Monthly Archives: May 2008

Odds ‘n Ends

I have been busy this week writing another article for Popular Woodworking. You’ll read it in the November issue. I have finished the project and emailed the text to the editor. That job combined with Memorial Day, has left me behind schedule this week. I have decided to take advantage of the little time left today to post a lot of small items I have been keeping on my desk.

Speaking of Popular Woodworking, are you aware of the conference they are hosting in Berea, KY this November? I feel real good about this one. Its title is Woodworking in America. Sounds like any other conference, right? See someone use a router. Learn 10 great table saw techniques. No. This conference is unique in that it focuses on hand tool use.

Needless to say, I am ecstatic. Like every other woodworker, I own and use machines. I have no problem with them. My beef is that machines have been the magazines’ sole focus since the beginning of the woodworking revival in the mid-1970s. The result is that hand tool skills have just about disappeared. Since 1980 when I became a woodworking writer and teacher I have lobbied the magazines to give hand tool skills the same space as machines. They chose to follow their reader questionnaires, which indicated readers wanted articles about machines. I tried to show the folly of this approach.

“Dear Reader what articles would you like us to publish?”

“I don’t know. Let me think. Gee, I have a router. How about a router article? Come to think of it, I have a table saw, too. Write a table saw article.”

“Would you like an article on how to use a hand plane?”

“No. I don’t have a plane.”

With this conference Pop Wood is breaking the mould. We should support them. If we don’t and we return to the old days of “Ultimate Router Table” articles, it will be our own fault.

By the way, I will be one of the speakers. I’m excited because I will get to rub elbows with a bunch of famous woodworkers. If you want to see a list of the celebrities I’ll be hanging with and getting my picture taken with, visit the conference web site www.woodworkinginamerica. Note to self: remember the autograph book.

* * * *

We heard some encouraging news from His Grace Ralph Quick who writes:

“We just returned from our show in Newport News, VA and we did really well there this year. A lot better than we expected, since we almost decided not to go due to high gas prices. We found out though, that gas was a lot cheaper in Williamsburg than here by almost 10 to 12 cents a gallon.

“We got a few orders from the show, and we got another three orders from it right after returning home. It is all we can do to stay ahead of ourselves right now. Busier than ever and it just keeps getting better. Tell every one we said hello and we can’t wait to see you all again.”

* * * *

Hi Grace also referred us to a question asked on that will be of interest to chairmakers who use propane to fire their steam boxes. It appears meth labs are buying propane bottles from local dealers. They empty the bottles and use them to store anhydrous ammonia that they use in making a drug called “crank.” The anhydrous ammonia will deteriorate the bottle’s brass valve and lead to cracking. The telltale sign that the bottle was used for this purpose is a blue-green stain on the valve, coupled with the smell of ammonia.

The National Propane Gas Association warns this can “ultimately result in a violent unexpected explosion of the valve, causing personal injury or death.” The warning went on to explain that these “cylinders have been found in many states and refilling locations.” The advisory urges anyone finding such a bottle to not touch it, but to immediately contact the local fire department. Just think, Sir Joel thought that snakes were the most dangerous part of chairmaking.

* * * *

I received this note from Jeff Wynia in response to my monthly email newsletter. The May issue he refers to was titled “Where Windsors Went Wrong.”

“If you want to see crazy Windsor designs, go into a WoodCraft store. We have one in Atlanta and there’s a guy who teaches a c-arm class. The arm stumps have an incredible slope and flare to them. And the seat has a very deep saddle, but no pommel; it comes straight out. It’s fun to question to the clerk about the chair. Obviously I don’t reveal to him that I know how to really make a Windsor.

Jeff added this. “I love that last sack back I made. I donated it to my wife, Teri’s, breast cancer walk. We raffled it off to help raise over $2,400.00. The unfortunate thing about that is my mother-in-law won the raffle.”

I had the same experience. I once donated a rocking chair to my son’s grade school to be raffled. My mother-in-law also won. It looked like collusion, but she bought a ticket and it was the one drawn. The chair now sits in her living room.

* * * *

We had some Royals Orders activity during the last two classes. Both Lords Mike Borgeest and Mike Speck were earled during the rocking chair class. Lord Mike Borgeest returned two weeks later to the May 19 sack back class to do his teaching stint. This is the requirement for dukedom. The earl has to help teach a sack back class.

