Monthly Archives: August 2010

Is This a Real Chairmaker?

            I’ll let you in on a secret. When I am figuring out what to use in my eNewsletter, I save the so-so stuff for June, July, and August. Why?  During the summer no one is really paying attention to what comes in as email. Everyone is outdoors enjoying the nice weather. For that reason, I don’t waste the really sexy stuff during the summer. I save it for the fall when everyone’s life has returned to normal. You’ll be seeing some of my better stuff in coming months.

            So, imagine my surprise when August eNewsletter generated a tsunami of response. Not only should everyone been at the beach, the picture wasn’t the best of the material I have in the pipeline. All it was a guy sitting on a curb working on a chair with the title, “Is This a Real Chairmaker?” The accompanying text was my assessment of why I thought the photo was posed and the guy wasn’t really working.

            The eNewsletter was no sooner emailed than responses started arriving in my Inbox. Some emails agreed with my assessment while others disagreed. Some people emailed more than once, augmenting their arguments as they thought more about the picture. I responded to a few emails, but quickly reached a point where answering everyone would take too much time.

            I’ll send out the September eNewsletter around the 15th of the month. It is the first of the good stuff I have been saving for fall. After August, I’m afraid of what will happen. I fear my web guy’s server will catch on fire.

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Sir Mike Wisch

              We knighted Sir Mike Wisch during the August 9 Nantucket fan back class.  Sir Mike became the 161st Knight of Windsor. The class had a surprisingly high number of guys attending their first advanced class.  Thus, they had never witnessed a knighting. Many of them assured me after that the ceremony was very moving. They especially liked the pageantry. I do have admit, we really do up Royal Orders ceremonies. They are a spectacle.

            By the way, Sir Mike is from Wisconsin and brought me a foam Cheese Head – the triangular wedge of cheese worn by Green Bay football fans. It now sits proudly next to my foam Corn Head from Nebraska, as worn by Corn Husker fans. I am unaware of any other such head gear, but if your local team has something similar, bring me one for my growing collection.

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            Because we had such a large percentage of Entered Apprentice chairmakers in the Nantucket class, the Raising was large as well. I always need someone to help me demonstrate the secret passwords and the secret handshake. The pickings among the masters were pretty slim so, I asked Sir Mike to assist me.  Can you believe he only remembered half the response to the passwords of the Entered Apprentice? How do you only remember half of it? If you have half, don’t you automatically have it all? Any way, it made for a lot of laughs in an event whose isignificance is so serious, the dignity can otherwise be overwhelming.

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            Remember the July eNewsletter, the ink blotter advertising the very distinctive Gluck Brothers Windsors? I was watching the made for television version of Death of a Salesman shortly after that email. What do the Lomans have around their kitchen table – a set of  four Gluck #50s, the version with the splat.   I noticed them immediately. 

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            Congratulations to Sir Brian Offutt and his wife Anna. Anna gave birth to their first son, Nathan Ambrose Offutt on Friday August 13, 2010. Sir Brian emailed us, “He was 19-3/4″ and 7lbs – 3.6ozs.  He has already put a spokeshave on his Christmas list and cannot wait to take a Sack Back Class.” Sir Brian and Anna have twin girls who will undoubtedly help their parents care for their new baby brother.  

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Excitement and Boredom

             When people are here taking a class they often make remarks or ask questions that reveal to me a misconception on their part.  They are having such a great time; they assume that life around here is always one big great time. Last Thursday I amused myself thinking about this misconception. I was standing on the business end of our Hitachi band resaw passing six foot lengths of red oak log by the blade.  I had on safety glasses and a pair of hearing protectors. The machine has a piercing whine. I was less than excited.

            Don was stationed on the other side of the saw receiving the bolt as it passed through and was severed into two pieces. After the cut, he places one of the pieces of wood out of the way and passes the other back to me. Or, if the cut off is waste, he tosses it aside. Then, the process repeats. After several cuts, we have an oak slab small enough to be sliced into bending blanks. Now, Don starts stacking the finished product against a work bench.  The next person to work these will be a student, either in a class or making a chair at home.

            The process goes on. Today, I am the sawyer, the guy we call the pitcher. Don is the catcher. Before we start one of us always asks, “Do you want to pitch or catch?’ As pitcher, I decide how the wood can best be cut.  Like a baseball pitcher, I seek the catcher’s advice. A non-verbal dialog goes on between us, necessarily non-verbal because with hearing protectors on our heads we can’t hear each other. We do a lot of pointing with our hands and nodding or shaking of our heads. Every now and then, we have to shut down and actually speak to each other.

            With one section of log reduced to bending blanks and scrap, we begin another. We usually split logs down to eighths, but some of these six footers can still be too big for one guy to handle. So, Don comes over to my side and helps me start the cut. Then, he slips back behind the saw to catch the two pieces as they come through. I keep my hand on the bolt as long as possible. I am both guiding the oak and pushing it forward. When the blade gets too close to my hand (I am not comfortable with less than 6 inches) I draw my hand away. Don pulls the two pieces all the way through and once again, sets one aside and pushes the other back to me.

            When the bolts in the truck are all cut, Don drives his pick up to the other side of the main building and we load it with more bolts. He returns to the machine room and backs up to the open double door. Parked this way, we can slide the bolts off the tailgate and onto the saw bed. It saves us a lot of lifting.  The cutting starts again. By the time we begin the second truck load, we are covered with saw dust. It is in our shoes and pockets. It is in our hair and behind our ears. It sticks to any exposed skin as readily as it sticks to our clothing.

            Cutting is semi-weather dependant. We are under cover and do not worry a lot about rain or snow. However, the building is not heated and so, we avoid really cold days. Don and I chose to cut Thursday last week because the weather was predicted to be cool and dry. It was, but we still did a fair amount of sweating. We take regular breaks.  We retreat to the classroom which is air conditioned in the summer and heated in the winter. There, we catch our breath and rest before returning to the saw.

            At the end of the day we pile the scrap out in the driveway for Kevin, the farmer who helps us split the logs into bolts. He will come by and take the scrap home to burn in his outdoor wood furnace. We shovel up barrels of saw dust that we compost in the tall grass behind the shop. We vacuum the saw and roll it back into a corner where it is draped with a sheet.

            I started out this posting musing about the general misconception that life around here is always lots of fun. During a class it is, but much of what we do is routine, boring, dirty, and sometimes physically demanding. I get to contrast the two circumstances only when standing at a resaw with my eyes and ears covered, doing the part that is routine and boring.   Remind me to tell you some time how exciting it is to glue seat blanks, bag turnings, and collate the sheets for the student information packets.  You’ll understand why we look forward to classes. 

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            The October 4 sack back class will get a treat. Lord Lyndon Gallagher will be helping teach that class as the final step to becoming a Duke of Windsor. We typically schedule Royal Orders ceremonies for Thursdays. Because helping to teach a sack back class is the requirement for Dukedom, only sack back students witness this ceremony.

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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 mike@thewindsorinstitute.com Help us spread the word about this blog. Tell others.