July 2010

Fine box making in the Shropshire hills
newsletter
July 2010

Fine Decorative Boxes

Hello again, box makers … I hope you’ve all been enjoying some of the [northern hemisphere] summer weather and it hasn’t been keeping you out of the workshop too much! It has been a very mixed summer weather-wise here in Shropshire. We missed the best bit in June as we were down in France [see below] where the first week was dismal – we sat huddled around an open fire on midsummer’s eve!

This newsletter is my usual biannual email about weekend course dates expanded to include some other items of news that might be of interest. Plenty this time, as it happens – including an update on my new corner trimming jig, more on the Australian trip and a possible course in France for 2011.

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One-to-one courses

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It has certainly been busy this year – I’ve had many visitors from all over the UK, as well as from US, Canada, and Australia. Click here to read what some who’ve spent some time with me have to say about their experience. Go here
to read a detailed review posted on the Sawmillcreek website by a recent American visitor and here for a review of a weekend course on the UK Workshops Forum.

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Weekend courses

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The spring weekends were a great success – not least because a lot of great inlaying got done due to my new corner squaring jig [see below].

The autumn 2010 weekend dates are:

October 9/10
October 23/24
November 13/14
November 27/28

I offer a maximum of four places on these weekends, allocated on a first come, first served basis. Please go to my weekends page for more details and email me if you would like to book a place.

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Prices

The weekend course charges are staying the same for now, but the one-to-one rate has been pretty much the same for most of my time here in Shropshire so something had to give. For new rates please go here.

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To those who’ve already done a weekend course with me this newsletter serves as a reminder to consider taking your learning to the next stage and book some one-to-one time in the autumn. To help make this decision I’m offering weekenders £25 off the first day …

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Box making course in France

OK – this is just a thought: the spring weekends were a bit earlier than usual this year as I had some teaching to do in France. This came about following an invitation from a couple who had already done a few days with me here in my Shropshire workshop. They are setting up a workshop of their own in their house in France and this was a visit to help them with this, and to do some box making of course! In return my wife Hilary and I, and Peter Lloyd
and his wife Chris, had a week’s holiday in what turns out to be a large and very beautiful house in the wonderful Gers region.

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Well … the idea of using their workshop and house to run a box making course came up, so Peter and I have been discussing the possibilities …

I’m sure you all know of Peter Lloyd – my co-conspirator in the Celebrating Boxes show and book. In the foreword to Peter’s excellent “Heirloom Boxes” Paul Richardson wrote: 
“There are other makers working with natural-edged timber, certainly, but somehow they lack the precision seen in the underlying mechanics of Peter’s work … it was clear that this union of the intuitive and the technical displayed in his work was neither accident nor contrivance; rather a natural result of the considerable thought he gives to both what he does and why he does it.”

In a review on the Sawmill Creek website following a visit to my Shropshire workshop by an American box maker he wrote:
“For the aspiring cellist to spend three days with Yo-Yo Ma would be something special, certainly. For an aspiring box maker to spend three days one-on-one with Andrew Crawford is similar … Andrew is a truly charming fellow and a skilled teacher who generously shares his vast command of box making methods, tips, and processes with clarity and enthusiasm.”

We each have a very different approach and between us we have a wealth of knowledge and experience. So you would come away with a rich overview of the art and craft of box making and many invaluable tips and tricks, as well as having had a wonderful holiday in one of the most beautiful regions of France.

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This is all still very much at the discussion stage, but the general idea is that it should be a 5 day course run by Peter and me. The house has five beautifully appointed double rooms available, all with their own bathroom, and we could accommodate a maximum of 5 box makers and their partners.

All catering would be included, and as well as the time spent with Peter and me learning all there is to know about making fine boxes [well, as much as we can cram into the time!] there would be ample opportunity to enjoy the immediate and wider surroundings. The house itself has beautiful and extensive grounds, including a swimming pool, tennis court, croquet lawn, pond and rose gardens … other facilities include table tennis, table football and a beautiful barbecue area. And on a clear day you can see the Pyrenees!

