John Brown
By appearances and background, the John Brown that Good Woodworking knew was a late-middle aged, middleclass gentleman. Yet in spirit he was a selfconfessed hippy. This treatise on practise and dedication again helps us to understand his approach to woodworking.
Right: John Brown allowed himself only the one machine – an ancient bandsaw. Typically it lived outside under a tarpaulin taking power off a tractor!
The last two years of writing this column every month has been an exciting time. I’m sure I have learnt more than any reader. It has caused me to think more deeply on things, and firm up thoughts I have about our subject.

Because I use old tools, and the fact that I build primitive and traditional furniture and chairs causes some to think of me as a conservative woodworker. Nothing could be further from the truth. I was once described as an elderly hippy; a position I am happy to fill. I am, in all truth, only an average woodworker. It has been a long struggle to achieve with my hands what I see in my head. Enthusiasm, to a certain extent, is my motor, and drives me well, but it doesn’t come easy.

Two correspondents have GW30:38 – April 1995 GW60:58 – September 1997 noticed a candle burning on my bench from the photographs of my workshop, even in broad daylight. The candle reminds me to concentrate, like tying a knot in your handkerchief as a ‘remembrancer’. If I don’t concentrate, sawcuts go awry, gauge marks appear in the wrong place, in fact lack of concentration lets the gremlins out of the cage.

Some people buy tools and expect them to be packaged with the necessary skills. When they find the saw doesn’t cut straight and they can’t chisel accurately, and the plane won’t cut they give up, or they buy a machine to do it. Musicians practise every day so that they can improve their techniques and play with a degree of certainty. Dancers and acrobats spend far more time practising than they do performing. People spend fortunes on education learning Greek, chemistry, physics, literature etc... It all takes time.

I believe that simply buying machines to do the job for you is the lazy route, the quick cop-out. You can have straight sawcuts, perfect mortise and tenons, even dovetails can be made with hardly any practice.