MIKE DUNBAR CHAT
March 21, 2004 [EDITED]
Ellis: I'd like to welcome our special guest tonight, Mike Dunbar.
John_Weber: Hi Mike
adrien: hi mate
TomS: Hello, Mike
Carole_in_VA: Hey Mike
JohnV: Welcome mike, thanks for dropping in
Ellis: Mike, as you all know, is the man who reintroduced Windsor chairs to the woodworking world.
TomS: Thanks, Mike
Ellis: Please feel free to throw out any questions you may have regarding this classic furniture form or Mike's courses at the Windsor Institute or anything else that interests you.
TomS: MIke, I'd be interested in knowing if you are planning another chair book or an update of your other chair book?
Mike Dunbar: Hi Guys
Mike Dunbar: Nope. Writing books is a good way to starve to death. Saying that, I have started a memoir of 33 years as a woodworker.
Ellis: Hello, Mac.
TomS: You starve quicker as an author than a neophyte woodworker?
Ellis: Mike has been refining his techniques for many years.
Mike Dunbar: Many changes in the way we make chairs. Many really good ones.
TomS: I've heard that from those who have taken your class recently
doggie: Hey mike. I am steve knight. we did a little bit of communicating
TomS: the closest I've come to a class is back when you were teaching with the Conovers
Mike Dunbar: Tom, I nmever really starved making chairs. Only when I wrote books.
Ellis: How did you become interested in Windsor furniture?
Mike Dunbar: It was a real serendipity. I was a student earning a degree in French and I bought an antique Windsor (by accident) at a yard sale.
TomS: Mike, I meant me starving
doggie: I watched this Japanese craftsman making these chairs. He used a spoon-bottom plane for the final seat carving. I loved the way the seats looked.
Mike Dunbar: We use a very similar plane. The western term is a compass plane, derived from the old term "emcompassing plane," or one that went around curves.
doggie: But you smooth the seats afterwards. He left the nice plane marks. I thought it was nice and different they all met in the middle of the seat
Rick_S.__OH_: Mike, can a really novice woodworker be sussessful building a chair at your school? Also, in your experence, how hard is that first chair on their own at home afterwards?
Mike Dunbar: Rick, every class is about 25% novices. Never held a tool in their hands.
TomS: Rick S, have you seen Mike's book on chair making?
Rick_S.__OH_: TomS, as far as I know it is out of print, I haven't been able to find it anywhere.
TomS: You should take a look...it was the guide for my efforts
TomS: there are others out there as well
JLga: Try Powell's book store for Mike's book.
TomS: Drew Langsner has a book on chairmaking that looks good and is still available
dwight: Mike how critical is math to chair making? Angles etc.
Moses_Y._: Do you have any theories as to where the Windsor chair gets it's name from?
Mike Dunbar: No one knows for sure why they're called Windsors. Lots of old wives' tales, but these are mostly the equivalent of urban legends.
Joe_in_Lakewood__Oh.: Mike - do you still advocate the use of scary sharp? If so, what is the finest grit and type of paper you use? And, do you put a micro bezel/bevel on block planes?
Mike Dunbar: Yes, we developed sandpaper sharpening and still use it. What grit you use depends on the tool. I don't use microbevels. I never understood their point.
Ellis: What is it about Windsor chairs that is so intriguing to you and to everyone else?
Mike Dunbar: Windsor chairs combine exquisite engineering, comfort and design.
Mike Dunbar: If one started from scratch to create a new chair form, it could not be done any better than a Wimdsor. There is a reason why so many have survived 200 years, while we throw out today's chairs after about 10 years.
Nemo: Mike, what other furniture pieces do you get asked to build?
Mike Dunbar: Nemo, today I run a school. I don't make furniture for sale any more. The Windsor Institute takes good care of me and my family, but it is a demanding mistress.
thompson1600: Mike, what do/would you recommend for folks wanting to start making woodworking a career rather than just a hobby? How did you start out with marketing?
Mike Dunbar: Marketing is more difficult than working wood. It is its own set of skills. However, if you can't sell your work, you are not ion business. Or, won't be long.
TomS: Mike, how many antique Windsors are in your personal collection? And what is the oldest style you own?
Mike Dunbar: About a dozen antique chairs in my collection. I once had many more but lost them in a divorce. But I'm not bitter anymore.
JLga: Mike, is it possible to steam bend kiln-dried wood?