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And of course this could be just one part of a longer holiday in this gorgeous region!

The cost is likely to be in the region of £2,000 for the week for box maker plus partner. Although this is in the very early stages of planning, we need to know whether there is serious interest out there so we can take it to the next stage. So, if anyone feels as though they might be interested, please let me know.

The little pics shown here simply don’t do the place justice – it just HAS to be seen! I will post some larger images on the website at the beginning of September when I’ve recovered from Australia – and there will be more info in my January 2011 newsletter. If you have any queries in the meantime, please email me.

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Australia

As I work on this newsletter it’s only a couple of days before we travel … and there is still so much to do! The weather is a bit dismal – and knowing our luck the next beautiful spell of weather here in Shropshire will be during August when we’re in Australia [so their winter!]. Mind you, when we were there last in August [2002] the weather was gorgeous – like a fresh English summer. But too cold for the delicate ozzies, so the beaches on Rotto
were all but deserted …

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I am the Artist in Residence at this year’s WA Woodshow
in Perth. This runs from Friday, August 6th to Sunday August 8th and for me is a welcome repeat of a visit back in 2002. The Fine Wood Work Association, which hosts the ‘Out of the Woods Exhibition’ at the show, is organising a special box competition with a first prize of $1000 [2nd, $300 and 3rd $200] which I will be judging. The competition is open to all – for more info see my news pages.

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While I’m over I will also be teaching a three day course in Paul Henneberry’s workshop [this is fully booked], a day at Neil and Pam Erasmus’s workshop and a day at the Australian School of Fine Wood
based in Dwellingup at the wonderful Forest Heritage Centre, pictured above.

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“Boxes and Their Makers”

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“Boxes and Their Makers” is a show originated and curated by the Centre for Furniture Craftsmanship in Maine, US, and which opened at their Messler Gallery in September 2009. It featured a box of mine, ‘LAVA
‘, shown above, and also features work by Peter Lloyd and Robert Ingham. The show is similar in concept to Celebrating Boxes, set up by Peter Lloyd and me back in 2001, and runs for the best part of three years.

But
… if you didn’t make it to see the show at the Messler Gallery and were hoping to see the box above at the “Boxes and Their Makers” show at a subsequent venue – you’ve missed it! As a result of a protracted dispute following a perfectly reasonable request to borrow this box back at a time when it was not actually showing in US [the show is only booked to go to 5 venues in three years] I have withdrawn it from any further involvement in the show. This drastic action, I was definitively told, was the only way they would agree to release the box to me. So, this I have done, with a considerable amount of relief – so it will, after all, be on display at the Perth Woodshow [see above].

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Corner Squaring Jig

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I referred to this in the January newsletter – it’s a jig I’ve designed to complete the outer corners of router cut grooves for inlay lines. Anyone who has ever inlaid lines around a box lid, first removing the bulk to width using a table mounted router, will have confronted this problem: the router does a great job except for the last few mm of the outsides of the corners. These have to be completed by hand – traditionally using a wide chisel carefully lined up along the last bit of the routed groove, or it can also be done using a straight edge and a scalpel. A corner chisel is another way to go – but lining it up perfectly is difficult. Veritas
produce a very nicely made, compact corner chisel but the magnetic guide that comes with it is not appropriate for this job and is difficult to use un-guided.

So, with this chisel as a starting point, I set out to design an alternative guide for use with inlay lines. The prototype I’ve designed holds the chisel perfectly vertical and in exactly the correct postion relative to the routed grooves. One tap with a hammer and the job is done!

