Arval Woody lived in Spruce Pine all of his life, and he worked as a fifth generation chair maker and woodworker after serving in the military during World War II. Woody’s grandfather, Arthur Woody was a chair maker. His great-grandfather, Henry Woody, was a chair maker, and his great-great-grandfather, Wyatt Woody, was also chair maker. One family story claims that the family name was Anderson, but it was changed to Woody because they did so much wood work. “I have sawdust in my blood,” Arval said.
Arval Woody was hanging around his grandfather’s workshop by the time he was six years old, and he was learning how to sharpen tools and do carpentry by the age of sixteen. He remembered getting a job on the Blue Ridge Parkway around 1933, working for thirty cents an hour when he was about seventeen. He started as a water boy, and then worked on a two-man crosscut saw. As an Army Engineer in World War II, he fought in the Battle of the Bulge. “They kept me out of the battle zone a matter of yards, far enough that I didn’t have to walk on dead bodies. They kept me out of the battles to do repair work. And I really believe that is why I’m here today.”
Jobs were scarce after the war, so Arval Woody and his brothers decided to work in the family tradition. Their grandfather was still living, but he was nearly ninety-seven years old and was no longer working. Their father was in the sawmilling business and did not make chairs. Arval Woody got wood for making chairs from his father’s sawmill. He had figured out how to make chairs by observing his grandfather as a child, and he was able to put that knowledge into practice in business with his brother. In 1946, he and his brother built the shop where he worked for sixty years. At one point, four brothers worked there, turning out thousands of chairs a year.
The Woodys produced several chair types. A colonial ladder-back chair was one of the first chairs they made. Its design came from one owned by a woman in Bakersville that she said was very close to the chair Betsy Ross sat in when she made the American flag. Modeling a chair after that one, Arval and his brother produced their Betsy Ross chair. They came up with other designs of their own, including arms that have a scallop in them. They construct their chairs by a traditional method that uses no nails or glue in the weight bearing structure. The chair posts are made from wood that is air dried only. The backs, or ladders, and rounds are thoroughly dried. The chairs are then driven together tightly; the rounds interlocking; and as the posts dry they shrink onto the rounds clamping them tight.
At first, Arval discarded all of the pieces that were too small to be used for chairs. Later, he decided to use the discarded pieces to make other items, such as bookends, plates and bowls, decorative designs, and bookmarks. In addition to making chairs and other wood products, Arval also designed his own machinery, including a very innovative electric sander that saved him a great deal of time. In his later years, Arval Woody made about 1,200 chairs a year. He always welcomed visitors to his shop in Spruce Pine.
Arval Woody passed away on December 26, 2012 at the age of ninety-two.