Watch: It Takes 9 Hours For Woodworkers to Make This Shaker-Inspired Chair

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By Lindsay J. Warner
Spare, sturdy, almost minimalist—Thos Moser’s signature chair distills generations of know-how.

The chair that furniture maker Thomas Moser, now 82, sat in every night during family dinner in New Gloucester, Maine, bears witness to a lifelong passion for woodworking. "My father always carried a tape measure in his pocket, and the spindles of that chair are scarred from it," says his son Aaron. "That’s the beauty of a natural finish. It takes on battle wounds, just like all of us."

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At the workshop in Auburn, Maine, master craftsman Warren Shaw glues and clamps together three pieces of cherry to make a panel that will form the seat of a Continuous Arm Chair. The artisans sometimes call the piece "TMC"­—Thos. Moser Continuous—for short.

At the workshop in Auburn, Maine, master craftsman Warren Shaw glues and clamps together three pieces of cherry to make a panel that will form the seat of a Continuous Arm Chair. The artisans sometimes call the piece "TMC"­—Thos. Moser Continuous—for short.

That dining chair—an early version of what is now known as the Continuous Arm Chair—was Tom Moser’s first recognizable design in the world of fine furniture making. "The TMC was an important milestone in his life as a designer," Aaron says, referring to the chair by its product SKU. "My father had designed many things before, but in a smaller way. Before the TMC, he was a college teacher and woodworker—he wasn’t a designer. This was a real leap." That was in 1977, five years after Moser left his post as a communications professor at Bates College to start his furniture company.

Founded in 1972, Thos. Moser  belongs to a long tradition of austere New England woodworking that stretches back to the Shakers, the Protestant sect known for their simple yet rigorously crafted furniture. The company uses only North American hardwoods in its work.

Founded in 1972, Thos. Moser belongs to a long tradition of austere New England woodworking that stretches back to the Shakers, the Protestant sect known for their simple yet rigorously crafted furniture. The company uses only North American hardwoods in its work.

The Continuous Arm Chair, with its ash legs and spindles attached to a richly colored American black cherry seat, takes its moniker from its signature curves: an unbroken arch of laminated cherry stretched into an alluring bend to form the back and arms of the chair. Laminated cherry "ship’s knees"—curved supports that attach to the bottom of the seat and each leg—replace the stretchers traditionally found on Windsor chairs. 

It takes nine hours to complete a single Continuous Arm Chair, requiring at least three people from start to finish. At a spray booth in the 90,000-square-foot factory, an artisan applies oil to a chair.

It takes nine hours to complete a single Continuous Arm Chair, requiring at least three people from start to finish. At a spray booth in the 90,000-square-foot factory, an artisan applies oil to a chair.

"A lot of time and attention gets paid to the bottom of the seat," says Andy, another of Moser’s four sons. "That’s where the signature is." He means that figuratively—it’s a distinctive design element—and also quite literally: Each chair bears the signature of the principal craftsperson who worked on it, along with the date of completion.

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Of the 60 or so artisans working in the Thos. Moser factory in Auburn, Maine, few have made as tangible a stamp on the brand’s design as master craftsman and product developer Warren Shaw. Twenty-five years ago, Shaw started at the company by learning how to sand properly. Today he shepherds each new design through various rounds of refinement until it’s ready for one of the six Thos. Moser showrooms or for a specific customer. The bar is high: Thos. Moser products are guaranteed for life, so Shaw constantly straddles the line between production and craft.

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"You can drop the chair out of a truck and it will bounce, not break. It’s built in a way that’s akin to a high-tension wire bridge. It achieves its strength through its flexibility." Aaron Moser

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Over the past quarter century, he has overseen the shift from mostly handmade products to a workshop that now hums with the whir of technology. Industrial-size planers and sanders, longtime tools of the trade, help trim the seat of the Continuous chair to its final 1 5/8-inch thickness; an elephantine CNC milling machine sculpts the curve of the seat and drills holes for the spindles. And yet: "The CNC will not make that continuous arm," Andy says. "That needs the eye, the hand, and the rasp."

