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.