I have just been looking at my last newsletter, written shortly before lockdown and have been amazed at the complete lack of awareness that anything untoward was about to happen! It seems so naïve now to have been promoting craft shows and courses through spring and summer.
Back in March, I took the decision to cancel all my courses through to July and to try to restart at the end of August. I am grateful to everyone that was booked onto a cancelled course for being so understanding and for the majority opting to transfer their bookings to later in the year. As a very small business, this made a huge difference and along with a Government grant, received via our District Council, it means that The Windsor Workshop is very much alive!
I feel exceeding lucky for the opportunities that Lockdown has presented. As a family, we have all been together, with both daughters escaping from London in time. This has been a most unexpected treat and one that is unlikely to be repeated. We have all been pounding the footpaths and roads keeping fit and our greatest family pleasure has come from an improvised table tennis table – see below. In the workshop, I have had time to explore new chair designs, develop new tools and continue to send tools around the world.
This newsletter is fuller than usual and I hope that you find plenty of interest.
I wish you and your families the very best for the coming months.
As mentioned in my introduction, my courses will begin again at the end of August. I am hopeful that in another 6 weeks, or so, I will have a much better idea of what will be involved in making this safe and therefore what changes will be needed. If you are already booked onto a course, I will be in touch nearer the time to let you know what to expect!
My ‘terms of booking’ are quite strict in relation to cancellation. However, in the current situation, I will be very flexible with deposits in the event of Covid-related cancellations by offering transfers or refunds. None of us really know how this will play out!
If you are considering enrolling on a course, you will find my course dates here: https://thewindsorworkshop.co.uk/chair-making-courses/course-dates-booking-and-prices/
Please get in touch if you would like any further information.
One Course During Lockdown
My teaching skills have not been completely unused since March as my daughter Caitlin made her first chair. She is on furlough and chairmaking was a welcome distraction. Having not picked up a woodworking tool since she made a 3-leg stool when she was 9, she made a superb job of it. Now both daughters have made a chair and I am a proud father!
Low Back Chair
Two former students contacted me to say how much they were enjoying their low back chairs, made at the beginning of the year. This was encouraging to hear as I have always felt that this would make a brilliant office chair.
“ Back in January I attended your low back chair making course. I thought you would be interested to hear that I am very much enjoying sitting in my chair. Due to current circumstances I have been working from home for the last two months and so have been sitting in it every day for more than eight hours. It is comfortable and ideal for sitting at my computer”
Joanna was on the same course. She must have one of the most desirable workshop locations in this country – and a great chair to sit on. She wrote:
“Like the rest of the world I am working from home and self isolating. Thought you might like to see how intrinsic to well-being is my lovely low back chair I made at the beginning of Feb!”
With craft shows being gatherings of lots of people, it is hard to know the effects that social-distancing regulations will have on the three shows that I am booked for, in the second half of the year. I sincerely hope that they will go ahead in some form. They are:
Craft in Focus at Hever Castle 10-13 September
Craft in Focus at Winchester Guild Hall 13-15 November
Sussex Guild at Midhurst Rother College 5-6 December
Tool Sales and Walnut Spokeshaves
While chair making courses have been the largest part of my business for many years now, I have been very lucky to have tools to sell in Lockdown.
If anything, orders have been coming in faster than before, as woodworkers spend time at home and in their workshops. Although there have been some issues with shipping, resulting mainly from clogged Customs at ports of entry, all orders have been getting through and sometimes quicker than usual!
I have spent a considerable time recently developing two new chairmaking tools. They are not quite ready for the ‘big reveal’ and you will have to wait for the next newsletter!
I have been able to reintroduce my small spokeshave and in future they will all be in black walnut. This wood, in conjunction with brass, is gorgeous and I hope to have the same combination for my medium shaves before too long. I have plenty in stock!
Ben Orford, who makes my travisher blades and who has featured in several newsletters, has been extremely busy making and selling his wonderful bushcraft knives. Apparently people cannot get enough axes too!!
