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Newsletter – Autumn 2016


Autumn is here and I am back in the swing of chair making courses after a couple of busy months doing other things. I include a number of brief sections, including new course dates; upcoming shows (free tickets to download for Sussex Guild show at Midhurst); travisher and spokeshave news; a new chair; reports of chairs made by past students; and finally Mary Crabb and her WW1 shell baskets.

Hopefully, you will find things of interest!

With best wishes

James Mursell

James Mursell

Chair Making Courses: settee, continuous-arm.... and now Crown Windsor!

On my website, you will now find courses through to the beginning of July 2017. I have never planned so far in advance before and hope I am not tempting fate!

All the usual chairs and stool are available, but I’d like to draw your attention to two that are less familiar.

For those that have been before and can work quickly there is a settee course on 14-18 November. This is one of my favourite courses, busy from the beginning with 4 bends for each piece! If you have a spot in your house suitable for a compact 2-seater, this is your chance to make it! It will be at least another 12 months before I repeat this course.

For something completely new, come and make my Crown Windsor on 13-17 March next year. It is a wide chair and virtually everyone that has sat on it says that it is very comfortable, because of the steam-bent splat. This is definitely a relaxing chair. I think of it as ideal for reading the newspapers over the weekend. It is not designed for use at a table. Although it is quite a big chair, it is relatively simple to make and would be suitable for those with, and without, previous experience.

Windsor settee


I will be attending two shows in the remainder of the year and would be delighted to see as many people as possible! The shows are:

Craft in Focus at Wellington College, Crowthorne, Berkshire  RG45 6DY 28-30 October

I did this show for the first time last year and it has been moved a month later this year. This is a commercial show, run by the same organisation as the excellent Wisley spring show. There will be an extensive range of fine crafts to be seen.

Sussex Guild at Midhurst Rother College, Midhurst, West Sussex GU29 9DT 26-27 November

This is always a superb show in the run-up to Christmas and has become the largest event in the Guild’s calendar. I am helping to run it this year, so hopefully it will be as good as ever!!

New chair

Having taken the Crown Windsor to several shows and had it seen and sat on by many students, I thought I would develop the idea of using a steam back splat – this time in a compact side chair.

This is the result. At present it doesn’t have a name, so if you are inspired to give it a moniker, please let me know. I’d be most grateful!

This is version #2 and I think there is one more iteration required before the design is absolutely settled. All that will be changed is the front of the seat, which will come up to a point in the middle.

The chair is wonderfully light in weight and takes up very little space. I am pleased that the circular hole in the splat both ‘lightens’ the look of the chair and provides a great way of picking the chair up. If you wish to be all ‘Shaker’ then you could hang it on pegs on the wall……

The back seems to be very strong, thanks to the strut which is dovetailed into the seat, and like the Crown is very comfortable. So far it has been well received.

Once I have made the definitive version I will include it in a newsletter. I believe that it could be made on a 4-day course. Do let me know if this is of any interest (no commitments either way at this stage!).

Travisher article

My summer has turned out quite differently from how I planned it, thanks to an article in Fine Woodworking which extolled the virtues of my travisher! I had been warned about 18 months ago that an article might appear, but with such a long interval I had begun to doubt that it would ever appear.

I was on holiday at the end of July when my email lit up with orders, almost all from the USA. They have quietened down now, but over about six weeks I made and sold about a year’s worth of tools!! Thank you Fine Woodworking and Fabian Fisher, the author. I must also thank Ben Orford for keeping up with demand for the excellent blades which he forges for me.

At least I have been doing my bit for the balance of payments. The fall in the pound has certainly made my tools very competitive abroad!

Download article here!

travisher article
October 2016 Fine Woodworking copyright Taunton Press

Trav kit photos

Craig Regan, known as ‘seatsculpter’ on Instagram has recently posted a set of pictures showing the key processes involved in making a travisher from one of my kits. Craig’s resulting tool looks great and his images are very clear. I have put them on my website for aspiring tool makers to see. Thank you, Craig!

New Medium Spokeshave

After many years of making all my tools in hard maple, I finally branched out and have used black walnut and lacewood as variations for the medium spokeshave. Both look great, but my favourite must be the walnut. The colour goes with the brass fittings so well!

