The Chairman

The Chairman

Mar 26, 2020

Nicole Bittar

 

Flat structures do not interest Glen Rundell. Yet, “gun barrel-straight” wood provides the eye-catching curves that breathe life into his handcrafted Windsor chair creations. 

“Windsor chairs are a beautiful form that has its basis in tradition,” Glen says. “There’s no screws or nails; everything is reliant on good joinery and traditional design. I also like the fact that within a few days of felling a tree I can shape that raw timber into a finished chair.”

If Glen is the leading hand and guiding light behind Kyneton chairmaking business, bespoke workshops and the Lost Trades Fair that comprise Rundell and Rundell Chairmakers, wife Lisa is the “engine”. Glen attests that she runs the show; coordinating the chairmaking workshops, trades fair and still manages to bake a daily cake for their Kyneton workshops, to sweeten and sustain the nine-year-old Victorian enterprise.  

Not only do Glen’s handcrafted creations last for generations, but there is zero waste from its original source.

“Every part of the tree trunk is utilised,” he says, “whether it’s the select parts that go into making the chairs or the offcuts and shavings that are bagged up in hessian bags to be used for fire starters. And the offcuts go to fuelling our hydronic heating at home or in the workshop classes.”   

Class turnouts are also firing up. A thirst for knowledge and yen for self-challenge surpass experience. “Absolutely; we encourage absolute beginners” to attend the three-to-seven-day bespoke chairmaking workshops (including how to craft rocking chairs, armchairs, side chairs, ergonomic, three-legged stools and bar stools).

“Windsor chairmaking or greenwood woodworking is a departure from traditional woodworking in that a lot of the tools used are hand tools,” Glen says. “The only electrical tool that students use are cordless drills to drill the mortises in their chairs.

“Within reason, there’s not even sandpaper used in our classes. So, in that respect, it’s a great class for beginners, because there are no preconceived ideas of what they should be doing or trying to apply carpentry techniques or other furniture-making methodology.

“It’s about getting back to basics,” Glen says, focusing on discussion about the tree selection and logs; “what to look for and generally leave well enough alone.” Visual indicators, such as what to look for on the bark and the way a tree is growing, are also integral to the greenwood nature of the Windsor chair craft. 

The workshops feature participants from an eclectic mix of medical, psychological, education, trade and IT industries.

Like all successful businesses, return clientele is essential and the holistic benefits often defy traditional treatments.

“I’ve had one psychiatrist tell me it’s the best therapy he’s ever received,” Glen says.   

And the feel-good factor of working with wood and handcrafting a finished, take-away object is exponential. 

“I don’t think there is one person who has left our workshop after completing a class without a renewed sense of confidence in their abilities,” Glen says. They not only acquire a new skillset, but the low-fi atmosphere of a zero-machinery environment (ie. “no hearing protection, safety glasses or dust masks, because there’s no fine sawdust or loud, dangerous machinery”) is one of the healthiest forms of woodworking.  

“I truly believe there is a connectivity between our current society’s increasing mental illness and our continuing loss of manual dexterity, “ Glen says.

“I would argue that there would not be a more unique and sustainable form of furniture making than the way that I produce chairs,” Glen says. “Certainly, it’s a very niche market and I am not suggesting that major industry could operate the way I do. It would be impossible, but I do believe there is merit in us re-evaluating our current practises and waste.”

One decent-sized blackwood log can yield up to 20 chairs in the making for this passionately eco-conscious chairmaker, who learnt his trade in 2009 from Tennessee Windsor chair master craftsman Curtis Buchanan.

His hands-on approach to transferring the knowledge of time-honoured traditions extended to an open-door policy of follow-up advice, information and ultimately the formation of a lifelong association.

“In the United States, there is a vibrant working community, because there is a lot of sharing information and they understand the importance of doing so,” Glen says.

Curtis’s ethos of sharing invaluable knowledge of traditional craftsmanship was a catalyst for the establishment in 2013 of the Lost Trades Fair. The regional Victoria fair showcases more than 150 artisans of all manner of traditional trades, woodwork, decorative arts, glassmaking, leatherwork, blacksmithing, textiles and other lesser-known or revitalised crafts.   

“Curtis was one of the inspirations for the ethos of the fair,” Glen says. “Its formation was based on the theories about sharing information in a digital age or modern environment: to keep traditional trades alive and, in some cases, resuscitate trades that have fallen by the wayside.”

Respect for the ‘ultimate renewable’ is alive and thriving at Rundell and Rundell.

“The ability to go into a forested area, select one tree and ethically harvest that tree with minimal impact,” is the basis for growth and regrowth. “We then saw our logs to length; split them in situ into a manageable size, and maintain the hands-on continuity with that tree right through to the finished chair. It’s a wonderful way to make furniture.”

The finished chairs are designed to not only look and feel beautiful, but offer comfort, strength and reliability for generations to come.

Photographer: Leon Schoots