The guys in the May 19 sack back witnessed a duking, something that has only happened 18 times previously. This is the rarest of all ceremonies in the world of Windsor chairmaking. As the duking happened more than a week ago I am sure most of the students in that class have recovered. After the ceremony they complained of pains in the rib cage from uncontrolled laughter.

** * *

I need a little help from you the readers. I started this blog at the end of June last year. As chairmakers and woodworkers discovered it, readership grew steadily for the next six months. In January it peaked. Although it holds steady, I would like it to continue to grow. After all, this is the root and branch of Windsor chairmaking.

I’m asking that when you visit woodworking chat rooms, message boards, etc. you tell other woodworkers about the blog. Ask the editor of your woodworking club’s newsletter to post a notice. Ask the local woodworking store to do the same. In general, chat up the blog. I appreciate your help. Let’s keep Windsor chairmaking growing.

* * * *

I always like to leave them laughing. So…..

A Japanese carpenter finally realized his lifelong dream. He relocated to America. He took Shaker chair classes, and opened a Shaker chair shop in Williamsburg.

A half year later, he had lots of inventory, but not a single buyer. Even a fire sale didn’t help the bottom line.

By chance, the carpenter befriended a very busy and successful Windsor chairmaker who needed an apprentice to help him manage his heavy work load.

Unwilling to close his Shaker chair shop, and help make Windsors the Japanese guy blurted out the cold hard fact:

“Nobody here has the Yen for Shaker chairs.”

* * * *

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Windsors as a Revolutionary Form, Part II

Part II

This posting is the second half of a topic I began last week. If you did not read that first posting, you may want to scroll down and start there. M.D.

In the last posting I explained why Windsor chairs were revolutionary when they were first introduced. This week, I will explain why they remain revolutionary for today’s woodworkers.

The Windsor revolution is not over just because Windsor chairs have been around on this continent for 250 years. The revolution goes on because making a Windsor chair takes much of the knowledge woodworkers have learned from television, magazines, books, and shop class and stands it on its head.

Most furniture can be successfully reproduced from a drawing. A draftsman can put down on paper all the information you need to make a bed, a table, a cabinet. Windsors are different. Being made by hand, each Windsor has slight variations. This means we rely on what we call “chairmaker measurements.” These are measurements that may have to be varied slightly, as the chair’s strength and appearance takes precedence over a mere measurement.

Many of the measurements we use come not from a drawing, but from the chair itself. In this way, Windsor chairmaking is similar to boat building and cooperage. Windsor chairmaking is quite different from cabinetmaking and furniture making. In fact it is revolutionarily different.

Our reliance on chairmaker measurements that we take from the chair means our work requires judgment. In fact, Windsor chairmaking is a process of continuous decision making. As I tell sack back classes the first day, “The answer to most of the questions you will ask is ‘It depends.’” The chair is a balance between strength, comfort, and its appearance. You need to find and achieve that balance, and doing it usually depends on weighing all factors.

Most people know that the human brain is divided into two hemispheres. The left side controls the right side of the body, and the right side of the brain controls the left of the body. The left side of the brain is also the half that is logical, rational, sequential, etc. The right part of the brain is the half responsible for expression, intuition and judgment.

Most of woodworking is left brained. To illustrate this, I tell sack back classes to imagine Norm showing his viewers how to make a table. First he cuts four legs. He sets up and repeats the operation until done. Then, he cuts four pieces of apron. He sets up and repeats the operation until done. Next, he cuts the mortises. He sets up the mortise machine and repeats the operation eight times until done. Finally, he cuts the tenons. He sets up the table saw and repeats the operation eight times until done.

Norm’s method is rational and sequential. It involves the left brain. Windsor chairmaking relies on judgment. It uses the right brain. Over my 28 years of teaching, I have watched student after student infected with the Windsor bug; the love of these chairs and the desire to make more of them. My theory is that having lived all our lives in a left brained world, we find it exhilarating to use our right brain. We want to do it over and over. We want to be more than a cog in a machine. We enjoy being creative.

