December 2014-2

Fine box making in the Shropshire hills

Fine Decorative Boxes

no. 15, December 2014 – smartWare update:

Having used up the buses joke last year when one newsletter followed very closely behind another, I was a bit stuck for something to say in exactly the same situation this year! It never rains but it pours seemed to be the other appropriate cliché, hence the umbrella pic – not a reference to TT’s hit ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’ as some might have guessed.

If you didn’t receive the last newsletter [no. 14, a week ago], click here to read it online.

This newsletter is necessarily quite a lot to do with hardware. There is a special offer on hinges way down below, and a 10% discount on [almost] everything.


But first, to date I’ve had no correct answers to the two teasers I posed in the last newsletter … either to my ‘deliberate’ mistake on the courses banner, or what the mystery item is.

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Thank you to all who sent in suggestions – all wrong, but some were fun. One such was for the mystery object:

‘The proper technical one word name is “Expandothreadedsmasheratorthingamagig”. Of course the one shown is the delux English “Knurledexpandothreadedsmasheratorthingamagig”. And of course the threads are right hand drive.’

Excellent, thanks Terry – I wish it were, but no – sorry!


Anyway, as a result of my posing these teasers, and all the responses I got, all sorts of other, non-intentional mistakes in the last newsletter have come to light:

Not least the dates for the 5 day courses – they’re ALL wrong, misaligned by one day! I had considered running the 5 day courses from Friday to Tuesday, but discarded it in favour of Thursday to Monday, but nevertheless still managed to copy the wrong list!

And as if that weren’t enough, as well as being wrong in the newsletter, the dates for the first 5 day course were also wrong in the drop down list of dates on the booking page where they were inexplicably offered as April 30th – June 4th, which is a bit long for a 5 day course. The real dates are: April 30th – May 4th. All the rest were right, though …

So, a big apology to anyone who was confused, and a big thank you to all of you who alerted me to the discrepancy! That newsletter’s out there and set in stone, of course, but I’m pleased to be able to set the record straight in this one, and of course all the dates on the booking page here have all been triple checked and are as they should be.

But that wasn’t all – my wife, Hilary, who is very good at this sort of thing, always scans these newsletters for typos, errors of fact and so on. She noticed a few which I corrected before the letter was sent out, but one I forgot. She pointed out that my brief piece about the box being used on the telly contained the following:

“I would never have known the box had been used if I hadn’t bought myself a video recorder on one particular day back in 1992. The props buyer for the programme found it in a gallery in Wimbledon …”

I can assure you that the video recorder was NOT found in the gallery in Wimbledon …

And another that even she didn’t notice – the ‘the the’ the last line includes is a also a mistake, of course. Hey, that’s 4 ‘the’s in a row. Nothing like as many as the number of ‘had’s you can have in a row, but that’s another story.

So rather a lot of errors one way and another – I will try to do better with this one.


anyway, about these hinges …

OK – if you’re interested in buying hinges [and there are some available] but not in the problems involved in getting them made, I strongly advise you to scroll down to the smartBoxmaker news’ and ‘special offer’ sections. There should be plenty of interest from then onwards.

Hinge and hardware nerds, on the other hand, should keep right on reading …

Many will find it hard to understand how this could have turned into such a lengthy and problematic process. Indeed, the failure so far to arrive at a solution to this seemingly simple problem [sourcing consistent, high quality hinges] has prompted a fair few sarcastic comments from customers.

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The following is one example: ‘I know the problems myself only too well – and I’m only trying to build a couple of Aircraft Carriers!’ Difficult, I admit, but surely not THAT difficult. Anyway, point taken.

I have a very fine line to tread here – I don’t want to use this newsletter just to have a good old moan, rather to convey that this has been no simple matter of going to a company to get something made! Looking back it has been a real roller coaster – but I’m still not sure what I could have done differently …

a short history of the long delays …

Since their introduction in 2011, thousands of satisfied customers worldwide have been using smartHinge to enhance and facilitate their box making. I could have sold many, many more – but I was let down in every possible way by the first UK company that took on the manufacture of these back in 2012.

