Gibsons are quite unlike the other stick chairs Chris makes. And he has devised novel ways to use cheap lasers to make your life easier when building them (meaning you don’t have to build a lot of complicated jigs).
Chris and I spent a lot of May 2023 filming the process, condensing it into a video that:
Will not waste your time. Chris dislikes prattling on and on in a video (and in life). He tried to make this video 100 percent meat – no gristle.
Will show you how to build the chair and avoid common pitfalls. He has made a lot of mistakes while figuring out the Gibson. He is happy to show you his scars and detours.
Is somewhat enjoyable to watch. In our video there are cats, self-deprecating jokes, the breaking of the fourth wall and other small amusements that will, we hope, keep you awake.
Has the information you need. The video comes with all the patterns (hand-drawn by Chris) and cutting lists and sources so you will get up to speed quickly.
This chair is a good first chair. Yes, it’s a bit angular. But you can do it. You just have to commit.
This 3-hour video includes all the videos and all the drawings and patterns. All free of DRM (Digital Rights Management) so you can put the video on your laptop, iPad, phone and desktop with no restrictions.
You can read more about it here and order it if you like. After June 18, the price will be $75 forever.
Do you need a new workbench – perhaps one based on traditional forms? We probably have a resource to help. Below are just a few of our workbench offerings – in video and book form. Plus, a link to video tours of workbenches Chris and others have built in the last 25 years.
Video: “Roubo Workbench: By Hand & Power” Building a workbench using giant slabs of solid timber is easier than you think. Christopher Schwarz and Will Myers, who have built hundreds of workbenches in their careers, show you how to do it with simple tools and wet wood.
“Roubo Workbench: By Hand & Power” walks you through the construction of an 8′-long slab workbench starting with wet chunks of inexpensive red oak. Will and Chris show you how to tackle each operation using only hand tools, only electric tools or a clever combination of both.
The 4:19-long video also includes copious amounts of workbench design details – including how to scale the height, width and length of the bench for your work – so you can customize your bench for your body. There’s also an extensive discussion of basic workholding – where to put your holdfast holes and how you can work easily without a tail vise.
Video: “The Naked Woodworker” “The Naked Woodworker” video seeks to answer the simple question: How do you get started in woodworking when you have nothing? No tools. No bench. No skills. And no knowledge of where to begin.
Veteran woodworker and teacher Mike Siemsen helps you take your first steps into the craft without spending a lot of money or spending years setting up shop. In fact, Mike shows you how to acquire a decent set of tools and build a workbench and sawbench for about $600 or $700 – something you can accomplish during a few weekends of work.
“The Naked Woodworker” begins at a Mid-West Tool Collectors Association’s regional meeting with Mike sifting through, evaluating, haggling and buying the tools needed to begin building furniture. Then, at Mike’s Minnesota shop, he fixes up the tools he bought. He rehabs the planes, sharpens the saws and fixes up the braces – all on camera.
On the second video in the set, Mike builds a sawbench and a fully functional workbench using home-center materials. Both the sawbench and workbench are amazingly clever. You don’t need a single machine or power tool to make them. And they work incredibly well.
The bench is based on Peter Nicholson’s early 19th-century design. It is remarkably solid and is perfect for a life of woodworking with hand or power tools.
Book: “The Anarchist’s Workbench” “The Anarchist’s Workbench” is – on the one hand – a detailed plan for a simple workbench that can be built using construction lumber and basic woodworking tools. But it’s also the story of Christopher Schwarz’s 20-year journey researching, building and refining historical workbenches until there was nothing left to improve.
“The Anarchist’s Workbench” is the third and final book in the “anarchist” series, and it attempts to cut through the immense amount of misinformation about building a proper bench. It helps answer the questions that dog every woodworker: What sort of bench should I build? What wood should I use? What dimensions should it be? And what vises should I attach to it?
