Nooos from the Woodies 1


  • Chaos: the combination of Danger and Opportunity 
  • Some will always pay for Quality
  • New students setting in
  • Students getting good jobs
  • Daren Millmans tip of the month 


The title for this was to have been “Newsletter from Nowhere” this comes from the work of William Morris, “News From Nowhere”. Morris is  an old hero of mine, a Radical, a Tub Thumper, a Romantic, a Socialist, but in the days when being a socialist was also romantic rather than foolish. I nearly chose this title because of it’s Utopian history and because the idea of “News from Nowhere” as opposed to news from a North Devon furniture making workshop had  a certain charm. However this isn’t nowhere, this is a specific place, this is Rowden farm near Shebbear in North Devon but what we are about here is certainly within the Romantic and possibly Utopian tradition. However the voice of sanity in the office prevailed and Margarets, suggestion of “from the Woodies” prevailed. I like this as well because at a certain time in my career being “a Woodie”was being hopeless, being well out of fashion and  all of the above. Hurrah.

Artistic Madness

When I started making furniture nearly 30 years ago people thought I was bonkers to move out of London to some out of the way town and set up a workshop making furniture. When I described myself as a cabinetmaker people thought I made kitchens. When I described myself as a a designer they thought I was really mad. When I described myself as an artist they knew I was really  quite foolishly mad. Yet nowadays TV programmes are being made about  Designers with a D.To the point that you cant shake a stick without ten designers jumping up at you and running after it. When I started this foolishness all five designers I knew were Italian.   Now my furniture is on the cover of a book on modern designer  furniture. If I could make the sound of a raspberry in print ….

Some will pay for quality.

In those thirty odd years the shift in culture is just enormous. In this age we can still count upon people not wanting to pay the kind of money we have to charge for our furniture. But we could always do that, we could always count on there being people who didn’t want  to pay that much, who didn’t value it that highly. But now what we can do is count on there being a sizeable number of people who will value and pay for extraordinarily good customer service, furniture design, materials and workmanship and that shift in market, that growth of a market has happened more or less in my working lifetime.

So how does that leave us today? What does that mean to us here at Rowden Farm? What’s it like to be here? How can I make a living doing what you are doing? These and perhaps lots of other questions we can begin to answer for you in this monthly letter to my friends.



The Newbies

We have just had three lovely people join us this past month. Alice, Ewan and Steve have been banging away in the downstairs studio getting to grips with new tools, new workshop, new way of life. It always amazes me how brave some of the people are that take this year as a gift, give it to themselves as a way of changing their lives for something better, something more creative, more fulfilling, more challenging. Steve is a fine example of this. He’s got four little girls, all under 9, gave up a great job with MacLarens the racing car firm, building Formula 1 cars , sold his house, moved his kids, found a new home, new schools and the truth is we don’t know whether he’ll make a go of it or not. All the signs are that he will,  and workshops are certainly at the moment crying out for skilled or partially trained furniture makers and Steve could fill that bill in a year’s time, but it’s undoubtedly a risk that he and his family are taking.  Sometimes I wonder about those risks, when we don’t take those risks whether we are not even more vulnerable than we are doing what Steve has done. My brother in law is the second most risk averse person I know, and he is closely following my father in law who politeness prevents me from speaking about. He’s an Accountant by training, that would be with a Capital A. He works for a large multi-national corporation and regards his job as a prison sentence. He heard in the press last week that his corporation was beginning a process of ‘resource rationalisation’. Suddenly his mortgage his school fees budget and family holidaysare all in question. My two year order book looks like safety. Mind you I didn’t always have a two year order book. I can remember a Christmas when we didn’t have money for presents. Christmas lunch was a rather green looking goose that a former employee had strangled for me. There is I believe a Chinese symbol for “Chaos” that is made up of two letters. The first letter alone stands for “Danger”, the second stands for “Opportunity”. This is an interesting concept when considering risk, I enjoy risk maybe a little to much but risk is a fundamentally creative and destructive activity Harry Hare is busy developing a new product for me at the moment. Until we get it launched, and the design registered and the market in place I’m going to be abit vague about it, but for years I’ve wanted something that just rocks along in the background keeping one or two makers comfortably busy without involving me in too much heartache. At last I might have found out how to do this and how to relate the marketing of the product to it’s manufacture. whatch this space. Matt and Shota are two former students who have just left us. Matt coincidentally worked for another Formula 1 manufacturer, this time Williams, though unlike Steve, Matt was in the design department rather than fabrication. Matt has left us to set up a workshop in a village not very far from here. It’s surprising how many people come down to Devon for a year and end up staying for a lifetime. Around us we have a cluster of probably half a dozen decent workshops, all making good furniture most making a decent living and they are here because they love this particular part of the world as much as I do.