Mike Dunbar: It is possible, but very unlikely. Wood that has been dry-heated loses its ability to be plasticized.
JLga: How about air-dried?
Mike Dunbar: We designed out own steamer called the "Ultimate Steam Box."
Mike Dunbar: Go look in back issues of AW
TomS: JLga....what type of steamer do you use?
JLga: A piece of PVC with a pressure cooker. I've got two ss end caps and ss rods.
TomS: JLga...if you have air dried wood, you should be able to steam bend it...I would steam it at least twice as long
TomS: Also, have you made any discoveries about the paint history of these chairs? Is milk paint still your finish of choice?
Mike Dunbar: Still use milk paint. Great finish, Unlike anything else you've tried.
TomS: Mike, Do you still use BLO as a finish over the milk paint or has that been updated?
Mike Dunbar: Prefer Watco danish oil, rather than linseed. It has a little varnish.
Joe_in_Lakewood__Oh.: Mike can you explain the steps you take sharpening a typical block plane for use on end grain?
Moses_Y._: Mike, I have a book published in 1984 by FWW, Make a Windsor Chair with Mike Dunbar Is this your only book on Windsor chair building? I also just picked up Drew Langsner's book yesterday, and it looks pretty good too; I was surprised not to see you mentioned it more prominently.
Mike Dunbar: I wrote two books on Windsors. Langsner's book was published much later. A little hard to go back and mention it.
Moses_Y._: Mike I meant "mentioned in the book" more than you are; I saw one small reference to a chair you made.
TomS: Mike, are you in contact with other professional chairmakers and who do you think are the better ones out there?
Mike Dunbar: You've heard of professional courtisy? There is also jealousy.
TomS: Mike, I can see where they may be envious of your success
putterinyankee: Mr. Dunbar, have you made any more videos where you demonstrate the proper usage of hand planes? And the proper ways to sharpen them?
Mike Dunbar: I'm not surpised by all the questions about sharpening and planes. I and the fraternity to which I belong (woodworking writers) should be scandalized that we have let these skills be lost.
Stephen: What did you think of the opening sequence of the movie "The Patriot"?
Mike Dunbar: That was funny scene. I thought about writing Mel and telling him that if had studied at The Windsor Institute he would not have had those problems.
Mike Dunbar: Smiley face after that last remark
Stephen: The ship's carpenter in "Master & Commander" didn't know how to use an adze
Mike Dunbar: Havn't seen "Master and Commander," but Hollywood's attempts to portray woodworkers are laughable.
Joe_in_Lakewood__Oh.: Mike, why don't we see more of your articles in FWW?
TomS: Mike, do you do any woodworking shows these days?
putterinyankee: Is your Windsor Institute full of students?
Mike Dunbar: Putter, we teach about 650 people a year.
Moses_Y._: If a person doesn't have the time and money to go to your course, can they learn to build chairs by reading a book?
Mike Dunbar: I suppose. However, nothing beats having someone right on hand to get you through the tough parts. Otherwise, you bog down and never finish.
TomS: Moses, I think if you have some woodworking experience, you could just use the book.
TomS: I saw you in Cincinnati years (and years) ago...very informative
Ellis: Mike, what are the primary woods used in a Windsor chair and why?
Mike Dunbar: Windsor engineering requires three types of wood: Hard, crisp wood for turings; tough, flexible wood for the back; and soft compressible wood for the seat. One species of wood, bad chair.
JLga: What about cherry for the seat and turnings?
Stephen: I agree
JLga: Requires too much work in the research.
putterinyankee: are you always full or can just anyone register???????
LeeGrindinger: Mike, you said sharpening is a vanishing skill. Are fewer professionals able to sharpen or are fewer students appearing with the skill already in place?
Carole_in_VA: My mentor told me that if I didn't learn sharpening, I would never be a "proper" woodworker!
Mike Dunbar: So few people show up here able to sharpen, that we require that all our suppliers sell their tools sharp. Of course, that doen't help when they get dull later on.
Carole_in_VA: Well how can that be? Tools don't generally come from the factory already honed. Do people just use them "as is"?
Mike Dunbar: The inabilty to sharpen is a scandal. At no other time in history have the vast majority of woodworkers been unable to sharpen their tools.
Stephen: more people in the bronze age could sharpen their tools
TomS: Mike, is that due to a reliance on machines for every step of a project, rather than the handtools you use?