If you would like one of them, please order in the usual way and then email me with your wood preference. For the time being the price will be the same for all woods, though I can’t promise that this will not change in the future.

Walnut bodied medium spokeshaves

Work of Past Students

I have recently received emails from a number of past students including photos of their work. It is so exciting to me to see what is produced at home following one or more courses at The Windsor Workshop. I’m sure you will agree that there is some great work being done!

Charlie Payne

Charlie came on a course with his son back in 2014. He has been very productive since then. In a previous newsletter I included a picture of his 4 bow back. He has now finished a rocking chair – Peter Galbert’s excellent design I think.

Ian Goodall

Ian came on a course earlier this year and has just completed his first chair on his own. He also sent me a picture of an amazing row of sack backs from Mount Vernon – home of George Washington. I have been there, so have almost certainly seen them, but it was before I had been bitten by the Windsor chair bug, and so don’t remember them. If you have a long veranda and are a keen maker, this would be a major project for you…..!

Windsor Chairs in Israel

Erez came on a course at the beginning of this year to make a sack back. His first challenge was to get the chair home with him on the plane and that was successful having wrapped it very thoroughly in bubble wrap and cling film.

As there is no green wood available in Israel, Erez could not use exactly the same techniques, but he has just completed a charming Windsor bench made entirely from dry wood.

Phil Rhodes

Phil has completed 6 comb backs since attending a course in 2014. He has 4 more to go! Phil is by nature more of a straight-line/right-angle man, but has taken to the rather different nature of Windsor chairs with great success!

Mary Crabb project to make a WW1 shell basket

Mary Crabb with her turned shell former standing on its base with shaved splints on the bench.

Mary is a basket maker and she approached me a while ago to help her with a project recreating baskets used to protect shells in transport during WW1. Mary came for a day and used the lathe to make a former and a drawknife to make splints which are woven into the basket. In her own words, Mary describes the project:

“A couple of weeks ago I joined James for a day at the The Windsor Workshop to assist me with a project I’m working on. In the past year I have been researching objects relating to my Grandmother’s boyfriend, killed in France in 1916, with the aim of creating a collection of work incorporating facts and figures relating to their story. I’m a basketmaker and my work makes connections between traditional/contemporary basketry and textiles.

As part of my research I visited the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) to view a WW1 artillery shell basket in their collection. Shell baskets were used to transport shells to the Front either in a limber, behind a gun carriage or on horseback. My enquiry led me to become part of a project specifically researching basketry in the First World War, set up by the Every Day Lives in War Engagement Centre University of Hertfordshire and is funded by the Arts and Humanities Council.

The focus of my work at the moment is to weave a replica of the shell basket in the collection at the (MERL). The shell basket was woven in cane and willow around a wooden former, presumably made to match the dimensions of the shell. It has four wooden splints running up the side of it. The make is proving to be quite a challenge as I’m going to have to work much larger scale than I am used to, weaving with a type of cane, Kooboo, that I am not familiar with. Before weaving with the cane, I have to split it lengthways. This is a long process, done by hand, splitting with a knife before scraping the sharp edges. As I’ve already discovered, it’s a tricky material, that’s very hard on the hands and the process is very slow. Following weaving I need to add a leather cuff to the wide open end of the basket.

I requested the assistance of James to enable me, with his instruction, to turn a former using the lathe and shape the wooden splints using hand tools. Although I had used a lathe before, as a child, I had never used one for turning. I really enjoyed the process, and learnt a great deal in a short space of time. As I mostly weave with metal wire and fine flexible threads, handling wood was a change, but most interesting. Working from a design I had drawn up, James also produced a stand for setting the former on.

My day spent at The Windsor Workshop has not only enabled me to progress the shell basket project but also learn some new skills. It was a really great day. In particular, I really appreciated working alongside James – thinking aloud and sharing some of the questions raised about the making of the basket. Thank you very much!”

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Join my


all aspects of Windsor chairs & Windsor chair making

Delivered by email, each newsletter (4 a year) contains new course dates, Windsor chair making tips and other useful information.

*By subscribing you agree that James Mursell can email his newsletter to you. You can easily unsubscribe at any time.