Monthly Archives: September 2010

It’s Coming Back

I wrote this in a July 2007 blog posting. “Hardly a week goes by that I don’t receive an email that goes something like this.   ‘I’m trying to buy a copy of Make a Windsor Chair with Michael Dunbar.  The only ones I can find are on eBay, and they want $250 for them.  You guys got any for sale?’  The implication is that the inquirer wants to buy a copy for the original $19.95 list price.     “No, I don’t have any for sale. I wish I had had the foresight to buy a bunch of cases ”back when they were still available from the publisher.  However, I still wouldn’t sell them at the list price when they are fetching more than 20 times that elsewhere.   Instead, I would hold the books for several more years and then use them to pay for my son’s college. I may be crazy, but I’m not dumb.”          Times change. This week I too the first steps in a project that will make that book available again.  After more than a decade of being out of print, it is coming back. To top it off, it will be sold at the original price, or an amount very close to it. I expect the new and improved Make a Windsor Chair to be for sale around the first of the year. That’s good news for those of you who have always wanted to own a copy.  It’s bad news for the guys selling them on eBay, as the price of old copies is going to plummet.  Another of my books Restoring,  Tuning, and Using Classic Woodworking Tools is in the pipeline right behind  Make a Windsor Chair. I’m expecting that second book to be available in spring 2011. Old tool collectors and users refer to Restoring, Tuning, and Using as the “bible” and I’m sure a lot of people will be happy to have it back.  I’ll keep you posted about both projects’ progress in this space.  So, keep reading. * * * *

Last year I told you I was working on an article that had my blood pumping. I was excited because the article was a rare accomplishment – it describes a new woodworking topic.  It’s not a rehash of a subject that has been written about by a dozen authors through the last three decades. For that reason, the elitist magazine that thinks itself so fine, would never consider it. Heaven forbid they write about something that is imaginative. After all, that’s not safe.   That’s why the article is being published by Popular Woodworking.  That magazine is gutsy and creative, and they actually invite new ideas. If you are not reading Pop Wood, you are stuck in the mediocre past.

Well, I have read the galleys, meaning the article will be printed very soon. You may remember that I told you this was an area developed by Windsor chairmakers. This is our contribution to our cabinetmaking brothers and sisters. With its publication imminent, I can finally tell you about it.  Windsor chairmakers sell a lot of chairs because we know how to age them; to make them look like antiques. This is an important skill, as so many of our customers are collectors.

After beginning with us, aged furniture has entered the mainstream. Visit any country craft store and you will see tons of it.  There are factories pumping out cupboards and tables that are distressed.  The problem is, most distressed furniture (factory or handmade) looks artificial.  The real money sees this artificiality, because collectors spend a lot of their time looking at the real deal.  In other words, chairmakers and some furniture makers know how to create wear; they just know how to do it so it looks real.

That is to subject of my article. It is an exploration of how furniture wears. Notice the distinction.  It is not an article about how to wear furniture; it is about how furniture wears.  It is the knowledge you need to create wear that looks like the real thing. The article is long and will require two issues. However, it is chock full of very important stuff. I hope this information will open new markets and attract new collector customers to lots more period furniture makers. You’re welcome, guys. It’s a present from your Windsor chairmaker friends.

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This news is sad. I heard from Tammy Hinckley that her husband and our old friend Thom Hinckley of Provo, Utah died suddenly this past weekend. Thom taught Geography at BYU and wanted ever so badly to attend the first chairmaking class I taught there in 1980. He couldn’t fit it into his teaching schedule, so he sent Tammy. Every afternoon after classes Thom came by to help his wife and to soak up every bit of information he could.

When I returned the following year, Thom helped out with my classes. Since then, he has visited me back east a number of times. Although older than I, Thom never failed to pitch in to help, no matter how hard the work I was doing.

            Thom was a scholar and a resource.  If I needed information, I could always give him a call and he had it at his finger tips. He was also a sounding board. I would read things I had written to him and ask his opinion on problems. Tammy and the kids will miss him terribly.  So will I.

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Congratulations to Rick Lasita. He landed a nice article about himself and his chairmaking in the Jackson (TN) Sun. The article was accompanied by tons of great color photos of Rick and his chairs. Take a peek by using this link: http://www.jacksonsun.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/201009030520/LIFESTYLE/9030301

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I heard from Jill Tatman, Sir Ron Tatman’s wife. Theirs is chairmaking family, as Sir Ron and both his daughters have taken classes here. This is a typical chairmaker story. Like Jill, our spouses have to get used to the odd things we do.

