The Case for Chairmaking


Sometime right after being hired by Popular Woodworking magazine in 1996 I saw my first Welsh stick chair in the British magazine Good Woodworking. I can remember the exact article. Heck, I own the article. It showed John Brown standing next to one of his chairs.

I was hooked, and there was nothing that could be done about it except to start building chairs.

Most things I write about are boxes and other carcase work, and I love that stuff to death. It’s my bread, butter and occasionally jam; it puts food on our table. But I tell other people that chairmaking is my hobby. I don’t talk much about my chairs on the blog. I don’t show my work to others unless they press me, and that’s because it really sucks. Really and truly sucks eggs through the tailpipe of a 1971 El Camino.

But I work at it all the time. I’ve taken more classes in chairmaking than in any other topic. I read everything I can find on the topic. And here’s why.

While I still stink as a chairmaker, it makes me a better woodworker.

Chairmaking introduced me to the lathe. To the drawknife. To a comprehension and mastery of compound angles. To steam-bending. To radical curves. To green wood. I could go one for maybe 20 more sentences like this, but you’d get bored until I mentioned the word “nipples.”

I think… no, more than that… I actually feel that chairmaking is a good thing for all woodworkers to try. It will open your eyes to parts of the craft that you thought were difficult but actually are ridiculously easy once you know the tricks and learn them from someone who truly knows his or her stuff.

And that’s why “Chairmaker’s Notebook” should be on your shelf. It’s disguised as a chairmaking book, but it’s actually a book about all the stuff in the craft that you probably have been ignoring or have been afraid to try. Yes, there is green woodworking in there. Yes, there are unfamiliar tools and ways of working that seem foreign.

But Peter Galbert has a way of explaining things that makes you say: “Duh. I get it now. Why did I think that operation was difficult.” For the last three years I have been working with Pete to bring “Chairmaker’s Notebook” to print. Editing the book was difficult at times because I was learning so much at the same time I was trying to refine the way it was being explained in print. Like trying to edit a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King.

So this book is a personal victory for me. It is the chairmaking book that I wish I’d had in 1996 when I saw that John Brown chair. I’m almost 20 years older now, but I’m thrilled that I finally have this book – both for me as well as you.

— Christopher Schwarz\

Chairmaker’s Notebook,” written and illustrated by Peter Galbert, is available in the Lost Art Press Store with free domestic shipping until March 20, 2015 – the day the book ships from the printer.

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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17 Responses to The Case for Chairmaking

  1. Marilyn says:

    Oh yeah! I started reading it last night and it pulled me in right away. It reads wonderfully and his drawings are very inspiring. I’ll be sneaking off to read it tonight too .. I’m hooked. Oh, and I need to go find some green wood to try my draw knife out on too.

    • This topic might make for a future blog post. I’d be interested to hear how others are obtaining green wood or how difficult/easy these techniques are with kiln dried wood. The book is on my wish list.

  2. beshriver says:

    I don’t know if my skills are on par with making a proper winsor….but there is a class within an hour drive of my house…the book is probably a good place to start,but please, for the love of God, never tell my wife how much I spend on tools, materials, and of course, books.

  3. Tom Buhl says:

    Well, if Marilyn likes it, I guess it belongs in my hands as well.
    I am attracted to many aspects of chair making, however, the issue for me (us) is the tiny house that I’ve already filled. Chairs take lots of room and don’t compress very well. It has taken some notable strength to hang on to the six fine cherry windsor chair chairs acquired long ago, when I thought you bought furniture with a check, or in our case, in trade from slow paying accounts.
    In lieu of chair making I’ve created small sculptural stools and benches. Nothing of the stick variety yet though.
    I am looking forward to Peter’s book for its larger/broader lessons, of which they seem many. Thanks for all.
    p.s. oh, and protruding splayed legs that attack toes in the night. Some day that may create retribution.

