Monthly Archives: June 2009


Several readers asked questions about our splitting parties. Some were curious as to why we do not rive stock all the way to chair parts. Others asked why we do not have the students do the riving. There is one very important reason – waste. Waste of wood, waste of time, and waste of energy.

When I first started teaching in 1980 I began each class with a whole log. I split the log with a maul and wedges while the class watched how it was done. I split it down small enough to then rive with a hatchet and froe. The work was back breaking. That was okay when I was young and full of energy. As I got older, splitting up a log exhausted me before I even began to teach chairmaking. It was like running a 5K race and then beginning to teach while still sweating and out of breath.

When I was done with the demonstration it was the classes’ turn to make its pieces. When the class began to rive they ruined the entire log. The ground was littered with wasted wood. The pieces were all partially split, but the splits had run out, ruining both sides. Why so much waste? Riving is a hard-to-learn skill. A group of people doing it for the first time are not going to have much success.

Students frustrated by the failed attemtps at riving students began making chair parts from hunks of oak the sixe of 2 X 4s. So, what did not end up on the ground as waste, ended up on the shop floor as waste. To top it off, students exhausted themselves making thin chair parts from huge pieces of stock. The class was soon as exhausted as I was. To top it off, making parts from grossly oversized pieces wasted huge amounts of class time that could be better used teaching chairmaking.

The way we process chair stock now results in no waste. The only wood that does not end up being made into chair backs is the bark and areas of the log that are flawed. Flawed wood has knots, crazy grain, or some other blemish. One hundred percent of the good wood is used.     

By processing the wood in advance, we are able to begin Monday morning teaching chairmaking. Of course we explain to the class how we got the oak blanks to this stage. However, we are able to explain the process by drawing pictures and describing what we do rather than exhausting ourselves.

Our splitting parties are very productive. Four of us can process the wood for many classes in a single day. We also process the wood we sell and ship all over the country. Anyone who has studied here has seen the freezer in the catalog building. We open the top and show off a six foot freezer full of frozen chair parts.

A bit of trivia about riving. Like shrive, shriven; and swived, swiven; rived, riven are both acceptable past participles.  Also, the word Reeve like in the Reeve’s Tale by Chaucer comes from the once common process of riving stock.

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A Windsor chairmaker suffered a massive heart attack. The family drove wildly to get him to the emergency room. After what seemed like a very long wait, the E.R. Doctor appeared, wearing his scrubs and a long face. Sadly, he said, ‘I’m afraid he is brain-dead, but his heart is still beating.’

Oh, Dear God,’ cried his wife, her hands clasped against her cheeks with shock !!! “He’s become a Shaker chairmaker.”

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The Shaker chairmaking business was quite slow. A Shaker chairmaker had to earn some more money. He decided hire himself out as a “handyman” and started canvassing a nearby well-to-do neighborhood. He went to the front door of the first house, and asked the owner if he had any odd jobs for him to do.

“Well, I guess I could use somebody to paint my porch,” the home owner said, “How much will you charge me?”

Delighted, the Shaker chairmaker quickly responded, “How about $50?”

The man agreed and told the Shaker chairmaker that the paint brushes and everything he would need were in the garage. The man’s wife, hearing the conversation said to her husband, “Does he realize that our porch goes ALL the way around the house?”


Later that day, the Shaker chairmaker came to the door to collect his money.

“You’re finished already?” the startled husband asked.

 “Yes, the Shaker chairmaker replied, and I even had paint left over, so I gave it two coats.”

 Impressed, the man reached into his pocket for the $50.00 and handed it to him along with a $10.00 tip. 

“And by the way, “the Shaker chairmaker added, “it’s not a Porch, it’s a Lexus.”

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My Sam Maloof Story

            Is there a woodworker on the planet who does not yet know that Sam Maloof died last month? Every major newspaper and woodworking magazine has or will, run an obituary. They will list his countless accomplishments and make note of his indelible stamp on 20th and 21st century woodworking. They will do so in far more detail than I can. So, in Sam’s memory I decided to do something only I can do. That is to tell you my Sam Maloof story. I think it will illustrate how kind and thoughtful he was.

