I had a most unusual experience yesterday. I repaired a chair I had made in 1975 while in my second year as chairmaker at Strawbery Banke museum in Portsmouth. The bow back side chair was one of a set purchased by a high school classmate and his wife. They were not long married at the time and we would have both been 28 years old. My classmate used the set of Windsors in his home and then gave them to his adult daughter when she moved out and set up housekeeping. Recently, someone rocked on the back legs and snapped them at the seat. (When we will learn to listen to our mothers who told us to not do that?) The repair was not complicated: pretty straight forward and not much different from things I have done for my students in class. I had to turn two new legs and two side stretchers (broken tenons) and join them to the original.
I enjoyed examining the chair. Whenever I see examples of my early work I am amazed at all the things I had figured out so early in my career. I also ponder the things I did not know and all I have learned in more than four decades of chairmaking. In this case I was in for a surprise in that making the replacement parts was a bit challenging. It was not easy to copy my young, and less practiced hand. I can turn a chair leg in my sleep. When I was in production I did a baluster leg in six minutes. However, my speed is in turning my mature leg and in this case, I had to duplicate a more naive profile. I found myself resisting the shapes and wanting to make them better. For example, the vases on my early legs were far more Roman than Grecian, more round than elliptical.
As I held the broken 1975 leg up to compare against its replacement, I realized I was turning on the same lathe that had turned the original: it is my 1947 Delta. I was even using the same tools, the Buck Brothers gouges that had come with the lathe when I purchased it second-hand. I experienced a satisfying sense of having come full circle.
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That chair repair segues into this next topic, in that it too involves an encounter with early work. I am about to fulfill a promise I made to you a number of years ago, but that was delayed as I wrote that eight-volume series of young teen adventure novels. Next month, a new, updated, and expanded edition of my 1984 book, Make a Windsor Chair with Michael Dunbar will be available from Popular Woodworking. It has a new title, Make a Windsor Chair with Mike Dunbar. I always called myself Mike, not Michael, and was able to talk the publisher into permitting that change.
Working on the new edition was similar to repairing that 1975 chair. As I poured over the text I had written in 1984, at age 37, I was surprised at how much I knew as a younger man. I had not read Make a Windsor Chair since I wrote it, and as I have added to my knowledge over the years I developed an unfair prejudice against it. Having learned so much since 1984 I assumed I left that book in the dust, an outdated relic. It didn’t help that I was humiliated by the dry tenon/wet leg joint technique I had included. I am all too aware that I had misled a generation of chairmakers into drying their tenons in hot sand.
The experience of rereading Make a Windsor Chair was a tad schizophrenic. My writing style has changed so much that it was like reading someone else’s book. The kid’s style was different, but quite good. I found myself admiring the younger man and his process for making a chair. While I have had 30 years more experience than that kid, he knew his stuff. I can explain many steps more clearly and succinctly, but he has no reason to apologize. I have improved my designs, largely them by lining them up on a vanishing point. Still, the young guy’s designs were no slouch. I still own several examples of his chairs and have them on display at The Institute.
I faced this conundrum. Out of respect for that kid’s ability I wanted to keep his book intact, but I also needed to bring it up to date. I like my solution, acknowledging it is a bit schizophrenic, and if not used as a literary device could send me to the home. I made this new expanded edition a collaboration between the two of us. I did this by leaving most of the kid’s text intact and adding my later knowledge to it. Imagine it this way: the 37 year old shows you how he makes a chair while the 66 year old stands by and only speaks when he has some wisdom to add. I made it easier to distinguish the two voices by putting the older guy’s remarks in boldface type.
The second edition is far longer than the 1984 printing in that I included more than a dozen appendices. For a Windsor chairmaker this additional information is a treasure trove. It is a collection of my additional writings on Windsor chairmaking and it deepens the reader’s understanding of Windsors and how they are best made. With one exception, all appendices were written since the first edition. The exception is a magazine article I published in 1972 about the chair I bought at a yard sale. In the new edition’s Introduction I use the metaphor of the Big Bang to explain that chair’s relationship to the Windsor Revival. If you think of Windsor chairmaking as an expanding universe, that chair sitting on a porch in Sutton, MA in the spring of 1971 was the singularity that started it all.
I feel like the famous television pitchman, Billy Mays. “Wait! You get even more with this edition.” The book has a digital bonus that you get when you buy it through Popular Woodworking’s website. That bonus includes several additional measured drawing of various types of Windsors.
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Those who have been graduated from The Windsor Institute will never forget the experience, especially the buffoonery: me, the Dean, dressed in cap and gown as a Doctor of Chairology; singing the school hymn together; and the Dean’s speech. Do you recall the lines from that speech? “We are about to send you out into the world to accomplish The Institute’s stated purpose, for handmade Windsor chairs to take over the world and to bring about the downfall of Shaker chairmakers everywhere.”
I am reporting that we have moved one step closer to that stated goal of handmade Windsor chairs taking over the world. I received a phone call from a writer/photographer in Shanghai, China writing for Elle Decoration China magazine. She was seeking pictures of a sack back Windsor. I sent her photos of our sack back and our chairs based on that form: rocker, settee, and Kids chairs. The seeds have been planted. We’ll have to watch and see if they sprout.
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The Hampton Summit, and The Lost Crew, the first two novels in my series for young teens (and for adults that are young at heart) is now available in both softcover and eBook at these links: http://www.amazon.com/Hampton-Summit-Castleton-Series-Volume/dp/1482731622/ref=sr_1_sc_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1367421699&sr=8-1-spell&keywords=the+hamton+summit
The third book, The End of Time is being serialized at my other blog http://www.tumblr.com/blog/mikedunbar
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