Ballet in wood
Making success happen
Paul Hartman was this year’s recipient of the Public’s Choice Award.
It’s an award that is voted on by visitors to the school’s professional course graduation exhibition in Edinburgh.
It’s a real accolade because those visitors are representative of the buying public.
Paul, from Alberta, Canada already had construction and carpentry experience when he came to us last year.
His love of woodworking stems from his time at High School and working in the school’s workshop.
Paul’s decision to come to the school was based on a desire to challenge himself, and learn the craft of designing and making fine furniture.
But he could have chosen a different path, having originally studied Divinity at a Canadian seminary.
However, he decided that his faith could best be practiced from outside the church.
We’re glad that he made that decision because he turned out to be a hugely gifted furniture designer and maker.
In particular, he made one of the finest rocking chairs that we’ve seen for some years.
Inspired by the late Sam Maloof whose rockers are in national collections, Paul’s chair had a ‘woven’ back seat.
But it was also an honest piece, reflecting both the complexity and simplicity of good design.
That quality is something that was evident in Paul’s other pieces and the reason, perhaps, why the Edinburgh public liked them so much.
For example, his Elm coffee table decorated with a compass rose, and his Yew hall table, with a frame of rippled Sycamore.
Some furniture designers go a bit overboard and create funky, loud pieces that may only appeal to a very few buyers.
Others stick to the traditional, making quiet furniture that may be well-made but doesn’t have a WOW factor.
Paul steered a middle course between those design approaches, creating softly-spoken pieces that had absolutely no need to shout their quality.
Paul has now returned to his native Alberta and set up his own furniture design business, Dry Tree Construction.
Note: Two places still remain for our professional course that starts next month. More information here or contact us here.Read More
There are some people who just know that a professional woodworking course is absolutely what they want to do.
Others, however, are not so sure.
It may be that they’ve had no prior woodworking experience or lack design skills.
But not to worry, because the Chippendale school doesn’t require experience or skill. All we look for is a desire to learn those skills, which everyone does.
For those still undecided, one option is to enrol on one of our one-week introductory courses.
These are designed to give students a taste of woodworking. Therefore, to give the undecided a chance to make that decision.
It’s why, if an introductory course student does then enrol on our professional course, the introductory course fees are deducted in full.
That’s the route that Ross Cunnison from Edinburgh took.
He had previously worked offshore for ten years in the oil and gas sector. He also studied geophysics at the University of Edinburgh.
His decision to enrol on our professional course was made having enjoyed one of our introductory courses last year.
Ross’ decision turned out to be a good one because he proved to be a skilled woodworker and won our Best Design Award.
It’s an annual award that we give to the student who, in our opinion, shows real design talent.
What we liked about Ross’ furniture was its simple honesty, yet with well-crafted flourishes that made the ordinary sublime.
That was particularly true of his Olive Ash side cabinet or credenza, with two beautifully-dovetailed drawers and two cupboards.
Its creativity lay in a waterfall edge, with the grain of the wood perfectly falling from the cabinet’s top and down its sides.
That honest approach to furniture design is something that all good woodworkers have to master.
Because good design is about making utterly functional furniture, but with a little imagination thrown in.
Good design is therefore about subtlety, and instinctively understanding the interplay between form and function.
It’s an instinct that Ross demonstrated, and we’re delighted that he’s now setting up his own furniture making business, Ross Cunnison Bespoke Furniture.
Eion Gibbs, who graduated from our professional course in June, was also our first intermediate course student.
He first came to us on our month-long course while recovering from malaria.
He’d been working as a film cameraman on two charitable projects, the Kilimanjaro Project and Trees 4 Kilimanjaro.
Both charities are highlighting the environmental damage that is being done to Africa’s largest mountain, and the surrounding farmers who are affected.
Eion enjoyed the intermediate course so much that it inspired a change of career direction, and a new life as a professional woodworker.
His stand-out piece during his year with us was a monumental piece of furniture standing five feet tall.
“The Shape Shifter Cabinet” contained twenty-two compartments, with most of them being a different size.
It comprised three horizontal sections, which were interchangeable, with each compartment being opened by a magnet.
It was therefore a functional and quirky piece of furniture, crafted from Oak, Sycamore, Ash, spalted Beech and Elm.
Its front was decorated in a harlequin triangle pattern fashioned from Ash and Oak. Adding to its charm, it also had secret compartments and a gilded chess set that folded into a drawer.
After graduation, most of our students take a well-earned holiday.
Not so Eion, who had already won his first commission – for an even more monumental piece.
His commission for a shepherd’s hut was for a customer in Southampton. It was to be a surprise 50th birthday present for his client’s wife.
The humble shepherd’s hut, which stands on iron wheels, was once a common sight across much of the country.
It allowed shepherds to keep a close eye on their flocks, particularly during lambing season.
But it’s making something of a revival, because it can be put to a whole number of uses – and doesn’t usually need planning permission.
Nowadays, shepherd’s huts are used as garden rooms, spare bedrooms, reading nooks, outdoor gyms, or home offices.
Only recently, former prime minister David Cameron commissioned one to be his writing room.
Eion’s hut was completed with a bed and wood-burning stove. Other shepherd’s hut designs can have a toilet or shower.
The school has a shepherd’s hut on our campus and, underlining their flexibility, it was used last summer as a bedroom for one of our students.
This year it was used as a physiotherapy treatment room, by the girlfriend of one of our professional course students.
Eion’s Douglas Fir hut had tongue-and-groove Pine interior walls, Douglas Fir floor, six windows and double doors.
Eion has set up Belladrum Woodworking and is staying on at the school in incubation space.
These spaces, Myreside Studios, allow graduates to more easily make the transition into professional woodworking.
They have full access to the school’s equipment and, if they have a problem, they can seek help from our tutors.
It’s all part of the school’s holistic approach, giving our students the best tuition and a valuable aftercare package.
We’re delighted that Eion is staying on with us, and we wish him every success.
Note: We still have two vacancies for our professional nine-month course that starts next month.Read More