“The Anarchist’s Workbench” also seeks to open your eyes to simpler workbench designs that eschew metal fasteners and instead rely only on the time-tested mortise-and-tenon joint that’s secured with a drawbored peg. The bench plan in the book is based on a European design that spread across the continent in the 1500s. It has only 12 joints, weighs more than 300 pounds and requires less than $300 in lumber. And while the bench is immensely simple, it is a versatile design that you can adapt and change as you grow as a woodworker.
Book: “The Workbench Book” First published in 1987, “The Workbench Book” by Scott Landis remains the most complete book on the most important tool in the woodworker’s shop.
“The Workbench Book” is a richly illustrated guided tour of the world’s best workbenches — from a traditional Shaker bench to the mass-produced Workmate. Author and workbench builder Scott Landis visited dozens of craftsmen, observing them at work and listening to what they had to say about their benches. The result is an intriguing and illuminating account of each bench’s strengths and weaknesses, within the context of a vibrant woodworking tradition.
This new 248-page hardbound edition from Lost Art Press ensures “The Workbench Book” will be available to future generations of woodworkers. Produced and printed in the United States, this classic text is printed on FSC-certified recycled paper and features a durable sewn binding designed to last generations. The 1987 text remains the same in this edition and includes a foreword by Christopher Schwarz.
Book: “Ingenious Mechanicks” Workbenches with screw-driven vises are a fairly modern invention. For more than 2,000 years, woodworkers built complex and beautiful pieces of furniture using simpler benches that relied on pegs, wedges and the human body to grip the work. While it’s easy to dismiss these ancient benches as obsolete, they are – at most – misunderstood.
Christopher Schwarz has been building these ancient workbenches and putting them to work in his shop to build all manner of furniture. Absent any surviving ancient instruction manuals for these benches, Schwarz relied on hundreds of historical paintings of these benches for clues as to how they worked. Then he replicated the devices and techniques shown in the paintings to see how (or if) they worked.
“Ingenious Mechanicks” is about this journey into the past and takes the reader from Pompeii, which features the oldest image of a Western bench, to a Roman fort in Germany to inspect the oldest surviving workbench and finally to his shop in Kentucky, where he recreated three historical workbenches and dozens of early jigs.
And here are links to video tours of workbench forms that are in the Lost Art Press shop (and three that used to be). (Most of them were built by Chris when he was at Popular Woodworking Magazine.)
The $175 Workbench – now our shipping station when it’s not in use for a class) The Power Tool Workbench – currently in the Horse Garage – meant to be used during a class by the person not teaching…but it’s almost always covered with wood and other supplies, so we use the low bench in the shop instead). English Joiner’s Bench – in the shop, behind Chris’ “Anarchist’s Workbench” – it’s a hair taller than the AWB, so it sometimes functions as a stop at the back of his bench. It is the most level spot in our shop – so whomever is working at it during a chair class gets kicked off when it’s time to level legs. The Cherry Roubo – now at our general contractor’s house. This one – while gorgeous – is just a bit too narrow for efficient and comfortable use during many of our classes, so we gave it to one of its biggest fans. (The size was limited by the width of slabs available at the time of building – had the wood allowed, it could have been wider.) The Holtzapffel Workbench – in the front window. It’s original twin-screw vise is in the basement; for most classes, the leg vise is more useful. And when I’m teaching a tool chest class, I prefer a Moxon vise atop the bench to raise the work to a comfortable sawing level for more students. Vintage Ulmia – now with a friend. A good bench – just not great for us. The Glulam Workbench (aka Gluebo) – now in my basement, for which I’m thankful. I built my other bench, a wee Roubo, to go on the second floor of my old house, and it’s too small for a lot of the house-scale work I’m now doing! Moravian Workbench – in the front window, back to back with the Holtzapffel. This one was built by our friend Will Myers. French Oak Roubo – this behemoth is back to bench with my bench. Lightweight Commercial Bench – Chris bought this one for a Fine Woodworking article on beefing up a wobbly bench. I believe it’s now at his daughter Katherine’s house.
