Tuesday 28 February 2023

Who makes a worthy furniture critic?

I once heard John Makepeace say (I recall at the Irish 'Create' event where we were both invited speakers) that a furniture maker would not make a good furniture critic. Perhaps too close to the scene of the crime?

The last acknowledged critic of the post 1970s Furniture Craft Revolution was a guy called Peter Dormer: an academic and a potter and very much part of the Royal College of Art/Crafts magazine mafia! Rumour was he disliked furniture! But he understood the nature of skill and so as a maker himself he clearly ticked that box as a critic!

The reader will note I am quite outspoken in this traditionally well-mannered field and forgive my lack of modesty - a cardinal sin amongst makers (who often are far from modest in reality, so let's please be truthful here) but my question is who else, besides moi has documented the British furniture movement of the past half century and against a historical backcloth - and with the advantage of giving an inside story?! Yes, and even using a cheap domestic VHS camcorder in the early days as this clip of my very first craft documentary in 1986 shows:

So, putting my money where my mouth is, in 1988, using 20 grand from the proceeds of a house sale, I invested in video film making equipment. I applied to six film schools and was turned down (too old) by all of them and so I taught myself film making and set up Thinking Hand Video, sharing the wealth of ideas of the work and the makers behind it, as a reaction to silent somewhat exclusive furniture galleries where there was just a name and price tag for punters to refer to.

Ironically it was John Makepeace who chaired an award committee (in that year) when I applied for a £1,000 grant to continue making my furniture documentaries. I showed the committee an extract from 'Five Ways to fashion wood' on a tiny 6'' video monitor.

The 20 minte documentary had won me The Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers 'Ambrose Heal Award'.

Now this will shock the reader but is relevant to the topic of 'who makes a worthy furniture critic?' When I was introduced to John Makepeace at the commence of my interview I recall saying 'yes I have much admired John's work over the years' to which I heard one of the other panel members say 'creep'. This knocked me off my footing momentarily but I let the comment pass until I arrived back home and wrote to the secretary of the awards committee. I recall writing 'irrespective of the outcome of my application for the award I would like to make it clear that whilst I truly admire John Makepeace as an innovator I have written articles eg. 'The Golden Age of Contemporary Craftsmanship' for Woodworking International magazine (later called Furniture & Cabinetmaking magazine) boldly criticising his designs and probably one of the very few to do so'.

To my surprise the letters crossed in the post as I received the £1,000 award! I later received a profound apology from an embarassed committee member which I accepted as we are all adults and should be free to speak our minds even if carelessly. A far cry from what is now happening in our society.

To write about the thing one is passionate about and to spend probably thousands of hours filming, editing and making stage props etcectera etcetera to help educate a largely ignorant public is amongst other things a huge therapy for me. It absorbs me and relieves me of the clinical depression I have suffered all my life. If my critical videos were not any good nobody would watch them. To date my Furniture today 3 video that I re-named 'The Contemporary Furniture Revolution' has received over 100,000 views; respectable numbers considering the nich market and massive competition on YouTube to get noticed:

Following Peter Dormer, a more passionate Peta Levi wrote for the Telegraph. This boosted confidence in a broader buying public for our world leading designer maker revolution to earn some respect through informed opinion that gardening and wine appreciation already enjoyed, although it never quite reached mass audiences until recently and then has been turned into a game format.

The furniture craft movement (referred to as British Studo Furniture in the 90s) has always been tilted towards elitism and exlusivity by many practising it. I am probably an exception in that I sold my furniture at slightly above Habitat prices and I produced furniture (eg my rocking chairs) in small numbers when 'batch' was a dirty word in craft circles. A piece of furniture had to be a one-off which at best is an expensive prototype as furniture, especially chairs usually take a few modifications to evolve into a worthy product!
I was inspired to write this post having just watched and shared a documentary on the Ukraine conflict called 'A historian of the future' and I naturally thoughtof myself. Maybe I should add this to my CV - furniture designer maker and critic. No, we don't think so!

