We had the pleasure of having Chris, Director at Lost Art Press, in the workshop for two weeks teaching students how to create ‘The Anarchists Tool Chest’. This is what he said after his time here at Rowden:
“The lifeblood of the Arts & Crafts movement passes through the workshop of Rowden Atelier. They push students to do a high level of work that is rarely seen today. They prepare students for a lifetime of making with classes in handwork, machine work, drawing, design and business.
After working with the students at the school for two weeks, I’m quite impressed. The woodworkers enrolled in the school’s 50-week program were fast, devilishly accurate and serious about the craft, sucking up every bit of information offered. And then looking for more.
My only regret is that I didn’t have a school like this when I was 21 and crazy to make things with my hands. If you are looking to design and make furniture, it’s worth the trip. It’s worth the money. It’s worth your time.”
First off a profuse apology for my silence since leaving you in September. I came back to a very busy time on both home and work fronts (granddaughter “Willow” is thriving) and kept saying that I must drop you a note but never got around to it.
The longer it went on the more embarrassed I was about reopening a dialogue. Sitting here this evening having just made another “practice” dovetail joint, my thoughts drifted back to September and Rowden and possibly the most memorable time for me in 2016.
First off I hope you are all well – David I know you were off for a bit. Jon – I have taken a punt on your email address – if I got it wrong you might send it on to him Rachel.
Looking back on my time in Rowden, I have very happy memories and real gratitude at what I learnt in three short weeks. I have a “small” workbench set up in my study and have been trying to keep my hand in on what I learnt. My “retirement” hasn’t worked out as planned and spare time is hard to come by but that will probably all change later in 2017 as the project I am working on winds down. My daughter has a baby high chair on order for as soon as I can devote some quality time to its design and construction.
Led by you David, you have all built up a fantastic working and learning environment in Rowden. I was made to feel very welcome and such was the camaraderie, it took no time at all to feel both at home. Were Rowden more convenient to home, I could see myself going the whole hog and doing the one year course. Alas, family commitments make that unlikely.
Jon your patience was incredible and you really have found your vocation in introducing students, with little real knowledge of wood working and woodworking tools, to the wonders that can be achieved with some basic tools, hard work and patience. Your teaching of techniques was very clear and explanations were also easy to follow and understand. The mini projects that you have all designed to put the theory into practice are excellent and it was great to come home with some tangible outputs as well as practical learning. The breadboard is still in its pristine state! The Dimbilbie notes come out every now and then also.
I can see why you insist that all students start with the basics and it’s an approach I wholeheartedly endorse. Without the basics of squaring a piece of timber and making basic joints (and not withstanding my personal frustrations in getting across those first hurdles)’ I can’t see how anyone could go on to make anything of the precision and accuracy that would be demanded from a paying customer.
You could take on a lot more people like me and run bigger school room courses that would see students off happy after 2/3 weeks with nice things to show off, but without having instilled the disciplines of accuracy, hand crafting and fine finishing. It’s a credit to you all that you have eschewed that approach in favour of starting your students down a road towards real craftsmanship.
This degree of precision and accuracy demanded at Rowden was perhaps the biggest revelation for me. Working to parameters of fractions of a millimetre with timber was beyond my comprehension but I can absolutely see the necessity. A fraction out at one end of a sideboard would be a massive gap at the other.
The importance of sharp tools was close behind. I thought I had sharpened chisels before I came to Rowden but I was so far off the mark in terms of what I learned from you all. No chisel I ever bought in the past was ever as sharp again after first use. I now know how to maintain an edge I would never have dreamed of in the past. Knowing how is one thing though – putting it in to practice will need discipline.
When I think back to the “shavings” I was taking off with the plane in the first piece of walnut you gave me in my attempt to square it off, I realise how far I came in the three weeks. If you had said to me that I would be using a number seven plane to literally take off dust by the second week I would have doubted your sanity. Such are the basics which everyone must come to appreciate before they can go on to more momentous projects.
Should you have anyone thinking of doing 2/3 weeks at Rowden like I did, I would be happy to give them my wholehearted endorsement of Rowden, the quality of the tuition and the fantastic learning environment.
David your emails are fabulous and I enjoy reading them as they come in. Keep them up. Josh’s sideboard was fantastic to see in finished form having seen the complexity of the lamination that he and Jon had to contend with.
Should I be down your way I will certainly drop in and say hello. I might also give you a shout about attending for a week or two on a project. If you are ever running project based short course that you think would be suitable for me, please let me know. I have a copy of the anarchists tool chest and I know you made that the centre of activity a while ago – anything like that would be of interest.