Welsh chairmaker Chris Williams is teaching classes in our storefront this month and has brought over one of his truly remarkable Welsh stick chairs, made from Welsh woods in the old tradition by a 100-percent Welshman.
Chris is, quite simply, the best stick chair maker alive. He’s the one we all look up to, and he’s always pushing the design of the chair forward in terms of design and backward in terms of using armbows made from curved branches – the traditional way that the best chairs were made.
In fact, I would put up his work against any fine furniture maker in terms of fit and surface finish. Chris absolutely tortures himself to get it right. And it shows in the results.
Chris, the author of “Good Work,” was shown how to make Welsh stick chairs by John Brown, and Chris worked with JB for many years, making these chairs.
The chair is made from timber I source myself from around my home village of Llanybri in Wales. Small-diameter ash logs are split by hand and are used to construct the legs, stretchers and sticks. The three-piece ash arm bow is made from naturally curved ash from the hedgerows, which is cut in winter and seasoned for a few years before use. I follow the tradition that the armbow dictates the shape of the seat, which in turn makes Welsh chairs visually and uniquely distinctive from other chair forms. The two-piece elm seat is jointed with loose tenons and the oak pegs which are used in this construction technique form a pattern on the seat which is visible when a raking light casts across it. The chair is stained with a black dye and topcoated with a linseed oil finish. The open grain of the timbers is clearly visible through the matte/satin finish.
Typically, Chris has a buyer for the chairs he brings over. But for this one we decided to offer it up in a silent auction here on our blog. All the proceeds go to Chris. (We never take a cut when we sell other people’s work.)
Purchasing the Chair
This chair is being sold via silent auction. (I’m sorry but the chair cannot be shipped outside the U.S.) If you wish to buy the chair, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org before 3 p.m. (Eastern) on Thursday, June 15. In the email please use the subject line “Welsh Chair Sale” and include your:
First name and last name
U.S. shipping address
Daytime phone number (this is for the trucking quote only)
This chair has a reserve. The sale price will include shipping to anywhere in the lower 48 states. Or you are welcome to pick it up in our storefront here in Covington, Ky.
I’m a big fan of the Taiwanese-made “carver’s vise” sold by many vendors with slightly different paint jobs. The vise is inexpensive and incredibly versatile, especially for chairmaking operations. Most students who take a chair class here seem to end up ordering one after using one of ours. The vise basically replaces a shaving horse.
Recently I decided to buy a few more of these vises so that every student could choose between one of the carver’s vises, or one of our also-excellent Hi Vises from Benchcrafted.
After writing about my love of the green Taiwanese vise, several readers told me I should try the version from StewMac. The company has upgraded the vise to improve its performance.
I ordered one and immediately put it to work on the comb-back stick chair on my bench. Here is the short version of the review: Don’t bother with the StewMac. The upgrades are unnoticeable.
Instead, buy the Grizzly version of the vise, which is on sale for $129 with free shipping until Aug. 14. This is not a paid advertorial. If someone asked me to do something like that I’d tell them to poop up their own butts. The Grizzly version is basically half the price of the StewMac version (after shipping and taxes). And they work the same.
Let’s take a closer look.
The StewMac version is supposed to have hardwood jaws. They aren’t hardwood. They are a softwood – just like the jaws on the green versions.
The StewMac version has roller bearings to make the vise operate more smoothly. There is no difference in the speed or ease that both vises close. Both are swift. Neither is smoother than the other.
The StewMac version has a round handwheel with a plastic handle. The cheaper green versions have a simple cast handle. I prefer the simple cast handle. I don’t like plastic, and there is literally nothing wrong with the all-cast-iron handle.
The StewMac version has nylon locknuts on the jaws. The green versions use common threaded bolts. This is the tiniest upgrade ever. Yes, the locknuts are smart and a bit better. They prevent the jaws from freezing up temporarily when you over-twist them, which is not a big deal. So yeah, good call. But it’s not worth the $74.75 extra for the StewMac.
