Woodworking Courses - an introduction
In August 2004 my wife Hilary and I moved to Acton Scott, a village and farming estate near Church Stretton in the middle of the beautiful South Shropshire Hills. I now have a large, well-equipped barn conversion workshop with far more space than I could ever have hoped for [or afforded] in London. We are privileged to have had the recent very popular BBC2 series 'Victorian Farm' filmed here in Acton Scott. We live in one of the estate cottages, Glebe Farm, and many of the exterior shots were done in the farmyard outside our kitchen window. Most of the interior ones were done at Henley Cottage just down the road, 100 yards or so from the workshop.
Woodcraft - a background
I owe a debt of thanks to Zachary Taylor* as he was an important factor in my being as involved in writing and teaching as I am now. While he was editor of Woodworker in the early 1990s he suggested that I come along to a Woodworker Show [1993 at Sandown, I think] to demonstrate box making. Now the thing is - pottery, turning, pyrography, carving, marbled paper making, candle making ... all these have an immediacy and a certain visual drama. But box making? 'Demonstrate what?!' I asked, aware that watching someone making a box doesn't come high on most peoples' list of exciting spectator sports. 'You probably won't need to DO very much' he said, 'just turn up with a few part made boxes, a few finished ones, some jigs and tools and books to sell - and you will spend most of your time talking'. He was right, of course - I did my first Art in Action that year and have demonstrated there and at many other shows since.
Box Making and Woodcraft Courses
And I've been asked many times whether I run courses on box making - but I've always said no. I just couldn't envisage how to teach a group to make boxes. Everyone's abilities, interests and experiences are different - and shoe-horning an enthusiastic and diverse group into a formal course with a set curriculum didn't seem to be an appropriate solution. And in any case there wasn't enough space for anything approaching a 'class' in my cramped West London workshop.
So, after a long time of continuing to say no, I decided to try offering some one to one training. An informal, 'bespoke' approach emerged and this is by far the most efficient way to teach the broad range of skills necessary to make fine boxes. I did do some teaching on this basis while I was still in London, but I certainly couldn't offer the wonderful array of other attractions that we have all around us here!
what people are usually interested in
After 'where do you get your hinges?' the vast majority of the questions I'm asked at shows are to do with veneering, decoration and finishing. The predominance of questions about these areas [including the regular 'is that painted on?'] indicates a far greater level of interest in the decorative elements of a box than in the nuts and bolts of their construction. I don't much enjoy actually making boxes, preferring to arrive as quickly as possible at a basic box so that I can then get stuck into the fun part - making them look good. Therefore, most of the techniques I have developed relate to these areas.
. . . and why boxes, anyway?
There seems to be an almost universal fascination with boxes of all kinds - there are many reasons why boxes and box making are popular:
- a box can be very simple and constructed quickly with a minimum of tools making it a perfect occupation for those with limited space and equipment
- or it can be very complicated with a great deal of time spent on a relatively small item
- the uses for boxes are endless, of course - from jewellery boxes, trinket boxes, instrument cases, samples, collectors boxes ...
- or a box need not have a purpose at all - being more aesthetic than functional
- the mechanical requirements of a box are far less stringent than those for, say, a table or a chair where a considerable amount of integral strength is essential
- and a closed box ... you have to know what's inside it. And if it's locked? ... you really have to know what's inside
Please browse the rest of the courses area of the site - and I hope you might consider a visit to this wonderful part of rural England ...
*Instrument maker, guitarist, past editor of Woodworker magazine and prolific author. And, I'm pleased to say, old friend, who I incidentally met when he taught my mother the guitar way back in the mid 60s!