Welsh Stick Chair Class Day 3: The Full Welshman

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When John Brown taught chair classes in the United States in the 1990s, he famously threw a student’s machinist calipers into a lake to make a point about how his chairs should be built.

Then, while teaching at John Wilson’s shop in Michigan, John Brown lost his temper with Wilson after class one evening. Wilson was hosting the class and was also making one of the chairs. In the evenings, Wilson had to work to keep up with the students because he was busy during the day.

John Brown caught Wilson using machines to quicken the work and lit into him.

Despite his outbursts of temper and strong opinion, every student of John Brown who I’ve met adored or revered him.

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Chris Williams, who worked with John Brown for more than a decade, also has very strong opinions, much like John Brown. But Chris doesn’t have the temper. Every sermon on saddling the seat, building the armbow or rounding the sticks ends with this:

“That’s how I do it. You might do it differently. It doesn’t matter, really,” Chris says. (As I’m typing this, Chris is saying those exact words to his students sizing their tenons.)

Which approach is better – fury or flexibility? I can’t say. The students in Chris’s class seem to really like Chris’s gruff but gentle approach.

Me, I’m just glad Chris hasn’t (yet) thrown my dial calipers into the Ohio River.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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15 Responses to Welsh Stick Chair Class Day 3: The Full Welshman

  1. Josh says:

    Thank you for sharing these. Great to follow (though makes me envious). Please, pretty please, talk Chris into returning for another class (and talk yourself into hosting, if necessary). Megan told me at some point that I was first on the waiting list, but evidently none of the quickest draws would let anything stop them from participating in this class, for good reason! Looks amazing, and can’t wait to see the rest.

  2. Robert Coleman says:

    So jealous!

    What are you making them out of? Thanks!

  3. nrhiller says:

    “Despite his outbursts of temper and strong opinion, every student of John Brown who I’ve met adored or revered him.” I would replace “despite” with “thanks to.” There are so many people who appreciate a no-nonsense instructor and will turn angry outbursts (such as my high school Physics teacher’s habit of smacking his metre rule on the instructor’s desk whenever a student appeared to be nodding off) into touching quirks — especially when they come from a Brit.

    • Joe says:

      My high school biology teacher used to zap a nodding off student with a fire extinguisher. Great fun.

  4. Bob Glenn says:

    No comment!

  5. M. Rumo taught us drafting and we had him in the shop occasionally during my apprenticeship. I can still hear him repeating to us “c’est pas la manière de le faire, mais une manière de le faire!!!”. It’s not THE way to do it, it’s one way to do it! He would go at us for all sorts of details and such, we hated it at the time. The apprentice in our shop has him now and feels the same way. I do my best to convince him that those are the ones you learn the most from.

  6. Yeah, that’s why I avoided buying a khaki apron. When you wear it with khaki shorts, it looks like you have khaki bib shorts on… eek!

    Sorry… what was the question?

  7. Lets not worry about fashion. It’s the content that’s important.

  8. The ones who ever taught me anything never had an extremist approach in any direction. They had strong opinions and valid knowledge to back it up. They were not only aware that other paths existed, but also knew them well. The decision for their own path is one based on many others’ – and not necessarily within the same field. Well in line with a lot of good folk here.

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