For this blog entry, we hand over to Steve Hickman, who is coming towards the end of his second year at Rowden. This is the first of a series of three blogs by Steve. I’ll leave it to him to tell you more …
At the end of the year-long Designer-Maker course, everyone is faced with the same question: where-to next? Some people have a solid idea. Perhaps they want to go for a job in a cabinetmaking workshop, or have the finances to set up on their own. I had no definite plan, but I knew that wherever I went, I certainly wanted to continue to develop my cabinetmaking skills.
Coming to Rowden for me wasn’t just an arbitrary decision, as if any workshop would do. It was a specific decision to train in a place where traditional skills are learnt alongside working in a professional, modern way – and where both sets of skills are equally valued. Learning to use hand-tools sits side-by-side with the safe and accurate use of machines. But the ideology of Rowden extends beyond the tools we use. The techniques that are celebrated here – such as piston-fit drawers, French polishing and hand cut marquetry, are delivered on the course in a way that they can be incorporated into a contemporary piece of furniture.
But why do we, standing at our bench in the 21st Century, choose to incorporate a range of techniques that pre-date electricity? Why are we encouraged to hand-finish our pieces instead of getting them sent out to be spray-lacquered? Why are we encouraged to ‘piston-fit’ a drawer – using our bench planes to fit a drawer to run perfectly snug instead of fitting modern runners? Because these techniques matter. Because in them, the hand of the maker is very close to that of the finished piece. They bring a sense of life to a piece, a sense that a craftsman has been involved in every aspect of it.
There is so much here at Rowden that by the end of my first year I felt there was still an awful lot more for me to explore. Skills I had developed during my first year could be practised again, and new ones added to the mix. So when thinking about my next step, it became obvious. How do I move forward in my Cabinetmaking? Stay put!