Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Dark in the afternoons

I don't like these winter evenings. I don't even think it is really winter yet. I am never sure the exact months that make up the seasons. Are the solstices and equinoxes in the mid part of the season? That doesn't seem correct to me......

....is summer May-June-July or is it as I always believed June-July-August?  And the Christmas carol 'In the deep mid winter', are they implying the mid winter is around Christmas or the winter solstice? I always assumed winter was December-January-February.

Have the seasons slipped? Is it to do with the earths orbit or global warming? Is too much forest area being cut down to make way for dairy farming? The tress are the lungs of the planet and soak up carbon dioxide. Cut too many down and the planet can't breath.

And now in this country we might loose 90% of our ash trees.  Damn!  I like English ash. It is a great wood. I have made lots of pieces from it.

I just finished a big hall mirror where the frame is from ash. It is to go with the olive ash and ash sideboard I will be taking to the Handmade in Britain show this week in Chelsea Old Town Hall.

I also made a small jewellery chest of drawers. Something that sits on top of a dressing table. It is from olive ash and walnut. Here are some pictures of it.

Olive ash and walnut jewellery cabinet

Drawers have divider compartments

The jewellery gives the piece a sense of scale

Four of the drawers have dividers in them, the size of the divider compartment getting large in each drawer down, while the fifth drawer is just empty for large objects.

It will look good at the show sitting on the sideboard.

Please check my website if you want to find out more about my furniture, follow me on my Facebook pages, or see what I am talking about on Twitter.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Chalara is coming

With my next show coming up in less that three weeks time, I have been busy in the workshop making items for my stand.

I normally have furniture 'ready to go', but at the moment most of my work is currently in galleries around the country.  So I had to make some more.

Anyway, the big items are done.....I still have a mirror to make, and that is being a bit of a pain.  I went to the local glass cutter down from the workshop of get a mirror cut and a 15mm bevel put all the way round the edge. The machine they use for doing the bevel was broken, but the person would be coming to fix it the following week.  That was over five weeks ago. Whenever I go in, it has been fixed and broken again and they are still waiting for the repair to be done. I was getting very pee'd off with all this, and when I went in the beginning of last week to see 'progress', I did get a bit stroppy. But I had right to? Customer service???  Anyway for some mad reason, I also wanted some glass shelves cut and toughened for the display cabinet I had made. My displeasure could be seen, so the price I was given for the mirror and shelves was very very good.  I have the shelves now, but still waiting for the mirror. The machine should be fixed today. I will find out when I go back tomorrow.

Something I have been making is a small chest of drawers that will be used to hold jewellery. I do have picture of it, and these are on my furniture Facebook pages. The pictures I have posted there don't give a clue as to what I am making, nor do I say. It is something for my Facebook followers to guess, but coming from my blog you know.

On a different note, you may have seen on the news the stories about the threat to the ash trees in the country from a fungal attack.  There is an app on both Android and iOS that can be used to identify and report any ash trees that you find are infected. You can get the app from your OS store, and can find out more information from their website.

Please check my website if you want to find out more about my furniture, follow me on my Facebook pages, or see what I am talking about on Twitter.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Not so plain Jane

I am building a display cabinet at the moment, something open fronted with glass shelves.

The outside of the cabinet will be from American walnut, but for the inside faces I wanted something lighter and contrasting.

Something like sycamore could be used, as it has a minimal grain patter and is a 'white-with-a-hint-of-yellow' colour. But I thought this will be a bit dull and uninteresting.

A wood I have always wanted to use is something called lacewood. It has a lace or snake skin pattern and is a pinkish colour with brown flecks. A good contrast for the walnut.

Here is a picture of the lacewood I have for the cabinet inside. You should be able to get what I am talking about.

Lacewood showing the striking grain pattern

Lacewood has an interesting background.  Most woods with an unusual grain pattern or colour are exotic timbers, but not this one.  It is a tree that grows very well in this country and exceedingly well in cities.  I am sure you know the tree I am talking about - sometimes called 'lungs of the city'.  Want another clue?  Here is picture of the tree in question.

The source of lacewood

Still clueless?  A hint is in the blog title........yes it is a Jane tree!!