“Hello Mike, Funny story of what happens when you take a wood worker/chair maker on a cruise. We all took the Alaskan cruise this past August and had a wonderful time. Weather was great and sea was like glass for most of the trip. One day it was a little rough and I sat in the deck chair all day reading. I commented that I liked the deck chairs and they were comfortable. Next, Ron had me taking pictures at all different angles and writing down the measurements while he measured the chair and made templates of the different angles. Needless to say there was a crowd watching in wonderment.

“Ron has finished his Phil Lowe Tilt Top Tea Table (he has had the plans for about 10 years). He is presenting it to his chapter meeting of the SAPFM. He also has a settee underway on the work bench. It has been a busy summer and is just starting to slow down. Now that I have completed my Masters and graduated and both girls are in college I can spend time doing the things I want to do without feeling guilty. Say Hello to everyone from Ron and myself hope to see you next year.”

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Les Rabots

             An amazing present arrived from Amazon.fr recently.  It was a gift from Sieur Vincent Lavarenne. Many of you know Sieur Vincent. He is le Premier Chevalier de France – The First Knight of France. As such, Sieur Vincent commands all French Knights of Windsor. There aren’t a whole lot of them right now, but that is going to change. The French are very interested in culture and as we accomplish our stated purpose “for handmade Windsor chairs to take over the world” the will soon be an army of chaisiers.

            Any way, my gift was a large full-color reference book titled Les Rabots and was written by Pierre Bouillot and Xavier Chatellard. Rabot is French for plane; as in the category of tools used by woodworkers. I have not yet read the whole book, but I have scanned its entirety. There is no doubt this is a landmark work. I have a huge library of books on woodworking and tools, but this one is full of information I have never seen before.  For example, I own and use lots of English planes. I recognize the foreign shapes  that tool dealers always label “European.”  However, I could never tell you where in Europe they came from. As you probably remember from 4th grade geography, Europe is a big place with lots of countries. Using Les Rabots, I can tell a foreign plane’s place of origin.  I can identify a generic Asian plane, but it never dawned on me that individual countries in Asia would have their own plane designs. I recognize the difference between Anglo-American 18th and 19th century planes. I never imagined that plane design evolved in other countries as well, and even by region. I do now. In fact, this book is so complete it could have been titled “History of Planes of the World.”

            The book begins with the planes of antiquity. You maybe surprised at how sophisticated Roman planes were, and the number of examples recovered by archaeologists. Did you know the Romans used iron infill planes 2000 years ago? Would you recognize a Roman molding profile? The book goes on to chronicle the plane industry. Many of the illustrations (engravings and some early photographs) are French and reveal a highly developed plane industry in that country during the 18th and 19th centuries. During the 19th century when American plane makers were improving their planes and inventing new mechanisms French plane makers were doing the same thing. They worked out solutions I have never seen before reading Les Rabots.

            Bouillot’s and Chatellard’s magnum opus contains lists of plane makers from different countries. These lists are necessarily incomplete, as such lists require books of their own.  These listings of plan makers in The United States and in England exist and a curious woodworker will already own them. Les Rabots also contains similar lists of European iron makers. I love the cutters stamped with a standing Napoleon.

            The book contains chapters on plane use as well as the devices, such as shooting boards – that are used in concert with planes. It has chapters on planes unique to various trades, such as the stair maker. The authors also cover plane related tools, such as spoke shaves and scrapers. The final chapters are for the collector, explaining how to buy and care for planes.

            The book has one draw back for an American.  It is written in French. I am able to read the text quite well, although I do have to look up an occasional term. The result is that I now know a lot more workshop vocabulary than I learned when I lived in France. I do wish now I had paid more attention to the ateliers I passed, but having turned 21 while there, I was more interested in girls, wine, and the great food. While you may not be able to read Les Rabots, you will salivate over the planes in the pictures. The photography is excellent and the planes enough to make any woodworker’s heart palpitate.

            The book is not cheap. It costs Eur. 80.75 which the currency converter on the internet tells me is equal to $103. 36. Of course the exchange rate changes from time to time, but this gives you an idea of how much you will shell out. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.  Here is the link that will take you to amazon.fr and Les Rabots. The site is all in French, but is the layout is identical to  amazon.com.    http://www.amazon.fr/s/ref=nb_sb_noss? _mk_fr_FR=%C5M%C5Z%D5%D1&url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=les+rabots&x=0&y=0

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                        You probably remember an earlier posting about Freddy Dudak, the 11 year old who took the July sack back. I received this message from his father Sir Freddy Dudak. “Freddy’s chair was entered in the West End Fair which is a local fair in our area that is in its 89th year. The chair was entered under the category of original crafts-junior, and he took home the blue ribbon. I entered my chair and didn’t fare so well coming home with a third. Freddy was consoling me when we picked up the chairs saying that I should be glad I didn’t see what I lost to. I love that kid.” Those of us around The Institute are real proud of Freddy too.

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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.