September 2017




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newsletter 22, part 2 – September 2017

Hello, again.

Part 2 of this newsletter is being sent out a bit sooner than I’d intended – which is a first, most are late!

The reason for this rare haste is the imminent changeover to the new smartBoxmaker site. Rather than the sudden dramatic reveal I had in mind it will actually be a gradual process – it can take up to 48 hours for the new version of the site to ‘propagate’ to all parts of the internet.

And because it’s important that the new site is up and running properly for Sept 28th – when my Furniture & Cabinetmaking advert comes out [the first of four I have booked] – I’ve had to bring the expiry date of the subscriber discount coupon forward to midnight on Sept 26th, not Sept 27th as posted in part 1.

After that time visitors may see either version of the site – if you find the old site and place an order you will still be paying current ‘old’ prices, but the coupon won’t work. If you find yourself at the new smartBoxmaker site you will be paying the new increased prices.

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In any case – if you want to take advantage of the old prices and the subscribers’ discount to book a course, buy smartWare or any other smartBoxmaker items, better do it soon, and anyway before midnight on Tuesday Sept 26th.

The code is: OFF2017289NL221WWY

part 1 of this newsletter is here

other items in this issue:

  •  these newsletters – why this one looks different
•  rhodium plated
Ware – the way forward
•  mystery pic solution – not very hard this time!
•  workshop extension
•  making a flute case
Disc progress update
•  Linley update
Ware users’ gallery – please send images


these newsletters:

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The look of these newsletters has gone through some changes since the first one in 2010, and you may have noticed this one has changed again. And the title is now the ‘smartBoxmaker‘ newsletter – this is to mirror the new look website going live early next week.

To view all past issues go to the archive here.


rhodium plated smartWare:

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It has always been important to offer smartWare in three finishes – a polished brass version, that has always been the most popular, along with a ‘silver’ version of some sort for a crisper, less traditional look, and gold plated. The silver option can be arrived at in a number of ways: most obvious are chrome plated, nickel plated, silver plated and solid stainless steel.

There are advantages and disadvantages to all of these, but until now the best option to my mind has always been solid stainless steel. Not least because ‘solid’ is perceived

as better than ‘plated’, and assuming the correct grade of material is used it’s genuinely ‘stainless’. And in any case, being harder than brass it’s much less likely to be damaged/scratched in handling.

But as a result of problems encountered in producing the stainless steel versions I’m moving towards offering rhodium plating as the ‘silver’ option.

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The first samples are drop dead gorgeous!

Rhodium is very hard and resistant to scratching, so ideal for this application. It’s also a precious metal [significantly more precious than gold] so plating with it is an expensive process.

But we’ve managed to keep the price down to what the stainless steel hinges were, and the locks would have been, which is around 1/3 more than the polished brass. This is because everything will be produced in brass, thus hugely simplifying the manufacturing process and allowing a smooth and continuous process to maintained. Then plating as required.

A substantial batch of everything is in progress at the moment – I hope by the time the new website goes live early next week, and certainly by the open day on October 8th, I will have substantial stocks of everything. For the first time ever – and not for want of trying!


mystery pic solution and workshop extension:

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Lots of you got this. Actually, I rather forgot that I’d explained my plans to some recent course participants, some of whom were pretty quick off the mark!

The image on the left is pure invention – and on the right shows how it really is. The ‘bridge’ shown over the arch is an intended workshop extension, as yet unrealised, so I’ve had to satisfy myself with a bit of PhotoShop playing!

There were all sorts of clues – the identical reflection in the windows and the repeated weatherboarding gave it away, showing that it’s basically a bit of copying and pasting together with a few added joists and supports pinched from an online oak frame building manufacturer. Even more telling is the image of the front of the workshop at the head of the item about the open day which clearly shows the arch as it really is – with no ‘bridge’.

It might still happen – with the final coming to fruition of the smartWare project I definitely need more space to continue to run the various parts of the business efficiently.

