Monthly Archives: October 2007

Knightly News — Sir Who?

 You readers who have studied at The Windsor Institute are all very familiar with The Royal Orders.  However, many of you have not been students here.  You stop by our site to read this blog, and you are not aware of The Institute’s traditions and culture. As you read these postings each week you must wonder who is Sir So-and-So?  Why is this one called Lord, and this one His Grace?  This posting was written for you. 

The Royal Orders is a combination honor society and fraternity.  Its purpose is two-fold:  to recognize those students who have accomplished an established level of achievement, and for the rest of us to have  fun while we do it.   

The Orders were founded in 1999 for a reason. Susanna had been pondering how to recognize the large number of people who had taken most of our classes.  In doing so, these folk had become accomplished chairmakers.  They  also had become  an important asset.   If we were short handed and needed help or, if we had a problem and needed advice, we turned to them.  Susanna wanted to honor them in some way.  

During this time the magazine Woodworkers Journal published a profile on me, and  in it, they called me “the Crown Prince of Windsor chairmakers.”  One of our teachers joked to Susanna, “If he’s a prince why doesn’t he have any knights?”  That was all Susanna’s fertile mind needed.  She decided to create the Knights of Windsor. 

As I noted in an earlier post, Susanna is the strategist.  I am a tactician.  She figures out where we need to go and what we need to do, then she directs me to make it happen.  In other words, she is the head and I am the hands.  She told me to take care of the details of creating the Knights of Windsor.  

I had a great deal of fun establishing the Knights.  In consultation  with our core students, we  came up with a five-course curriculum that we felt introduced a chairmaker to the breadth of chairmaking.   In other words, the experience would give the student some knowledge of everything. (Later, we came up with ways for them to experience the depth of chairmaking.)  

Our introductory chair, sack back (which everyone has to take) heads the list.  After that, the student who wishes to be inducted into knighthood   has to do c-arm, NYC bow back, Nantucket fan back, and one elective. The remaining four classes can be taken in any order.   In sack back we teach chairmaking.  In this class the student learns how chairs are made. (The process is  very different from other furniture forms.)  C-arm introduces the shield seat, the braced back, two-plane bending, and focuses intensely on design.  NYC is an appropriate side chair for sack back and c-arm, and enables the chairmaker to make sets.  Nantucket fan back teaches the crested chair, applied arms (as opposed to bent), and carving.  An elective adds additional skills of the student’s choosing.  

As soon as we established the criteria for knighthood, a number of students immediately qualified.  I made up an elaborate proclamation, full of lots of big, flowery, and official sounding words proclaiming the recipient a Knight of Windsor.  We mailed the proclamations to these original members.  

A larger number of people were only one or two classes away from completing the curriculum.  We wanted them to receive their proclamations when they completed the requirements, and while they were in the company of their fellow chairmakers.   Accomplishing this required a ceremony. Susanna reminded me that The Institute has a culture of fun, and not to make the ceremony heavy and ponderous (as if I needed to be told to have a good laugh.)  

Ceremonies require people to dress-up.  Susanna went to the local party store and bought plastic helmets, swords, breast plates and shields.  For me, the crown prince, she purchased a cardboard crown covered in gold glitter.  Her  sister Carol made me a purple robe with faux-ermine shawl.  Finally, she purchased for me a ring with an enormous red glass jewel.  We called the ceremony a “knighting.” 

Our first knightings were basically the same as they are today, but we have added considerably to our tradition.  Over time, names have been given to every person, every object,  and every action involved.  There is the Honor Cordon, the Long Kiss,  the Royal Curly Maple Spoke Shave, the Giant Shave,  the Bauble, the Noble Steed, the Candidate, the Keeper of the Privy Seal, the Lord Chamberlain, the Princeling, the Assembled Multitude, the Royal Piper,  etc. In other words we keep making the ceremony more elaborate, without loosing its original silliness.   As more and more people became Knights of Windsor, they began to press us for another level of accomplishment.  We decided to add two new  ranks above Knight.  These higher ranks too, would recognize achievement.   Taking all our courses would raise a knight to the rank of Earl of Windsor, done in a ceremony called an “earling.”  An earl is addressed as Lord So-and-So. 