  4. Greg Bétit says:

    I ordered the book, but now I’m so antsy to get my hands on it, I’m in a deep state of depression because I didn’t get the (immediately) downloadable version. I own every book on the subject published (I”ll bet), but I *know* Pete’s will be the end-all, be-all on the topic. Until he publishes the next edition, because he can’t settle on the subject; he’s always trying new things, going at it from other angles- literally and figuratively.

  5. pfollansbee says:

    You beat me to the punch. I was planning on writing about chairmaking tonight. then you posted Pete’s book and now this. You’re quite right – not about your chairs being toads, but about chairmaking being a great window for a woodworker. I always counted myself lucky to have begun there, so I didn’t know enough to be afraid. those who have eschewed chairmaking out of some apprehension will hopefully take the plunge. Green wood, drawknives – what could be more fun?
    Goodness knows when I’ll build another Windsor, but I’ll get Pete’s book just to see it. I look forward to it.

  6. spokeshave27 says:

    Can’t wait for it to arrive – now I wish I bought the combined book and download – I am chomping at the bit.

  7. snwoodwork says:

    Since I got “serious” about woodworking a year or so ago chairs have always be an interesting subject. Now if I can find somewhere to green wood…

  8. jenohdit says:

    When I see those chairs I immediately think of R. Crumb.

    Mind you, I think the man is a genius nearly on par with Van Gogh. (Nearly = about 75%)

  9. I’m really excited to read “Chairmaker’s Notebook”, so just as soon as it reaches these shores I’ll be picking up a copy.

    From your description of the benefits of chair making, would it be fair to say that this is another example of the “parallel skills” idea we were discussing before Christmas?

  10. In the fall of 2012, I opened my Marc Adams class catalog and perused the offerings for 2013 and was very excited to see “Windsor Chairmaking: The Fan Back Side Chair With Peter Galbert” as a class offering for the next September. I signed up as soon as I possibly could. To say that I looked forward to that class is an understatement. I started collecting chairmaking tools immediately.

    However, a “once in a lifetime” (or so I thought) opportunity came along in the spring of 2013 and it was called FORP. I sorely needed a real bench. With limited woodworking funds and limited vacation time, I had to make a choice and I chose to cancel the class so that I could participate in the FORP. I don’t regret that decision, but it still causes me pain that I missed that class.

    Due to some life changing events since then, I haven’t had a chance to take any classes since. I really am very VERY excited about this book. I do still intend to take a class with Peter in the hopefully not too distant future. But I think this book will help me to take a stab at chairs and, more importantly, green woodworking, while I wait for that opportunity.

    Yesterday morning I bought both versions. Last night I finished chapter 2. I am already hooked!

    Thank you Peter, Chris and John and all who were involved with this project. I am grateful for your efforts!

  11. Ziggy Mud says:

    Very pleased about the timing of the book’s release this March. I’m falling hard into making Windsors after making a good handful with Greg Pennington (a fabulous friend and wizardly instructor). I’m collecting the necessary tools as we speak to be able to make them in my own space. There’s an astounding number of steps to making a chair from scratch, and no short list of tools either… I have no doubt this book will be a thorough guide to the process and an fantastic reference. Thanks to those involved.

  12. Farmer Greg says:

    Now that you’ve made the case for chairmaking, will you build the chair for casemaking?

  13. Ryan Cheney says:

    I wonder how much I could pick up from this book regarding compound angle joinery (I really have a hard time with it), since I’m afraid I have an almost visceral distaste for Winsor style chairs and furniture with round spindles of any kind. I mean, spindles are like brussel sprouts to me. There was a time in which I was going to build a treadle lathe and even bought some of the metal bits for its construction, before I realized that the more a piece of furniture had turned parts the more hideous it became to me. I want to make a chair at some point. I really do. But it’ll have to be of a far more contemporary design (read: without round spindles) than appears to be featured in most books on chair making. Maybe there’s a Maloof Rocker or a Blacker House chair in my future. Though, they look more intimidating to me than an angry winged grizzly bear shooting brussel sprouts out of it’s eyes. If a book comes out that simplifies the building of one of those, I’d definitely like check it out.

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