Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Anarchy in the UK

As publication of The Schwarz's "Anarchist's Tool Chest" approacheth, inevitably my thoughts turned to an earlier self-styled woodworking anarchist, chairmaker John Brown. He wrote a series of articles in his column in Good Woodworking magazine, choosing a kit of readily available hand tools and then using them to build saw horses, a bench, tool storage and so forth, to demonstrate his philosophy of shunning power tools in favour of hand tools was a practical choice for a modern woodworker. In short, he was pretty much ahead of the game.

As we've already covered Charles Hayward's recommended beginner's tool kit, thought the reader might be interested on JB's selection, first printed in the autumn of 1997 and based largely on what was available from the Axminster catalogue of the time. I'd include the prices, but it'd only depress us all...


John Brown's Anarchist Woodworker Tool Kit - Autumn 1997

26in Rip Saw
26in Crosscut
22in Panel saw
8in Gents saw
Coping saw
12in Turning saw
Junior hack saw
8in regular taper saw file
6in slim taper saw file

20oz Claw
12oz Crosspein

Jointer No 7
Jack No5
Block 60 1/2
Rebate 778
Router 71

1 1/4in paring
1/2in paring
1in register
1/2in register
1/4in bevel edge

Boring Holes
10in Brace
Hand drill
1in Jennings bit
3/4in Jennings bit
5/8in Jennings bit
1/2in Jennings bit
3/8in Jennings bit
Bit roll - 9 pocket
1 1/4in centre pattern bit
13 piece twist drills, IMP

Measuring and Marking
36in Rabone Blind Man's Rule
5m Tape
12in Try Square
10 1/2in Bevel
Mortise Gauge
Cutting Gauge
Knife (Sloyd)
2in Bradawl - square blade
Stanley Knife 199

8in Screwdriver
4in Screwdriver
6in Pliers
10in Pincers
12in Wood rasp
Adjustable mouth spokeshave
Cabinet Scraper
O'Donnell Tool Rest
Fine Bench Stone - 8in x 2in Norton India

Holding and Cramping
Vice - Record 10 1/2in plain screw
Vice - Mechanic's - Record 4in
G Cramps
Sash Cramps - Paramo box section 2 x 36in
Sash Cramps - Paramo box section 2 x 72in

Add to this list such items as pencils, chalk, masking tape, rags, brushes, Danish oil, paint etc. Also, a 36in (or better, a 48in) metal level, useful as a straight edge.


The plan was to write a book, I believe, but it never came to fruition, which I always thought was a terrible shame. As it turns out, I needn't have worried; wait long enough and another anarchist will come along, just like buses. ;)


  1. I used to really enjoy his articles, a very practical man. I take it from your use of the past tense that JB is no longer with us? I think I have a chair making book he wrote, "The chairmakers workshop" although I don't have it in front of me so I can't be sure it was written by him.

  2. Yes, alas, JB died in 2008. I think The Chairmaker's Workshop is Drew Langsner, isn't it? Good book. That and JB's Welsh Stick Chairs between them got me through my own Welsh Stick Chairmaking adventure.

  3. That's a shame, I liked his no nonsense style of making.
    You are of course right, Drew Langsner did write The Chairmakers workshop.

  4. I used to read his articles but he never seemed to come across a happy man.
    I love going through my hundreds of old magazines, I might have to re read a few of his articles again.

  5. I was searching for that list, it is interesting. My thanks for posting it.

  6. John Brown was one of the most influential woodworking writers of the last 50 years – at least for me.

    His friends and family on both sides of the Atlantic are now trying to bring his writing back into print. His short book on chairs only scratches the surface of his approach to woodworking and life.

    The title of my book pays homage to John Brown and his influence on my life. If the content, captures even 1 percent of his spirit, I'll be happy.


  7. Nice list!

    Did he miss off a tenon saw or I have I missed it? I have to admit I hate gent's saws - nasty awkward, wobbly things. Whoever thought up the idea that cylindrical would be a good shape for a saws handle? If it it was me I would replace the gent's with a dovetail saw, and add a tenon saw to the list...

    Thanks for drawing attention to Chris's forthcoming book which I now badly want a copy of. Damn. Perhaps it would be better for your reader's bank balances if you kept these little nuggets of information to yourself.....

  8. Marcus, my bank balance suffers - why shouldn't yours? It's Chris you want to moan at, damn his prodigious output. ;)

    And good spot about the tenon saw; none present. JB said the following about his choice:

    "The tenon saw is a very difficult tool to use, so I have left it out. I never use one. It does have fine teeth, but its heavy back and the height of the handle above the cutting edge make it very difficult to keep in an accurate line for fine work. The gents saw is much easier to use. It too have very fine teeth and is ideal for cutting dovetails and the like, but you will find yourself using it for many jobs. The gents saw works very well when married to a bench hook (which we'll be making with our bench)."

    Hmm. Discuss? (Using only one side of the paper)

  9. Hmm, indeed!

    I seriously disagree with him about the tenon saw thing. To me the whole point of a tenon saw is that the weight of the back means that you don't have to apply tension or pressure to make it cut. This gives much greater control because you are more relaxed, and also uses less energy.

    I was once told that you should hold a tenon saw the same way as you would hold a child's hand, which is a rather nice image I think....

  10. Interesting list. But surely you need more chisels than that? Two of each size lets you keep going if something untoward happens to the one you're using.



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