My fellow students must be well into making their benches at this stage. Please pass on my regards and wish them well.
Best wishes for a happy and prosperous 2017
I just wanted to say how much my mum and I enjoyed last weekend.
Everyone made us feel very welcome and Ed was a fantastic patient teacher.
If you do any more weekend courses in the future, please let me know.
Finally got the seat of my chair upholstered over the weekend, so wanted to share a picture with you.
I thought the contemporary design deserved something bright – so have experimented with some bright ‘Kermit’ green faux leather. It now sits with pride at our kitchen table alongside the Oak high-back, Windsor sack back and reproduction Sheraton that I have previously built. (A lack of design consistency has been accepted by my wife whilst I search for my own style… and start making sets!)
I hugely enjoyed my week with you. The atmosphere of the workshops with so many enthusiastic dedicated students was inspiring. I could not help feel and share the aspiration and dedication to meeting the highest standards of craftsmanship, and with Daren’s instruction and assistance feel I tasted what that can be like to achieve.
The chair looks amazing, and marks a further major step in my evolution as a chair maker.
Best wishes and thanks
Just a line to say thank you to you and all at Rowden Farm Workshops for making my visit so worthwhile, humbling, instructive and fun. Apart from carpentry lessons at prep school years ago (in days of rationing!) this fortnight was a very exacting way of measuring the standard to which I had self taught in the past twenty years.
Thanks also for a great atmosphere and for the effervescent Christopher Schwarz who with his Lost Art Press has influenced a lot of us “woodwork readers”
Massey joined us on a one week veneer and marquetry course and a one week chair making course. His chair can be seen in the student designer seating gallery. A very keen and passionate man of whom fit perfectly in the Rowden Atelier and was a pleasure to have in the workshop. Here is a letter that he had written for the team.
Fantastic course over the weekend, thanks again Ed.
I feel like I have learnt lots of things that will help me out and things I have done have explained questions I had.
I would like to do more and I’m thinking of a week course next year. Do you have your dates for the courses yet? I’d like to see if it will work so I can hire a cottage etc.
Sandra Bicknell has only just moved out of the workshop and we will miss her very much. Before coming here she was an established museum curator well respected in her field, now she is very much a fine furniture maker. Life moves on and Sandra’s work will, I’m sure, surprise and delight us all.
“What is it like to spend a year here? The answer to this question depends a lot on what you want, or need (and perhaps expect), from being here. For me, being here was about proving a belief that I had the potential to make and design fine furniture. I had little tangible evidence that I could do this but now I have evidence that I can!
So, that was what I wanted, and what I needed was an environment that would nurture my abilities and my confidence. A place that would allow me to explore and play and make mistakes – in other words, a place that encourages learning. That need was fulfilled in bucket loads. None of this, however, comes easily. You have to be proactive, drive your own learning agendas, push yourself. The basic skill stuff is all here in the set projects but what you do with those skills is up to you.
A place that would allow me to explore and play and make mistakes – in other words, a place that encourages learning.
If you want to coast, then you can. If you want to work and go home exhausted everyday then you can. If you want to re-find what matters to you, then you can. If you want a year out of an expected life then you can do that too.
For me this year has been much more than finding out if I could make and design fine furniture. It has been about reinventing myself, and re-finding my joie de vie.
Sandra Bicknell (Alumni 2012)
I am thrilled with your course, only 5 weeks in and I am already doing things I never imagined I would be able too! Especially with only HAND TOOLS! You have an amazing staff to say the least!
My expectations did not even come close to the actual experience I have been given
I am blown away with their ability to teach, a rare characteristic in my opinion, even more so is their passion to do so. I feel that they are able to accurately depict the philosophies and ideas mentioned in your website. My expectations did not even come close to the actual experience I have been given, and that is only in a short short time! I can only dream of what the next 11 months will bring! I am convinced my decision to study at Rowden Farms is the best one I have made to date! Thank you! I also wanted to add. The dynamic between You, Ed, Daren, and Jon is exceptional! I feel I have a personality that is able to adapt to all kinds of people and teachings. However, if I did not have that ability then I feel between you, along with Jon, Ed, and Daren there is a fit for anyone and any personality! Truly an unmatched collection of educators! Much Appreciation and Gratitude! – Dug
Phil Hodgson, aged 63 3/4, was a psychologist, a rather eminent psychologist, and author of several business psychology books. He was at one time, I believe, an adviser to the Cabinet office. He is now a woodworker.
The year at Rowden Farm workshops is likely to be different from any other year you have spent, or will ever spend.
