Rites of Spring


            Here at The Windsor Institute a splitting party is a rite of spring.  Spring 2011 has officially arrived and been welcomed. In March I visited the local log concentration yard and picked out this year’s premium red oak veneer logs. In April, the logging truck arrived with our oak and neatly laid the logs side-by-side in our log yard.  This morning, Kevin Hurd, a farmer up the road, arrived with his tractor (dubbed Bessy) with a four foot log hydraulic splitter on the back. He also arrived with his 24 year-old step son Patrick.


            The guys who teach here — Don Harper, Donnie Chesser, and me — are getting a little long in the tooth, and it was nice to have a vigorous young buck on hand to wrestle the oak bolts onto the splitter. It didn’t hurt that the young buck was friendly and well spoken. Thus, Patrick is a welcome addition.


            It only took several hours to reduce the logs to splits, all neatly stuck and awaiting the next step in processing them into chair backs. By noon, we were done with Bessy and sent her back to the farm, and we had raked and cleaned the log area. Only the smell of the freshly spilt stacks of oak and the carpet of fresh chain saw chips indicated anything significant had occurred.


            The only disappointment of the day was the second log. Two of its four foot bolts opened to reveal knarley wood, completely worthless for making chairs. When Kevin returned after lunch, we loaded the pieces into his pick up. He heats his house with an exterior wood furnace. Kevin chuckled to think that he would be warming his home with a $250 log. Being a frugal old Yankee, I gritted my teeth.


            Tomorrow, we begin the long process of cutting the splits into chair stock. We do this on our

Hitachi resaw with a two-inch wide blade, its aggressive teeth tipped with stellite. From there, the stock will either go into the freezer, or be put up to dry. I expect there is enough wood stacked outside the shop to provide for this year’s classes and for this year’s sales. I wouldn’t be too surprised if the first class of 2012 uses the wood we began processing today. There is that much of it.       * * * *

            As of this writing, I have four spots open for the sack back class in 2011 – two July 25 and two October 3.


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What Makes H.G. #23 Run?

            The April 11 sack back class wrapped up at about 2:30 last Friday. Today — the following Monday — I am happy to take some time to recover. However, I am aware that I sit here, our 23rd Duke of Windsor and his daughter Liz, who were part of last week’s class, are about to run the Boston Marathon. Their dedication recalls the words from The Windsor Institute’s fight song, sung by our band and pep squad at every athletic contest. Liz and Stewart so epitomize those words that it only proper to quote them. “Ever onward, ever onward, go the Windsor men (and women). Nothing can stop these men (and women) of steel. Each has grit and sex appeal.  Hearts of courage, wills of iron, that’s the

Windsor way…..” 

            H. G. Stewart came to class with both his daughters; Liz and Sarah. Although Sarah is not running in Boston today, she has run the marathon in the past. You can read about the marathoning sisters at the following link.  http://www.seacoastonline.com/articles/20090401-SPORTS-904010305

            We duked His Grace on Thursday afternoon. His wife dropped by to attend the ceremony. A duking is so glorious it has been compared to the upcoming royal wedding in England. H.G. Stewart’s daughters videotaped the duking, so I would be surprised if it’s not already up on Youtube. Duking’s only happen at sack back classes, as that is the requirement for dukedom; to help teach a sack back class.  The shop full of new chairmakers were also new to The Institute’s solemn Royal Orders ceremonies. Those ceremonies are so steeped in tradition and symbolism, those attending for the first time were overwhelmed by the pomp and dignity.

            Another of our traditions is that the new duke demonstrates mounting the bow on the chair; the last demonstration of the class. H. G, Stewart accomplished this with predictable ease, earning himself a round of applause from the students.


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Got a toothache? You should be here.

             The April 11 sack back is in session as I write. Don Harper has just show them how to attach their hand blocks and they are doing that operation. As soon as they are done, I will complete legging up.

