Sometimes at the shows, I’ll set up a small workbench with a vise attached and demonstrate the carving I do on my chairs. People love it, and I get some actual work done. Remember that Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks movie where DiCaprio pretends to be professionals of all sorts? He plays a doctor, an airline pilot and more, forging documents all along the way. Hanks is the G-man that tracks him down. That’s the way I feel while at these shows. Truth be told, I’m a hatchet when it comes to carving. I expect to get a call from the FBI any minute saying, “Joe, turn yourself in and everything will be OK. No one will get hurt.”
I certainly can worry a shape out the wood if I have to, but, honestly, it often looks like a beaver got after it. The carving needed for Windsor chairs, I have gotten pretty good at, mostly from doing it hundreds of times. (I guess a blind hog finds an acorn once in a while.)
To be a good carver, I think you have to be proficient at drawing, which I’m not. Everyone else in my family has artistic talent; my oldest son is an accomplished artist. I’m a stick-figure guy, and I don’t mean my physique.
Thankfully, to be a good Windsor carver you only have to be good at layout and at recognizing the way a carving flows. The word “flow” is thrown around quite a bit, but it really is an important concept. And it’s just as hard to explain. Without getting all Zen, to me flow means your eye can follow a curve or a line smoothly without interruption. A drooping branch and the curve of a leaf are examples. Your eye tells you everything, trust it. (Fig. 1)
There is not a great amount of carving on a Windsor. What there is, however, is front and center. There’s no hiding it. When you sit in an armchair, your hands rest on the knuckles and the volutes on the crest rails are right at eye level. That means there’s no faking it! Just as you have to learn to trust your eye, you have to learn to trust your fingers, too. I carve the knuckles on a chair until they look good then I keep carving until they feel good to my fingers – no extra bumps or divots. I then stop. Some of my carvings end up a little big, some a little smaller, but not so your eye would notice the difference. They all flow.