 An earl can return to The Institute, don a staff jersey, and help teach a sack back class.  This elevates the earl to Duke of Windsor, the highest rank in chairmaking.  The ceremony is called a “duking” and a Duke is addressed as “Your Grace.”  The members of this rank form the College of Dukes.  This is indeed an illustrious group. As of this writing, there are only 16 members in the College.     

A duke can be given an additional official title, but only for special reasons. H.G. Ed Fisher (who also served a long and honorable term as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Chairmakers Hall of Fame)  was the first chairmaker to become a Duke.  His official title is “His Grace Ed Fisher, First Duke of Windsor.”  We will be soon honoring another duke with a title, but until it happens, it is secret.  

The newly added ranks of earl and duke caused us to change the name of the Knights of Windsor to The Royal Orders. They also allowed us to add depth to our program, as mentioned above.  An earl  has taken all our classes, and understands chairmaking inside and out. The teaching stint required of a duke proves the chairmaker’s skill. Helping beginners requires one be very good at this craft.  

As you can see from the curriculum requirements, knightings and earlings take place during advanced classes.  On the other hand, dukings most often occur during sack back classes, as the candidate is required to help teach a sack back class.  (The College will grant an occasional dispensation.)   

More and more women have taken up chairmaking and it was only a matter of time before they started entering The Royal Orders.  There are now many.  Anticipating this, we did some research.  We found that a woman of knight’s rank is a dame; of earl’s rank is a lady; and of duke’s rank a duchesse.  When  a local costume shop went out of business  Susanna bought out their stock of medieval gowns.  While a woman joining The Orders can wear armor if she chooses, she can also select a gown from the wardrobe.  Most do this. 

As The Royal Orders grew, people who had taken classes together also started being inducted together.  We have  husbands and wives, fathers and sons, buddies, a father-in-law and son-in-law, and even a pair of sisters – Dames Karen Henderson and Sherri Heavner.  By the way, our youngest knight was inducted at age 19. The oldest was 82. 

So many people from other countries take classes at The Institute, it was only a matter of time before some of them qualified for knighthood.  We decided to grant the additional title of First Knight to the first chairmaker from another country to be inducted.  The First Knight is the commander of any other knights from the same country.  He or she assumes priority in the honor cordon and carries that country’s flag.  Sir Lyndon Gallagher is the First Knight of Canada, and Sieur Vincent Lavarenne is Le Premier Chevalier de France.  We conducted his knighting (and that of Sieur Jean-Francois Theoret of Quebec) in French.  Chairmakers from Australia and Norway are getting close to knighthood.   Crown princes eventually end up becoming king.  That happened to me when Sandor Nagyszalanczy  called me the “King of Windsor” in his book Setting Up Shop.   Now, when I dub someone with the Giant Spoke shave it is no longer as crown prince, but as king.  

As the traditions of the Royal Orders developed, we added a section to our old printed version of The Windsor Chronicles called the “Knightly News.”  We retain this title for postings on this blog about The Orders.  The knights have their own drinking song “Drink to Those Bold Windsor Knights.” In their athletic contests with our rival school Shakermaker U.  our glee club sings “Those Fighting Windsor Men.”  Both songs are available on an audio cassette of Windsor chairmaking songs through the Windsor Institute’s on-line catalog.   

We also decided each rank in The Orders  should have its own theme music.  Mine is “If I Were King of the Forest” from the Wizard of Oz.  It plays as I descend the staircase to assume my throne. Knights descend to their theme “Nights in White Satin” by the Moody Blues.  Dames do the same to “There is Nothing Like a Dame” from the musical South Pacific.  Earls enter to “Speedo” by the Cadillacs.  It contains the verse “My friends call me Speedo, but my real name is Mr. Earl.” Is there any doubt for the Ladies theme?  It is “She’s a Lady” by Tom Jones.  We are yet unable to find a suitable theme for duchesses.  So, like dukes they enter to  “Duke of Earl” by Gene Chandler.   

When Sir Fred Chellis joined   the teaching staff, he became the Royal Piper.  Fred dresses in full piper’s regalia and pipes in the honor cordon to The Institute’s hymn “All Hail to Thee Windsor.”   Every student here knows the hymn, as it is also on the audio tape,  and is  played at every graduation.  