Right brained woodworking is not the end of the revolutionary nature of Windsor chairs. The woodworking techniques we Windsor chairmakers use challenge what everyone else knows about woodworking. For example, a Windsor under carriage is put together with what we call a “wet fit.” I tell sack back students that when they do this their palms will sweat. They will hyperventilate. They will experience angina. Every other woodworking project is dry assembled and tested before it is glued up. However, our rule is “drill a hole, swab it with glue, assemble, and test.” If the joint passes the test, the assembly is set aside while we drill the next hole.

Assembling a Windsor undercarriage moves in one direction – forward. We never backup unless we have made a mistake. Because we are testing, we find mistakes right away. However, all our preliminary work makes that pretty rare.

Perhaps the most revolutionary concept a 21st century woodworker has to wrestle with when contemplating a Windsor chair is the relationship of the chair to its finish. For most woodworkers, finish is an after thought. When the project is completed and standing on the work bench the woodworker poses to himself the question, “Lacquer, or oil?” Notice the assumption is a clear finish. What woodworker would cover the “natural beauty of the wood?”

Windsors look the way they look because they were going to be painted. The color green preceded the form. Windsors were intended to be painted green and used in the garden or on the porch. There are two revolutionary ideas here. First, that a piece of furniture would be painted. For most woodworkers that is sacrilege. Second, that the finish came first. Coming before the form, the opaque finish determined what the piece would look like.

Knowing that the piece of furniture you are making will be painted channels you in a direction that is alien to 21st century woodworkers. This is how I illustrate this point. I tell students that as an exercise I am going to give you an assignment. You are to design and execute a piece of furniture. It can be anything you want. You have total freedom – except for one thing. When you are done you will paint the piece green.

Look what I have done to you. The obligatory finish has channeled your decision making. Figure – the beautiful patterns in wood that we all love — is out the window. Since the wood will be covered, you will not rely on figure. It would be a waste of expensive wood. Furthermore, the figure that makes some wood nice to look at also makes it difficult to work. It is not reasonable to use a hard-to-work, figured wood and then paint it.

Instead, Windsor chairmakers were steered by the opaque finish to design with the element of line. Few woodworkers today understand the use of line. I am using the word in a very different way than the person who exclaims, “I just love the clean lines of Shaker.” Here, line is technique for designing. Unlike the texture of figured wood that is static, line is dynamic. It moves your eye from one place to another. However, this movement is not random or chaotic. The line you create pulls the eye along a predetermined, organized path.

This means that when one designs with line, one creates a composition. A Windsor chair is a composition in line. The design intends that you see the silhouette, and creating a silhouette requires an opaque finish. Emphasizing the wood in a Windsor displays a woeful misunderstanding of Windsor design. In doing so, a chairmaker sacrifices the higher, more challenging, and more sophisticated expression of the line and silhouette. I see guys who call themselves Windsor chairmakers doing it all the time.

In conclusion, Windsor chairs were a revolutionary form when they were first introduced in England about 300 years ago. They remain a revolutionary form for today’s woodworker because understanding them requires learning a whole new way of thinking and of working. However, that new way is very rewarding.

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Windsors as a Revolutionary form, Part I

Next Monday I start teaching another sack back class. Once the students have settled in, get a cup of coffee, and are seated on their stools, I will begin with a 20 minute introduction to Windsor chairs as a revolutionary piece of furniture. If you have taken sack back, this posting will be very familiar. However, even if you have heard it before, it doesn’t hurt us to pause once in a while and consider again the basics of our craft.

To better understand why Windsors were so revolutionary, let’s first talk about the other way of making chairs. It is certainly the older way. The first recorded use of this method is the ancient Greek Klysmos chair, a form that was developed by the 5th century B.C. Women depicted on Grecian urns and Attic vases are often shown sitting in this type of chair. The method of construction used to make a Klysmos had probably been around a long time before ancient Greece. For us, the important point is that while Windsor construction has been around for centuries, the other has been used for millennia.

In the other, older method of chair construction the rear legs are also part of the back, as the rear legs continue up to create the stiles. Thus, the chair’s back and undercarriage are a single unit. Ladder backs and all the formal style chairs — Chippendale, Queen Anne, etc. — used this method. So did those awful Shaker chairs made by those vile and treacherous Shaker chairmakers from Shakermaker U.

