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Newsletter – Summer 2012


Welcome to my latest newsletter – now in a new format to give you better links and hopefully more of interest.

The layout may not be quite as smart as before, but hopefully the new features will more than offset this.

Also new is the association with my other website www.travisher.com.

It seems sensible to write to everyone in one go as hopefully there will be crossover in interest.

The last few months have been very busy, with many chairmaking courses, the first shows of the season and lots of tool sales. Thank you to all of you that have purchased from me in one way or another.

I have two more courses to run before a summer break and I have all sorts of plans to develop new ideas in that time.

On with the news…

James Mursell

James Mursell

Bodgers Ball 2012

As you may remember from previous newsletters I have become increasingly intrigued with the pole lathe. I attended the past two (2010 and 2011) annual gatherings of the Association of Pole Lathe Turners and Green Woodworkers known as the Bodger’s Ball. Having had a go on several pole lathes I was determined to make my own and to enter fully into the activities of the Ball.

Have a look at the video from Sean Hellman (http://seanhellman.blogspot.co.uk/) which gives a good overview of what went on at the Ball.

It was held at Hawkchurch on the Devon / Dorset border an a site overlooking the sea about 5 miles away at Charmouth. The site was waterlogged on the Thursday with most people due to arrive the next day. Luck was with us. The ground was free-draining sand and the sun came out Friday morning and combined with a stiff drying breeze all 400 members were in place for the start on Saturday morning. During the days the sun never went in over the whole weekend.

The weekend consisted of many activities and displays that could be watched and entered. At the heart of the show were two marquees. One contained the craft competitions; where members could enter chairs and many other objects that they had made from green wood, in 10 classes. Every person had a vote for the first three places in each class.

Demonstrations of different aspects of green woodworking were scheduled throughout the two days.

On Saturday night there was a huge communal meal followed by a speaker and on Sunday morning there was an auction and announcement of the results of the competitions, followed in the afternoon by the log-to-leg racing.

If this sounds like fun, why not join the APT&GW and come to the Ball in 2013?

Pole Lathe and Racing

My lathe was originally designed as a bobbin lathe with the twisting bobbin providing the return stroke. However, although it worked, it was not very satisfactory and I converted it to springs. My new father-in-law produced a bundle of galvanised springs that he had left over from his days of manufacturing milking parlours and these worked a treat. Using a wooden sleeve, which could be slid from side to side of the springs, the springs gave a very positive action to the lathe.

It was made of softwood and plywood and was in no way a thing of beauty! I felt that a coat of milk paint toned it down a little, but this was not universally appreciated by the traditionalists! Anyway it worked.

My next task was to learn to use it. I had watched Ben Orford very carefully winning the log-to-leg race in 2011 so had some idea, but it took a while to get the hang of it. I tried to turn a couple of legs most days in the weeks running up to the Ball and my fastest time was 13.5 minutes – a long way from Ben’s 2011 winning time of around 9.5. The result was a pile of legs of slowly improving standard – not much use for chairs, but a worthwhile investment!

It was my ambition to enter the log-to-leg race, not to threaten the experts’ times but just for the fun of it, and to show that an electric-turner could turn his hand to an alternative method.

The Ball was held in an area of Beech woods and at that time the pale green colour of the new leaves was superb. Beech logs had been provided from the estate and these proved to be dramatically different from the ash that most of us were used to (and I had been practicing on).

The growth rate was incredible with growth rings 2-3 times wider that I was used to and a density that seemed to be about double the normal ash. It also proved to be tough to split and hard to shave and turn. A novice’s excuse you may think, but the winning time was about 30% longer than in 2011.

I became involved in an ad hoc team for the group race and we all learned a lot from the experience and came in a creditable 4thout of 6.

My real focus was saved for the individual race. Adrenalin is a wonderful hormone and there was no time to feel tired. Ben Orford won, as usual, in just over 13 minutes and I came in 3rd at over 15 minutes. A pleasing result.

Ben very generously showed me his tools and some of his techniques after the race, so with more practice, a better choice of tools and pole lathe #2, I hope to run him a little closer in 2013.

Original pole lathe with bobbin drive
Spring-powered lathe at the Ball
The racing legs. Winner of the individual race at top-right.

Pole Lathe Mark 2

As previously noted my first lathe was not a thing of beauty. There was too much wood and as usual for a first project it was wildly over-engineered. Plans are now in hand for a much improved model – an Aston Martin as opposed to an articulated lorry. Not a flighty Ferrari, but solid British engineering! Expect to see photos in the next newsletter.

New Side Chair

In addition to the log-to-leg racing at the Bodgers Ball there is always a marquee devoted to competitions. All turnings have to be made on a pole lathe. I developed this new chair for the ‘side chair’ class and I’m pleased to report that it won the class.

As it was well received I will now offer it as one of the chairs that can be made on an introductory course at The Windsor Workshop using green wood, but not yet the pole lathe!

Comb-back side chair made on pole lathe


New Side Chair Options

The range of chairs that can be made on the introductory course is now as follows.

bow back
new comb
minimalist comb
bar stool
high chair

Please note that the standard course chair uses tulipwood for the seat. The chairs shown here have cherry or elm seats. The two woods are optional extras on the courses and depend on availability.

