I Can See Clearly Now

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Chris Williams teaching his chair class in our strorefront in May 2018.

On Friday I finished teaching my first chair class, 16 years after taking my first one in Canada from David Fleming. That class – plus John Brown’s “Welsh Stick Chairs” – set me on a long journey of building and researching chairs in an effort to find my own designs and techniques.

It was a personal struggle, which I didn’t document here on the blog or in my books except for the stray breadcrumb. And it was a lonely one until I met Chris Williams, a Welsh chairmaker who worked with John Brown for many years.

Finally, I had someone to talk to about chairs who spoke the same design language. Who had read the same books. Who looked at these gorgeous and eccentric chairs with similar eyes. (Side note: I like Windsor chairs, but they are different enough from Welsh ones that when I talk to Windsor makers I feel like the awkward stepchild.)

Meeting Chris about four years ago inspired me to finish work on my designs and push the structure of the chair a lot harder than I had been for the previous 12 years. There have been struggles and failures – cracked armbows, dead-end designs and a bad batch of glue. It was like walking in a fog for years. Now that seems to be lifting, and I think I can see a long distance ahead.

But I still remember my first chair class with a perfect clarity. I also remember the sheer frustration I experienced when I returned home and began building my second Welsh stick chair within days of stepping off the plane from Ottawa.

I didn’t have any patterns. I didn’t have the jigs I needed. I didn’t have any wood appropriate for chairmaking. And I was missing several important tools. But I plowed forward and made a chair anyway. And then at least 50 more.

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When teaching my first chair class, I wanted to remove the barriers to making a second chair. So all the students made copies of my patterns in Masonite. I gave them all a set of the weird jigs I use, including the rig for drilling the sticks, the block for locating the stretchers, Zee Hinder Pluggen (don’t ask) and a handmade half-pencil.

And I offered them a kit of chair parts, just like the kit they received to make their first chair with me. I hope it works.

I don’t know how many chair classes I’m ever going to teach – certainly no more than two a year. They are exhausting to prepare for and execute. Plus, we have Chris Williams coming here in May to fly the Welsh flag and teach another batch of students using his methods.

That, and Chris’s upcoming book on John Brown, is probably enough to infect the next generation of Welsh chairmakers. I hope.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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21 Responses to I Can See Clearly Now

  1. Kevin Adams says:

    The journey continues, the next generation awaits, and I am looking forward to being in the middle of it. Some beautiful chairs there, thanks to Chris S and Chris W for carrying JB’s flag forward.

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  2. Richard Mahler says:

    Well, if you are sucessful in your goal (you have done everything in your power to set it up), it may lead to research to find a vaccine cure for the infection! I hope they have the decency to name if after you! I look forward to the Chris Williams book, and a future one on the Schwarzian design and method!

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  3. Dave Polaschek says:

    Well, I certainly hope you do at least a few more. My plans involve a Windsor class from Elia and a stick chair class from you, but I won’t have time for either until next year at the earliest.

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  4. Ken says:

    Those are real nice looking chairs. Are the two on the left going to remain stretcherless?

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  5. Kyle Barton says:

    Congrats! Those are some fine stick chairs. You should be proud!

    I also really appreciate all the extra work you are doing to make sure the students have all the information, jigs and materials to make another stick chair on their own. Chair making is after all very infectious 😉

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  6. Kees says:

    https://nickgibbs.com/2018/11/20/trip-to-nowhere/ goodwoodworking editor and friend of John Brown.

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  7. Kees says:

    https://www.woodlands.co.uk/living-woods-magazine/#

    Free issues ‘living woods’ magazine.

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  8. Jonathan Schneider says:

    Im so damn jealous

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  9. jason davis says:

    Thank you Chris. I never thought that you would provide all of the extra stuff that gave us. It was a great class I feel confident that I can do this on my own.

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  10. Mr. Makermeetup says:

    Thanks for spareing us the “handplane in a bed of shavings” photo. Instead, you delivered on six beautiful chairs. Instagram could learn a lot from you.

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  11. Greg Glatz says:

    Hi Chris,
    First thank you for all your work.
    Could you comment on the development of the leg stretcher, was it developed
    to allow thinner legs ? And is there a point or diameter that if you go below they become
    necessary ? Thank you again for your body of work.
    Greg Glatz

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    • Geoff Chapman says:

      I don’t know about the historical record, but part of Chris’ answer can be seen in the photo; in the class he recommended that if we want to go ‘stretcherless’, we should reduce the rake and splay of the legs. You can see the difference in the legs of the two chairs at the left compared to the rest. It was a great class, with eager students and a passionate teacher!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Andrew Davidson says:

    Those chairs look fantastic. I will be attempting my first chair sometime this year. I finally saved up my money and bought some of the tools to do it, but I need to find some good wood now, and the time.

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