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.
That said, it is important to remember that I wrote that book in 1983 (published in 1984.) That is 24 years ago. Heck, in those days I still had a hairline and a waistline. The problem with writing a book is that it freezes the author in time. Although the author learns and develops, the book remains the same. I assure you, I have grown and developed, and so has my approach to Windsor chairmaking. Believe it or not, I still spend a lot of time everyday thinking about chairs. In every class, I observe processes that give people trouble and ponder how they could be made easier, or more clear. Then I experiment, testing new ideas. Those that don’t work are rejected, but those that do are incorporated into my teaching. For that reason, 21st century Windsor chairmaking remains a vital and growing craft. While the designs I make were worked out in the 18th century, and my methods remain in the handwork tradition, I am not frozen in time. I am not frozen in the 18th century, nor am I frozen in 1983.
Hundreds of incremental changes over the past 24 years have resulted in methods that in some cases, bear no resemblance to what I was doing when I was only 36 years old. In fact, there are whole sections of that book I wish I had not written. Examples are drying tenons in hot sand and drilling into certain grain orientation. I have often said that if there is a Chairmakers Hell, I will spend eternity drying tenons in hot sand to atone for that boneheaded idea. As much as I try to repudiate it, I keep reading about chairmakers drying their tenons and turning the legs just so before drilling. I can’t stamp out what I created and I deserve to have some demon dressed in a red suit, stick me in the behind with a pitchfork while I dry tenons forever.
I am often asked when I will publish an updated version of Make a Windsor Chair. Never, and for the same reason. I would again become frozen in time. Also, the book would likely be out of date before it was even published. I prefer the class method of conveying chairmaking knowledge. The student is receiving the most up to date information. Returning for advanced classes, keeps them current on anything that has been developed since sack back. Also, the class lasts a week. Students starting on Monday, will have completed a chair (and will have learned to make that chair over and over again) by Friday. The project doesn’t sit in a corner incomplete month after month. Problems that pop up are resolved on the spot instead of paralysing the would-be chairmaker.
I always tell anyone who owes a copy of Make a Windsor Chair to put it under glass and save it for the future. Based on its history, the book’s value will only increase. While you can make a chair the way I show in the book, I can’t imagine why you would want to, knowing that today, there are far better ways. I guess it would be like choosing to build a Steudebaker, when you could build a Mercedes.