When I moved up here from London 13 years ago the new space was 4 times what I had in London and I would never have believed that the new space could EVER be less than I need.. It seemed pure luxury … – but Sod [or is it Murphy, or perhaps some other altogether, I forget … ] has a law which states that we always fill whatever space is available, of course.

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This is the London workshop [1986-2004] at Acton Business Centre in North Acton, West London. Basically single garage size, you can see most of it in this picture …Good light though, and plenty of height.

The disc sander nerds amongst you will notice two in this picture – the one just by the window is an old Axminster 12” model – table at traditional 1/2 height position, of course. The nearer one on the bench is the first one I made with a Picador 14″ faceplate, now serving as the core for my experimenting with the prototype smartDisc. Note the table height – this was way back in 1995 or so … More on progress with the smartDisc below.

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Incidentally, the view through the big single window [green arrow], above the low brick wall you can just see through it, used to be the London Rolls Royce service and body work workshops. The yard used to have 50 or 60 rollers parked there at any one time, what must have been many millions of £s worth of car. They are still there is some capacity, as are Maserati and others … Image nicked from google earth.


making a flute case – part 1:

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I intended to post a flute case project like this some time ago – but other issues have rather taken priority in the last few newsletters. I want to post more actual box making – at least a part of a project in each newsletter. They won’t be full ‘how to’ sequences, more a series of images with a few comments signposting interesting features or techniques. An experienced maker will certainly be able to join the dots …

OK – this flute case. It’s a notional copy of a late C19th early C20th Rudall Carte case – only notional because all the cases of that time would have been leather covered. Having studied many of these cases the woodwork under the leather is very rudimentary – and the ‘hinge’ is often formed simply by the way the leather folds around from the lid to the base – bound to go eventually but amazingly a lot of them have survived with this leather hinges intact. Far longer than the makers would have anticipated, I’m sure.

I made the first of these cases for the flute maker and renowned Rudall Carte expert Robert Bigio for a Rudall Carte flute he had recently restored – this is it:

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also showing the flute’s original rather tatty case on which this, and all subsequent cases, was loosely based.

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On this occasion the solid I’d chosen for the main box was so individual – some beautifully figured and mineral stained Cuban mahogany – that I decided the only way to get anything to match was to create the veneer from the solid I already had.

Although I didn’t plan for the lid veneer to be bookmatched, the mineral staining offered a great opportunity to effectively bookmatch the lid with the front of the box along its front edge. So after a bit of careful planning the piece was converted to yield the elements I needed, including the piece for the lid which was cut to around 1.5mm.

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I have a small [16-32] drum sander which I’ve had since about 2000, bought soon after these ‘hobby’ machines first became available. It has its limitations, but as with any small machine [any MACHINE, really!] you need to get to know it – what it will do, workarounds, compromises and so on. Notice the extra support added at the outboard end – useful for some jobs, but a pain for others!

It’s one of the best machines I ever bought, I use it all the time and it’s perfect for thinning down/smoothing bandsawn veneers, as well as working wth figured timbers prone to tearing. You have to use a packing piece as shown for veneers because the thinnest the machine will go down to is about 4mm – this is just a board with some abrasive attached for friction. In this way I brought the bandsawn veneer down to about 0.6mm.

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This shows the curved laminating form with the birch ply and lid veneers in place in the press …

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 … and this shows the component parts prior to grooves being machined. When these are done it will be ready for assembly …

Part 2 of this project will be in the next newsletter.


smartDisc progress report:

Well, I now have most of the component parts for the functioning prototype which I hope will be up and running by the open day on Sunday, October 8th.

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Most, but not all. One potential stumbling block is the manufacture of the dust extraction cowl shown here in green. I’ve had a very high quote to make these from spun aluminium – potentially putting the final cost of the machine higher than I’d planned.

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So, as Mike Williams‘ excellent cartoon has it:

“Well, so much for plan ‘A’!”

So, I’ll have to do some serious re-thinking about this aspect. I could include plans to make a dust extraction hood along with the rest of the construction, but it would probably be the trickiest part of the process and I don’t want it to be a disincentive.

