A Visit with Doc

A few months ago, Doc Thode celebrated his 90th birthday with many of his woodturning friends.  Dennis heard about the birthday party from Lee Carter, and realized that it was time to place his order for a 1/3 scale high chair for his youngest grandchild.


Doc called Dennis last week to invite us up to his house.  He has lived in  an old Victorian house a few blocks from the CSU campus in Ft. Collins for quite some time.  It suits him to keep his tools in the basement, his books all around him, and the furniture that he makes employed with the various duties of furniture.  A special delight in the house are the many lamps made from useful bits and pieces of other things–barrels, pipes, fancy clamps, ironwork, and other bits of industrial leftovers.

Each of the full size pieces of furniture appears to have it’s twin at 1/3 scale perched on top of it. It took a few minutes for me to discover the smaller piece on top.  Doc waited patiently, and then enjoyed the discovery at least as much as I did.  There is a writing desk, and there is a scaled version; there is a Victorian card table with a rotating top, and there is a scaled version.  There is an antique corner cupboard, with just one of the three scaled   copies remaining.  There is a 1/3 scale highboy chest and companion mirror made to scale.  There are cradles, desks, and pie-crust tip-top tables.  But most of all, the house has the famous Windsor chairs and the caned rocking chairs for which Doc Thode is known worldwide.

Doc’s mother was a successful antique dealer in Denver.  He began making the 1/3 scale chairs for displays of antique dolls.  She also gave him an old chest of drawers covered in gray paint.  He cleaned it up and repaired it, discovering that it had lovely cherry casework and solid tiger maple drawer fronts.  It is upstairs in the bedroom, now, with a 1/3 version on top of it.  According to Doc, this piece of furniture started it all, and he has never looked back.

Doc is a renegade among the woodturning crowd.  He works on a metal lathe, and fabricates many of his own tools.   He never joined the AAW.  He particularly enjoyed meeting Bill Jones and Allan Batty, because they grew up in the traditional turning shop, learning to create accurate duplicates in short order.    Doc uses a story stick to create the numerous spindles that he needs for a windsor chair.  He cuts the coves with a round file so that they are all identical dimensions.  He doesn’t sand, because sanding removes the crispness of the tiny beads and coves.  He doesn’t have any interest in  turned bowls.

For Doc, the fun of creating furniture has always come from the challenge of figuring out the construction, and then finding (often making) the tool to do the job.  He has enjoyed making tools and jigs for Lee Carter.

Doc has taken great care to create historically accurate Windsor chairs.  He   maintained an extensive correspondence with John  Kassay  in order to make the scale chairs in the correct manner.  In the beginning, for example, he was wedging the tenons for all of the spindles in the back of the chair.  In fact, most historic chairs only had the center five wedged, in order to preserve the strength of the curved back rail.

Everywhere in Doc’s house the joy of disciplined creativity shines forth.  He has been making furniture for almost eighty years, and kept his standards at the very top of the craft.

–Kay Liggett

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