Monthly Archives: March 2009

Ask the Chairman

            This is an installment of Ask the Chairmaker. When we published the old paper version of The Windsor Chronicles, this was a regular feature.  In it, I answered reader questions.  Now, I no longer answer questions of broad interest by return email.  I save them and respond to them here so everyone can have the benefit of the answer.


            After those Q and As I have included some additional reader updates that you may find interesting.


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Dear Mike: I bought a red oak log locally and I’ve started on my next four sack backs.  I’ve finished the 28 spindles.  Now I’m ready to glue up the seat blanks.  Is the glue joint in the seat blank reinforced with biscuits or dowels?  Fred


            Dear Fred: No biscuits.  Not only is there no need for them, they present a risk.  

            Biscuits do not strengthen a good glue joint. They are useful in a very long joint tin that they help to accomplish alignment.  For example, if you were gluing a table top, biscuits would keep the surface of adjacent boards in a continuous plane. That is not a problem in a seat blank, which is only about 24 inches long.


            The risk is that in saddling the seat, you would run into the biscuit. In that case, you would have to cut it completely away.  By the time you were done saddling the seat might end up oddly shaped.  Also, in cutting away the biscuit you would have removed any benefit it had created, which is none.


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Dear Mike: For the past five years the lumber for my chair seats has come from a local sawmill where the wood has been air dried. No problems have occurred. Unfortunately, I can now only purchase freshly sawn planks, and the task of seasoning will be up to me. I am using 8/4 x 10″ white pine. Please give me some guide lines as to how low the moisture content should be for the seat blanks.


            Dear John: When I was in the chairmaking business, I too used to buy pine and air dry it. It was the best possible wood, as air dried pine is more waxy and shock resistant than kiln dried pine.  I never checked the moisture content when I used a plank. Inexpensive, moisture meters were not available in those days.  Instead, I stored my wood inside for a year. That did the job.  I never had trouble with checking.


            When I put up a load of plank I wrote the date on it in a red timber crayon. That way, I knew when it was ready to use.


            I would suggest you do the same.  Bring the wood inside to a space that is heated in cold weather. Wait a year and you should be safe.  If you want to check the moisture at that point there is no harm. I suspect it will be about 15%.


            Your problem is that a load of plank put up today will not be ready for a year. You have to find a supply that will bridge the gap.


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Dear Mike: I hope Angus is doing better. He probably forgot that he ever had four legs.

I had my chair exhibition in a small coffee shop (have to start somewhere) and I spoke for 30 minutes about Windsor chairs, how to make them, and their history. I brought in tools and explained the process. The chairs are hanging on the wall due to space problems but also because I don’t want the seats to be ruined by three weeks of people trying them. People these days are wearing pants on their knees and that are full of buttons and chains. I just don’t want the seats damaged.Do you have any sale pitch ideas? People here are very slow around here (Norway.)  They don’t know

Windsors from Adam and its going to take some time. Well I have 17 years to retirement so I guess that’s good. Think I will contact an interior decorating magazine and see if that would work.

Sir Stig


            Dear Sir Stig: I don’t have any advice on how to keep people from causing wear on your chairs when they are on display.  People do want to try them out. In fact, you want people to try out your chairs. That’s how they learn how comfortable they are. They may decide to buy one.  At least, they will spread the word.


            You have to accept the wear.  Perhaps you can sell a display chair at a discount in the future.  Also, you may find someone who likes a chair with wear.  I do.


            To sell chairs, you need only one thing – people with money. Without that, you are wasting your time. It helps if you live in an area where Windsors are a known furniture form and are readily recognized. In short, that means the eastern United States. People in this region do not have to be educated, and that saves you some effort.             If you live somewhere else, you have to do a bit more work. You have to educate people about

Windsors.  In your presentation concentrate on three things – comfort, strength, and good looks. Any product that is pleasant to use, lasts forever, and is pretty is a winner.

            The way to educate people on comfort is to let them sit in the chairs. That’s why you want to let people try out your chairs, even if they damage them. My wife Susanna always invites people to try out our chairs. Her line is “you won’t believe a wooden chair could be this comfortable.”

            Tell your potential customers that the United States antique market is full of 200 year old Windsors that are still as tight as the day they were made. Explain why handmade Windsor chairs last. People like to hear about the joinery; joints in compression, locking tapers, etc. If a presentation permits, my favorite sales technique is to lift a 350 pound work bench with a leg tapped into a tapered hole.  You’ve seen me do that in sack back class.


            Finally, show people how handsome these chairs are. They can see that for themselves.  However, it doesn’t hurt to discuss some of the finer points; such as chairs built using the vanishing point; chairs built to fit in the Golden Rectangle, etc.


            All these marketing points explain to a potential buyer why your chairs are better than anything they can buy from a furniture store. They also help explain why your chairs cost more than those made in factories. Most people will not care. However, you only need the small percentage that does care. These people live every where. You just need to find them.


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I received this email in response to my recent post about the CHR MKR plate.


Hi Mike: I’m just letting you know I still have the CHRMKR plate for my pickup truck for

Wisconsin. My state representatives and the Honorable Governor Doyle continue to look for ways to make me pay more for the privilege. Looking forward to seeing you in the August C-arm class.

  Mike Wisch

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 Dear Mike:   Business has really been good for us. Even with the recent economic problems, we have not had one chair order cancelled. As a matter of fact, we are averaging about two to three chair orders per week. We are backlogged until August, 2010. It will be that long before we start an order taken today.


            We have also been getting recognition from places such as “The World of Interiors,” a hoity-toity magazine from

England. They recently did an article about American furniture and makers. They wanted to use a picture of our Boston Sack Back.            Give Sue a hug for us. Tell everyone we said hello and that we can’t wait to see them in April. Ralph, Caron & Windsor Quick

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            If you want to read a nice bit of publicity obtained by Sir Jim Tenpenny, click on this link.


            Sir Jim says he is in Vanderbilt U’s Space and Facilities Planning.  The running joke around here is that is a cover. Sir Jim and his buddy Sir Bob Gardner are really the infamous Tennessee Mafiosi Jimmy Dime and Bobby Vegetables.


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            You may want to drop Sir Larry Williams a note of condolences.  His father James Walter Williams died Monday February 9 at age 91.  

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            My last post sparked a rush of people signing up for my monthly eNewsletter. They did not realize that the eNewsletter is in addition to these postings. You will not find the eNewsletter material here.  You have to be on the email list.


            I mail to the list around the 15th of every month. You do not need to be a student to be on the list. If you change your email address without sending me your new address, I delete you.


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