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Newsletter – February 2013


Christmas and the New Year seem long gone now, but we are still in the grip of winter. The recent snow was very inconvenient, but the rain has been the real problem this year. I have never known the farm to be so wet for so long. Our free-draining sandy soil is saturated and can absorb no more and the animals are cutting up the fields badly. However, it is still warm and dry in the workshop and lots has been happening there.

My thanks to everyone that signed up for courses both in the run-up to Christmas and since. The vouchers were very popular as presents, so bear this in mind for future gifts. I can provide them at any time. Tool sales were also good and blades and blanks have been reordered several times to keep up with demand.

Please see the new course dates for the remainder of 2013 below. Courses are frequently full so please book early in order to get the dates of your choice.

The change to making the double-bow chair the first chair to be made on a course has been a great success. The timing of the week has worked out well and everyone has been pleased with the result.

James Mursell

New course and show dates

With a good number of courses already full, I have now scheduled dates for the remainder of the year. Please click here for details

I expect to attend at least 7 shows this year and it would be great to see you at one or more. Please click here for details.


Blasted snow!

It was with great regret that the first stool-making weekend course had to be cancelled due to the snow. The snow set in on the Friday afternoon and with the forecast so dire everyone was rather relieved to stay at home.

In the end we were not stranded as expected, because the Parish Council had organised for a local farmer to grit all the small roads. This was great for us but not so good for the local shop and pub that do a thriving trade when everyone is snowed in!

There is a new stool making course 6/7 July and three more in the last 4 months of the year.

New drier for  wet chair components

One of the pleasures of my work is the opportunity to improve the processes in my workshop. Sometimes tiny changes give disproportionate satisfaction, particularly if the operation has never quite been optimal.

A couple of weeks ago I was standing by the radiator enjoying the warmth, with snow outside, when it dawned on me that this heat should be used to dry all the green wood components of the course chairs. It had only taken 7 years to have this insight!

When I first began to make chairs I dried my wet components in the airing cupboard. This worked fine, although quite reasonably my wife would often put a load of damp clothes in with the wood – frequently when it was almost dry! I then built a drying cabinet in one of my outdoor sheds, where we do the steam bending. This insulated box contained an oil-filled radiator to provide the heat and a flow of air was ensured by providing holes under the heater and also at the top of the box furthest away from it. Even in the coldest weather it ran at 45 C. A fan circulated the air and kept the temperature even throughout the cabinet. It worked great! However there was always a nagging awareness of the cost of running it for 3 days non-stop and flat out.

The new cabinet was used ‘in anger’ for the first time last week and was a great success. The bends were fully dried by Thursday morning keeping their intended shape when the strings were removed and all the other pieces felt very dry too. 

The stretchers are held in their own box with the tenon ends fully exposed to the drying air, while the fat part of the side stretchers is sheltered from all the heat and may retain a little of its original moisture. This arrangement gives just a little more shrinkage around the centre stretcher tenon when it is hammered into the side stretcher ensuring the tightest possible fit. In a similar way the top half of the legs is in the full heat while the remainder is on the window sill bathed in a less intense heat of the air that escapes between the draught-excluder strips holding the legs in place.

I placed a meat thermometer through the side of the box and shielded it from the radiant heat of the radiator and with careful adjustment of the through draught achieved over 40 C regularly. The drying effect is from the convective flow of air over the wood and this is a great improvement over the outdoor cabinet because the air coming into the box is already pretty dry.

At night I close down the second radiator and leave the boiler on constant. I feel confident that I am saving fuel overall.

Article in Furniture & Cabinet Making

This month’s edition (202) contains a new article that I was asked to write in their ‘Deconstructing’ series.

It is mainly about shaping the seats of Windsor chairs and making them comfortable.

Click here to see the article.

The hunt for ash

I am hunting for really straight ash for bending!

In the past I have always found one or two logs per load that will bend really well.

They have been straight and at least 10″ in diameter, however the last two loads from my supplier of the last 10 years have not bent at all even though they were beautifully straight.

The problem has been narrowed down to the fact that the wood was very slow grown having come from the notoriously horrible Gault clay.

I took delivery of a load of faster grown wood a few weeks ago and it had grown twice as fast (7 years per radial inch as opposed to 15 for the previous batch).

The wood was more dense and stringy when split and bent well. Now I must find more.

I have been to East Sussex 10 days ago looking at lots and have other more local sources to check out.

If you know of a good quantity of suitable wood that is available I would be grateful to hear about it!

Mark's High Chair

Mark has been to The Windsor Workshop probably more times than any one else. He has made all of my standard chairs, including a couple of advanced classes and now chooses his own projects. This year’s was fabulous – a high chair for a young relative. Here is a photo of the original that inspired him and the result. Judge for yourself how successful he has been!

Show and Tell!

During last week’s course Hannah brought in her long bows that she had made and shoots regularly. It was fascinating to learn about the different woods that can be laminated together to give the appropriate type of flex and to hear about how varying the shape of the cross section gives quite different properties. We got onto the subject while discussing the Olympics and although I don’t think I’ll be taking up archery myself, I can quite see the attraction particularly if you have made your own bow.

On the last day of the course Nick, who competes in triathlons and marathons, brought in his cycle trainer after I had expressed interest.

I had owned one many years ago, it was very noisy and took up a lot of room. Nick’s was compact and quiet! I have been running over the last few months (more in the next Newsletter) but had become frustrated over the last few weeks with the rain and snow which made it both unpleasant and dangerous.

This was the solution to my problems! I found a trainer at my local bike store and now have it installed in the workshop – perhaps I should call it the gym?! I was tempted by the very expensive machines whose resistance is controlled automatically by a computer and linked to videos of real cycle rides, but in the end settled for a basic model. Fortunately it came with a DVD of some hill climbs so I now play these on the laptop which sits on the bench in front of the trainer, pedaling hard listening to music on the iPod – Great!!

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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.