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Newsletter – May 2013


This newsletter seems to have grown like topsy! I only put them together when I feel that I have enough material to make it worthwhile, and such was the case when I began a few days ago. Now it has become the longest ever! Hopefully most of it will be of interest. Anyway that’s enough of an introduction…………


James Mursell

New Course Choices

Since the beginning of this year everyone coming on their first 5-day course has made the double bow chair. This proved to be a popular change (from the bow-back side chair) and almost all courses in the first half of this year have filled.

In order to provide more choice, I will in future also offer the continuous-arm chair as a first course.

This means that you have the choice of the double-bow and the continuous-arm chairs for first and second courses.

If you have made both chairs and you still want to make more then I will include the occasional ‘Expert’s Course’ with a more challenging chair. Otherwise, if there is a particular chair that you wish to make please get in touch and I will do my best to fit you into an existing course.

Course dates for the rest of the year for both chairs are viewable on the website.

Course dates

Booking Conditions

Since running my first course in 2004 I have deliberately kept the conditions of booking loose. Until the last 12 months this has worked very well. However in the past year there have been an increasing number of very late cancellations leaving absolutely no opportunity to fill the place. This is particularly frustrating if the course is full and others have already been turned away.

So, in future the following will apply:

The deposit to secure booking will be £225 for a 5-day course and £50 for a weekend.

The deposit is fully refundable, or transferable to another course, up to 30 days before the course. Thereafter it will not be refundable unless you transfer to another course and the original place can be filled. In this latter case the deposit will apply in full to the new course.

As a one-man-band I need to keep the organisation simple and fair to both sides. Larger organisations will have the resources to require payment in full in advance of the course, but that is too complicated to me to organise and anyway I would prefer to rely on goodwill for as long as possible.

10K Run for British Heart Foundation – Please Sponsor Me

Last autumn I ‘learned to run’. I had always found running a most uncomfortable occupation and could never understand the attraction, but now at age 55 I finally ‘get it’!

It took quite a while to be able to run one mile without stopping, but now I am out 3 to 4 times per week for 15 – 35 minutes at a time.

Anyway, last Christmas my daughter Rebecca enrolled us (as a Christmas present) in the Greenwich 10km run in August. The run is in aid of the British Heart Foundation and this is appropriate as I had some heart problems in 2010.

To date I have never in my life run more than 3 miles (5 km), so 6 miles (10 km) is quite a challenge and it is beginning to seem doable!

If you felt able to sponsor me, even for the smallest amount, I would be most grateful as it is for a great cause and it would provide even greater motivation to complete the run.

Donations can be made via my page at Virgin Money Giving (click for the link).

I will report on how I get on in future newsletters!

Thank you.

Sponsor me

The Hunt for Ash (continued……………..)

In the last two newsletters I have talked about the problems that I have had sourcing good ash.

In the early New Year I was approached by a land owner in East Sussex who had recently felled some fast-grown ash. I went to look at this, and other ash in the area, and agreed to purchase selected logs provided we could arrange haulage and sawing. The trees had been felled by a local college as a learning exercise for students and after several months they returned to the site to clear it up and haul my logs to a sawmill just a few miles away.

This was my first experience dealing with fellers, hauliers and sawyers as I had previously always dealt with a fully-integrated estate. How much more  complicated it is to co-ordinate these different people, especially 40 miles away from home!

Anyway I have just collected the sawn wood. It is planked for bending wood and also sawn into 2” x 2” squares for turning.

In addition to this source I arranged to purchase further ash ‘off the saw’ from a mill near Northampton. I spent a (very cold) day at the mill selecting logs of interest depending on straightness and speed of growth, and was able to choose individual planks as they came off the saw

Have a look at this video clip to see the saw mill in action: http://youtu.be/Y_IiT1NsktQ

It was fascinating to see how large logs could be sawn quickly and accurately by the right machinery. The process is just a scaled up version of what I have been doing for a number of years on my band saw. I could only manage to handle a quarter-round of perhaps 6” radius, while the mill made light work of 24” diameter logs!

Again I had some wood sawn at just over 1” thickness for bending, and the rest cut into 2” planks for turning. The latter was ripped into 2” squares by a multi-bladed circular saw.

My old Land Rover is clocking up the miles with two trips to Northampton and several to East Sussex and the stock of wood is now quite impressive: approximately 1 km of 2” x 2” – enough for a couple of years at least!

I have been advised not to stockpile too much because of the risk of Lyctus brunneus infestation. See: http://www.ensam.inra.fr/cbgp/insectes-du-patrimoine/?q=en/fiche-insecte/lyctus-brunneus

In the meantime a local forester had supplied me with two trailer loads of round logs to keep me going and these have been very useful particularly for spindle wood.

In addition I spent a fascinating afternoon with the head-forester of another local estate looking at ash and learning what might be available and communicating exactly what I need. On returning to his office he showed me records of individual woodlands dating back over 100 years where all the work and timber extracted was noted, including the names of those doing the work, the buyers of the wood and the amounts taken. Even the oak bark was sold for tanning.

All in all it has been a very interesting few months and I have learned a lot about sourcing and converting wood.

Ash Die-back disease (Chalara)

Members of Woodland Heritage, who receive the excellent annual journal, will already have had a chance to read an informative, but bleakly depressing, article about ash die-back; and also other articles about several of the serious diseases affecting other native hardwoods.

You can download all past journals as PDF’s, including the 2013 edition (with the dieback article) at:


The Simplest Windsor Furniture?