HeatherA: I have heard that you have a pretty specific list of tools that you recommend for classes. Can you get that list before actually signing up for a class?
TomS: Mike, is the list different than the tools used in your book?
Mike Dunbar: Heather. We have a general list that we send out when people inquire. The specific list goes out when people enroll. It is very specific with all our sources. So we don't spread it around until someone is serious enough to put down some money.
Dan_D: Everyone looks for the Holy Grail. Just pick a method and practice until you get it
Ellis: Do you use any power tools in the construction of a Windsor chair?
Carole_in_VA: I really got a thrill from buying two old Stanleys at a yard sale and cleaning and sharpening them. Those first curls were great!
Mike Dunbar: Yup. However, we use the tools for stock preparation.
putterinyankee: I was not aware that today's woodworkers were not able to sharpen their own tools. Personally I was taught by my Grandfather
Ellis: I think it's a continuum, putterinyankee. Everyone is somewhere on the curve, but the average ability keeps going down
Joe_in_Lakewood__Oh.: Make a video or two Mike on sharpening, I'll buy it! Put videos on a web site.
TomS: Joe, he's got one out. I have a copy from FWW
Joe_in_Lakewood__Oh.: I haven't seen a Mike Dunbar video. Is it on FWW's site??!
TomS: Joe, I got mine from that site, it may be available from Mike's site--I haven't been there to look, but I would think that is only logical
TomS: Dan, have you been looking at MY sharpening bench lately?
Dan_D: no, should I::smile
TomS: 'cause I've got all sorts of 'concepts' out there
LeeGrindinger: Mike, why "scary sharp" if traditional methods were adequate?
Mike Dunbar: Sandpaper sharpening is so easy, everyone gets it. Sharpening is a skill that is best learned from someone else. Barring that personal connection, nothing beats an easy-to-learn system.
Gene_D: If I may, Q. for LeeGrindinger... I thought I remembered reading somewhere you always honed a back bevel on your chisels and gouges. At approximately what angle?
LeeGrindinger: Gene, I hone a microbevel on both faces of carving tools...just 3 degrees or so steeper than the grind.
Mike Dunbar: I don't use a back bevel.
putterinyankee: My grandfather used to say, if your chisels and block plane blades are sharp enough to shave the hair on your arms with, then they are sharp enogh to do a good job Is this true? Do any of you think?
Mike Dunbar: I stopped testing my tools on my arm when I watched a guy peel off a patch of skin. Messy.
Carole_in_VA: I don't have hairy arms to test them on! LOL. Thank goodness!
Hhundley: Hair is a valuable commodity to me
Dan_D: I usually test on my fingernail. See if it catches
Stephen: fingernail test works fine
Moses_Y._: Catching on a fingernail I think is a good test; how do you see if your tools are sharp, Mike?
Mike Dunbar: With all the people we get through here, we see all kinds of things happen.
TomS: Mike, I think we test them on our arms for our own satisfaction, not out of an actual need
Mike Dunbar: I test them on wood
JLga: I like using bamboo skewers to test.
Mike Dunbar: If an edge will shave hardwood end grain, it's sharp.
putterinyankee: Maybe its not the proper way to test because truthfully speaking I do have some pretty funky strips where hair used to be
Stephen: if it will shave softwood endgrain it is even sharper
TomS: putterin...I've sort of let that step go...I can pretty much tell without the hair loss
JLga: Anyone use the Tormek?
TomS: JL...can't afford one
TomS: that is a lot of cash for an edge
crackerjack: Mike,do you use felt wheels and compound on edges?
JLga: It does great on chisels and plane blades.
Mike Dunbar: I do, but note that most people over-buff. It is like seasoning, just a little.
TomS: Mike, what is the most common mistake your students make...either physical or in the thought process?
Mike Dunbar: It is frequently the thought processs. Making a chair is complicated. We really focus on process.
Carole_in_VA: What wood do you prefer for the backs of your chairs, Mike?
Mike Dunbar: Red oak
Ellis: How long would it take you to make a chair start to finish, Mike?
Joe_in_Lakewood__Oh.: Mike why don't we see more from you in FWW?
Mike Dunbar: Send an email to FW editors saying you want of me.
crackerjack: I'll do that Mike
Joe_in_Lakewood__Oh.: I have and will.
putterinyankee: Maybe I'm old fashioned but I was taught on an oil stone and I still have excellant results so unless somthing better and faster comes along I think I'll stick with the old oil stone.