His Grace Don Harper also teaches here with Fred and me.  Being a Duke, His Grace is usually the cordon’s ranking member.  As such, he descends at the head of the cordon, mounted on the hobby horse named the Noble Steed.  

Plaques bearing the names and induction dates of knights, earls, and dukes line the staircase at The Institute.  Two members of The Royal Orders are deceased.  In their honor, a trophy made of a shield and helmet hangs in the library.  Under the trophy is another plaque bearing their names.   We enjoy the company of the members of The Orders, and miss them very much when they leave us. 

That is a brief history of The Royal Orders.  In a future posting, I will describe a ceremony.  However, anyone who has attended an actual knighting, earling, or duking will tell you that words are inadequate. A Royal Orders ceremony  must be experienced.

The Settee

Every class I am asked “What is your favorite chair?’  The answer is the same as for  most questions I am asked about Windsors, “It depends.”   As I wrote in an earlier posting, my favorite chair from the stand point of design is the c-arm.  However, if the questioner is really asking  “Which do you most enjoy making?”,  the answer is Nantucket fan back and the settee.   

To relax at night after supper I play FreeCell.  You probably have the game on your computer.  It is like  reverse solitaire, only the cards are randomly arranged. You have to put them back into order without working your way into a corner, as this is how you loose.  When you make the final winning move, all the cards fly to the top of the screen and  arrange themselves by suit.  I enjoy watching this happen every time I win.  So far, I have won 17,602 times, having started years ago with game number one, and playing my way through the games sequentially.  There are 100,000 permutations.  So, at 10 games a night, I will be playing FreeCell a long time.  By the way, His Grace Jim White introduced me to the game.  May he be cursed.  

Every time I put together a Nantucket or a settee I get the same satisfaction I get solving a FreeCell game.  Both chairs are puzzles that have to go together correctly.  Like FreeCell, both  require thinking numerous steps ahead. November 5 we will commence the 2007 settee class, and as we set up the classroom in preparation, that chair is on my mind.    

Our settee is a sack back and at 42 inches long, it comfortably fits  two people.  It has six legs or, three pairs. This size is sometimes called a love seat, but that is a modern name and is not a term the old guys would have used.  Speaking of terms, a lot of people pronounce settee set-ay,  as if it were a French word.  It is not, and is properly pronounced set-ee.  Rather than being French, the word is a corruption of the English word settle, which is an enclosed seating form with a high paneled back that was  popular in the 17th and early 18th centuries.  So remember.  See the settee, but don’t say sett-ay.  

Settees present chairmakers with some very interesting challenges.  They are very sensitive designs, and any problems that occur in the under carriage scream out loud.  The legs have to all be raked in the same vertical plane.  The three side stretchers have to lie in the same horizontal plane, and both medial stretchers must form a line that also lies on that same plane.  It’s pretty tricky. There is not much wiggle room, but we have worked out some pretty effective techniques for achieving the desired results.  

Anyone who has studied here is aware that Windsor chairs are prone to all sorts of undesirable optical allusions.  The first illusion every sack back student encounters is the problem that occurs when the plane of the  arm rail is parallel to the plane of the seat.  No matter how perfectly parallel they are, the  two will appear to diverge. Every chair we make contains at least several of these optical illusions. Being an accomplished chairmaker requires the eye to spot these problems and the knowledge to counter them.  

I remind  sack back classes that the classical Greeks encountered very similar problems in their monumental architecture.  Like Windsors, buildings as large as, and as refined as the Parthenon were sensitive to optical illusions. In other words, when a Greek temple was perfect, it looked flawed.  To counter these illusions the architects built in purposeful distortions or, flaws that  made the building look perfect.  We do the same thing with every type of Windsor we teach.  We spend a lot of time showing students where the illusions occur and training them to see them. Then, we explain the techniques that counter them.  Like the Greeks, these techniques generally involve a purposeful distortion, a small flaw that makes the chair look perfect. For example, the solution to a  sack back arm appearing to diverge from the seat is to actually make them converge slightly.  That is why a sack back arm is ½ inch lower in the back than at the stumps.  