Actually I am reliably informed that stamping from stainless steel sheet is the way to go – so I’m currently investigating that avenue.

Watch this space, and the new website when it’s up and running … 


Linley update:

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Readers who have been subscribed for some time will remember my referring to a certain … altercation involving Linley, the London-based ‘high end’ furniture and luxury accessory maker/supplier, copying the smartHinge in China. Those who are newer to the list, or for whatever reason haven’t read this, it’s in newsletter 18, December 2014.

Very briefly, for a time in 2012 and 2013 a number of makers were using my smartHinges in the production of boxes they were supplying to Linley. Then in 2013 orders stopped from those customers and it eventually emerged that Linley had had my hinges copied in China and were supplying these to the makers instead. When confronted over this early in 2014 the company initially admitted to the copying, agreed that some compensation should be payable, and that some future collaboration could be beneficial to both parties. But then I guess their lawyers/accountants got wind, because the shutters came down and from that moment on they changed tack, denied everything and ignored my every attempt to communicate.

My dealings with them didn’t go any further after that – I simply didn’t have the time, energy or stomach to continue dealing with them and concentrated instead in finding a new manufacturer for the smartWare.

Anyway, about a couple of months ago someone new in the company, clearly unaware of this history, sent me a proposal asking me if I’d like to quote for making some boxes for them. I did do some making for Linley a long time ago [early 90s?] but it was so pitifully paid once was enough. So it was something of a surprise to have this contact from them – I replied with the link to the newsletter I refer to above and waited.

An concerned and apologetic reply was received and a meeting set up. The people I originally dealt with are long gone from the company, of course, but I briefed the people I was due to meet with some background detail and we had the meeting a few weeks back.

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Above are a few of the boxes currently in their Belgravia showroom clearly showing the fake copied smartHinges. There must have been 40 or so others currently on show sporting the same hinges. Incidentally, I should point out: the hinges they’ve had made are not vague, notional copies, but identical in every detail, and early on were even referred to as smartHinges on the plans supplied to makers!

At the meeting they seemed amenable to a royalty payment, and for this to be back-dated and ongoing. So, definitely a step in the right direction … but nothing is confirmed yet and I’m not counting my chickens. Who knows what will happen when lawyers and accountants get involved …

Note the fluttering union jack in the image above of their newly painted headquarters in Pimlico Road – on past form presumably displayed ironically?! But maybe they now have a more supportive and ethical stance – time will tell. Anyway I hope I’ll have some good news to post in the newsletter 23.


smartWare users’ gallery:

For a long time I’ve wanted to collect together a good gallery of smartWare users’ work, and said as much in newsletter 12, way back in June 2013. I never really followed it up – mainly because the most important thing was getting the stuff made respectably!

Now that hurdle is well and truly crossed [4 years on!] and I’m back on the case.

If you have work that you’d like to have featured please let me have some good quality images, together with as little or as much info as you’d like included – with website details if you wish. Or you can be completely anonymous … it’s up to you.

I’m not entirely sure what form this will take yet – but it will be somewhere on the smartBoxmaker site.

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Here’s a little miscellaneous collection to start the ball rolling …


open day reminder:

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A quick reminder to anyone who hasn’t yet let me know that they want to attend … click below!

  •  smartWare on sale at pre-increase prices plus extra 10% off

  •  smartDisc prototype demonstration

  •  smartCorner prototype demonstration – and hopefully on sale

  •  and much more

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in smartBoxmaker newsletter no. 23:

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•  Linley update
•  smartWare production and quality control
•  the key to success
•  a trip to china
•  making a flute case – part 2
•  ‘The Incomplete Guide to Box Making’ finally gets back on track!
•  a fine craftsman reviewed
•  scraper sharpening
•  a trip to China
•  a trip to Capital Crispins
•  and more …

thank you!

Thanks for reading – hope to see some of you at the open day.

I hope to be sending out the next newsletter by the end of October – now that things are really moving with the smartWare
I can concentrate on some other things – as I say there will be much more making covered in the newsletters from now on – after all, that’s what it’s all about!

Happy box making.

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