            The class is in for a treat tomorrow when we make Lord Stewart Turner the 23rd Duke of Windsor. At that point I will have three dukes on the floor with me, following six last class. I suspect something nefarious is afoot, as I have never had that many dukes here in such a short time. I have noticed that the common element is His Grace Don Harper, who teaches with me.  He has developed a lean and hungry look, and I am keeping an eye on him.

            This class has a decidedly dental theme. Lord Stewart brought his two daughters Elizabeth and Sarah to the class to make chairs. They will also witness his humiliation…. ahhh, duking. H.G. Kurt Rothermel attended with his daughter Kate. Both Kate and Elizabeth are completeing dental school this year and are about to go out into the world to practice. H.G. Kurt is also a dentist, and Don Johnson on vise #3 is a retired dentist. If you have a toothache, this is the class to attend. 

            Yesterday, as I began the legging up process, I made the class Entered Apprentice chairmakers. H.G. Don, Donnie Chesser, Lord Stewart, and H.G. Kurt all watched with grins on their faces. I love the expression in they eyes of sack back students when they experience their first taste of the nuttiness that goes on in our “solemn” ceremonies. Until they catch on that the whoe thing is a spoof, they look stunned; unsure of how the class just took this weird turn. Once they catch on, they join in and the jokes start flying.

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Where’s da Book?

                    I’ve gotten a lot of emails asking “Where is the book?” I had told you last fall I was working on a new edition of Make a Windsor Chair and that I expected to have it done early this year. Well… You know the old line about the best laid plans of mice and men?


            This is what happened. Out of the blue, I was contacted by a woman who works for a major publisher. She was interested of all things, in the series of young teen fantasy adventure novels I have been writing. I had set that project aside, as I have had no luck securing an agent. Most publishers won’t deal with an author directly and due to the economy, most agents have their backs to the wall. So, I have been trapped in a Catch 22.


             The woman had heard about my series from a fellow woodworker. I do wonder if he is someone who drops by here once in a while. Anyway, I sent her the first manuscript, synopses of the next three, and a series overview. She liked the project and referred it to the woman who runs the publisher’s children’s imprint.  That is where it is now.


            Meanwhile, I have a friend who for years was CEO of a major NYC publishing house. He had left that job to form his own company. During the fall he sold his start-up to another children’s publisher, and along with the sale, he ended up working for that company. He wrote to me suggesting I send the project to him.


            So, right now, I have two publishers looking at the series. I had the fifth book in the series (of eight) all mapped out in my mind, and just in case one of the publishers expressed interest, I felt I should be able to show more recent progress. If they reject me, (that is the most frequent outcome for all authors) I have been encouraged by my recent ability to bypass agents. I plan to continue using personal contacts to get my foot in the door. That decision too, made me feel I needed to show more recent progress on the series.  Consequently, during my winter break I wrote the fifth book. I know it sounds immodest, but it is a corker.


            Wait! That’s not all. Last September I began writing an adult adventure novel for my Facebook friends. I reserve Facebook for family, or life-long buddies. I limit my number of friends as I don’t want to talk about woodworking or chairs on Facebook. I do that here. Anyway, to amuse my small list of friends, I write stories with them as the characters. I post a chapter every Sunday and after my characters read that installment they spend the week hurling brickbats at me. We have a lot of fun joshing back and forth. The story I started in September caught fire and ended up becoming a full-length manuscript that I will someday polish up and try to publish. 

            The result of all this writing is that I did not complete my reworking of Make a Windsor Chair. I have not abandoned it and hope to get back to it soon. I still expect you will see it this year. That is my plan, unless one of the publishers comes through.  Then, all bets are off.

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More Recamier News

             The Recamier class wraps up today. Mother Nature pulled an April Fool’s joke on us by dumping six inches of spring snow. We lost two people yesterday. They had long drives and needed to be home by the weekend. They couldn’t afford to get trapped by the snow. Before they left H.G. Woody Leland took them out next to the log area and snapped their pictures. He is a photographer and promised he will PhotoShop them into the class picture.           

