The Design Chapter

The Design Chapter

Posted by on Dec 15, 2016 in Complete Woodworking, Uncategorized | No Comments
This was intended as a chapter in my book "Complete Woodworking" but was cut due to lack of space. So instead I have included it here
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 (  ) 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. 

The Lone Twin Boat Project

The Lone Twin Boat Project

Posted by on Apr 16, 2013 in Blog | No Comments


An annoying email from Amazon the other day led to an interesting discovery – The Lone Twin Boat project . The idea was dreamt up by the Lone Twin theatre company as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad.  The plan was to ask people to donate pieces of wood, or things made from wood, which would then be used to build a boat !  But the special part was that each wooden object had to have some significance to the person donating it. ‘Pencil or piano, exotic as Zebrawood or as familiar as pine, every piece had a story behind it’.  The boat would be a ‘seaworthy archive of stories and memories’.  1,221 people brought their wood and, if you look at the website, you will find some interesting stories.

The website also has some interesting videos about the making of the 30ft vessel.  Having watched the video of them sanding the hull by hand (apparently known as ‘fairing’), I vow never to complain about sanding a piece of furniture again ! 

More on emotionally durable design

More on emotionally durable design

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


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.

Emotionally durable design

Emotionally durable design

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


I heard an item on Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on Saturday talking about ‘Emotionally Durable Design. It’s a concept that I hadn’t come across before, but when I heard them discussing wooden coasters that were designed to ‘improve’ as they became stained, my ears pricked up.

The idea of emotionally durable design was introduced by Jonathan Chapman, Professor of Sustainable Design at Brighton University, and it has two main features – narrative and surface.  If we have a personal connection with an object then the object can be said to have a narrative; when, how and where we acquire an object can help to create such a narrative. So, for example, an oak box inherited from one’s parents has more ‘emotional durability’ than one bought on Ebay; a coffee table chosen for its quality and bought from a craftsman has more narrative than a coffee table bought from Ikea.

Surface is significant because items change as we use them – they wear, fade, become stained, acquire a patina.

Stop creative subjects being dropped from the school curriculum

Posted by on Dec 8, 2012 in Blog | No Comments
A while ago I blogged about the closure of the BA Furniture Making course at Leeds College of Art. One of the reasons given for the closure was falling applications and one of the reasons for this is the decline of craft teaching in our schools. The recent government proposals for the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) will compound this problem. [...]
The things I learnt last weekend.

The things I learnt last weekend.

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


This weekend’s tool sharpening and fettling course was a belter! I feel a good course is where the course members go away with new skills and an enthusiasm to put them into practice, but a really good course is where I also learn something from teaching it. I learnt a lot last weekend.

One of the reasons Peter came on the course was to learn how to sharpen the in-canal carving chisels he uses for violin making. These are very tricky to sharpen as they are curved in two directions making, it difficult to get a sharpening stone to them. I although I have done some carving in the past I don’t have a lot of experience with sharpening carving chisels. We put our heads together and decided to try 3M imperial lapping sheets on glass to sharpen the outside and a piece of the same stuff on a piece of dowel for the inner face. It worked a treat and Peter was really pleased with his newly sharp gouges.

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.


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.


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.