Wood worker's passion

A nod to chair making history

 

Story BY Danielle Portteus
Photos By Ed Keller

Jim Crammond takes an axe and splits a portion of a maple tree in half.

He continues two more times cutting the wood into smaller sections, which he will later form into spindles.

The 62-year-old Monroe resident loves constructing Windsor chairs and other wooden treasures particularly in the fall and winter months.

A member of the Southeast Michigan Woodworkers group, Jim works at Timiny Railroad Construction in Millbury, Ohio. After work, he often escapes to his woodworking studio at the back of his garage.

“I just enjoy working with wood,” Jim explains.

Growing up, Jim said he loved working with his hands but it was not until he took the class “Working Wood in the 18th Century” at Colonial Williamsburg that his passion for chair-making began to grow.

“I enjoyed doing and learning about how things were done back then,” he said.

Later, he took a class at Tillers International near Kalamazoo and made his first chair.

“Once I started, it was a different way of thinking for me,” Jim said. “As an engineer by trade, I’m used to everything working in lines, but chairs work in angles.”

A graduate of Clay High School in Oregon, Ohio, and the Ohio State University with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, Jim calls chair-making a “nice, creative outlet.” Handcrafting chairs and other goods requires the creative part of the brain to activate.

Scattered around his home are items he has constructed including his dining room chairs. Jim built a medicine cabinet, small chests, stools and end tables among other goods.

Since 2006, Jim has created more than 80 chairs. While most of his creations are Windsor chairs, he also has made post and ring chairs.

“I usually do things the old-fashioned way,” Jim explained.

A history lover, Jim participates in reenactments at the River Raisin National Battlefield. Fellow reenactors are among his clients.

Each chair is unique even when he follows a pattern in part because they are handmade.

“Each one is going to be a bit different,” Jim said.

Typically, a smaller chair takes about 25 hours to create and 35 hours for a larger chair.

“I have a shorter attention span,” Jim admits, which is why he likes smaller projects. “I like making them. I like the process.”

Each section of the chair is made from a different type of wood. The legs are crafted from fine-grain woods like maple, cherry or beech. Seats are formed from soft wood like pine. The backs are made from bendable woods like oak, ash or hickory.

“I prefer to work with green wood,” Jim explains, which is fresh wood.

Jim gets some of his wood from word of mouth, at job sites or by cutting his own.

Once the chairs are constructed, Jim paints the chairs in a variety of colors including black, barn red, a dark green, brown or even mustard.

In 2008, Jim began teaching others how to make Windsor chairs at Tillers International. Students have visited his workshop in Monroe as part of the chair-making process.

His workshop is filled with tools. Jim has everything from froes and a riving machine to a variety of hand tools. Some of the tools he uses to shape pieces like the spindles are tools he made.

“I like collecting tools, which is why I like chair-making,” he said.

While chair-making can be labor-intensive, Jim keeps a small object around for good measure.

“I have the wood-burning stove so I can burn my mistakes,” Jim quips.

Jim Crammond splits a piece of wood for spindles as he creates a Windsor chair. Jim has constructed about 80 chairs.

Jim Crammond works on the seat of his chair using his hand carving tools.

Jim Crammond uses classic tools to help him build a Windsor chair.