But in an age when everybody's story and opinion is becoming excessive confusing noise the game has changed and is the double edged blade called democracy.

I am staggered at how ignorant and disinterested so many people still are about furniture culture and tradition. It took me four years to persuade the University of Bath Adult learning people to allow me to give a lecture called 'Furniture Today'. This was before the turn of the Millennium and the UK had its head buried in the past in its fear of the future. Of course attitudes changed in the first decade of the 21st century.
From this lecture I gave other lectures around the country and made DVDs of Furniture Today parts One, Two and Three, the last one being in 2013 when Professor Tony James (an aquaintance from playing badminton at the university) kindly gave me access to the main lecture theatre where I premiered Furniture Today 3 to an invited audience.
Amongst the guests were Fred Baier and Johhny Hawkes. Fred is arguably the only Fine Art British furniture maker to appear in global books on innovative furniture design and anyone buying his early work will be sitting pretty. They call em 'early adopters' and they should be knighted for their bravery. Less can be said of the present king who witnessed a Royal Family viewing of ten pieces of British work (he sat on one of my rocking chairs chosen) and didn't commission a single piece! Royal patronage alive and kicking?!
In the same decade (1980s) When BBC television broadcast a certain antiques specialist called Arthur Negus, I phoned them up in fury when I heard him announce that no modern craftsman came anywhere near the quality of work of our 18th century ancestors. I told them I could introduce them to at least a dozen workshops in Britain demonstrating that modern work is better than the past.

This is something the late Alan Peters expressed in my documentary British Craftsmanship in Wood in 1990.
I guess history will judge whether this simple carpenter who never went to university is a worthy critic of the furniture movement which became known as 'British Studio furniture'. I was certainly there at the scene of the crime exhibiting my furniture alongside the main suspects!

It is not just a question of expressing an opinion for the sake of it and because social media tells us our opinions are important, but having something to say that hasn't been said before that actually adds to and is based on factual knowledge.

It was my privilige and good fortune to have met some of the prominent makers and seen their work from the viewpoint of a fellow creator and as a writer.

My qualifications as a craft journalist:

I studied for the Membership of the College of Craft Education (MCCED) in 1971 winning the Vivian Williams book prize for the highest marks in the country for the written examinations. It was a correspondence course under The Institute of Craft education and carried degree status (Handicraft teacher training was not a degree course at the time). The course cover 36 essays on the principles of craft education and a social and economic history of Britain that covered architecture and furniture. The qualification was held by most woodworking authors in the 1960s. I also gained a distinction at the UK's former Handicraft Teacher Training Colle - Shoreditch College, after gaining A grade at GCE A Level Woodwork at Abbotsholme school. This was my introduction to furniture history.

Please also view my piece for The Royal Society of Arts called The value of the Pratical Arts in Education and Society.

Saturday 23 April 2022

Excellence Not Elitism - a British Furniture Award 2022

Building on the success of The Alan Peters Online Furniture Award in 2021, this year a physical event is planned.  The first prize sponsor Axminster Tools is hosting the prize-giving ceremony and winners' exhibition at their main Nuneaton store in October 2022  (dates to be confirmed).  

As organizer and one of the judges I am grateful for the continued support of The Woodworker and Good Woodworking magazine in promoting this important British award and this year in welcoming English Woodland Timbers Ltd as the 2nd prize sponsor for 2022.

The three prizes are:

1st - Axminster Tools - £1000 voucher

2nd - English Woodlands Timber - £500 voucher

3rd - Judges' cash prize of £500

In 2021 there were 28 entries. When the award was first started in 2010 and hosted by the organizers of the Cheltenham Craftsmanship & Design event (I was one of the three judges) we had on average about 6 entries each year. In an effort to make the award more inclusive with few restrictions it has broadened the uptake without compromising the ideals.

The Alan Peters Furniture Award is open to any woodworker over 18 years of age who is resident citizen of the British Isles, who has a flair and passion for woodworking and design. This generally refers to a piece of interior or exterior furniture.

