My 2008 Resolutions

           Happy New Year.  My wish for you is that you will  resolve to make lots of  Windsors during 2008.  If you are able to make one or two of them here  with us at The Windsor Institute, that would be great, as we will get to enjoy your company.  No matter.  Just remember the line from the Dean’s graduation speech.  “Go out and accomplish The Institute’s stated purpose – for handmade Windsor chairs to take over the world.”             

        Like everyone else, I make New Year’s resolutions that I seldom achieve.  This year, I decided to tell my resolutions to everyone.  That way, maybe I will shame myself into making them a reality.  Below are my resolutions for 2008. 

  • I will choose a new chair to develop into a class  for 2009. 

      The staff at The Institute develops a new class every other year or so.  Developing a new class is a major undertaking that can require more than a year.  We begin by looking for voids in our instruction.  We ask ourselves what  Windsor  chairmaking skills  are we not yet teaching? We then look for chairs that will require those skills.  An example is the balloon back chair we introduced this year.   It uses the crinoline stretcher that up until then, we did not use in any other chair.       

The next question is can we do this chair as a class?  We have to be able to fit it into a week and be sure it fits into our facilities.  A 10-legger settee for example would simply take too long for people to complete, and we don’t have room to build 16 of them at once.        

        Our mission statement is to assure the success and long-term survival of Windsor chairmaking. So, we next ask whether or not the guys who have gone pro can sell this chair? In other words, is this chair recognized and desired by the buying public?

          We have been kicking around three styles of chairs for a while, and when I accomplish this resolution, I will probably choose one of them.  The first is the larger and earlier style of  Philadelphia high back.  We already offer the small high back, and it is very popular.  The big chair will introduce another version of the D seat and a different style of volute.  The second possibility is the Rhode Island style of bow back.  These have a distinctive type of  turned spindle sometimes called a pipe stem.  Because the spindles are turned, making one chair would not fill a week.  So, I have been thinking about an arm and matching side chair.  The idea of making two adult chairs in a week used to worry me.  However, we have successfully accomplished it with the balloon back.

                  Finally, I would love to satisfy all the people who have drooled over the bird cage in The Institute’s collection of period Windsors.  It is the best bird cage I have ever seen.  Its shield seat is unique and  I have never seen it before.  While still shield shaped, it  has sharp (rather than round) corners and a scrolled front edge (rather than one that is slightly bowed.)   The result is a seat that relates to the mitered joints at the top of the stiles better than would the more common round shield.

              A logistical road block has kept me from developing this chair into a class. Except for the seat, every part is turned.  Every part in the back is bent — all 11 of them — the seven spindles, the two rails, and the two stiles.   So, once we have made the seat, what do we do while we wait for  all the bent parts to dry?  Also, where do we put all the parts while they are drying?

          I have kicked around the same solution described above – to make an arm and matching side.  That  gives us the extra work to do during drying, but doubles the number of  bent parts.  Can you see why I haven’t been able to crack this nut?  That bird cage chair is gorgeous, but as you can see, so far it has defied my ability to map it out in my mind as a class.  

  • I will bring our improved depth stop into production  and make it again available in  our catalog.

      Hanging on the ends of every bench at The Institute are a variety of devices made of green anodized aluminum.  They include the Incra Stick, the go gauge,  the bevel board and the No Name Stick.  We call these items the “green stuff.”  We sell it in the catalog to our students.  The guy who used to make it for us we called “Mr.  Green.”        

           Unfortunately, Mr. Green went out of business and we had to develop a new vendor.  We now have all the green stuff back in stock, but for one item.  That is the set of depth stops we use on bits when we drill blind holes.  They keep us from going too deep and blowing out the far side.       

         We improved the stop by designing a new and more positive way to secure it to the bit.   However, this requires an additional  machining process.  I have a large number of students waiting for these stops, but the new Mr. Green has not yet brought me a prototype.  I will prod him and get those stops back into the catalog this year.  

  • I will complete  my next book and look for a publisher.

      I have written seven woodworking books.  I do not plan on writing any more, as magazine articles and this blog give me the same  access to woodworkers, with far greater immediacy.  

      Still, I do have things I want to write that do not fit in here.  I started a book last June and wrote a lot of it before our summer and fall schedule got under way.  The second half of our year is far busier and so, the project has been sitting on a back burner.  I resolve to return to it,  complete it, and start sending our query letters.

