There’s an old saying, “God is in the details,” which can mean that whenever you do something important, it’s worth doing thoroughly. When it comes to making Windsor chairs, George Sawyer is all about the details.
“I use a number of different kinds of wood that are each best suited to the part of the chair,” George says. “Oak and ash are used for the back bow and spindles because they have straight grain that splits and steam bends easily, maple or cherry for the legs because it can hold a detailed turning, and pine or basswood for the seat because it’s light weight, and easy to carve.” In the classes he teaches right in his shop, George goes on in much greater depth, of course, but you get the sense that he’s constantly considering every possible detail.
What is a Windsor Chair?
For those who don’t know, Windsor chairs are the ones in which the uprights and back legs are not one continuous piece, but rather they are separately joined to the seat. Many Windsor chairs on the market are mass-produced, but when a Windsor chair is handmade, it becomes especially beautiful and strong.
For example, when the spindles are hand shaped by following the grain in still green wood, as George does, they are stronger as the grain is left as whole as possible from one end of the spindle to the other. This leaves fewer weak points, and allows the chairs to have much more delicate features than a machine-made chair while still maintaining strength – strength that lasts a lifetime, a guarantee on all Sawyer-made chairs, by the way.
The Sawyer Family Legacy
The care that goes into every chair runs deep in George’s veins. His father, David Sawyer, who began making Windsor chairs in 1982 has produced such fine pieces over the years that can be found all over the country, in numerous publications, and even in the Boston Museum of Fine Art.
David Fry of American Woodturner Magazine writes: “In the pantheon of American Windsor chair makers, few have exercised as much influence in recent decades as Dave Sawyer.” A phenomenal tradition passed down from father to son.
George Sawyer’s Start in Woodworking
But there was a time in George’s life when he almost ignored his calling. The family shop was in their home, so woodworking was a part of his life from the start. “When I was young I was consistently drawn in by the sounds and smells of my dad’s chair shop,” George says. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was absorbing a very unique, hands-on education in material properties. It gave me quite a leg up when I got into product and furniture design in college.” He made his first Windsor chair in 2002, a chair that still holds a place in his heart. “I think there’s something special about the first chair a person builds – for me it was a side chair with bamboo turnings.”
But, like many people, when George was young he went off to college and decided to strike out on his own. After earning a degree in Industrial Design, George worked in product design, architecture, biofuel production, and building steam engines. In retrospect, it seems as though all the moving around was because he hadn’t yet realized his true love of Windsor chair-making. “It turns out my Dad had things figured out all along,” George says, “nothing quite satisfies the soul like green woodworking.”
When his father announced his retirement, George jumped at the chance to take up the mantle. In 2013, he took over production and teaching at the Woodbury, Vermont shop. And he was able to realize his love for woodworking once again.
A Sustainable Approach
George uses sustainable practices, an important aspect of woodworking for all Guild members.
Every portion of the process is carefully controlled. “Our chairs are built using locally-sourced hardwoods,” George says, “many of which we’re able to harvest from our own property, and the process of building our Windsor chairs is more than 90% handwork, meaning that we don’t need to run electricity for power tools. When our chairs are finished we use all non-toxic finishes, including milk paint, beeswax, linseed oil, and Vermont natural coatings.”
George sees growth in the future of Sawyer Made Windsor Chairs. He looks to increase the size of his shop which will allow him to expand his class offerings and production on some of his pieces. He’d also enjoy experimenting with more abstract and sculptural designs for his Windsor chairs. George loves every part of the Windsor chair and is always eager to begin another design. “It interfaces with the entire human body; posture, flexibility, durability, texture, and ergonomics must all be considered. The Windsor style and techniques used in its production provide elegant solutions to all of these problems.”
And so, in his in-home shop, George continues his family tradition of beautifully-crafted chairs that will continue to delight Windsor fans across the nation. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for Sawyer-made chairs.
To contact George for classes or Windsor chairs (or bowls, he turns bowls as well!) feel free to email or call:
Phone: (802) 249-6300
Sawyer Made Website
George’s Guild member page