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Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016

Woodworking passion leads to a new career

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Davis Elsey poses with a Windsor chair, while sitting in a contoured rocking chair.
SIKESTON -- David Elsey has enjoyed woodworking since he was a teenager.

For years, he has dabbled in the craft, which can be seen throughout his house, as well as by some of the gifts he has given. He has also held Wood Work Merit Badge classes for the Boy Scouts, for which he is Scoutmaster of Troop 41 in Sikeston.

For several months, Elsey developeed, created and focused on sculpted rocking chairs, as part of his new business, David's Rocking Chairs. "I wanted to do something different," he said.

So now, he works in his garage, which has been set up as a woodworkers' shop. He has also recently expanded to include Windsor-style chairs.

Sculpted rocking chairs

"I always tend to migrate toward a rocking chair when we go somewhere," Elsey said. "And some wooden rocking chairs are just awfully uncomfortable." So he set out to make a more comfortable chair.

"There is a style of wooden rocking chair that has been around for many years," said Elsey. He compared them to chairs made by the well-known Sam Maloof in California, but Elsey said his share more resemblance to those made by Hal Taylor in Virginia.

The chairs come in different sizes -- small, medium. large and extra large -- as well as sized for children. "Each chair is custom-made to people's sizes," said Elsey. He has built one of each size for people to try and find which suits them best.

One of the features is the flexible back, which Elsey is able to construct by cutting the wood into four different pieces, laminating and bending the pieces, then gluing them together. "I thought it would be more comfortable," he said. The seat is also contoured to add comfort.

When someone is interested in having a chair made, Elsey will ask some personal questions about a person's dimensions -- for instance, their height, the length from the bottom of their foot to where their knee breaks, and their body size, to ensure optimum comfort.

To make the chairs visually appealing and balanced, Elsey cuts all the pieces for a chair from the same piece of lumber to match the grain and color. This allows for a symmetry of the grain and color to flow throughout the chair. The price for the rocking chairs start at $4,000, however, the final price for a chair is determined by the type and amount of wood used.

The customer gets to pick the species of the tree; and Elsey noted that he doesn't stain the chairs, instead the chairs age naturally. Walnut is the most popular type of lumber people want.

"It takes at least three weeks to construct," he said. In total, it would take six to eight weeks for an individual to receive the chair, he said, because he first has to order the lumber and be sure it meets his specifications.

He also spends approximately two days sanding each chair to make them as smooth as possible.

Elsey said the chairs can be heirlooms, passed down through the generations. And they are built for that. He said: "If you're going to spend that much money, you want it to fit, be comfortable, and you want it to last."

Windsor chairs

A second type of chair that Elsey has just begun making are the Sack Back Windsor chairs. Originating from a popular style in the United States and England from the 1750s to late 1800s, Elsey said the chair is currently more popular on the East Coast.

"It features three different kinds of wood, sometimes four," said Elsey. For instance, one of the samples had maple, white pine and oak, different chair parts need different woods to provide strength, or flexibility.

Unlike his rocking chairs that are laminated and bent, some parts are bent with steam. He noted the Windsor chairs are made entirely with hand tools. Unlike the rocking chairs, these have a rougher finish that show the chair maker's tool marks, and are painted.

"It's either a 'you love it or you hate it,' kind of chair," Elsey said of the style. Elsey noted that these chairs make great conversation pieces, are comfortable to sit in, and less expensive than the originals. The style can also be modified to fit a customer's preferences.

These chairs take about a week to construct; and prices begin at $700, with discounted prices if more than one is purchased.

To learn to make these chairs, Elsey recently completed a class at The Windsor Institute run by Mike Dunbar in New Hampshire.

For now, Elsey is looking forward to taking his 30-year passion to the next level.

"When I'm engrossed in my woodworking, I've very engrossed," he said. "It's relaxing to me."

David Elsey can be reached by calling 573-471-7078 or 573-380-1772. More information can be found at the site www.davidsrockingchairs.com; and he can be e-mailed at david@davidsrockingchairs.com.