This article originally appeared in Furniture & Cabinet Making magazine, March 2017
How creating a special box convinced David Waite to follow his dream and turn professional
How many of you dream about becoming a professional furniture maker, yet play it safe and stick to being a bench weekend-warrior only? I know I certainly did! The more hours I spent behind my computer working for a multinational corporation, the faster the years slipped away and I got no closer to achieving my aspirations. All this changed in 2016, after an inspirational course at a leading UK furniture school in the Lake District, where I designed and made a beautiful yew (Taxus baccata) and ripple sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) box.
I have always had a passion for woodwork; it was one of my favourite subjects at school and it’s something I have continued to pursue as a hobby throughout my adult life. Over the years, the numerous pieces of furniture delivered to friends and family have always been met with great appreciation and complimentary words to the effect of ‘wow… you should be doing this professionally!’ While flattered, in the early days I doubted that I had the skills and ability to make the grade as a professional.
This started to change as I signed up for several different short courses at leading furniture schools in the south of England. The positive feedback I received at these schools made me realise that my practical knowledge and skill level were already close to semi-professional standard. However, the turning point came at Christmas 2016, when I decided to postpone the dreaded ‘return to work’ blues, instead travelling north to the Lake District to spend two weeks at Waters & Acland Furniture School under the expert mentorship of their head designer Will Acland and their master craftsman and head tutor, Graham Loveridge. After demonstrating that my sharpening and hand skills were up to Graham’s exceptionally high standards, he and Will put their heads together and challenged me to come up with an original box design that I could make in the five days that I had remaining at the school. I was thrust a battered cardboard box full of bandsawn yew veneer off cuts and a few short pieces of solid sycamore that were left over from a previous commission and told: ‘see what you can do with these!’
As I looked through the remnants, what struck me immediately was the myriad of colours found in the yew ranging from deep violet to fiery orange and red. I quickly envisaged sticking the yew strips together on end, to show off the vivid colour variation across the stack of veneers to form a box lid. I thought a three-dimensional element could be added to the lid by shaping wave patterns into the alternative veneers strips. Things really became exciting when a test bundle of the undulating strips was then skewed at an angle, resulting in an amazing smooth and continuously changing undulation effect.
The sculpted yew lid was offset by stunning, highly figured ripple sycamore, cut into veneers and used on the box sides. The sides were mitred at the corners to ensure clean lines that did not detract attention from the wood colours and figure. The whole effect reminded me of sand dunes in the desert, and the amazing ripples and flowing curves that can be found when mountains of sand are shaped and sculpted by the wind.
Making the Dune Box proved to be a real catalyst for change within me. The confidence I gained from being able to create my own unique design and rapidly execute it to the very high standards demanded by a professional workshop finally persuaded me to take the plunge. I returned only briefly to my corporate job to work my notice period and I am now enrolled on a one-year designer-maker course, with the aim of generating additional pieces for my portfolio ahead of launching my own business in 2017.
Waters & Acland Furniture School
The Waters and Acland Furniture School is dedicated to providing fine furniture training of exceptional quality. The workshop principal of ‘perfection in the making’ is carried into the design and implementation of all that we offer within the furniture school. Whether you choose the one week ‘cabinetmaking course’ to get a feel for the quality achievable, set your sights on mastering hand skills on the ‘craftsman course’ or aim for true mastery on both the ‘master craftsman’ and ‘designer makers courses’, they have put much thought into establishing cabinetmaking courses that work for all. Individually tailored courses with small numbers of students and a dedicated team of time served teaching staff ensure that each student gets the attention they require, at all times.For more information, visit: www.watersandacland.co.uk
The solid ripple sycamore offcut was bandsawn into veneers and edge lippings and then passed through a wide belt sander. Two lengths of birch (Betula spp.) ply were then lipped on one edge only with a third piece of wider sycamore joining the two unlipped edges together to form a single length that was used for all the side components.
Once glued in place, the lippings were planed flush with the core. The bandsawn veneers were then stuck to the lipped ply core and left in a bag press overnight before again being planed flush to the top and bottom lippings. Two grooves were then machined into the side stock material to receive the box base and lid using a spindle moulder. The sides were dimensioned to length and mitred using a tablesaw. The box base was made from ply and more of the sycamore veneer.
Picture: ripple sycamore veneer ready to be stuck to ply core glued with sycamore lipping using a bag press
To create the sculpted lid, a jig was made to allow bundles of veneers to be held and shaped at the same time. Firstly, a waveshaped master template was created in ply and then transferred to two pieces of MDF. These were then screwed together with spacers sandwiched between them to create a jig holder for five stacked veneers. Bundles of veneers were then shaped in the jig using a bearing guided straight cutter in a hand-held router. Once cut, the veneers were covered in cascamite glue, arranged on end and skewed to achieve the desired continuous three-dimensional undulations before being cramped. The stuck lid was planed and scraped clean and then dimensioned to final size before a groove was cut into each of its edges.
Ply splines were first glued into the edges of the yew lid. The box base and lid were then glued into the grooves cut into the top and bottom edges of the box sides and the box mitres glued and cramped to ensure everything was kept square and tight.
Once glued, the box lid was carefully separated from the body using a bandsaw cutting carefully into the middle of the solid sycamore that has been sandwiched between the two ply cores. All sawn edges were carefully planed square and flat. Internal box slips were bandsawn from an additional piece of yew, planed to final thickness and then carefully fitted to the box’s internal dimensions using a freshly sharpened plane and mitred shooting board for final adjustments.
The box and yew slips ready to be assembled
The box’s external faces were carefully sanded to a 320 grit finish and then three coats of Danish oil were applied to bring out the colouration of the yew lid and the ripple in the sycamore sides. The internal surfaces of the box were sealed with Renaissance Wax and buffed to a glass finish.