The chair back is framed by those two stiles. They create two strong vertical lines, around which the chair has to be designed. There are no alternatives. Make a chair this way and you have to deal with those stiles.

The stiles have to be held together by a horizontal element that keeps them from separating. In a cabinetmaker chair, a shaped crest rail is secured to the stiles with mortise and tenon joints. On a ladder back type chair the top slat is generally pinned to prevent the stiles from separating.

In this earlier method of chair construction, there is a void, a space between the stiles. This void is filled with some element that conforms to the sitter’s back. Cabinetmakers generally used a vertical splat, which is curved to the shape of the human spine. In a ladder back, the space between the stiles is filled with concave slats.

In this first method of chair construction the seat is an open, four-sided frame. Like the back, this void, too has to be filled with something comfortable. Cabinetmaker chairs are usually upholstered. An upholstered seat is essentially a cushion that conforms to the shape of the sitter’s backside. A ladder back chair seat is usually woven from a material called rush. Traditional rush was the long leaf of the cattail, a water plant that grows abundantly in marshes. The leaves are twisted into a rope and woven to create a concave seat. Hickory splint was used for chair seating, as was cane. The Shakers used woven cloth tape.

This older method of chair construction has a major problem. The four-sided seat frame is joined to the legs, and each of these joints is a weak spot. If the legs separate, the chair will break at one of those places. Rotational forces created by a shifting, squirming human being will tear at those joints, eventually wearing them out.

Over the centuries, cabinetmakers and chairmakers using this method of chair construction have usually added a stretcher system to their chairs to protect these weak points. These stretcher systems — H, box, or other — all served the same critical purpose. They hold the legs together and keep them from separating. If they do separate the chair will break at one of those four weak points, as surely as the sun rises in the morning.

This first method of construction also suffers from other constraints that limit comfort. First, the seat has to be parallel to the floor. Second, the amount of cant to the back is limited by the grain in the leg/stile. The more the back cants, the more the stile is cut across the grain and the weaker the chair. So, this type of chair holds the sitter’s thighs parallel to the floor with his back bolt upright. While your mother would be proud of your posture, you are not comfortable.

Shaker chairmakers tried to find a way around the problem of an upright back by canting the entire leg/stile. While this solution created some recline to the back, it moved the pivot point (the ends of the rear legs on which the chair tips) under the sitter’s center of gravity. You don’t have to be a Windsor chairmaker to know how dumb that is.

Now that you understand the first method, let’s contrast it with Windsor construction. The Windsor chair’s solid wooden seat is the truly revolutionary development. There are so many diverse styles of Windsor chairs, that what we call Windsor is really a method of construction developed around a solid wooden seat.

The identity of the guy who came up with this idea is lost to History. We only know he was working in England sometime around the turn of the 17th to the 18th century — about 1700. We can be pretty sure he was a trained chairmaker.

The solid wooden seat was revolutionary because it divided a chair into two separate systems: the under carriage and the back. The solid seat not only served to support the sitter, it provided a strong, reliable anchor for the two systems. Unlike the other method of construction, neither of these systems is weak, and they do not require protection.

Dividing the chair into two systems made possible a host of new possibilities in design. First, chairmakers were no longer forced to design around those two strong vertical lines created by leg/stiles. They were free to design chairs in ways that had not been heretofore possible. They could use bent bows, or crests perched on top of long spindles. Of course, stiles remained an option for a Windsor chairmaker. They occur in fan back arm and side chairs, and all the 19th century Sheraton period Windsors.

The solid seat also created a revolution in chair construction and joinery. In the older method the chair is weak where the legs are connected to a seat frame. Windsors are strongest at this point. Hardwood legs are secured with locking tapers into a softwood seat nearly 2 inches thick. (Everyone who has seen me lift a 300 pound bench top by pulling up on a chair leg pushed into a tapered hole, knows how strong this joint is.)

The older method of construction relied on rigid parts to resist the sitter’s weight and the stresses created by the sitter’s movement. Those stresses eventually tear apart the joints. A Windsor chair back is flexible. It is a web of flexible parts woven into a unit. My analogy is a suspension bridge. A suspension bridge too, is strong because it is a tough web of flexible parts.

A suspension bridge has to be anchored on the ends with concrete piers. So does a Windsor chair back. The back is anchored to the solid wooden seat by the stumps and short spindles.