Alright, it isn't a Jane tree, but it is a London plane.  Yes, that tree you see in parks and streets everywhere (and not only in London or the UK, but global).  

The London plane tree is a bit of an odd one...there is some argument as to where it comes from.  It is a cross of two trees, the oriental plane and American sycamore but these are debated. It has been widely planted in England since the late 1600's.

Apparently the tallest London place tree is in Bryanston School, Blandford Forum, Dorset. In 2008 it measured over 48m tall. Maybe fresh air is good for them.....

So now you know all about lacewood and where it comes from.

I will post some more pictures of the cabinet in due course.

For more information about me or my furniture, the have a look at my website.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Website update

There is a new version of my website now. It went live a couple of days ago.  

The look and feel has changed mainly, and a few more gallery items.

Good old ASP.Net.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

It reminds me.

The other day I was machining up some ash, and some of it had a grain pattern that looks a bit like olive wood. That is the reason some ash is called olive ash.

Now olive tree live a long time. They grow slow. They produce olives.  A couple of months ago I was on holiday in the northern part of Mallorca, and they have loads of olive trees there (as well as loads of orange trees).

The trees there looked very old. Big gnarly trunks. Thick branches.  Ancient trees. But also there were loads of trees that have had major tree surgery performed, just like in the UK when pollarding and coppicing managed the woodlands.

Have a look at this picture of one of the olive trees that has been pruned.

That is some serious cutting.  Now olive trees grow slowly, and those trees don't have many branches left. How long will it take before the tree will produce fruit again?  I dunno, but it could be years.  So if you grew olives for a living, it could be possible that a tree like this wouldn't produce olives in your lifetime. But don't quote me on this.  I am no expert.

I assume that all the tress go through pruning cycles. I guess it helps keep the tree living and producing strong new wood.  I guess that is why the olive tress look gnarly.

This begs a question. Do olive trees live this long because man has learnt how to increase their lifespan and usefulness through pruning?  Dunno.

I have not used any olive wood when making furniture, but I have used olive ash.  Here is a sideboard that is made from olive ash.

To see more of my furniture or find out more about me, then please visit my website.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

A smaller collection?

You don't need a large collection of jewellery to have a handmade object to keep it in.

I have just completed some small boxes that are ideal for rings, cuff links or earrings.

The boxes are made from maple with an American walnut lid. Inside, the box is lined with green leather, and the fifteen small compartments are ideal for storing small items.

The lid of the box has a cool opening mechanism. Just push down on one end and it pops-up, and can then be lifted off.

Here are some pictures.

The boxes are made of maple and American walnut

Push down on one end of the box, and the lip will pop-up

The compartments are just right for storing smaller items

What with Fathers day coming up, this box would  make a good present for the man who has loads of cuff links (or anything else in fact).

These boxes can be purchased on-line from my pages on Seek & Adore.

To see more of my furniture, please check out my website.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

A good place to arrange your collection

Remember a post a few weeks ago where I was talking about the jewellery cabinet I was making.  Good news, it is all finished and actually delivered to the clients.

Normally I take photographs of pieces in the workshop, but as you can imagine it is a bit of a kerfuffle.  The floors are dusty, the walls dusty, everything is dusty. So sweep up, let the dust settle, sweep up again and then unroll a white photographic backdrop. Umm. Dust on that now. And don't even talk about light set-up! So that is why for this piece I had a change of tactic. I had pictures taken for me by a photographer.

I really like the pictures and I think the show the piece off really well. So a thank-you to Peter Hughes for taking them.

At the moment I haven't added this piece to the gallery on my website, as the whole site is going through a bit of a rethink.  But once it is done, I am sure I will post an update on this blog!

Monday, 21 May 2012

Living in my 'fridge

I do other things than make furniture.

I like to make things, I always have done.  I used to be a computer programmer. That is making things, but something most people can't see - only use.

One thing I like to make is bread.  Why?  I like to know what is in it. All I put in my bread is flour, water, salt and some kind of yeast. No bread improvers. No chemicals and additives that get 'destroyed' during the baking so they are not listed in the ingredients. Just flour, water, salt and some kind of yeast.