Alex Ward from The Shetland Isles

Last year there were entries from as far afield as The Shetland Isles and I have purposely called it an award for The British Isles to include the excellent reservoir of talent in Ireland. Politics apart the furniture links between England and Ireland are strong as I myself (a Scotsman) taught at the Letterfrack furniture College in Connemara in the 1980s/90s and participated in the 'Create 2006' event in Cork, organized by internationally acclaimed furniture maker Joseph Walsh. This cultural link is long established and important to maintain.  

Having known the late Alan Peters and exhibited alongside him over several decades I think it is fair to say he believed in excellence not elitism, a sentiment I have always shared. This is evident in the accessibility of his furniture, seldom made for the very rich. His is a longstanding legacy and two things he said to me in my early career have stuck out  (when he reviewed my work for the UK Crafts council Index of Selected makers' in 1980:

'You would do well to visit a museum and study furniture that has survived centries and see how wood behaves'.

'If you can't hide a problem then feature it'.

In my early careeer despite my own traditional cabinetry training at Shoreditch college where Alan also trained as a teacher, I was something of a rebel taking risks with wood. Also my equipment was fairly limited and the massive screws I used to secure the members of my trademark rocking chair I covered with dowels. They looked ugly and Alan suggested doming the dowel heads as indeed he left tenons protruding with domed ends on his furniture, to allow for timber movement.

One of my earliest pine rocking chairs (circa 1974) showing 
dowel inserts for the screwed joints. Interestingly the chair sold for £40 and in 2019 this chair was sold at around £1500 at auction. In 2023 a pair of chairs were selling for £4500. 

A blanket chest in Douglas fir by Alan Peters, demonstrating his trademark protruding tenons.

Alan left a fantastic legacy and it is with great honour I am able to carry the baton on. He encouraged design and innovation and once told me he felt we were too stuck in tradition and that tradition needed moving on. Although in his early work he used mixed materials and some decoration, his later work (after a trip to Japan) evolved into more simple and bold designs where the structure became the main aesthetic and the one thing he is renowned for is his respect for the character of the material and in particular timber movement that makes a piece stand the test of time.


Alan Peters' timeless Bowl Table in sections of ash, all moving together as one. (circa 1975).

If you are a woodworker reading this and remember you do not have to be a full time professional or a furniture graduate but just demonstrate flair and passion for making and designing, why not apply and don't waste time as the deadline of 31 July is not far away.  It doesn't have to be a large piece.

Full details and downloadable application form is on my website and also at www.woodomain.com and the fee is a modest £20 with a maximum of two entries

Here are some application guidelines:

Last year the three winners ranged from seasoned professionals to relative beginners. Some argue you cannot mix professional with amateur work, that there will be an inbalance but I hope I have demonstrated that this is not the case when a piece is judged primarily on its merits - is it functional? Does it have structural integrity? Does it say something new in any way - perhaps about form, function, structure, use of material? Is it pleasing to the eye? Is it well made and durable?  

The judges this year are myself, Andrew Lawton (who knew and worked with Alan Peters) and Freya Whamond (who was one of the winners of the original Alan Peters Award for Excellence). Each year we aim to have a guest female judge to give fresh and younger balanced input. 

Excellence not elitism makes the best furniture today available and usable and something to hand down.


1970s Alan Peters Low Japanese Style Bowl Table in ash (at auction at Decorative Modern) 

The point of an award, and albeit a modest award such as this (which reflects the modesty of Alan Peters himself) is to encourage, trigger something new and special, celebrate craftsmanship and design.

And, oh, I almost forgot to mention that the award is predominantly about hand skill but not exclusively. Any professional woodworker knows that machines have to be used for the donkey work such as dressing boards, sawing components, sanding. Even Edward Barnsley who Alan Peters apprenticed to used machines. 

