A look inside the shop of chairmaker John Porritt
Once you take a look around this woodworkers' paradise, you're not going to want to leave.
I recently enjoyed a glorious fall weekend in the Berkshires at the shop of chairmaker (and more) John Porritt, whose work is inspired by traditional Welsh and English chairs (one of his chairs was praised by John Brown in a 1995 Good Woodworking column!). What takes Porritt’s work into the extraordinary are his incredible finishes, which mimic a century or more of use. And that’s why Christopher Schwarz and I were there – to take pictures for a book on Porritt’s finishing techniques (so for more on that, you’ll have to wait, I’m afraid, for Lost Art Press to publish it).
Porritt trained in the U.K. and has spent his life immersed in woodworking using mostly traditional techniques and tools. He does own a bandsaw and an electric-powered lathe, and now has a friend plane some stock for him in a powered planer, but much of his work is with wood and branches he has harvested himself and tools that would be familiar to a pre-industrial maker. Chairs are Porritt’s passion, but he’s also known for his repair work on furniture of all types as well as tools. He has restored tools for Jim Bode, Martin Donnelly, Lee Richmond, and many collectors both here and abroad. He is also a great guitarist and storyteller (I wish we’d had more time for those).
His shop is in a restored barn behind his 1700s house, alongside a stream. It has a large sliding front door; a bank of windows on one wall; an efficient wood stove for heat and rag disposal; cabinets and chests full of carefully arranged tools (the most well-organized tools I’ve ever seen, actually); a finishing cabinet chock-full of paints, stains, waxes, solvents, and other finishing supplies; a workbench (of course); a stack of shelves filled up to the rafters with old wood (some of it 300 years old, saved from old furniture pieces); and his own chairs as well as some gorgeous ones he’s collected over the years (that he may or may not restore). Both days we were there, several deer came up to drink from the stream, and eat from the bounty of fallen apples. He and his wife, Sue, an American, bought the property shortly after they moved to the United States in 2008.
I could continue trying to convey the place in words, but I think pictures will do their magic more justice. Below are more than a few.