I Spent Five Days At The Windsor Workshop ...

UKworkshop.co.uk

Help Support UKworkshop.co.uk:

El Barto

👍
Joined
20 Nov 2016
Messages
1,107
Reaction score
47
Location
North Hampshire
... And All I Got Was This Really Cool Chair

As the title says, I spent five days with James Mursell at The Windsor Workshop making his “Crown Windsor” and I thought I’d share my thoughts. As an already very good and in depth topic about what a week there looks like was once posted) by another user, I’ll just summarise/think out loud for the most part. Couldn’t resist posting a few photos though. This is probably a reflection of myself in this kind of situation as much as it is a review of the course so hopefully it doesn’t come across as overly critical.

Arriving at the workshop was the kind of thing you’d expect, pleasantries exchanged and introductions made. It feels great stepping inside for the first time; there are amazing chairs everywhere and the whole place is very big and light and well kitted out. The actual location is also beautiful, just outside the South Downs. Unfortunately for me, I was staying with family in Worthing so saw little of the surrounding country and lots of the INSANE traffic Worthing has to offer.

This was my benchmate John, he was cool. Throughout the week you and your benchmate provide assistance in various ways so I’m glad John was a clever and competent bloke:

ZcpSxdf.jpg


Each day was filled with its own unique challenges as new areas of the build were started and others added to or completed. One thing I realised I didn’t really like about these things (and should have anticipated beforehand obviously) is the social aspect. Banter and the like, I’m just no good at it. I’m not saying we should work in silence with our heads down like mindless drones, but faffing about wastes time. That’s purely my take on it; I know most people enjoy talking to one another and conversing but I’m terrible at it. I think it’s ‘cause I’m on the spectrum/a grumpy b*astard. After all, I paid to learn how to build a chair, not make friends! (That’s probably the meaner part of me talking but whatever). And with that in mind, the days were quite slow as there were total beginners in our group (one of them literally hadn’t held a drill before - not a criticism, just an example of the varying degrees of experience. I’m by no means an expert at any of this stuff but comfortable enough with hand tools). It did frustrate me at times but it’s testament to the efficacy of the course that that person left with an amazing, handmade chair.

But here also lies the problem, I think. The days are well oiled machines and for good reason - it’s a big undertaking to build these chairs in five days. But because of the importance of time it doesn’t leave much room for a solid understanding of what we were doing, or why it was done in a certain way, or history, or reasons behind things, or how this design was even landed on in the first place. I really wanted a deeper understanding of what we were doing which I don’t really feel like I got. I thought I’d be in a room full of would-be chair makers keen to learn about chair making in a broader sense (or at least the broader sense of Windsor chairs, or even a small part of Windsor chairs) but instead it was more about the chair we were making, there wasn’t much time for anything else. Perhaps there aren’t any five day courses like that and I was naive going into it, expecting too much. Like I said, I understand that in order to complete a chair like this in five days it needs to be done in a time efficient manner and compromises will be made. It doesn’t really matter in the end because all that information can be gained from books anyway.

I should point out here that James himself could not have been a friendlier or more patient chap. That he invited us into his home three times a day to eat and drink tea (the food was excellent and plentiful, btw) was incredibly generous. He’s a skilled craftsman and it was a pleasure to watch him work. He also has a really great dog. See photo above and below. The workshop has beautiful natural light in the afternoon, especially at this time of year.

UTpSEcb.jpg


The steam bending room. People seemed to find this step unnecessarily stressful, maybe because it’s such a foreign experience to bend wood and have it keep bending. However, James is an expert so obviously all we had to do was listen to his instructions and things would work out. It was only when there was too much haste and panic that things went wrong.

wxpARcV.jpg


Probably the least enjoyable part of the build was roughing out the seat with an adze. Possibly because it’s barbaric, possibly because it’s tiring. Ha ha. Next time I might try one of these lil guys:

iSMQ5Ob.jpg


For the sake of time, the legs are pre-turned by James. However, each spindle is shaped with a spokeshave, it took a heck of a long time but was a very good way to become more than well acquainted with the methods involved, as well as James’ excellent spokeshaves (I’m slightly regretting not picking up one of the smaller ones to take home). This photo shows them at the roughing out stage. Once they were dried for a few days we went back over them to clean them up:

5W5nPPd.jpg


And here they are before and after being run through the Veritas dowel maker. Very fun:

66cy8t5.jpg


One thing I should have done is take a dust mask or ask for one at least. You get so preoccupied with the tasks at hand that you don’t notice the massive amount of airborne dust floating around. By the end of the week I was coughing like an old geezer and now my chest hurts. Shoulda known better. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