Today we have computer controlled woodworking machines and if an applicant for this award uses CNC in a limited and specific operation (eg making drawer handles for a filing cabinet) then we will not have a closed mind. Fellow judge Andrew Lawton and I have discussed at length about the balance and a good example is Thomas Eddoll's hall table which was a runner up in the 2021 award. The table demonstrates advanced hand skill in the dovetailed carcase whilst the undulating 'Cotswold hills' front of the drawer was made using CNC.

At the time Tom revealed that he has to survive in business with a young mouth to feed and that a degree of CNC is necessary to make his work econimically viable. I see this is as a rational justification without sacrificing the important Alan Peters' legacy of hand skill and that actually the question might be asked - could you tell the sculpted drawer front was not made 'by hand'? 

Dune Hall Table by Thomas Eddolls


As judges we may limit the CNC input to say 15 or 20% of the overall piece and there will have to be a good case for justifying it. As an interesting parallel an antique piece of furniture only needs to have 20% of its original structure to qualify as an antique! Food for thought? 

Why not take a look at the 2021 online prize giving ceremony video below:


The 2021 Alan Peters Online Furniture Award Prize Giving Ceremony and virtual exhibitions

a 67 page biographical multimedia book is avaliable about Alan Peters@


Tuesday 2 November 2021

Misleading woodworking practice on YouTube

I haven't written anything for about two years and maybe because I am aware folk are bombarded by endless opinions masquerading as facts and my lone independent voice will get lost in the ether. Or maybe I have just been very busy with other things. But I myself value the role of the good old-fashioned blog when I am searching for something useful online. So who knows this might be of value to someone! 

So my topic today is about YouTube woodworking and where its all going with this latest clickbait motivated trend in so-called 'myth busting' started across the pond. Basicly we are told all the experts have been wrong. I am referring to end grain gluing of course (and also to cancel culture!). 

Quote (Mr Richard Sullivan): 'End grain joints are twice as strong as side grain joints'

Yes, a cleverly presented, highly articulate confident and visually impressive 'scientific' experiment that  proved what it set out to demonstrate within a carefully selected and limited set of parameters that have no relevance to the real world of woodworking  -- in fact is misleading to many thousands of woodworkers. 

A later quote from Mr Sullivan: 'I had no idea my video had confused so many people'!!! Really?!

A simple strength test that uses square section seems to fool many woodworkers when lever forces in the real world of chairs or tables present an entirely different set of parameters.

What does this test prove that is of any practical benefit

Mr Sullivan ended his video with a demonstration of two identically dimensioned strength tests - but with grain directions opposing. Which is stronger A or B?:

This is visual trickery so let's put the same test into a different context - when edge jointing boards to make up say a table top the ends might be later trimmed. So the offcut is similar in grain configuration to A. Any woodworker will know that the offcut will break into pieces on landing on the workshop floor.

The above example is included in my short animated video I made about end grain and other glue only joints and notice the reference to the history and principles of woodjointing:

I would suggest that any so-called myth about end grain gluing begs the questoin what have woodworkers in the USA and Canada been taught by their experts Why for instance are the shoulders of tenons not glued? Who are these experts who taught them that there is no strength at all in end grain gluing? 

No glue on the end grain shoulders of tenons?

The English tradition has been to apply glue to ALL surfaces. Apart from the basic rule of fibre lap being essential for a strong joint a long glue line also adds to the strength: A finger joint is a good example:

Router finger joint. Courtesy Tend Routing Technology 

 In the second video in Mr Sullivan's 'Glue Myths' videos he focuses on mitre joints and seems unaware that you dont have to wait 50 years to see whether the joint will open up. An unsupported glue only mitre joint will be subject to timber shrinkage across the grain and every time will open up on the inner edhe of the joint: 

Fortunately I am not alone in my critique of what is going on now. On the other side of the pond woodwork enthusiast Edward Weber has commented on these clickbait videos and here is a comment by him on Mr Sullivan's latest video on the myth abouts biscuit joints:

"Biscuits are nothing more than light duty floating tenons. Use them accordingly This video series once again leaves people with a distorted view of the advantages of biscuit joinery. Keeping joints aligned and restricting there movement is half the battle, your tests don't take real world scenarios into account, AGAIN."