Having seen a satisfactory prototype early on, the company was committed to supply me with 300 pairs a month, and 500 pairs by Christmas 2012. Consequently in August that year I felt confident in offering the new UK production of smartHinge direct to newsletter subscribers and on the website.

But that initial order was not finally honoured until June the following year. I’m sure some of you suffered in the mayhem that resulted.

There were repeated quality and supply issues, communication was dreadful, and their business ethics questionable at best. Even when they were producing a reasonable number of acceptable hinges I could never rely on quality or supply – the few times I felt confident enough to send them out un-checked some other fault surfaced and I had another whole lot returned to me … it was a VERY tedious and dispiriting process! I was never really able to rely on the quality, which meant that I pretty much had to check every hinge before I sent it out.

So, I lost the momentum I’d worked hard to build up and the time and effort that this débâcle consumed more than cancelled out any benefit these hinges have done me. Consequently I never had the confidence to promote the hinges as I felt they deserved, and I’ve turned away many more orders than I’ve ever been able to meet.

Having made the investment in the necessary tooling and setting up I felt I had no choice in the short term but to persevere with that company. But I think the writing was on the wall right from the start. I struggled on with them, but I finally lost patience with them earlier this year. So, I needed to find a new solution to sourcing the hinges. The obvious route was to find a new company to make them, but there were some other options as well and I was keen to investigate these first …


There was a possibility of collaborating with Ian Hawthorne who some may know markets his own neat lock and hinges. For some time various approaches were discussed … basically ways of avoiding treading on each others’ toes and streamlining the fact that we are both offering seemingly very similar products.

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But unfortunately any chance of a collaboration went around the houses several times, fell off its bike, got back on, valiantly did another couple of circuits, only to ride into the back of a bin lorry.

Basically it became clear that there was never any agreement to be had, so unfortunately we are now going our separate ways, competitors for the relatively small market that exists for these products. Which is a great shame, and not my choice – I’m sure we could have arrived at a very good agreement for everyone concerned, not least all you box makers out there.

So, ultimately all that just just turned into yet another delay …



Several of the makers who regularly supply boxes for Linley – the high end English furniture company founded by the Queen’s nephew, David Linley – were originally using my smartHinge, buying substantial numbers from me. But business suddenly stopped towards the end of last year and it eventually came to my attention that the company was nevertheless continuing to use a hinge remarkably similar to the smartHinge.

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I visited their Pimlico showroom [also their head office] in March this year to see for myself and sure enough there were plenty of boxes on display using an identical hinge, but not supplied by me. I questioned the Head of Production and was eventually told that, yes, they’d had the smartHinge copied from my originals and manufactured in China, without my knowledge or permission.

So, the company had readily admitted to copying my hinges, agreed that they shouldn’t have done it [although were less than transparent about who’d actually made the decision] and initially seemed prepared to co-operate. This was encouraging. There followed a meeting with their Head of Production and Artistic Director at which the issues discussed included royalty payments for the copied Chinese hinges they’d ‘issued’ to their makers in place of mine, and my taking over the balance of the copied hinges so I could sell them on to their makers, adding my own markup. Also discussed were various ways in which we could pool our resources and collaborate to produce hardware to suit BOTH our needs.

This all seemed very promising, and for a while I actually believed that they might co-operate. And they had clearly chosen exactly this design of hinge over any other available so this was flattering at least.

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But I shouldn’t have been so naïve – they immediately disappeared off the radar and simply refused to answer any correspondence. When I was finally able to force them to respond, they had done a ‘U’ turn – a proper 180˚, hand-brake turn. Having initially put their hands up and agreed that they were at fault, they completely changed their story, claiming that their hinges were NOT copied from mine. Consequently they are refusing to pay any royalties, compensation or to co-operate in any way.

And incidentally, I should point out: the hinges they have had made are not vague, notional copies, but identical in every detail. Apart, that is, from the quality being significantly lower as a result of their being cheaply mass produced in China.

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Shown here are details from three boxes that Linley offer featuring the copied hinges – there are many other models – for which I don’t receive a penny. Linley are clearly happy to benefit from a market-leading British product, but not prepared to pay for it.

