Category Archives: General

Secret Revealed

            I already reported this news on The Windsor Institute Facebook page For those of you who do not use Facebook, or have not yet liked the page, this is the secret I promised to reveal two posts ago. I have completed the manuscript for a new and updated edition of Restoring, Tuning, and Using Classic Woodworking Tools.  I expect it will be available sometime in 2014. I’ll give you the publication date as soon as I receive it.

            Like Make a Windsor Chair, the new tool book is being published by F&W Media, Popular Woodworking’s parent.  I am hopeful I can talk the editor into a new title. I never liked Restoring, Tuning, and Using…, but I didn’t have any choice in the decision.

            Restoring has an interesting history. Its progenitor was my second book, Antique Woodworking Tools, published in 1977 when I was just 30 years old. Like my first book, Windsor Chairmaking, the second was published by Hastings House, a venerable name in the book business. It was venerable, but not invulnerable and soon went belly up.  The company took with it several years of my work. Writing is not a way to get rich, but what amount I could expect to earn from my two books was gone.

            In 1981 I signed a contract with Taunton to write three books: one would become a Make a Windsor Chair; the second Federal Furniture; the third was to be an untitled antique tool book geared for woodworkers rather than collectors. Taunton eventually passed on the tool book and Sterling snapped up the idea and published the book in 1987.  

            That’s how Restoring came into being. The book did well for me. It was in print for nearly 20 years and developed a good reputation. As the internet developed and interest groups began to communicate on-line, I was surprised to learn that the old tool enthusiasts called it “the bible”. Reading it again for the first time since I published it, I too am amazed at the depth of information.

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I have started an author’s page. This way, every book I have written will be located in one place: By the end of this year I will have 9 non-fiction books and eight novels on that page. If you go there, click on Antique Woodworking Tools and gasp at the prices being asked for it. Just think, until Hastings House went bankrupt I got about 70 cents in royalties per copy sold.

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Where Am I?

Hi Everyone:

I am so busy working on that January surprise that I have not had time to post. This job is taking so much time that I work on it after supper until I go to bed. Meanwhile, you can see some great stuff on The Institute’s Facebook page. We have a lot of fun there, the sort of joking and teasing that goes on in class. Drop by and like the page by clicking on the big Thumbs Up icon under the front porch. That way, our activity will automatically show up on your home page.

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December 15, the fourth book in my teen adventure saga The Castleton Series will be published. Its title is The Triangle and will take you to a place so strange it is beyond imagining. Along with the first three books, The Triangle can be purchased on Amazon. Just search for Mike Dunbar and they will pop up, along with the updated and expanded edition of Make a Windsor Chair with Mike Dunbar.

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To receive my monthly  eLetter of essays about chairs and chairmaking, that are in addition to this blog, join our mailing list by emailing me at Help us spread the word about this blog. Tell others.

I Know Something You Don’t Know

I have a surprise for you. I can’t give you the specifics yet, so you’ll have to settle for a hint. Remember several years ago I told you Make a Windsor Chair was coming back? Then, my young teen series of novels took over and delayed my plans. You will see another book by me next year. My deadline is January 6 and I plan to get going on it just as soon as the last class of the year is over. That means I will be at my desk this Monday, going to town.  I excited about this one and I will give you details in the next couple of months.

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You can now keep up with the daily happenings around here by liking The Windsor Institute on Facebook. You can like individual postings. However, if you like the page our postings will appear automatically on your home page.  To like our page you have to click on the big thumbs up symbol under the picture of The Institute’s front porch. Don’t hesitate to comment on postings. That’s how we will keep the conversation going.