Edward contacted me directly after I posted my videos on glue only jointing and he not only endorsed what I suspect is going on with YouTube and how it is the major woodworking influencer today but he went much further in his criticisms of these so-called myth busting videos. But he also gave me some useful feedback on why my videos are attracting less views now. 

He sugested that everything has to be dumbed down for the USA market; if you explain something you have to explain it in clearer than clear term and the attention span is limited. Of course I try to do this as my background is also as a teacher and author and when I was invited by a major publisher to write The Enyclopedia of Woodworking Techniques in 1993 I was briefed by the senior editor to explain everything in the most simple terms as the main market was the USA.

I find this astonishing when the USA put the first man on the moon and is leading in space tourism today! 

Commissioned and published in 1993 translated into five languages.  The book won the UK Bookselers Top 20 Titles Award (from 63,000 bookss published that year.  


Revised edition 2018. Signed copies direct from the author at https://ww.woodomain.com


I set up my YouTube channel in 2009 and to date have a modest but decent  £80,000 plus subscribers. Some are lost every month and others join so it is not a fast growth thing for me. I think I have uploaded about 750 videos mostly on woodworking but covering other interersts such as music guitar playing and making vehicle restoration and some hi tech reviews as I am a bit of a gadget junky.

My top viewed video (around 2.5 million views) is 'What can you do with a router?' and closely following are my Tube bending, hotmelt gluegun and Micro catamran videos.

The truth is most of my videos in recent years struggle to get more than a few hundred views and often people comment that specific videos should be receiving vastly far more views than they do.

I have little idea how YouTube works. I try to tick the boxes as per guidelines but clearly in contrast to my viewings averaging 500-1000 per day in previous years my videos are not being picked up by YouTube algorthyms and I get maybe 100 a day and then they stick at under 1000. 

I had understood originally that YouTube encouraged quirky 'be yourself' YouTubers but my observation since monetisation really took over is a high degree of conformity. Many woodworking channels are alnost clones I hate to say and it goes against the grain with everything I have been taught to have the cheek to ask somebody to subscribe before they have watched a video. But with average attention spans around 20 seconds if you want yiour channmel to survive you have to go with the rules - to a degree.

It seems clear there is some kind of cartel in existence amongst the big boys in YouTube woodworking and the big boys are sucking the mass audiences - 50,000 views in a few days. The Richard Sullivan (who is he?) video created a controversy - deliberately of course as comments rank videos high even if much of it is drivel. Not one of the dominant YouTubers criticised the Sullivan video but jumped on the bandwaggon to boost their own audiences.

Somebody called Numpy Stubbs stated at the beginning of his video that his opinion doesnt count and yet he has a quarter of a million subscribers (astonishing modesty!!) and he tried to distance himself from Mr Sullivan by stating he felt it was more appropriaste to call him Mr Sullivan. Why would he even have to mention that? Neither he or any of the big boys admit that the Sullivan videos were misleading but praised him as some kind of hero and some mentioned that viewers misunderstoodwhat Mr Sullivan was trying to say!  Is this what YouTube refers to as joining a community in order to optimise viewings? This gang of mostly USA based top boys (many of whose practice is questionable) seem to prop each other up and so the face of woodworking is changing by these new so-called experts who it would appear are motivated by money rather than principle. Is this the democracy of YouTube?

Of course there are diverse ways to fashion wood and I am the first to acknowledge and encourage that and as one of my subscribers wrote to me recently -  'just continue what you are doing Jeremy in your own way and when you want to'. I guess its not a competition to see who can get the most views but whether you have anything to say that will at least stick with a few people. 

Reminds me of the Marx quote: 'Count me out of any club that will have me as a member'. 

Now what was the topic today? Oh yes - gluing end grain. Well to put it in perspective why would a major glue manufacturer advise that when gluing end grain with their glue - reinforcement should be added in stress applications?

