Odds ‘n Ends

            By the time you read this, I have most likely had my shoulder surgery.  It’s happening at 7:45 AM January 22.   I’m going to be out of the office for perhaps two weeks.  I will be on the run with David Jansen in hot pursuit.  (That’s an age test.  If you don’t get it, you are too young. Ask your parents who David Jansen chased.)

              Please do not call, unless absolutely necessary.  If you do, Sue can give the message to me, but it will make things a lot more complicated and drawn out.  When I am able to get up, I will read and answer email from the home computer.  So, if you want to sign up for a class,  that would be the best way to do it.  To safely send us your credit card number, go to our web site and select our on-line catalog.  The catalog has a secure order form that sends information encrypted.  You will have to select a product (like a hat) to make the form work, but remind me in the memo section you are just using the form to send me your CC#, and I will ignore the order.  If you want to order something from the catalog, please understand that you will not likely receive it for a while.

               The past several days I have been pretty busy battening down the hatches and lashing the wheel to the mast.  Thus, I cut a couple of corners with the blog this week by taking advantage of some small, but interesting things I have had on my desk for while.

                The first is from Sieur Vincent Lavarenne,  Le Premier Chevalier de France.  Sieur Vincent lives just outside Paris.  We proudly boast that our goal is for handmade Windsor chairs to take over the world. Vincent is our guy in France charged with converting that country.  I was happy  to receive the following from him, indicating that he is doing a good job with his assignment.   

Hi Mike: 

              I read your blog to keep me informed about the WI. Yes, I ‘m making chairs and like it so much that I wish I could be a full time chairmaker. 

             And I begin to be heard in my country when I talk about Windsor chairs, especially at the 150 members Woodworking Association  I now belong to.

               And yes, I was very  pleased when my daughter asked me to make a little chair for her first child … 

               Thank you so much, Mike for giving me the Windsor Chair Virus!


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                File this one under “Darn! If I had found this I would have sounded so much smarter.”  Sir Ken Hall was here for the final class of the 2007, the Balloon back class.  It is the same class we are using to kick off 2008.  In response to my recent two-part blog about the risk to quality in our tools and instruction,  he sent me the following:


               A very Happy New Year to you and yours.  I hope your operation was successful. 

             First let me say that I don’t have your adroit ability with words so please bear with me. A big thank you to everyone for all their help during the Balloon Back chair class – it was greatly appreciated.  Due to your change in process (a new technique  we will be teaching from now on) the 2nd chair went much more smoothly than the first. 

                 I enjoyed reading about Gresham’s law which is mirrored by John Ruskin’s statement regarding the quality of goods:

                 There is hardly anything in the world that some man cannot make a little  worse and sell a little cheaper,  and the people who consider price only are  this man’s lawful prey.”

                (John Ruskin (8 February 181920 January 1900) is best known for his work as an art criticand social critic, but is remembered as an author, poetand artist as well. Ruskin’s essays on art and architecture were extremely influential in the Victorianand Edwardian eras.)  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Ruskin

                Regarding a new class is 2009 I would urge you to seriously consider the larger Philadelphia chair.

Sir Ken Hall

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                  In my recent A Duck Walks into a Chair Shop…. I mentioned Michael Harding-Hill and his book about English Windsors.  This prompted an email from Michael updating me on his life.  In it, he mentions a couple of opportunities some of you might want to take advantage of if you are in High Wycombe.

                    Michael mentioned a very early Windsor chair in the High Wycombe museum and offered to send me a picture. I did ask to see it, and he kindly sent it along with information about this very important chair and its maker.  The picture and the  information about maker John Pitt will be included in my February 15 email newsletter.  You will not get it unless you are on our distribution list. Instructions for getting on it are at the end of each posting. Just send me an email.

Dear Mike:

                 I have just been reading your blog.  I didn’t know it existed. Thank you for your kind mention of my book.

                  I thought I’d let you know that I have closed my shop and gone into semi-retirement. However, I will still keep my website, and what’s more important and what may interest you is,  my collection which is for sale is now at Steward Linford’s  in High Wycombe. Stewart has dedicated a Chair Making Museum within his original factory. I’m sure if you or any of your students happen to be in England you or they, would be most welcome to tour the factory and the Chair making museum. 

                 Also you might be interested to know that in the Wycombe Museum just a few minutes from Stewart Linford’s factory, they have a John Pitt chair, circa 1750.  It has been lacquered and has the coat of arms of the City of  Bath painted on the central splat. If you would like a picture of it I will be glad to send you one. 

                  I am now working on a another book this time about the origins of the Windsor Chair  of the 18th century and before.