A settee takes a chair form and stretches it into a new form.  This elongating exacerbates most of the problems Windsors have with optical illusions, and sets off a slew of new ones.  Thus, making a settee not only requires putting together a puzzle, it requires fixing all these optical illusions that would seriously detract from the finished form. As you can see, a settee is not just an elongated sack back, but stands on its own as a separate form.   The six leg settee we teach presents lots of design problems.  In longer settees those problems compound.  Eight and ten-leggers present additional difficulties of their own, both above and below the seat. Because advanced classes always contain students who are making and selling chairs, we know they will eventually find customers who want longer settees.  We explain to them how to deal with the problems created by lengthening the form to eight or ten legs.  They can return to The Institute and put some of these solutions into practice with the writing arm chair and the low-back settee.  

I have several yard sticks I use to access a chairmaker’s skill and knowledge.  As I wrote in an earlier post, one is the c-arm.  Another is the settee.  If someone cannot get a settee right, he either has no eye, or he is not examining his work.  Developing an eye requires you to examine your own work, to examine old chairs, and it takes lots of time.  I can excuse a beginner for not fixing problems.  I can only write off someone who has been making chairs for a while and still doesn’t get it.  

Don’t get me wrong.  When I assess a chair, I am never rude.  I don’t even verbalize my assessment.  I always keep my own counsel, as there’s never any excuse for being impolite, or for hurting feelings.    

A couple of summers ago Institute staff member Fred Chellis was presenting his chairs at an early American craft show.  We wanted to visit with Fred and see the rest of the show.   Susanna and I, along with her cousin Bonnie and her chairmaker husband Lance, attended. (Bonnie and Lance met and fell in love at The Institute, but that is a story for later.)   

There were several other Windsor chairmakers presenting, and Lance I made our way to their booths.  The first chairmaker we visited had a settee on display.  Lance and I stood back and looked at the piece, each of us quietly assessing it.  Recognizing me, the maker approached and told me he had sent me a picture of his settee a number of years ago.  He said that shortly after he sent the picture I had introduced our settee class, and that he figured I had appropriated the idea from him.   

Lance and I were stunned into silence.  Developing a class is a lot of work, and it takes us about a year to bring a class on line.  I may have announced the settee class shortly after he sent his picture however, it was a coincidence. That class had been in preparation for a long time previously.  Also, in order to give me the idea of making a settee, he would have had to send me the picture in 1972, as that is when I made my first two-seater. 

Lance and I were also stunned by the suggestion that this lamentable settee had been the inspiration for ours.  The poor thing suffered from every optical illusion a settee can experience.  I walked off shaking my head, not only at the guy’s accusation, but because he had apparently made many of these settees and still was committing every possible mistake.  Instead of worrying about me plagiarizing him, perhaps he should  spend time sitting in front of his settee examining it with a critical eye. On the other hand, perhaps he should just take our class.  

Because we are teaching two balloon back classes in 2008, we had to drop settee from the schedule.  You will not be able to take it next year.  It and the low back settee will return again in 2009.  Although time is short, I can still take one more person in this year’s class.

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I’m Sorry, But It’s Not.

 From time to time I visit chairmaker web sites. At shows I pick up and read their marketing materials.  Both frequently contain the proud statement “I finish my chairs with the authentic milk paint used by 18th century Windsor chairmakers.”  I’m sorry, but it’s not.  The simple answer is that 18th century Windsor chairmakers did not use milk paint.  They used paints made with lead and oil. 

There is an important word in that last line — LEAD.  As everyone knows, lead is a poison, and we can’t use it in paint anymore.  That is too bad, because lead paints  have  a  distinctive look  that I find very appealing.   Everyone who watches Antique Road Show knows that original paint on a chair adds a whole lot to its value.  So, I’m not alone in my appreciation for the look of the original finish.

Fortunately,  we have milk paint, because it is a very good simulation of  lead and oil. When I started selling Windsors in the early 1970s I painted my chairs with commercial oil paints, but   I was very dissatisfied with the results.   Modern paints are solid and uniform.  The original lead paints were much more  complex.  They had subtle variations in shade and thickness.   They had luminosity and depth.  Modern paints just do not have the same look as did the early  lead paints that I wanted so very much to imitate.  Back then,  nearly all  my customers were antique collectors, and they too were discerning enough to  want the look of early paint.  