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To receive my monthly essays about chairs and chairmaking, that are in addition to this blog, send your email address to

My Surprise Delivery

I love it when the UPS truck pulls into the parking lot. I never know what is arriving. Most often, the package is supplies I have ordered or someone’s tools for an upcoming class. Every now and then there is a surprise, sometimes a very pleasant surprise. That happened this week. The box wasn’t very large, but watching the UPS driver climb out of the back of his truck, I knew it was heavy. He offered to carry the box into the shop, and knowing its weighed a lot, I was happy to hold the door for him.
While the box was unexpected, I knew what it contained as soon as I saw the shipper’s address. Inside were my author’s copies of Make a Windsor Chair with Mike Dunbar. It’s standard for a publisher to provide an author with a case of books as part of the contract. I couldn’t wait for the UPS guy to get his signature and to leave me alone so I could savor the moment when I would hold my book in my hands.
Writing a book has little connection to the final product. Parents-to-be looking at an ultrasound of their child have a better idea of what it will look like than an author has of a book he has written. I spent about an hour reading sections of the book and I am very happy it. I particularly like the new Introduction. I thought I did that well. The additional material I added sounds more like me than did the 1984 text. As an older man I do not take myself seriously and am more tongue-in-cheek than I was as a younger man, wanting to be taken seriously.
I hope you will pick up a copy of the book. It is a good read, and I can use the royalties. I do have a kid in college.

By the way, be sure to like The Windsor Institute on Facebook. My blog on the website is text only. So, on Facebook you’ll get lots of pix and updates and we can have a great conversation.
To receive my monthly essays about chairs and chairmaking, that are in addition to this blog, send your email address to

Maat’s Feather

              I ran into an unusual problem in the August rocking chair class. When the same thing happened again in the 2 Kids chair class last week I decided to write about it. The situation occurred while legging up. I’ll review that demo, which means that everyone who has taken a class with us is about to experience a flood of recollection of their Tuesday afternoon at The Windsor Institute.

            When legging up we arrange the four leg angles on a descending scale of importance, focusing our attention on the most important aspect of that angle. Job #1 is front splay, the highest priority. We are seeking symmetry, 14 degrees in sack back. Job #2 is front rake. We make the pair of front legs coplanar in a flexible, narrow range of about 10 degrees. When accomplishing job #3 remember we have to make the second paradigm shift, also on the Tip Sheet. “When it comes to rear legs, there are no angles.” We establish identical rear rake angles with applied geometry. We measure between the legs at the location of the scribes and adjust to a tolerance of 1/8 inch within the maximum and minimum.   That brings us to job #4, the least important. We eyeball rear splay to eliminate gross error.

            Our operating principle is that we do not put a higher priority at risk for a lower. That’s why we keep repeating the mantra “Better is the enemy of good,” advice so important it is included on the sack back Tip Sheet. I  explain there is no such thing as a perfect Windsor chair and that our standard is determined by what our worst critic (our brother-in-law)  can detect. I use the analogy of a fighter plane flying below the radar. We only need get below our brother-in-law’s radar and he will see the chair as perfect when he comes by to criticize our work.

            Usually when reaming the rear leg angles the process of the hierarchy of the four jobs determines where to make adjustments. For example, the distance between pairs of legs is more than 1/8 inch; or one exceeds the minimum or maximum; or one rear splay angle is obviously askew; or one tenon projects more than its mate. In those situations the solution is obvious. We use the Arrow System to record the required adjustments and return the seat to the vise for reaming.

            I would have been happy to run into such problems. They are simple to explain and the class can follow the reasoning that leads to the solution.  However, with my rocker and my youth (high) chair, both pairs of legs (front and corresponding rear) were perfectly acceptable and within tolerances. All tenons projected the same height. The pairs just weren’t the same. I could live happily with the result on either side, just not with them both. Herein is the problem. Which one to adjust? When the results are equally valid and acceptable, yet different, how do you decide on which one to change?

            The image I drew for the class was a scale in perfect balance. Changing the balance requires nothing more than a feather. I recalled for the class the Egyptian goddess Maat who places her feather on one side of a scale with the deceased’s heart on the other side. I had to find a feather to place on one side of my scale and I had no choice but to delve the class into minutia. I hate doing this because in explaining such a fine point I risk guys becoming obsessed with an obscure detail. They focus on a seedling and miss the forest.

            This was my feather. In the Aristotelian sack back – the perfect chair that exists only in metaphysics – the side stretchers are connected to the medial at three degrees. This angle aligns the side stretches with the vanishing point located six and one half feet behind the seat’s rear edge.  I measured my rear splay angles. One would have resulted in a medial/side stretcher joint of five degrees (perfectly acceptable) and the other at three. I made a minor tweak (about one very slow turn of the reamer) to the rear socket on that side, reducing the splay angle and slightly altering the distance between the scribes.  The result was dead on. 