The dates available for the remainder of the year are as follows:

June 18 – 22 Introductory
 July 2 – 6 Introductory / Intermediate
September 3 – 7 Introductory
 September 29/30           Weekend Stool Course
October 22 – 26 Introductory
November 5 – 9 Introductory
November 19 – 23 Introductory / Intermediate
December 10 – 14 Introductory

Advanced Class – 12-16 March 2012

Inserting wedges in arm

Once a year I organise an advanced course for people that have already made several chairs and wish to push themselves to make a substantial chair over 5 days. Sometimes this involves turning components prior to the course, but in this case everything was made during the week.

The chosen chair was one that I designed a couple of years ago and which has appeared in previous newsletters in its standard form and as a writing arm chair.

The long spindles were made using rounders on the lathe, with the tenons at each end made by hand using a drawknife at the bottom and small spokeshave at the top.

This is a large chair with many components and everyone completed it by Friday afternoon although final trimming and finishing was done at home. The makers came from far afield, including Denmark, Newcastle and the Midlands and all chairs returned safely home!

I am beginning to think about next year’s chair, so if you have any thoughts I would welcome your ideas.

Inserting wedges in arm
The end of the course

Financial Times – How to Spend It


At the end of April, the FT had an article about Windsor chairs in its exclusive How to Spend It magazine and The Windsor Workshop had a good mention towards the end. The front image was of Katie Walker’s Windsor rocker that I have written about before. This chair had a new woven seat. I am pleased to report that I made all the spindles!

One of the other chairs mentioned was made by the son of fellow Sussex Guild members – a small world.

I had hoped to be able to show you a PDF of the article with photos, but although the FT were happy to let me have a copy for a month they wanted £1,400 for the privilege, and that did not include the photos!!

This link has a great image of Katie’s rocker and the article and there are links to the other makers mentioned.

This article seems to have come from a group of designer makers that went on a greenwood course with Gudrun Leitz last year to make new designs in a traditional way. They have generated so much publicity over the past 18 months, all positive for Windsors.

New Phone Opens up Possibilities

For the past few years I have been looking for a justification to buy a smartphone. I must have been one of the last to succumb, having made do with a £10 bought from Amazon. However my daughter solved my problem by pointing out that if I wanted to get into Facebook / Twitter / blogging etc. then a phone with camera and internet would make it easy cutting out the need to use the camera, transfer it to my computer and then upload it.

Having taken a while to get used to it, I am now hooked and am almost at the stage of being unable to survive without it!

Keep up to date with what’s going on at The Windsor Workshop and travisher.com at http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Windsor-Workshop/259337807462405

Leather Case for New Phone – Lois Orford, leatherworker

I have mentioned Ben Orford already (maker of my travisher blades and speedy pole lathe turner), but his wife Lois makes wonderful things in leather. A talented couple!

After keeping my new phone in my back pocket for a few days and feeling that it was suffering I had the brain wave of asking Lois to make a pouch for me to fit on my belt. A couple of weeks later and at a reasonable price I was the proud owner of a leather pouch. The phone is safe and always to hand.

If you need anything made of leather why not contact Lois?

Exhibition of Windsor Chairs at West Wycombe Park

The show is now over, but I was lucky to visit on the penultimate day to see this unique collection of chairs displayed beautifully in a spectacular house. The house was used for filming The Importance of Being Earnest starring Colin Firth.

Michael Harding Hill, author of Windsor Chairs, organised the exhibition along with Bob Parrott. Many of the chairs appeared in his beautiful book so it was with a curious sense of familiarity that I viewed them.It was a testament to the quality of the photos in the book that there were few surprises when seen in the wood.

Accompanying the exhibition was an excellent booklet, again beautifully illustrate. Sadly they are not currently for sale, but Michael Harding Hill may be persuaded to print some more for sale. If he does, it will be well worth buying. Mine will live on my bookshelves as a fully-fledged member of my Windsor library. If they become available I will let you know.


I will be attending a number of shows over the summer and autumn and would be delighted to see you if you can come.

9/10 JuneSussex GuildParham House, Storrington, West Sussex
17 JuneMilland Rural FairMilland, near Midhurst, West Sussex
25-27 AugustSussex GuildPashley Manor, East Sussex
22/23 SeptemberEuropean Woodworking ShowCressing Temple Barns, Essex
3/4 NovemberSussex GuildHurstpierpoint School, West Sussex
1/2 DecemberSussex GuildMidhurst Rother College, Midhurst, W. Sussex

Already this year I have shown at the Yandles spring show; The Bodgers Ball; and the Floral Fringe Show. All have been worthwhile and I hope to be able to repeat them next year.

Fan-back Chair Made from My Book!

The other day I had an email from Ray Stericker from Ontario, Canada to let me know that he had completed a fan back chair based on the plans in my book.

He modified the superstructure and used simpler turnings throughout, and his wife was thrilled. He is about to begin the remaining chairs in the set!

It is always gratifying to hear that one has encouraged more chairmaking around the world and I celebrate the fact that Ray did not feel constrained by the plans and made his own modifications.

I am not good at following other people’s plans and prefer to use them as a starting point for experimentation.

The result is far more your own chair. Keep experimenting!

Travishers to the Corners of the Earth!

Sales of travishers continue to surprise me in a good way. I have shipped to Moscow and Israel recently along with the usual destinations of America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and of course the UK.

The website www.travisher.com is proving successful in selling outside the UK and look for my next website soon: www.woodenspokeshave.com This will be designed to promote my regular spokeshaves and its launch should be in good time for an article on using wooden spokeshaves that will appear later in the year in the US magazine Popular Woodworking. More anon.

Travisher Wood

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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.