An Introduction To A Workshop

Around about eighteen years ago I began a series of articles for this magazine entitled “The Craft of Cabinetmaking”. This was intended to be a series of straight from the bench technical advice on subjects that were immediately under my nose at the time. The series began in my small workshop in London and moved with me, following the set up of a workshop in Devon, nearly eight years ago. Then, as we prospered and demands on my time grew, unfortunately, the articles stopped. It is not, dear reader, that I did not care; it is just that I did not have time to put it down on paper. However, with the advent of the wonderful Stella, who now runs my office, and a new gadget that enables me to dictate things to her perhaps we can take up more or less where we left off.

The workshop is a stone—built building in the very pretty market town of Bideford.

To those of you who do not know us, David Savage Furniture Makers are “Designers and Makers of Finest Furniture” (to quote the blurb on the literature). I hope this is not a vain boast. We deliberately put it on all our literature just to keep us on our toes. I am not vain enough to think that anything that we have made in this workshop comes anywhere near the finest furniture of the past. However, I do hope that one day we might get a bit nearer. By that, I mean that we will approach the very complex simplicity that all the great masters of British furniture have achieved. Hopefully, we will do it in a way that is in no way reproducing the past but is totally appropriate to the twentieth century.

The workshop is a stone-built building in the very pretty market town of Bideford. I was very lucky that I was able to find a workshop in a town rather than out in the countryside. It is all very well to be overlooking beautiful fields, but it is jolly convenient to be able to pop down to the shops for a bag of screws or a tube of Araldite. Over the past eight years, this workshop has developed so that we have on the ground floor two quite large machine shops, of about 500 square foot each, housing all our machines and serviced by two dust extraction systems, one for fine sawdust and one for chippings. Above the machine shop are two bench rooms one, a very large L shaped room flooded with light from several roof lights, the other a smaller room which houses our veneer press and sharpening bench. We try very hard to keep the noise and the dust downstairs so that the bench shop is a quieter area more suitable for hand work or the more delicate contemplative part of our craft.

That cosy social scene, that merry band of woodworkers are perfectly happy until you try to wrap them round a big boardroom job.

Like all great schemes, this idea has not survived the first contact with reality. Somebody, somewhere, is always whizzing and whirring with a router upstairs in the bench shop, or at least it seems that way. Perhaps I should explain that in the bench shop there are usually around nine people working. This would include, typically, four craftsmen, two apprentices and students. The apprentices are usually with me on a five year indentured apprenticeship; the students would be on woodworking courses. Craftsmen and apprentices are doing my work while students are doing their own work; this is a system that I have maintained to the present day.

That cosy social scene, that merry band of woodworkers are perfectly happy until you try to wrap them around a big boardroom job. I think I am still suffering from a disease known in the business as post boardroom depression. Take on any big job, anything that involves two or three craftsmen, as this one did, for two or three months and that job has a bit of danger about it. You are working to a deadline that could really backfire on you spectacularly. Then no other jobs, however important, and all jobs are important, can have that glamour and sex appeal. However, the boardroom job is another story that I will save until later.


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