Sunday, August 10, 2014

My Long, Strange Journey to a Windsor Chair Class

Building a Windsor chair had been on my list of things I've wanted to do for many years. I've always loved the form from the first time I ever saw a sack back Windsor and have since come to develop an affinity for many other styles; the comb back and the continuous arm, as well as the less conventional, like the writing arm chair and the Windsor fan chair.

After considering taking classes at Mike Dunbar's Windsor Chair Institute in Maine (too far away and too much of a "chair factory" type setting for me) and one of Elia Bizzarri's classes at Roy's place (the dates just never lined up for me) I got the nerve to approach Charles Boland of Storybook Joinery when he was demonstrating at the Mount Vernon Colonial Craft Fair about taking one of his classes. Well, a couple more years went by and in that time I got to know Charles a little better from seeing him at other colonial market fairs and through the new Chesapeake chapter of the Society of American Period Furniture Makers (SAPFM). We developed a bit of a friendship and between his knowledge of Windsor chairs and learning how much he researched and knew about the history of Windsors and history in general, I decided that he was the teacher for me. It was time to try to set a date for a class and make this happen.

We decided on the second week of February, 2014 for a sack back chair class in Charles' beautiful shop in Springfield, WV. I was so excited. I'd  check in with Charles once a week or so to let him know how much I was looking forward to it and to just keep in touch. Then, on the morning of January 7th, after sending Charles an e-mail the night before, once again expressing my excitement of the quickly approaching class, I got an e-mail back from Charles saying he needed to talk to me, could he call. Well, it wasn't a good phone call. In the early morning hours of the 7th, a very large truck lost control on icy road conditions and plowed into Charles' shop, knocking it 3 feet off the foundation and doing extensive damage. I was heartbroken about the prospects of my class being cancelled, but felt even worse obviously for Charles losing his shop like that. Building and selling Windsor chairs and fine period furniture is Charles' livelihood and now suddenly he had no place to work. Not surprisingly I got an e-mail two days later saying that he had tried to find other accommodations where he could teach my class, but to no avail. I was extremely disappointed but obviously I fully understood.

Fast forward a few months and a 3 1/2 week stay in the hospital in March/April. By this time, Charles had learned that his shop was salvageable and was well on his way to getting it back in shape. I contacted him about possibly rescheduling the class and he said possibly in October. Well, Jen wasn't too excited about the prospect of me making that kind of drive and being alone away from home for that long with the health issues I was having. So, unbeknownst to me, she called Charles, explained the situation of my health and my subsequent diminished strength and stamina, and asked if he thought I could handle the physical demands of building a chair and if there was any chance he would consider coming to my shop to teach me. He graciously agreed to do just that and tailored the class to fit what he thought I could physically handle. Needless to say I was thrilled and very touched that he'd agreed to do such a thing to help me out. We talked back and forth about it several times and settled on the first week of June for him to come and teach me to build a chair. I was SO excited and at the same time, so fearful something would go wrong to derail the plan. Well, nothing went wrong, Charles made it here, and I had one of the most enjoyable woodworking experiences of my life. The rest of the story can be told in pictures. Thank you Charles for helping me to attain one of my woodworking goals. And thanks for being a good friend.

Day one. Shaving spindles on the shave horse with the spoke shave, in
period clothing.

Leg holes drilled. Now for the spindle holes.

Day two was mostly about shaping the seat. Here,
beveling the bottom of  the seat with a draw knife.

After some adze work, continuing to shape and refine the
seat with an inshave.

Smoothing out some of the marks left by the inshave
with a compass plane.

Reaming the holes to accept the tapered legs. The reamer
and I were not on very good terms. I couldn't seem to get
this part right no matter how hard I tried. Oddly, my
struggle with the reamer seemed to amuse Charles. :-)

Legged up at the end of day two. Still a long way to go
with but one day left.

Drilling holes in the arm with a brace and a spoon bit.
LOTS of holes to drill on a sack back. This was the most
physically taxing part of the whole build for me.

Seating the spindles with a brass mallet and listening for
the dead thud sound that lets you know you're there.

Chiseling a split to accept a wedge in the top of one of
the spindles.

Worn out at the end of the class but some kind of happy
with my chair.

The Master and the aspiring student during day two. Mr. Charles Boland,
who came dressed in great period outfits every day of class, adding to the
experience for me. 

A week or so after the end of class with three coats of
Salem Red milk paint. I was tempted to stop here and
have a red chair. I'm glad I didn't.

And after a couple coats of Pitch Black milk paint.
Again, I was tempted to call it finished here.
Again, I'm glad I didn't.

The pretty much finished chair, after rubbing down with
0000 steel wool to let some red show through the black
and then coating with several coats of danish oil. THIS is
the finish I was looking for.

Signed, sealed, and ready to be delivered. (To my wife and the living room)

The sack back Windsor in it's ultimate resting place after a few coats of
paste wax. So very pleased with the way this came out.


Frontier Carpenter said...

Great looking chair Jamie!

Jonas Jensen said...