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"Technology makes our lives a little easier, so that we can concentrate on the fit and finish," says Aaron, "but the sourcing of the material, the matching of the wood grain—no machine can do those things."

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The Continuous Arm Chair itself—all clean lines and functional beauty—has changed very little since 1977, yet its lineage stretches back further. "It was inspired in part by the symmetry, economy of form, and material, utility, and purity of Shaker design," says its creator, Tom Moser, nodding to the Protestant group’s no-nonsense woodworking style.

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"The TMC is a Windsor chair, but the Windsors of England don’t look anything like it," says Aaron. "The silhouette of that chair is our brand." 

The Continuous Arm Chair 

The Thos. Moser team demonstrates how to build an updated Windsor chair based on timeless principles.

Cut and Glue: A six-foot cherry board is cut into three pieces and passed over the jointer to get a flat face and a perpendicular edge. The pieces are color- and grain-matched and glued together<br>to form an 18-by-24-inch panel that will become the chair’s seat.&nbsp; &nbsp;

Cut and Glue: A six-foot cherry board is cut into three pieces and passed over the jointer to get a flat face and a perpendicular edge. The pieces are color- and grain-matched and glued together
to form an 18-by-24-inch panel that will become the chair’s seat.   

Shape the Seat: In a nine-minute automated process, a CNC machine routs and shapes the panel into an ergonomically correct seat. It also drills holes for the spindles and legs. By hand, this step alone would take hours.&nbsp;

Shape the Seat: In a nine-minute automated process, a CNC machine routs and shapes the panel into an ergonomically correct seat. It also drills holes for the spindles and legs. By hand, this step alone would take hours. 

Laminate: To make the signature continuous cherry arm,11 knife-cut slices from the same board are laminated together with glue to make one strong, flexible piece.&nbsp;&nbsp;

Laminate: To make the signature continuous cherry arm,11 knife-cut slices from the same board are laminated together with glue to make one strong, flexible piece.  

Rasp: A band saw and a router slice the sharp edges off, then both a coarse and a fine rasp are used to create the round-to-flat shape of the arm.

Rasp: A band saw and a router slice the sharp edges off, then both a coarse and a fine rasp are used to create the round-to-flat shape of the arm.

Sand: A balloon sander fitted with 60-grit sandpaper smooths off the rasp marks, then the team uses 220-grit sandpaper to hand-sand the arm to a final finish.&nbsp;

Sand: A balloon sander fitted with 60-grit sandpaper smooths off the rasp marks, then the team uses 220-grit sandpaper to hand-sand the arm to a final finish. 

Build: Starting with the longest and shortest lengths, artisan Warren Shaw taps the ash spindles into the top of the seat and the continuous arm with a mallet. The legs will follow.&nbsp;

Build: Starting with the longest and shortest lengths, artisan Warren Shaw taps the ash spindles into the top of the seat and the continuous arm with a mallet. The legs will follow. 

Glue and Wedge: Each ash spindle and leg is glued and driven into place and secured with a cherry wedge for a mechanical and adhesive bond that will keep the spindles and legs taut and strong.

Glue and Wedge: Each ash spindle and leg is glued and driven into place and secured with a cherry wedge for a mechanical and adhesive bond that will keep the spindles and legs taut and strong.

Attach the Knees:&nbsp; Replacing ordinary stretchers, laminated cherry "ship’s knees" fit into a specially routed mortise in each leg. Once they’ve been glued, clamped, and screwed into the seat and legs, they’re rasped and sanded.

Attach the Knees:  Replacing ordinary stretchers, laminated cherry "ship’s knees" fit into a specially routed mortise in each leg. Once they’ve been glued, clamped, and screwed into the seat and legs, they’re rasped and sanded.

Level the Legs: A 24-inch belt sander levels the legs—the last step before the chair is taken to the finishing department. There, warm oil is sprayed on to protect the wood. Finally, wax is hand-applied and then buffed to create the finish.

Level the Legs: A 24-inch belt sander levels the legs—the last step before the chair is taken to the finishing department. There, warm oil is sprayed on to protect the wood. Finally, wax is hand-applied and then buffed to create the finish.