December 2014

Fine box making in the Shropshire hills


no. 14, December 2014:

Several hundred have joined my newsletter subscribers list in the last few weeks – welcome! Those who’ve been subscribed for a year or more will be aware that this is the first newsletter since December 8th last year, exactly a year and a day ago, certainly the longest gap there’s ever been between newsletters since I first introduced them at the beginning of 2010.


Well – this is not AT ALL what I had planned for this newsletter! The main reason for the long gap [most will have guessed] has been the non-availability of my smartHinges and smartLockssmartWare. There have been yet more problems with the manufacturing of these, and I simply couldn’t face trying to convince everyone, yet again, that they REALLY WERE just around the corner! AGAIN.


So, to be absolutely clear – they are NOT just around the corner. But I will have some very special offers on both hinges and locks in a few days – I’m still in the process of sorting these out so won’t go into all that now, instead these will be in a second newsletter very shortly in which all will be explained.


In the meantime, many will know that I took the decision earler this year to take some time off from running my courses …


Derry and Toms

I very much enjoy the teaching I do and I consider it a privilege that I get to meet a very diverse collection of interesting and interested people – dentists, surgeons, helicopter pilots, book binders, pile drivers, airline pilots, authors, musicians … bus drivers, taxi drivers, doctors, poets, gun makers, teachers, photographers, property developers, cabinetmakers, builders … Korean fighting kite makers … lots of IT people, fighter pilots.


So, quite a lot of pilots, then. Actually, I had one jumbo jet pilot [you know who you are!] who confessed to being more nervous doing a routing operation to accommodate a decorative line for the box he was making than he was landing a 747 with 500 people on board! He did a great job of the inlaying, incidentally, despite his worries. Nerves of steel.


All human life is here, and from all corners of the globe – all with a certain shared interest in making boxes, of course … But enjoy running the courses as I do, there’s simply not enough time for everything, and many other areas of my activities – not least my own commissioned making and work to the new book – have suffered. So, I decided I needed a sabbatical in order to allow me the time to pursue these rather neglected areas, to see the re-introduction of the hardware to a conclusion, and to try to regain some lost momentum.


Basically I needed some time to get my ducks in a row …

ducks in a row

And these actually are my ducks, Indian Runners – meet [left to right] ‘Green Duck’, the drake, ‘Dancing Duck’, ‘White Duck’ and ‘Blue Duck’. And they are, for once, actually in a row.


The Monty Python team once offered a diary with a free extra month:

Monty Python's Flying CirCUSS

The free month was, for some reason, called ‘Derry and Toms’. Derry and Toms was a well known department store in High Street Kensington, London, until the building was taken over by Biba in 1971.

Derry and Toms

Many companies have occupied it since – it is now a Marks and Spencer. Anyway, I want one. A free month, that is – I mean, who COULDN’T do with a free month?! Imagine all the things you could achieve while the rest of the world was in suspended animation …


Anyway, back to the real world! As it happens much of the time I gained by having a rest from running my courses has been eaten up with hardware problems. I have achieved substantial progress in some areas, but it’s just less than I’d hoped.


course dates for 2015:

I know there are a lot of you waiting for the list of course dates for the coming year, so here they are:



18th/19th – weekend box making course




1st-5th – ‘Gold’ 5 day box making course

9th/10th – weekend box making course

22nd-26th – ‘Gold’ 5 day box making course

30th/31st – weekend box making course




12th-16th – ‘Gold’ 5 day box making course

20th/21st – weekend box making course




3rd-7th – ‘Gold’ 5 day box making course

18th/19th – weekend box making course

24th-28th – ‘Gold’ 5 day box making course




1st/2nd – weekend box making course

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊


The ‘Gold’ 5 day courses are all Thursday to Monday inclusive and have proved very popular. I’ve updated the info on these on the website here.


Weekends courses are Saturday and Sunday, there’s plenty of info here.

box making courses

making a booking:

box making courses

To make a booking please click on the banner above. This will take you to the relevant page on the smartBoxmaker website. Only newsletter subscribers will have access to this page until I post the dates publicly on December 19th. So make your booking before then to be sure of your place …


Due to the way these sites were originally set up, the page for booking courses is not on the site. This will soon be rectified – for now please book here.

give a course token as a gift?


If you are buying a course as a gift and would like a token to present to the lucky recipient, please email me and I will send the token, free of charge.


And I’m still offering the £20, £50 and £100 gift tokens, along with weekend and 5 day course tokens, available here. These aren’t date specific, have no use-by date and can be redeemed against any future course booking.

box making courses shedule

When making a booking for a specific date you can choose:


EITHER – to pay for the full course up front, saving 10%
OR – to pay a 30% deposit [5 day course] or 50% [weekend course]


Very important – please note: I’ve not been able to work out any system whereby I can control ‘stock’ of any particular course, ie a specific date, and still offer the different booking options. Each course is limited to four people – and I will update the availability as soon as I receive an order, and will remove a particular date from the ordering options as soon as that course is full. But there’s always the possibility that there might be a slight overlap – first come first served, I will be in touch if the the date you’ve purchased has become unavailable.

box making courses



All available products have been selling from the smartBoxmaker website – there will be much more about the box making supplies side of things in the next newsletter, due in a few days.


