnut - are then split to size using wedges and a sledge hammer. This technique, as opposed to sawing, ensures straight wood fibers providing uncompromising strength. Seats for traditional styles are carved from a single board of eastern white pine while butternut, walnut or tulip poplar are used for contemporary designs.

The use of green (unseasoned) wood enables Buchanan to selectively dry parts after they are made. Superdry tenons go into mortises in air-dried wood. After assembly the dry tenons absorb moisture from the mortise and swell so that the joints become tighter and stronger. The result is a chair that comes with a lifetime guarantee to outlast either Buchanan or the original owner.

Continuous Arm High Chair Buchanan is also a co-founder of GreenWood, a community-based sustainable forestry initiative in Latin America whose mission is to increase the value of the forest to its inhabitants through appropriate woodworking technology. In turn, the forest dwellers are able to earn more by managing their forest than they would make from conventional agriculture or destructive logging. GreenWood was launched in 1993 through the efforts of Buchanan, Brian Boggs (Berea, KY) and Scott Landis (South Berwick, ME). It has trained more than 40 artisans, adding to the forest economy of more than five different communities. Employing mainly handtools and lesser known wood species, these artisans have produced a wide range of furniture, craft products and boat and guitar parts. GreenWood has partnered with prestigous groups such as the World Wildlife Fund, Rainforest Alliance, the Nature Conservancy and Mystic Seaport.

Curtis will be teaching here at Highland Hardware in April. His class will make Windsor Youth High Chairs, a style of Windsor chair of which he was a key presenter at the recent Windsor High Chair Symposium in Colonial Williamsburg.

To learn more about building Windsor chairs, the video with John Alexander, Make a Chair from a Tree (221602), is a great introduction. The Chairmakers Workshop: Handcrafting Windsor and Post-and-Rung Chairs (201456) by Drew Langsner and The Book of American Windsor Furniture: Styles and Technologies (201636) by John Kassay serve as excellent reference books.

See a detailed description and/or register for Curtis's class on April 10 - 15, Build a Windsor Youth Chair (991322)

Information courtesy of www.curtisbuchananchairmaker.com . Reprinted by permission.

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