Monthly Archives: June 2007

The week after

The Monday after a class is always a little unsettling for me.  I walk through the door and for an instant I wonder where is everyone?  My mind is prepared for the excitement and company of a group of chairmakers.  However, I face an empty classroom.  I am reminded of a stock movie scene where the athlete walks into an empty stadium, or an actor walks out onto the stage of an empty theater.  For an instant he sees all the seats full and the game being played, or the play underway. The suddenly, the space is empty again.  That is how I feel.  It is an off week. The rocking chair class is gone and I am alone.

A common question asked of me during classes is “What will you do on your week off?”  I suspect that with all the fun, excitement, and activity of a class, students have a hard time imagining it ever being quiet around here.  They assume that the class experience is all there is at The Institute. I try  explain that between classes I do all the things necessary to run the place, but that seems to not compute.

This week is a good example of what goes on.  The week prior to the rocking chair class I had gone to the log yard and picked out the logs we will use during this summer.  Then, I arranged to have them delivered. The logs arrived during the rocking chair class.   The truck pulled up while Fred was doing a demonstration and it was fun to  watch him struggle to keep everyone’s attention.   The class completely ignored Fred and gathered around the windows to see the truck.  He surrendered.  Tammy (Yes, a lady drives the log truck) amazed them all as she arranged the logs in a row, as neatly as if she were stocking a grocery store shelf. 

Monday morning after the class, Fred, Don, and I had what we call a splitting party.  Kevin Hurd, whose family owns a dairy farm up the road joined us.  On the back of his tractor Kevin had attached  a four foot log splitter.  With a chain saw we bucked  the logs into two and four foot sections.  Kevin is not very tall, but he is a bull of a man.  He rolled the red oak bolts onto the splitter, while  Fred, Don, and I tried  to help out.  It is fun to watch the splitter.  It  slowly tears the oak logs into halves, quarters, and then eighths.  It is a job that we used to do by  hand with a maul and wedges. An eighth-log split is usually small enough  for us to manage and process further by hand.   By the time we broke for lunch almost all the logs had been rendered into splits and  stacked on bearers to keep them off the ground.  During the summer, they will provide any additional material we will need for our classes. 

After lunch, my son Michael arrived to help.  Michael is 14 years old and has just finished the eighth grade.  His new high school conducted a four day orientation for in-coming freshman and he was there every morning this week.  We wheeled cart loads of red oak splits  over to the machine room, where they are ripped into spindle or bending blanks on our Hitachi band resaw.  The temperature was now above 90 degrees, as Fred and Kevin begin cutting.  They were in the building out of the sun, but it was noisy and dusty.  Michael began to rake up the log area and put our chain saws and other tools away.  At about this point a truck load of select pine arrived and we all stopped to unload it and stack the planks on saw horses.  I started laying out the pine for seat blanks, while Don cut them to 24 inch lengths.  We soon had stacks of pine blocks all around the saw horses.  While Don and I worked on the planks, Michael started carrying the cut up pine into the new building and stacking it by width.  In coming days  they will be glued into seat blanks for the summer classes. 

All this takes a couple of hours.  When  Fred and Kevin were done on the saw they  cleaned out the six foot chest freezer in the new building.  They  began neatly stacking layers of the red oak blanks they had just cut.   The spindles blanks are laid down first, and then the bending blanks.  Next, another layer of spindle blanks are laid in place, with another layer of bending blanks on top.  That is repeated a third time, which fills the freezer to the brim.  The top layer will be used by the July 9 class, the next by the July 23 class, and the bottom layers by the August 6 class.  The August 20 class is a c-arm, and it will be cut in mid-August, during another off week.

There was about an hour of clean up around the band saw and around the saw horses.  By now, it was four o’clock and we were all pretty tuckered out.  We gathered in the office with some cold Canadian beer brought to us by Sieur Jean-Francois Theoret, the first Knight of Windsor of Canada.  While we relaxed we all joked with my wife Susanna, who had been doing  office work while we were outside.

