Max Woody was born and raised in McDowell County, and he has worked as a sixth generation chair maker since he was a teenager. The summer of 2006 marked the 56th year Max has been in the chair making business, and his sons Myron and Carey have both begun to carry on the family tradition. In all those years, Max has never paid for advertising, and today he is almost four years behind in orders.
Max started working with his father’s hand tools when he was about four years old. “I always had a knack for it,” he says. 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, some of which he continues to use today, but he also uses a tool that belonged to his great-grandfather.
Most of the chair styles and designs that Max uses have been passed down through his family. Some of the designs are his own. He says his customers have come from all fifty states and from all over the world. He remembers one man who has driven several times from Ontario to pick up chairs and stools. For many of his old customers, the trip has become almost a pilgrimage. He says, “It makes you feel good that people go to so much trouble for your furniture.”
Max Woody loves his work, both for the people he meets and for the challenge it brings. He uses hand tools mostly, and he does not count how many chairs he makes in a year. “I get what I can done in a day, and that’s all I can do,” he says. “I work a half-day everyday—twelve hours.” Max has taught two of his sons the tradition, and he helped teach his wife how to weave the seats for his chairs. Max makes chairs almost exclusively, except for the occasional rolling pin he makes for young girls when they visit his shop.
Max has wonderful stories about the customers he has met, and he loves to share them. He welcomes visitors to his shop, and he is happy to give presentations when his time allows. “I like to talk to young groups, especially about their aim in life,” he says. “A person is not truly successful if they’re not happy in what their doing.” He is also a frequent visitor of old-time music jams in Buncombe and McDowell Counties, a “part-time fiddler,” as he calls himself. But, making chairs and carrying on his family tradition are his first passion. “Chairs is all I do,” he says.
Max Woody has given workshops and demonstrations for schools and colleges, festivals and fairs. He has presented at Mars Hill College, and Western Carolina University, and on the grounds of the state capitol. For years, Outward Bound students have visited Max to watch him work in his shop and to spend the night in his electricity-free log cabin along the Blue Ridge. He especially enjoys working with students, but he offers a wide variety of stories and anecdotes for people of all ages.