Last fall I attended a two hour presentation at Woodworking in America by Windsor chairmaker Curtis Buchanan. Without a doubt, it was my favorite class of the event. Curtis has a combination of talents and skills that I found enthralling. As a teacher, he’s a natural with 30 years of chairmaking experience combined with a warm and unassuming personality. Add an entertaining sense of humor and that two hour session seemed to have ended 15 minutes after it got underway.
Curtis is one of the best Windsor chairmakers working today. Examples of his chairs are at Jefferson’s Monticello estate and the state governor’s mansion in his home state of Tennessee. Curtis operates from a modest shop in his backyard in Jonesborough. He also offers chairmaking classes. If you get a chance to take one, I have no doubt you’d walk away informed, inspired and filled with a lifetime of pleasant memories.
But if you can’t schedule a class any time soon, you can do the next best thing: enjoy his 11 hours of video that takes you step-by-step through making one of his exquisite comb-back Windsor chairs. In the videos, that same knowledgeable, natural Curtis comes right through. He’s so natural on camera you’ll think you’re standing in his shop. The 11 hours is made of 51 segments ranging from five to more than 15 minutes long. Curtis starts you with a trip to a log yard where he selects his material, then moves through each construction step: riving out part blanks, shaping them, steam bending, turning, carving and all the way through assembly and finishing. There is no hurry in the various steps of the process so the level of information Curtis shares is remarkable. And even if you don’t want to make a Windsor chair, you’ll learn a lot about woodworking from Curtis.
OK, now here’s the weird thing. Curtis’ videos are available on his web site and YouTube for free. He’s a generous guy who wants to share what he’s learned mastering his craft. But Curtis has also recently packaged the videos into a 10 DVD set and you can buy it through his web site for $60. And for another $35, you can get a set of very nicely rendered full-scale drawings of his comb-back. It’s the perfect companion to the video lessons. I encourage you to support Curtis and buy the DVDs and drawings. By all means sample his videos for free on the site, but then open your wallet and place your order. With damn few (actually way too few) exceptions these days, master craftsmen like Curtis devote their lives to their craft and don’t earn a lot for their efforts. Their generosity is demonstrated by their willingness to share their hard won experience with us and we should support them in return.