Posts Tagged ‘Crafts’

Some serious chair production

With a picture in my mind of mornings in a spacious workshop and afternoons on the beach, I had agreed to spend a week or two in West Wales this summer helping my colleague Peter fulfil his order of 40 chairs to go to a hospice in Denmark.  The best laid plans and all that…………

By the time we had reached early October, we agreed that I should do my bit in my workshop in Herefordshire, then just spend a couple of days delivering my produce and assembling a few chairs together in his workshop. I spent a week making and bending a load of crests, cross-rails, laths and back legs, then loaded them along with some more ash logs into my van and drove over to Pembrokeshire. I arrived to find Peter and Nikki working away in what he had referred to as a barn – not some romantic timber structure but it did have a roof, 4 walls and a pair of doors that opened wide. On my arrival we carried the fruits of my labours into his workshop for Peter’s inspection.

For somebody who had just spent 6 months assisting running courses, Peter had established an impressive chair-production workshop, with an eager team of co-workers, Nikki, Merlin and Alec, who all spent various lengths of time gaining invaluable experience in a production situation. Alec was now back home and Merlin was away for the week, leaving just Peter and Nikki, so the three of us spent the remainder of the day assembling back panels. Most impressive to me (and well-placed in the autumn sunshine) was the work-bench, made out of a fire door that he had bought for £5, with a leg in each corner and a little bracing – simple but effective. At one end hung his F-clamps, within easy reach when needed. (When I arrived home to my own workshop, I put this idea to use by adding a rack for clamps to help hold down my bench when steam-bending.)

I stupidly left my camera tripod in Peter’s workshop, so was unable to take a decent photo of the spectacular collection of 24 chairs, which Peter and his gang had already assembled. Some of them had already been seated, using knitted polypropylene cord, making for a very light, attractive, comfortable and long-lasting seat.

Two dozen lath-back chairs

Chairs stacked in Peter’s spare room

Seeing these chairs stacked and ready for shipment brought to mind Philip Clissett’s contract for 100 or so chairs for the Art Worker’s Guild in London in the late 19th Century. Could it be that Peter’s project is the largest single order for hand-made greenwood chairs in the last 120 years?

The following day we returned to the ‘barn’ where we squeezed together numbers 25,26 & 27, briefly assisted by Britte (sorry if I got the name wrong), the lady who had placed the order.

25,26 & 27

3 more chairs assembled, leaving 13 to go.

Peter and his team now have 3 weeks to complete the chairs before they set sail for Denmark, after which he & Louise with their Welsh-born baby daughter, Gwen re-locate to Sweden on the next phase of their remarkable lives. I look forward to seeing some pictures of this collection of chairs in the hospice ……………..and to following the progress of this inspiring young family.

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The Coiled Spring

I have just read through my previous blog entry – the secret power of trees and the rhythm of life – and it resonates more now than it did back in December.

Johnny Walshe has just posted a video he made while he took part in our Development Week at Brookhouse wood exactly a year ago. The sun was shining, the soil seemed too dry then but it crumbled beautifully under the horse drawn plough. Tom and Owen (Dillon & Thomas – I still think this is a brilliant band name) were in full voice, singing and playing around the fire, while others just gently mooched around the workshop.

Owen, Jack and the other assistants helped us get through the wettest summer ever with their energy, song and laughter but the Mayan prediction of the end of the world edged ever nearer. Little malfunctions started to happen – my chainsaw packed up in August, my car in November and all the time, news of ash dieback hung over us like the Grim Reaper. Two days after the courses finished in September, I helped my 92-year old father move into a nearby care home and by Christmas he was about settled there. We took a few day-trips, had some slap-up lunches together and took time to catch up on each other’s lives.

Eventually in January I had four good weeks tucked away in our cosy new cruck barn, frenziedly working on the new version of Living Wood (which I had enthusiastically announced on this blog way back in July). Then in February my father caught a chest infection and on 22nd he died – peacefully in his bed. ‘He’d had a good innings’ everybody says but it was heartbreaking to be with him for the last few weeks as he steadily lost the will to live. Surely there must be better ways to finish a life. Since then funerals, probates and sifting through his belongings have taken over from the new book. One consolation has been that I have felt spring has been holding its breath, encouraging me to sort out the unforeseen administration involved in the death of a parent.

So Johnny’s video reminds me that spring is aptly named – the coiled spring of the pole-lathe pole is quietly lifting the treadle back, ready for the next empowering downward stroke. The bluebells will eventually emerge and life will return to the woods with firewood being sawn, split and stacked. A steady stream of enthusiastic visitors will arrive to make more beautiful chairs in our amazing sylvan paradise and Living Wood 4th edition will be launched this summer, with its vibrant new cover and a new crop of photos taken at Brookhouse Wood over the last seven years.

The cover for Living Wood 4th edition