This week we will begin selling laser-cut templates for the Staked Armchair in “The Anarchist’s Design Book: Expanded Edition,” and I have received more than a few raised eyebrows and cutting remarks about the templates.
After all, isn’t this a Welsh stick chair of the kind made famous by John Brown? The guy who said there never ever should be a plan published for a Welsh chair? And who also said that people who sell plans should go out of business?
First, this is absolutely (and you know it hurts me to write an -ly adverb) not a Welsh stick chair. As I’ve written time and again, I call this form an American Welsh stick chair because it is designed for modern American woods and with details that make it as contemporary as I can manage. The “Welsh” part of its name is a nod to its origins. If you want to build a real Welsh stick chair, go to St Fagans, soak up the fantastic vibe there and get to work. Or get a good dose of it through Chris Williams’s new book “Good Work: The Chairmaking Life of John Brown.”
But still, why am I offering plans and templates?
OK, close your eyes and imagine… Wait, that’s not going to work because you have to use your eyes to read the next sentence.
OK, let’s say it’s your first ever day in music class. You’re sitting in a chair with your foreign-feeling trombone, violin or (God save my ears) a plastic recorder. The teacher then says: OK class, I’d like you each to compose a sonata in G, and please don’t forget to return to the tonic key during the recapitulation. I’ll be back at the end of the class to grade your work.
Before you can write music, it’s helpful to be able to play music.
Music class is the opportunity to learn your instrument by playing beautiful pieces composed by others. When I taught myself to play guitar about age 11, I played “Froggy Went A-Courtin” so many damn times I thought my sisters might murder me. So then I sang “Michael Row the Boat Ashore” about 60 times to torture them anew.
After learning hundreds of folk songs, standards and country tunes, I could feel their patterns in my hands as I moved them across the fretboard. I felt how suspended chords could brighten a progression. I knew so many songs composed with G, D and D chords that I also knew how odd (and wonderful) it was to encounter an A7 in a bridge. I could also spot chords that really didn’t have a name, made by people who had never formally studied music. Those were my favorites.
After a few years of playing other people’s tunes, I began to write my own. But I still continued to play other people’s songs in an effort to get inside their heads and make myself a better musician and songwriter.
So (if you are still awake at this point) this is why I offer explicit plans for this chair. If you want to become a chairmaker, it helps to learn the processes, joinery and setups while building someone else’s design. Some people do this by taking a class. Other people can’t afford that route, so plans and templates are an effective way to learn.
It is my sincerest hope that after you build a bunch of chairs that you will see the patterns and rhythms built into my designs (and the chairs of others). The language in my chairs is as straightforward as 12-bar blues. It ain’t jazz. Then, perhaps, you will be able to build chairs of your own devising.
And then maybe someday, we’ll have a world where every chair is different.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. We are working out the pricing on the templates that were designed and made by FirstLightWorks. We’ll have full details on them and their availability in short order. So I don’t have any more information to share just yet. Apologies.