Chris Schwarz's Blog

Breaking News: Mike Dunbar Retiring from Teaching

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Mike Dunbar, the founder of The Windsor Institute and the leader in the renaissance in Windsor chairmaking announced today he is closing the school.

According to an e-mail sent to students, Dunbar and his wife, Sue, have sold the the school’s buildings and as of March 31, will not be teaching chairmaking.

The contents of the school – tools etc. – will be sold via auction by Martin Donnelly. Dunbar also is accepting offers on the school’s intellectual property, including techniques, patterns and instructions provided to the many students who have passed through the school.

Mike says he will continue to “make and sell chairs, and sell chairmaking supplies.”

Mike has been teaching chairmaking since 1980 and is credited with restoring interest in Windsor chairmaking. His techniques are a guarded secret among his students. I took a class from him several years ago to make a sack-back chair and have a notebook filled with chairmaking tips and techniques I’d never heard before.

You can get a very good dose of Mike’s knowledge by the recent reissue of his classic book: “Make a Windsor Chair With Mike Dunbar.

We’ll have more information on this story as it develops. I wish Mike and Sue well on the next stage of their lives.

— Christopher Schwarz

9 thoughts on “Breaking News: Mike Dunbar Retiring from Teaching

  1. exyle

    I attended Mike’s initial class at his old shop in Portsmouth in the mid 1990’s. Additionally I hosted Mike for a week long chair making class at woodworking retail store. In either of these instances I can cannot recall Mike being anything but generous. He is in fact the mentor woodworker who advised me to “cast my bread upon the waters” and (as he had experienced it) enjoy many happy returns from fellow craftspeople, clients, neighbors and the curious. Mike was a perfect model of this advice and I can only think CS may have had a typo? Upon his retirement from teaching Mike certainly deserves some compensation for the intellectual property he has developed over the years….which is a bit curious because I can’t think of anything he wouldn’t readily give if asked. I wish him all the best in his future endeavors.

  2. Justin

    “His techniques are a guarded secret among his students.”

    I have much respect for Mike Dunbar, but does this statement bug anyone besides me? I’m much more appreciative of the generosity of chairmakers like Peter Galbert and Curtis Buchanan, and these are the men I chose to patronize when I got started building chairs. I purchased Peter’s book (with the accompanying chair plans), as well as some chair plans from Curtis. I’ll always support their work whenever I have the choice, because they’ve chosen to give so freely to folks interested in their work. Secrecy in this craft should have been stamped out with the apprentice system.

    1. TimS884

      I’ve taken a half dozen classes from Mike Dunbar…the statement about “guarded secrets” is nonsense…journalistic license/phony drama that adds zero value. That statement from the article’s author is a slap in the face to Mike and all of his students.

      Mike wrote the book on Windsor chairmanning (a couple of them actually though most only know of the more recent one). It’s really hard to take the “guarded secrets” line seriously when you’ve seen Mike give freely of his time and knowledge in a variety of settings…local events, at the chairmaking conference at Colonial Williamsburg many years ago…

      I learned a lot from Mike and his assistants…even made a few friends along the way. I wish Mike and Sue all the best in their retirement!

        1. pearlsb4swine

          The Dunbar blog post you link to, dated November 28 2012, begins “Sigh. Another one of the woodworking magazines has printed a picture of a chairmaker sitting at his shave horse. In doing so, they the magazine joined the long list of sources that continue to undermine the craft of chairmaking.” I believe the magazine he is referring to is Popular Woodworking. The November 2012 issue, Special Issue #200, features profiles of eight iconic woodworkers including Brian Boggs who is pictured seated on a shave horse.

          Dunbar’s blog post is a didactic screed excoriating woodworkers who use shavehorses and characterizing them as “not serious”, “hippies” and “quaint”. Read his blog post and you will see that I’m not making this up. Then watch this video that shows Boggs masterfully using a shavehorse and judge for yourself if Dunbar’s opinions have ANY credibility: https://vimeo.com/41702553

          Mr. Dunbar, you owe Brian Boggs and Popular Woodworking an apology. Enjoy your retirement.

          1. Megan FitzpatrickMegan Fitzpatrick

            Yes, he’s an opinionated person – but his methods work for him, and have worked for thousands of students. That’s not to say that I might not prefer a different approach (I love shaving long curls at the shavehorse) — but as in many things woodworking (and all things, really), there are lots of choices. Some folks are just more vociferous in defending their methods.

  3. pearlsb4swine

    Quote from CS’s blog post of January 24, 2014; ” But did you know he also was the man who drafted Donald Trump into a run for the presidency?”

  4. gbetit

    Wow, this is a surprise! I took a class with him in December and nothing was mentioned on this subject. (I was one of only two students in the class.) He’s multidimensional, I’m sure we’ll continue hearing from him on other fronts.

    1. dchupein

      I took the class in 2002 and learn so much about woodworking and about life in that week. I had the pleasure to be in Hampton, NH this summer and stopped by to say hello to Mike. He was gracious and warm as always. It’s a great loss not to have the Windsor Institute anymore…

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