March of the Makers

March of the Makers

Posted by on Mar 31, 2014 in Blog | No Comments

The ‘March of the Makers’: I don’t know whether you remember this term, coined by the esteemed George Osborne in his 2011 budget speech.  His idea wasn’t new – that ‘Made in Britain’ and ‘Designed in Britain’ are phrases that should ‘drive our nation forward’.  Not world-shattering perhaps, but his use of the word ‘makers’ rather than ‘industry’ or ‘manufacturing’ was unusual– it seemed to suggest small businesses ‘making’ things rather than large factories with sophisticated  machinery and large payrolls.  I’m not quite sure what progress he has made towards his goal, but I’m also not sure how many of us still have the skills or design-awareness to make things successfully and competitively.

The reason I was reminded of George’s ‘vision’ was because I recently heard an interview on Radio 4 ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03xdmz8  ) with Mark Miodownik, Professor of Materials and Society at University College London, who has a ‘bit of a thing’ about making.

Mark Miodownik

Mark Miodownik, Professor of Materials and Society at University College London

He agrees with George, that we need more making and less ‘pontificating’ in our society, and he is trying to redress the balance in a number of ways. 

Waste not, want not.

Posted by on Oct 13, 2013 in Blog | No Comments

Wood working inevitably involves some waste. At the start of a project I calculate the timber required for the job then add an allowance for wastage.   Often, depending on species, this allowance will be over 50%.  Surely you can be less wasteful than that I hear you cry!  However when you look at the waste factors you will see how I come up with this figure:

  • Wany edge and sap wood.  Often the wood comes from the yard in boards sawn directly from the tree.  They will still have the bark attached, and sap wood in a layer below the bark which has to be cut away.
  • Even boards square-edged at the timber yard will have some sap wood.  The amount varies according to the species.  In beech, for instance, the sapwood is indistinguishable from the heart.  In walnut the sapwood is a light creamy colour while the heart is a rich brown, so the sapwood has to be avoided.
  • Depending on the original quality of the boards, there will usually be some defects such as dead knots and cracks caused by the drying process.  
Trees

Trees

Posted by on Mar 15, 2013 in Blog | No Comments

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I’ve spent the last few months looking out on a very bare garden – now covered in snow. The only thing of interest today is our neighbour’s Scot’s Pine, which is blowing in the wind and providing shelter to a few small birds. It’s a very different outlook from the one we left behind when we moved here from Huddersfield three years ago; after 25years of conscientious planting and tending we’d created a very leafy garden with a hedge and several small trees.  We didn’t realise how lucky we were !  Our new garden has no trees and not much to look at in the winter; and because we’ve no trees or foliage cover, we’ve no birds.  (The cat doesn’t help either – and I think he may be the reason there’s no frog spawn in the pond – but that’s another story). It has made me realise how much we took our trees for granted in the previous garden, and how fundamental they were to the modest ‘web of life’ that had evolved.

More on emotionally durable design

More on emotionally durable design

Posted by on Mar 14, 2013 in Blog | No Comments

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Further  to my recent blog on emotionally durable design I thought I would mention this example. I’m not sure where I came upon this little combination square, I think it may have been a car boot sale over 25 years ago. It’s a handy little gadget, it’s particularly useful for checking whether the ends of sharpened edges on planes and chisels are square and as a depth check and square when cutting mortices.

However the main reason I like this tool is the satisfaction I get from handling it. The way the slightly textured body has a patina on the high spots and the curving of the struts shows an attention to detail from a designer who wanted to put that little extra into the object . There is also an area of slightly heavier corrosion on the rule where the square had been neglected, I cleaned the rust off but this area was left. All these elements help to tell the long history of this tool and give it a relevance to me that makes it a joy to handle.

Learning a new skill.

Learning a new skill.

Posted by on Mar 26, 2012 in Blog | No Comments

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My wife, Alison, often asks me why, when I spend most of my time sawing and cutting wood square, can I not cut bread square. We like to eat home made  bread in our house and I have to plead guilty to making the cut look like the above when we get to the end of the loaf.


Anyone who has been on my beginners course will know it’s not that simple! First you have to plane a face side and face edge on the piece then mark the line square with a marking knife and chamfer down to the line with a chisel. Then we are ready for the cut, remembering to keep the saw arm in line with the saw and the eyes over the saw. All this is quite tricky on a loaf of bread, which is why I can’t cut bread straight.On the February beginners course the discussion got round to bread making. We had Nick on the course, he’s about as fanatical about his bread making as I am about my furniture making.
Four essentials of woodwork and furniture making

Four essentials of woodwork and furniture making

Posted by on Feb 23, 2012 in Blog | No Comments

I’ve been thinking recently about what factors make for good work in furniture making. By good work I am thinking of two things; is the work well made and was the making an enjoyable experience. I can identify four essentials of good work.

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Sharp and well set up tools. This is the basis of good work. Without tools that are exquisitely sharp and adjusted to give optimum performance woodwork can become a chore where one is fighting the tools and the material. With well set up tools one can respond to the nuances of the sometimes difficult material we work with. Sharp tools leave a crisp edge and a burnished surface that needs little or no sanding. They also enable an extraordinary  level of accuracy. This brings us to the next essential.

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Accuracy. “In furniture making you always get found out”. It is important  that each stage in the making process is completed with accuracy. We’re talking tolerances of half a millimetre or less.