Woodworker's Central
Woodworker's Gazette
Gazette Archive

Building a Windsor Chair with Mike Dunbar
By Michael Tulloch

Sitting on a spackle bucket while having lunch at the job site some months ago, I happened to see an article in the New York Times about Mike Dunbar's Windsor Institute. It talked about how people from all walks of life get together and build a Windsor chair in one week. Oddly enough....I had never heard of Mike Dunbar, and wasn't really sure what a Windsor chair actually was. But after reading the article with great interest, I was hooked. I've been a finish carpenter for 22 years and up here in northern New England, the more things a carpenter can do to support his family the better. So it was with this practical application in mind that I contacted Mike to sign up for my first class.

Immediately after registering for the Sack back chair class, I received in the mail a confirmation letter and packet of information comprising all you need to know to get through the class smoothly. Included is a tool list, clear directions to the school and some suggestions for lodgings. I knew the tool list was coming and figured I had most or all I would need to qualify....but surprisingly I had to buy a lot of stuff. Being that I wanted to go on after and make chairs I bought every tool relating to Windsor chair making. For those interested in only making chairs with Mike in his classes, one can do rather well with the minimum requirements.

I found that very little of my cabinetmaking/woodworking skills were of advantage to me in making a chair. I had to learn from the beginning how to use most of the hand tools properly and sharpen them. We touched on a lot of things that week: history and design aspects of the chair, intro to the various forms, properties of the woods used, lots on hand tools.....I could go on and on. And very much unlike my shop.....no machine noise and no saw dust. Sixteen woodworkers chopping away and you can hear conversations across the room.

One of the major aspects which particularly endears me to this craft, is the friendly, relaxed atmosphere at the school....and the people you meet. The staff, the other students and the tool makers who stop by the class to demonstrate their tools, all feed into this great excitement that builds as you work your way through your first chair. A number a guys in my group were signing up for more classes before the week was out. This can be addicting!

The Institute offers 7 different classes which cover the various forms the Windsor chair takes. They include the sack back, the fan back, the side chair, sack back settee, writing arm, continuous arm (my favorite), a rocking chair and the Y2K (year of two kids chairs) millennium class where you make 2 children's chairs in one week. The Institute also offers a "Knights of Windsor" program which requires you take in any order, the sack back, continuous arm,side chair, fan back and one elective.This program will give you the range you need to become a pro.

Mike Dunbar is a funny and likable guy. It's a family atmosphere at the shop where you will get to meet his wife Sue, son Michael, and 2 dogs whose names escape me at the moment. He'll slow the pace down from time to time with anecdotes and personal stories from his past experiences. I advise anyone taking the class to take lots of notes, as your head will be swimming with all the information you'll be taking in during the week - it's easy to forget a lot of the important stuff several weeks after leaving the class. On top of all this......you get to go home with an amazing piece woodwork. Students are also offered the class chair made by Dunbar at a reduced price, there's only one so enquire early.

You may not be surprised when I tell you that I was one of those guys signing up for more classes before the first week was out. I plan to stop when I'm inducted into Knighthood......I promise.

For more information, please visit Mike Dunbars site on the web
at www.thewindsorinstitute.com, or call (603) 929-9801

Michael Tulloch

Back to the Gazette

Contact Us | Homepage
We encourage all our visitors to send us
their thoughts, suggestions and complaints.