Monthly Archives: December 2009

Our Descendants

I have just begun reading an obscure second hand book I picked up. Its title is Country Chairs of Central Pennsylvania by Marie Purnell Musser. (I read stuff like this all the time.) The books  is a large format paperback published in 1990 by an 85 year-old local historian. In the Introduction Marie describes how she traveled all over Centre, Union, Snyder, Mifflin, and Juniata counties seeking out decorated, plank bottomed country chairs. She also sought out chairmaker descendants and interviewed them about their ancestors.


I am not far into the book. In fact, I only read the Introduction. However, I was so impressed by something she wrote I stopped to ponder it. I am going to quote her, but first I have to set up the story. If you have taken a sack back class with us, you have heard my discussion of the Four Objectives. These are the objectives we all want to accomplish whenever we set out to make a piece of furniture.


The fourth objective is to make a piece that elicites a favorable response from the people who look at it.  It is a natural desire on our part to want people to like and appreciate what we have made. I note that the large number of 18th century chairs still extant proves that the chairs we make will outlast us. In my discussion these leads me to  point out something else that makes us feel warm and fuzzy.  It is the thought of a great-great grand daughter showing someone our chairs and saying, “Those were made by my great-great grandfather.  He was an amazing craftsman.”


Now you know how Marie Musser’s experience fits into our experiences as chairmakers. This is what impressed me and made stop reading to write to you. She wrote, “During these forays for information, I met and came to know many fascinating people whose pride in their ancestors’ work remains undaunted by time.”


Keep making chairs, not only for people alive now, but for generations yet unborn.  Who knows, a future Marie Musser may  track down your descendants to gather information about you.


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. 

Work’s Over, Let the Work Begin

It’s over. The 2009 class year ended pretty much as anticipated and as described in an earlier post.  We graduated everyone and then, burned backboards. After the class left, Don, Fred, and I cleaned the shop. The only difference is that we did not set up for the next class. We’ll do that the week before March 22. We had a cold Canadian craft beer, shook hands, wished each other a Merry Christmas (we’re not a politically correct bunch) and went home. We’ll surely see each other during the break, but we don’t have any plans.


I have three months without a class. Before you congratulate me on a long vacation, I assure you I have lots scheduled. I will be doing a lot of writing. I have some more magazine articles scheduled with Popular Woodworking. We will shoot the photos for those articles; plus the big one I told you about, that is now in the can. I also have plans for future postings here. I will be doing a lot of this writing from home. So, if you need to contact me, email is best.


I have another book underway. I hope to complete it, or get very close to finishing it during the break. It is a book of mediations; something I find myself doing a lot more of as I age. Everyone who has studied here knows we have two dogs we love – Angus and Menlo. If you have been taking classes for a long time, you have met our other dogs, who now rest in the well-maintained dog cemetery overlooking the stream that runs by the house.


I have always interacted with our dogs. I snuggle them; I talk to them; and I take them with me wherever I go. I have found that if my dogs don’t like someone, there is usually a good reason. I have learned that generally the people I don’t warm up to don’t like dogs.  


Above all, I watch our dogs. I study them as they go about their daily lives. I watch them play. I watch them do what they consider their work – their jobs. In watching them, our dogs have taught me a lot, or reconfirmed many of the principals that guide my life. Dogs are generally happy and content, and because I am in many ways like them, I too am a happy and content man.  It took me many decades to achieve peace with myself and with life, but I did. I did it by doing a lot of things dogs do instinctively. It is amazing that they avoid many of the problems that afflict humans. Thus the subject of this book which I title Turn the Other Jowl: What Dogs have Taught me about God.


If I complete this book, I expect to move right on to the next one. This one is comparable to Tuesdays with Morrie. In Tuesdays the author, Mitch Albom visited his friend Morrie as he died of Lou Gehrig’s disease. Through their conversations the author learned many important lessons about the meaning of life and the things that truly matter. My book – with the working title Everyday with Jim will be from the point of view of the caregiver who lives with a “Morrie,” day in, day out. From that proximity and point of view, the caregiver learns even deeper life lessons.


In my book, the role of Morrie is our friend Jim who has been rendered a bedridden invalid by MS. I am the caregiver, who in caring for him has learned how little really matters in this life, and that the little that does matter really matters a lot.


I won’t get this far during the break, but book five in my Young Adult fantasy adventure series is all outlined. I do expect to begin it before 2010 is done. Meanwhile, my search for a literary agent goes on.


During the break, I will complete the tete-a-tete (head-to-head in French) that has been on my bench for the last several classes. It will be the prototype for our first class of the year. I may even get some work done on a prototype of our 2011 new chair class. Right now, that one is a secret. But you’re gonna love it.

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. 


Running a business in this economic climate requires lots of planning.  When times were fat, we maintained a well stocked catalog building. While we liked it that way, we can’t afford it now. The result is that I look ahead to what we will need for upcoming classes and I order what I need plus a bit more.  The order covers the class; the bit more takes care of sales to the people in the class.  Anything left over goes on a shelf for sale through the on-line catalog.

               As you can see from this description, I am left with small amounts of lots of things. Once that small amount sells out, I do not stock it again until I am running that class again. So, while running a business in this climate requires me to do a lot of planning, it requires the same of you.   The days are gone (although I hope they will return) when you could send an order from the web site for 8 turning sets and have them arrive in a couple of days. Now, you need to check with us as soon as the idea on making more chairs enters your mind.  If you wait until you are ready to start the project, you may be disappointed. In other words, for both our sakes give me as much advance notice as you can.

