April 13, 2010

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When I was the Artist in Residence at the Grove Arcade Arts and Heritage Gallery late 2008, I met lots of cool people.  Many of them told me, “you GOTTA go to Woody’s Chair Shop!!!”  Exactly like that, with all the exclamation points. Almost a year later I was at the Southern Highlands Craft Guild Fair and lo and behold, there are Scott and Cara Woody. We chatted shop talk, realized we had a couple of common friends in Charleston SC, and then Scott says, “you GOTTA come out to Woody’s Chair Shop!!!”

Scott Woody gave us a fabulous tour of his shop.

Another 6 months go by and I finally did it! Now it’s my turn to say to anybody out there reading this…You GOTTA go to Woody’s Chair Shop!!!  It is the coolest workshop I’ve ever imagined. Industrial Revolution style machines dating back to 1873 that used to run off a water wheel. Hoses and cords run all along the ceiling. The wood block tile floor is the coolest floor I’ve ever seen. Scott gave us (Me and Dave, my chair minion) a tour from tree to chair. We met Arlan Woody, the man-the myth, and looked at some pictures on their history wall including those chairs owned by John and Caroline Kennedy…yes, THOSE Kennedys.  We talked to some folks stopping by on their way back from Florida from the winter, met some folks just driving by, and had a quality afternoon.

Where the magic happens

It takes almost 3 years for the tree to become a  gorgeous quality Woody’s Chair hand made with no nails or glue! Scott says that “the trees find them,” that folks just call them and say they have a nice cherry tree that has fallen or a maple has to be cut because of its proximity to a house.  Then its all about the moisture.  It takes about a year and a half for a tree to dry out to about 20% moisture.  Then they put up a mill in the side yard, cut the tree into planks, then stack the planks to dry for over a year! They test the moisture often and when it’s ready, they make a smaller 2x2x2 lengths on a band saw. Thousands of pieces of wood are stacked into 8 ft. tall, 3 ft. deep stacks.  Scott inspects them for similar design and stability, and then takes the posts into the shop to the lathe. Meanwhile between the wood shop and the storage/drying building, a few flatter wider cut pieces are boiling in the giant boiler.  The soaked rectangular pieces of wood fit into a contraption that looks like an old stretcher or Alaskan toboggan sled.  They dry in this position for many weeks until they permanently harden in the curved shape.  These pieces will be the horizontal slats across the back of the chair.

Using a chisel, Scott shapes the end of the chair leg as it spins on the lathe.

The lathe shapes the squared length of wood into a cylinder.  He scores the maple post and then takes various chisels to the spinning length creating both decorative and functional curves. Then it’s off to the sanding room. Once the posts are smooth, they move to yet another monstrous piece of equipment from 1873. This one carves out a rectangular slot where the curved chair back pieces will fit in like a glove. Another machine digs out the cylindrical holes into which the side rails fit.  The pieces are smoothed and polished to perfection and immediately assembled so that when they dry and expand, they require NO GLUE AND NO NAILS!

The chairs frames get rush woven seats and are finally ready to live happily in our homes for many generations to enjoy. Truely, an enjoyable experience in craftsmanship, a history of family traditions, and the coolest woodshop tour ever.
You GOTTA go to Woody’s Chair Shop in Spruce Pine!!!!  Visit online at www.woodyschairshop.com

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