40 Chairs and a Barrel

by | Apr 29, 2023 | 13 comments

I have just returned from a road trip to Michigan with my friend Bill Anderson.  The trip had a dual focus: deliver 40 chairs and learn to make a barrel.

This by far the largest chair order I’ve ever gotten. What fun! I’d take another job like this tomorrow – it’s so much easier building forty identical chairs than bouncing from job to job, trying to keep track of styles and finishes.

Forty chairs and a Ford.

We were excited to travel: Bill and I used to teach together at the John C. Campbell Folk School fifteen years ago, but haven’t traveled together since. Bill has a great sense of humor.

We’re off! 40 chairs wrapped in blankets and stacked on each other – they fit perfectly in a large Uhual trailer.

On arrival, Bill immediately headed to the shop….

….where he found a plane to work on.

Chuck Andrews teaches at Tillers International, and at his shop where we were. He is a very generous fellow – he even made us each a pair of cooper’s shaves while we were there.

To make our barrels (actually they are 5 gallon pins; a barrel is a 50 gallon cask), we measured….

…and laughed…

…and shaved…

…and hammered…

… and stared…

…at misspelled machines.

Then with a grimace and a grunt, we assembled our barrels. With our barrels done, we headed north to deliver the chairs. The roads got smaller, and smaller, and smaller…

… until nothing but miles of glorified tractor-paths remained. The stop sign added a reassuring touch.

Photos of the chair customer’s hunting camp weren’t allowed, so we high-tailed it to Detroit and the Henry Ford Museum.

Henry Ford was friends with Thomas Edison and moved Edison’s entire complex of buildings to Detroit (or really Dearborn). Edison came along and made sure everything was set up accurately. This is his line-shaft machine shop…

…where Bill immediately found a grinding wheel to look at.

I’d like one.

The museum has a Daniel’s-type planer, the first successful mechanized wood jointer, invented in the 1830’s. It leaves distinctive arcs on the work, like subtle circular-saw marks.

They have Windsor chairs and 18th century steam engines, the first duplicating lathe and enormous trains, and the car that Kennedy was shot in.

But the most powerful thing for Bill and me was the bus that Rosa Parks was arrested in.

The Henry Ford would take days to see properly, so overwhelmed, we ate some fabulous Mediterranean food and headed south.

We stopped at Curtis Buchanan’s shop, where he showed Bill his new Writing Arm Chair plans (to be published soon). After a fabulous salmon dinner and a good night’s sleep, we headed home, exhausted.

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Adrian Wallace
1 year ago

Being from Michigan I’m thinking “Kid Rock” or “Ted Nugent”

David Rachita
1 year ago

I appreciate the camp owner’s desire to keep his property off the map, but are you able share how he’s using 40 chairs?

1 year ago
Reply to  David Rachita

He is building a dining room for his buddies who have little abodes scattered across the 10,000 acre site; the chairs will be around a enormous dining table.

1 year ago
Reply to  elia


1 year ago

Great post Elia! Wow, 40 chairs ! you’ve mastered the art of mass production. Next up, 2 weeks vacation in the Caribbean

1 year ago
Reply to  Randall

Yes! Three weeks in Italy for my delayed honeymoon.

1 year ago
Reply to  elia

That’s what ahm talkin’ about!

Paul Saffold
1 year ago

A great post, Elia. So often it is easy to forget to take photos until it’s too late.
Nice that you were able to combine so much sightseeing in to it.

1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Saffold


1 year ago

What a trip, Elia! Really enjoyed the post.

1 year ago
Reply to  Dave Fisher

Thanks! You should take a trip down south sometime and stop by for a visit.

Sam Coleman
1 year ago

Very inspiring road trip! I don’t know which part of it makes me the most envious – being able to make 40 identical chairs, hanging out with master coopers, visiting the Ford museum, checking out the “ghost hunters paradise”, or Curtis’s salmon feast! Thanks for sharing, Elia!

1 year ago
Reply to  Sam Coleman

Thanks! The trip was great.

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