My yeast, or rather sourdough leaven lives in my 'fridge. It isn't that old. I only started it on 29th December 2011.  I remember its birthday. All the leaven is really is a living culture of yeast. People have these cultures that are many many years old. And I am talking 30, 40, 50 years old.

When I make sourdough, I use this leaven instead of dried yeast.  It takes a bit more work, but not that much more, but the bread does really taste good.

To start the process going, a couple of days before I want to bake (normally baking day is Saturday), I take the leaven out of the 'fridge and let it warm up for a few hours. This is what it looks like:

The leaven lives in a clip lid box in the 'fridge
Bit scary, isn't it?  Don't worry it is fine. It has a fermentation/sour/beer smell. This is normal, and is what adds flavour to the bread. I can't just use the leaven as is, it needs to be fed a couple of times to get it nice and active. It eats flour and water. So I mix up a 2:3 flour/water mix and feed it. Probably a couple of times over a 24 hour period.

Once the leaven is nice and active, I can start to make the sourdough. The first stage is to make something called a sponge. Basically it is a flour and water mix to which a ladle full of leaven is added. This sponge is then left ferment overnight, while the leaven can go back in the 'fridge till next time.

This is the sponge after an overnight ferment.

The 'sponge' after fermenting overnight

It has a very light and bubbly texture and smells very beer like. Reminds me of being a kid (probably about 12 years old) and when I got into home beer making. Now that is another story.....

Anyway. Back to the bread.  I take the sponge and then mix it with the rest of the flour and some salt. I may sometimes add a tablespoon of oil. Sometimes I don't. I then shove all this in my mixer and give it a right good ten mins of kneading. Yes, I know I could do it by hand. But I don't as I have a nice mixer, so I use that.

A KitchenAid mixer. What a gadget!

After the kneading process, I end up with a firm dough that is not wet or sticky.

The mixed dough hanging on the mixer dough hook

Now I have to play the game of letting the dough rest for an hour or so, and then shaping it into a tight ball. I will do this four or five times. During this time, the yeast will convert the flour proteins into gluten, and by making the dough into a tight ball, the gluten strands are being pulled and stretched. This has the effect of giving the dough strength and helps keep the dough in shape.

A shaped ball of dough

After this repetitive ball making process, the dough can then be shaped into the final shape for baking. It can be a stubby cylinder, a ball, turned into rolls or even a baguette. Toppings can be added, for example oats, poppy seeds, sunflower seeds or just a dusting of flour. Then once again the dough is left for an hour or so for final proving.

Then madness. It all happens so quick. Slash the top of the bread to release some of that tension built by the gluten, spray with water to help form the crust, transfer the bread onto a hot pizza stone, put in an oven set to the highest temperature possible and pour a good slosh of boiling water into a tray placed at the bottom of the oven. Close the oven door. Stand back, relax and enjoy the smell of the bread cooking.

After ten mins, the oven can be turned down a bit and the bread baked for another 30 - 40 mins, until the crust is firm, has a nice colour and the bread sounds hollow when tapped.

The finished bread.
And there is the final bread. The one on the left is the sourdough, while the one on the right is made with dried yeast. Both use the same amount of wholemeal flour, same amount of water and the same amount of salt. Both went in the oven at the same time and were cooked for the same amount of time. But for some reason, the sourdough always comes out with a much darker crust.

Both taste great though.

Next time, back to woodwork!

Friday, 4 May 2012

Making of a jewellery cabinet

Remember I was talking in my last post about a project I was making, then came along the cold weather and put a halt to it.....

...let me pick it up from when it got warmer and I had finished the little jewellery boxes.

So this cabinet is based on an existing piece of mine - the drinks cabinet I made last year. The couple I am making the jewellery cabinet for saw the drinks cabinet on my stand in a show. They wondered if I could make another, but this one with drawers. Of course I can.

Building the carcass followed the technique of I used for the drinks cabinet (read  my blog from early last year to find out how).

This cabinet has drawers, and drawers always mean loads and loads of bits of wood. Twelve drawers with two sides, a front and two backs (yes, too backs). Add a few spares and you have a right good pile of wood!

