Monthly Archives: November 2009

Making Memories


            File this one under “Why I Love My Job.” The November 16 Balloon Backs chair class is in session this week. In this class everyone makes two balloon back Windsors, an early 19th century variation on the bow back side chair. Kelly Rothermel is attending the class with her father, His Grace Kurt, Duke of Windsor. Kelly took sack back with her father back in 2007. Since then, she has graduated from college, taken a job teaching in the same parochial grammar school she attended as a girl, and has gotten engaged.

            Kelly plans on marrying her fiancé a year from now. At the Catholic wedding Mass the bride and groom sit on chairs on the ambo, near the altar. Kelly is making the chairs she and her husband-to-be will sit in at their wedding. I get a kick out of imagining Kelly’s decedents cherishing the chairs their ancestor sat in when she was married.  I won’t be around to see, but I bet they fight over who inherits them.

            H.G. Kurt is also making two balloon backs. He plans on giving those to Kelly so that the new bride will start off married life with a set of four chairs around her table. As my wife Susanna says all the time, here at The Windsor Institute, we make memories. There will be many memories attached to those chairs being made here this week.

            We have so many members of the Royal Orders here this week, Kelly will be all alone when she is raised to Master Chairmaker. We are earling Sirs Albert Filo and Lyndon Gallagher this week. Fortunately, our earls have their wives with them. Otherwise, Kelly and Ken Kimber will be the only members of the Assembled Multitude.

          At his earling  Sir Lyndon becomes far more than Lord Lyndon. His elevation to earldom places him in command of all Canadian Knights. Until now, Sir Jean-Francois Theoret, The First Knight of Canada has been in command. Royal Orders regulations pass command to the highest ranking member from a country. Sirs Stig Brandvik and Vincent Lavarenne are the First Knights of Norway and France. Meanwhile, an Australian chairmaker is one class away from Knighthood and First Knight status. These guys underscore why I am never understanding when someone says, “I love to take a chair class, but I’m from Iowa and its such a long way to New Hampshire.”

* * * *

            We have had a flurry of newspaper articles about Institute alumni pass over our desk recently. When we tell our students how to go about getting this sort of free publicity we always assure them that they will not end upon page 19 below the fold. Instead, they will be featured prominently, often on a front page.  The guys mentioned below prove that point.

            The above mentioned Lord Lyndon was featured in the Hudson, Quebec Gazette. The article was written to promote the sixth annual Tour des Ateliers de Hudson et de la Region (Tour of Workshops in Hudson and the Region.) A rocking chair by Lord Lyndon was featured in the tour’s brochure and his compass plane and spokeshave graced the cover.

            The front page had a tease with a color photo of Lord Lyndon with a local gallery owner sitting in a group of his chairs. The article about Lord Lyndon and his chairmaking took up an entire page.

* * * *

            Roger Engle’s home in Hudson, Ohio and his chairmaking were featured on the front page of the Akron Beacon Journal’s Home section.  The article took up the entire page and had three full color pictures. The text took up a third of the jump page as well. The article promoted the annual Hudson Heritage Society’s Holiday House tour.

* * * *

            An article about George Mathews’ chairmaking business took up two-thrids of the front page of the Winston-Salem Journal’s Living section. It is accompanied by five color photos of George working, of his chairs, and of his tools. The text takes up more than half the jump page along with two more color pictures of George.

* * * *

            Sir Paul Thomas’ chairmaking business was promoted on the front page of the Buffalo Business First. The article was accompanied by two color pictures of Sir Paul working and another of him standing next to a Nantucket fan back.

* * * *

To receive my eNewsletter of periodic updates, tips, tool reviews, and new sources, that are in addition to this blog, join our mailing list by emailing me at Help us spread the word about this blog. Tell others.

A Dose of Humility

 The November 2 settee class is underway as I write this posting. The students are mounting their arm rails.

 Boy, do I have egg all over my face. Those of you who have made this chair know that when we lay out the seat for saddling we run the compass all the way around the complete shape. This is different than for other chairs. In the rear, this line lays out the groove.  Across the front, it describes the round ridge that runs along the front. 

Fred made the seat on Monday. Tuesday, I was doing the drilling and reaming demo. I showed the class how to lay out all the sight lines and I spent a bit of extra time explaining the placement for the center pair of legs. I showed why they looked so recessed relative to the outer pairs and cautioned the students not to get confused.  I laid out the sight lines for the outer pairs of legs on the tropics. Then, I showed how the lines connecting the outer pairs locate the central pair on the equator.  