Tuesday morning, I worked in the office and put together the packets for the July 9 class.  When a class starts there is a packet of information at  every vise, along with the student’s name tag.  The packets contain a Day One sheet, a list of staff tips, two photo sheets, and four procedures. There is also a milk paint procedure, a list of local restaurants, and a Windsor Institute catalog.  There are numerous other sheets of various information, as well.  At the same time, I prepare the diplomas and the thank you letters that will be mailed the Monday after the class, along with a class photo.  All in all, making up the packets for a full sack back class takes much of a day. 

Late in the day, I had my semi annual check up.  While my doctor was listening to my heart and lungs, he observed that my torso  was covered with bruises.  I think he suspected I was a victim of elder abuse.  I explained it was the inevitable result of a splitting party and cutting up the pine.  Both are   pretty physical jobs.  I think I convinced him my bruising was work related when I showed him my right knee.  A pine 2 X 10 had slid off the saw horse and hit me, leaving my entire knee black and blue.

Wednesday a semi pulled up with our monthly shipment of turnings.  I spent most of the day bagging the turnings and setting them aside by class.  The remaining bags I stocked into the bins in the new building.  The surplus will be sold to people in up coming classes, or shipped to people who buy them through the on-line catalog.  In the afternoon, I balanced monthly bank statements. 

Thursday, Susanna and I spent in the office doing accounting and paperwork.  The cleaning service arrived mid-afternoon and chased us out.  We use a cleaning service so the kitchen, bathrooms, show room, and office are nice and tidy when the next class shows up. 

Friday, I answered emails in the early morning.  Next, I filled some catalog orders and packed them.  Finally, I took them to the post office to ship the smaller ones, and took the larger to the UPS shipping service we use.  Mid-afternoon Susanna, Michael, and I played hooky and went to the beach. 

Fourth of July is next week, and so we will not have a class.  Because of the holiday I will only have four days to work.  My plans are to write an article for Popular Woodworking.  They will be here for a photo shoot in August, and I would like to shoot three articles at once.  Two are already written. 

 I’m sure things will pop up that will have to be dealt with, but if I have any time, I do hope to get back to work on my next book.   If I take any time out of the office, all that pine is in the new building waiting to be glued into seat blanks. 

When are you going to write more magazine articles?

A lot of people have  asked this question in the past year.  I have to answer, “You’re looking in the wrong place.”  I have been doing a lot of writing, but for a different magazine.  If you want to read my articles, you have to subscribe to Popular Woodworking.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

I have been very happy with Pop Wood, as they are willing  to print the type of articles I like to write.  As a teacher, I work cheek and jowl with woodworkers all the time.  I know them very well.   Since I run into the same situations over and over, I know the average woodworker’s strengths and weaknesses.  Take hand planes, for example.  Very few woodworkers know how to use one any more.  They have become a mystery tool. They come in all sorts of sizes and they have  all sorts of strange knobs and levers.  The same applies to sharpening.  For most woodworkers sharpening is all Greek.

I have longed complained to my editors that a woodworking magazine should be teaching people what they DO NOT  know.  Like many of you I will scream if I see another “Ultimate Router Table” article.  I argued until I was blue in the face that an article on tuning up a hand plane does not help the average woodworker who does not know hand plane basics.   It is like writing an article on super charging an engine for people without a drivers license.  A tool review of hand planes is equally useless.  That’s like an article on choosing the best sports car for those same guys without  drivers licenses.  I argued that what we need to do first is teach how to drive.

When I made that argument to Chris Schwartz at Pop Wood, he agreed and told me to get writing.  I was used to editors chopping up my articles to fit their space. I was delighted that Chris made space for my articles.  In the past half year, he has published an article by me on how to sharpen.  Then, he published my article on hand plane basics.  Yet to come, are two more articles on how to use hand planes.  In the course of a year, a woodworker who puts into practice the information in that series of articles will be able to sharpen all hand tools, as as well as understand and use hand planes.  Grouped together those articles are what an apprentice working 200 years ago would learn in his first couple of years in the shop.

Popular Woodworking’s editorial interests  remind me a lot of the old black and white American Woodworker of the early 1980’s, although Pop Wood is in color.  If you liked woodworking magazines in the old days before the endless tool reviews and router table articles, I would urge you to subscribe to Pop Woodworking.  That’s where you’ll find me.