Normally when I am making a piece of furniture that has drawers, machining the wood up for them is one of the first tasks I do.  Wood for drawers needs to be dry and stable. By machining the wood as early as possible, allows it to dry and move. Then it can be machined down to final dimensions when you are ready to make the drawers. Doing this gives a fighting chance of getting good stable components.

So I wave a magic wand....and 'hey presto!', here is a set of drawers.

The drawers 'hang' in the cabinet on runners that are fixed to the sides of the cabinet. A slot is made in the drawer side that fits snug to the runner.

As this cabinet will be used to store jewellery, nine of the twelve drawers will have drop-in lattice dividers in which the jewellery will be stored. The dividers are sized depending what will be stored in the drawers. So small dividers for rings, larger one for larger items! You get the idea.

I will tell you about the dividers in the next blog post.

For more information about me and my furniture, please visit my website.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Warm at last...

...but for how long?

Nice that the last week has brought in some warm weather, but it might not last long as a cold snap maybe on its way in.

I hope it won't be as cold as it was last month. Cold weather does cause problems in woodwork. As does hot weather. Why? Glue.

There is a working range of temperature for glue. Outside the range and it won't cure correctly, and cause a weak join.

The lower limit for the glue I use is about 8c.  Now, I don't work in a workshop that is that cold, as we have a big industrial heater. But the area where the veneer press is unheated, and during the last cold snap, it was hovering around 8c. No good for veneering then.

Now the project I am working on is a cabinet that has 12 drawers, and will be used for storing jewellery. I was starting the project when the cold snap hit. And yes, the first thing I needed to to was veneering. Damn. I didn't want to risk it as not only does the air temperature needs to be above 8c, but everything involved in the process (materials, glue, veneer press) must also be above this limit.

I started the project and then had to put it on hold till the cold weather passed!

So rather than twiddle my thumbs, I decided to make a few boxes, as all the work for them could be done in the nice warm heated area of the workshop.

Here are some pictures of the three boxes I made. They are similar to ones I have made and sold in the past. These have different handles and little feet.

These boxes are actually for sale on a website called 'Seek & Adore'. Here are my pages on the site where you can see other items I have on sale.

Friday, 2 March 2012


So all that batch work I was talking about in my last post (which was a while back)...

...here is the 'Airfix kit of parts' I first made.  It took a while as there were 416 individual pieces.

Looking at the picture, it is not clear if I was making a Lancaster or a Spitfire. Neither. The answer is trays with little sub divisions....like this finished one.

I was actually making a batch of 30! 

So making a big batch like that does show that some tasks are quicker, for example when wood is machined in bulk. But some tasks take just as long, for example when a tray is glued up (there is a slight speed gain, as after making about five trays, the best order and method is found).

So there you go.

Time and motion studies.


Tuesday, 17 January 2012


Here is an interesting thing. If you make lots of an object in one go, how much quicker overall is it compared to just making one.

Batch work, that is what it is.

I am making thirty identical objects at the moment. They are trays, about 330mm square, and each tray has eight little compartments. So by making a batch, certain ‘set up times’ will be split across the thirty.  Let me give you an example, not connected to what I am currently making, but still a good example.

Suppose I need to shape a piece of wood that will be the back leg of a chair. Look at a dinning chair you have at home.  It will probably be curved somewhere so the back leans from the seat.  You get the idea.  Now I need to make a jig or two that holds the wood while it is being shaped. It might take two hours to make these two jigs, but to actually use them to shape the wood may only take a couple of minutes. If I were making just the one chair, then in total, it has taken two hours four minutes (two hours for the jig, and two legs at 2 minutes each) to shape the two back legs, or 62 minutes each. If I was making a batch of ten chairs, then it would equate to two hours forty minutes (two hours to make the jig, and twenty legs at 2 minutes each), or 8 minutes per leg.  You can see the time saving.

It is not all time savings though. Some tasks don’t save time no matter how many you do, as there is no set up time. For example, when you hand sand the sharp edge off a piece of wood and give it a little curve. This can only be done at a certain speed, no matter how many you do. Maybe if you do loads, you get slower as your arm starts to ache!

Anyway, I am keeping times of each task I perform in making the trays to see where the time savings are.

 It will make interesting analysis.

To some people.