Max Woody was born and raised in McDowell County, and worked as a sixth generation chair maker since he was a teenager. Max started working with his father’s hand tools when he was about four years old. “I always had a knack for it,” he said. His father passed away when Max was only fifteen, but his grandfather, Martin Woody, was still alive and making chairs. Max worked at a furniture company earning sixty-five cents an hour for a year, and saved more than eight hundred dollars. The following year he spent most of that on tools, but later on he also used a tool that belonged to his great-grandfather.
Most of the chair styles and designs that Max used were passed down through his family. Some of the designs were his own. He said his customers came from all fifty states and from all over the world. He remembered one man who drove several times from Ontario to pick up chairs and stools. For many of his old customers, the trip became almost a pilgrimage. He said, “It makes you feel good that people go to so much trouble for your furniture.”
Max Woody loved his work, both for the people he would meet and for the challenge it would bring. He used hand tools mostly, and he did not count how many chairs he made in a year. “I get what I can done in a day, and that’s all I can do,” he said. “I work a half-day everyday—twelve hours.” Max taught two of his sons the tradition, and he helped teach his wife how to weave the seats for his chairs. Max made chairs almost exclusively, except for the occasional rolling pin he would make for young girls when they visited his shop.
Max had wonderful stories about the customers he met, and he loved to share them. He welcomed visitors to his shop, and was happy to give presentations when his time allowed. “I like to talk to young groups, especially about their aim in life,” he said. “A person is not truly successful if they’re not happy in what their doing.” He was also a frequent visitor of old-time music jams in Buncombe and McDowell counties, a “part-time fiddler,” as he called himself. But, making chairs and carrying on his family tradition were his first passion. “Chairs is all I do,” he said.
Max Woody gave workshops and demonstrations for schools and colleges, festivals, and fairs. He presented at Mars Hill College and Western Carolina University, and on the grounds of the state capitol. For years, Outward Bound students visited Max to watch him work in his shop and to spend the night in his electricity-free log cabin along the Blue Ridge.
Max Woody passed away on January 2, 2019 at the age of eighty-nine.