ideas: taking design for a walk

The absolute most enjoyable part of my work is coming up with design ideas.  These notions and influences can come along from many sources, places, people and now, increasingly from the world wide web.  I’ve been a fan of Scottish architect and artist Charles Rennie Mackintosh for as long as I can remember. Something about his work and use of visual language has for a long time, been something I want to emulate when I make something new, but in a quiet way, I hope.

This piece of work all began when I was given a trailer load of timber by my cousin. Whilst we unloaded it my eye was habitually scanning the pieces whilst ideas came to mind for some of them. Lots of the timber was simply ‘stock’ beautiful, high quality hardwood stock at that.  A few sections of timber caught my eye immediately, I set them aside for some further thought and how I could use them to best effect.

scots elm, canadian maple, noble timber for a throne

burr-elm is full of character

The timbers that caught my attention were elm, spalted maple and tulip-wood, particularly fine and noble species and, as it goes, amongst my favourite timbers to work with…make a throne, they said, something to show off our grain and structure, the colours and structure are here to be found…make a high back chair kind of a throne, an earthy, rustic Mackintosh. This was indeed what I had to do.

burr-elm, maple and tulipwood, waiting for ideas

raw timber, part worked and dusty with age

The making: without a doubt, the fun part, begin with a notion, some ideas, and see where we can go. Working without plans but with some ideas of structure and shapes I wanted to achieve in the final, finished thing can be so liberating as a maker, it feels more like working with the timber, more than simply imposing my will upon it.

imposition of ideas sometimes fails

a cut too far

Then came the moment where I pushed too hard, stopped listening to what the timber was telling me!

carpentry tells us to make a feature of junctions that cannot be hidden

restored by carpenter sleight of hand

Having made a mistake, and recovered it. I continued with the making with the original enthusiasm I had started with. making cuts and shaping the parts as I carried on with the work, following the clues for how to work the timber. I’m so pleased with how my ideas turned out.

native elm from scotland

burr elm chair back

sculptural and functional furniture

the carpenters throne

elm, maple, tulip-wood

workshop photo almost complete


bespoke outdoor living furniture

One meets the nicest people when out walking the dog, outdoor people, ones who appreciate the simple things in life.  This bespoke commission came about over a period of time, many walks of the dog and meeting my neighbour along the way.  He had recently moved a way from the industrial north east looking for space to breathe, the simple joy of the big skies and wide-open spaces of Northumberland.

bespoke design idea for gregs table, Bellingham, Northumberland

sketch brief, every bespoke commission begins its life as a pencil sketch

We got to talking, as you do…dogs,, the universe and everything.  When I told him what I did for a living, craftsman/carpenter/bespoke furniture maker, he asked me if I would design and make some garden furniture, specifically, for his wife’s birthday present.  Much talk about design, size, materials and timber..he was wanting something sturdy, chunky and rustic.  Just my way of working, really.

Prepared some design sketches, the design brief included lots of natural flowing forms, high quality and durable timbers with individual and unique qualities.

elm, ancrum, northumberland

fresh from the sawmill, this table still looks like a tree

The decision was made to use Elm for this piece, highly durable and with a multi-coloured grain and figuring, one of my 1st choice timbers to work with.  Resistant and demanding of sharp tools and a high level of skill and craftsmanship.

selecting the board sizes, northumberland

shakes and splits in the converted boards

With a design agreed, and the timber chosen, time for a trip across the border to my absolute favourite timber merchant and collective group of artisan designer/makers of some very fine furniture, indeed. Real Wood Studios near Ancrum in Scotland.

This is where the making begins, in essence, in warehouse full of choice, locally grown and sourced timber..its easy to let the mind wander and see possibilities in every piece of wood there.  Time to focus and stick to the brief.  Not easy in a treasure trove of carpenter goodies such as this.

elm from ancrum

working on the layout with rough sawn boards

Back to the workshop, and begin to shape the rough boards into the bits and pieces of the table that took shape in my minds eye when coming up with the design sketch.  Cutting out defects, keeping the highlights of grain and figuring.