Ernie Conover Visits

I had an enjoyable weekend.  My old friends Ernie Conover and his wife Sue spent a night with us while on their way up to Maine to teach at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship.  The four of us, spent the afternoon catching up on each others’ lives.  Then, we went out to dinner together.

Ernie and I have been friends since 1980.  We were introduced by John Kelsey, the founding editor of Fine Woodworking magazine.  Ernie had started a business making woodworking tools, and I was looking for a source of chairmaking tools for the classes I had begun  to teach.  The event was as Rick said to Louis as they started out for the Casablanca aerodrome for  Brazzaville, “The beginning of a long friendship.”

I have watched all Ernie’s kids grow up, and he is doing the same with my 14 year old son.  Ernie’s son Charlie was about my son’s age when he took a Windsor chairmaking  class with me.  Charlie is now married and has children of his own.

Ernie and Sue rode their motorcycles to Maine from their home in Ohio.  Along the way, they stopped and visited another mutual friend Boyd Hutchinson, a furniture maker in western Massachusetts.  In the old days I traveled all over the country teaching and I got to meet most of the names in woodworking.  Always out on the show and teaching circuit together, we were always  in touch.

Today, running The Windsor Institute keeps me pretty close to home.  Fortunately, we are just off Route 95 and lots of my old friends pass by going north or south.  They usually stop by to catch up.  I always ask who they have seen recently, or will be seeing soon.  That way, I keep tabs on all the old network.

That are some  of the great things about The Windsor Institute.  It is not only a landmark in woodworking, a lot of the people whose magazine articles and books you have read pass through here.  I get to stay in touch will my old pals.  Life is good.

The New Windsor Chronicles

Welcome to the new Windsor Chronicles blog. We at The Windsor Institute are very proud that we keep Windsor chairmaking a living, growing craft. We are equally pleased to keep The Windsor Chronicles up to date. Just as we keep developing Windsor chairmaking within the handcraft tradition, so our method of communicating with you is keeping abreast of technology. The Internet has made all communications better, and we believe it will do the same for Windsor chairmaking.


I do want to take a moment and eulogize the old Windsor Chronicles that for 10 years appeared in your post box every three months. The Chronicles was a genuine phenomenon in woodworking. It also accomplished its stated purpose, to help reestablish Windsor chairmaking as a craft. As the number of chairmakers grew The Chronicles was there to disseminate news about the craft to a growing audience. It told chairmakers about the new techniques developed at The Windsor Institute, about new tools, and new designs. In short, it was the means that kept chairmakers up to date. For those who would like to obtain back issues contact: Lance Silvestris, 1224 Dunham Town Brimfield Road, Brimfield, MA 01010  Phone: 413-245-7761.


The new Chronicles blog has some real advantages for you, and for me. Through this space I can continue to keep chairmakers up to date with the changes in their hobby/career. Because I can post information in almost real time, I can be much more timely and immediate. By the time the old Chronicles was published the events we reported were over. If we were working on a new design, or a new technique you only saw the end result. The new Chronicles blog will keep you right at our elbow as we continue to keep Windsor chairmaking a growing and thriving craft.


The new Chronicles blog will also help me. The old paper Chronicles required two weeks of my time every issue. Taking eight weeks of working time out of every year made it hard for me to do other things. In this new format I can write in short bursts, leaving me free to write magazine articles, develop new chairs, and pursue other activities. In short, this space is a winner for both you  and  me.


I expect to post several times a week. I will continue to write about Windsor chairmaking, The Windsor Institute, tools, techniques, my work, and my thoughts about all of these things.  I invite you to drop by regularly so you don’t miss anything.


By the way, I purposefully chose to make this communication one-way for a reason. Each Windsor chairmaking class at The Institute is a five-day dialog with a group of Windsor chairmakers. I prefer this personal approach. It is far more in depth and if someone does not understand something, it can be clarified on the spot.


You can still email me if you have questions, but remember that I have limited time and my responses may be brief.