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