Although some of us went as a continuation of studies into wood and furniture, many of us arrived in Rowden having already found a way to earn a living successfully in different worlds. But it was a step up for most of us to work with the skill, accuracy, and originality that David and Daren regard as commonplace. It is an intense year, with great highs and inevitably some lows. For me it was probably the hardest thing I’ve attempted to do in my adult life – apart from trying to be a good parent and husband. And yes there were moments of frustration, sometimes close to despair, “will I ever get this damn piece of wood flat?” “How will I ever fit these curves into the overall design?” But there were also splendid highs of achievement when things worked, and were flat or beautifully curved or the joins were invisible, or the finish was just about perfect. As a student I found it exciting and stimulating to be at a place striving to be at the front edge of design and making.
IT IS AN INTENSE YEAR, WITH GREAT HIGHS AND INEVITABLY SOME LOWS
Daren, the senior maker, is wonderful, and probably has magical powers that he is too modest to mention. His considerable skill and calming confidence, that there always is a way, can be enormously reassuring. His professional colleagues are equally supportive in their individual styles. And their enthusiasm for wood and making the best, is very encouraging.
David is a great source of knowledge about the furniture business, design and art in general. He has had his share of successes and failures, and he’s ready to talk very openly about what his experience has been; good and bad. Running his own business over several decades gives him a rare perspective that is invaluable to anyone trying to set up their own fine furniture workshop. As a world-class designer he occasionally goes off into a world of his own searching for originality, quality and coherence. I found it fascinating to be able to watch and to ask him about this very personal ‘brain-aching’ process.
PUSH YOURSELF TO KEEP LEARNING AND KEEP ANALYSING AND UNDERSTANDING
How to get the most out of the year? Push yourself to keep learning and keep analysing and understanding what worked and what didn’t. Ask your colleagues [co-students] and Daren and Ed to challenge you if they think you are developing a little bit of that tunnel vision which sometimes engulfs makers. Just as important, look for support from your colleagues [co-students] to help you cope with the challenges – it helps you learn better, and it’s much more fun.
I was originally attracted to Rowden because it made beautiful things for real clients and it taught students. If a workshop only teaches, then as a student you don’t know if they are living off the back of past successes, or if they can still cut it in the current market. For sure, the bulk of what Rowden does is teaching, but new pieces keep coming from David’s drawing board and Daren’s bench. As a student I found it exciting and stimulating to be at a place striving to be at the front edge of design and making, and my hope and belief is: some of that has rubbed off on me.
Phil Hodgson Aged 63¾
Javier had considerable business experience but wanted to know everything about making and designing furniture. He has now returned to Spain where he has set about establishing his own workshop and building a personal client base.
“The best decision of my life (after marrying my wife… I have to cover that area!)…I would like to thank you all for making me a very happy person for the past year… There was never a ‘no’ and [the staff were] always there to help on everything.”
Javier Echavarri (alumni 2010)
When Greig came to Rowden, he was already a very skilled product designer; having attended college for over 3 years; he came here to gain the understanding of the materials involved in furniture making; a knowledge of furniture design enabled him to move forward very quickly.
“I could say a lot about the year I spent at Rowden and in Devon generally. For me though, the key thing was being able to learn skills and techniques to design and make quality furniture that surpasses the standards of many practicing makers, in the space of just 12 months. I still can’t believe it!! It helped being surrounded by students with a similar desire to create beautiful pieces of furniture.
Greig Fensome (alumni 2008)
Before Steve joined us and became a kind hearted and loving woodworker, was a tax inspector. All people, even tax men, can improve their lives.
The people who go to Rowden are from a wide range of backgrounds, age groups and woodworking experience. For some people this is the natural next step along their chosen career path. Most people I met in my year, however, had already tried at least one other career and discovered it was not for them. They were searching for a new challenge that more suited their personality and aspirations.
THE PEOPLE WHO GO TO ROWDEN ARE FROM A WIDE RANGE OF BACKGROUNDS, AGE GROUPS AND WOODWORKING EXPERIENCE
I count myself as a member of the latter group. In short, I hated my old job. I was looking to do something with my hands, possibly with wood. A bit vague I know but that’s how it was. I looked at regular college courses but decided that I was in a hurry. Having discovered Rowdens web site, I spent an afternoon talking to Daren and looked around the workshop. I then took the plunge and signed up. One month later I was hand planing some wood on my first day.
My only previous woodworking experience was DIY related, which I quickly discovered had little relevance to making fine furniture. The first few weeks are designed to learn various basic skills such as how to hand cut different types of joints, sharpen tools, use machinery and generally become more comfortable using hand tools.
