The Monday after a class is always a little unsettling for me. I walk through the door and for an instant I wonder where is everyone? My mind is prepared for the excitement and company of a group of chairmakers. However, I face an empty classroom. I am reminded of a stock movie scene where the athlete walks into an empty stadium, or an actor walks out onto the stage of an empty theater. For an instant he sees all the seats full and the game being played, or the play underway. The suddenly, the space is empty again. That is how I feel. It is an off week. The rocking chair class is gone and I am alone.
A common question asked of me during classes is “What will you do on your week off?” I suspect that with all the fun, excitement, and activity of a class, students have a hard time imagining it ever being quiet around here. They assume that the class experience is all there is at The Institute. I try explain that between classes I do all the things necessary to run the place, but that seems to not compute.
This week is a good example of what goes on. The week prior to the rocking chair class I had gone to the log yard and picked out the logs we will use during this summer. Then, I arranged to have them delivered. The logs arrived during the rocking chair class. The truck pulled up while Fred was doing a demonstration and it was fun to watch him struggle to keep everyone’s attention. The class completely ignored Fred and gathered around the windows to see the truck. He surrendered. Tammy (Yes, a lady drives the log truck) amazed them all as she arranged the logs in a row, as neatly as if she were stocking a grocery store shelf.
Monday morning after the class, Fred, Don, and I had what we call a splitting party. Kevin Hurd, whose family owns a dairy farm up the road joined us. On the back of his tractor Kevin had attached a four foot log splitter. With a chain saw we bucked the logs into two and four foot sections. Kevin is not very tall, but he is a bull of a man. He rolled the red oak bolts onto the splitter, while Fred, Don, and I tried to help out. It is fun to watch the splitter. It slowly tears the oak logs into halves, quarters, and then eighths. It is a job that we used to do by hand with a maul and wedges. An eighth-log split is usually small enough for us to manage and process further by hand. By the time we broke for lunch almost all the logs had been rendered into splits and stacked on bearers to keep them off the ground. During the summer, they will provide any additional material we will need for our classes.
After lunch, my son Michael arrived to help. Michael is 14 years old and has just finished the eighth grade. His new high school conducted a four day orientation for in-coming freshman and he was there every morning this week. We wheeled cart loads of red oak splits over to the machine room, where they are ripped into spindle or bending blanks on our Hitachi band resaw. The temperature was now above 90 degrees, as Fred and Kevin begin cutting. They were in the building out of the sun, but it was noisy and dusty. Michael began to rake up the log area and put our chain saws and other tools away. At about this point a truck load of select pine arrived and we all stopped to unload it and stack the planks on saw horses. I started laying out the pine for seat blanks, while Don cut them to 24 inch lengths. We soon had stacks of pine blocks all around the saw horses. While Don and I worked on the planks, Michael started carrying the cut up pine into the new building and stacking it by width. In coming days they will be glued into seat blanks for the summer classes.
All this takes a couple of hours. When Fred and Kevin were done on the saw they cleaned out the six foot chest freezer in the new building. They began neatly stacking layers of the red oak blanks they had just cut. The spindles blanks are laid down first, and then the bending blanks. Next, another layer of spindle blanks are laid in place, with another layer of bending blanks on top. That is repeated a third time, which fills the freezer to the brim. The top layer will be used by the July 9 class, the next by the July 23 class, and the bottom layers by the August 6 class. The August 20 class is a c-arm, and it will be cut in mid-August, during another off week.
There was about an hour of clean up around the band saw and around the saw horses. By now, it was four o’clock and we were all pretty tuckered out. We gathered in the office with some cold Canadian beer brought to us by Sieur Jean-Francois Theoret, the first Knight of Windsor of Canada. While we relaxed we all joked with my wife Susanna, who had been doing office work while we were outside.
Tuesday morning, I worked in the office and put together the packets for the July 9 class. When a class starts there is a packet of information at every vise, along with the student’s name tag. The packets contain a Day One sheet, a list of staff tips, two photo sheets, and four procedures. There is also a milk paint procedure, a list of local restaurants, and a Windsor Institute catalog. There are numerous other sheets of various information, as well. At the same time, I prepare the diplomas and the thank you letters that will be mailed the Monday after the class, along with a class photo. All in all, making up the packets for a full sack back class takes much of a day.
Late in the day, I had my semi annual check up. While my doctor was listening to my heart and lungs, he observed that my torso was covered with bruises. I think he suspected I was a victim of elder abuse. I explained it was the inevitable result of a splitting party and cutting up the pine. Both are pretty physical jobs. I think I convinced him my bruising was work related when I showed him my right knee. A pine 2 X 10 had slid off the saw horse and hit me, leaving my entire knee black and blue.
Wednesday a semi pulled up with our monthly shipment of turnings. I spent most of the day bagging the turnings and setting them aside by class. The remaining bags I stocked into the bins in the new building. The surplus will be sold to people in up coming classes, or shipped to people who buy them through the on-line catalog. In the afternoon, I balanced monthly bank statements.
Thursday, Susanna and I spent in the office doing accounting and paperwork. The cleaning service arrived mid-afternoon and chased us out. We use a cleaning service so the kitchen, bathrooms, show room, and office are nice and tidy when the next class shows up.
Friday, I answered emails in the early morning. Next, I filled some catalog orders and packed them. Finally, I took them to the post office to ship the smaller ones, and took the larger to the UPS shipping service we use. Mid-afternoon Susanna, Michael, and I played hooky and went to the beach.
Fourth of July is next week, and so we will not have a class. Because of the holiday I will only have four days to work. My plans are to write an article for Popular Woodworking. They will be here for a photo shoot in August, and I would like to shoot three articles at once. Two are already written.
I’m sure things will pop up that will have to be dealt with, but if I have any time, I do hope to get back to work on my next book. If I take any time out of the office, all that pine is in the new building waiting to be glued into seat blanks.