            I walked through the door to a situation that will give you a kick.  A blood stained towel was hanging on the wall next to H.G. Lyndon Gallagher.  Shortly before my arrival Lyndon had been working on his arm. This part is J-shaped and heavy.  Lyndon had gripped it in his vise while he worked on a scroll. As he applied pressure, the arm pivoted in the vise and the top came down and whacked him on the head. It broke skin and Lyndon began to bleed profusely.

            Here is another vignette. You can imagine what was going on when H. G. Woody exclaimed triumphantly, “I did it right by making a mistake!”

            Never have I been razzed as much as this week. My wife Susanna informed the class that I had joined a cult. I have – The Shaggs Cult. The Shaggs were a self-taught, all-girl band of three sisters from Freemont, NH.  They cut their album “Philosophy of the World” in 1968. Although they lived in obscurity they have attracted a group of loyal aficionados who love their music.

             Most people think they are hopelessly bad. Being a cult member, I consider their music raw and primitive, but very good. H.G. Dave Watson went to Youtube on his cell phone and played their song “My Pal Foot Foot” for the class. The room broke into a chaos of laughter. The Shaggs jokes have not stopped yet.

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             The Recamier class is in session this week. It is the first class of the year, so yesterday we conducted the Drilling of the First Hole ceremony.  The lucky backboard is now hanging on the wall, waiting for the last day of the last class, when it will again be honored by being the first one into the fire. In the meanwhile, everyone visiting The Institute will stop to look at it and will see all the signatures of the people in this class.

            This class is noteworthy for another reason.  It is the first class I have ever taught where everyone was in the Royal Orders. I have had lots of classes heavily weighted with members of the Orders, but there were always one or two who had not yet accomplished that esteemed passage. Of course, all these people are Master Chairmakers, so we will not be conducting a Raising. Too bad, those are so much fun.

            The class contains five Dukes of Windsor. Combined with His Grace Don Harper who teaches with me, one third of the College is present. That alone calls for a photo to record the event. Of course, as King of Windsor, I am always nervous when so many of my dukes get together.  That’s how coups d’etat happen.  I am keeping my ears open for any conspiracy.

            Most of these guys have taken classes together.  So, there is a lot of reminiscing, often of events I had forgotten. There is also a lot of laughing. My ribs hurt not only from the laughing, but from the ribbing I am taking from a bunch of old friends. Needless to say, I am having a good time.

            The récamier did present us with an interesting debate, one that was of course full of humor. How does one measure rake a splay on this piece? Some dukes argued that splay is seen from the narrow end. They maintain that in every other chair, splay is in the direction the sitter faces. Others responded that in every other chair, splay is measured from the direction in which the sitter sits. On a récamier, one places one’s butt on the piece from the long side, not the narrow. Then, one swings one’s legs onto the seat and faces along the narrow dimension.

            Someone finally yelled, “You’re the king.  Make a proclamation.” I did. After careful consideration and consultation with the dukes, I determined that as chairmakers, our point of view should prevail. Reaming (when rake and splay are determined) is done with the seat horizontal in the vise, like a settee seat. Therefore, splay is seen from the long edge and not the narrow.  That point of view reveals rake.

I have spoken and my word is law.  The bard was correct when he wrote “Heavy hangs the head that wears the crown,” but Mel Brooks was also right when he said, “It’s  nice to be the king.”

* * * *

            How about a limerick to round out your day?  This one is courtesy of Dave Pino.

      If a chair-maker’s up in the air,

      And his skills need a little more care,

      Michael Dunbar’s the man

      Who can teach him the plan

      For to build a divine Windsor Chair!

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Good News, Bad News

           I got good news this fall.  And I got bad news. Which do you want first?  Let’s start with the good news. My kid got an early acceptance to the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. It’s a real good school. The bad news is it will cost me $55,000 a year.  Susanna and I promised the kid if he got in, we would take care of the tuition.  So, we have begun the scholarship search. If you love filling out forms, you would be in heaven.  I hate filling out forms, so you know where I am living right now.

