How many Hours to Build a Chair?

by | Jan 13, 2022 | 1 comment

A page from Samuel Wing’s account book (courtesy of Old Sturbridge Village)

This is one of the most popular questions I get asked.  I never know how to answer it.  Usually I say, “About 30 hours for a Continuous Arm chair, including 8 coats of finish.”  But the truth is I haven’t a clue.  I have no interest in tracking my time, so I never have.  It’s as simple as that.

A key question for my book project is, “how long did it take Samuel Wing to build a chair?” When I first wrote on this blog about the book, I hadn’t read Samuel Wing’s account books yet, so I based my time estimate on Nancy Goyne Evans calculations in her excellent book Windsor Chair Making in America. But I know more now.

Reading Samuel Wing’s account books, I was able to find a entry in 1802 where he charges 7 shilling 6 pence for a day and a half of his labor, which works out to be 5 shilling per day.  Later that year, he charges 8 shilling 6 pence per chair for a set of 6 “green chairs”  (probably some kind of side chair).  If he worked 10 hours per day, that’s conservatively 10-15 hours per chair, which is a whole lot slower than the 4-5 hours per chair that Nancy Goyne Evans figured for square back chairs a decade or two later.  Which is good news for me – I don’t have to work as fast!

Why the disparity in time estimates?  In hindsight, I have a number of ideas:  Besides chairs, Samuel Wing made boats, tables, beds, chests, farmed and sold lumber and watches and shoes.  And did many other things. So he probably never got as fast as a specialist chairmaker would have been.  Plus, square back windsor chairs often had simpler seats, turnings, bends and assembly techniques than Wing’s loop backs, speeding production.

Once I get a mess of chair orders out the door, I’ll start building a reproduction of the Dominy spring-pole lathe and then I’m off to the races.

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Stephen C
2 years ago

Elia, I’m enjoying hearing about this adventure. I’d bet you can do better than 30 hours for a CA. I was curious and timed myself doing a CA last month and it took me about 29 hours. Since that was only my 7th chair and 4th CA, I’m guessing you are much faster than me.
Hope all is well!

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