James has had these neat plates made up to gauge the size of spindles against. I have a piece of aluminium exactly the same size knocking about so might do something similar, it was definitely handy:

q8tNvib.jpg


Here’s the chair just before the arm went on. I liked it at this stage ‘cause it looked like the Iron Throne:

DNsZu0h.jpg


Like I said earlier, I paid to learn how to make a chair and that I did very effectively. Everything was clearly explained and demonstrated and was in fact remarkably simple. Being shown James’ method for laying out and drilling holes for spindles by eye, for instance, was something one could easily misinterpret in a book. The chair is beautiful and the skills I picked up will be invaluable. But in the final days and afterwards I couldn’t help feeling a bit uninspired by the whole thing, a bit let down. I wanted to be wowed. I’d read so much from other people who’d been on the courses and came away full of inspiration and absolutely loved every minute of it and I felt like maybe I’d missed something that they hadn’t. Can’t put my finger on it. Either way, I thought I’d try and give an honest account of how I found it, and I found it ok. Below is a photo of the final chair. I’ll definitely be making another one.

nWqCqq1.jpg


I should reiterate that James’ travishers and spokeshaves really are brilliant. An absolute pleasure to use.
 

monkeybiter

Established Member
Joined
23 Dec 2009
Messages
3,055
Reaction score
4
Location
doncaster
Good chair, great write-up, and thanks for the refreshing honesty. Things don't always have to be superlative, good is good, and that's usually good enough.
 

El Barto

👍
Joined
20 Nov 2016
Messages
1,107
Reaction score
47
Location
North Hampshire
monkeybiter":21uggozr said:
Good chair, great write-up, and thanks for the refreshing honesty. Things don't always have to be superlative, good is good, and that's usually good enough.

Exactly. Thanks for the kind words.
 

Garno

Grumpy Old Git
Joined
21 Oct 2017
Messages
1,629
Reaction score
924
Location
Dronfield
As an new comer to all of this wood stuff I think it was a really good and well written review.

Oh and the chair looks great as well, I notice it has not been varnished is that choice or time restraints?
 

El Barto

👍
Joined
20 Nov 2016
Messages
1,107
Reaction score
47
Location
North Hampshire
Garno":ns2seeph said:
As an new comer to all of this wood stuff I think it was a really good and well written review.

Oh and the chair looks great as well, I notice it has not been varnished is that choice or time restraints?

Thanks Garno! It was purely a time thing, everyone gets sent home with an unfinished chair that they can then do with what they please. I expect I will be coating mine with Osmo.
 

thetyreman

Established Member
Joined
4 Mar 2016
Messages
3,752
Reaction score
833
Location
North West
regardless of how uncomfortable you may have felt at times, you did a cracking job on the chair, that's all that matters and I'd imagine you'd be able to make other ones now, look forward to seeing what you can make with the new found skills. You will look back on it as a 'turning point' in your life...
 

El Barto

👍
Joined
20 Nov 2016
Messages
1,107
Reaction score
47
Location
North Hampshire
thetyreman":3nzz3k6i said:
regardless of how uncomfortable you may have felt at times, you did a cracking job on the chair, that's all that matters and I'd imagine you'd be able to make other ones now, look forward to seeing what you can make with the new found skills. You will look back on it as a 'turning point' in your life...

Thanks Tyreman!
 

custard

Established Member
Joined
20 Aug 2008
Messages
7,117
Reaction score
581
Location
Hampshire
Mastering windsor chair making is a terrific achievement and you should be delighted with what you've accomplished.

=D>

It sounds like James Mursell has got it well worked out, giving you the core skills that you'd find difficult to experience at first hand anywhere else, but leaving you to figure out some of the other aspects, like spindle turning, that are well covered elsewhere.

In terms of bang for your buck you'd be hard pressed to beat windsor chair making, it's a very concise skill that you can learn quickly. But it still allows you to produce the "instant heirlooms" that will amaze friends and family! You don't need a great deal of tools, and even a not quite perfect early attempt will still be a real piece of furniture. The major hurdle for many aspiring makers will be sourcing the appropriate timber. Freshly felled, or even air dried billets of Ash and Yew for steam bending aren't the sort of thing you'll find at your local building supplies orientated timber yard.
 

El Barto

👍
Joined
20 Nov 2016
Messages
1,107
Reaction score
47
Location
North Hampshire
custard":5w1q0edx said:
Mastering windsor chair making is a terrific achievement and you should be delighted with what you've accomplished.

=D>

It sounds like James Mursell has got it well worked out, giving you the core skills that you'd find difficult to experience at first hand anywhere else, but leaving you to figure out some of the other aspects, like spindle turning, that are well covered elsewhere.