Oh, and the StewMac is painted red instead of green. Whoever painted these vises – both the red ones and the green ones – had just failed an eye exam. The paint job is B- at best. But I don’t care about the paint job because it doesn’t hold the work.
What I Would Upgrade
If I wanted to “upgrade” the green vise, here’s what I would do.
Improve the jaws. They are softwood covered in a tough urethane. But after a while the jaws and their screws fail. I have fixed this on some of my vises by using a tough hardwood for the jaws, such as ash.
Lengthen the wingnut that secures the vise to the bench. The cast wingnut is pretty perfect. But I would prefer a bigger one so that I could get some more leverage to tighten and loosen the wingnut. It is easy to overtighten the vise by rotating the vise’s body in use. A larger wingnut would fix this problem.
But other than that, the green vise is cheap and perfect. Unless you just prefer red.
The following is excerpted from “Good Work: The Chairmaking Life of John Brown,” by Christopher Williams. It’s the first biography of one of the most influential chairmakers and writers of the 20th century: Welshman John Brown.
The book’s title of “Good Work” was an expression John Brown used to describe a noble act or thing. He once mused he wanted to create a “Good Work” seal that could be applied to truly beautiful and handmade goods – like the “Good Housekeeping” seal of approval.
“Good Work” is the kind of woodworking book we live for at Lost Art Press. It’s not about offering you plans, jigs or techniques per se. Its aim instead is to challenge the way you look at woodworking through the lens of one of its most important 20th century figures. And though this appears to be a book on chairmaking, it’s much more. Anyone who is interested in handwork, vernacular furniture, workshop philosophy or iconoclastic characters will enjoy “Good Work.”
Author Chris Williams spent about a decade with John Brown in Wales, building Welsh chairs and pushing this vernacular form further and further. This book recounts their work together, from the first day that Chris nervously called John Brown until the day his mentor died in 2008.
This book is about a man, a chair and a set of ideals. It’s a journey of enlightenment, inspiration and heartbreak as I experienced it. There are many facets to John Brown’s life and his life less ordinary, but my story concentrates on John Brown the chairmaker. Other important voices will be heard throughout, each will give an account of the time they spent with John Brown, or JB as he’ll often be referred as. His daughter Molly Brown has beautifully illustrated the book; each illustration tells its own story, be it a chair, landscape or Celtic cross, all relevant to what John Brown held dear. I’m indebted to Lost Art Press, which secured the rights to 19 of John Brown’s wonderful columns from Good Woodworking magazine. These essays will give you a flavour of his writing and philosophical approach to life in the years after writing his book “Welsh Stick Chairs.” But before we dive into that, here’s some brief housekeeping to fully acquaint you with the country that gave birth to both the man and chair.
Wales: The name given to us by the Anglo-Saxons. They were one of the many who tried to conquer our land. The Romans, Vikings and Normans all left their mark, yet we are still here as a proud nation. Wales is known to its indigenous people as CYMRU. Sadly the name Wales and its people, “The Welsh,” have stuck. And for the broader subject of this book, we’ll stick with this term.
Wales is a small country that along with Scotland, England and Northern Ireland make up what is known to most as Great Britain or the United Kingdom. The country lies on the western seaboard side of the UK. Its population is approximately 3.1 million people. Its topography is mostly mountainous, with a coastline of more than 2,700 km. Its coal, iron and slate industries are now shadows of their former selves. Agriculture is now one of our main industries, particularly sheep farming in the hills and dairy farming in the lowlands. Tourism also is a large part of the Welsh economy. People are drawn to its spectacular coastline, mountains and abundant castles.
Wales is a bilingual country. The Welsh language has survived despite centuries of persecution by the English and the powers in Westminster. It is now spoken by more than 560,000 people; for many it is still their first language.