            Arriving at a decision rarely requires ascending to this level of detail, but you now what to do should it ever happen to you. I also know that in future classes I will have guys who have missed my point and are obsessed with three degrees. I will frequently remind them, better is the enemy of good.

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            The Hampton Summit, and The Lost Crew, the first two novels in my series for young teens (and for adults that are young at heart) is now available in both softcover and eBook at these links:

The third book, The End of Time will be published October 15. Meanwhile, it is being serialized at my other blog 

The updated and expanded edition of Make a Windsor Chair will also be published in October and can be preordered at Popular Woodworking’s website. 


To receive my monthly essays about chairs and chairmaking, that are in addition to this blog, send your email address to

Old Chair, Old Book

                I had a most unusual experience yesterday. I repaired a chair I had made in 1975 while in my second year as chairmaker at Strawbery Banke museum in Portsmouth. The bow back side chair was one of a set purchased by a high school classmate and his wife. They were not long married at the time and we would have both been 28 years old. My classmate used the set of Windsors in his home and then gave them to his adult daughter when she moved out and set up housekeeping. Recently, someone rocked on the back legs and snapped them at the seat. (When we will learn to listen to our mothers who told us to not do that?) The repair was not complicated: pretty straight forward and not much different from things I have done for my students in class. I had to turn two new legs and two side stretchers (broken tenons) and join them to the original.

            I enjoyed examining the chair. Whenever I see examples of my early work I am amazed at all the things I had figured out so early in my career. I also ponder the things I did not know and all I have learned in more than four decades of chairmaking. In this case I was in for a surprise in that making the replacement parts was a bit challenging. It was not easy to copy my young, and less practiced hand. I can turn a chair leg in my sleep. When I was in production I did a baluster leg in six minutes. However, my speed is in turning my mature leg and in this case, I had to duplicate a more naive profile. I found myself resisting the shapes and wanting to make them better. For example, the vases on my early legs were far more Roman than Grecian, more round than elliptical.

            As I held the broken 1975 leg up to compare against its replacement, I realized I was turning on the same lathe that had turned the original: it is my 1947 Delta. I was even using the same tools, the Buck Brothers gouges that had come with the lathe when I purchased it second-hand. I experienced a satisfying sense of having come full circle.

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            That chair repair segues into this next topic, in that it too involves an encounter with early work. I am about to fulfill a promise I made to you a number of years ago, but that was delayed as I wrote that eight-volume series of young teen adventure novels. Next month, a new, updated, and expanded edition of my 1984 book, Make a Windsor Chair with Michael Dunbar will be available from Popular Woodworking.  It has a new title, Make a Windsor Chair with Mike Dunbar.  I always called myself Mike, not Michael, and was able to talk the publisher into permitting that change.

            Working on the new edition was similar to repairing that 1975 chair. As I poured over the text I had written in 1984, at age 37, I was surprised at how much I knew as a younger man.  I had not read Make a Windsor Chair since I wrote it, and as I have added to my knowledge over the years I developed an unfair prejudice against it. Having learned so much since 1984 I assumed I left that book in the dust, an outdated relic. It didn’t help that I was humiliated by the dry tenon/wet leg joint technique I had included. I am all too aware that I had misled a generation of chairmakers into drying their tenons in hot sand.

            The experience of rereading Make a Windsor Chair was a tad schizophrenic.  My writing style has changed so much that it was like reading someone else’s book.  The kid’s style was different, but quite good. I found myself admiring the younger man and his process for making a chair. While I have had 30 years more experience than that kid, he knew his stuff. I can explain many steps more clearly and succinctly, but he has no reason to apologize. I have improved my designs, largely them by lining them up on a vanishing point. Still, the young guy’s designs were no slouch. I still own several examples of his chairs and have them on display at The Institute.

            I faced this conundrum. Out of respect for that kid’s ability I wanted to keep his book intact, but I also needed to bring it up to date.  I like my solution, acknowledging it is a bit schizophrenic, and if not used as a literary device could send me to the home.  I made this new expanded edition a collaboration between the two of us. I did this by leaving most of the kid’s text intact and adding my later knowledge to it. Imagine it this way: the 37 year old shows you how he makes a chair while the 66 year old stands by and only speaks when he has some wisdom to add. I made it easier to distinguish the two voices by putting the older guy’s remarks in boldface type.  