As a maker and craftsman, this is without a doubt, the fun bit. Where the ideas put down on paper and discussed at length with a client, begin to take shape.

the bulk of the machining has been done

a workshop still-life of the work in progress

I see my role in making as being that of doing everything I can in order to make the raw materials look good.  Starting the process with quality materials such as this gives one a huge advantage, rough diamonds into sparkling gems.

colours and texture

that moment after the first coat of finish

Applying the first coat of timber oil brings a glow to the hand worked timber, the colour and grain the payback for many hours of hard work.  Final assembly brings an inner smile like no other that I know, and idea realised is such a satisfying thing.

the uneven boards are a feature of this piece

those spaces are there for a reason, they allow for timber movement and let the rain trickle away

this turned out just as i wanted

the table top in the sunshine just glows and shimmers

bespoke joinery, Hexham, Northumberland

elm chopping board, chestnut tea-light holders

A hugely satisfying piece of work, both to make and to happily hand over to my neighbour, I added in a few accessories to go with the finished work.  I love my job, I want people to enjoy owning the things I make.  Job done, with ideas in my head for the next piece of work.


When I am making, I work with, and interact with the structure and properties of the timber.


:to act on or in close relation with each other

:to act upon one another

I love making, always have done and most likely, always will.  Making answers my need of creativity, my interaction with the world of physical things, if you will.   The magic happens when an idea comes to mind and you see the object unmade and unformed in the mind.

What follows is a process of taking all you know about structure, form, materials and techniques and applying them to the unformed notion of the idea.  Then the idea begins to crystalise and define itself, but still in the imagination, for now.

interact with the timber, look for its strength

traditional construction

Craftspeople take influence from the skills and techniques of generations of makers, for me, using these skills is a fundamental part of my work…but the process really comes alive when i need to acheive something that may not have been done before, or at least I have not seen before. problem solving, improvising or making it up as you go along…call it what you will, this is the part of making that excites me the most.  My making addiction.

the components interact with one another in the final work

detail shot, showing the joint details. Sacred Hearts benches.

Often, these answers and solutions can only be found in the process of making, I love to make and create, its not about the thing that is made, but more about what can be learned along the way…I hope the journey never ends.

timber, the nature of wood

Timber,  lumber,  wood……  so many names for one material.  A truly remarkable substance,  it really does grow on trees!  A hard,  fibrous structural tissue found in the stems and roots of woody plants.  It has been used for thousands of years as fuel and a construction material.  That we continue to find use for it even now,  in a time of continual technological growth and sophistication,  shows what a timeless and valuable resource it is.

timber: a story told in time

annular rings in felled timber

I’ve worked with timber all of my life,  I have worked with other materials too, but always seem to return to wood as a material of choice.  Steel and metal, similiar work process, more resilient and more durable,  heavy!  Stone,  more similiarity to wood,  brittle and brutal to work with, very heavy!  And yet other materials too,  all have a place and a time,  I have made my choice.

I think and design in terms of wood.  I find the work,  the process and the material itself,  to be immensely satisfying as it allows me the freedom to create and design almost at will.  So long as I keep in mind its structure and properties,  I know I can make the things I want from it.  It’s organic nature, and lustre when finished keeps me coming back for more,  I impose my will,  wood shows me possibilities.  And so it goes on… my relationship with the material could be described as obsessional and addictive,  I know things could be far,  far worse than this.

And so,  my working in wood brings another fascination and obsession,  with the tools necessary for the work.  I wonder to myself as I slowly fill my shop with tools upon tools,  will there come a time when I no longer need just one more?  That day has yet to come and even now I reason that another acquisition will allow me to do more,  something I am unable to achieve now,  without the next tool.  And so it goes on,  tools for cutting,  marking,  drilling,  smoothing,  fitting and adjusting,  clamping and holding.  My tools are more than mere objects they are my means of interaction,  creation and realisation!

quality timber used in tools

vintage tools

I love having the ability to make a living working with such a beatiful material as wood,  I get so much satisfaction from the process and the work and the finished items I make.  And it is so gratifying to see the pleasure my customers have when they interact with my work.  And all from a material given to us by,  a tree!  #lovemyjob




balance: finding

balance: A state in which opposing forces find equilibrium-

: a state of clear mindedness in thinking-

: awareness of conflicting views and theories-

: the overall result of opposing forces-

mixed media

temple decoration

Often,  I find myself thinking about how things could be,  but are not.  Life and its events,  seek and find a way of balance and harmony which pleases us,  or seems normal and allows us to accept how things are,  and act with confidence that certain things will happen when we act.  Until the unexpected occurs and makes us take account of what went wrong,  or did not happen…

I can still remember learning to ride my bike, and the moment when balance took over, and I flew along,  free from the constraints of gravity,  to move at will on only two wheels,  such freedom and anarchy in this new way of movement I had found…the memory stays with me to this day when I ride,  an energy and a joy which I trust will remain mine for always…balance.

