I have been designing and making furniture since 2005, when I left a career in the law to train with the celebrated maker and teacher, Chris Faulkner, near Totnes in South Devon.  I then set up my own workshop, outside the market town of Honiton, near Exeter – a light and warm space with views from my bench up to the Blackdown Hills.

I work almost always to commission, for private clients and organisations who want something beautiful made for a special occasion or to fit a particular need or position. My work has ranged from jewellery boxes to kitchens and dressing rooms.

I aim to design furniture that works perfectly, complements its setting, and delights its user; and clients enjoy working with me as a project moves from idea to brief to design to a finished piece of furniture.

Design

Good design is the most important thing. Flawless craftsmanship is simply wasted on mediocre design. To me, the design of any artefact encompasses three things:

How it looks

Anything well designed, whether corkscrew or country house, catches the eye, looks just right in its setting, draws you in to investigate.

How it works

Alluring looks are no good if something doesn’t work well: it must do the job it is asked to do, precisely, comfortably and without fuss. Getting this right is partly experience. It also comes from time spent talking to clients about what they need from a piece and from observing how they use the room where it will stand.

This lectern was made for a lawyer who likes to work standing up.  The design process started with trials with a mock-up to establish the optimum height and rake and to ensure it would remain stable under pressure.   

Lectern

How it’s made

Underlying every good design is a thorough working out of the making process.  This is crucial – particularly when working with an idiosyncratic material like wood. For example there are broadly three ways to construct a curved form in wood: cutting out of solid, steam bending, or laminating on a shaped former. There are important differences in the way they look and behave, as well as how they are made. That choice must be made at the design stage.

Plymouth Table

Branching arms supporting a table top – making these combined lamination with cutting curves from solid ash.

Timber

Timber - cherry

English cherry boards – rough sawn and planed – awaiting marking out for cutting.

One of the pleasures of commissioning furniture is deciding on the materials. I work mostly in temperate hardwoods, in particular oak, ash, cherry, elm, walnut, and sycamore. Leaving aside mahogany, which is now used mainly for restoration work, these are the trees from which European furniture has traditionally been made. There is tremendous variety of character and colour here: it is extremely rare to conclude that none of them will work in a given setting.

The oak comes mostly from France or elsewhere in continental Europe, where there is a history of forestry managed for timber, and black walnut is imported from the United States. Otherwise I use British timber, which is available from a small number of mills, often planked from individual trees from estates or even gardens. Finding the best timber involves a constant search but the reward can often be fabulous boards with wonderful colour and figure and sometimes an interesting story.

Often these boards are just air dried – carefully stacked after planking to let the moisture evaporate gradually, minimising the stress caused by the drying process. Then, after a year or two, or perhaps more, when they are as dry as they will get in the outside air, they go in my kiln: nothing to do with firing ceramics, just gentle warmth, a dehumidifier, daily monitoring of the water that condenses out, and regular checks with the moisture meter until it reaches the equilibrium moisture content of indoor timber.  I find that timber prepared in this way behaves better when it is worked than boards which have been aggressively kilned to meet commercial demands.

There is an account here of the felling and planking of an elm tree. Some of its wood was used in this hall cabinet.

Buddleigh cabinet

My preferred finish is oil, rubbed in by hand in several coats. It combines beauty, durability and, in the event of an accident in years to come, reasonable ease of renewal.

Making

My training focused on hand tools: they are the foundation of all good making because their use gives the craftsman a deep understanding of the way that wood works. That said, there is a real skill in the safe and effective use of workshop machines. A commercial maker must be both pragmatic and resourceful, using whichever tools – hand or machine – will do the best job.  The upshot tends to be that I use machines where the same operation done by hand would take much longer, then refine or adjust with hand tools. Practically every component used in my furniture will at least be skimmed with a sharp hand plane after initial machining because the glassy finish it leaves is unmatched.