Dear Mr Filbeck,
I received your book ‘Making Ladder Back Chairs’ yesterday and I am just so thrilled. I have read half of it already! I don’t know how I got this far in my chair making adventure without hearing your name except that maybe because I am in Ontario Canada and have focused on Windsor’s and also studied Sam Maloof’s beautiful work. I have spent a few weeks and trips to see Ellia Bizzarri in North Carolina ( he was Curtis Buchanan’s apprentice) to learn windsor chair making and also I learned from an Ontario welsh stick chair maker many years ago. I don’t know why, but green woodworking and chair making has always been my passion. And yet still I struggle to make a good chair with joints that last. Oh how I wish I had someone nearby to learn from. BUT your book is such a help just the same. Specifically it is my wish to ‘make a difference’ with my chairs. I really want to find a way to do what I love WELL ENOUGH to make money or auction them to make money and help others. Of course I need to make a great chair to do that. And i’d like to share my skills with other women because we don’t have many role models. I sincerely want to thank you for sharing your life long knowledge in such a beautiful and inspiring book. And to also say how inspired I am by the ways you have made a difference with your chairs. Thank you so much for your generosity and excellent book. I especially like that you wrote a special note. Wishing you and your wife all the best!
Chris & Amy
“It is truly a rare treat to have the opportunity to learn from Russ Filbeck. He was able to guide us through the process of making his 2-slat ladder back in oak even though we each had very different level in skill. Amy was a complete novice to woodworking, while I had a bit more experience. We were able to go through each step and complete our beautiful two chairs all while enjoying the company of this master chairmaker and his friends and family in the neighborhood. Of course, Carol’s baking certainly helped us get through the grueling cold and rainy San Diego mornings! If you have a chance to take the time to learn from Russ, we highly recommend you grab the next opportunity to do so.”
Shane is our over-achiever .. he made 3 chairs in 10 days! Here are some of the highlights …
“To say this was a class is a total injustice. This was an experience! I enjoyed every moment of it. What did I like best? That’s a question that can’t be answered. Its like asking me which one of my daughters do I like best. Each one is different, but I love all three. So it was in making the chair, many different aspects, but all experienced with pleasure.
Teaching is an art and Russ is a master. Be it by oral communication or by observation or by actually doing, Russ employed all three and the time flew by. We spoke of many things besides wood working which went into creating for me a bond of lasting friendship. My having served in the Navy helped and subtly told me why his shop is so neat, neat and compact. Everything has a place and everything in its place.
I was particularly impressed with the knowledge possessd by the mountaineers of Appalachia who probably could not read or write, but knew about how trees grew and the importance of grain orientation to maximize structural strength. Also undercutting of dowels for holding power because they understood the direction of expansion and what happens when dry wood absorbs moisture.
I have made lots of mortise and tennon joints, but I believe my technique will now improve after watching Russ do in five minutes what take me a half hour. I also hope my sharpening techniques will improve. The pleasure of hearing and feeling a hand plane when it is cutting properly is worth all the effort. This holds true for other tools such as the draw knife and spoke shave. I didn’t always get it right, but as we continued, I felt my technique was improving.
As a wood worker there is a certain pleasure dervied from seeing rough lumber take shape into parts and then seeing the parts come together to form a beautiful object. Making the Ladder Back chair was no exception, and perhaps even more so as the pleasure was shared with another individual.
A bit of a surprise was the finishing process. Why? Because I got to feel and stroke every individual part and in so doing relived the entire wood working experience crowned by seeing the natural beauty of the wood come to life as the finishing oil was absorbed.”
“My week with Russ Filbeck making the 2-slat chair was one of those unforgettable experiences that I’ll carry with me on my journey as a maker. Before this week, I had never made a chair … only seating prototypes and playing around in the wood studio. Starting out at the beginning of our week, I was wondering if we’d really be able to finish a chair in 5 days. But low and behold, here I am sitting in it.
