Monthly Archives: December 2014

Drawing and Design


Sketch, sketch, sketch…


Graham taking a sneaky picture of our students in the design studio.


Sketching with Holly Acland

Yesterday our students spent the afternoon sketching with Holly Acland. Take a look at Holly’s website. She is a talented fashion illustrator and a real enthusiast for sketching and the role it should play in the design process.

The concept with these classes is to arm our students with some simple techniques which makes sketching easier. To encourage them to start a sketchbook. To get ideas down on paper and to start building a body of possible designs. Not all these sketched designs will be turned into models on the computer or workshop drawings. Most will serve no other purpose than to practise the sketching skills being taught. It’s not important however. The important thing is that any of our students with the desire to both make (everyone who spends time in our workshop wants to do that) and design furniture should embark on this sketching journey.

The ability to sketch is a real asset for many reasons. It allows an idea to evolve. It helps when solving design and making problems. It’s also pretty useful when presenting designs to clients…


A new found passion


I wanted to look closely in this post at the set projects undertaken by students on our long format furniture making courses. Apart from the side table these projects are made almost entirely by hand. They guide our students introduction into the world of high level cabinet making. They introduce and then repeat the core skills of hand plane work, accurate marking out and the controlled use of perfectly prepared chisels. They develop an understanding of working with wood. The varying properties of different timbers the interaction between the grain and the sharp edge. The need for accuracy. The joy of constant improvement. The discovery of a new found skill.



I feel passionately that in order to become a true craftsman you need to dedicate yourself to mastering the core cabinet making hand skills. This wall hanging cabinet represents the culmination and coming together of all the skills our students learn in the early weeks and months of our furniture making courses. These cabinets were made by Chris and Keira after only 9 weeks within the school. Take a close look at the details. The dovetails are beautifully hand cut. The doors are fitted with accuracy and attention to detail. These are cabinet doors hinged and hung better than many professional furniture makers could dream of. The crisp edges. The sharp mitred corners. The beautiful oiled finish. This is seriously good work. But how can it be produced in such a short amount of time?

Chopping board_2

We build up to the wall hanging project systematically. Starting with tool preparation. We are fussy about everything. We don’t just accept the manufacturers marketing talk about planes and chisels being ready to use straight out of the box. A £2000 hand plane arrived in the workshop last week and without some serious TLC it would have provided it’s owner with a lifetime of frustration. Anyway. Thats another story. We start with preparing tools for use. A cabinet maker has a special relationship with his or her tools. They need to care for them. Learn which tool is right for each job. Share hours, days and years together. Build up a trust and deep knowledge of what is achievable. After the first week in the workshop our students are well on the way to building this relationship. You try and take a hand plane off one of our students after they have flattened the sole, prepared the blade and made their first shavings. No chance!

And it’s shavings that are now important. Learning how to use that plane. To deal with tough grain. To flatten components to within engineering tolerances. It’s hard work but ask any cabinet maker. A plane working well is one of lifes true pleasures.


Having built up confidence with hand planes our students create chopping boards and then start preparing components for the dovetail book ends. Dovetails. Wow. Cutting a perfect dovetail is every cabinet makers dream. In some ways it looks easy. Mark out the lines and cut to them. But if you want perfect dovetails. No gaps. Tight joints and clean lines then it’s a real challenge. A challenge we tackle head on in the furniture school. We spend time practising marking out and hitting lines with the chinese puzzle project first. Try, try and try again. Our students embrace this ethic. They see our past students achievements and aim high. Putting in the deep practise that is needed for this test of cabinet making skill. They mark out hundreds of lines on thin stock then they try and saw to that line. Splitting the line. Keeping the cut true and square.

The ingredients are in place. The skills needed are practised and then off we go. How many sets of practise dovetails our students cut before they make the book ends is up to them. How many dovetail book ends they make before they feel confident to move on is up to them. We often get to 10 but the point is it doesn’t matter how fast you are at this stage. How many attempts it takes. The proof is in the work. Dedicate yourself to deep practise with hand tools at this early stage and it will pay you back forever.


But we are realists. We are real cabinet makers with a thriving commercial workshop. As much as we would all like to create a mountain of hand produced shavings each and every day we understand the real world of designing and making fine furniture. We understand that it’s a blend. A blend of fine hand skills and the mastery of wood work machinery and hand held power tools.

This brings us to the last of the set projects. The side table project was developed to guide our teaching in the machine shop. The components are now prepared within our amazing machine shop. The use of the surface planer, the thicknesser, the wide belt sander the spindle moulder, the table saw, the router, the bandsaw, the bag press. All taught during this project and in the case of Chris and Keira the table was completed in just 2 weeks. Made predominantly with the use of machines but always finessed using hand skills. The perfect combination. The combination that will make our students stand out from the rest. The cabinet makers of the future…

The rest is over to our students new found skills and their imaginations. The journey into designing and making your own pieces. It’s fun. It’s hard work. It takes dedication. Highs and sometimes lows. But this is new. This is a new found skill. A new found passion. For many a passion that will stay with them forever.






Crisp student work…

Some sweet hand crafted work…

We set up the photography cove the other week in order to shoot some of our students work. The high standard of these set projects are testament to our current students hard work, devotion, and I mean devotion to producing really exceptional work. If you fall in love with fine woodworking it can drive you  to achieve great things in a short space of time. Follow the journey of somebody who has fallen in love with cabinet making and is doing exactly that. Designing and making some beautiful furniture.  Follow Keira on Instagram to find out more:

Jamie looking for work!

Jamie Looking for work!!!

Jamie initially joined us on the 6 month master craftsman course. As is often the case with our students Jamie had little to no woodwork experience but he did have a strong belief that he had the  raw ingredients to become a craftsman. An eye for detail and accuracy gained through his apprenticeship as a metal engineer and a confidence in his level of hand eye coordination. For someone more interested in the practical skills of the cabinet maker these ingredients are key. The rest is down to good teaching and some hard work and dedication from the student.

Jamie made good progress. Moving solidly through the early set projects and then on to the beautiful cabinet detailed above.

Not satisfied with just spending the 6 months in the workshop Jamie stayed with us for a further 10 months making some of our designs. Morgan chairs, W and A desk lamps and a small batch of Tri tables. All giving him increased confidence as a maker and strengthening his belief that a life as a cabinet maker is right for him.

Jamie is currently looking for paid employment as a junior cabinet maker within a fine furniture workshop. We wish him well and have enjoyed having him in the workshop for this extended period. He will be a great asset to his future employer. Watch this space for updates.

If there is an employer out there that wants a fast developing, hard working cabinet maker available for an immediate start then get in touch. Call Oliver Waters on 01539 822 852 or mail