Woody’s Chair Shop has a Deep-Seated History
Sixth-generation chairmaker Jimmy Woody can remember working in his family’s Western North Carolina chair shop as a young boy, sweeping the wood shavings away for a dime. It was a chore Jimmy’s own sons, Brian and Scott, would one day tackle as well.
“They worked in the shop just like I did as a youngster,” Jimmy says.
Since the early 1800s, the Woody family has been renowned for chairmaking not only in North Carolina, but around the world. Today, Jimmy continues to operate Woody’s Chair Shop in Mitchell County, which he inherited from his uncles, Arval and Walter Woody.
Jimmy’s third cousin, Max Woody, also owns a chair shop in McDowell County. Max, who is nearing 90, has been making chairs for more than 65 years. Both men produce handmade chairs using a Colonial American method, with no nails, screws or glue in the structural part of the chair.
“The early colonists didn’t have the material resources to make furniture like they had seen in Europe, so they had to use the moisture content of wood to put chairs together,” Jimmy explains. “Some parts of the chair are air-dried green wood with a higher moisture content, while other parts are kiln-dried. When you drive the two types of wood together, the wetter wood begins to shrink up, which makes the chair almost indestructible when it’s fully assembled. It’s an art form that’s purely Americana – the shrinking of higher-moisture wood onto dried wood of the same species.”
Woody Chairs in the White House
Decades ago, Arval and Walter Woody’s chair shop became quite well-known after the family donated a rocking chair to former President John F. Kennedy, who suffered from back pain.
“A very short time later, the White House staff called to see if we could make the Kennedy children some chairs, because they spent so much time in his,” Woody says. “So we did.”
Replicas of the Kennedy children’s rockers are still very popular, especially among grandparents. The chairs remained in the White House during Kennedy’s presidency and are now in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. Woody chairs can also be found in the Smithsonian Institution, as well as in the homes of governors, senators and a member of Great Britain’s Parliament.
“My father’s brothers really made the shop into what it is today,” Jimmy says. “Uncle Arval was named a North Carolina Living Treasure for his craft in chairs. I worked with him while I was in college, and he and Walter taught me the business.”
After earning a college degree in wildlife biology, Jimmy worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for 30 years before joining his uncles in the family business.
Both have since died, but Jimmy proudly carries on the craft they loved. He takes custom orders for chairs from customers all around the country. They can choose the type of wood for their chair, be it oak, maple, hickory, walnut or cherry.
“We use all hard woods from the Appalachian chain, from Georgia to Virginia, including some from my own property,” Jimmy says.
An Appalachian Art Form
Woody chairs have been known to last four or five generations, with the shops becoming a destination for travelers.
“People come in the shop and tell me about Woody chairs their family has passed down to them,” Jimmy says proudly. “I myself have a rocker my great grandfather Arthur Woody made. He’s got chairs spread throughout Mitchell and Yancey County. People kept them because they were well-known and well-made.”
You never know where a customer might have seen a Woody chair.
“We recently sold one to a senator and delivered it to Washington,” Jimmy says. “We also gave Billy Graham a chair a while back, and he sat in it for an interview on his birthday on national TV.”
Woody chairs range in price from $375 to over $1,000, depending on the size and type of chair.
“Size matters, because we make chairs to fit people, whether they’re tall, short, wide or whatever,” Jimmy says.
One full-time employee, Ricky Hollifield, has worked in the chair shop for 30 years and is an integral part of the business. On average, it takes about three weeks for Woody’s Chair Shop to have a custom-ordered chair ready. In busy times, it can take as long as two months.
“I always have found joy in messing with wood – it has a relaxing effect,” Jimmy says. “I also enjoy seeing folks come in and tell me they still have a chair their mom or dad bought 30 years ago. I listen to their stories.”
Jimmy’s older son, Brian, works as a commercial fisherman in Alaska, but still comes home and helps in the chair shop from time to time. Younger son, Scott, has worked with his dad in the shop for a number of years, since he was a kid.
“He’s made a lot of chairs. He’s quite talented and understands the process,” Jimmy says. “I’m hoping he’ll carry on the family tradition. He’s got sawdust in his blood.”
If You Go...
Woody’s Chair Shop is located at 34 Dale Road in Spruce Pine. It is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Contact Jimmy Woody at (828) 765-9277; or, by email at email@example.com.
Max Woody Chair Shop is located at 3355 US-70 in Marion. Please call ahead before visiting, as hours may vary. Contact them at (828) 724-4158.
– Jessica Mozo