It has been easy, during Lockdown, to feel that almost all businesses have closed down, given the almost complete closure of high streets. However, virtually all my suppliers have continued to work for most of the time, which has been great news.
If you have been on one of my courses, you will no doubt remember that I am very keen on Instagram. It has done my business so much good over the years and it is fun. It has also proved a wonderful tool to keep in touch with the woodworking community around the world, which is a real bonus when working alone.
I have heard the expression ‘gone viral’ (unfortunate in current conditions!) for many years now, but never experienced it myself until recently.
Steambending videos are always popular, but this one was extraordinary.
It was not even shot very well, with key parts cropped out of view, but the results speak for themselves: Reached 492,084 accounts; viewed 352,178 times; and liked 4,088 times
Click here to see the post
I have tried to analyse what made this particular video so successful, but my 2 conclusions are that there is a lot of luck involved and people are fascinated by bending wood!
As a family we must have one of the smartest table tennis tables in the country! Meals for courses are eaten at our Barnsley dining table, which was made for my father in 1957.
Early in Lockdown I remembered that I had 4 quarter-sheets of 12mm MDF and wondered if we could use them for table tennis. I taped the sheets together with blue masking tape and clamped on an existing net – we were in business! Although we had a few irregular bounces from the central seams, the standard of our play has continued to improve and we have had so much fun. The table is lit by the two floodlights that I used to use for shows!
This week we upgraded to two pieces of 25mm MDF, a little wider than before, but still below regulation size. This is a big improvement and we all feel that if we played on a proper table we would never miss, having become used to a smaller table!
Finally, I made my own bat from balsa wood, to give me a longer handle that suits my grip. Three layers made balsa plywood and shaped MDF scales finished it off.
Back in March, I began work on a couple of new chair designs that I found in my notebooks from about 15 years ago and felt that this was a good opportunity to try them out.
As is the nature of all new designs, some work and others don’t. I think that these two verge towards the latter category, but they were fun to make.
The ‘ball chair’ intrigued me as a concept. I found that I could easily source the beech balls from a maker in Germany (https://www.wooden-balls.co.uk/index.php) which now seems to have a UK website! This is the very first version and I have a second under construction at the moment.
The second, ‘ski jump’ chair is version 2 and I am much happier with this, though it would benefit from a different crest shape. If I am inspired, I will make another!
News from Students
Over the last two months, I have heard from a number of former students. The common thread was making the most of the spare time and getting on with projects in the workshop.
Steven has been to the workshop many times in the past 10 years and is a consultant in Newcastle. Below are snippets from our correspondence, giving a glimpse of how therapeutic a workshop can be in times of stress:
“I am thinking fondly of my times at TWW a lot at the moment as I retire to my workshop and work on two child’s armchairs – and a rocking moose which is sort of Windsor. It is such a relief from the Armageddon-management-planning atmosphere at work just now when I can just quietly travish away to myself. That last sentence has probably never been written by anybody before in history.”
The lucky recipient of the child’s chair is:
“The one-year old daughter of one of my neurosurgeon colleagues. I was revising with this one – it’s ten years I think since I made one with you…. I’m also nearing completion on a rocking moose – a rocking horse with antlers in effect.
My colleague, compared my workshop to his working environment with all the specialised tools. So, in summary, you are a brain surgeon in disguise!”
Philip finally got around to staining and finishing his English double bow chair that he made here a little while ago. He writes:
‘Well someone (my wife) suggested I put 6 teaspoons of Nescafe Gold Blend into a cup of boiling water, which seemed to do the trick!!”
Richard sent me this fascinating link which describes the construction of the bow in a Gothic armchair. This level of detail is not for everyone, but having never seen one of these chairs in the flesh, it was a revelation!
Edinburgh Tool Library
Jonny made a rocking chair on my last course before lockdown. He works for and is a key figure in a wonderful organisation in Edinburgh, where tools can be borrowed in the same way as books from a library. They also run courses and take on projects.
School project: https://youtu.be/aXgygRsiSjE