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.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.
He first came to us on our month-long course while recovering from malaria.
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
Anselm Fraser, principal, the Chippendale school’s principal, writes in The Woodworker magazine.
Oscar Wilde, the 19th century playwright, expressed it perfectly.
In his play, Lady Windermere’s Fan, he wrote that a cynic is “a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
Like much of Oscar Wilde’s work, his comedy hides a biting truth. We often consider moral or ethical values as being less important than financial worth. We allow greed to overrule good sense.
It’s an issue that is particularly pertinent for today’s woodworkers. Because the value that we place on a beautifully-crafted piece of furniture may be rather more than a prospective customer is prepared to pay for it.
Yes, it may have taken many, many hours to make, using the finest woods, veneers and delicate inlays. But if that prospective customer is looking for a simple table or chest of drawers, then he or she may be more interested in utility value than financial value.
In other words, spending days and weeks crafting the finest chest of drawers in the whole history of chests of drawers, and placing a huge price tag on it, is no guarantee of a sale.
In a world dominated by IKEA, furniture makers have to look imaginatively at the market, design and build accordingly. Most importantly, always have a sensible price in mind. We may be craftsmen and women, but our valuations have to be pragmatic.
The key concept is value. The painting hanging on our wall may only have aesthetic value, until we discover it’s a Picasso. At that point it acquires huge utility value as a way of paying off the mortgage.
In the same way, good furniture has both utility and aesthetic value. Our wonderful chest of drawers may be aesthetically beautiful but, if the drawers don’t open properly, it lacks utility value.
That balance between form and function is at the heart of all good design, from architecture to fine woodworking. Finding that balance is the first thing that furniture designers should always do. Who am I selling to, and what are the values my customer is looking for?
The fact is, good design must be about both the aesthetic and the utilitarian. If necessary, woodworkers shouldn’t be afraid to compromise, if compromise brings down the cost to an acceptable level.
That budget will be influenced by two things – the cost of materials and the labour costs of designing and making the piece of furniture. It’s a deceptively simple bit of arithmetic: costs + your time = price.
Of course, it’s a little bit more complicated. Costs aren’t just wood and screws. They also include everything from heating to water, local taxes to equipment.
It’s a process of determining cost and then building in a reasonable profit margin.
Make something for £10,000 and sell it for £11,800, and your gross profit is £1,800. You will also go out of business rather rapidly.
As a rule, gross margins after direct costs should be in the region of 40-50%.
Generally, improving profit margin should always be a clear and unambiguous business objective. But, equally, you must have realistic expectations about what customers may be prepared to pay.
The problem is that many woodworkers think too highly of themselves. They charge a Rolls-Royce rate, when their customer is looking for a Fiat Uno. (All too infrequently, alas, the opposite can be true!)
Also remember that Pablo Picasso only survived during his early career in Paris by burning most of his paintings to keep warm.
I always advise our students to be pragmatic, certainly until they have built a reputation. There’s no point in graduating from a furniture school and thinking you are immediately a master of the woodworking universe.
That takes time and, in the meantime, it’s better to under-sell rather than not sell. Remember also another line from Lady Windermere’s Fan: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
Start low, be sensible and pragmatic, but always aim higher and higher.
Note: A couple of places remain on our professional nine-month course which begins in October. For more information, click here.Read More
An immersive course at the Chippendale school involves a great deal of hard work…for most of the time.
But we also like to mix hard work with fun because what we learn with pleasure we never forget.
For example, being an international school, we celebrate the various festivals and national days that are commemorated in each of our students’ own countries.
We not only like to make everyone feel welcome, we use these occasions to learn more about each other’s cultures.
But one festival we can all celebrate is Christmas and every year staff and students come together in the school for a turkey-and-all-the-trimmings lunch.
It’s also fitting that, in training to be woodworkers, we are also remembering the son of a carpenter.
And, as trained or trainee carpenters, we can also remember Saint Joseph, Jesus’ father, the patron saint of cabinetmakers.Read More