               We will wrap up 2009 tomorrow, and will not teach the first class of 2010 until March 22. I am not planning on stocking any more inventory until early March. 

* * * * 

The weak economy has a lot of people concluding they can’t afford to take a class, so they decide to try their hand at chairmaking on their own.  As a result, we have been getting a steady stream of orders for tools and material from people who have never studied with us. I have to inform them that many of our products are part of our program. We developed them for our program so we could teach our classes and provide our students with the wherewithal to make more chairs. We do not sell these items to the general public. As you can see from above, we have trouble keeping the people who have been here supplied. I cannot short change them in favor of someone who is not willing to invest the time or effort to come here. 

* * * * 

This is the season for gift certificates. If you want to buy someone a class, we can provide you with a gift certificate to put under the tree. You can get a certificate for a specific class date, or one that is open ended and can be used when the recipient is ready. The best way to do it is to use our catalog order form. It will allow you to send us your CC# encrypted.  Be sure to include the information needed to personalize the certificate in the memo section. That information includes the recipient’s name; the names of the gift givers, the event (Christmas, birthday, anniversary, etc.)  If you want the certificate to be a secret and have it sent to another address, be sure to make that clear, and to give me that address. 

* * * *

Last post I mentioned Sir Brian Offutt, who his here this week. Sir Brian gave me some other news in regards to his chairmaking. He displayed a settee at two community fairs this summer and was awarded first place and best of show at both fairs; the Shippensburg Fair, Shippensburg, Pennsylvania and the South Mountain Fair in Adams County, Pennsylvania. He is planning to take other chairs to these fairs next summer.  

* * * * 

I know Windsor chairmakers can’t do math, but this joke allows us to poke fun at our arch rivals the vile and treacherous Shaker chairmakers from Shakermaker U. 

“His Grace Don Harper was passing by a Shaker chair shop as the Shakers were loading a large order of chairs on a wagon. The shakers were busy counting the chairs to make sure they had the proper amount. Hezekiah tried first, but got lost track after 17. Ezekiel tried next, buy lost count at 14. Jonas did not get any higher than nine. 

His Grace looked at the assembled chairs and told the Shakers there were 65. The Shakers were amazed. “How did you manage to do that?” Hezekiah asked. 

“Easy,” Don replied.  “I just counted the legs and divided by four.”

* * * *

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.

Wrapping up 2009

We are teaching the 2 Kids Chairs class this week.  In this class each student makes a child’s sack back and a matching youth chair for use at the table. I have written before about the joint we worked out to attach the footrest. I am proud of it and the way it snaps together and self locks.  I don’t know of any other place in woodworking where this technique is used. It is unique and only known here.

This class is also our last of the year and wraps up 2009. We end our school year with a ceremony we call the Burning of the Backboards. It occurs late Friday afternoon after graduation when we all gather at the incinerator behind the shop and burn the year’s backboards. Those who have studied with us know that we always ask them to take the time to sign a backboard so they are with us symbolically at this ceremony. The first backboard into the fire will be the one signed by the members of the first class of the year.  It has been hanging on the wall all these months, awaiting its moment of glory.

We have an additional ceremony that will take place just before the Burning. Sir Brian Offutt will be inducted into the Alpha Omega Society.  This is accomplished by attending both the first and last class of the year. It doesn’t happen often. In fact, only nine times previously and the last induction was in 2004. Brian will be given a certificate and a pewter mug with the Greek letters Alpha Omega, his name, and the year engraved on it.

* * * *

Recently I mentioned the First Knights. Within days I heard from all of them for different reasons.  Lord Lyndon Gallagher was here for the balloon back. Sir Stig Brandvik is here this week for the 2 kids chairs. And Sieur Vincent Lavarenne emailed me with some of his news.

* * * *

Our sandpaper sharpening method, as described a while ago in Popular Woodworking is going international. Sieur Vincent Lavarenne, Premier Chevalier de France, is writing an article about our method in a French woodworking magazine Le Bouver, which means Grooving Plane.  Sieur Vincent has been demonstrating and promoting the method to his woodworking association and through his efforts he attracted the magazine’s attention.

He says he met some resistance to the method from French woodworkers. He converted them with a clever demonstration. He destroyed the cutting edge of a carving tool by chiseling some limestone. Then, in 47 seconds he restored the edge  using our sandpaper method. The 47 included time to clean up and put away his sharpening set up.

* * * *

We heard from Lord Lyndon Gallagher, who was here for the Balloon backs two weeks ago. He reports he donated a sack chair to the local Firemen’s Auction for the needy.  The chair fetched $700.  By the way, Lord Lyndon brought us some great Canadian beer that Fred, Don, and I will enjoy after the Burning. We always ask Canadian students to bring us some craft beer from their area. They make great beer, and we aren’t likely to ever stumble across these small local brands down here.

* * * *

I joined the 21st century this weekend when started a Facebook page. I’m in the process of building it. Fortunately, I have a talented computer consultant to walk me though the process – my 17 year old son. Otherwise, I’d be lost. I am not sure how I am going to use the page. I’m thinking of keeping this one for my personal use– to stay in touch with my extensive family (I am one of nine kids) and close friends.  Currently, I plan on setting up another for The Institute. If you want to join as a friend of The Institute, that will probably be the place, rather than my personal page. Meanwhile, be patient with me while I sort all this out.

* * * *  

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.