            The second edition is far longer than the 1984 printing in that I included more than a dozen appendices. For a Windsor chairmaker this additional information is a treasure trove. It is a collection of my additional writings on Windsor chairmaking and it deepens the reader’s understanding of Windsors and how they are best made. With one exception, all appendices were written since the first edition.  The exception is a magazine article I published in 1972 about the chair I bought at a yard sale. In the new edition’s  Introduction I use the metaphor of the Big Bang to explain that chair’s relationship to the Windsor Revival.  If you think of Windsor chairmaking as an expanding universe, that chair sitting on a porch in Sutton, MA in the spring of 1971 was the singularity that started it all.

            I feel like the famous television pitchman, Billy Mays. “Wait! You get even more with this edition.” The book has a digital bonus that you get when you buy it through Popular Woodworking’s website. That bonus includes several additional measured drawing of various types of Windsors.

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            Those who have been graduated from The Windsor Institute will never forget the experience, especially the buffoonery: me, the Dean, dressed in cap and gown as a Doctor of Chairology; singing the school hymn together; and the Dean’s speech. Do you recall the lines from that speech? “We are about to send you out into the world to accomplish The Institute’s stated purpose, for handmade Windsor chairs to take over the world and to bring about the downfall of Shaker chairmakers everywhere.”

            I am reporting that we have moved one step closer to that stated goal of handmade Windsor chairs taking over the world.  I received a phone call from a writer/photographer in Shanghai, China writing for Elle Decoration China magazine. She was seeking pictures of a sack back Windsor. I sent her photos of our sack back and our chairs based on that form: rocker, settee, and Kids chairs. The seeds have been planted. We’ll have to watch and see if they sprout.

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The Hampton Summit, and The Lost Crew, the first two novels in my series for young teens (and for adults that are young at heart) is now available in both softcover and eBook at these links:

The third book, The End of Time is being serialized at my other blog



To receive my monthly essays about chairs and chairmaking, that are in addition to this blog, send your email address to

The Lost Crew Launches

The second book in the Castleton Series has launched and is available at this link from

The following appeared on a reviewer’s blog:

“So excited to announce that the second book in the Castleton Series  by Mike Dunbar launches today.

Book two is entitled The Lost Crew, and is an exciting read! We follow Mike, Nick and Patrick through time as they look for a time crew that has been lost. The time crew happens to consist of their friends Jen and Allie, and a neat new character named Bashir.

Lost Crew is a bit darker than Hampton Summit. The boys go back to the black days of the French Revolution when Madame Guillotine ruled. They find their comrades enslaved during Ancient Rome. Slavery has been a horrible part of the human tradition for so long. It is important, I think, for us to see that and accept it, while learning from it. There is some great beauty and humor as well. Learning about Scott Joplin, for one!

There are some great, deep lessons in this book, and I can’t wait to read it with my boys!”

My Favorite Activity

            I recently told you about my least favorite activity – riving logs. With the change of season from spring to summer I am now doing what I like best. I am making the chairs for the Knights’ Privilege. You may not know what that is, so I’ll explain. We like to add a new chair to our curriculum each year. We dub that new chair the Knights’ Privilege. When I am in the process of preparing this project I am in the shop alone. I am making a chair (or sometimes chairs) that I have never done before. I am working out angles, dimensions, proportions, shapes, joints – the things that are the core of Windsor chairmaking – the things that are the most interesting, exciting, and exhilarating. At this time every year I am at my very best. I get to put 41 years of experience to work.            

          When deciding what chair to include next, I consider historical Windsors that make us of techniques we do not already teach.  For example, a couple of years ago we added the balloon backs, as these allow us to teach the crinoline stretcher. This year we added the square back settee and its unique joints and techniques.            

          Once the new chair is established we schedule it as the Knights’ Privilege, meaning it will be the first class of the next year. The name implies a bit more, as well. Chairmakers who complete a certain curriculum are inducted into the Royal Orders, a combination honor society and fraternity. They assume the title of Knight of Windsor and are entitled to the privileges that appertain to this rank. (There’s a story behind this that you can find in the archives. There’s also a whole lot of humor, spoofing, and general tomfoolery.) One of the privileges of being a knight is first crack at the new class every year.           

