John Brown ~ Part 1

John Brown

John Brown died in his sleep on the morning of 1st June 2008. John Brown was a maker of Welsh stick chairs, as well as a teacher and author. His book on Windsor chairs is, I believe, out of print although it is to be found here and there for stratospheric sums of money.

John Brown also wrote for Good Woodworking, starting in issue 13 in 1993 and continuing with the odd break here and there up until issue 129 in December 2002. He was a vociferous advocate of hand work, working only with hand tools himself with the exception of a bandsaw, which he powered with a petrol engine sat outside his workshop. He attracted many abusive letters, which he called “missiles”, from elements of the Good Woodworking readership offended by his advocacy of hand work and simple ways of working. He received an equal number of letters in support. He taught, and wrote expressly for the amateur, speaking from experience, which he described as the best teacher — although the one with the highest fees. He was a champion for the cause of common sense and practical woodworking, though he may have bridled at the thought of being called such. Not for him the exactitudes of precision measurement; he worked in terms of sixteenths “full or slack” and “gnat’s whiskers”. He was a craftsman.

I never met John Brown other than through his writing, though I have met some who did — and they all have stories to tell. Dave Roberts of this parish recounts an occasion when he had entered a piece in a competition. Brown, who was famously dismissive of turners and turning, took a look, paused a moment and then said simply “not too bad”. John Brown attracted extremes of feeling which I suspect surprised him as he was doing nothing more than telling people what he thought appropriate for himself; regardless of one’s feelings about him, what cannot be denied is that the woodworking world has suffered a great loss.

In closing we should perhaps let him speak for himself.

“Simple woodwork for the common man, that’s what all this is about. By all means glean what you can from reading what the experts say. But don’t let that get in the way of your woodwork!… remember that every day that you do some woodwork, your techniques improve. Even when everything goes wrong, that is still an important day, when you will have learned something you won’t easily forget”. (GW70:34, June 1998). Mike Riley