Never be the Same

CW-class_chairs_DSC00898

Today I dropped Chris Williams off at the airport for his journey home to Wales, and I cannot believe how quickly the last three weeks have rushed by.

In addition to Chris teaching two classes on making Welsh stick chairs, Chris and I spent a lot of time working on his forthcoming book, “The Life & Work of John Brown.” The book has – like all books – taken some hard left turns as it germinated below the soil. And Chris and I have spent many evenings sorting out the important chapters.

But the biggest discussion has been over whether or not to include detailed plans of a chair in the book.

After much thought, Chris concluded that adding plans to the book would go against the spirit of how John Brown made chairs during his life (and how Chris makes chairs now). John Brown and Chris contend that no two Welsh stick chairs should ever be identical. Instead, each chair should be built to suit the materials at hand, the skills of the maker and the tools available.

Don’t worry. You’ll be able to build a Welsh stick chair after reading Chris’s book. But your chair will start from a personal place instead of from an established pattern.

That’s how Chris built his first chair. He’d read John Brown’s “Welsh Stick Chairs,” and then figured out his own way by observing the chairs in John Brown’s book.

It’s not an easy way to make a chair. But it is satisfying. I built my first chair in a class, but my second chair went in a different direction than the first one. Even today I don’t expect my chairs to end up how I envision them in my mind or on paper. Each has a life of its own.

Chris tries to imbue his classes with the same spirit. His students were encouraged to go their own direction with their chairs. There are, of course, limits to what you can do during five days. But I was impressed by how some students took this idea to heart.

All of the chairs in the classes had four back sticks, but that’s where the similarities ended.

In the real world, Welsh stick chairs have enormous variations – in the number of back sticks (three sticks up to 11 or so). The shape of the seat (circle, rectangle, D-shaped etc). The construction of the arm. The undercarriage (if there even is an undercarriage). The comb. Plus the length of all the long stocks and short sticks, and the rake and splay of every component.

So when you look at Chris’s chair, or mine, or one of the thousands being built, know that your chair shouldn’t look like that. Exactly. Or at all. But it should look Welsh. And that is something you have to develop an eye for and will definitely be covered in Chris’s book.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. When will this book be out? Chris plans to have the writing done this fall. I’ll design it in November and December. And we hope it will be in your hands in February or March 2020.

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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14 Responses to Never be the Same

  1. Richard Mahler says:

    Will this new LAP Welsh Chair book be a larger format than John Brown’s original and the recent LAP reprint? I look forward to it. I have some ideas for chairs that are somewhat different, or quite different, from many of the ones I see in your blog posts, so I don’t know if they will qualify as Welsh Stick chairs or just derivatives.

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  2. ralmcc7yahoo.com says:

    Chris, does the back angle need to be different for larger, smaller people ?? What about comb placement?? It is truly functional ? Thanks Ralph

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    • The back angle can be widely variable and work just fine for a variety of body types. A typical back angle is 7° to 9° off 90°. The Irish chair I recently built has a more radical angle of 25°. Yet it still sits fine.

      The comb location should suit the user. The height and the length of the comb is a tricky equation. A long comb can be almost any height. Smaller combs can bite into the sitter’s back. Especially if they are “meaty.”

      I usually make the back sticks overlong and then fit the comb to the sitter in mind.

      Honestly, it is something you just need to dive into a mess with.

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  3. Kevin says:

    Each time I read your writings on chairs you make the comment that your beginning chairs were not good, or the one in your store office wasn’t the best,. Yet. You also say that the stick chair is self-evolving or not alike. What characteristics are a “bad” chair?

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    • I’m talking about aesthetics – not joinery or functionality. My early chairs were like a gangly teenager. The back sticks were too high. The legs too chunky. Some of the decorative details weren’t consistent across the chair. Stuff like that.

      These early chairs still sit fine. Heck I sit in one at the dinner table.

      In talking to other chairmakers, I think most of us have a few of these chairs in our closets. Especially when you seek new designs.

      Hope this makes sense. (I know the follow-up will be that you would like to see an early chair. Sorry. My ego is not yet strong enough.)

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      • Kevin says:

        Actually, my follow up was the immediate thought that…therefore there are some “rules” that have developed making your current chairs acceptable. These rules are gold to new makers. The time and frustration savings would make the world of difference between attempting another chair and “failure”. Thank you.

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  4. johncashman73 says:

    There is a lot of variation in that gaggle of chairs. Very nice. It can’t be easy to get students to deviate like that.

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  5. Lex says:

    There’s a live recording of Doc & Merle Watson with a few other musicians titled “Never the Same Way Once”. I’ve adopted that phrase as a general life motto, not just wood working.

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  6. Gerwyn Llewelyn says:

    Hi Chris
    Will the book be available to buy over here in wales?
    Diolch

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  7. Rick says:

    Do you plan to bring Chris back next year?
    I did not qualify to take the class this year but I am almost finished with the staked high stool and I have located some elm for a chair seat. I plan to be ready for the next class.
    I am looking forward to both books. If Chris’ book had plans it would provide a starting point for new chair makers as well as providing clear details. It is a different way of seeing the written information. If it wasn’t for your design book and blog it would be very hard for beginners to make a stick chair. I never would have tried to make a stool let alone a chair. I hope you realize how much help and inspiration you provide. Thank you.

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    • Chris is coming back next year. He might teach making a settee…

      I completely understand what you are saying about plans. It comes down to Chris being true to himself, John Brown and the history of the chair and the way it was made.

      I am not constrained by those things, which is why I publish what I do when it has my name on it.

      I promise that Chris’s book will be a huge asset for both beginning and experienced chairmakers. But it won’t be like Peter Galbert’s book, or my Design Book, or Drew Langsner’s book. I’ve edited almost the entire thing and think it is fantastic.

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