Learn to Speak Welsh

OK, so that’s not going to happen.

When Chris Williams came here in May 2018 to teach his first U.S. chairmaking class, he tried to help me pronounce a few Welsh proper nouns. This is what it sounded like (to me).

Chris Williams: “It’s ‘Blah-blah.’”

Me: “Blah-blah.”

Chris: “No, it’s ‘Blah-blah.’”

Me: “Blah-blah.”

Chris: “Um, no…. It’s….”

And repeat until we retreat to the Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar. I do not have an ear for Welsh, though it’s in my blood and in my brain. I know this because when I visited St Fagans with Chris in October 2018 I could feel the chairs there invade my brain and hands.

Since my visit there, I’ve built a number of chairs for customers, and each one inches toward what I absorbed while there.

The chair shown here might not look like much of a departure from what I’ve been building since 2003, but to me it looks like a different animal.

The legs and seat are thinner. I was surprised by how some of the components of the chairs at St Fagans were more delicate than photos or drawings suggest. These legs are 1-3/8” in diameter, and the seat is 1-3/8” thick.

The undercarriage is low. Stretchers are not de rigueur in Welsh chairs, as they are on American chairs and factory English chairs. But when the Welsh chairs have stretchers they tend to be near the floor. This might be by design or by the fact that the antique chairs have had their legs worn down by use. Either way, that is what I saw.

The wood in this new chair has more figure. I don’t seek out curly wood. In fact, I’ve spent my career sidestepping it. But when you examine the chairs at St Fagans, the seat in particular has a lot of character. This might be by design – seats with interlocked grain are stronger. Or by default – the only bits of wood that big were a bit squirrely

Either way, I embraced interlocked grain with this chair.

I’m not done with the changes to my chairs. I can make only so many alterations with each generation. But I am happy with where things are headed, and I am forever indebted to Chris Williams and the staff at St Fagans for helping me build Welsh, if not speak it.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
This entry was posted in John Brown Book, Welsh Stick Chairs by John Brown. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Learn to Speak Welsh

  1. Roland Stewart Chapman says:

    I like the look of your chairs


  2. Winston Stone says:

    Ydych chi eisiau paned o goffi


  3. Rudy Everts says:

    bore da, Chris. Your German is exquisite (and that’s supposed to be a difficult language). Never say never!
    I like that the legs and seat are thinner. Plus it makes me feel better about the thin stock I always end up with here.
    Continue on this journey!


  4. Len Aspell says:

    That is a mighty fine chair Chris.

    I used to look forward to receiving my copy of Good Woodworking pop through the letter box and I always turned to John Brown’s column first. It is great to see his influence live on through others so I thank you and Chris Williams for keeping us informed and entertained.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Sergeant82d says:

    This is the first of this series of your chairs that has really spoken to me. I built a 3-legged chair from Design and like it, but this one…. This one I want. Care to share some details about it? Resultant angles, depth, height, width, etc.? Some of the arm/back specs?

    Thanks again for the work you do, digging out the old knowledge, and blending it with our modern technology.


  6. Mike Gemmell says:

    Great photos and what a fantastic looking chair! I like the look of the lower undercarriage. It’s amazing how small changes can impact a chairs appearance.


  7. John says:

    Beautiful! Absolutely gorgeous.

    Few questions,
    1. Are these the chairs you were working on during the last book signing?
    2. With the undercarriage being through tenons, are they under compression like they would be in a Windor?
    And most importantly,
    3. How was the Tennessee whiskey?



    • 1. Are these the chairs you were working on during the last book signing?


      2. With the undercarriage being through tenons, are they under compression like they would be in a Windor?

      Yup. The tenon is captured between the shoulder of the joint and the wedge. The stretchers are slightly over-long to add tension.

      And most importantly,
      3. How was the Tennessee whiskey?

      Yum! Thanks again!


  8. Richard Mahler says:

    I can listen to music and hear every individual instrument and music line involved; I can learn, with effort, to read a language because I am visually oriented, but for the life of me I am tone deaf and cannot hear or understand the same language when spoken. How can that be? As an artist and designer I am sensitive to every line of what I see and can precisely match any color I see intuitively. The brain is a strange and marvelous organ that seems to pick and choose the capacities we have – largely beyond our control. Of course we can learn to a considerable degree when we apply ourselves, but the superior talents we recognize appear to be the native ones that are honed by experience and sheer will to excel. Doing things with my hands is a daily compulsion. Know what you do well and leave the rest to others.

    I enjoy seeing and reading your every blog on chair (and other) evolutions. Know that what you share is appreciated and furthers the knowledge of the craft.


  9. James D. Maher says:

    Now this one moves me. And I’ve been watching your previous iterations. Though interesting, nothing ever grabbed my attention like this.

    It’s very handsome, and I believe that’s a response to the wonderful grain. AND, this one seems much more elegant – without appearing fragile – which I guess is a reaction to the thinner stock.

    Are future design changes likely to seriously alter the proportions? I’m inclined to agree that it might be nice to capture and document significant build dimensions of this one (if you’re willing to share).


  10. JR says:

    Quite lovely. Thank you for posting simple, elegant photos that allow one to contemplate the aesthetics of the wood and the details of the joinery.


  11. tsstahl says:

    I like this chair, too. The lower stretchers give a mechanical advantage against the forces on the leg/seat joint. The cross member being further back discourages use as a foot rest and visually recedes into negative space, at least for me.

    Bottom line, I like the darn chair.


  12. Sam says:

    Thanks for talking about the interlocking grains. I feel better about using mesquite for chair seats now:)

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Quercus Robur says:

    Gorgeous. Simply gorgeous. My main issue with figured/interlocked wood is usually its workability – using uniform/boring material tends to reduce the probability of things going wrong. Reduce, not eliminate, aye? Wood will forever be a finicky/challenging material.


  14. Tom Kneale says:

    If you want to develop your passion for Wales try following the Welsh rugby team in the 6 nations tournament. It started last night. It’ll give you a feel for the National game and spirit


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