            The incident occurred during the mid 1980s.  I was a seminar speaker for the Woodworking Show out of Los Angeles. I was trying to build up my name recognition among woodworkers. I traveled all over the country. If the show was in a city I flew in too. I spoke a couple of times each day.  Then, I jumped on a plane and flew home. I was on the road 25% of the year. I was a young guy and I was paying my dues.

            My experience occurred at a show in California. After breakfast I went to my room and looked at the show brochure to see what topic I was speaking on that morning. I walked about a quarter mile from the hotel to the convention center with the appropriate carousel of slides under my arm.  When I arrived I read on the easel outside the conference room door that I was speaking on a different topic.  

            Panic set in. If the poster on the easel was correct, I would have to run back to the hotel to get the other carousel. Then, I would have to run back to the conference center. I needed to know what was up.  I found some people from the show staff.  They went in search of the manager. Meanwhile, people began to show up for my lecture. They saw the sign and were confused.  They joined the group asking the same question I had. What was the topic?  The group grew into a small crowd.

            It was chaos with me at the center. Everyone was talking and adding their two cents. Then, like a scene out of a movie my eye focused on  an out stretched hand that had reached over the shoulders of the people standing in front of me. I looked up and immediately recognized the face. Like in the movie, the sound stopped.  The scene went silent. Then it went into  slow motion as I reached out to shake the hand that was being offered to me.

            The owner of the hand said, “Mike Dunbar.  My name is Sam Maloof.  I’m a fan of yours.”  That was it. No more. He modestly left. He left behind a young man glowing from head to toe.

            I don’t remember what happened after that. I don’t remember if I had brought the right box of slides or not. Nothing else that happened during that show mattered and has all evaporated from my memory.  Sam Maloof had gone out of his way to speak to me. He had no need to be so gracious.  He was already at the pinnacle. He was already a giant and a legend. However, he stooped to say something really nice to a guy who was struggling to make a name. When I remember the story I always think, he didn’t have to do that. No one would think any more or less of Sam Maloof if he had simply walked by that crowd. There was nothing in it for him. He did it because he was kind and gracious.  The world was a better place with him in it.

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I heard from Ron Tatman who is still in Iraq. If you think we’ve had a few hot days this year, read this, written on May 19:  “The trees here have bloomed with much fragrance. With almost no rain and such high temperatures it is amazing that a tree can survive without irrigation. All of the trees were planted when Saddam built his palaces and dug the ponds. There was irrigation when the trees were planted and relics of piping and broken pumps remain.

“The main species are the palm trees which yield a date-like fruit; a tree that looks like a locust or mesquite; a type of citrus; and some pine trees which grow close to the ponds. The roots must be large and run deep. Temperatures have already hit 100. The Chaplin said that it is no wonder that Abraham left searching for a better land.

 “In addition to the high temperatures I am sure that you have seen the news reports of the killings at Camp Liberty. It is only about 3 miles from here. We have been fortunate that there have not been more problems due to the multiple deployments. Many soldiers have family problems resulting from regular deployments and some have resorted to suicide. So far I am thankful that our unit has fared well and hopefully will continue to stay together until the 20 Sept departure date. 

“To  stay sane I am still carving, lifting weights, running or walking in the mornings and even teaching others to carve. There has been a lot of  time to ponder future projects such as the chairs that I would like to build. I have missed out on the Sept. 21 rocking chair class, as I will not return in time.”

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H. G. Ralph Quick and his wife Caron run a very successful chairmaking business.  One reason for their success is their mastery of publicity. Hardly a month goes by without them getting a hit in another publication. This time, it was Missouri Life Magazine.

It was a great piece and was accompanied by a color photo of Caron and Ralph. The photographer had the presence of mind to put the very attractive Caron in the foreground and His not so attractive Grace way, way, way in the back.  It makes for a much nicer picture.

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You owe your thanks to Sir Jim Janicki for the following joke:  “A Windsor chairmaker was scheduled to make an important presentation at a prestigious woodworking school located in a crowded city. He was running late and was unable to find a parking spot. He glanced up to the heavens and whispered, “If you open-up a parking spot, I’ll quit drinking. I’ll stop all my carousing. I’ll go to church every Sunday for the rest of my life.”

Miraculously, a spot opened up. The  chairmaker looked up again, and said aloud, “Never mind, I just found one!”

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