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The Adirondacks, the Bent Willow Chair Workshop, and Don King…

October 14, 2011

One summer, when we were kids, my brother Bob and I were at our summer cabin and we decided that we wanted to be Adirondacks.  Although I can’t remember for sure, younger brother Jim was probably involved too, because he pretty much went along with whatever scheme we came up with.  Our little sister, Jane, might have  said you boys are being goofy – at least she would now.

Our Adirondack idea began when our grandfather John decided that he would like a nice big bonfire.  So he offered us a penny (a cent) apiece for large dry Alder branches that were across the little creek in front of the cabin.  In way less than a half an hour we had a hundred branches.  That was big money back in the day when a full sized candy bar was only five cents.  I think that the whole front lawn of the cabin would have soon been covered with Alder branches if he hadn’t said that he had enough.

2011 picture of deer standing across the little creek where we collected the Alder branches.

The Alder branches were generally nice and straight and they were all close to the same diameter.  Since our grandfather didn’t want any more branches, we thought that it would be cool to build something out of them.  We had a vague idea that some Adirondack furniture was made out of branches and twigs.  We guessed that the people that made rustic Adirondack furniture were the Adirondacks… that was when we decided that we wanted to be Adirondacks.

We went into the cabin storage room and got out some axes, hatchets, hammers and a coffee can full of rusty nails.  (Back then ten-year old kids could “play”with sharp objects — but I’m sure the adults were keeping a close eye on us.)  Pretty soon we had a bunch of bent rusty nails and split branches — remember the branches were dry!  That was the end of our Adirondack idea.  We began building bridges, club-houses, forts, and we even saved a couple of nice branches for flag poles…

Fifteen years later bother Bob and I had both earned Industrial Arts Degrees and we had both taught wood and metal shop classes.  (Maybe playing with those sharp objects wasn’t so bad after all.)  Years later we once again found ourselves at our cabin surrounded by “free” wood.

Bob made some stools/benches with split log tops and he used branches for legs.  I made a plant stand out of twigs and branches.  It was the middle of the summer and the green branches that I used were a bit too dry.  So once again I had problems with the ends of branches splitting.  I made it work but that was pretty much the end of my career as an Adirondack until…

Last spring, my friend Doug S. called me and said that R.L. was organizing a Bent Willow Chair Building workshop.   R.L. had arranged for Don King of Challis, Idaho to come to Walla Walla to teach the workshop.

I didn’t know who Don was but I thought that it would be fun to build a chair.  I build tables out of reclaimed wood but I work essentially by myself.  So I knew that the creative stimulus of working with another craftsman would be good for me too.  When I signed up for the workshop, I didn’t know what a great experience I would have…

Don King working out the pattern and shape of the back of a chair he is building

The next few posts will feature more on Don and the Walla Walla Bent Willow Chair Workshop.

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