Best Wishes and Kind Regards   Michael Harding-Hill

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                 Anyone who has taken sack back  has heard me warn in my opening remarks that “We are about to ruin you for life.  Up until now you have not paid attention to chairs.  They are just part of the back ground, and you do not think about them until you want to sit.  From now on you will be examining chairs.  You will humiliate your  friends and family.  You will go into a restaurant and placing a chair on the table, will loudly proclaim so all the other diners and the wait staff will hear, why it is such a bad chair.  You will flip over your neighbors’ kitchen chairs to show them why they are such shoddy work.”  Here’s proof that in my opening remarks, I am not exaggerating.  Mike Sherman sent me this email recently.  At the end of the note he mentions my January 15 email newsletter about the  Work Sharp.

 Dear Mike: 

              I was in Fraunces Tavern the other night (one of the oldest taverns in New York) and all the tables had Windsor sack back chairs.  Of course, I had to inspect them in front of others at a leaving party we were having.  Fortunately many knew of my hobby, so they did not think I was completely off my rocker hefting one up to check the construction.  They looked right, good legs, tapered tenons, and I could see the wedges.  The trouble was they were all smooth and looked just alike.  No chairmaker could do that.  Of course, perhaps some chairmaker years ago got a great commission.

                  Thanks for writing about this  (Work Sharp).  I have seen ads for it, and have considered it, but your recommendation puts it in the buy column.  I just called Portsmouth Woodcraft (Sir Bob was not there, but Chris was, and I made sure he knew why I was calling and who recommended me to) and now one is on the way.  I have struggled a little to flatten the back of chisels by hand.  I’ve got it, but doing a lot at one time is hard work.  I have a lot of old planes to fix up, and this is just the treat.  I can see where this will help Fred a lot.

Mike Sherman 

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                  Sir Ron Tatman wrote  me recently to describe an adventure he had.  Perhaps you will want to retrace his steps.  You not know all the people he mentions in his email, but I do, as Sir Ron has brought each of his daughters back to take sack back with him.   His wife Jill always accompanies Sir Ron. 

                  The Day after Thanksgiving all of us including Kaila’s boyfried, went shopping at Cabelas in Hampburg, PA.  After a day of shopping I requested to stop by an old tool place on the way home.  After much grumbling I was granted a limited amount of time.  The tool dealer was William “Bill” Phillips at 4555 Golden Key Road, New Tripoli, PA which is just north of US 22 near Allentown.

                    The store or shop is in a farm building across the street from Bill’s house. Jill and the rest of the crew were even more annoyed at the drive.  We arrived at a seemingly small hole-in-the-wall place. When I walked in the experience was like a journey back in time. Bill at 83 years old,  and his son- in-law were sitting at a work bench with a strange smile on their faces and asked if they could help me. I told them that I was looking for old tools.  He laughed and said that they had plenty, but stated that they  just finished a job and were on break.

                     They  offered me some apple  jack that was in a glass gallon jug with a wooden stopper. I could not refuse. After enjoying the refreshment we went to explore the tool collection. I have never seen so many tools,  and rare tools in one place in my life. I just had to have another plane after reading your article in Pop Wood.  I bought a Stanley 4 1/2 for $50. There were 4 in fine condition to choose from.  If I had not already spent money at Cabelas I would bought more.

                   After looking through the tools for sale Bill took Jill and I to see his museum of tools, which includes many axes from the 17th and 18th century, and  many goose wing broad axes. Bill had worked as a carpenter all of his life and had an unimaginable passion for tools.

                   It was an experience.  Please pass this on so that any chairmakers near by, or any who may travel near that part of PA can have the same experience. It is always a great experience to meet wood workers. Well, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  Will see you Feb 18 for the Balloon back class.

Sir Ron  * * * *

                 You didn’t believe me when I said it.  Maybe you will believe  an expert with a lot of initials after his name.   Dr. Charles Pezeshki (we call him Chuck)  is Associate Director, School of MME, and Director, Industrial Design Clinic Past  chair, University Faculty Senate, Wash. St. U. Pullman, WA.

                 Chuck recently signed up for the Philly high back class in August.  However, he is not currently  in Washington state.  That  made me curious and I inquired why  he is away from home.    It turns out Chuck is in Wein, Austria where he is Visiting Professor Institut für Konstruktionswissenschaften.

                 I was even more curious about a comment he made in his email.

Chuck – I am in Austria for the year, working on eco-design.  The incredible thing about Windsor Chairs is that they are eco-design personified.  

MeWe’ll talk about Windsors as eco-design when you are here.  I’m curious as to what that means.

Chuck – Eco-design considers the whole lifecycle of a product.  A Windsor that lasts 200 years long, and is painted with milk paint, lasts far longer than the tree takes to re-grow the wood, is made of mostly locally-grown wood (no transportation CO2), is manufactured by human hands, and has no toxic disposal cost at the end-of-life.


                          I will have this conversation with Chuck in August.  I’m sure I’ll report on his insights in greater detail then.  Meanwhile, you heard it from an expert.  

* * * * If you would like to receive periodic updates, tips, tool reviews, and new sources, that are outside the scope of this blog, join our mailing list by emailing me at mike@thewindsorinstitute.com