Mike Dunbar: Stick with oil stone. The problem with sharpening is most people can't. That is why sandpaper is so useful. Everyone gets it right away.
putterinyankee: Wow, thank you Mr Dunbar. That means a lot comming from you.
Dan_D: putter, if what you are doing works for you (whatever method it is), just keep doing it::smile
JLga: What about water stones?
Mike Dunbar: Water stones, too are great. if you can use them. They are useless if you can't. Everyone gets sandpaper.
TomS: putterin'...what ever works for you is the best method
Gene_D: Mike I especially liked your workbench article
Mike Dunbar: Thanks, Gene. It is a great bench.
Stephen: Was the green paint derived from copper base or mixed of ocher and blue?
Mike Dunbar: It was verte gris
Ellis: Mike, do you ever take liberties with the design of Windsor chairs?
Mike Dunbar: Windsor design is a place where angles fear to tread. It is awfully hard to improve on perfection. There is a reason why we are still making these chairs 200 years later.
Mike Dunbar: read angels
Stephen: good answer
TomS: Mike, you've stated woodworkers are poor at sharpening, what would you think is second in the list of 'lost skills'?
Mike Dunbar: The ability to use planes. Scandal.
Ellis: What about cross-sectional sizes?
Mike Dunbar: Parts are so interrealeted it is a real problem to try and change one thing. It sets off a cascade of changes.
Moses_Y._: Mike, Do you still look forward to getting up and going to work after thirty years of building chairs?
Mike Dunbar: I still look forward to going to work. I have a class tomorrow and can't wait. Getting 18 people through a chair in five days is still a rush.
Ellis: What did you find out about the angles of the seat vs. the back of a Windsor chair, Mike?
Mike Dunbar: I don't know how to give that a short answer. However, the old guys had it all figured out. There is nothing new in chair comfort in 300 years. Won't be until the human body evolves
JLga: What are you using for your seat wedges?
Mike Dunbar: Oak wedges.
Ellis: When finishing with milk paint, do you put your first coat of milk paint on the bare wood?
TomS: Mike, to add to Ellis' ?--how much do you sand or is it all scraping?
Mike Dunbar: We only use a scraper on the bench. We do final sanding when the chair is done.
TomS: Mike, on all the parts and to what grit?
Gene_D: Mike, If you were making a set of chairs for a client who had several BIG people in the family (read 6'4" 350 400 lbs.) Would you then change design, material, joinery, or just scale ?
Mike Dunbar: Gene. I wouldn't make the chair.
TomS: Mike, on average how much intervention do the instructors have in a chair?
TomS: how much is student work and how much help is in each chair?
Mike Dunbar: Depends on the student. If someone is working well on their own, we just check up. If some one needs lots of help, he or she gets it.
putterinyankee: Whats the price of the course $$$
Mike Dunbar: $650. Includes all materials
TomS: Mike, is there anyone who doesn't make a chair, or gives up?
TomS: Is that allowable or is there a sense of completion that someone will finish the work?
Mike Dunbar: Not yet. Everyone makes a chair.
Mike Dunbar: go to our web site thewindsorinstitute.com
putterinyankee: are you booked ahead for quite a while ???
JLga: Mike, have you every heard of the John C Campbell Folk School down in NC?
Mike Dunbar: Yup. Heard about JC Folk.
mike_in_nc: Mike, why did you choose to specialize on Windsor chair making or is this just one aspect of your career in building?
Mike Dunbar: I have made many pieces of furniture. However, Windsor is the girl I came in with. I dance with her.
JLga: They are also the prettiest girl.
Mike Dunbar: Next to my wife.
Ellis: Is the demand for Windsor chairs as strong as ever?
Mike Dunbar: Stronger than ever and growing like a weed.
TomS: Mike, are you compiling a list of 'horror stories' or humorous moments for publication sometime in the future?
Mike Dunbar: We do keep a "Wall of Shame" for major mistakes. Some are pretty funny.
TomS: I think that your years at the helm would be a good read...
Joe_in_Lakewood__Oh.: Ellis asked before Mike, but how long does it take you alone to build a chair start to finish?
Mike Dunbar: When I was in production I mae a chair in 10 hours. From log to chair.
