“The definitive dining table”

Get on with that drawing

I have this client, well i hope they will become clients, with this amazing modern house in London who wants ” the defining dining table” this is a challenge I have to jump at . So I have the meeting and get the brief and allow the customary two week thinking /cooling off time and it comes finally down to the few days that I have pushed aside in my schedule to do the drawings. This is when my wife says I am at my most ratty. For years I have been doing this stuff and I am still scared by that silly sheet of white paper. It sits there so perfect so virginal so damn nice and white and I have to do something new and original, and its in my head and I know it will be OK . I can do this but its still scary and I should be doing that drawing not tapping away here……..

The more I do this the more i realise that the creative process is incremental, we solve problems a bit at a time. We eat elephants a mouthful at a time. In putting down what we can, we assist the grinding of tectonic plates inside our skulls that will produce the the answer. Even though yet we dont know what that answer will be we know that we will get there. This is perhaps the creative confidence to hang loose that has come from being there before many times. I know i will have the answer when I need it. But it is still the same kind of hanging loose that athletes describe, being “in the zone” being very focused but relaxed, definately not tense and wound up. Relaxed and focused, yeah I like that paradox, paradoxes are a sign of significance

So any design issue is a process of making a start, listing the issues tackling one of the front side issues then taking a step back and having a look. The hardest is starting. Which is why so many creatives have process steps that get them in the room with the problem. Earnest Hemingway always left a paragraph unfinished . I clear three days in my schedule, make a cup of coffee, take the phone off the hook, sharpen three pencils. Even though i dont drink the coffee and use a technical pencil, its a routine that gets us to the creative place. We need to acknowledge that, that damn sheet of paper is so scary, yet, as they say feel the fear and do it anyway. After all what can a piece of paper do to hurt you .

Day 2

Well its been more than a day doing these damn drawings but for sake of illustrating the point…… I usually take three days out of my schedule to do a set of client drawings. I know from experience if I leave a lot more than that I just prevaricate and slip off the target. Better to be hung by the tongue make a promise of delivery and then damn well have to do it. Creative stuff its really not about waiting for inspiration its about creating the situation for a good creative thought processes. If you have two ideas for the same piece to put down you could can usually hit it in three days. One day for the first sketch up of the first idea that you have been carrying about for days. This is a given, the drawing up is abit more tricky as it is externalising the idea but a sketch first thing gives you the direction and between one and three A 3 watercolours for that should be done by close of play.

Day two is the test. What is the second idea going to be like if nothing came out the first morning its sit there with the ipod roaring and a cup of coffee thinking with the end of a pencil. Just going where it goes, dont control, you have the target, you have the client brief just let that missile rip. She will get there sooner or later dont get wound up it wont help.

The process of setting the task then allowing the head to solve the task is critical, we all need slow thinking time . Thats a new one on me I thought bright brains thought quickly, but creative thought is often slow. I do a drawing and its as if i need to take a rest before the next step I used to think i was a lazy so and so, now I know its the process and I know i will have the answer in good time if i just relax and do it. As they say “Just do it.”

The last thing is to accept that creative work is exhausting. A set of drawings will wipe me out for a few days, this is not just tiredness that a good sleep will overcome. It can have a much more deadening impact flattening you emotionally.

Out there Doin It.

I got information today from two former students. Greig Fensome and Neil Redpath. Greig left here about a year ago and is getting on with it . he has set himself up in his own workshop. Well I will let him tell you……

Hi David,

Thanks for the CD, I got them this time although my computer still didn’t really like those images. Crazy machine!

In the last few months I’ve had peaks and troughs although it has given me a chance to get a realistic perspective on things. It’s proving very difficult to target my market for high-end domestic furniture and even more difficult to prioritise my investments. Marketing is such an intimidating area of business and i’m reluctant to throw money at it although I know when it’s done properly I will get a good return. My main focus is producing good quality products to take to exhibitions.

I have been getting on particularly well with the corporate contract work though. There seems to be a call for bespoke credenzas and I have recently finished three 8-drawer credenzas for Nokia and will be starting another five for Arup Group Ltd. They are being professionally photographed so will hopefully have some images in November. Although they are not ideal projects ie. they’re made from MDF and lacquer sprayed, they are high-end and for discerning clients so attention to detail is still paramount – it may well lead to something more adventur
ous. For the time being though, I will concentrate on getting more of these types of contracts so that I can fund the private commissions and maybe employ a PR consultant next year to increase my visibility.

It’s been a tough first year but it looks like I’ll be going into the second with good prospects and some interesting projects:- a walnut box with 4 drawers and no visible handles, an oak display cabinet with radial front aspect and an alternative take on a 4-poster bed (my sister’s wedding present).

I hope the school is still producing some great furniture, I haven’t noticed any new projects on the website for a while. How are the short courses working out? Have you managed to find the time between teaching and drawing to concentrate on your own bench work yet – I know when I left you were hoping to devote more time to experimenting on your own projects?

Say hello to Daren and Margaret for me. I miss the Rowden atmosphere.

All the best


Neil Redpath did a course with me in the late 90s and after running aworkshop near London for about ten years is just setting up a gallery. Now theres a smart move.