During Britain’s recent history, huge swathes of people emigrated to the New World. The Irish, Scots and English all colonised enormous areas of the British Empire. The Welsh mostly stayed at home, yet small numbers went to Patagonia, North America and Australasia. As a result, Wales is little known on the world stage. The Irish identity, for example, remains a huge part of life in the New World. The Scottish are known for whisky and kilts, but the Welsh… we seem indifferent to many.
If anything, we’re known for the Welsh male voice choir and rugby. This frustrates me, even more so when people see a map of Great Britain and they deem it “England.” It definitely is not! The Welsh are the original inhabitants of Britain, which is known as YNYS PRYDEIN, or “The Isle of Britain” to its indigenous people. There are myriad books on the history of Wales and its people, but this book is about one Welshman in particular and a chair.
“John Brown” was born in Wales, yet spent half of his life in England. He returned to his homeland of Wales as a middle-aged man with an English accent. Culturally different, Wales must have felt alien and different to the Wales of his childhood in the industrial valleys. After a few moves he settled into the predominantly Welsh-speaking area of Cilgwyn in rural North Pembrokeshire. His flamboyant character must have stood out in that parochial community. Twenty years would pass before I would meet him in person, but during those years in that most beautiful corner of Wales he regained his sense of Welshness. For those early years other voices will be heard in this book, for that story is theirs to tell. What I write is from my personal experience and perspective.
John Brown once told me that he felt like an outsider because of his English accent, yet he was born in Wales and was a Welshman. He would have been deemed a “Saeson” – an Englishman in many Welsh-speaking communities. It’s an arbitrary distinction. Yet, this sense of identity based on how we speak raises much passion in Britain. It was a conundrum for John Brown, no doubt. I do know that at least he never suffered the remarks that many have endured for having a Welsh accent. Britain is a diverse country with wonderfully different dialects and accents. Yet, why is it that unless you speak with a posh, plummy English accent you are immediately deemed as stupid?
John Brown was a maverick, and he knew his cultural history. He was the most well-read man I ever met. The knowledge that he amassed was staggering, and it had to be vented at times. John Brown relished getting his strong opinions over and out. These rants became quite the norm for me. I couldn’t call them debates, as I would have had to say something. I learnt to say nothing, as I was young and naive. Yet, perversely, I learned much from them.
During one of these rants, he said something that touched a nerve. We were having a pot of tea. I was taking a sip when he announced: “Your average Welshman is an arsehole!” I nearly spat out the contents of my now-gaping mouth. Myself, Welsh born and bred, and definitely Mr. Average. I listened tentatively to his sermon until he got to the crux of his outburst: Why did the Welsh let everyone walk all over them? Why couldn’t the Welsh voice be heard? These frustrations are why he had written the book “Welsh Stick Chairs.” He’d found a culture rich in history and a chair that would become an obsession. He was intuitive and foresaw his beloved chair being annexed as some form of English regional chair. For John Brown, this couldn’t happen.
I forgave his outburst as he was correct. We don’t need any experts other than ourselves. “Welsh Stick Chairs” is a wonderful source of information. It’s a brief history of Wales, a chair and one man’s obsession with it, all encapsulated into a small book that became a cult object. It planted a seed that has been sown around the world. Its message is different for all who have read it.
How to Enter Wales Just before entering Wales from England on the M4 motorway you have to cross the Severn Bridge. The bridge spans 1.6 km over the River Severn, and on reaching the other side you’re soon greeted by a road sign that reads “Croeso i Gymru,” which translates as “Welcome to Wales.” From this point on, every road sign in Wales is bilingual. This particular location is relevant and poignant to this story. During a passionate conversation (or lecture), John Brown told me how he wanted to see a giant sculpture erected of a Welsh stick chair on entering Wales, similar in scale to Anthony Gormley’s “Angel of the North” near Gateshead in Northern England. He thought that the humble Welsh stick chair should become the cultural icon of Wales. That particular conversation holds me to this day. Read on. I hope that at the end of the journey (this book) you’ll realise that it’s OK to dream of giant chairs and to let your imagination run riot with this (or any) aesthetic in chair design. I’ll try and explain….