This week was full of information, including history of the chair, techniques to avoid fatigue while working, jigs for the shop, finishing, tool tips, sharpening times and the list goes on …
Coming from a conceptual studio furniture background, this week was a welcome change. I fully enjoyed the process of making this chair, and often found myself thinking about the people who made them long ago out of necessity. Sure, I could go out and buy a chair for my desk, but in making this chair I’ve completed so many other things; new skills, carrying on tradition, have a better understanding of wood, it’s movement, grain, and inherent qualities, working with and learning from a skilled chair maker whom I highly respect (that’s Russ!), a special connection with this chair that I’ve made with my own two hands!
It truly has been an amazing week. Working in Russ’ wood studio has inspired me in so may ways. One of those it to make my studio only half as organized! It was really wonderful to learn from Russ. Aside from his superior organizational skills, he’s charismatic and highly inventive. (Ask him about this wind deflection attenuator). His teaching style is superb… he has a great sense of humor, and is able to adjust the level of the class to any student’s level of knowledge. He’s patient and kind and has a wealth of knowledge to share.
Thank you Russ & Carol for a fabulous week! You can bet I’ll be back for more.”
“I wanted to send you this note to let you know how much I enjoyed our five days of chair making last week. It was a terrific change of pace, a window into an array of woodworking techniques…and a chance to meet and chat with you!
As I have continued to consider the two slat chair from all angles in the course of applying and sanding additional coats of oil I appreciate the subtleties of the design – the curved back, the interplay of the hickory seat colors with the cherry wood, and more. Gaining insight into the aesthetic decisions reflected in the design were definitely part of the learning experience. The most notable educational benefits, however, came in unexpected forms. Steaming and bending wood, uses of the draw knife and spoke shave, anticipating and using the movement of the wood, and especially sharpening techniques. These are all enhanced (or acquired) skills that I will definitely put to use in my own woodworking.
Beyond the acquisition of specific skills – and the building of a chair that will be an attractive and comfortable part of the bedroom set I am now constructing – I particularly enjoyed our wide-ranging conversations about The Carter Center, President and Mrs. Carter, Japanese national treasures, submarines, southern California woodworkers, local and national politics, and more. And of course there was the gracious hospitality you and Carol extended to me throughout my stay. Carol’s cooking was enough to justify the trip to San Diego and your extremely thoughtful gift to Cathy of a set of Shaker boxes was very much appreciated.
All in all, it was a great week and I look forward to staying in touch with you in connection with more woodworking and otherwise.”
“How does one describe working on building a 6-slat chair under the tutelage of Master Chair Maker Russ Filbeck at his studio? You don’t! There are just not enough words to describe the experience.
First there is the hospitality by Carol, Russ’s wife. She welcomes you into her home, makes you very comfortable, makes sure you have lunch and snacks and is the official photographer, and all around helper for Russ. By the way the food is superlative – the hot pocket sandwiches innovative and cookie treats are divine!
To the uninitiated this is an intense working class. There is no time that isn’t filled with working on the chair and learning the nuances of the art of chair making. The skills I brought to the workshop were developed in the classes and making of a 2-slat, 3-slat and two 4-slat backed chairs. Even with this experience it soon became obvious to both of us where my skills were lacking.
Because we had a full agenda we focused on where it was evident that I needed more skill. We proceeded with turning the seat rung and lower rungs and then fairing seat rung into the tenon. Very instructive. After completing the mortises on the back legs, we removed the excess back leg material on the router and finished shaping the legs with spoke shave. Part of the art in making this chair. Then into the leg jig to do the set-up and drilling of the back legs for the back seat rung and rung. Next came the drilling of the front legs while the jig was in the use.
The next several hours were spent making adjustments to the six slats in the back legs. This one-on-one effort was worth the trip. The nuances of minor adjustments getting the slats to line up were numerous and an exercise in patience. You can’t be in too much of a hurry and there are no shortcuts. Wow!! What a learning experience. When you are working with the master the learning and effort comes to the foreground to make a good chair a great chair! Then came the glue up of the front and back legs with the slats. After spending the time at getting the dry fitting of the slats done correctly, the glue up went well.