New joints were developed to take advantage of the solid wooden seat. The faceted drive-fit tenon on the ends of the flexible long spindles is perhaps the most permanent joint in woodworking. The locking taper mentioned above locks the legs into the seat, creating a powerful, reliable joint.

While the locking taper is not permanent, it is renewable. This concept of joint as that retightens itself was and remains, revolutionary in woodworking. The same applies to joints in compression; parts that push others apart, rather than holding them together. They are a Windsor chairmaking technique and have no counterpart in furniture construction.

Windsor construction made possible a revolution in chair comfort. Because the leg/seat joints are so strong, the seat does not have to be parallel to the floor. It can be canted so it is higher in the front than in the back. This is a much more comfortable placement.

Because the back does not depend on stiles cut out of wood, there is no concern for creating weakness by cutting across grain. This means that Windsor chair backs can be canted more to allow the sitter to recline in a more comfortable position. The stumps and the drive fit tenons are so strong, a Windsor chair back is more than capable of supporting the weight of a reclining torso.

Besides serving as an anchor, the solid wood seat is thick enough to be deeply saddled. Its carved concave upper surface is body conforming, also adding to the sitter’s comfort.

All these improvements in chairmaking, made possible by the solid wooden seat, created the revolution in seating that we call Windsor chairs.

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Odds ‘n Ends

This week Fred, Don, and I are teaching the rocking chair class. While showing the class the complexities of legging up a rocker, I reminded them of a common question we get from sack back students when we take the class on a tour of the showroom. “So, this class is just a sack back with rockers on it?”

When it comes to causing us to giggle, that question is right up there with “So, what’s so hard about a c-arm?” Once you have done either chair, you know the answers and the questions will make you guffaw as well. Everything about a c-arm is hard, and this class is far more than just a sack back with rockers.

Making a good rocking chair is an unforgiving process. Most Windsors allow you a certain amount of latitude. The rocker does not. The legs have to describe a PERFECT trapezoid. If not, the chair walks across the room. There is little forgiveness in the depth when reaming. The rockers are in close proximity to the stretcher and any difference in depth shows up readily.

Because the rockers create such pronounced horizontals, they have to line up on the vanishing point. Otherwise, they scream. The message they scream is “The guy who made me didn’t know what he was doing.”

The chair has to be balanced. That is why it has a crest. The extra height balances the design. The horizontal rockers add more surface area to the under carriage and make the chair look bottom heavy. The rockers’ size and length has to be balanced by the extra height created by the crest.

The crest also balances the actual chair. The added weight, close to three feet above the seat, perches the chair in an inviting position. It places the weight of the sitter’s shoulders in a place that gives the chair a smooth rock.

Long ago, we worked all out these balance problems in our rocker. To demonstrate this, I begin the class by holding the fronts of the rockers on the bench top with my thumbs. I then release the chair so it begins to rock. It is so well balanced and aligned it remains in motion for 55 seconds without any lateral movement.

The five center spindles pass through the bow to support the crest. This means they are not wedged. They rely on a tight fit of the spindle through a 3/8 inch hole. Multiply that tight fit five times and you have a place where angels fear to tread. It takes a lot of driving with the hammer to get the bow down into place. If you have any of the spindles too tight, the bow can hang up, or the spindle may break. As many times as I have done this, my heart is always in my throat. Tomorrow, as I gulp my heart back into my chest, I will think again of all the people who said, “So, it’s just a sack back with rockers?”

* * * *

We teach our students who go pro how to obtain free media. Everyone who tries these techniques gets at least a base hit. Some guys manage more than one base, and some even hit a home run. Sir Dan Santos just wracked up a grand slam.

Sir Dan and his work were featured in the magazine “Cape Cod and Islands Home.” The magazine is high end, glossy, and regional. That last word is important. I always tell guys going pro that all you need only one thing to sell Windsor chairs — people with money. What do you think the average income is for people who live on Cape Cod, Nantucket, and Martha’s Vineyard? The area is dripping with history and over flows with affluent people who love traditional furniture. None of us could find a more perfect market.

The article itself was very nice. It starts out with a full page, full color portrait of Sir Dan. It then runs on for another seven pages. Each page has at least one more color photo — Sir Dan, Sir Dan at work, or Sir Dan’s work. The text is a glowing description of Sir Dan, his shop, and his career.