Neil wrote     “Thank you for your positive response, this has been going on for quite a while but we finally purchased the property in late august.I am doing alot of the refurbishment at the moment and we hope to have the gallery ready for opening on 1/12/07.

I would love to be able to show some of your work and will speak to you directly about this in the near future and I would hope as we move forward you would recommend some of your students work to help them move on with their careers.

The gallery space is approx 412 sq ft with three good size windows facing the street as we are on a corner.It is positioned in a village 2 miles outside Tunbridge Wells called Langton Green on the main A264, single carriageway 30mph speed limit , plenty of passing traffic , there is a layby outside for free parking. Speak to you soon ”

Neil (07770 300434)

Sieze the what?

I have been asked to exhibit at a mixed selected exhibition early next year to be called Carpe Diem ( yeah my latin is abit rusty too but it means seize the day ) My challenge, no, my problem is to create a special single chair and the issue is to create not the chair but the time to do it. It involves a really nice client of mine, Giselle Hantz, for whom I’ve made several pieces already, to make for her a prototype dining chair that will be sexy and sensual and blonde  and will hopefully turn in to a commission for eight dining chairs to surround a table I made for her a few years ago. Also we might make walnut versions to sell to someone else, but Carpe Diem want to show my life drawings, the design drawings and prototypes, the whole process of evolving shapes for a new piece of furniture. Whether I can get the wretched thing made in time for the show is another matter entirely. But then what is the expression  “hung by the tongue.”

Tool Nooz

For most of my life I’ve used a European pattern dovetail saw. You sharpen it to rip pattern with a tiny v-shaped needle file. If I’m careful the saw I have at the minute, which I bought nearly 30 years ago, will see me out. Around about 10 years ago I began losing faith in the makers of European pattern dovetail saws. They lost the ability to make decent quality saws and I had to start recommending to students that they use a Japanese dosuki saw. Now this is fine and dandy but the dosuki saw is a very ticklish animal. It’s very thin, delicate blade that relies very much on the saw being drawn absolutely straight. it’s easy to have your saw cutting smack on the line on the top and smack on the line on the front and yet going off very slightly on the back. The European pattern saws, being slightly stiffer didn’t do this so much and weren’t quite as ticklish. It was with some pleasure that I noted that Lie Neilsen were making good quality European dovetail saws and they and a company called Aria have been supplying our students with saws for the past few years. However there are now two more contenders for the title of “Rowden Workshop Dovetail Favoured Saw Supplier”. The first is an old style Sheffield Tool Maker called .Thomas Flinn who makes a very decent little dovetail saw. The plate of the saw is very thin, is well attached to the handle and the tooth line is a decent 22 tpi cut, unlike Lie Neilsen, Pax retain the fine 22 tpi saw line which is something I like. This is made in a small workshop in Sheffield who I visited many years ago when it was known as Garlick Tools. They were suppliers to a much larger organisation and got their saws branded by somebody else. It’s now nice to see that this quality of saw making is carrying on in Sheffield and I would suggest you have a look at their products on.http://www.flinn-garlick-saws.co.uk .Another contender is the saw made by Mike Wenzloff. I saw a review of this saw on an American web site. This is a very different animal, though planning itself on the old fashioned European dovetailed saw. Fine handle, thin plated blade, with a reccomended toothline of 15 tpi, which is abit course for my taste, very much looking forward to laying my hands on one of these saws and seeing what they perform like and will report back to you when I have more information. In the meantime, Lie Neilsen, Aria and Pax are the brands to look at http://www.wenzloffandsons.com

Another tool maker worth a visit is Sauer and Steiner these are guys who make replicas of old style Europen planes abit like my Norris plane abit too “colle
ctable for me and abit expensive but nice to see at .http://www.sauerandsteiner.com

Daren Millmans Tips of the month,

Hard earned info thats not in the magazines and books

We use Selloptape as a veneer tape here. Lots of workshops follow a traditional method using veneer tape which is a version of paperbacked tape. This is O K but is slower to put on and get off the job. We have been using a wide low tack parcel tape commonly sold as a cheap packing material. Stationary suppliers to offices would carry abrand similar to the one we use dont use expensive branded Sellotape as it may well be too stickly .

This is a clear tape that allows you to see the joint . I put straps of about 4 inch length every 4 inches or so pulling the leaves up and do not tape up down the length this is usually unnecessary and a waste of time and materials. Once out of the press i will use an iron on low setting to quickly warm the tape and soften the gle to help it to peel off easily and quickly.

Magazines to watch

Those of you that know me know my dislike of magazines that pretend to offer unbiased advise on tools whilst at the same time carrying pages of advertising. I have written for magazines in Europe for over thirty years and found the opportunity to tell “the truth the whole truth…… ” to be a rare and unusual experience. We have BBC car programme call “Top Gear” that is wonderfully outspoken, indeed that is its attraction and unique quality. When their presenter criticised  a particularly nasty french car the marketing director of the company concerned blew a gasket ” Call zem, now, Immediatment! Tell their publisher zat ve are withdrawing all our advertising as from today!” “But its the BBC they dont……..”

Imaging my joy to find a woodie mag that doesnt take adverts either.


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have a nice woodie week

David Savage


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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