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Newsletter: Spring 2015


This first newsletter of 2015 has turned out to be a bumper edition! There are new course chairs to tell you about, along with items on steam boxes, kilns, milk paint, jigs, oatcake-driers and mini-people in the workshop! Please read on……

I am delighted to report that courses for the first 4 months of the year have all been full, but there are vacancies in May and June and I have just added dates for the autumn to the website.

My first shows of the year are at Stanmer House (with the Sussex Guild) in March and at Yandles in April. These are near Brighton, Sussex and Martock, Somerset respectively. I hope to meet many of you there and at other shows throughout the year.

Best Wishes

James Mursell

James Mursell

New course dates, prices and choices

With the introduction of the child’s armchair and the rocking chair, there is now a choice of four chairs that anyone can make and two further chairs (rocking chair and settee) that can be made with at least one previous course under your belt.

There is now a range of prices ranging from £525 for the child’s armchair to £655 for the settee.


Rocking Chair course

There is something very appealing about rocking chairs – for me they conjure up a picture of rocking gently on the veranda with not a care in the world. Sadly we don’t really ‘do’ verandas in the UK, but we can still have a rocking chair.

Here is my new chair, designed to be made on a 5-day course by those that have taken a previous course at The Windsor Workshop.

Everything is made of ash apart from the seat. As usual the ‘standard’ seat is tulipwood, but alternative woods are usually available for an additional sum.

This chair takes up less space than many rockers. This is deliberate as space is often at a premium. The maximum dimensions are: W 22.5″ x D 28″ x H 38″

The chair has an easy ‘action’ giving the sitter a sense of security (you will not be nervous about being thrown out the front or back!) and it encourages plenty of movement.

In terms of construction, the rockers and crest give new challenges compared with the double bow and continuous armchairs.

The first course will be held June 15 – 19 and the cost is £605

Child’s Armchair

Another new course is to make a child’s armchair. This English style chair is ¾ size and as the chair is smaller than most, there will be time for students to shape the legs on the lathe.

This is a successful design that I have brought back after a gap of about 5 years.

The arrival of children and grandchildren often leads to the thought of making something for them, but usually the parents are too busy and it is left to the grandparents to oblige! It will last a young child many years and will no doubt be handed on to the next generation in due course.

The whole chair will be made of ash and the price is less than the full size chairs at £525.

The next course will be held May 25 – 29

Sussex Guild Show - Stanmer House 21/22 March

Our first show of the year is at Stanmer House, near Brighton http://thesussexguild.co.uk/sussex-guild-events/ on 21/22 March. This is a brand new show for us and if you live locally I hope you will consider visiting.

Please print them out and bring with you to the show.

sussex guild stanmer

Milk Paint

If you have already been to The Windsor Workshop you may remember my fascination with painting chairs in the American tradition (we usually forget that the first English Windsors were painted green).

Over the years I have bought milk paint from suppliers in the USA such as The Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company. They produce excellent powdered paints in lots of great colours.

I have recently been encouraged by a former student to make my own paint using the simplest ingredients.

My first full size project was to paint my new rocking chair.

Milk paint is usually based on lime, but I decided to have a go with borax instead as it sometimes works better with difficult pigments such as blues.

The ingredients are: borax, whiting (finely ground chalk), Marvel (dried milk powder) and pigment. I bought the borax from eBay, the whiting and pigment from http://www.cornelissen.com/ and the Marvel from Tesco!

I found the book Natural Paint Book: The Complete Guide to Natural Paints, Recipes and Finishes most helpful. As I write there are second hand copies available on Amazon for £1.52

The ratio of ingredients is not at all critical. My recipe for the rocking chair was:

Borax                                              20 g
Powdered milk (Marvel)        35 g
Whiting                                           85 g
Cadmium deep red pigment   25 g

This produced more than enough for two coats of the rocking chair.

My next experiment will be to use lime instead of borax and to try alternative pigments.

milk paint ingredients
Milk paint ingredients (L to R): whiting, milk powder, pigment, borax.

New Steambox

With the new steam room in place and with new courses such as the settee and rocking chair, which involve lots of steam bending, I decided it was time to make another steam box. This was to be only the third that I have made over the past 19 years and I was determined that it would be a ‘Rolls Royce’!

With the help of my step father in law we put it together one day just before Christmas.

The new box is insulated with 25mm foil backed foam and this is sandwiched between two layers of plywood. We made up panels which overlapped each other and could be simply screwed together. The insulation was surrounded in each panel with treated 25mm thick batten.

I made a removable ‘plug’ for the far end and a hinged door for the front. This would allow the box to dry thoroughly once a steaming had been finished. My plan to raise the box to the vertical when not in use, would create a chimney effect to aid the drying.

The steam box sits on a gas-fired Burco boiler and the steam enters the box directly through a hole in the base.

The new box is much bigger than the previous model and heavier too. This meant that I needed to take some of the weight off the boiler, which stands on three plastic feet, so it is supported at one end by the frame that allows it to stand vertically and at the other by a removable/adjustable support.

There is enough space inside for at least two sets of components and three at a pinch. This means that I can have two winch-based bending jigs in operation at the same time and also a crest or rocker bending jig as well.

There is a removable ladder-like structure that keeps the pieces being steamed well off the floor of the box and hopefully where the temperature is virtually 100 deg C.