           Every book we have read; every guidance counselor and every experienced parent we talk to has the same advice. “Network.” They tell us there are all sorts of scholarships out there we will never find on our own. We have to rely on other people to tip us off. So, that is what I am doing.  If you know of a scholarship geared toward a kid who has excelled academically; been involved in lots of extra curricula activities from student government to school musicals;  has been a Congressional Page; loves music, literature and poetry, please drop me an email. It really helps if you can also give me a contact name or a website. Oh, he played a year of football.

* * * *

            I heard from His Grace Lyndon Gallagher, First Duke of Canada. He had donated a rocking chair to a charity auction. The chair sold for $925. Lyndon writes, “That will help feed a lot of needy people this holiday season.” H. G. Lyndon will be back for the Recamier class March 28.

* * * *

            I received the following story from Sir Joel Jackson.

            “My story starts a few weeks ago when I was working at Woodcraft. I looked up from the register to see Thomas Gibson standing in front of me. Gibson is an actor whose original claim to fame was playing Greg in “Dharma & Greg” several years ago. He is currently the lead character in “Criminal Minds” on CBS. This chance meeting and the ensuing conversation has led me to start taping and watching past episodes of the show (Criminal Minds).

            I just finished watching one in which a dying father uses his son to entrap women for him to hold hostage and subsequently murder. I know, it’s gruesome, but I have a point.  At one stage in the episode they identify the father as a maker of “hand-crafted” furniture, and of course he wouldn’t hurt a fly. He has been holding these women in his basement-shop prior to killing them. When they burst in to catch him, the first identifiable piece of furniture is…a Sack Back.

            The only explanation I can come up with is that the producers or writers must be Shakers.”  It does seem like thinly veiled anti-Windsor propaganda.

 * * * *

            Many of you saw the picture of Tennessee chairmaker Frank Tabor in the January eLetter. It was a hit. I received a lot of feed back, including the email below from  His Grace Ralph Quick. His Grace was my foil in my imagined dialogue. He was the one “flailed” with the Tabor chair. Until now, I did not know that His Grace had been a bouncer in an earlier life (although he looks the part.)

            He wrote: “Caron and I got a good chuckle out of your story regarding Tabor and using one of his chairs to flail me with. Working in bars as a bouncer and as a body guard for years, I have had bar stools used on me from time to time when trying to “86” some drunk out of the bar for being stupid. I have to say there were a couple of times they must have used a Tabor chair because they really hurt like Hell. Ha! Ha!”

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2010 Comes to and End

During our school year I schedule all my appointments and obligations for the first couple of weeks after the last class. Doctor’s office wants to schedule an annual physical? Let’s see. How about the third week in November? I’ll be free then.  Appointment with our health insurance broker? Yeah, third week of November. I’ll be done by then. Guidance counselor, dentist, you name it. The answer is always the same – third or fourth week of November.  The result is that I am busier at the beginning of my winter break than any time during the year. You who have tried to contact me are aware of this.  However, the point of this posting is not to tell you about my schedule, but to explain why I am so late in telling you that we have wrapped up 2010.  

Our last class was the Boston fan back. The class was notable for several things. Some of these things happen at the end every of every year, while some were unique. For example, the guys in the BFB also accomplished something that has never occurred before. They finished the chair in three days. Don and I were surprised at the group’s skill level. All three days, it seemed that I no sooner put my tools away after a demo than everyone was staring at me asking “Okay. What’s next?”  These guys had so many classes under their collective belts that we only raised one guy at the Raising. Can you inagine how he felt standing there all by himself through that long, and silly ceremony.

 During the week we also found time to knight Sir Sid Eudy the 163rd Knight of Windsor. More than half the class was already in the Royal Orders, so Sir Sid had an unusually large Honor Cordon. Lots of Knights present at a knighting usually draws out the Long Kiss, as those guys love to torment an initiate. Sir Sid’s wife also attended and got right in with the fun, extending the time he spent with his lips locked to the gaudy red bauble.