I clamped the seat on the bench top so I was standing behind it. I reminded the class that with any other chair this is an anathema, as it puts us out of the chairmaker’s position. With a settee it is necessary to work from behind, but we have to be conscious of our placement in order to avoid confusion.

The students learned the lessons I was teaching.  However, I learned a lesson too. While teaching and talking it is even more important to remain aware in order to avoid confusion. Instead of the required front/center leg placement, I set my bit on the intersection of the compass line and the equator. You know that I should have used the line connecting  the outer front legs. I had completed all three front leg holes and was getting ready to turn the seat to drill the rear leg holes when Sir Dan Santos observed that holes did not lie in a straight line.

Boy, was I embarrassed! The only  thing I can add to alleviate my embarrassment is that although in the hole was in the wrong place, it was a perfect 10 degrees. I did joke with the class that I had meant to add the extra hole. Since Love Seat is a common name for a six leg settee, my plan was to turn a decorative post for the hole and attach  a disk top. Its purpose would be to act as a small tray to hold two champagne flutes for the lovers using the settee  They didn’t buy my story.

Earlier in the week we did give the class a treat. A settee seat is too long to cut easily on a band saw. So, we usually cut the round ends with a scroll saw. After planing my seat blank and showing how to do the layout, I got a bright idea. I took down one of our  26 inch bow saws and cut the seat by hand. I will admit that I have not done that for a while. However, using a bow saw is like riding a bicycle. In short order I was following that pencil line as fast as I could cut on a band saw, and faster than a scroll saw.   

I explained how to use the saw to the class (it’s not intuitive) and had the students cut out their seats that way. For most of them, it is the only time they will ever use this very effective tool.  I think I will do the same with the tete-a-tete class in March.

* * * *

The long wait is over and it was worth it. We finally have our new and improved reamer in stock.  It is a sweet tool that cuts with almost surgical precision. I used it for the first time to leg up the staff settee.  I set my cordless on slow and with the chuck just barely turning I cut a tightly curled shaving from the just the right spot to adjust the leg a half of a degree. The reamer has so much control it did the job without making a complete revolution.

The pilot on this reamer has a longer tapered on its business end, which makes it easier to slide into the hole. The pilot has a boss on the other end that fits into a recess in the small end of the reamer. This way, there is no movement on the screw. We also reduced the reamer’s small end to less than 3/8 inch. That makes it easier to start in a 7/16 inch reamed hole in the arm.  It also lets us use the reamer for kids chairs, which have a 3/8 inch hole in the arm. We plan on offering a set of pilots that will allow the reamer to be used with precision in holes bigger and smaller than 9/16.

Our reamer is part of our program and we cannot sell them to anyone who has not studied here.

* * * *

To celebrate the new reamer, I have added the chairmaker joke below.

A monk walks into The Windsor Institute.  Mike, Fred, and Don and 14 students were busy roughing out chair seats with adzes. The chips were really flying.  During a lull, the monk introduced himself to Mike as the abbot of the order of Little Brothers of Perpetual Poverty, which had a monastery nearby.

“What do you do with all the waste chips and shavings?” the abbot asked.

“We take them out back to the incinerator,” Mike explained. “we pile them up and burn them every couple of days.”

“Then I have a proposal for you,” the abbot offered.  “If you’ll allow us, every day at quitting time I’ll send over a couple of novices to sweep the floor and collect all the waste chips.  They will take the chips back to the monastery, and we’ll burn them for heat.  We can no longer afford heating oil.”

Being a kind-hearted and magnanimous man, Mike agreed to a trial period. (Being a canny Yankee he  also like the idea of free labor.) The arrangement soon proved to be beneficial to both parties, and as a result The Windsor Institute began to rely heavily on the work of the chip monks.

* * * *

We are getting close to the end of our 2009 school year. In fact, we only have two classes left before our winter break.  I point this out as these classes are a minor change from the schedule on the web site. November 16, we begin the Balloon backs chair class. I have two spaces left. November 30 we run the Two Kids chairs class. I can take a couple of more in this class as well. We are not running either class in 2010.

Mid-summer we dropped the writing arm class.  So, Two Kids will be the last class of the year and those students will participate in the Burning of the Backboards.  

* * * *

To receive my eNewsletter of periodic updates, tips, tool reviews, and new sources, that are in addition to this blog, join our mailing list by emailing me at Help us spread the word about this blog. Tell others.