Chris Schwarz's Blog

Windsor Institute, Day 1

Green wood is a wacky thing. Yes, it can be easy to work. But don’t fall for its easy-going nature. It’s like a Type-A hippie chick.

Sometimes you can do anything (go against the grain, ignore the grain, like bourgeois shrimp cocktail) and it all works out fine. Other times you are doomed no matter how sharp your tools are, no matter how much you work at it and no matter how odiferous you are/aren’t.

Today was the first day of classes at our sack-back chair class at The Windsor Institute. As someone who has taken and given woodworking and writing classes, I can tell you that this is a world-class operation. On the outside, the place looks casual, with a low-key staff.

Dig a little deeper and you’ll find assistants with long careers in mechanical engineering or the Marines. And it’s all run by an instructor who has a complete grasp of the topic , plus fine teaching skills, an incredible library and a fascinating collection of chairs.

Today we worked on the chair spindles for our Windsors, plus we bent the bow and arm (very cool!) and prepared the rough shape of the seat. It was a long but exhausting day. My friend John Hoffman is sitting to my left at his laptop. He is completely asleep. My dad is in the kitchen making a tuna-fish sandwich for his lunch tomorrow. This is important because that’s what he ate every day when working at the family farm.

And I am dreaming of chairs.

I had a fairly good day, though most of the other students were faster than I am. I am going to chalk it up (that is, rationalize) to my perfectionism. I was, however, one of the first students who was called up to bend my arm and bow.

The rectangular arm bent without a problem. Then I bent the bow with the help of a fellow student. One section of the 1″-diameter bow fought us. It wouldn’t follow the bending form. And its grain delaminated when I finally wedged up the assembly.

After clamping up the split in my bow, I hung the completed nasty bow up onto the hooks of the ceiling of the furnace room, where our bows and spindles will dry.

After I hung up my bow and arms, I looked to the bent bows and arms made by the other students. Bad idea. Mine looked primitive. And it was the only one with a C-clamp on it.

- Christopher Schwarz

11 thoughts on “Windsor Institute, Day 1

  1. John Scott

    What are his pros and cons for using a vise vs. a shaving horse? It takes so much manipulation of the piece as you’re shaping a spindle, it seems that it would take forever securing it in a vise.

  2. Bill Melidones

    Chris,

    As a relatively new woodworker, I’d much rather have to deal with the bow with difficult grain while there at the school. At least there I’d have the benefit of the staff to explain that it was that particular piece of wood that caused the split (and what to do about it). At home I’d be left wondering what I’d done wrong.

    I find one of the major benefits of taking a class is not having to work/learn alone. All the interaction with students and staff is always well worth the cost of the class. That’s over and above the benefit of learning from world class instructors.

    Its nice to hear that a guy with your experience still feels like I do when I compare my work with the work of other students in my class.

  3. Rob

    Chris, I have a question about this class. How much of a "kit" class is this? Is everything done from scratch or is there some work that is already done for the students? If a home woodworker takes one of these classes, is he equipped with the skills and knowledge to make more chairs at home? Thanks.

  4. Derek

    Congratulations on taking a FABULOUS class! Mike is clearly one of the best instructors out there! And you couldn’t ask for more in Don and Fred! I hope to take his C-Arm class in the fall after I get back to the states…assuming my wife will allow it!

    On the delamination of your bow, no worries. It happens to a lot of people, myself included (more than once!). That’s why God made C clamps and CY glue!

    Have fun and take lots of notes. Chair making is very addictive!

    Cheers,
    Derek

    PS
    To your first commentor, no need for shave horses….no room in the shop, really. The bench vices work fine. When you get a little closer to class time, Mike will shoot you a list of recommended and required tools to bring.

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