I should have realised that they were just another arrogant retail company run by its accountants and lawyers with no interest in anything apart from turning a profit. I consider for any company to have acted in this way – let alone an iconic English company connected as it is to the British Royal Family – is unforgivable and a disgrace.

So, another dead end, and another delay, also depriving me of a substantial amount of business along the way. Having wasted a great deal of time already, I had to fall back on plan ‘A’ – finding another company to make the hinges. But I still didn’t have a working lock prototype – and I wanted to have the same company make both. So, during all the above shenanigans, and well before, I’d also been trying to get a prototype lock made …


smartLock prototype:

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I’ve wanted to do a matching lock since the smartHinge came to market early in 2011. Clive Jarman, the original co-designer and maker, did some design work for me, but because I had to move the production to the UK that didn’t get any further and I ended up doing my own design with the same emphasis on simplicity, elegance and ease of fitting that were the starting points for the smartHinge.

The company making the hinges at the time couldn’t be persuaded to make me a prototype – in retrospect I’m relieved. Since then I’ve dealt with some very strange and difficult people in an attempt to get a prototype made.

I won’t bore anyone with the details, suffice to say I did eventually manage to extract a small number of prototypes from a company earlier this year – but was treated with an astonishing lack of respect by the person I was dealing with, as though this was some kind of extremely low priority ‘hobby’ project that wasn’t worthy of his exalted status. Having approached them with almost completed drawings, it took six months to finally get a working lock …

An unbelievably frustrating, dispiriting and slow process.

finding a company to produce smartWare:

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I have faith in the concept, but finding the right company to actually do the manufacturing was now the main stumbling block. I did briefly consider going to the Far East – but the David Linley copies are Chinese made and the quality is dreadful, and anyway I was keen to support another UK manufacturer.

In August this year, I found a very promising British company to make both the hinges and the lock for me. They seemed to have a good ‘can-do’ attitude – competent, friendly, communicative. Quite a shock to be dealing with people who listen to and respect their customers – I’ve been let down so many times by people saying they will do one thing, then either simply not doing it, or doing something completely different for no apparent reason, with no explanation or apology!

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Anyway, with a new and promising company at the helm, undaunted by my warnings right from the beginning that the hinges are harder to make than they first appear [and that one previous company had already seriously come to grief trying] all seemed set fair for introduction of the new smartWare around mid-October, in good time for the busy time leading up to Christmas.

Adverts were booked, I had nice new packaging planned and I was finally feeling very positive about the way forward …

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But the problem is, these hinges REALLY ARE difficult to produce well. It is a deceptively simple design – but the tolerances required to ensure, amongst other things, that the stop angle is consistent, are eye-wateringly tight. This is perhaps why no-one has attempted a similar design before. There are several similar hinges out there that rely on a square or partially square knuckle to form the stop, and these are much easier [and therefore cheaper] to make. But they will always be a less elegant solution and will have the problem of the extra work necessary when fitting to accommodate the rotating square portion of the knuckle.

The company soon realised that the hinges are indeed harder to make than they’d thought, and that I really meant what I said with regard to the polishing, overall quality, tolerances and so on referred to in the very clear drawings and notes I’d supplied.

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The problems with the hinges delayed progress on the much easier to produce locks as well, and things just got further and further behind. By the time it was clear it wasn’t going to happen in time for me to offer smartWare for Christmas, it was too late to cancel the advertising … hence the advert that came out in Furniture & Cabinetmaking at the beginning of October, and there have been a couple more since.

I had decided I wouldn’t send out another newsletter without ACTUALLY having perfect, new production hinges and the new locks IN MY POSSESSION! But now the prospect of a newsletter announcing that smartWare was, al last, available seemed further away than ever.

Anyway, the new company finally admitted defeat about two weeks ago, so there is now no prospect of my being able to offer perfect hinges, or locks, smartWare, any time soon. However, I have come to an agreement with them to buy some less than perfect stock in order that I can sell them on as slight seconds – see special offers below.

the way forward

Drawing as we all do from our own unique mix of experience, processes and approaches, everyone you speak to will have a different way to approach a job like this. As a woodworker I would approach making this hinge entirely differently to an engineer. I have considered doing a giant wooden version – ten times life size? – in an attempt to really focus in on the problems. But wood is not metal, of course, and works in an entirely different way. But that’s really the point – it might just lead to some unorthodox ideas.

