Welsh Stick Chairs - John Brown
For some time I've wanted to read this book. I discovered John Brown's contributions to woodworking and chair making thanks to Lost Art Press who now publish his out of print book on Welsh Stick Chairs . For those that need a copy I provide the link only as a nudge that you don't need to pay the high costs that the out of print versions command. I took a copy out from our local library. It's a compact book and I was able to read it twice over the Christmas break and take what notes I needed.
One of the strongest things about this book is how someone took the time to champion simple forms, entice people into making them and showing it can be done with a limited set of tools. His work is extremely good, the finished chairs look "just right". Perhaps coming to chair making from his boat building trade in England gave his work its own subtle twist? His skills as a woodworker were already there. As he points out, most of these rural chairs were likely made by local woodworker such as a wheelwright instead of a specialist and this brings variations of design and appearance.
For me, although I feel inspired to make some chairs, doing so it is quite another. I have a lot of other things that need my attention first but without doubt John Brown's work will be a source of inspiration when I get there. It's clear while reading the book that John Brown inspired many more recent woodworkers, most notably Christopher Shwarz. The photos in the book, which I love, are crisp, simple and full of atmosphere and clearly to me at least, the Lost Art Press publisher tips his hat to these photos in much of his own work. The tone and beliefs seem to be close as well.
It's easy to get that feel of John Brown as a strong chracter, and deep respect to him for that and putting it to paper. And although I prized reading the book and found myself being very inspired by his work, photos and writing I'm pleased it was only a Library book. I'm thrilled that written work like this is out there, it gets people talking, reflecting and thinking. Something far greater than I could ever do! There has been a strong move to hand methods over recent times, and don't get me wrong, that's a good thing. However the world of woodworking is more complex than many would have aspiring woodworkers understand.
Chairs are perhaps one of the few items you could make totally by hand (note that and least most of John Brown's chairs were not totally hand made) and make a living. For most people it's going to be about finding a balance, and for most people it will likely involve a way to cut a plane wood to size with power. To add some balance to the modern interest in hand methods I for one I would really like to see good training and information on the use of machines that are used behind the curtain by many modern woodworkers. The skills need to keep yourself safe and use machines well is something that can not be learned in a day and needs much care and attention.
So perhaps in the 26 years of John Brown's writing things are ready for a new balance to discover what is useful work and what is useless toil. To start that journery, pick up a copy of Welsh Stick Chairs and think for yourself.