Are we really living in a cancel culture and is this the best side of democracy on YouTube where useful content gets dwarfed?!

And talking of major glue manufacturers I asked one leading brand technical expert why he was not challenging some of the misinformation on YouTube about glues and end grain and he replied that they would likely get sued. So its okay that an authorative voice with years of research behind it is silenced by fear and ordinary flash in the pan Joes to get financially rewarded (YouTube monetisation) without accountability misleading vast numbers of ignorant woodworkers.

Crazy world today!


Wednesday 13 February 2019

A Bright Spark in the World of Woodworking Magazine Editors.

Life takes many twists and turns when circumstances suddenly force change. I have worked with many editors of Woodworking magazines but none comes to mind so much as Nick Gibbs who eventually got to publish his own woodworking magazines.

Sadly Nick suffered a brain injury in 2014 having been knocked off his bike and this changed his life dramatically. I knew Nick as far back as the 1980's when he was the youngest editor of The Woodworker, Britain's top woodworking magazine. Unusually bright, Eton educated but very much a man of the people, he was very good at thinking outside the box and I joined him in the early 90's when he set up Good Woodworking magazine at Future Publishing in Bath. I was an associate editor and wrote many articles for him and tested tools and there was a sense of fun in the editorial office.

Nick was promoted to senior management at Future and then took the bold move to set up his own publishing company (Freshwood) and he launched British Woodworking and another magazine called Living Woods. Again he asked me to write for him and I know he enjoyed pushing the boundaries and involving me in mildly controversial articles such as questioning the Holy Grail of the Dovetail used by cabinetmakers.

After Nick's brain injury and long period in a coma he lost his job, his career which I believe was his passion. Many of us who have gone through brain traumas to a degree understand that even the smallest brain malfunction and that sudden loss of faculties taken for granted can cause major life changes. The brain is so finely wired, we still know little about it although we can fly rockets to Mars. 

Nick was an exceptionally bright spark in the world of magazine editorial and a key figure at Britain's fastest growing publisher - Future Publishing in Bath. Good woodworking was Future Publishing's flagship magazine in the 1990's, groundbreaking in its highly visual format and jargon busting text boxes, de-mystifying woodworking to mortal men and women.

The last time I heard of Nick was that he was sitting outside Bath Abbey carving wooden spoons with a penknife, curiously as outside that same Abbey I would busk on my guitar but not on that day.

I understand Nick has an active blog and quite philosophical in some of his postings about his life after being an editor for so long. I wish him well 

Thursday 7 February 2019

Depriving Youngsters of Practical Experience

I passed out of Shoreditch College, the leading UK Handicraft Teacher training college in 1966 - with a Distinction in Advanced Woodwork. I went on to teach in numerous schools and leading colleges including Bristol Polytechnic where I trained CDT teachers and more recently (2009) I was invited to become an inspector for The British Accreditation Council (for Independent Higher Education) based on my vast and varied experience in Education. I didn't apply for the job but was invited and to this day don't know who put my name forward.

Added to that I have run YTS courses where the Government of the day sponsored young people to work alongside me serving as a valuable stepping stone in their career path. I have also run successful private courses and taken on young people for informal but intensive work experience programmes and in particular from Finland. 

It disturbs me that whereas I was almost priviliged to have by chance an exceptional and inspiring school woodwork teacher who set me on a path I would walk again today if I was 17, the opportunity for most young people to engage in practical education today is diminishing

This is little short of scandalous because the skills go way beyond that of training someone to become a carpenter or plumber. These are enabling, transferrable problem-solving life skills and I have documented them fully elsewhere (eg RSA Comment:Practical Arts in Education and Society.

A 6 minute video showing work experience opportunities offered by me 
in woodworking,  CNC, vehicle restoration and video production. 

The opportunity is not just diminishing because the focus on secondary education is away from engineering, manufacturing, making - in fact for jobs we don't know will exist in this rapidly changing technological age, but there is almost a deliberate and systemmatic block under the name of 'political correctness' that is shooting us in the foot. 

