Windsor Chairs: Glossary of Terms

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More information

For more information on Windsor chairs there is a good little book "English Windsor Chairs" by Ivan G Sparkes ISBN 0-85263-562-1, which I can thoroughly recommend. Below are just a few of the tems which sometimes crop up in discussions.



A thin component usually going from the seat to the back bow. These are generally too thin to turn on a lathe so they are often made with a drawknife and spokeshave, or a special tool called a trapping plane. In my case I have a special little machine made of string, wire and old photocopier bits which makes a nice job of these.



The curved recess carved into the top surface of the seat to improve comfort. Sometimes called the saddling. This is arguably the most expensive bit of the chair to get right. Cheap chairs generally skimp on the bottoming, and it shows.



A steam bent piece of wood forming the back or arms of a chair.



Box Stretcher

Stretchers made of four pieces simply linking the four legs. Has the disadvantage that you can't slide your feet under the chair. Evidently the Victorians liked this format for school chairs as it made the pupils sit with their feet flat on the floor. Try it, it's not natural!



Cabriole leg

Sometimes erroneously called a Queen Anne leg, this was a carved, curved leg with a foot and a knee. Introduced in the early 18th century presumably to take the Windsor chair "up market".



Like the Mountain Pygmy Possum, thought to exist only in the fossil record, but recently rediscovered alive and well in a remote shed. Several are now known to exist, and an increase in numbers is anticipated as word spreads.


Crinoline stretcher

Stretcher made with one steam bent piece linking the front two legs and two small turned pieces linking this with the two back legs. Good looking, but not as strong as the H stretcher. Gossip says that it made more room for the ladies' skirts, but I don't believe that's true. Sometimes referred to as a "cow horn" stretcher.


Continuous Arm

An arm and back bow combined, steam bent out of a single piece of wood in three dimensions. First produced in Rhode Island chairs around 1800. Good looking but difficult to make if you don't know how. Don't try this one at home.


Comb Back

Type of chair with backsticks inserted into a curved horizontal strip of wood at the top, a bit like a comb.


Double H stretcher

As implied by the name, similar to an H stretcher but with an additional cross piece. It is the strongest of all the stretcher patterns. Rumour has it that the man of the house would use the stretchers as a rack for drying his boots in front of the fire overnight.


H Stretcher

Stretcher made of three pieces joined in the shape of a letter H. Strong and simple.


Lath Back

Chair made with thin, usually curved sawn strips of wood called laths, instead of backsticks. This curve provides some degree of lumbar support.



A flat piece of wood in the back construction, usually pierced with a fretwork design, and sometimes carved on the front face. Some popular motifs were the Prince of Wales Feathers, a wheel, or a Fleur de Lis. Sometimes called a fiddle, although I think this should only refer to a splat in the shape of a fiddle.


Shawl Back

Like a comb back, but usually more curved, and with ears on the end of the comb. In the draughty houses of the time, you would roast by the fireside, but your back would freeze due to the wind whipping under the door. A shawl could be hung from the specially made back piece inside the chair to keep your back warm.


Stick Back

Type of chair with only backsticks and no splat.


Wheel Back

Chair with a bow back and a splat with a wheel motif.


Windsor Chair

A Windsor chair has a solid wooden seat, and the back support and back legs are always separate. This gives the Windsor the terrific advantage that all the components can be at optimum angles for comfort. Any chair which has the back support and back legs in one piece is NOT a Windsor. Having the back and back legs as one piece always results in compromising either comfort or strength. That's why I only make Windsors.