My father had a thing about making doorstops. They were always made of oak, had a handle morticed into the base and often relied on a piece of lead to lower the centre of gravity and make it stable. My siblings and I have a wide range of designs in our houses and they are used every day.

It was the recent realisation that they were the simplest example of the Windsor ‘form of construction’ that has made me think about them in more detail and to begin to make some of my own.

In fact, shortly after making my first ‘stops’, West Dean asked me whether I had any new ideas for a new one-day course and I suggested (slightly tongue in cheek): doorstops. There will be a course in December and it will be featured in the upcoming brochure and on the website.


The base can be made almost any shape, depending on the gap at the base of the door and a simple turned handle is all that is needed to complete the stop.

 Sussex Guild Show at Parham House, Storrington

If you are local to The Windsor Workshop I will be exhibiting at the Sussex Guild show at Parham House, Storrington on 22/23 June.

If you would like to come I have a small number of invitations available that will get you into the show and the gardens free of charge and I’d be happy to put them in the post to you.

Please email if interested.

4-leg Paradox

This was explained to me by Stefan, who has been on a number of courses:

If you have a 3-legged chair/stool then it will always be stable however uneven the floor. Each leg will support one third of the sitter’s weight.

If you add another leg then surely each leg will then support just 25% of the weight and the structure will be less stressed and hopefully last longer?

This will be the case if the floor is perfectly flat and the legs are exactly the right lengths. However this very special condition is only likely to occur occasionally. Most of the time the structure will be about to rock and when it does all the weight will be supported by just 2 legs – each supporting 50% of the weight!!

Not exactly obvious!!

Chairmaking in Alaska?

Last week I had a delightful correspondence with John, who lives near Anchorage, Alaska. Having read my book, he was considering making a few Windsor chairs and wished to discuss which woods to use:

“I live in Alaska and have experience in boatbuilding, wood carving and carpentry, but have never tried building a chair from scratch and would like to give it a try. If they would be suitable, it would be nice to try using our local woods. Here we have none of the woods used traditionally on the East coast of the US–no maple, white pine, ash, oak or hickory. So I’m wondering if you could tell me if what we have growing here might work for chairs. We live on 15 acres of mostly birch (Betula papyrifera) and aspen (Populus tremuloides). I don’t know if  the aspen would be much good in chairs, possibly for seats in the larger sizes. Locally, white spruce (Picea glauca) is also available from sawyers. Our White spruce seems very similar to White pine, so maybe it would work for chair seats. Also available are two species of cottonwood (Populus balsamifera & P. trichocarpa); the latter is  the largest of the two–up to 3′ in diameter–both related to aspen. I’m wondering if these might be useable for seats, but it seems softer than spruce.

 Our birch is the hardest of all our local woods and steams well. The native Athabaskan people used birch for making snowshoes and sleds, and would boil the ends to take the necessary curve. Based on its ability to steam bend, I’m hoping that birch might make curved arms, backs and spindles. It turns well, so maybe it might also work as legs and stretchers, but it is softer than maple. I made a carving axe head out of birch about 20 years ago and it has held up until recently, though it’s begining to get a bit loose at the head. I’d like to give these woods a try, but if you don’t think they’ll produce a serviceable chair, I’d just as soon not invest the funds in those nice-looking travishers or wooden spokeshaves you sell.”

I replied that birch was the obvious candidate for all but the seats.

John replied:

“I believe I might have given you the impression that I used birch in my boat building. Such is not the case, as it has very poor rot resistance. Spruce is the only wood available in this part of Alaska that I have found to be useable, and have used it for both planking and for sawn frames, using it where the trunk joins the root crooks to obtain curves. But I’ve often had to use imported woods as well, such as oak and plywood. Aboriginally it may be that birch was used in small parts, such as canoe thwarts, or even possibly as bent ribs, though these boats were not typically left in the water for long and were stored upside down to dry.

Southeast Alaska is much better endowed with wonderful woods, such as yellow and red cedar, both very rot-resistant. Yellow cedar, actually I believe in the Cyprus family, is quite hard when dry, steam bends well and I think it would make beautiful chair parts. Some of these trees come in huge sizes. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to obtain this wood in my area without great expense.”


“The snow is finally receding from the woods. We only have about 18″ to go but that’s getting pretty mushy and going fast, so I’ll be out looking for a nice, straight birch.”

What a great example of the power of the internet and how it makes the exchange of information so easy!

New Barn rises from the ashes

Back in September 2011 a barn on the farm mysteriously caught fire and was destroyed. It was quite an inferno with 20 large bales of hay and long lengths of polythene pipe. We had 7 fire engines for 7 hours and they had to return 2 days later when the hay caught light again!

Fortunately the barn was insured (NFU Mutual) and as I write the replacement is being erected. The new barn has a steel frame, will be fully enclosed with plastic covered sheeting and will be lockable!

We are using a local firm: http://ppcontractorsltd.co.uk/index.htm

The structure is very small compared with the size that the contractors usually build, but it will be very useful to have secure storage once it is complete. Just two people are putting it up with the help of a couple of lifting machines. Have a look at my video: http://youtu.be/Hs6As91ROuY

Talk about ‘boy’s-toys’. I particularly like the self-propelled cherry picker which had to be driven the last mile to the farm on the road because the transporter was too large to come through the village!

Making Your Chair Special

Earlier in the year Christian made a double bow chair for some friends. He had their names carved on the back edge of the seat. What a great job!

The carving was done by Will Spankie: www.willspankie.com He is in West Sussex – have a look at his sculpture.

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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.