* * * *

Here’s an idea we received from Sir Joel Jackson. If you check the March 27 post you will better understand how this idea fits into the discussion.

“Mike – I met my brother in Houston this weekend. He lives in Milwaukee and is a partner in a media consulting firm. One of their niches is helping companies to a) go green, and b) promote it.

“He, his partner, and I were discussing my chair business and they suggested that I plant a tree for each set of chairs that I make, and POST SUCH in my booth. Of course, I live in the Hill Country of Texas, on 15 acres, so planting a tree isn’t very difficult for me. But, I am sure that there are organizations in every major population area that will take donations for the same purpose. Maybe this could be another addition to your Going Green suggestions.”

I like Sir Joel’s idea. A Windsor chairmaker can then point out that the chairs a client is buying will probably be around longer than the tree that is planted in their honor. Most trees only live a couple of hundred years. Lots of antique, hand made Windsors are pushing 250 years and are still going strong.

Sir Joel also discovered that chairmaking has its dangers. He added this word of warning for anyone thinking of taking up the craft. “Well, as if two rattlesnakes in my backyard, around my shop were not enough, I now have a coral snake IN my shop. I went out this morning to turn everything on in the shop and was greeted by a coral snake on the sidewalk in front of my shop door.

“I headed to the shed to get a hoe to relieve him of his head. When I returned, he had crawled around my propane bottles and was under my steamer. I rooted around and finally caught a glimpse of him. Then, he headed up under the siding and into my shop. Can’t find him any where.

Fortunately coral snakes do not strike, they must chew on you to inject their venom. But, they are the most venomous snake in North America. Oh boy, more fun. Once again, please advise those Sack Backers that this is a dangerous activity.”

* * * *

Here’s a short chairmaker joke to carry you through the weekend. It’s a continuation of a running joke, so if you don’t get it, look up the previous jokes in the archive.

A set of jumper cables walks into a Windsor chair shop. The jumper cables say to the Windsor chairmaker, “Got any Shaker chairs?”

The chairmaker looks up with violence in his eyes. He is certain the duck or the string has returned. If so, blood will be shed.

Instead, he sees the pair of jumper cables. So, he says in warning, “You’d better not start anything.”

* * * *

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Is there anything to do in Hampton?

People who have never studied Windsor chairmaking at The Institute wonder what it is like here. I have tried to answer those questions in previous postings, and they can be found in the archives. However, I also receive lots of questions about The Institute’s location. Today, I am going to answer those.

Where is Hampton?

Don’t be embarrassed. The place is pretty small. Its year-round population is only about 15,000. Although the town was founded in 1638, nothing of historical significance has ever happened here.
(OK. It is the Windsor chairmaking capitol of the world.)

On a map New Hampshire looks like a tall right triangle. The angle formed by the triangle’s base and hypotenuse (eastern corner) pokes out between Maine and Massachusetts and touches the Atlantic Ocean. That corner creates roughly 18 miles of coastline. Hampton is a seaside community smack in the middle of that short stretch of coast. In fact, as I write this I am four miles from the ocean and 60 feet above sea level.

How do I get there?

While Hampton is quite small, the old New England punch line “You can’t get there from here” does not apply. Getting here is quite easy.

The major north/south highway, U.S. Route 95 and the major east/west highway NH Route 101 intersect in Hampton (about ¼ mile from where I am sitting.) Route 95 is the same highway that runs from the bottom tip of Florida to the top of Maine. If you are driving, it is the logical road to take. From the west, the New York Throughway and Massachusetts Turnpike will take you to Route 95.

If you choose to fly here, Logan Airport in Boston and Manchester Boston Regional Airport (a horrible name for a really nice facility) are both about 45 miles away. Logan is right off Route 95, and MBRA abuts Route 101 in Manchester. Thus, getting to Hampton from either airport is a straight shot. When I have a choice, I always fly into Manchester. It is a smaller city and is easier to get in and out of.

Is there anything for my family to do while I am there?