To date the success rate has been very good and a considerable improvement on the old box. I’m not certain why, but am very pleased with the outcome!


The impetus of new facilities has also led me to rebuild my drying cabinet for use during courses and also to build a new unit to dry seat wood.

Drying Cabinet

For many years I dried chair parts in a cabinet that was in an open shed, heated with an oil-filled radiator and with the air circulated by a household fan. This worked, but was extravagant, requiring the heater to be on flat out for 48 hours. It was not helped by often low outside temperatures and also damp air entering the kiln to replace the hot moisture-laden air leaving in a controlled way from the top.

The next development was to build a cabinet over the central heating radiator in the workshop. In the winter months the radiator was on for the daytime anyway, so reducing the need for extra energy consumption. Temperatures of 50 C were regularly achieved. This cabinet grew over time, as more space was required, but there were too many leaks for the hot air to be really economical.

The new cabinet is now powered by an oil-filled radiator as my oil fired boiler has given up the ghost, and it is very well insulated with a hole at the top to allow air to escape.

When filled with damp wood the temperature reaches about 45 C with the heater on full, but after 18 hours the heater can be steadily turned down and the temperature then rises to just over 50 C and this can be maintained with lower and lower heat inputs.

I assume that the large amount of evaporation in the early hours uses up the heat in the air, so lowering its temperature. As the rate of evaporation slows so the cooling effect is reduced, resulting in a reducing need for heat from the heater to maintain a high temperature.

This pattern was not clear on the old cabinets as there was too much leakage and loss of heat through the sides.

Mini People

My daughter Rebecca has just produced a wonderful collage of shots taken in the workshop. These are not the obvious images that I would tend to take but quirky pictures including ‘mini-people’ (designed for train sets etc.). She is a keen photographer and this was a project that she took on to increase her skills and also to get to know a new camera.

The resulting collage will hang in the workshop and I was delighted to purchase it from her to help with fundraising that she needs to achieve to spend the next three months in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania working with the charity Restless as part of the Government’s ‘International Citizenship Scheme’.

Click on the collage to see all the individual images on my website.


Windsor Oatcake Drier – yes really!

Last week my wife and I visited Bath and looked around No1 Royal Crescent http://no1royalcrescent.org.uk/ . It was well worth the visit to see how wealthy people lived in the mid-1700’s.

Inevitably I kept an eye out for Windsor chairs and there were a few in the ‘lower’ rooms. One was of particular interest in the kitchen and I will try to find out more about it, but most interesting was the ‘Oatcake drier’.

This was made in the Windsor fashion and apparently the oatcakes were balanced on it and placed in front of the fire to dry.

I find it hard to believe that it was made for this purpose, but cannot think of anything else that it could have been designed for. I know that if I was to design an oatcake drier, using the Windsor method, it would look nothing like this!!

Any thoughts?

Windsor oatcake drier
Back of Windsor oatcake drier
Poor image of oatcake on stand.

Dave Cripps child’s chair

Dave has attended several courses over the years and here are some images of his latest child’s chair. I am certain the new owner will be thrilled.

Strap bending jig

Along with the new bending/steaming arrangements I have upgraded my bending straps.

Years ago I had a sheet of 1 mm stainless steel cut up into 1” wide strips. These have worked quite well, though if the bend develops a twist for any reason the straps will stretch more on one side that another and they will then not lie flat! One can live with this for a while, but it is not ideal.

This time I wanted to virtually eliminate the stretching, so I opted for 2 mm strips. This made life more difficult as guillotining itself was likely to produce a twist, I arranged for them to be laser cut.

If you have not experienced the difference in stiffness between 1 and 2 mm strips, it is quite dramatic!

The next challenge was to bend the ends to make end blocks for the straps. I had used a hammer and vice for the 1 mm, but even that was a tricky job and drilling for a bolt was not easy.

In the end I had a jig made out of 20 mm thick stainless. This is in three parts and holds the strip tightly so that it can be hammered into shape and drilled while still in the jig. A great improvement and I have not yet stretched a strap during bending!

Conditioning Kiln

In addition to drying turned, shaved and bent parts for chairs I also need to be able to dry 2” thick seat wood. I have been concerned about using freshly purchased kiln dried seat wood that has been sitting in an open shed for an indeterminate length of time before it has had a chance to equilibrate with the environment in my dry workshop. In addition I have several trees, sawn to 2”, that have been drying outside for the past year and which will need additional drying before use.

I have now built a kiln that will take 22 seat blanks (11 x 4 ft lengths). It is 6’ x 4’ x 2’ in size and is powered by up to three 80 watt tube heaters. It is also fully insulated with 25mm foil backed foam.

With outside temperatures of around 5 C the inside will easily reach 32 C with three heaters, 27 C with two and around 18 C with just one.

Circulating the air is a major concern in order to maintain an even temperature throughout. The heaters are directly under the wood and there is a duct built in one end of the cabinet for the cooler air to return to the bottom. I believe this would have been enough to create a circulation, but I have built a 3 watt computer cooling fan into the duct so that a circulation is now guaranteed.

Over about 4 days, when fully loaded with freshly bought kiln-dried wood, the inside humidity drops from about 70% to under 60% with two heaters running and the temperature and humidity then seem to be stable at around 58% and 28 C.

The energy usage is very modest and I am happy to leave it running over an extended period. I look forward to experimenting with my air dried timber in due course.

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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.