Not long ago schools claimed it was too expensive to maintain workshops and lacked the imagination that quality materials can be found in skips for young people to create things with. That kills two birds with one stone as it addresses the serious issue of the throw away society.

Health and Safety became another block and devoid of flexibility and common sense risk assessment in a case-by-case scenario and whereas the term 'apprenticeship' has been banded about by politicians when it suits them, in reality offering an apprenticeship today is full of expensive deterrents and now we have a situation where only the well-off can afford a craft training post secondary school. 

A fellow furniture maker friend of mine and prominent in the field, today told me his experience of once considering offering an apprenticeship. Despite his large efficient workshop he was told his machines were not far enough apart and when he said the youngster wouldn't be using his machines but would start off loading timbers from outside he was told that the youngster would have to be issued with sun cream.

Silly me I forgot that today we have a generation of over-protective parents and some of them in Education who insist (if it isn't already law) that to play conkers you must wear safety glasses and a helmet.  

Not that long ago local schools were keen to send their sixth formers to me for short periods of work experience. One young lady assisted me making a documentary film about the late Alan Peters, the foremost British furniture craftsman of the late 20th Century and she later gained a job as a researcher with the BBC. 

'The Makers Maker 47 minute documentary part sponsored by the ex chairman of The London Stock Exchange (a client of Alan Peters) and The Worshipful Company of Furniture makers. 

Recently I tried engaging with schools but they never answer emails or are in tea break when you try to phone a key person.

So I made a really serious mistake of using a group email list for a sports activity I engage in every week as a means to request if any of the guys (some of whom have sixth form age children at local schools) could forward the above video link to the key person in that school or just put that person in touch with me. It used to be called networking.  

I was immediately and rather publicly reprimanded, courteously of course with 'I don’t think we should be using this email group for anything other than sport info'. Of course I should have emailed them directly but who knows they might object and say I haven't invited you to use my email address privately! 

A subsequent email exchange with this person he told me he had close contacts in local education and it would be an 'abuse of his position' (data protection)  and advising me the proper way is to use social media!!!  Oh no, please don't start using the word abuse! How the world has changed. 

He then told me email was not the best way to discuss this but he could answer all my questions in person. And yet he chose to tick me off in a public email!

The saddening thing is when someone says they have 'the answers to all my questions' yet hasn't bothered to watch the video to begin to understand what the real question actually is - why are young people being deprived of the kind of practical experience that I can offer and that my video demonstrates is beneficial to their work prospects? !!  

My own generation, largely enjoying their leisure time must surely be aware these valuable skills will be lost. Maybe they don't care but I have always been committed to education and passing on the skills I was advantaged to learn. Who knows what jobs or skill demands there will be post-Brexit in a decade from now?  

When I taught my highly successful Intensive Design and Make in Wood courses in my small studio to adults a few years ago,  several of my students commented that actually what I was teaching were life skills, but clearly I have demonstrated inappropriate contemporary 'life skills' recently with my sports group email faux pas by failing to realise there is a very different outlook amongst the current dominant generation who are comfortable with political correctness and are quick to say -

'I don’t think we should be using this email group for anything other than sport info'. Yet, if I were to suggest 'Well I don't think we should be using a referendum to over-turn a vote that we lost'  I would be laughed out of the pub! 

But the reality and irony is that in politics often things get done in the corridors of power rather than in the committee rooms where strict agendas are kept to!

In looking for a young person to assist me for a few hours a week in return for imparting my varied skills, In recent years I have placed a free advert in Gumtree and get lots of response, including from older people, but this facility has been stopped and I am not an employer offering a job.

Schools and colleges inundated by emails don't bother to answer them so it seemed a commonsense approach to ask guys I play sport with one a week to do me a favour and link me to a key person at the school their kids were attending to send my video to. 

Aside from political correctness and the rules of a particular gang of guys, can we think for a moment from the perspective of many youngsters who are being deprived of the opportunity for engaging in creative practical work and which could lead on to following a rewarding career later on.