And if nothing else I will be left with a great conversation piece – what better way to get a flagging conversation going again than to introduce a giant wooden hinge?!

Anyway, I’m not sure what the new year holds – I’ve offered the company some of my time to try out some different, counter-intuitive approaches – I hope it will still be possible to work something out with them.

Despite all the setbacks I am still committed to making these products available.


smartBoxmaker news

The smartBoxmaker site has been doing a brisk trade since it was launched 18 months ago, with all products selling well. So much so that this has been yet another contributory factor in my getting behind with my own making, work to the new book and other projects, hence the need for ‘Derry & Toms’.

You can go straight to the sections referred to below by clicking on their images, but note that in the ‘special offers‘ section below there is a 10% discount coupon for orders over £50.

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Inlay lines – these very elegant lines are especially developed for box work. The fine outer black/white/black lines make them perfect for any small scale/fine work, most other lines on the market are intended for restoration or repro furniture. That’s not to say mine can’t be used on furniture of course …

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Lining materials – ever since I discovered pigsuede some 15 years ago I have been convinced that using this wonderful material offers an extremely easy and controllable way to line the interior of a wide range of boxes to a really professional finish. I use it all the time, and if you carefully follow the advice given here you, too, will be able to achieve really high quality results.

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Glue bottles – these are the best available, I’ve sold literally hundreds of these, they really make the whole process of gluing so much easier, cleaner and more controllable …

Wide abrasives – extra large self-adhesive abrasive sheets, 600mm x 400mm. Supplied in pairs in 2 useful grit combinations to create large abrasive surfaces on both sides of a rigid board – non-slip as it has abrasive on both sides. Long lasting, hard wearing, high quality, machine belt abrasive. Self-adhesive – peel off backing. Many uses around the workshop, not least this method offers the easiest and quickest way to level the inner edges of a box when a lid has been bandsawn off [the best way!] And not only for box making!

Free tip: the simplest jigs are always the best!

Click on any of the images above to go to that area on the smartBoxmaker site …

but …

whilst the site is certainly being ‘successful’, without question, the smartHinge has been the best selling product. Being relatively high value, the hinges are the items that make the site worth running – selling the smartHinge [and eventually the smartLock] was what the site was originally set up for, hence the use of the ‘smart’ branding.

But the hinges haven’t always been available, of course – and all the other items on offer were meant to be extras to ‘improve’ the service to customers. So, without the hinges to sell, I’m a victim of my own success: what was meant to be a sideline for me running alongside my teaching, making and other activities, has been in danger of turning into a service to box makers that I’m effectively paying for the privilege of supplying. The small profit earned from the extras, together with the disruption, time and effort involved in mailing out, worldwide, a variety of items differing enormously in size, weight and value, is certainly hard-earned!

Anyway, we are where we are, and as I say, I’m committed to getting the smartWare sorted and available very soon. Things can only get better!

special offers:

There are two main offers, both exclusive to newsletter subscribers:

1 – polished brass and stainless steel smartHinges in lots of 2, 5 and 10 pairs. Slight seconds – you will be saving around 1/3 off the original prices, and more if you buy 5 or 10 pairs:

   • polished brass: original price £29.95 – offer price £17.95 – £19.75 depending on number bought
 • stainless steel: original price £39.50 – offer price £21.95 – £24.95 depending on number bought

2 – a 10% discount off all orders of £50 and over. This includes the discounted hinge bundles but excludes courses and course tokens.

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Click on the image above to place your order for smartHinges.


I mentioned above that the company that has been making these has recently pulled the plug on this project. I’m not sure whether this is actually final, but in the meantime I’ve bought all remaining stock from them at a reduced price and these are what I’m now offering.

