After Open Wire Live last week in Amana, Iowa, we are happy to be back to the electronic question-and-answer format. (Yes, we loved hugging you in Amana. No, you didn’t smell too awful. And it’s OK about the drool.) Also, people tended to duck every time I yelled “Open Wire!” when I was asked a woodworking question.
So here we go.
Here’s how it works: Type your question in the comment field. I will post my answer. It is that simple.
Today we’ve released the revised edition of “The Stick Chair Book” on better paper and at a lower price than the original: $47. In addition, the pdf of the book is now a free download forever. No need to register or give up your email for any spammy marketing techniques. Just click this link and it will download to your computer.
Of course, we hope you will order the physical book. Like all our books, it is made in America with a sewn binding and cloth-covered hardbound boards. But if you can’t afford the hardback, or you aren’t sure if stick chairs are for you, download the pdf and (I hope) enjoy it.
If you forget about this blog entry, the link to download the pdf is on the product page for the hardbound book – right at the top of the description.
The revised edition of “The Stick Chair Book” is 10 percent shorter than the first edition, but it contains the same information. The same techniques. The same five chair plans. Same dork-a$$ sense of humor. During the summer, I rewrote the entire book to streamline the language and fix a few typographical and factual errors. (Why did I do this? The answer is on page 17 of the book.)
The print job of this press run is particularly spectacular. It is gratifying to see the images in the rich colors I intended. Pandemic shortages forced us to use a paper for the old edition that was very expensive and not very vibrant.
Last week, the county inspectors said we could start occupying the first floor and the basement of our new headquarters. And, after we add some more exit signs and emergency lighting, we will be allowed to occupy the second and third floors.
On Monday, we will move our fulfillment operations to the first floor of the Anthe building. John and his crew are going to set up the packing tables and picking carts. And set up some more shelving racks.
This is a big step forward. But there is still much to do. We need to get the second floor cleaned up so we can move the last of our inventory from Indiana. And our general contractor is now fitting out the storefront.
The storefront will be used for storage until we can get the second floor ready for inventory. But after that, we’ll start designing shelving for the retail space. We want to have the retail area done for Christmas. But that is (I’m guessing) stupidly unrealistic.
But “Stupidly Unrealistic Since 2007,” is our corporate motto.
I am happy to announce that we have a new video with the Wood Whisperer Guild that will launch next Friday (Sept. 15). The video “American Welsh Stick Chair” can be purchased with a pre-release discount. The video is $79 until it is released next Friday. (After that date, the video will be $99.)
This long-form video serves as an introduction to chairmaking for woodworkers who have no chairmaking tools but would like to build a chair. The chair shown in the video is a modified version of the comb-back stick chair shown in “The Anarchist’s Design Book.” It’s a proven design – I am sitting in it right now while drinking my morning coffee. It is comfortable, stout and (if I do say) nice to look at.
This video with the Wood Whisperer Guild differs from our two videos on chairmaking in many ways. First, it is a professional production that was filmed by a crew with lights, professional sound and multiple high-definition cameras. My dorkiness has been captured like never before.
Thanks to the production values and outstanding editing, the video is a pleasure to watch – even entertaining (and I hate to watch myself on screen).
Second, the approach I take with this video is to show you how to build a chair without chairmaking tools. All the little tricks, dodges and wheezes I’ve developed over the years to try to democratize and simplify the process. Don’t get me wrong, I love my chairmaking tools. But I understand that there are a lot of barriers to make the jump from making cabinets to chairs.
This video is me setting the bar to make a chair to the lowest position.
As a bonus, we include a chapter on how to saddle the seat with only one chairmaking tool – plus standard bench tools.
One more thing – the money. The proceeds from this video won’t go to me. Instead, they will help fund the restoration of the Anthe building (our new headquarters). We got the green light from Kenton County to occupy the first floor and basement. We now have got to get the second-floor storage area ready to get our fulfillment operation fully on its feet. So any purchase of this video helps our headquarters.
Many thanks to Marc Spagnuolo, Todd Tidwell and the rest of The Wood Whisperer Guild for agreeing to work with us on this video. I hope we get to do it again sometime soon.