After that it is up to you to decide the best way to proceed in order to meet your needs. This suited me personally, as I wouldn’t have felt comfortable with a more regimented structure. I decided to follow advice and initially build a work bench, in order to have a purpose-built work area and to develop my skills, before plucking up the courage to tackle a proper piece of furniture. I then made a small box which contrasted with the large joinery of the bench.
I was then ready to design and build some furniture. I managed to persuade friends to commission a piece, which I tried to treat as a real job using the knowledge obtained on the course. This involved client consultations, producing different designs and providing perspective watercolours of those designs to the client. The whole designing thing caused me much head-scratching, but I got there in the end. The final designs were obviously tailored to the clients tastes. However, they also incorporated those elements of making furniture that I wanted to learn, namely table making, drawer making and fitting, veneering with burr veneers, curved work, and a bit of carcass work. Everything turned out okay, we’re still friends and they love the furniture.
FOR ME IT HAS LITERALLY BEEN A LIFE-CHANGING EXPERIENCE. I MET SOME NICE PEOPLE AND HAD A LAUGH ALONG THE WAY
I decided that my final project would be a chair. This was to firstly learn the art of chair design (which proved to be very much harder than anticipated), and then how to make it. There were further making skills that I wanted to practice, such as laminating with constructional veneers, so again I incorporated these into the design.
The phrase that occurs to me most about David’s course is that you get out what you put in. The learning curve is steep if you want it to be. Most people have made large sacrifices to take this year out of their lives and so approach it with a certain amount of determination. For me it has literally been a life-changing experience. I met some nice people and had a laugh along the way.
During the year, I realised that my best course of action on leaving, was to work for someone else making top quality furniture. At the time of writing this, I have obtained a job with one of the top designer/maker workshops in the UK and have been working there for about a month. My first step along the road to woodworking happiness is complete.
A big thank you must especially go to Daren, who helped me so much and saved my cock-ups on more than one occasion. I don’t know where he gets all his patience from. Last but not least, thanks to my wife for her unreserved support and for giving me the courage to try for a more contented life.
David Redwine came to us from America. He had great experience; building, sometimes, quite large constructions in wood, but with no knowledge of the detailed skills of furniture making. He has since returned to America where he set up small furniture making business and is steadily building its customer base as we have taught him. Take a look at his web site at redwinefurniture.com
I WANTED TO LEARN HOW TO MAKE BEAUTIFUL, FUNCTIONAL, PIECES OF ART. I THINK BEING IMMERSED IN AN ENVIRONMENT DAY IN AND DAY OUT, WHERE QUALITY OF THAT SORT IS EXPECTED, YOU HAVE NO CHOICE BUT TO MEET THOSE EXPECTATIONS
“My reasons for going to study abroad included a strong desire to do something big, something unique. The pieces I’d seen on David’s web site and the description of the course struck a chord for me immediately.
I wanted to learn how to make beautiful, functional, pieces of art. I think being immersed in an environment day in and day out, where quality of that sort is expected, you have no choice but to meet those expectations. Those standards become your own. Moreover, it was just plain fun. I have become a true advocate for quality and imagination in my new work, my new life.”
THEY HAVE MADE A HUGE DIFFERENCE IN MY JOB OPTIONS
Another young American Reed Stanley had such a good time here, having since returned to America, I believe he is still working in a furniture making shop.
“Hi Daren, and everyone else in the school. I’m just writing to tell you that the moment I got back I had job offers like crazy. I accepted a job at “Wasatch Woodwrights Inc” and I now am making beautiful furniture and some cabinetry. Because of what I was taught at the School I started out as the second highest paid employee, and am loving my job!
I just want to tell you thanks Daren for all the skills I learned while attending your school. They have made a huge difference in my job options. I am also building furniture on the side – my boss lets me use his whole shop for my own projects. Thanks again Daren, please keep in touch, I need you to motivate me into drawing and painting more.For those of you who are thinking about going to school at Rowden Workshop I can not say enough good things about it. It was the best year of my life and if I was rich I would still be there and I guarantee I’d still be learning the whole time”.
PS “please throw something at Harry for me.”
“Dear David and the Team
We absolutely love our table! Thank you for all your thought, time, patience and hard work, not to mention creativity, that has gone into making it a beautiful piece of furniture that we will treasure.
Apologies for the ‘not so helpful little helper’ whilst constructing it in our kitchen.
Wishing you all a lovely and productive Summer ahead.
Vanessa, Zach and Louis Morgan”