TomS: Mike, that is moving throught it pretty quickly...mine take about ten days
TomS: but then, I already have food on the table
JLga: Anyone have an opion as to which looks better between Fanback and Birdcage?
Mike Dunbar: That's like asking whether single malt is better than a martini. I love them both.
TomS: The birdcages, to me, signal the beginning of the end of Windsor design
TomS: I personally like the fanback only because it represnts an earlier time period
Stephen: How old are forstner bits?
Mike Dunbar: The predessessor of forstners is the old center bit. The madoern forsterner dates to earlier this century.
Mike Dunbar: modern
Darrell: Stephen: Forstner bit was patented in 1874
Stephen: thank you Darrell
Carole_in_VA: So great deal of ww experience is not a prerequisite for attending your classes??? Is there any level of proficiency that you require?
Mike Dunbar: We take lots of beginners. About 25% of every class. They do fine. I don't have to unlearn their bad habits.
TomS: Carole, thinking about making a chair or two?
Carole_in_VA: Thinking about learning lots of stuff, Tom. Just short of time! LOL
Joe_in_Lakewood__Oh.: Thank you for this Mike and Ellis.
Rick_S.__OH_: Mike, I know your school is in or near a resort area. What are the best times to avoid the "season" as far as local lodging?
Mike Dunbar: If you book in advance there is no bad time.
TomS: Carole, better get on the stick then...no time like the present
JLga: Lots of good places to take classes!!
TomS: Carole, you should read Mike's book on Windors chairmaking...it is a great resource
Carole_in_VA: I will Tom. My library is growing daily.
Ellis: What about milk paint, Mike? I heard it wasn't used in the 19th century.
Mike Dunbar: Milk paint has been around since the classical Greeks. However, it was not the original Windsor paint. That was lead and oil. Can't use lead. Milk paint is an excellent simulation of lead and oil.
Stephen: Milk paint doesn't show up in the historic record
JLga: How much sanding or steel-wooling are you doing between coats?
Mike Dunbar: A good prep eliminates a lot of rubbing bewteen coats.
Stephen: casein paint and whitewash are early
Carole_in_VA: Why do they call it "milk" paint?
Mike Dunbar: It is made from milk
JLga: Made with milk curds.
Carole_in_VA: Really? I didn't know it actually was made from milk.
TomS: Carole, you should just go ahead and sign up for a class tonight...
TomS: You know you're going to sometime...
TomS: Mike, how many coats of paint do you recommend?
Mike Dunbar: 2 - 3. Depends on what effect you are seeking.
TomS: Mike, how about maintenance of the finish? Do you recommend oiling after a couple of years or so?
Mike Dunbar: You can if you wish, but I never have.
Ellis: Do you ever do any antiquing types of treatments?
Mike Dunbar: I don't. A couple of my guys have worked out some pretty convincing methods.
JohnP: Mike, thanks for your time. Enjoyed the visit. Goodnight all. Ellis, you get a star.
Moses_Y._: Thanks for your time here tonight Mike, and I also want to thank you for the excellence of your work; whenever I see a picture of a Windsor chair, your name pops into my head. I'll have to take your course sometime and put my chair on your "wall of shame" collection ;) Good night.
TomS: Mike, I want to also thank you for the years of inspiration...again, it is hard to see a chair and NOT think that you had a hand in it somewhere
Mike Dunbar: Thanks. Tom
TomS: that is quite a legacy that you will leave when you finally hang up your tools
Mike Dunbar: I hope it will be years from now. However, I am proud of what I did. I never planned on it turning out this way. However, lots of good things happened to me.
-Greg: Mr. Dunbar, thank you for your patience in our questions, and your time! Good night all!
Ellis: Mike, it has been a pleasure to have you here with us tonight. I hope you had fun and that we can count on seeing you again sometime.
Stephen: Thanks Mike
Carole_in_VA: Thanks for joining us tonight, Mike. Maybe someday I can meet you in person at the Institute. Good night all!
Mike Dunbar: Thanks Ellis. I hope you'll all visit our web site, thewindsorinstitute.com. It will tell you a lot more about what we do.
TomS: good night all
loftguy: Thanks Mike and Ellis
Mike Dunbar: I had a great time. If any of you are passing through Hampton, NH, drop in.
Ellis: Great. Thanks to you all for coming to the chat. Please carry on if you like. The room is open 24/7.