The following is excerpted from “James Krenov: Leave Fingerprints,” by Brendan Bernhardt Gaffney. After years of research and more than 150 interviews, Gaffney produced the first and definitive biography of Krenov, featuring historical documents, press clippings and hundreds of historical photographs. Gaffney traces Krenov’s life from his birth in a small village in far-flung Russia, to China, Seattle, Alaska, Sweden and finally to Northern California where he founded the College of the Redwoods Fine Woodworking Program (now The Krenov School).
“I remember my first trip up north,” John began. “In ’24 I took a post as a schoolteacher in a small native village about two hundred miles up the Kuskokwim river. It was a dreary place, and the work was difficult. A teacher in Alaska is a sort of guardian to the natives under his care, being in fact doctor, minister, counsellor and sometimes even policeman. But he must first of all be the natives’ friend. For he can get along only if they trust him, and he in turn tries to understand the strange ways of his charges. There is a peculiar fascination and pride in this sort of work. It grows on one, as does the north itself.”*
*An excerpt from an unpublished short story “The Forgotten Stones,” by James Krenov, written in the late 1940s or early 1950s. Krenov had a habit of interspersing autobiographical details in the short stories he wrote in his 20s and 30s, often switching his name or details for that of his fictional character, as he does here for the character of John.
The Krenovs arrived in Seattle on Oct. 29, 1923, with $100 each, “just enough to be allowed to land,” as Julia notes in her memoir. An immigration document lists their place of residence on arrival as the Commerce Hotel. This inexpensive room in a hotel along First Avenue helped the couple stretch their meager funds. With a short amount of time before their pocketbook would be empty, the two of them set out to find work. Dmitri’s initial job in a factory left him with a finger injury and perhaps a greater wound to his pride; this employment was well below his qualifications as a lawyer. While working or out looking for work, the two left their young son at a daycare; the nurses complained that Krenov refused to nap or eat, and instead “stood on his cot and screamed at the top of his voice.” Julia decided that she had to find employment with a family that would allow her to keep her son with her during the day.
At The Young Women’s Christian Association of Seattle, Julia met a young woman who offered her employment as a live-in nanny and housekeeper, taking care of a young boy the same age as her son. Her pay for this work was only $7 a week, with room and board in the family’s home. Julia served their meals and, only after the family was done eating and out of the house, she would clean up then cook for herself and her son. The young woman’s husband was a traveling salesman selling footstools, and while their home and status was above that of the recently arrived Russian immigrants, they didn’t provide Julia with adequate food for her and her young son; Julia remembered spending most of her salary providing for her and her son’s basic necessities. Over the course of a few months, the young woman slowly lessened Julia’s pay until she and her family left Seattle to live with her parents, apparently broke after the failure of her husband’s business. Their house was repossessed by the bank, and Julia was back to looking for work.
Julia found a second job, this time as a live-in caretaker for a seven-room boarding house for factory workers run by a Norwegian woman. She and her son had no room to themselves, instead sleeping on a sofa in the parlor, only after the workers had finished their card games late in the evening. The environment was bad for a child, Julia thought, but her son was enamored with their Norwegian host. Krenov fell ill during his stay in the boarding house, which Julia blamed on the “horrid lavatories with faulty plumbing and obscene scribblings on the walls.” Krenov recovered from this illness, but Julia was desperate to find another option for the family.
While she was working at the lodging house, Julia met a sea captain in Seattle who made regular visits to Alaska. After hearing about their time in Siberia among the Chukchi people, the captain prompted Julia and Dmitri to seek employment with the Bureau of Education in Alaska. At this time in Seattle, work was short, especially for recent émigrés from Russia, who were arriving in droves; an appointment for permanent employment, especially one that capitalized on their experience from Siberia, was a saving grace for the family. After visiting Mr. W. T. Lopp, the chief of the Bureau of Education, Alaska Division, and taking a short class in nursing, the Krenovs received an appointment from Washington to an outpost in Sleetmute, a small settlement in the interior of Alaska several hundred miles up the Kuskokwim River. Dmitri and Julia were hired as representatives of the United States government in the small village, and Julia became the sole schoolteacher of the village. The pay and conditions were marginally better than those they had lived through in Seattle, but the family was together, having been separated during Julia’s work as a nanny and boarding house caretaker, and Dmitri and Julia were able to use some of their advanced education in service of the natives.