Whilst travelling by car to Wales from the south or west of England you can see the Severn Bridge looming from several miles distant, its huge white towers slung with miles of wire, supporting the carriageway beneath. As a child it always excited me to see the old Severn bridge whilst on my return home from family holidays in England. It’s a milestone in that I knew I was nearing my homeland and friends. Decades later I still get that feeling when I first see the bridge, but my thoughts are now different. So here we go….
Slowly my daily mind drains away, transcending into something more ethereal in nature, a vision begins. I’m looking at a colossus – a primitive chair, six long sticks piercing the clouds, four eccentrically raked legs rooting it to the Welsh soil, its form hoary with age and its colour patinated dark by the elements. Its silhouette screaming “I’m Welsh” against a brooding skyline. It looks outwardly from Wales. A sentinel for the past, present and future. A voiceless yet powerful symbol. This surreal moment holds me for several minutes. Its finale is when I tip my imaginary cap to John Brown as I see the road sign welcoming me back to my homeland. The moment passes and reality returns. I usually think about chairs and JB from then on until I reach home. Melancholic, maybe. Yet, this won’t be the last you’ll read about giant chairs as they prove to have an important role in the tale that will unfold.
John Brown’s book “Welsh Stick Chairs” is a classic. It gives us insight into a craftsman’s life. The book’s section on building a chair, with its beautiful black-and-white photos of the chair’s construction, had a huge impact on me. This inspired me to build chairs, yet there are no plans in his book. This subject of plans is an integral part of this book – integral because there won’t be any plans, but the subject will crop up constantly for good reason.
Why no plans? John Brown wrote in a Good Woodworking magazine column, “It is never so valid building from other people’s plans as seeing an object in your imagination and then making it. I would like to see purveyors of plans go bankrupt.”
I’d hate to see his words being taken out of context. He then went on to write, “There are, of course, many exceptions.” This might sound extreme, but it’s fundamental to the way JB felt about chairmaking. He fully understood the origins of the early chairs and their makers. No two chairs were identical, so how could a plan work? How could he ever make the same chair twice? This would become sacrosanct to his philosophy as well to me personally.
JB would happily and freely give advice on tools and workshop practise, including plans for tool chests, workbenches etc. in his monthly columns. Yet, plans for chairs weren’t up for discussion. As you read this book I hope you’ll be inspired and realise that the lack of plans isn’t a negative! This isn’t meant to alienate you, I promise! I hope that you’ll embrace it as a different way of woodworking and design. Reread “Welsh Stick Chairs.” Read this book over and over, become a monk for a while, let this mantra invade your veins. This approach worked for me! So first let me give you some insight into how this works.
When I was in my late teens I built my first chair. I didn’t own a set of French curves or anything in particular to aid me in drawing a fair curve. I hadn’t thought about buying a plan (even if one was available). I can well remember using a bin lid (trash can lid) to draw in the back curve of a chair seat, as well as using a coffee mug to draw the curves on the front corners of the seat. Once I had the curves looking fair I was away. It was my first tentative step into a new world of chairmaking. I felt at times that I was almost plucking shapes from the air. Did I have insecurities about what I was doing? Definitely! What I made was in truth a mediocre chair. It was, without doubt, a fundamental part of my learning, and it helped me think outside the box. I hope that you will get this message, accept it and fully immerse yourself into a journey of self-discovery as a free thinker and maker. It’s OK if your chairs don’t look like what you see in your mind’s eye – embrace it! Your work will become better for it.
If, at the end of the book, you feel that you’re in need of a plan, please know that there’s a plethora of wonderful books out there on the subject of chairmaking. If you’re stuck on the Welsh chair aesthetic, Christopher Schwarz’s excellent book “The Anarchist Design Book” has a chair plan of an American Welsh Stick Chair.