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Chair making is an equal-opportunity agonizer. After the first day of dealing with spindles and steam-bending, we came back to our beach-town bungalow (price: $300 for the week!) and collapsed on the couches.

We each had a beer in hand and sat immobile for a good 30 minutes before we could get up the energy to scratch our noses. We were whupped like rented mules.

Today we got up, chugged the ibuprofen and headed back for another day at the salt mines, Dunbar-style. We started the day by saddling the seat. And I was wondering if I was going to have to visit a massage parlor on the boardwalk. (Piece of advice: Never order anything at a massage parlor with “happy” in the name. Happy Dragon, Happy Grapple, Happy Happy. Just don’t.)

But the seat saddling was easy and fast. Why? Eastern white pine. The other seats I’ve saddled have been elm or tulip poplar. The tulip poplar is OK. The elm makes me want to curl into the fetal position and suck my toes.

After saddling the seat, we started “legging-up” the chair, which is where you drill the holes for the legs in the seat at some wacky compound angles. Then you fit the stretchers. If you tried to describe it with geometry, your head would implode.

But Michael Dunbar at The Windsor Institute has a way of explaining this process that is clearer than anything I have ever encountered. I’ve read every book on Windsor chairs I have been able to get my hands on. I’ve taken two other classes on the topic. But Dunbar’s explanation is like someone propping your eyes open with toothpicks. You cannot help but see what needs to be done.

I legged up my chair in record time. I’ve built several Windsor-style chairs, but this was the fastest, most empirical and easiest time I’ve ever had legging up a chair. Kudos, Mr. Dunbar.

Of course, my head started to ache by 4 p.m. So I asked some really dumb questions. Kudos, Mr. Dunbar, for not laughing in my face. And as I plopped down in the couch in the beach bungalow tonight, I could barely think straight.

For the first time, I really, really understand the leg geometry. And it hurt.

Hope I get some more pain tomorrow.

– Christopher Schwarz

Other Geometry, Chair and Beer resources I recommend

– Founders Brewing (

“Practical Shop Math” by Tom Begnal

“Chairmaking Simplified” by Kerry Pierce

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Showing 5 comments
  • Clay Dowling

    Glad to see you recommending a local beer. We’re proud of our beer here in Michigan, and glad to see it getting some appreciation in other parts of the country.

  • Chris, you need to show up in a picture or two if expect us to believe you. BTW, I took that class 10 years ago and it is great. Mike and his staff are top notch. I look forward to hearing more. See you at WIA

  • Joel Jacobson

    I was surprised to see a tapered reamer mounted in a power drill rather than a brace. Did you drill the seat holes with a brace and spoon bits?

  • Rob

    Ok Chris, Let me get this straight.

    We were Gitano-smoking woodworkers, when on a break, a beret-wearing, Type-A hippie chick who eat[s] espresso and croissants, whupped [us] for a good 30 minutes like rented mules.

    And all this for $300 a week? I think I may know people who want to party with you!



  • james

    LOL, Well, it sounds like you are having a good time plus i assume you get to keep your chair.

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