In the summer of 1924, Dmitri, Julia and their young son sailed up the Pacific coast to Bethel on the Caroline Frances, an old schooner operated by Captain Worth, who became Jim’s friend during the journey. The Captain entertained the toddler on the bridge, showing him the navigational charts and compasses. Already, Krenov was showing an interest in boats and sailing, one that took root and grew over the course of his childhood.
At Bethel, a large settlement and trading post at the mouth of the Kuskokwim River, the Krenovs switched from the schooner to the “prehistoric flat-bottomed boat ‘Tana’ with an enormous wheel instead of a propeller,” as Krenov notes in his later writings. After a month sailing up the coast, they were now sailing up the river on a delivery boat, which stopped along the way to deliver cargo and trade at the villages on the banks of the river.
“To take Jim to the North from China was a crime,” Julia wrote in her memoir. “But so was life in Seattle in the homes of strangers. We had to survive somehow, seize the opportunity offered, risky as it may be, make the best of it. Adventurers like myself had no right to have children.”
When the family arrived in Sleetmute in 1924, what they found was nothing like Uelen and the Chukchi, with whom Julia had found comfort and camaraderie. Sleetmute had been established as a trading post with the Yupik natives by early Russian settlers in the 1830s to trade for furs and locally mined whetstones and ore. In the century since its founding, the indigenous people in this area had traded much of their traditional homes, clothing and food for that of the traders and settlers, which were ill-suited to the region’s harsh climate.
“The warm igloos were replaced by poorly-built drafty log cabins,” Julia noted. “Instead of fur parkas and moccasins, they wore imported out-of-fashion coats made of cheap cloth, calico dresses and high-heel shoes.”
With those changes and exposure to the European settlers came tuberculosis. Of the 25 families in the village, Julia remembered only one older man who had never shown signs of the lung hemorrhages associated with the illness. In their first spring in Sleetmute, the entire population also suffered from influenza, and the family’s sole occupations were fetching water, cutting firewood and tending to the sick. Julia also cared for a young boy with meningitis in the same season. The illnesses were a seasonal occurrence, and though she had attended nursing classes in preparation for their assignment in Alaska, Julia was overwhelmed by the work. Her treatments were also subject to some scrutiny by the native people. That same spring, upon the outbreak of influenza and the case of meningitis, a local shaman arrived, but only after Julia had started the boy’s treatment with western medicine. The shaman refused to treat the boy, “once the white woman had been at the boy’s bedside,” and the 5-year-old died of his infection. By Julia’s account, the mournful parents had shown little faith in either the shaman or the Western medicine offered; their unfortunate position between the two cultures had left them without a comfortable place in either.
Sleetmute was not only set upon by the trials of “acculturation” and illness but also by natural disasters. The Kuskokwim river flooded its banks in the Krenovs’ second spring, due to a dam caused by an ice jam downstream from the village. For 48 hours, the villagers who had been in the town when the flood began had to float in an improvised raft. The flood killed one child and devastated the village’s buildings, having risen well above the windows of the poorly built structures; it took months to rebuild and rehabilitate.
The next year, a forest fire sparked by a forager’s careless bonfire upstream threatened the town’s existence. Sleetmute’s residents managed to save the town by digging trenches and using buckets of water to douse the flames that leapt from the pines and firs surrounding the town, but Julia remembers several weeks of uneasy sleep in the wake of the fire.
Julia’s main occupation at the village, when she was not functioning as an impromptu nurse and caretaker, was as a teacher in the one-room log schoolhouse. Though determined at her post, she was discouraged by the listless and inert pupils in her charge. After school, Julia made her rounds to the households of the village, caring for any of the sick and checking in with the families. Her presence was appreciated by the oft-unwell villagers whom she joined for tea, sitting on the floors of their log cabins.
Julia also took to recording and translating the stories of the people of Sleetmute, befriending an older Russian-speaking woman, Palageya Adrianova, whose family had settled in the village when Alaska was still a holding of Russia. It was Palageya who, at a young age, had been given the privilege of lowering the Russian flag at the settlement when Alaska was purchased by the United States from Russian in 1867, nearly 60 years earlier. The old woman spoke an old dialect of Russian alongside the local native language, and was able to share these old stories with Julia, which included creation myths, stories of famed chiefs and shamans, fables and local lore. These legends came to form a significant presence in her young son’s mind; later in his life, Krenov recalled these legends as an important part of his mystic considerations of the natural world around him.