About the same time  a fellow in Groton, MA named Charlie Thibeau  developed a new product — a commercial  milk paint in powdered form.  I had known Charlie for a number of years and so,  he  sent me a sample.  I tried his milk paint on a chair and  I immediately fell in love with it.  The results looked remarkably like the old lead and oil paints that I found on original Windsors.  Charlie started the Old Fashioned Milk Paint Co. and the business is still in operation today under his daughter Anne’s guidance.

 Milk paint looks good when freshly applied, but Time is even better to it.  As the top coat gets older, it  emphasizes the subtle differences in shading.    Milk paint  also wears in the same manner as  the original lead and oil paints.  In other words, like wine and cheese,  a chair finished in milk paint actually gets better as it ages.

After my first experience, I did all my finishing with milk paint.  When I started teaching Windsor chairmaking, I extolled the virtues of this finish to my students.  I  always  explained to them that because the two finishes looked so much alike, milk paint is a good substitute for the original lead and oil.  When I published Make a Windsor Chair I again promoted my favorite finish to my readers.  I wrote, During the 18th century, when Windsors were being developed, they were finished with paint made with white lead, turpentine, linseed oil, and earthen pigments.” I also included Old Fashioned Milk Paint Co.’s address. 

That is how milk paint became so closely associated with modern Windsor chairmaking.  Everyone who read that book decided to try this new type of paint on their chairs.  The link between milk paint and  modern Windsors became permanent, but somewhere along the line what I had written about lead and oil was forgotten.  In chairmakers’ minds milk paint became the authentic finish used by their 18th century antecedents.  At last the record is straight.

I have  never lost my appreciation for milk paint’s look.  Every chair in our show room is finished with this product, as are all the stools on the classroom floor, all the benches, and my dining room chairs.  For most of the project articles I have written for woodworking magazines I  have used milk paint.  I still recommend this finish to our students.  In fact, each of the information packets that students find on their stools at the beginning of each class contains an instruction sheet that I wrote for mixing and applying milk paint.  This is my way, the way I have used for more than 30 years.  If you would like to receive a copy of this sheet, email me at and I will attach it to the return email.

One last story.  When we were in the permitting process for building The Windsor Institute the woman who chaired Hampton’s  Conservation Commission attended the Zoning Board meeting.  She was very concerned about a furniture business coming to town, because she was afraid of environmental damage from  our finishing procedures.  I explained that we only used milk paint which is made of all natural, non-toxic products.  I told the board that one could actually drink  milk paint and the only result would probably be a big burp.  That clinched it for the  woman.  She  became a proponent of our project, and even showed up to speak in our favor  before the Planning Board.

* * * *

It always catches my attention  when a student’s address includes the word Windsor.  Some guys live on
Windsor Road, and others come from cities of that name.  I was very surprised to have enrolled in the October 15 sack back class two combinations –a father and son and a husband and wife – from Windsor, Virginia.   It is a small town, so I assumed the four  were friends coming to take a class together.  It turns out that husband and wife Shawn and Angie Nystrom did not know, father and 12 year old son Dave and Josiah Hunt, even though they all live about 5 miles part.  It was purely coincidental that the two families from the same town attended this class together.   There are now four Windsor chairmakers living in Windsor, VA.

By the way,  Josiah is home schooled and as part of his school work he will be writing a report about his chairmaking experience.  In making a chair with his father,  Josiah participated in a practical application of history, art, geometry, algebra, physics, and engineering.

* * * *

Sack back students attending  The Windsor Institute  are exposed to our culture of fun for the first time.   They do eventually figure out that while we  take chairmaking seriously, we like to  have a good time while doing it.  So, when we introduce Hall of Fame innovations with a lot of fanfare (“Now, thanks to a humanitarian, a philanthropist, and a chairmaker concerned with the well being of his/her fellow chairmakers, an inductee into the Chairmakers Hall of Fame by a unanimous vote of the trustees….”) they don’t know what to think.  Is this a joke? Are these people real?  

