Monthly Archives: May 2011

A Visit from Dave

             The May 16 Writing Arm chair class is in session. This gave my old friend Dave Wachnicki an excuse to visit. It was good to see Dave again. Our working relationship dates back to 1995. Most people don’t know that Dave used to teach with me. While here, Dave had to tweak and tune and overhaul so many wooden spoke shaves for so many students that he became an expert on this tool. I lost him when he decided to start making shaves. However, he always has been (and I expect always will be) our recommended source for this tool. Students who arrive in class with a shave from a different source always regret it and end up using one of our shop shaves (which are of course, Dave’s Shaves.)

             Dave is the only person to both teach at The Institute and be inducted into the Chairmakers Hall of Fame. He became an Immortal by virtue of his innovation Dave’s Dipsy Doodle. All who have taken a class with use have used the Dipsy Doodle to calculate the length of their center stretchers. To jog your memory; remember the story about the crisis caused by chairmakers cutting their center stretchers to the wrong length? We were mowing down entire forests to provide center stretchers for chairmakers who can’t do math. Greenpeace picketed outside. Sierra Club filed suit against us in Federal Court.  (You do realize this is all a gag?) We assembled the Knights of Windsor and sent them on the quest for the Holy Grail of chairmaking – a way for chairmakers who can’t do math to directly measure their center stretchers. That’s the Dipsey Doodle. You use it in combination with McKelvy’s Harness.

            Here’s a trivia question, how could Dave who taught here, be in the Hall of Fame? The bylaws strictly prohibit instructors from membership. (We do this to prevent corruption. A six pack is enough to buy a trustee’s vote.)  See answer below.

            I last saw Dave this winter. He probably hasn’t changed, but I was surprised at how gray he has gotten. He no doubt thinks the same when he sees me. I think of Dave more than I see him, as he is the guy who told me about using jalapeño stuffed olives in martinis. I will be forever grateful

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            The October 3 sack back class has filled. We have opened a second sack back class October 17. Other than that class, the only sack back opening left this year if July 25. There is one space left in that class.

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            I received this email from Ray Duffy regarding his brother Tom. Tom is the oldest person to ever take our class. He was 87 when he did sack back with Ray.

            “Hi Mike: The subject sounds like the beginning of one of your jokes. I am just back from California and it is official Tom is 90 years old and still making Windsor chairs. We had a good visit, worked on a chair, planted the garden and had a birthday bash with a big crowd, good food and plenty of liquid refreshments. I am attaching a picture of Tom with his cake and also Jesse the Lab with his cake. Tom and Jesse share the same birthday 88 years apart.

            “There is also a picture of Tom with some of his chairs. He has completed 16 and is working on two more in his shop. Tom is in good health, stays active and still drives himself everywhere. I had hoped to get him back for another class this year, but that will not happen since he now wears hearing aids and is unable to use them in noisy surroundings. Also, the pace of the class is too fast for him to keep up. On his own he can do just fine. It just takes a little bit longer. Tom will be here in August and we usually visit Woodcraft in Portsmouth, I will check to see if you are available and if so we will try to stop to say hello. Regards, Ray”

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The next email is from H. G. Lyndon Gallagher, First Duke of Canada. “The buds are just coming out and the sun is shining….it won’t be long now. By the way, I made a chair that was  auctioned last Saturday where the proceeds go to the local nurses and caregivers. My balloon back went for $700. Right now I’m working on a high chair for friends that had a baby 3 months ago. I sure am enjoying my chair making……Thanks again Mike.”

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 The answer is – Dave was inducted before he donned the coveted green staff shirt.

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In the Zone

          After splitting on Monday, Kevin and I worked a half day Tuesday cutting oak blanks. Our priority was to get out the material for the upcoming Writing arm class. Each chair will require a crest and a long arm. Crest blanks are 32 inches and long arms (c-arm, NYC bows, and settee parts) are six feet. Since we were in that mode, we cut enough crests for the rest of the year and for catalog sales. The Philly high back in August and the rocking chair in September both require crests. So, we are ready for them.

          We spent the rest of the morning cutting a large pile of standard spindle blanks; 24 inches long. By the time we were done cutting we had large piles of blanks all around our machine room. When we went back to the stacks of splits we had put upon Monday, I was amazed that we had barely made a dent. Obviously, we will be doing a lot of cutting in the next two months. 

          Yesterday, we received another load of seat pine. I hope to buck it into length today. I should be able to get the job done, as that work goes fairly quickly. Kevin, Patrick, Don, and I are getting together again on Monday next. We should wrap up that day with many of the seat blanks glued. Once again, our focus will be on the upcoming class. Don’s first order of business will be the writing arm seat blanks, which with a side tail piece, are a unique shape.  He will also glue up the writing tablets. Meanwhile, Kevin and I will be cutting more oak. 

          I have a treat waiting for me on the shop floor, and I am anxious to get to it after bucking the pine. I recently received an email from a student who had taken the NYC bow back side chair class. He had also bought the class chair made by the staff and me as part of the instruction. He wanted to round out the pair into a set of four and inquired if I had any more NYCs on hand. I didn’t, but not having a class during June, I will have time to make a couple of chairs. So, I agreed to make him another pair. 

          I have already made the bows and am now working on the spindles for the chairs. It has been so long since I made some chairs for sale, I had forgotten how satisfying it is. I work at my vise and go into the zone. I feel the stress drain out of me as I get into the rhythm of chairmaking. My reverie is only occasionally broken by a phone call. Even still, I quickly slip back into a state of complete peace.   It is very nice.

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Rites of Spring


            Here at The Windsor Institute a splitting party is a rite of spring.  Spring 2011 has officially arrived and been welcomed. In March I visited the local log concentration yard and picked out this year’s premium red oak veneer logs. In April, the logging truck arrived with our oak and neatly laid the logs side-by-side in our log yard.  This morning, Kevin Hurd, a farmer up the road, arrived with his tractor (dubbed Bessy) with a four foot log hydraulic splitter on the back. He also arrived with his 24 year-old step son Patrick.


            The guys who teach here — Don Harper, Donnie Chesser, and me — are getting a little long in the tooth, and it was nice to have a vigorous young buck on hand to wrestle the oak bolts onto the splitter. It didn’t hurt that the young buck was friendly and well spoken. Thus, Patrick is a welcome addition.


            It only took several hours to reduce the logs to splits, all neatly stuck and awaiting the next step in processing them into chair backs. By noon, we were done with Bessy and sent her back to the farm, and we had raked and cleaned the log area. Only the smell of the freshly spilt stacks of oak and the carpet of fresh chain saw chips indicated anything significant had occurred.


            The only disappointment of the day was the second log. Two of its four foot bolts opened to reveal knarley wood, completely worthless for making chairs. When Kevin returned after lunch, we loaded the pieces into his pick up. He heats his house with an exterior wood furnace. Kevin chuckled to think that he would be warming his home with a $250 log. Being a frugal old Yankee, I gritted my teeth.


            Tomorrow, we begin the long process of cutting the splits into chair stock. We do this on our

Hitachi resaw with a two-inch wide blade, its aggressive teeth tipped with stellite. From there, the stock will either go into the freezer, or be put up to dry. I expect there is enough wood stacked outside the shop to provide for this year’s classes and for this year’s sales. I wouldn’t be too surprised if the first class of 2012 uses the wood we began processing today. There is that much of it.       * * * *

            As of this writing, I have four spots open for the sack back class in 2011 – two July 25 and two October 3.


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