After getting the chair glued up we did the arms. This is the area where my skill level was significantly lacking. The education I gained on how to use the various rasps was hard on my head and more so on my hands and arms as I learned from the master on how to use these tools to shape and form the arms. Then came the rockers. Really a main reason for taking this class. I discovered the set-up and glue up of the rockers was not as difficult as imagined and went well. But, then came the fitting of the landing pads to the rockers and marking the location for the legs. Another exercise in patience. This was well illustrated and technique for setting up a valuable lesson. Then came the removal of excess material. Then practice and guidance for shaping the rockers and fitting the legs to the rocker. This was the heart for making this rocker for me. There is ever so much to learn, experience, and know. The one advantage I had every day was I used Russ’ book Making Ladder Back Chairs with Russ Filbeck as a review for what I had learned that day and preparation for the next day. We got the arms and legs glued up to complete the chair. We did this in the five days of class time, with a wee bit extra. Now, for the object lesson learned. I feel as if I can build a 6-slat ladder back rocker from start to finish with confidence. The skills developed and the practice gained prepared me to proceed with my next chairs. I have a number to make before the end of the summer and I am completing the finishing on this chair now.
I have concluded, the time and effort to get to the class, the time spent in the workshop under the guidance of the master chair maker were more than justified and rewarded.
Thanks Russ and Carol for a wonderful and fulfilling learning experience!”
“I knew when I read your magazine article that I would love your class. I had a gut feeling that you were very disciplined and organized. I was RIGHT!
Your knowledge of wood and wood movement is very impressive. I have been to some “big name” schools and have never been exposed to such details of joinery before. You have explained in great detail and the sample boards that you have developed are excellent teaching tools. It helps so much to hear things over and over and then to see the examples brings it all home.
Not only do I appreciate your generosity in sharing your knowledge with students – I appreciate even more what you give back to those in need. My mother always told me that if you need something done, ask the busiest person you know to do it. They are the ones that always get things done. She was right! You are so busy and are still dedicated to improving life for those less fortunate.
I’ve got to include Carol in my praises. Not once was I disappointed when she walked through the door with snacks or lunch. DELICIOUS! If you don’t want to continue chair making (which would be a great shame) y’all could always open restaurant or a great pastry shop!
Thanks again for a fabulous week and some great instruction and inspiration.”
“The class taught me many new techniques and skills, gave me the opportunity to use an assortment of tools that I’d never used before, and an unfettered opportunity to ask a Master craftsman an unlimited number of questions. Every step of the chair building process was clearly explained, demonstrated, and taught and, thanks to Russ’ forethought and course preparation, using “pre-bent” elements wisely circumvented the potential delays associated with wood bending.
As the class drew to an end and my chair neared completion and my unbridled enthusiasm grew, I began imagining myself trekking across the United States to Kentucky in a pickup truck to retrieve a load of green week and hickory bark. I also began pricing drawknives, spoke shaves, sharpening belts, Japanese chisels, tenon cutters and borrowed a construction jig from Russ for a Brian Boggs-type shave horse. It wasn’t until my enthusiasm for building green chairs waned a bit that I began reflecting on the facts that (a) I don’t own a pickup truck, (b) my ship is already too cramped to accommodate a shave horse, and (c) other woodworking projects and interests, e.g. veneering and marquetry, will keep me form seriously focusing on chair building in the immediate future. Reluctantly, I’ve decided to put chair building on the “back burner” for a while but, time and space permitting, hope to resume it soon.
As interesting and personally gratifying as woodworking is for me, I believe a greater pleasure has been in meeting and knowing people who have chosen woodworking as a avocation or career. Russ Filbeck is no exception. He personifies the best traits and characteristics of a teacher and craftsman. Not only are his chairs comfortable and functional, they are also works of art. Russ is genuinely committed to teaching and strives to make his students successful woodworkers.
Thanks again Russ for a delightfully productive week of chair building.”