5/24/14 – St. Croix Falls, WI
When Jim Van Hoven’s building in St. Croix Falls, Wis., was a restaurant, cleaning up after hours meant vacuuming up potato chips. These days, at the Woodshop Featuring Windsor Chairs, Van Hoven cleans up wood chips.
His building serves as gallery and workshop for the 14 styles of Windsor chairs and accessory items he crafts.
The Woodshop’s front door opens to the rich smell of wood: hard maple and birch for turnings; white pine for chair seats; and red or white oak or occasionally hickory for chair spindles and bent wood parts.
“Maple turns like butter, and I use it for its ease of turning,” Van Hoven said. “White pine is a stable, easily carved wood, so I use it for seats. It’s a softer sit. The spindles of oak or hickory are because you want a long, fibered wood for bending.”
Van Hoven’s sense for wood and his skill have made him one of only seven Windsor chair craftsmen to be voted for inclusion in the Early American Life Directory of Traditional American Crafts.
On display in the front gallery are examples of various Van Hoven chairs, ranging from sack-back armchairs to Van Hoven’s favorite, a rocking chair designed so the user cannot fall over backward. There are ancient machining tools on display, as well.
Step a bit farther, and you can see the master at work.