Earlier this week I was interviewed for the Fine Woodworking podcast by Ben Strano, which was a hoot. (I’ll post links to it next week when it’s released.) Ben and I are always a bit goofy when we’re together, and I said a lot of things I shouldn’t have (including the title to my next book: “Drunk Irishmen Gluing Sticks Together”).
Also, I think he’s going to have to bleep me at least once during the interview.
During the chat, Ben said something like: “You’ve been on a chair kick, lately. Have you given up building flatwork?”
Of course, the entire background of the shot during the interview is a huge dovetailed campaign chest I’m building for a customer. So no, I haven’t given up flatwork. I love it.
The “chair kick” as Ben put it might seem like a new or passing thing – the Dutch tool chest of 2019 perhaps. But those of you who know me well can attest that I have been on a Welsh stick chair kick for more than 20 years.
About 1997 or so I encountered John Brown’s column in Good Woodworking magazine. I was a low-level editor at Popular Woodworking magazine, and we traded subscriptions with Good Woodworking to keep an eye on each other. So I received Good Woodworking every month right to my desk – nice!
John Brown’s column was – by far – my favorite part of the magazine. JB took no prisoners with his writing, and I simply could not believe he got away with writing what he did (insert sympathy for the turners here). But more than that, the Welsh stick chairs he built infected me like a virus. I quickly found out he had written a book on the subject, and I bought it immediately.
That was “Welsh Stick Chairs,” which we now publish here at Lost Art Press.
The words, drawings and step photos in that book were my first introduction to vernacular chairmaking. I adore the book, except for the photos of the finished chair that JB built for the book, his so-called Cardigan Chair.
The Cardigan Chair was nothing like the chairs he was showing in Good Woodworking. Those chairs in the magazine were the ones I fell in love with – primitive and alive. That’s what I wanted to build.
It took me years to find someone who would teach me how to build the early Welsh chair – I had to trek to Canada in March of 2003 where David Fleming taught me and John Hoffman to build our first Welsh chair.
I came home from Canada in 2003 and immediately started building these chairs. And I never stopped.
My chairs sucked. Hard. I didn’t dare show them to anyone outside my family or circle of friends. I had to work out a lot of stuff because I refused to copy anyone’s design. Like John Brown said, every chair should be different and not be built to some blueprint.
That – more than anything – was a difficult pill to swallow. But it has paid off. Sixteen years after building my first Welsh stick chair I now am reasonably happy with the chairs I make (which are still not built with a blueprint – thanks JB).
On Monday, I will teach my first class on building this sort of chair. I am prepared but incredibly apprehensive. We will start with my templates, which I’ve developed during the last 16 years. But I hope that each chair will turn out different.
And I hope that I’ve built enough of these chairs that I’ve found all the mistakes that can be made during their construction. I feel like I’ve made them all. We’ll see.
So if you hate chairs, don’t despair. I’ll always be a generalist when it comes to making furniture. I’ll make anything if it’s in wood. These last couple years have been particularly chair-y as I’ve made some long strides in that department.
Thanks for sticking around. And soon we’ll be talking about workbenches and tool chests again.
— Christopher Schwarz