There will also be a coupon which you’ll be able to use to claim a 10% discount on most items – I have some exceptional snakewood and sycamore lines in stock at the moment …


“The Incomplete Guide to Box Making”:

For reasons that will become clear this book will still be incomplete when it’s finished, hence the title. The writing of this book is one area that has made significant progress recently despite the other demands on my time, and is certainly less incomplete than it was a little while ago. The following is a new project for the book – closely related to my ‘Lava’ box – go here to see this project on Lumberjocks.


This is a project I made my own veneers for – below is a small selection of pics:

box making courses

This process is straightforward if you have a reasonable sized bandsaw, and preferably a drum sander. Even better if you have a thumping great disc sander. More info on FZ in the next newsletter coming very soon …

creating burr veneers

I show the best way to convert a burr to extract the maximum variety and yield of pieces.


a case for a very special flute …


One interesting commission completed recently was a case for a beautiful Rudall Carte flute owned by John Rayworth, one-time membership secretary of the British Flute Society.

a very special Rudall Carte flute

It’s a very unusual instrument – it has a thinned head and a one piece body down to B. In fact, it’s quite possibly the only one ever made according to the flute maker and Rudall Carte authority Robert Bigio, who also made the second headjoint shown here. The instrument been has beautifully restored by Arthur Haswell.

a very special Rudall Carte flute

As well as being beautiful and rare, it is also a flute with a very particular history. It probably belonged to a young man who was sent to Auschwitz – he was almost certainly saved from immediate execution because he played the flute.


He played in the Auschwitz Symphony Orchestra, so may well be playing this very instrument in the picture above. His teacher was later sent to Auschwitz as well, and because he was a better player the younger man was again in danger of execution – but fortunately it seems he had proved himself to be valuabe in other ways so was again spared, and survived the war.


trivia …

The beautiful September weather rightfully made up for the dreadfully wet, cold and dismal August we all suffered here in UK, so the sunflowers in my workshop garden – planted very late – got to flower after all!

smartBoxmaker workshop

Incidentally, shown here with her top off [that got your attention] is my Suzuki Samurai in summer plumage. Recently done up, resprayed and generally in fine fettle, complete with go-faster rhino …


I guess we’re properly in winter now after an extraordinarily warm [hot, even!] autumn. I actually had lunch outside on a beautifully sunny and warm Nov 5th – before going on to BBQ the sausages for the annual Acton Scott firework display!


box on the box:

This is a very old bit of news – 22 years old, in fact. In 1992 a box of mine was used in a BBC drama series, Mr Wakefield’s Crusade. It’s relevant now because the star of the series was a young Peter Capaldi, the new Dr Who …

Mr Wakefield’s Crusade

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, and it didn’t occur to the gallery where it was on display to let me know. The programme was never repeated, sadly, but because of Peter Capaldi’s new role, Mr Wakefield’s Crusade has now been uploaded to something calle Google Drive. So it’s now watchable again.


There’s more info on my fine-boxes website here.


welcome to Starbocks …

I’ve always liked decent coffee, and have always offered coffee to course participants. And tea, of course, and biscuits, and even on occasions, [sometimes supplied by participants] cake. But last year things took a new turn. I like to offer real coffee – espresso. My old Gaggia machine was OK, but was always slow to supply the five people [four plus me] usually present for the courses. So, I decided to get serious and started to look around for a more … industrial solution.

smartBoxmaker coffee machine

A proper 2 group commercial machine seemed to be the answer, and I soon found a likely machine, on eBay of course. It wasn’t expensive [there are always plenty available] it’s an oldish and relatively lo-tec machine, a new machine of this sort costs thousands. But this one got a good seeing-to from an expert and has been serving unlimited, excellent coffee to me, my customers and course participants ever since. Strictly speaking it IS limited, the machine is designed to deliver around 2,000 cups a day, so with five of us we’re theoretically limited to around 400 cups per person per day. That should keep us all on the ball …


Incidentally, on the subject of refreshments, a couple of years back, due to a booking error on my part I accidentally did a weekend course with SIX people. It transpires that 6 people eat twice as many bisuits as four people! Discuss …


finally – a mystery pic:

chocolate clamp

The question is simple: what is it?


A clue? – well, it’s a one word answer, and that word isn’t ‘clamp’.


Or ‘rusty’.


A free smartWare set [when available – and they will be!] to the first correct answer …


Incidentally – there’s a deliberate mistake [believe that and you believe anything!] in the banner advert for my courses shown above, the one with the picture of the Shropshire hills. Another free smartWare set to the first to spot it.


This ad will also be appearing in the ‘Winter’ issue of Furniture and Cabinetmaking, a little higher res than above, so can be studied in a bit more detail …


That’s all for this one – there will be another along in a few days, much more info about what’s been going on with the smartWare, a 10% coupon for use on the smartBoxmaker site, a bit of disc sander talk.

Frank Zappa, Tina Turner etc.

Oh, and a short item about me and Tina …


Bye for now, thanks for reading.

Andrew Crawford signature

Andrew Crawford