After the knighting, Sir Mark Penacho was inducted into the Alpha and Omega Society. This group honors people who attended both the first and last class of the year.  Sir Mark was in the Tete-a-tete class that began 2010, and the BFB class that ended it. He was given a certificate, an engraved pewter mug, and his name will be added to the Alpha and Omega plaque that hangs in the hallway.  

Prior to graduation, we took the backboards out to the incinerator and held our annual Burning of the Backboards. This is the ceremony that closes our school year. The first board into the fire is the board I had under my seat when I drilled the first hole, back in March. All year, that board had hung on the wall along with a photo of everyone attending the event tacked to it. Everyone who took a class during the year was invited to sign a backboard as a way of vicariously being part of our ceremony.  

* * * * 

Anyone who has participated in a Royal Orders ceremony has seen me dressed up as the King of Windsor. If you think that is funny, you need to see the picture His Grace Ralph Quick sent of himself in costume, attending a Halloween party.  First, you have to be able to envision Ralph in your mind.  Think about the barbarians in the Capital One credit card advertisements – (what’s in your wallet?). Remember the guy who yells in the Grand Canyon and half a mesa falls away? That’s Ralph. Now, imagine that guy dressed in a tooth fairy’s pink gauze tutu. Next, imagine a very large, bald tooth fairy, with unshaved legs and unshaved arms. Finally, put a cigar in the tooth fairy’s hand. That’s the picture.  It is so outlandish I posted on the shop refrigerator. If you know His Grace, have him email you a copy.

Here’s what Ralph had to say about the costume in his accompanying email. “Caron and I went to a Halloween party and I won first place with my costume. I can tell you one thing  for sure, show a small child the photo of me in the Tooth Fairy costume and tell him this is what sneaks into your room at night to get that tooth from underneath your pillow. I am pretty sure the kid will never eat another sweet or piece of candy,  just to make sure he never has any teeth fall out. Ha! Ha! Caron was dressed as a Swiss milking maid and Windsor was a Maine lobster.”

* * * *

 His Grace’s email also included this story, guarenteed to make all Windsor chairmakers burn with envy. “I have a friend whose father loves coming to our shop to hang out. He loves the fact that we make the chairs all by hand. I have gotten to where when he comes to visit, I let him make spindles or do some turnings.
 “A few weeks ago, my friend called  and said he had a load of lumber for me. I told him that I did not order any lumber and besides, I could not afford any right now. He told me that his Dad has two-hundred thousand acres of forest in Georgia and that he recently went down to harvest some downed trees. He had over 4000 bf of white pine for me. There was no way I could afford that much pine. Up here  it is going for $4.86 a bf. My firend delivered the wood a few weeks ago and told me that his Dad said to pay him for it as I used it. The pine boards he brought me were 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 inches thick. Really clear. Each board was approx. 30 to 35 foot long and the smallest width was 19 1/2
inches wide. The widest pieces were just under 47 inches. I will not have to glue up any chair seats for some time to come.”

* * * *

 I received this letter from Bim Clifford concerning a project he was involved in. “Last time we were together we talked about The Herbie Project which came to a climax on November 13. Herbie was New England‘s largest American elm tree – and was located in

Yarmouth, Maine. Herbie finally succumbed to Dutch elm disease, a fungus spread by bark beetles. A gentleman by the name of Frank Knight (now 102 years old) was

Yarmouth‘s volunteer Tree Warden for over fifty years. After many years of diligent effort by Mr. Knight, Herbie was finally cut down in January 2010.

 “A committee was formed to continue Herbie’s legacy and fund the annual plantings of new disease-resistant elms. The Yarmouth Tree Trust was created, and the committee decided to divide the 15-ton tree trunk and massive limbs among various woodworkers and artisans, who were to find a way to give Herbie a new life. Over 70 artists participated, crafting clocks, lamps, guitars, music stands, baseball bats, tables, benches, bowls, desks, jewelry boxes and a Windsor chair. The tree measured 110 feet high and was 217 years old and provided 7,000 board feet of lumber.   

