Taking a Seat in Boston

by Nick:

In December I had the immense pleasure of attending a 6-day Windsor chair workshop at Boston’s charismatic and venerated North Bennett Street School. Just touring the joint is like a trip to Disneyland, that is, if that particular playground of consumerism could teach one to build a violin or a high boy. My wife had a tour and a one-day class in book-binding, and now she’s hooked.

My own experience, in the capable hands of Peter Galbert (assisted by Tim Manney) was absolute woodworking nirvana. We started by learning how to rive green oak billets straight from the log, and then received a master class is tuning up and subsequently wielding a drawknife like an absolute Jedi on the shaving horse, shaving the oak lengths into spindles and bows to be steam-bent. Both Peter and Tim specialize in chairs and spoons, so their constant coaching of our fundamentals was poignant and gentle. By the way, one of the amazing attributes of working green wood with hand tools is that 8 woodworkers were going fully at it, but we could have normal conversation at all times, with zero dust particulate in the air to boot. If you have not used a drawknife and a spokeshave with a shaving horse, I urge you to get at it. It’s a great education in wood science and the immense advantages of knowing where you grain fibers are helping/hindering the engineering of your chair or stool or what have you.

Peter continued to wow us with his techniques for carving the seat blank from Eastern White Pine, and I can attest that when I successfully hollowed out my seat’s fanny region with an inshave, thanks to his tutelage, I openly wept for joy.

He then gave us a quick coaching session in turning the Hard Maple legs, which he had prepared for us, as there was not time for all of us to learn that operation as well. Even his methodology for drilling and reaming the tapered tenons from the legs to the seat is astonishingly innovative.

If Peter’s chair class was of the quality of instruction one can expect from the North Bennett Street School, then by crikey I will be back for more. Until then, I am relying on his EXCELLENT book, A Chairmaker’s Notebook, to build my own shaving horse. We’ll check in on that project next time, but for now I’ll leave you with this photo, and Mr. Galbert’s criticism: “Looks nice…needs more spindles.”

Peter Galbert himself demonstrating his use of a card scraper on a seat with a raking side light to emphasize the surface irregularities.