In terms of bang for your buck you'd be hard pressed to beat windsor chair making, it's a very concise skill that you can learn quickly. But it still allows you to produce the "instant heirlooms" that will amaze friends and family! You don't need a great deal of tools, and even a not quite perfect early attempt will still be a real piece of furniture. The major hurdle for many aspiring makers will be sourcing the appropriate timber. Freshly felled, or even air dried billets of Ash and Yew for steam bending aren't the sort of thing you'll find at your local building supplies orientated timber yard.

Thanks Custard! Yes he does have the course worked out very well. Like I said, we had a very nervous complete beginner in our group who I think had only used a screwdriver a few times before. So it was great to see her leave with a chair she'd made to surprise her family with. Amazing.

And yeah I agree that Windsor chair making is an excellent way to get into furniture making or woodworking in general. It really fills you with confidence to leave with an impressive piece of furniture after only a few days. James briefly covered wood selection but I think that's probably something that'll come with more experience down the line.
 

AndyT

Established Member
Joined
24 Jul 2007
Messages
12,028
Reaction score
515
Location
Bristol
Newbie_Neil":krc2rxc9 said:
Thank you for taking the time to do a wip, with a comprehensive write-up.

BTW, your chair looks wonderful.

Neil

Neil, would there be room in your compilation list of training courses to add James Mursell as a provider and link to El Barto's useful review?
(And Waka's review too? - a-week-in-the-windsor-workshop-parts-1-3-t84878.html )
 

ro

Established Member
Joined
18 Aug 2010
Messages
124
Reaction score
0
Location
New Forest
The more I look at your chair, the more I like it, especially the legs and that dramatic arm. Was the design yours or was it specified by James?

Oh, and did you have a go with the arbortech?
 

El Barto

👍
Joined
20 Nov 2016
Messages
1,107
Reaction score
47
Location
North Hampshire
ro":gqjsnl30 said:
The more I look at your chair, the more I like it, especially the legs and that dramatic arm. Was the design yours or was it specified by James?

Oh, and did you have a go with the arbortech?

Glad you like it. The design is by James, I linked to the original design above but decided to go for all spindles.

And the travisher was brilliant! It made quick work of shaping the seat. I took one home with me.
 

xy mosian

Established Member
Joined
21 Feb 2009
Messages
2,914
Reaction score
44
Location
West Yorkshire
El Barto":18aote85 said:
Banter and the like, I’m just no good at it. I’m not saying we should work in silence with our heads down like mindless drones, but faffing about wastes time. That’s purely my take on it; I know most people enjoy talking to one another and conversing but I’m terrible at it. I think it’s ‘cause I’m on the spectrum/a grumpy b*astard.

I think you must be a distant relative of mine! A problem I do not like but seem unable to sort out.
I enjoyed your forthright review, and Custards comments on the selection of training point by James Mursell. A very nice chair is the result, don't leave it too long before making another.
How green was the timber used? Was it actually wet, i.e. dripping or just damp to the touch?
If you are going to shave spindles I can recommend a rasp to form the shouldered tenons, there are other methods of course.
Good looking chair, well done.
xy
 

El Barto

👍
Joined
20 Nov 2016
Messages
1,107
Reaction score
47
Location
North Hampshire
xy mosian":2mez29ox said:
El Barto":2mez29ox said:
Banter and the like, I’m just no good at it. I’m not saying we should work in silence with our heads down like mindless drones, but faffing about wastes time. That’s purely my take on it; I know most people enjoy talking to one another and conversing but I’m terrible at it. I think it’s ‘cause I’m on the spectrum/a grumpy b*astard.

I think you must be a distant relative of mine! A problem I do not like but seem unable to sort out.
I enjoyed your forthright review, and Custards comments on the selection of training point by James Mursell. A very nice chair is the result, don't leave it too long before making another.
How green was the timber used? Was it actually wet, i.e. dripping or just damp to the touch?
If you are going to shave spindles I can recommend a rasp to form the shouldered tenons, there are other methods of course.
Good looking chair, well done.
xy

Thank you, appreciate it. To be honest I don't know how green the timber was. It had been in James' timber store which is partially covered, but I'm not sure for how long.
 

Woodchips2

Established Member
Joined
22 Mar 2010
Messages
1,384
Reaction score
19
Location
Newton Abbot,Devon
[/quote]

Thank you, appreciate it. To be honest I don't know how green the timber was. It had been in James' timber store which is partially covered, but I'm not sure for how long.[/quote]
When I did a chair-making course the tree had been felled that morning :lol:
Regards Keith
 

El Barto

👍
Joined
20 Nov 2016
Messages
1,107
Reaction score
47
Location
North Hampshire

Thank you, appreciate it. To be honest I don't know how green the timber was. It had been in James' timber store which is partially covered, but I'm not sure for how long.[/quote]
When I did a chair-making course the tree had been felled that morning :lol:
Regards Keith[/quote]

It wasn't quite that fresh! Where did you do it?
 
Top