Is there an actual Hall of Fame? The October 15 sack back found out that yes, the Immortals are very real.  They discovered this when we were visited by Hall of Famer Rich Bruno, Sr.   Rich had dropped by to pick up some chairmaking materials.   He and his son Rich, Jr. are the only father/son team in the Hall.  They were jointly inducted in 2004 for their innovation The Wealthy Bear.  (A wealthy bear is a rich bruno. Get it?) That very afternoon, the class  used the wealthy bear to prevent swapping their bevel squares while reaming their stump holes.

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Knightly News

A unique event took place during the October 1 sack back class.  Sir Bill Knox became the 137th Knight of Windsor.  While there is nothing unusual about a knighting, there is when it happens during a sack back.  Knightings always occur during advanced classes.  Why? To become a knight requires completing an established curriculum.  Since sack back is our initial class, everyone inducted into The Orders had to begin with it before being able to take the required advanced classes. 

Except this time.  Exceptional events are usually accompanied by exceptional circumstances, and  Sir Bill’s case is certainly exceptional.  While lots of people take sack back more than once,  Sir Bill is the undisputed record holder.  He has taken sack back 11 times. 

Everything that happens at The Institute involves a story, and  Sir Bill’s story  is entwined with mine.  In April 1985 I did a weekend Windsor chairmaking seminar in Atlanta.  Bill was one of the woodworkers who attended.  Watching me make a chair intrigued him, so when I taught a class there the following year, Sir Bill signed up.  A springtime trip to Atlanta to teach a chairmaking class became an annual event for me.  For 10 years I taught there either the last week of April or the first week of May.  

Each year for a decade, Sir Bill also showed up and took the class.  After several years I  said to him that while I greatly enjoyed his company, by now he should know how to make this chair.  He assured me that he could make the chair very well.  He explained that he enjoyed making Windsors, but  running a very busy veterinarian practice prevented him from doing it on his own.  So,  every April he cleared his schedule and came to Atlanta to make one with me.  Since all I taught there was the sack back,  that was the class he had to take.  The exception was in 1989 when I stayed in the city for two weeks.  The first week I taught sack back, and the following the c-arm.  Sir Bill took both classes that year.


In Atlanta we were both away from home and  so, Bill and I would share each other’s company.  Everyday we had  breakfast and supper together, and visited during the evening.   We became good friends. Sir Bill’s wife Joyce met my wife Susanna, and they too became fast friends.  At Christmas we still send Sir Bill and Joyce  pictures of our son Michael and they send us recent pictures of their grand daughters Bonnie and Kasey.  We do not get down to  Virginia often, but when we do, we always visit Bill and Joyce.  Their home is always open to us.


After Susanna and I founded The Institute,  Bill took two classes with us here  in Hampton.  He did the Nantucket Fan Back in 1996 and the Writing Arm in 1997.  That left him short one class required for Knighthood — the NYC bow back side chair. 

As King of Windsor, I dispatched my legate Lord Chamberlain Sir Fred Chellis to the September meeting of the College of Dukes.  I frequently seek advice from this  semi-autonomous governing body of The Royal Orders, and usually defer to their counsel.  I asked for an opinion on how to recognize Sir Bill’s accomplishment of taking sack back for the 11th time.  I explained that more than anyone else, Bill had observed and experienced the evolution of the Windsor chairmaking class.  He was there at a time when my teaching method  was still unrefined. He had seen it mature and improve as it developed from its early form to its current state. He and I are the Windsor Revival’s living memory.The College unanimously recommended that I take an extraordinary step; that I  of suspend the rules for induction, waive the NYC class,  and make Bill a Knight of Windsor.

That is how the October 1 class became the first sack back class to ever witness a Knighting.  Not yet being fully familiar with The Institute’s culture of fun, the class was awed and enraptured by the high pomp and ceremony.  Besides being Lord Chamberlain, Sir Fred is also the royal piper.  Dressed in kilt and full piper regalia, Sir Fred descended playing our school hymn “All Hail to Thee Windsor” on the bagpipes.  (Yes, there really is a school hymn.) Sir Fred was followed by the College’s official representative and witness, His GraceDon Harper.  H. G. Don wore the coronet and bore the shield of a Duke of Windsor.  He also rode the Noble Steed.  As he tethered the hobby horse in a nearby vise he squeezed its ear a couple of times so it whinnied and made a galloping sound.  


