Together with April Wilkerson (far left) and Anne Briggs (center) in the shop of Greg Pennington. April built a three legged stool, Anne built a tiny Windsor Chair and I built a traditional Continuous Arm Windsor Chair. Photo Courtesy of Justin Mabie.
Visiting the shop of renowned chairmaker, Greg Pennington, along with my friends April Wilkerson (of Wilker Do's) and Anne Briggs (of Anne of All Trades) was an experience I will never forget. Familiar with Greg's exquisite chair building work, I was honored to be asked by him to engrave a Lie-Nielsen handplane for his woodworking shop. A mutual friend suggested that I consider taking a class with Greg to learn the basics of chair making. I had previously taken a class locally that combined both power tools and hand tools but I wanted to learn more specifically the fundamentals of primarily using hand tools in building a Windsor Chair. After contacting Greg regarding taking one of his classes, I talked to my good friend Anne Briggs, who is also friends with Greg. Anne asked if I'd mind if she joined the class too. A few months later we were together in Greg's Tennessee shop along with our friend, April, who happened to be in town for an event and decided to join us.
Using the Lie-Nielsen handplane that I hand engraved to smooth the base of my chair seat. Photo Courtesy of Justin Mabie.
Being in Greg Pennington's workshop is like stepping back into a different era. He hand built his entire building and its walls are filled with the timeless tools of the trade of furniture making. Spoke shaves, travishers, draw knives and mallets become decorative decor as well as conversation pieces on top of their basic function as tools in a maker's workspace.
The project that I chose was to build a traditional continuous arm chair. Working with fresh white oak, Greg showed me how to steam bend the continuous arm and create the spindles of the chair back not by using a lathe, but by hand using draw knives and shaves to achieve their rounded shapes. Forming the pine seat, made of pine from my home state of Michigan, was something that tested my patience. I decided quickly that I was not a fan of the scorp tool, but instead chose to use a variety of travishers and shaves. It was especially fun to be able to use shaves made by Caleb James, whom I've followed on Instagram for several years and met at a woodworking event. The quality of Caleb's hand tools is very apparent and they were a joy to use on this project.
In order to bring my chair home with me on the airplane, I needed it partially disassembled. I glued the seat and legs but packaged the spindles and arm rail separately, in pieces on top of it. Once I arrived home, I'll admit I was scared to finish the chair. Without the access to the tools I had in Greg's shop, I was worried that I would crack something during glue up. Thankfully, that did not happen and I now have a beautiful Windsor Chair that I made with my own hands.
I'd like to thank Greg Pennington for making this class such a memorable experience. With limited woodworking knowledge, I was very intimidated coming into a class with these expert craftsmen. Greg put me at ease, building a chair alongside me, happy guide me and to answer any questions I had along the way. Both Anne and April made videos for their YouTube channels of our experience together. Below are the links to these episodes. I'd also like to thank photographer and friend, Justin Mabie, for many of the photos used in this story.