Hampton is best known for its long stretch of sandy beach known as Hampton Beach. The beach is so pleasant it has been a vacation destination since the mid 1800s. Families return year after year and generation after generation to vacation at the beach. To accommodate those familes, every sort of hotel, motel, cottage, food stand, store, amusement, etc. is on the beach. The place has an active night life with fireworks every Wednesday and concerts at the bandstand every eveningt.

The town of Hampton also has everything necessary to support and provide for the summer influx of tourists. The town’s major industry is hospitality. So, along with the beach, the town has lots of motels and restaurants. Of course, seafood is available everywhere. It is always fresh, as Hampton and neighboring towns have working harbors and active fishing fleets. Every restaurant serves lobster and they all brag they have the best chowder. Seafood is such a large part of the culture the Chamber of Commerce stages a Seafood Festival every September on the beach. The festival draws enormous crowds.

Is there anything else in the area?

The beach is not the only reason Hampton is a vacation destination. The town is centrally located and many New England sites and attractions are within an easy day trip. Boston and all it has to offer, is 45 miles south directly down Route 95. Historic Portsmouth, one of the most beautiful cities in the country is 10 miles north up 95. Exeter, the Revolutionary capitol of New Hampshire is an adjacent town. In both places you can walk streets that haven’t changed in 200 years.

Maine is 14 miles up Route 95. The first town you reach is Kittery, a well known outlet mall Mecca. Freeport, the home of L.L. Bean and lots of other stores, is 90 minutes north. Along the way, you pass through a string of historic coastal towns with great views of the ocean.

NH Route 16 begins at Route 95 in Portsmouth. The highway takes you to the New Hampshire lakes region. Lakes Winnipesaukee and Ossipee are perhaps the best known of the numerous lakes in this vacation area. Beyond the lakes are the White Mountains and Mount Washington Valley. This area is stunningly beautiful. It is perhaps the best fall foliage area in New England. It is a popular ski area in the winter. However, there are all sorts of attractions for summer visitors – hiking, kayaking, a restored railway, outlet malls, etc.

Like so many other woodworkers, my wife loves fabric arts. Is there anything for her?

Someday a PhD candidate will write doctoral thesis examining why it is that woodworkers marry women who practice fabric arts. This pairing is a phenomenon. It is quite common during our classes for a group of wives who have just met, to pile into a car and hit all the quilting, knitting, and spinning shops. Susanna’s mother, sister, sister-in-law, and cousin are all quilters, so we know all the places.

Keepsake Quilters is one of the best known quilt shops in the country. It is in Meredith, NH a quaint town on Lake Winnipesaukee. So, going there pays double dividends. Wives get to visit the shop and see a beautiful region of the state.

My wife’s hobby is the second most common interest for a woodworker’s spouse. Is there any antiquing?

This is New England. People have been making things and leaving them around for 400 years. Hampton and surrounding towns have some nice antiquing, and there are famous antiquing areas all over the state. However, the biggest bang for the buck is Route 4 in Northwood. This road is known as “Antique Alley.” It is not possible in one day to stop at all the antique shops on Antique Alley. I still comb those shops and I’ve pulled some great stuff out of there.

Northwood is just a short hop west on Route 101. Antique Alley is the town’s Main Street, and Guinness lists it as the longest Main Street in the world. (By the way, are you getting the picture that 95 and 101 connect Hampton to the entire world?)

The biggest antique event of the year occurs during our August 4 sack back class. It is called Antiques Week in NH. The highlight of the week is the NHADA show in Manchester starting August 7. This is an important show attended by all the big name dealers. You will see stuff that should be in museums. During that week a host of specialty shows, auctions, flea markets, etc. also take place around the NHADA show.

OK. My wife will be happy. But what if I bring the kids?

If your kids get tired of the beach, there are seashore related attractions and activities all over the NH seacoast (which is only 18 mile long.) Hampton has whale watching, charter fishing, and sight seeing tours. There are also plenty of things to do off the beach. Here is just one example. Water Country in Portsmouth is one of the largest water parks in New England. (Ten minutes up Route 95.)

How do I find all these places?

We have already done that for you. We maintain a list of things to do in the area arranged by category. The list includes addresses and phone numbers. I keep the list on my computer. If you drop me an email at I will send it to you.

If you are getting any resistance to taking a Windsor chairmaking class this summer, show the list to the family. They’ll be much more willing to accommodate your dream if they know you won’t be the only one having fun.

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