As it stands many of the state furniture making courses have been closed down and the vacuum filled by elite and very expensive schools. 

Is this a society of equal opportunity? 


Monday 20 August 2018

Innovation is like a snowplough

Innovation is like a snow plough clearing a track with much resistance in a traditionally bound furniture market but once that track is cleared it is easier for others to follow.  

Exhibitions for designer makers have always been a rare and unique opportunity to innovate - to say something new about a chair or a cabinet.

Historically I would always sell from furniture exhibitions and was fortunate to have my work recognized by the Crafts Council from 1980 to my last major group show in 2002 (at the Charles Rennie Macintosh Centerary exhibition at The Hill House in Scotland. There some of my work was chosen for its subtelty or surprise - a cabinet that had no handles but relied on a degree of mystery.

Being under the wing of The Crafts Council, despite criticisms that it was elitist, was my only patronage - I was able to focus on what I do for over two and a half decades which is invent, create objects that are original and say something new.  As one of 26 furniture makers we were selected for redefining the boundaries of our craft amongst thousands of articulate craftspeople in the UK who at that time were more 'conservation craft' focused. 

But it wasn't an easy ride for me. During the 1970's there were no outlets; I was told by a local gallery to come back when I was famous and even hawked my rocking chair on the London Underground to turn up uninvited at the offices of Habitat in Neal Street. 'You don't have and appointment with the MD' the girl said but I replied 'he has to come out to the toilet some time today' and he did and he smiled as he saw me sitting on it and he gave me half an hours of his time. Much though he liked it he said my rocking chair was too upmarket for Habitat and I continued on my search for a sympathetic outlet, having put them in a local Persian carpet shop to show off their carpets in the window! 

Early examples of my High backed rocker were made from knotty pine, crudely dowelled. I just had an idea, a few hand tools, no machines, a tiny converted cattleshed workshop costing £3 per week in rent and I could not get a £50 loan from the bank. The chair went on to sell in its hundreds all over the world over several decades, well mostly in the UK from a tiny shopwindow on the busy London Road outside Bath that I called The Bath Carpenter. Deliberately anonymous because I felt good design should sell on its own merits and not on a name from an exclusive gallery. 

But from the 90's onwards people no longer bought on whim as they would spotting the chair from the traffic jams on the busy London road where my tiny shopwindow was. The climate changed radically. One local lady I chatted up in a tea shop brought her husband round to see a table I had made from timbers given to me by Kew Gardens from The Great Storm. He was mostly looking out of the window and she seemed cautious although she had always said she loved the table. So I offered to let them live with it for a week.

I had made two versions of the table and she was interested in the longer 5 foot long one. After a week she called me to say they would buy the table - for a few hundred pounds, well under a thousand, and she said what decided her was her next door neighbour liking it and then her father, a carpenter, liking it . It seemed the days of making spontaneous decisions were over revealing a lack of confidence and education then why should someone be knowledgeable to value  like something? 

But even the lack of education about common timbers by - say television experts who invited me to take my drinks cabinet onto the Four Rooms show and didn't know I had used maple or that it was not a particularly rare wood! 

Most large companies have an R & D department alongside marketing and branding. My finished pieces were virtually second prototypes such as my Caterpillar Rocking chair - the first prototype was made of chipboard painted red and black, the second prototype had to pay the rent that week and was the finished thing. Four were made.

 Recently I gave chair number four a facelift by finishing in it a stone lacquer.

The original chair appeared in Design magazine under the name of a 16 year old lad on a Work Experience scheme who passed it off as his design. He had made it from plans that had appeared in The Woodworker magazine in 1984.

To create a new chair today and market it successfully, finding a platform upon which to launch it would cost upwards of ten grand not to mention the cost of prototyping and then - who is going to buy it and importantly how do you price it?  You can go too cheap when you step outside the status quo market!

Caterpillar Rocker Mk 2 - Copyright Jeremy Broun 2018. Made of Brazilian Pine plywood with rubber lined feet.