Beautiful work.
Thanks for sharing.
We are having a Windsor chair build at my place in a couple of weeks, and your photo series is a great inspiration for this

Millie Garner said...

WoWsa, skillful workmanship on a beautiful chair. The finishing process looks challenging, but you have nailed it perfectly. You are an inspiration. Charles and I enjoy reading your blog posts.
Best Love,
Charles & Millie

Anonymous said...

You did such a great job:) I was so glad to actually get to meet Charles and spend some time in the shop recording the actual process of some of the build:) You've got lots more chairs to build according to your beautiful wife so you better get busy.

Bob Rozaieski said...

Fantastic chair Jamie! And more importantly, a fantastic experience! Well done on both accounts!

Anonymous said...

Jamie what an awesome experience for you!!! The chair is fantastic!! Such great pride and craftsmanship in your work, really shows your love for what you do. I know you must really feel proud of yourself as you should, and I am so proud of how you keep pushing to accomplish all you have done even though you may not be feeling the best. You truly are an inspiration to all that are lucky enough to know you and especially to me. Keep making your dreams come true!!! Love you Debbie.

Shannon said...

Looks great Jamie and what a great story. I was really interested to see the drilling jig you were using to bore the arm. That makes spacing so much easier. Did you use an equivalent guide to bore the seat too?

Chuck said...

This is such an incredibly nice story and one to inspire us all. The chair is beautiful and testifies to the craftsman as well as his teaching. But beyond that there is deep character involved in the struggle to get a mission accomplished that was able to accommodate the needs and timing of everyone. Mrs. Jamie is to be credited for having the idea to propose building the chair at your shop. I like to think that this particular form of chair design had a lot to do with providing the underlying motivation that drove the project to completion. Well done to all!

Charles said...

Jamie…. Just a line to congratulate you on the very good finish job on your chair, it turned out very nice.

I enjoyed very much coming down and visiting and working with you in your shop and I know how much work you put into making the chair.

BTW, Me amused at your fighting with the reamer? You bet, as I remember when I first started using the reamer. Here is a though, after about 100 chairs it does get easier :)

Best to you and Jenn


Carlene said...

OMG..and how very pleased you SHOULD be! It is perfect and perfectly beautiful. You (and anyone else who can do this) have my complete admiration! The tutorial is awesome.
~~Carlene...who lives in Darnestown, MD. and may yet come to visit..

Jamie Bacon said...

Thanks Frontier Carpenter. I really enjoy following your blog. I like the fact that you do and blog about both woodworking and smithing.

Jamie Bacon said...

Thank you Jonas. I really hope the photos can be of some help. Hope the chair build goes well!

Jamie Bacon said...

Thanks for the kind words and positive comments Mom, Millie and Debbie. It's great knowing that so much family now follows and seems to enjoy the blog. Gives me inspiration to keep writing it and to try to update it more often. :-)

Jamie Bacon said...

Thank you Bob. I love the chair, and more importantly, Jen loves the chair. :-) And you're right, it was an amazing experience. I've met such amazing people through woodworking and so many have been so giving and generous and kind to me. I got another example of this incredible generosity just yesterday. It just blows my mind.

Jamie Bacon said...

Thanks Shannon. It was a great experience to be sure, as well as an interesting story that had a happy ending for me. And although Charles did unfortunately lose a few things to the wreck, I believe he's up and running again. The jig you see me drilling on is something Charles came up with and brought along. It really does make things easy for drilling the holes in the arm. Not only in the spacing, but with the lines laid at the proper angles, it makes it so you just need the one bevel gauge since you can just line up your brace and bit with the jig's sight lines for the other angle. Believe it or not, I can't recall for sure if we used the same set-up for drilling the holes in the seat or not, but I think we did. If not, it could surely be done in the same fashion.

Jamie Bacon said...

Thank you Chuck. Indeed, there were some very kind and giving people that made this happen and I thank them so much.

Jamie Bacon said...

Hi Charles! I was hoping you'd see this post. You just KNEW I had to put something in there about that #!*#* reamer. :-) I'm glad to hear that you like how the finish came out. I have to say, I've never been any happier with any finished project that I've done.

Jamie Bacon said...

Thank you Carlene! It's great to hear that you're not that far away. I really hope you can get down to check things out some day. I'd love to meet you and give you the tour.

WA said...

Wonderful story, awesome chair, Jamie! Love the finish and it looks right at home in its spot!

Bill A.

Jamie Bacon said...

Thanks Bill! Always great to hear from you. Looks like an ambitious class with Peter this week at Roy's place. Sure wish I was there for that one. You taken any classes since our Joynt Stool class with Peter?

WA said...

Hey Jamie - haven't been able to do much , class-wise, since Peter's class because of work and health issues w/ my parents but I've been piddling with some spoons, an interest I've had for a number of years - rekindled by Peter's posts. Really like using dogwood but even wet it takes a sharp knife - very hard stuff ...

Heading to Wmburg again soon - looking forward to it - and will be headed to Salem shortly as well. Hopefully can catch up with Jerome.

Take good care! Talk with you again soon!


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