“An auction was held on Saturday, November 13. The artisans received 60 percent of the sale price and the trust 40 percent. The proceeds from the sale were slightly less that $30,000. The only Windsor in the auction was a sack back which I made. All parts of the chair came from Herbie with the exception of the seat (pine). The bow and arm came from a fairly straight grained piece of the elm and bent very nicely, but were still difficult to cut into shape. The spindles were turned on a lathe with the help of a steady rest. The interlocking grain made them impossible to shape with a drawknife or spokeshave. However, I was able to take a very fine shaving after I took them off the lathe. The legs and stretchers were more difficult to turn than the hard maple which I usually use. I did the vase and ring rather than the bamboo turnings. Overall, the chair came out quite well, and I was optimistic that the chair would bring a good price. My optimism was unfounded, and the chair sold for $325.00, or at least I thought it did.  

“I found out later that it did not sell because I had put a reserve of $600.00. I left the auction thinking the auctioneer failed to invoke the reserve, but found out later he had. My daughter who lives in Freeport (next door to Yarmouth) desperately wanted the chair, so it looks like she will be the beneficiary of the mix up. Overall, the experience was a positive one in that I met some very nice people and gained experience in chairmaking.” 

* * * * 

Sieur Vincent Lavarenne’s article on sandpaper sharpening was published in the French woodworking magazine Le Bouvet.  Sieur Vincent has since taught a sharpening class to his woodworking club.  Here is the account he sent me of the experience.

“Hi Mike! My first sharpening class was very successful. Ten more French people now are familiar with the Dunbar method. They went home with a sharpening board, a sharpening file, a copy of my article in Le Bouvet and a list of web sites. Some experienced woodworkers were there and said they had learned something really new and useful. Another class is scheduled in January 2011 and is already half full.
“In some cases however, the tools that the students had brought with them to the class couldn’t be sharpened: they seemed to have been recently unearthed and couldn’t be definitely identified as either Gallo-Roman or Viking. We decided to leave them alone so as not to ruin their potential historic or commercial value by modifying their patinas and finishes.
“Also, I wrote a paper about my little fan-back child’s armchair for the Association journal. I will send it to you when it is published. I hope
you’ll appreciate my short history of the Windsor chair with my personal explanation why they sailed so fast across the Atlantic and (almost) never sailed across the

English Channel. You used to demonstrate that humor is compatible with historical accuracy. I hope I have learned well.”


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My two week vacation

 I have two weeks off between the October 18 sack back and the November 8 Boston Fan Back. I am spending it doing the thing (the woodworking thing) I love most.  I am building the prototype for the March 28 Day Bed class, and I am building something that has never been done before.  The Day Bed existed as a form, but not as a Windsor.  So, this is a fantasy chair – pure Mike Dunbar. Because I am all by myself I am relaxed and under no stress. I do a lot of talking to myself. I draw lots of details in the air with my finger and hands. I make sketches on the dry erase board. I run up stairs to the showroom to measure details on other chairs that might relate.

Before I began I had made a rough sketch of the day bed. While Lyndon Gallagher and Mike Borgeest (both Dukes of Windsor) during the October 4 sack back class, they saw the sketch (and teased me mercilessly about its crudity) but gave me ideas that resulted in major changes to my original idea. While the piece retains its original function – to sit the sitter lengthwise like in a Lazy Boy — the piece is now more of a Recamier, a type of Grecian couch, expressed as a mid-18th century Windsor.

Each step in designing a new form requires I workout as many problems in my head as possible before picking up any tools. I’ve even reversed some standard chairmaking processes.  For example, I have legged up the piece dry, but have not yet shaped the seat. I will do that I after I have worked out all the details in the very complicated and asymmetrical arm. I am having a great time. The guys in the November 8 class will see the piece close to completion. If everything goes as planned, I will reveal it in the November eNewsletter. If not, definitely in December.