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Veritas has shown an interest in producing this commercially. They’ve been very complimentary about the design and function of the prototype – but initially expressed doubts about the potential market. They see this as being something that could be too specialised to be commercially viable. It IS specialised and performs a single task, but of course it’s NOT just for box makers. It will cater for grooves from 2mm to 15mm wide and it’s appropriate for a lot more than just box making. Inlaid decoration is fundamental to a wide range of cabinetwork and other decorative work, including drawer fronts, cabinet doors, table and cabinet tops, marquetry panels, picture/photo frames, games boards … in fact, this jig will be valuable in any situation where a decorative line or crossbanding is to be inlaid around a rectangular panel.

When you look at any item – what is the first thing you look at? – the inlay. And the most crucial part of this? – the way the corners are handled. This jig will ensure that this most crucial area of your work is perfect every time!

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Some of you who attended one of my courses in recent years may have used an early version of this – thanks to you for the feedback, it has all been very valuable! As to the final version, I can boast a 100% success rate with all my recent courses: never before have I had sixteen perfectly squared corners at my weekend courses!

My guess is that Veritas will decide to manufacture a version of this – but even if they decide not to, I will be doing it myself. So, one way or another, a version of this jig will eventually be available, based around the Veritas corner chisel. In any case I will have my prototype with me in Australia and will be demonstrating its use at every opportunity! And taking names of those interested in ordering whatever version eventually materialises.

Watch this space – and please email me if you’re interested

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Old books

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These are now VERY old – the ‘newest’ published in 1998! When I’m teaching and someone says: ‘I know how you do this because you say in your books … ’ I all too often find myself saying: “ … do I? … er, I don’t actually do it like that any more!” So, in anticipation of the new book I have stopped selling the old ones. However, they are still full of good stuff and if you don’t have a copy of one or both they are still available through Amazon, Books.com, Book Depository and so on. But things have definitely moved on …

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New book

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I am still working when I can on the new book – commissions I’m doing for various customers at the moment are doubling as projects for the book so progress is being made. And most importantly its content is hugely benefiting from all the teaching I’m doing – there’s nothing like having to explain something to someone for helping to put your own thoughts in order! This has certainly been in the pipeline for a long time – but all being well it should be available in autumn 2011.

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It contains a wide range of new projects, including the ‘perfect’ box, exciting things to do with 0.4mm birch ply [yes, 0.4mm 3 ply!], perfect inlaying, the lightest wooden box in the world [well … pretty light, anyway], new approaches to fitting drawers, doing curved forms and much more. The Jan 2011 newsletter will have a lot more info about this – a summary of the projects, some more info on some of the new techniques covered and so on. Watch this space …

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Workshop refit

In an attempt to increase the feeling of space [and as a knock-on effect of buying a large planchest at the beginning of the year] I have been busy re-vamping the workshop. When I moved in six or so years ago I took the easy option and left several extremely ugly 8 foot triple fluorescent light fittings on their equally ugly mdf brackets where they were. After all – they did their job, sort of, and I needed to be up and running as quickly as possible. But recently they have been failing more and more and it has become clear that their only function has been to obscure the space’s finest feature – the 200+ yr old oak beams. So the whole lot has gone to the dump.

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I’ve also removed a number of overhead dust ex feeds serving several machines, simplifying the system, reducing the number of gates and therefore minimising suction loss. The first pic above shows the chaos of dexion, fluorescent lamps and dust extraction that the overhead space used to be, and the second the clear, uncluttered overhead space as it is now. I’ve also moved the fine dust filter to the other end of the workshop [it’s about as decorative as the fluorescent lights] and that has also hugely improved things.

The retro industrial style of pendant lighting fits with the overall feel of the space [thank you eBay] – and the newly found space also hugely facilitates moving my studio lights around, essential for work to the new book. Previously this was a hazardous task negotiating the overhead assault course!

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Box making

Well – there has been some time for actual box making this year as well, and my customers continue to be unbelievably patient! The period when I return from Australia will be dedicated to completing as many outstanding projects as I have time for – which will also further the new book [see above].

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this newsletter – there was quite a lot of it this time! Thank you for your time – and happy box making!

Kind regards, Andrew Crawford.

29/07/2010

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