This week Fred, Don, and I are teaching the rocking chair class. While showing the class the complexities of legging up a rocker, I reminded them of a common question we get from sack back students when we take the class on a tour of the showroom. “So, this class is just a sack back with rockers on it?”
When it comes to causing us to giggle, that question is right up there with “So, what’s so hard about a c-arm?” Once you have done either chair, you know the answers and the questions will make you guffaw as well. Everything about a c-arm is hard, and this class is far more than just a sack back with rockers.
Making a good rocking chair is an unforgiving process. Most Windsors allow you a certain amount of latitude. The rocker does not. The legs have to describe a PERFECT trapezoid. If not, the chair walks across the room. There is little forgiveness in the depth when reaming. The rockers are in close proximity to the stretcher and any difference in depth shows up readily.
Because the rockers create such pronounced horizontals, they have to line up on the vanishing point. Otherwise, they scream. The message they scream is “The guy who made me didn’t know what he was doing.”
The chair has to be balanced. That is why it has a crest. The extra height balances the design. The horizontal rockers add more surface area to the under carriage and make the chair look bottom heavy. The rockers’ size and length has to be balanced by the extra height created by the crest.
The crest also balances the actual chair. The added weight, close to three feet above the seat, perches the chair in an inviting position. It places the weight of the sitter’s shoulders in a place that gives the chair a smooth rock.
Long ago, we worked all out these balance problems in our rocker. To demonstrate this, I begin the class by holding the fronts of the rockers on the bench top with my thumbs. I then release the chair so it begins to rock. It is so well balanced and aligned it remains in motion for 55 seconds without any lateral movement.
The five center spindles pass through the bow to support the crest. This means they are not wedged. They rely on a tight fit of the spindle through a 3/8 inch hole. Multiply that tight fit five times and you have a place where angels fear to tread. It takes a lot of driving with the hammer to get the bow down into place. If you have any of the spindles too tight, the bow can hang up, or the spindle may break. As many times as I have done this, my heart is always in my throat. Tomorrow, as I gulp my heart back into my chest, I will think again of all the people who said, “So, it’s just a sack back with rockers?”
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We teach our students who go pro how to obtain free media. Everyone who tries these techniques gets at least a base hit. Some guys manage more than one base, and some even hit a home run. Sir Dan Santos just wracked up a grand slam.
Sir Dan and his work were featured in the magazine “Cape Cod and Islands Home.” The magazine is high end, glossy, and regional. That last word is important. I always tell guys going pro that all you need only one thing to sell Windsor chairs — people with money. What do you think the average income is for people who live on Cape Cod, Nantucket, and Martha’s Vineyard? The area is dripping with history and over flows with affluent people who love traditional furniture. None of us could find a more perfect market.
The article itself was very nice. It starts out with a full page, full color portrait of Sir Dan. It then runs on for another seven pages. Each page has at least one more color photo — Sir Dan, Sir Dan at work, or Sir Dan’s work. The text is a glowing description of Sir Dan, his shop, and his career.
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Here’s an idea we received from Sir Joel Jackson. If you check the March 27 post you will better understand how this idea fits into the discussion.
“Mike - I met my brother in Houston this weekend. He lives in Milwaukee and is a partner in a media consulting firm. One of their niches is helping companies to a) go green, and b) promote it.
“He, his partner, and I were discussing my chair business and they suggested that I plant a tree for each set of chairs that I make, and POST SUCH in my booth. Of course, I live in the Hill Country of Texas, on 15 acres, so planting a tree isn’t very difficult for me. But, I am sure that there are organizations in every major population area that will take donations for the same purpose. Maybe this could be another addition to your Going Green suggestions.”
I like Sir Joel’s idea. A Windsor chairmaker can then point out that the chairs a client is buying will probably be around longer than the tree that is planted in their honor. Most trees only live a couple of hundred years. Lots of antique, hand made Windsors are pushing 250 years and are still going strong.
Sir Joel also discovered that chairmaking has its dangers. He added this word of warning for anyone thinking of taking up the craft. “Well, as if two rattlesnakes in my backyard, around my shop were not enough, I now have a coral snake IN my shop. I went out this morning to turn everything on in the shop and was greeted by a coral snake on the sidewalk in front of my shop door.
“I headed to the shed to get a hoe to relieve him of his head. When I returned, he had crawled around my propane bottles and was under my steamer. I rooted around and finally caught a glimpse of him. Then, he headed up under the siding and into my shop. Can’t find him any where.
Fortunately coral snakes do not strike, they must chew on you to inject their venom. But, they are the most venomous snake in North America. Oh boy, more fun. Once again, please advise those Sack Backers that this is a dangerous activity.”
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Here’s a short chairmaker joke to carry you through the weekend. It’s a continuation of a running joke, so if you don’t get it, look up the previous jokes in the archive.
A set of jumper cables walks into a Windsor chair shop. The jumper cables say to the Windsor chairmaker, “Got any Shaker chairs?”
The chairmaker looks up with violence in his eyes. He is certain the duck or the string has returned. If so, blood will be shed.
Instead, he sees the pair of jumper cables. So, he says in warning, “You’d better not start anything.”
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