          I will write my monthly essay about the new type of chair in either October or November. Most people who subscribe (you only need to send me your email address) will see the chair on the 15th of the month, the publication date. Members of the Royal Orders will receive the identical essay one week earlier. They have that amount of time to reserve a spot in the class without being disappointed. That is their privilege. On the 15th of the month, the class is opened to all our other alumni. The Knights’ Privilege is an advanced class and it is required that you have taken our sack back class.             Every year a number of people try to cheat and email me asking what the Knights’ Privilege is. I refuse to tell them. On the other hand, every year some knights email and say “Book me, Danno. I don’t care what the chair is. I want in.” Those who display that level of faith get a spot. When you receive your 8-15-13 essay you will notice the Knights’ Privilge is partially filled. That’s why.                                                            


            In the 7-15-13 essay you read about the silleros, the chair men of the Andes. I received a note from a student who lived a number of the years in that region. He wrote that he had seen silleros (also called cargeros) carrying full sized refrigerators – far heavier than a full grown man – up and down mountain passes.                                                           


           This week the second of the books in The Castle Series, The Lost Crew will be launched. While I don’t yet have a link to give you, you will be able to find it by searching on Amazon either by title or author (Mike Dunbar). This is the link to the first in the series.                  The third book, The End of Time is being serialized at my other blog                                                             ****

     To receive my monthly essays about chairs and chairmaking, that are in addition to this blog, send your email address to 

The Chairmaker’s Higgs Boson

            We had an interesting experience yesterday in the July 8 sack back class. It allowed me to experience something one cannot see. I describe to every visitor here the genius of Windsor joinery. I show them locking tapers. I frequently demonstrate them by lifting a work bench with a leg driven into a tapered hole. I have made various joints and have cut them in half. However, one joint escapes my efforts at show and tell. Those are the stretcher joints. They are in compression. Over-long stretchers push the legs away, rather than trying to hold them together. I cannot show compression.  I can only describe how it is accomplsihed           

            However, yesterday I experienced it in a new way. A guy legging up his chair made a math error. When trimming his legs. (He did not use our mathless method.) As a result, his seat was an inch too low – 16 ½ in. in the front and 16 in. in the back. Of course he was angry with himself and frustrated. I looked at his chair with resignation and reminded him what I had said when demonstrating trimming the legs – there is no fix if you cut too short. We can’t glue the ends of the legs back on.            

           I pondered the chair a bit, while my camper became increasingly unhappy with himself. I decided on a fix I had never done before. I would cut out all four legs from the seat and ream the tenons out of their sockets. I would reuse the stretcher. I could cut the legs at the stretcher joints if the glue had already set. I grabbed a dozuki and placed the chair upside down and began to saw just above the surface of the seat. As the saw kerf approached ½ the thickness of the leg the blade began bind, enough so I had to work it loose. I finished the leg by cutting from the other side, and it still bound. The same happened on the next two legs. The fourth cut freely.           

           In the heat of the moment I did not realize why the saw bound. Later, as I pondered the experience I realized that was the pre-load. The stretchers push the legs apart with sufficient force to cause the kerf in hard maple to bind less than ½ way through the cut. The final leg cut without effort, as the pre-load had all been released by cutting the first three legs.             

          The repair was the chairmaker’s equivalent of finding the Higgs Boson.  When scientists make that discovery they won’t be able to see the particle. They’ll only see the result. I know I will never see joints in compression, by I have experienced them and confirmed their effectiveness in a new way. That made the repair worth doing. My camper was ecstatic (and thinks I’m amazing). So, that made it worthwhile too.  

The Hampton Summit, the first novel in my series for young teens (and for adults that are young at heart) is now available in both softcover and eBook.  The second book in the series The Lost Crew will be launched at the end of this month.

You can follow me on twitter at @castletonseries.

To receive my monthly  eLetter of essays about chairs and chairmaking, that are in addition to this blog, join our mailing list by emailing me at Help us spread the word about this blog. Tell others.