 * * * *

 During the October 18 class Paul Porazinski made an interesting discovery. Everyone who has studied here is familiar with the No Name Stick. The device determines the locations and sightlines for spindle holes in the sack back arm rail.) It was never named because the staff developed it and the Hall of Fame bylaws prohibit us from being inducted.  With no induction, I did not get to exercise my privilege of naming the innovation. 

Paul measured the distance between the focus point for the long spindle sight lines and the distance between the loci for the short spindles. Their ration is 1/100th of an inch off from the Golden Mean. I do not know what this means.  It will probably take a while to figure that out, and it will take many minds. That means its significance will probably be revealed by a student in a future class who has a flash of insight.

I was please by this discovery, but not surprised. All sorts of similar relationships are part of Windsor design. I first became aware of them when a student revealed to me that some Windsors are designed using perspective; in other words the major planes and parts align with a vanishing point behind the chair. Since then, I have found a lot more relationships that tell me there is still a lot about Windsors that I do not know. The important point is that while I am ignorant of a lot, I know it is there and I use it intuitively to get chairs right. If you cruise chairmaker web sights you realize that lots of guys are clueless about these design elements that we talk about in class all the time.

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One of My Most Prized Things

Every now and then someone does something for me that is so kind  I am blown away. That happened during the September 20 C-arm class. Because of his line of work, I am not sure I should even tell you the guy’s name, so I will err on the side of caution. This student is in the military and recently had been in Afghanistan. While there he had a flag flown in The Windsor Institute’s honor above  the International Security Association Forces Headquarters. Then, the flag was folded and framed with recognition of The Institute. It instantly became one of my most prized possessions, and so everyone can see it, I hung it in the kitchen. During the October 18 class we had two Marines and a National Guard officer, all who had been in either Iraq and/or Afghanistan. They immediately noticed the flag and asked in awe where I had gotten it.  That made me even more proud of this gift.

* * * *

 I mentioned the National Guard officer above. Major Mike Lipper is in the October 4 sack back class that is in session right now. He had recently returned from Afghanistan and his third tour of duty. His Sunday School class loves Mike so much that they signed him up for this class before he left for his most recent tour. His Sunday School teacher and his wife accompanied Mike and his wife on the trip. I think that to be that loved and honored speaks a lot for the Major’s character.  It sure impressed me.

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These last two classes, the September 20 C-arm and the October 4 sack back added to the Royal Orders. Sir Mike Raab was knighted in the 9/20 C-arm, becoming the 162nd Knight of Windsor. During the October 4 class His Grace Lyndon Gallagher was duked. Royal Orders watchers and the paparazzi that relentlessly pursue the members well know that a Duke of Windsor has taken every class and has then returned to teach a sack back class. His Grace Lyndon is the 22nd Duke of Windsors. Compare the number of Knights to the number of Dukes and you will see that the latter are truly are a small corps of elites. His Grace Lyndon set another milestone, in that he is the First Duke Errant. A member of the Orders Errant comes from afar. His Grace is from Montreal and commands all Royal Orders members in Canada. As Royal Watchers will tell you, only two other Dukes have a title designating them as special among the other 22. As First Duke Errant, His Grace Lyndon joins the even more elite group made up of the First Duke and the Black Duke.

The October 4 class was even more exciting in that His Grace Mike Borgeest returned to help teach that class.  While already a Duke, and having already done his teaching requirement, His Grace Mike just wanted to spend some time with fellow chairmakers. Similarly, on Tuesday His Grace Jim White dropped by to help out. At that moment, four of 22 Dukes of Windsor were assembled at the same time and in the same place. Of course, His Grace Don Harper, our teacher, was the fourth. The event had to be recorded, so we took a picture of the four Dukes with their sovereign in front of our sign.

