King of Windsors
by Megan Fitzpatrick
It all started in 1971 with a black chair Mike Dunbar spotted at a yard sale in Sutton, Mass. He was looking for things to furnish his student apartment at Worcester State University in Worcester, Mass. “It was one of those times when your life turns on a dime,” Mike says. “That chair so engaged me that I had to buy it. It was a quarter of my monthly rent.”
If you’d suggested to a 24-year-old Dunbar that he was going to become a woodworker, he’d have scoffed. He started out as a journalist before going to college to study French (he’s read Roubo in the original), and planned a life of academia.
But that chair? He couldn’t stop looking at it and examining it. So Dunbar did some research and discovered he’d lucked upon an antique Windsor rod back side chair. He started visiting antique stores to find more of them. “They were beyond anything I could afford,” he says. “I figured if I bought broken ones, I could fix them up.”
So Mike delved into the little information he could find, teaching himself woodworking through a combination of reading and trial and error in the shop.
“I made my first chair in 1972, but it was a real labor,” he says, because of the lack of information available at the time. “There was nobody around to teach me this; I thought I was alone in the world, and went down a lot of dead ends.” Wallace Nutting, for example, was full of misinformation, Dunbar says. “I may not be smart, but I’m stubborn,” he says. “I just kept working at these chairs until I could produce something reasonably well.”
Article: Read Mike Dunbar’s article on using milk paint (a classic Windsor finish).
Website: Visit thewindsorinstitute.com to stay up-to-date on Dunbar’s “retirement” plans.
Website: Hear some of the younger Mike Dunbar’s music at mikedunbar.com.
In Our Store: “Make a Windsor Chair,” by Mike Dunbar.
To Buy: “Restoring, Tuning & Using Classic Woodworking Tools,” by Michael Dunbar.