I have learned to try not to be too clever – nor too ambitious. “Half of something is better than all of nothing.” How many of us have unfinished projects that seemed like a good idea at the time? Better to have made, finished and used a simple bookcase in relatively cheap pine, than to have a half completed, oak, breakfront set, taking up room in the workshop. Ambition can be a terrible force. Most worthwhile accomplishments are a “brick on brick” operation. Lots of patient practice built into experience and eventually confidence.
— John Brown, Issue 81 of Good Woodworking magazine
Don’t get me wrong. You do need skills to work with machines. But you end up with engineering skills: precision engineering in wood. I have spoken to woodworkers about this and have been heartened by their defensive attitude. “I have a few machines,” means they have a lot. “But I seldom use them,” means they use them all the time.
— John Brown, Issue 30 of Good Woodworking magazine
The reason I make chairs is because I like to do it, therefore if I can do more of it I have more pleasure. I sell some chairs by word of mouth recommendation, by repeats or to friends or existing customers. In the last four or five years I have sold every chair I made. There are times when I could have sold more. Sometimes I don’t work as hard as I should. I still have no money, I’m always waiting for the next cheque, and I suspect I always will be, but I don’t worry. The difference between starvation and plenty is one chair.
— John Brown, Issue 28 of Good Woodworking magazine
DIY initials have entered our language. I remember being lost near Cardiff one day. I stopped to ask a local for directions. “Straight up, turn left at the Crown, than after a mile look on your left for a large Don’t Involve Yourself store – it’s just past there.”
— John Brown, Issue 27 of Good Woodworking magazine
During the last two weeks I have been deep into designing Chris Williams’s book on John Brown. It’s great to see all these years of work from people all over the world come together on the page.
In addition to Chris’s detailed account of his life with John Brown and all the important details on chair construction, the book features essays from other important voices in John Brown’s chairmaking life. Anne Sears, JB’s wife while at Pantry Fields; David Sears, a nephew who built chairs with JB at Pantry Fields; Matty Sears, one of JB’s sons who made chairmaking tools for his dad; and Nick Gibbs, the editor who hired John Brown to write a column for Good Woodworking. We’re also using many linocut illustrations made by Molly Brown, one of JB’s daughters.
On top of all that, we have purchased the rights to publish 20 of John Brown’s best magazine columns. I’ve just finished laying out that chapter, and it’s 72 pages long – almost a novella. As a result, I’ve pulled a few choice quotes that I’ll publish here this week in an attempt to give you a taste of JB’s writing.
This leads me on to gripe about some of the woodworkers I come across. I hope you will forgive my opinion. When I talk to readers or get letters it often seems to be about the petty cash of woodwork (technical points about dovetails or getting joints to fit), but rarely about shape, proportion or colour. I don’t think joints are that important. I would prefer to see woodworkers look at the total picture, is the piece they have just made beautiful, will it hold together, will it do the job it was made for?
Woodworkers don’t buy my chairs, but they spend ages looking at the details of construction and then frown disapprovingly. They want engineering perfection. People who buy my chairs do so for two main reasons. Firstly and by far the most important point, they buy because they like the look of them. Secondly they buy them because they like sitting in them. They rarely inspect the joints. They think they look good, they think they will do the job they are made to do and even though the parts don’t fit particularly well, they are strong enough!
The book should be off to the printer in January and released by March. I’ll have more details as they become available.