Why an Institute? Part II

This post is a continuation of the previous.  If you have not that one, you may want to begin with it, and then read this. 

Research is another of The Institute’s activities.  My interest inWindsors and my curiosity about them is constant.  We are able to teach chairmaking effectively, because through research  I  figured out how the old guys assembled and joined their chairs.  Our research has also extended to tools and woodworking methods. Much of my interest lately, has been in the area of design.  I have written in this space about my deep respect for the original designs, and I advised current Windsor chairmakers to avoid trying to dream up their own expressions.  Thus, in my current research I focus on understanding  how the old guys achieved their timeless designs.  I plan to write more about this in the future. 

As an institute, our research also leads on to development   Many of the tools used in chairmaking today are available thanks to The Institute.  In our very first  year I was presented with the need for tools, not only to equip our classroom, but so students could acquire them and make chairs at home.  I sought out people who had the ability and the willingness to make specific tools.  I let them copy mine,  suggested improvements, and tested their prototypes.  Most importantly,  The Institute created a market, a steady stream of people needing these tools.  This meant our suppliers could actually earn a living making tools.  It was The Institute that engendered Emhof spoon bits and tapered reamer, Crown Plane’s compass plane and travisher, the Larson drawknife and scorp,  the Barr gutter adz, Dave’s Shaves, and the Woodjoy double-fenced scratch beader and chairmaker router.  

A number of the tool makers I worked with  were older that I.  As time passed, some of them retired or slowed down.  As that happened, we developed new sources for their tools,  and brought them under The Institute’s umbrella.   

Research at The Institute has created numerous other developments.  Some have even  moved beyond the craft of Windsor chairmaking, and have entered woodworking’s mainstream.  Sandpaper sharpening, the Ultimate steam box,  the ream proof leg, the piloted reamer, and the pommel knife,  are just some our developments.  

By creating The Windsor Institute Catalog this place also produced a single source for  the products Windsor chairmakers require.   Not only are many of the tools and devices just described available though our catalog, so are chairmaking materials:  riven oak, pine seats, and turnings.   As noted by the student mentioned in the opening paragraph of these postings, an institute also publishes.  We do, too.  You are reading some of our publishing right now.  This blog  and our email list is how we keep chairmakers informed of the results of our research as well as the craft’s news,  new developments, products, and sources.   For 11 years we published  The Windsor Chronicles, a quarterly magazine for chairmakers.  The Chronicles used to serve the same purposes as this blog and our email list.  However, being a quarterly, it was far less immediate than its electronic heir.   I still do write magazine articles.  You will find them in Popular Woodworking.  Recently, I have published in that magazine what I consider to be some of the most important articles I have written.  These include sharpening,  understanding and using hand planes, and mistake avoidance.  The last article was the result of research done at The Institute, and summarizes some of our teaching methods.  If you want to stay up to date on everything coming out of The Institute, continue to read this blog, include your email address on out mailing list, and subscribe to Popular Woodworking.  

Besides founding an institute that would teach, research, develop, and publish, Susanna and I  had an even larger vision.  We wanted chairmaking to have a home.  A home meant in part  a place where chairmakers could turn for training, advice, and support.   Here is the other part.  Previously, our office, our collections, library, and supplies were all in separate places.  We wanted to create a home for the craft that would also bring all these resources under one roof.  That way, our students could benefit from them as well.  

We designed and built the buildings at The Windsor Institute.  A lot  of  planning went into our designs.  Unfortunately, many  woodworking classes around the country are taught in marginal facilities. In my travels I have taught in a lot of these places.    We wanted to avoid the problems I had observed.  Some of these problems  were pretty basic,  like decent toilet facilities, lack of heat in the winter, and  air conditioning in the summer.  We built our first building in 1995.  We included  a nice bathroom, a full kitchen, heat, and air conditioning.  We also have 10 foot ceilings and wooden floors.  The ceiling has rows of florescent lights.  The south side of the building has  very large windows on the south side for natural light.  There are plenty of electrical outlets.     

The staff cleans the kitchen and bath at the end of every day.  They also straighten out the classroom, putting tools back where they belong.  A cleaning service comes in and gives the building a thorough cleaning Friday before every class.   

On the second floor of the main building we have our office and show room.  The show room allows us to display much of our collections.  These are important resources for our students. These collections include antique tools, antique Windsors, early Dunbar chairs, 18th and 19th century chairmaking advertisements, other ephemera, and my personal memorabilia.  At The Institute, students can see things up close that they would otherwise only see in books or magazines.  

Our class room walls are covered with sharp and well-maintained tools.  We are so well equipped we have people who come with no tools at all and we take care of them.  Since I love tools and will take advantage of any excuse to buy more, we are always adding additional tools.  

As The Institute grew in both classes and activities it became necessary for us to expand.  We now have three buildings on our campus.   Susanna always tells the staff that “We only get one chance at a good first impression.”  For that reason, our grounds are landscaped and groomed.  Our buildings are well maintained and decorated seasonally.  Everything here has a place, and is in its place.  

I am pleased to report that The Institute has fulfilled our initial vision.  It has succeeded in becoming a true teaching, research, development, and publishing center.  It also functions as Windsor chairmaking’s   nerve center, eyes, ears, mouth,  brain, and beating heart.  Windsor chairmaking is alive and growing because of The Windsor Institute. 

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