        The  title is Turn the Other Jowl.  It is a book of life lessons I have learned from dogs.  Only twice in my life have I been without a dog.  Each time  was the period of mourning that followed the death of  one dog and the arrival of another.  I spend a lot of time interacting with our dogs, and a lot of the ways I live my life was learned from the ways they treat me and each other.

         I have two other books in various stages of development.  One is a science fiction/action novel set in the near future tentatively titled Chateau d’If.   The other is a children’s adventure novel with the characters based on my son Michael and his two childhood friends.  They called themselves the Comet Team and they wanted to go into space together.  In my book which will be titled The Comet Team, they will finally get there. Right now, I am focused on my resolutions for  2008.  I’ll save the next two books for 2009. 

  • I will write 52 love letters.

      Last June one of our priests commented in his homily that we as a culture rely so much on email we do not write letters any more.  I decided he was right.  That week, I wrote Susanna a love letter and left it on her desk.  She was so thrilled I committed  to writing her a love letter every week for the rest of our lives.         

        So far, I have not missed a week, but it has only been six months.   The rest of my life could be a long time and a lot of letters.  I think the job will be easier to accomplish by taking smaller bites.  Therefore, I resolve to not miss a single week in 2008.  I will continue as I have been doing.  I print the letter, fold it in half, and write her name on it.  Then, I mix the letter in with the paperwork on her desk so she finds it as she is working.

        By the way, guys I suggest you try a love letter.  Women really dig it and its an easy way to score points.  Every one of Susanna’s friends who has learned of my weekly missives  has expressed envy of her.   

  • I will continue to write this  blog weekly.

      I started writing this too, last June as a way to  accomplish a 2007 New Year’s resolution. My resolution was to create an electronic version of The Windsor Chronicles that I published for 11 years.  The motto that appeared on The Chronicles banner was “Dedicated to the Advancement of Windsor Chairmaking.”  That publication served its purpose — to keep chairmakers informed of the news and developments in their craft.  It also kept them informed about each other’s accomplishments and activities.

        However, The Chronicles eventually wore me out. Each issue required two full weeks of time to prepare for printing and mailing.  That meant I had to dedicate four two- week blocks of time (two  working months) a year to that one activity.  I spend as much time writing this blog, but I am spared all hours of layout, etc.

         I wasn’t sure how to replace a paper publication with a blog, and it took  me a while to settle in.   This has developed into a weekly post.  I publish mid-week, usually Wednesday or Thursday.  I have been able to work in a lot of the material that used to appear in features Chronicles readers enjoyed such as Alumni Notes, From the Bench, Going Pro, and of course A Duck Walks into a Chair Shop.

          The blog format is limited in that it does not permit me to present all this material as stand alone features, but it has freed me from the space limitations of 24 printed pages.  The result is that I am able to write a lot more.   I have been running pretty steadily at 1,200 to 1,500 words.  It is a comfortable tempo for me.  For many years I wrote a weekly political column about local and state-wide issues for a local newspaper.  That column was 1,000 words.  So, I feel  I can keep up this rate.  With all the activity around here, with all the questions students ask me, with all the new methods and techniques we develop, I am certainly at no loss for material.   

  • I will find even more  varied and interesting items for my email newsletter.

      This blog is  actually only one of two electronic methods I use for conveying the material that used to be in The Chronicles.  The second method is my monthly email newsletter.  In it, I like to present a feature that requires illustrations, and that can stand on its own.  These items used to appear as side bars in The Chronicles.

         This past fall those who subscribe to my electronic newsletter have received reviews of  new tools we are using at The Institute – hollow ground spoke shave blades, top adjustment spoke shaves, and the Work Sharp.  They also received a copy of, and commentary on a really cool 1789 Windsor chairmaker’s advertisement from a Boston newspaper.  The ad was drawn from our collection of period chairmaking material here in The Institute’s library.  A similar historical chairmaking document will be mailed  to subscribers January 15.

         My resolution is to invest even more effort in keeping this email newsletter  imaginative,  interesting,  informative, and fun.  While you can read the blog by just going to our web site, you do need to sign up for  the email newsletter.  It’s real simple. Just send me an email at mike@thewindsorinstitute.com