WD: Paint History Tells Trends

As woodworkers, we all love the look and feel of all kinds of wood. The color, the grain characteristics and the way it finishes are the things we all love about working with wood. To modern woodworkers, for the most part, the wood itself is pretty much the product. This was not the case in the 18th century when it came to Windsor chairs. The wood was simply the medium – the means of displaying the Windsor form.

(Fig. 1) Four woods, four textures and grains and four colors are why Windsor chairs are painted.

As I wrote in previous articles, Windsor chairs were almost always constructed of three different wood species, each chosen for a particular job. Hard maple was used for legs and stretchers, poplar (in the mid-Atlantic states) or pine (in New England) became seats and hickory or oak was used for the spindles and parts that were bent (Fig. 1). And Windsor chairs were always painted. There were numerous reasons for this, some practical but mostly aesthetic.

From a practical standpoint, Windsor chairs were used outside as lawn furniture quite often, and a coat of paint added protection from the elements. From an aesthetic angle, that coat of paint covered the different grains and colors of the three different woods in the chair, so your eye could follow the line of the chair without interruption or confusion. Quite a difference from how we see and use wood today.

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