Good Work: The Chairmaking Life of John Brown
What's a stick chair? You can learn all about them here.
by Christopher Williams
You can download an excerpt of this book here.
“Good Work: The Chairmaking Life of John Brown” by Christopher Williams is 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.
Alongside that fascinating story of loyalty, hard work and eventually grief, “Good Work” offers essays from the people directly involved in John Brown’s life as a chairmaker. Nick Gibbs, his editor from Good Woodworking magazine; Anne Sears, John Brown’s second wife; David Sears, his nephew; and Matty Sears, one of his sons who is now a toolmaker, all offer their views of John Brown and his work.
“Good Work” also allows John Brown (sometimes called JB) to speak for himself. We purchased the rights to reprint 19 of the man’s best columns from Good Woodworking, the ones that inspired devotion, provoked anger or caused people to change their lives.
Chris then proceeds to show you how he and JB built chairs during the later years together. These methods are different than what John Brown showed in his book “Welsh Stick Chairs.” And Chris goes into detail that hasn’t been published before. Chris covers the particular tools that JB preferred and gives you more than enough information to build a beautiful Welsh stick chair. But, just to be clear, there are no dimensioned plans included in this book.
To honor his mentor’s wishes, Chris instead shows you how to build a chair the way John Brown showed people to build a chair. Yes, there are dimensions. Techniques are clearly and cleverly explained. But there are some things left for you to work out – things that will make your chair your own – not just a copy.
The 208-page full-color book is also filled with historical photographs (many never published before) and beautiful linocut illustrations by Molly Brown, one of JB’s daughters. The book is printed on heavy coated paper with a matte finish to make it easy to read. The book’s pages are sewn, glued and taped – then covered in heavy boards and cotton cloth – to create a book that will last for generations. And the whole package is wrapped in a durable tear-resistant laminated dust jacket, which features linocut illustrations by Molly Brown. The entire book is produced and printed in the United States.
Table of Contents
Preface by Nick Gibbs vii
1: Editor's Note by Christopher Schwarz 1
2: An Introduction to Wales 4
3: What Makes a Welsh Stick Chair? 10
4: My Life with John Brown 24
5: John Brown, in His Own Words 54
6: The Pace of His Grandmother's Heartbeat by Anne Sears 126
7: A Day in the Life of Chairman Brown by David Sears 130
8: A Family of Makers by Matty Sears 134
9: John Brown's Tool Kit 140
10: Construction of a Chair 148
11: The Throne 170
12: Conclusion 176
13: The Last Chair 182
About the Author
Chris Williams is a chairmaker who lives and works in rural West Wales. A professional woodworker since the age of 16, he completed his City & Guilds training in carpentry and joinery. Since finishing his apprenticeship in 1989 he has continued to work with wood, starting out in a joinery workshop then to general carpentry, woodland management, hedgelaying and furniture restoration, all to help subsidise his income as a modern-day craftsman. He first encountered John Brown in the early 1990s through John Brown's cult book "Welsh Stick Chairs," but it would be several years before he met him in the flesh. After spending a decade learning from John Brown and his philosophical approach to chairmaking, Chris has gone on to make hundreds of chairs as well as continuing the legacy of his late friend and mentor John Brown, who died in 2008. Chris continues to evolve this chair form, using traditional hand tools and local Welsh timber whilst also celebrating the idiosyncrasy of the traditional Welsh stick chairs by making each chair uniquely individual. He continues to ply his craft from the small village of Llanybri where he shares his home with his partner, Claire, and four children.
You can read more about Chris in our full profile.