Get a job.


Matt’s a pretty smart dude. He’s set up a workshop that is larger than he needs at  this moment. Well he didn’t really have a lot of choice, the property he bought had a barn attached that was so big he didn’t really have any other option. So the plan he has is to rent out bench space to other furniture makers who will share a well equipped machine shop and avoid the cost and hassle factor of setting up their own workshops. During the last six months Matt has been making the most complex, curvaceous desk I think I’ve ever seen. It’s driven him, me and Daren almost witless trying to finish it. But for the fabrication of the top, I think we achieved that. I’m looking forward to seeing a photograph of this piece and I’ll include it in a future newsletter. Shota is an incredible young man. Japanese American by decent he came her not long out of high school . Whereas other very young people have come here and failed to knuckle down and get on with the work when there’s nobody driving them, Shota has shown immense self control and discipline, making some very interesting pieces. I’m sure that when he gets back to the States he’ll be able to find work as most of my American students seem to report that work for  European trained students is widely available. Stop Press . I just got an e-mail from Shota saying that he has got a job at Michael Colcha Furniture This is a company making pretty nice looking Arts  and Crafts style furniture in a place called Driftwood just outside of Austin in Texas. I will be interested to see how Shota gets along in what will be a busy and fast workshop. WELL DONE Shota.


More Job Opportunities


I just also heard that Rowena Reid who left the course in July this year has gained a place at Andrew Varah Furniture. She is on a six month probation and is following James Richardson who has had his position there confirmed recently after a similar probation. I would place Andrew Varah as one of the top workshops in the world in terms of quality of making and customer service. He is a tough operator and I wish James and Rowena all the best. WELL DONE James.



Daren Millmans Tip of the Month


This month its the Parnham Fitting. This is a jointing method that in many small workshops is replacing Dowelling as a stronger more easily achieved joint. This method is credited as being developed at Parnham Workshops run by John Makepeace in the 1980s. Dowel joints are common in woodworking however they require very accurate drilling and registration of the holes not only must the holes be at 90 degrees to the joining surfaces  but they must be positioned dimensionally very accurately and drilled with a diameter drill to match the wooden dowel. Not very small workshop.  The Parnham fitting eliminates the problem of drilling so accurately, here we only need what an engineering friend of mine describes as a “wet slack fit” the holes can be well oversize, not too wet and slack mind you but definitely loose as a goose. Now we replace the wooden dowel with metal studding. This is threaded rod available at any builders supply in various diameters from 5mm to 25mm and usually in 500mm lengths.



Cut this studding to dowel length and carefully degrease it hot soap water is good as is a chemical solvent. Then dry fit the joint, if all goes up well see if the inside surfaces can be polished then glue up. Use slow cure epoxy West System is a favourite here or if you have a small joint Araldite (not Araldite rapid). The epoxy should fill the gap between the sides of the dowel hole and the threads of the studding. The threads give an expansion of the glue area making this a very strong joint. The slow cure allow along set up and open time to fiddle with clamps and get it spot on. If the job is pre polished the squeeze out of glue can be removed with white spirit. British Woodworking is a new magazine i have got involved with. It is edited by Nick Gibbs who has been one of my best editors over the many years I have written for woodworking magazines. And there have been a few I would not remember so fondly. I have written a series of articles on timber for him. Next time if I can import to this from PDF and you can read HTML emails i will include it here. If you get the chance have  a look at the magazine all U K mags are owned by largely one  publisher these days so Nicks initiative is I feel a worthwhile independant initiative


Short Course Plans


This year I have for the first time in many years run a few just a few short courses. We restricted them to three students and offered Basic Intermediate and Advanced. To my surprise we found that people considering year courses used this as a “taster” So I am planning only three of each course for 2008 For more information go to . To enquire about course dates and get in ahead of the rush when we publish our dates contact me at dsavage@finefurniture have a nice month




David established Rowden Atelier in 1995, a now world renowned fine woodworking school. Discover Rowden, the woodworking courses, and the work that students go on to do.

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