I, in purple robe with ermine collar; wearing my glittery card board crown; and carrying my scepter and the royal curly maple spoke shave;  descended to my theme music from the Wizard of Oz, “If I were King of the Forest” sung by Burt Lahr.  Once seated on my throne (the Philly high back borrowed from the show room) knight candidate Bill, wearing the candidates plastic breastplate, descended to the knights theme music “Nights in White Satin” by the Moody Blues.


As Bill entered he displayed the usual “deer in the head lights” expression, which caused the assembled multitude to burst into laughter.  When Bill was  seated before me on a shop stool, I read the royal proclamation, which is chock full of very formal and impressive 50 cent words. As I dubbed Bill with the Giant Spoke Shave, I intoned the official pronouncement, “Sir Bill, I dub thee a Knight of Windsor.  May your chairs stand forever, and may Shaker chairmakers always tremble at the sound of your name.”  Next, I presented Sir Bill with the accoutrements of his rank. I placed the plastic helmet on his head and passed him his sword.


The Long Kiss occurs at this point.  Being a sack back class, the assembled multitude was not familiar with the ceremony and the rules that surround the Long Kiss.  I explained that the candidate now kisses the large, red glass bauble on my left hand.  Once his lips make contact, he is at the multitude’s mercy.  He cannot break contact until everyone who wants a picture has taken it.  Of course, the multitude made the most of the moment.  Joyce, Bill’s friend and classmate John Kolbeck, and John’s wife Eileen, enjoyed the Long Kiss even more than the others. So as to have lots of photos to show the folks back home, John documented it thoroughly. 

After the Long Kiss I bade Sir Bill arise as I declared, “Behold the newest Knight of Windsor.” The multitude greeted him with a round of applause.  After his formal portrait with the court, Sir Bill cut his cake and shared it with the assembled multitude.


* * * *


Sir Paul Thomas and his chairmaking business were featured in an article in the Niagara (NY) Frontier Publications newspapers.  The company owns four newspapers with a combined circulation of 100,000.  If the old line about a good picture being worth a thousand words is true, Sir Paul’s article was a veritable epic.  It was illustrated with nine color photos of him working, or with his chairs.


Sir Paul was inducted into the Royal Orders last June along with Sir Tom Kology.  The two met each other in June 2004 in their sack back class.  They and their wives became good friends.  Since then, Sirs Paul and Tom have taken all the required classes together.  Sir Paul was here by himself in September for the 2 Kids Chairs class.

Oh, Susanna Part II

This post is a continuation of the previous.  If you have not that one, you may want to begin with it, and then read this.  

Not only is Susanna a study in contrasts.  So are the two of us.  We are the living embodiment of the expression “opposites attract.”  Other than our devotion to our faith, each other, to our son, and our dogs, we have nothing in common.  Susanna is fastidious, with never a hair out of place.  Her wardrobe is carefully selected each day from a closet where her clothes are arranged by color.  I am a slob, and as long as I am comfortable, I could not care less how I look.   

Susanna is very organized, neat, and works from a list.  I am like the Peanuts character Pig Pen.  If you walked into our office you would immediately know which desk belongs to me.  You could stand at the end of our very long  driveway and pick out my car from hers. I never put anything back, and you can tell where I have been by the trail I leave.   

We hate each other’s favorite television shows.  Selecting a video is a disaster.  We usually compromise by telling Michael to pick something.  We dislike the music the other one likes.  We don’t like the same art.  I like high style Federal, she likes country Queen Anne.  We can never decide on a restaurant. I love ethnic foods with lots of flavor and spice.   She likes her food bland.  

Susanna has common sense and knows what makes the world go round.  I read lots of books and think deep thoughts.  She can see the solution to any problem with amazing clarity.  I confuse myself by always looking for the deeper meaning.  She cuts to the chase.  I ponder.  Susanna is impetuous.  I am plodding.  We often say that if the decisions were all up to Susanna, we would crash into a wall at 100 miles and hour.  If the decisions were all up to me, we would grow moss.   

