Chairmaker’s Notebook Review

chairmakers notebook

In short, it could be argued that Galbert’s book is about making Windsor chairs. But it is also much more. Galbert uses the two project chairs in the book to teach about understanding wood and wood movement (in a way that you will not find in a typical introduction to working with wood), tools and tool making, economy of process, and the relationship between the worker and material.

Galbert explains the process of making a chair primarily with hand tools, which makes the projects accessible to just about anyone. However, he doesn’t seem to be a purist (he does advocate a cordless drill and bandsaw). Overall, reading the book, you get the sense that Galbert is restoring the Windsor to its rightful place in the hierarchy of woodworking projects and rescuing the historic design from the multitude of (bad?) production examples we often encounter.

Fake Windsor2

These are a couple of production samples of a Windsor. After reading Galbert you notice details that make this chair look clunky and unrefined.

Fake Windsor1

Galbert probably could have taught the process of making a Windsor in about half the space you find in the book. In some books that’s what you would get. However, you will find that this book is a labor of love (I’m not sure if Galbert or Lost Art Press is making any money on this book). Galbert takes the process of making a windsor to an entirely different level in several ways.

The first is the illustrations. Every step of the process is hand illustrated to clarify the text. I would be fine with arguing that if you are not a bibliophile you could still complete a Windsor chair just by looking at the illustrations.

The second way Galbert goes to great lengths is discussing not only the tools required and how to use them but he also often explains how to make them or alter them in a way to make the process easier. One of the great surprises in the book is an entire section on drill bits and an included appendix on how to grind your own brad point bits.

Third is Galbert’s transparency with his own journey into making Windsor chairs. He has gained a lot of experience through mistakes that he is ultimately helping the reader avoid. More important is that encourages the reader take the plunge into making a the project chairs without the fear of similar mistakes.

One of the aspects of the book I personally appreciated is that while the book is accessible to all levels of skill, Galbert assumes some prior experience of woodworking on the part of the reader. This is clearly not an introduction to woodworking, which makes reading the book interesting.

To be honest, I have never had the desire to build a Windsor chair. I bought the book simply because I enjoy the quality of stuff that comes from Lost Art Press and because I like to stretch my knowledge of woodworking. True to most things from LAP though, I am inspired to try something that I probably wouldn’t have attempted before. Not only did the book inspire me to build a chair (or many) but I gained an understanding of many things (e.g., steaming and bending wood, turning wood, making tools, sharpening strangely shaped tools, thinking critically about processes, and solving problems just to name a few).

So that it will not appear that I’m placing my beak squarely upon Windsor posterior, I might add that there were some frustrations with the book (that I often share with other books) too. In particular, Galbert encourages building with green or air-dried material. This is something that is difficult to find. To be fair that’s not his fault and he does discuss some ways to work around this but you could be discouraged by thinking that the entire project would be a bust if using only kiln-dried material. So the frustration is simply that you get the sense that without the right tooling or right material you can’t build a chair. Galbert never explicitly makes this statement of course and leaves the reader to discover this challenge.

The only other disappointment with the book was a lack of background on Windsor chairs. Galbert did list some further reading sources in the back of the book that will certainly have this information, but for someone who is not versed in the history of the form it would have been a nice addition.

If you have an itch to build a chair, any kind of chair, you will thoroughly enjoy this book. If you are a woodworker on a tight budget you will appreciate Galbert’s insight into developing methods of completing the projects with minimal tools or by creating your own tools. If you simply want to have the question “How’d they do that?” answered, this book will give you the most complete answer you will find anywhere.

Even if you are not interested in building a chair at all, this book is still worth the price just for the education you receive on understanding wood as a material and following Galbert’s process for the project.

Lost Art Press hasn’t offered any kind of reader guarantee (that I’m aware of) but they could for this book. You can purchase your own copy of the book here.

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