Conrad Delia, Windsor Chairmaker
1300 Popple Dungeon Rd. Chester, Vt.
You can find Conrad Delia, a Windsor chair fine craftsman from Chester, in his workshop on Popple Dungeon Road seven days a week, and typically from about 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. At 84 years young, Delia has been enjoying his “retirement,” designing and making Windsor chairs by hand, for over 30 years.
A carpenter, builder, and skilled woodworker, Delia retired from building homes and taught himself how to make Windsor chairs by reading and rereading a book about the craft. Then he practiced, and practiced some more, constantly fine-tuning his technique and skill and eventually creating his own designs. Over 400 chairs later, he has shipped his chairs all over the country. His orders come in largely through word-of-mouth, usually ranging from 6 to 12 chairs per order, which he makes all by hand and all on his own. He also makes beautiful smaller pieces like rolling pins, wine stoppers, and mallets, which you can find in his showroom.
The Windsor Chair process begins often by cutting trees on his property. His chairs are made from several woods – pine, oak, ash, maple, and birch – that are then hand split according to their use. The seat is made from one solid piece of pine and is dried before being carved into the desired shape. The legs are individually turned on a lathe. All spindles, bows, and armrests are shaved by hand. The bow backs and armrests are steam bent and clamped onto wooden templates that translate the bend needed. No stains are used on his chairs, which Delia considers a factory-made technique. His chairs have a hand-rubbed, milk paint finish, authentic for the style.
No two chairs are exactly alike, even when crafting a set using the same design and dimensions. According to Delia, that is the beauty of handmade craftsmanship. It also ensures that his chairs will appreciate in value over the years, which is not the case for a factory-made chair.
Depending on how busy he is, Delia also offers classes to individuals who want to learn the craft. The six-day course can be taken on successive days or over time depending on the schedule of his students.
Between chair making and instruction, there’s no time for Delia to consider actually retiring. “I’m 84 years old. I don’t want to retire. I think that’s what keeps me young.”