As these are intended to be sold as very high end hinges, I can’t possibly sell them at their full price if there is anything at all wrong with them. The following are the minor issues with the stock I have:

all hinges: there is a slight variation in the stop angles – I will be doing my best to match these up so that each pair is consistent.

polished brass hinges: the polishing of the visible faces was always a bone of contention. They are fairly good, and certainly usable as they are. But if you want a really high, polished finish, you will need to do a little extra work to them yourself.

stainless steel hinges: due to some mis-communication during the prototype stage the company went ahead and produced stainless steel PLATED brass hinges. These had been suggested as an option early on [I hadn’t realised it was possible] and a prototype batch had been presented to me. My preference has always been for solid stainless, and I made this well known, but somehow the message didn’t get through. So, I have a substantial number of stainless steel plated brass hinges. They look fine, in fact the finish on the faces of the leaves is very good, but some do suffer from slightly marked knuckles.

I emphasise that all these are all only slight seconds, but because they’re not absolutely perfect I can’t sell them as such.

This offer is available to newsletter subscribers until December 24th – after that date remaining stock will be offered to all website visitors, without the newsletter subscribers’ discount, of course. And please bear in mind that although I will be searching for another manufacturer early in the new year, there will NOT be any more smartHinges on offer for some time.

10% discount:

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Clicking on the image above will take you to the smartBoxmaker site, from there it will be straightforward to find what you need.

The coupon code for the 10% discount is:


copy and paste this into the coupon field on the cart page and click the ‘Apply Coupon’ button before clicking through to the checkout.

NB: If you want to buy a course or a course token, don’t add it to your cart or it will stop the discount coupon from working. Do it instead as a separate transaction, you will not be charged extra shipping as these are exempt anyway.

This voucher will expire at the end of Christmas Eve, December 24th.

So, with the special offer on the hinges AND the 10% discount, between now and Dec 24th you’re getting a VERY good deal on the hinges!

Delivery – this is all going out far later than I had planned for all the reasons I’ve given – so please note that due to the nearness of Christmas, and depending where you are in the world, you may well not receive what you’ve ordered before Christmas.

And finally, please note that due to the cost of shipping I do NOT deliver the following items outside UK, unless you contact me BEFORE ordering so I can let you have the shipping options:

wide abrasives, books, self-adhesive card.


coming soon – but not THAT soon:

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The delays and problems with the hinges have seriously delayed the development of a number of other items I intend to offer on the smartBoxmaker site:

smartCorner – the corner trimming jig re-launch of the discontinued Veritas attempt [I should have done it myself right from the start!]

smartSquare – a new jig to facilitate squaring the ends of hinge mortices if you choose to have your hinges [and locks] square ended

smartDisc – a new concept 18” bench-mounted disc sander

smartRule – a new handy box makers’ rule, 500 mm, good clear simple 1mm divisions [no .5mms, no cms]

more on all the above anon – getting smartWare sorted is the first priority!

me and Tina

A final bit of Trivia – when I first started box making seriously in the late 80s I used to sell a small number of my very early curved form jewellery boxes to Asprey in Bond Street – here are a few examples:

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Shown here are mahogany, walnut and bird’s eye maple, each with two internal trays and lined with velvet and silk moirée as was my habit back then before I discovered pigsuede. These were about 13” long – I did some smaller ones, as well.

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And here I am working on one in my old London workshop, way back when – probably about 1990. Little did I know as I chipped and scraped away that this very one, veneered in bird’s eye maple, was to be bought from the store by none other than Tina Turner.

Nice to think that the person who sang ‘Private Dancer’ and all those other great hits, somewhere has a box made by me …

and finally …

Sorry – this has turned into a monster, but be thankful I didn’t add all this lot to the last one! As it is the disc sander talk [FZ, a new 18” bench mounted disc sander and more] will have to wait – this one is too long already! There will be another one in the new year when I know where I am with the smartWare. And I repeat: despite everything, I am still committed to making these products available!

And don’t forget that I go pubic with my 2015 course dates at the end of this week, Dec 19th, so remember to book your place before then to be sure of getting your preferred dates – many of the earlier places have already gone …

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Thank you for reading. Green Duck joins me in wishing you all out there a very happy Christmas – I resisted the temptation this time to have him wearing a silly hat … so undignified …

I’m going for a lie down.

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Andrew Crawford