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.
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