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As we do every advanced class, we had a Raising during the C-arm class. At that time, those students who had only taken sack back, and were thus only Entered Apprentice chairmakers, were raised to Master chairmaker. This ceremony is very solemn and fills the newly made Masters and the other attendees with awe. As I was conducting the ceremony some wags in the class began humming solemn background music as a spoof of me. It is hard enough to conduct this silly ceremony with a straight face. These guys kept cracking me up and dragged out the ceremony lots long that it normally takes. I should have remembered the old advice to actors; “Never work with kids, animals, or chairmakers.” You’ll always get upstaged. Of course kids and chairmakers is redundant.

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We had another unusual occurrence in the October 4 sack back. Bob Vergette and Ken Whyte both came all the way to New Hampshire from British Columbia. Over the past 15 years we have only had seven other people from that distant province. To make their presence in our class even more unusual, Bob and Kenn did not come together. They did not even know each other.  They each came separately. Such an event required special recognition.  So, as well as flying the Canadian flag out front of the building, we hung the British Columbian provincial flag next to their work stations.

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Speaking of Dukes of Windsor, we recently received this email from His Grace Ralph Quick and his consort Caron:

Greetings King Mike,

Caron wanted me to let you Guy’s know that we were contacted by the editor of This Old House magazine a couple of weeks ago. They are doing an article about the New York City Bow Back Side Chair and they said they checked several chairmakers’ web sites and that they really liked ours the best.

They said they wanted us to ship them one, if we had one available. We just finished one. I’m not real sure just why I decided to make that style, but it worked out since it was already painted and ready to ship. However, when I checked the shipping cost, I feared they might not want to use us, as shipping would be over $500.00 to send it to Manhattan and back. I called the editor and told her that I was really appreciative of them wanting to use our NYC Bow Back and mention us in the article, but $500.00 is just a bit much for us right now. That’s when she told me that they would pay for all the shipping and what have you. I would just have to pack it. She also said that it will be used on their front cover and come out in the November issue. Hopefully it will generate more business for us since a lot of people get that magazine.

Well Sir, tell every one we said hello and we hope to see you Guy’s soon.

Ralph, Caron & Windsor

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I recently yet another email from His Grace Ralph recommending this video as a less labor intensive way for chairmakers to spilt their logs.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DIhJnqyey8U

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Speaking of Royals Errant, we received this email from Sieur Vincent Lavarenne, First Knight of France. It is further proof that we are accomplishing our stated goal; for handmade Windsors to take over the world.

Hi Mike!

Last Sunday, with my Woodworking Association  I took part  to the  “Fêtes des Associations”  in  Evry (Evry is a town 20 miles SE of Paris where the Association is located). I demonstrated putting together a Windsor Chair and I had the pleasure to find many people interested. Some found the chair really cute (women mainly, it was a child’s chair!) some guys said they had seen chairs like that in westerns (yes, and in “The Patriot” with Mel Gibson too, and in the books over here…) Some (men) asked how much I was selling it (I wasn’t). Many asked which were the woods; where I had learned that; and they browsed through my books and tools.  That was quite successful, even though the main attraction at our stand always is our  street organ:  the  guy who made it  (and teaches to do so)  has the kids  turn the crank…Do you have a model of chair that makes music?

 I will be  speaking of that little chair at our next meeting on October 16th. In fact it’s the same chair I made for my grandson two years ago,  but the chair and the child are  in Lyon and happy together as you can see. As I wanted a chair to show off, I just made another one ( faster and more enjoyable each time: Windsors aren’t just a bug, they are  a hard drug!)

I am teaching a sharpening class on November 20th at our Association’s workshop.  I just asked the editor at the magazine Le Bouvet to advertise it at the end of my article (it should be published at the end of this month). In fact the class is almost full up yet, but it is such a pleasure to refuse more people… The guy who used to teach woodcarving and classical sharpening will be helping me ( He ‘s a  nice guy, but I believe he is also  interested in the method).

I hope that all of you are well at the WI .


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Dave Rossano and his chairmaking were the subject of an article in East Hampton (NY) Star.  Dave is making chair professionally and this article will certainly give him a boost.

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