Somehow it all works.  She drags me behind her, screaming and with my heels dug in. However, I slow her down so we move at just the right speed.  In spite of our differences, we have a deep respect for each other and have high regard for the others’ abilities.  Ultimately, Susanna is the strategist who sees the big picture and knows where we need to go.    I am the tactician who finds the ways to make her plans happen.   We are together 24-7, and both love it.  

This is the Susanna who so valuable to me.  Through The Windsor Institute the same Susanna has been equally valuable to woodworking, and to scores of individual woodworkers.  One of The Institute’s goals has been to reestablish Windsor chairmaking as a healthy,  living,  breathing craft.  Our desired outcome is a lot of people out there making chairs for their own enjoyment.  However, it is equally important for the craft’s long term well-being that there be a lot of people out there making chairs for a living.  We want them to make a good living, not suffer and starve for their craft.  This means they have to be able to put food on their family’s table and roof over their heads.  

This is where Susanna comes in.  I teach people how to make chairs.  She teaches them how to sell chairs and how to run a successful business.  She approaches this with her velvet gloved, iron fist.  Over the years Susanna has made time to sit down with scores of people who are thinking of going pro.   She starts the process by asking some very hard questions like, “What will you do about health insurance? Does your spouse support this? What do you have for a work shop and showroom?”   This is the iron fist.   By being tough, she is doing several things.  First, by exploring these questions she is getting the would-be professional to open up to her.   Like the people Susanna meets every day around town, the interviewee begins to talk honestly and frankly.  She needs this if she is going to provide good counsel.  Second, by asking these questions she can tell whether or not the person is being realistic, or just dreaming.  Third, if the person is only dreaming, his own answers often bring him to the conclusion that going pro is not a good choice.   

If the interview does not terminate itself after the first stage, Susanna puts on the velvet glove and out comes all the compassion and generosity that she spreads around Hampton every day.    She first lays out a business plan tailored to the chairmaker’s personal circumstances.  She covers all the subjects and skills one needs to run a business.  Then, she works out a marketing strategy.  This is the all important skill.  It does not matter how good a chairmaker you are.  If you cannot sell your chairs, you will not be in business long. 

 Unless the would-be professional is a dreamer,  Susanna’s  sessions are seldom less than 90 minutes. The information and advice she gives is straight forward and practical.  This is part of The Institute’s culture that I wrote about in an earlier post.  I can tell you from knowing these chairmakers very well myself;   the amount of success they achieve when they go pro is directly proportional to how carefully they follow Susanna’s advice.  

Woodworking benefits vicariously from Susanna because of The Windsor Institute’s reputation and its culture of being practical.  We have an influence. However, Susanna also benefits our craft more directly by writing magazine articles and doing presentations for woodworking groups.  In England, she counseled a very unusual group of English chairmakers who actually wanted to make a living, rather than worship trees.  I know a woodworking teacher who plays a DVD of one of Susanna’s presentations for his students who are thinking about making woodworking a career.   So, I am not exaggerating when I say that Susanna’s contribution to woodworking, while quiet, has been significant.  For the large number of individual woodworkers she has helped, it has been crucial.  She is directly responsible for more successful woodworkers than anyone else I can think of.  

Everyone who has studied here knows my line “I’ve got good news, and I’ve got bad news.  Which do you want first?”   The bad news is that due to her increased work load and some personal commitments, Susanna can no longer sit down one-on-one with people.  She just does not have the time.  So, please do not ask if she can make just one exception.  It has to be all, or nothing at all.  The good news is — she has decided that from time to time she will share her knowledge in this space.   Marketing information business tips will be part of what appears here.  It will be composed by me and appear under my name, but she will dictate what she wants said.   

Because her knowledge is going out under my name, everyone will credit me.  That is nothing new. Whether she was creating a congressman, a successful chairmaker, or the King of Windsors, Susanna has always been content to be the power behind the throne.  As I always say, I have the best deal in the world.  Susanna does all the work, and I get all the glory.   It takes someone who is pretty self-secure and self- assured to let someone else get all the lime light.  That is another part of Susanna’s personality, but it is also a story for another time.

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