As I work and make, dream and scheme, look for ways to make the things I carry around in my imagination..  I find balance and harmony in the labour and the process,  in the materials and procedures I use.  It is my eyes and my heart making the decisions of aesthetics and form in an object i am making,  until at last,  what i have made pleases me with its equality of form,  mass and material…

And in the living of life,  and the sharing of it with others,  harmony and equalness is a crucial thing to be desired and cherished,  to be taken advantage of but not for granted…without balance,  life would be chaotic and meaningless.  Find your balance…

devils bridge, a study in balance

the devils bridge was designed to reflect a full circle

process, how I approach my work


Where do the ideas come from when I make a new piece, what is the process?  I never know how to make the ideas just come, thats for sure!  one thing I have come to rely on,  however,  is distraction…go and do something else,  let it all go!  Then my ideas begin to flow,  when I am concentrating on something other than design.

I dont think I ever need to understand fully how that process works,  just know that it works for me , maybe if you have a need to explore this further you could have a look

somedays you need to get away from work to visualize things from a different perspective

view from the office

For me,  cycling is my greatest passion,  distraction from life and responsibility,  and fortunately , its also when some of my best designs come along and pop into my head.  And because riding bikes demands TOTAL focus,  it seems that other parts of my brain get a chance to think about other stuff..  just as well really,   because I’m often dreaming of riding like this guy..

Not that I will ever be so competent,   mind, but there is no harm in dreaming,  we all need a dream..


explain your process of thought

design sketch

My client asked me to design her a new coffee table,  chunky and rustic was the brief..  and can you use some reclaimed timber too,  please? So,  a little research,  and a call to my local reclaimed timber supplier had me in possession of some fine,  reclaimed redwood floor joists. After a couple of sessions on the bike,  I came up with a design that my client was happy with.

I can only begin to describe the joy of cutting and preparing the parts for a project,  selecting parts of the timber with grain and features to enhance the final look of the finished piece , certainly a part of the making process I get a kick out of,  letting the wood speak for itself.

structure and grain

structure and grain


Some areas of the joist needed a little repair as they had had holes pierced to take plumbing

and electrical services in their former life  as a floor,  and once this had been done, it was time

to begin machining an cleaning up the timber, ready to become a new piece of furniture.




square peg, round hole

repair and reclaim


And once the component parts are prepared , it’s time to take a step back and consider the structure and integrity of the completed work.  It is possible to take this into account before work begins,  of course,  but I like to work in a way that allows me to think and problem solve as the piece progresses and evolves.  Sometimes solutions and details suggest themselves as I work,  and these cannot always be included at the design stage.  Some folk say this an ‘organic working method’  others, ‘making it up as you go along ‘, I’ll let you make your own decisions here,  me,  I’m organically making it up,  every single time!!



thinking time, part of the process of making

thinking time


Final machining,  cutting,  shaping and prep of the timbers,  and the true beauty of the material really begins to show,  details merely hinted at in the raw material become obvious and draw your attention as figuring and structure,  a story of the growing tree,  and how the material has been worked and converted into timber.  A little care is necessary at this stage,  as it is so easy to obliterate some of this figuring and feature,  I definitely do want the material to tell its own story.  And I surely do not want pristine and perfectly machined timber,  not in a piece such as this one.



table top



Next comes assembly and layout,  choosing how material features will be seen in the finished piece.  And begin to prepare the timbers for the final finish being applied.  The finish being, in this case,  a danish oil.  Oil finishes are so adaptable and allow the wood to breathe.  They can be added to and topped with a wax coat.  An oil finish will allow the the lustre and shine of the grain to show the beauty of this natural material.



monolith table

monolith table


This is a snapshot of how I design and make.  Sure its not the only way,  but it its my way.  I have a love of the material,  and a love of making and hope that never leaves me.  Design and making are fundamental to how I work, I’ve been involved with other types of work,  but always seem to return to making,  I guess because I find it such a satisfying thing to do.  And am finding that my clients also,  are liking what I do.  Its a sharing of thoughts and ideas,  a two way process, maker and client.  Why don’t you have a try at designing and making for yourself,  lots of great reference sources out there,  you could start here,  ,  give it a shot,  you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.  There is nothing so satisfying as making somthing for yourself,  connect with your creativity today!



monolith table

monolith table