Accommodation for woodworking courses students is available around here; it is not included in the course fee and you need to sort it out yourself, though we will help as much as we can. The best way is to come here a bit ahead of your course start date (we can recommend local bed and breakfast places stay) and check out local estate agents. Also talk to our current students; they know the local market; someone may be moving on at the end of their course here, leaving the perfect apartment empty. We also have former students, and students who have settled in the area (it is especially nice here) that may have accommodation for rent. We can put you in touch, but you will have to set it up. If you budget £220 to £270 to rent a room in a shared house or £350- £500 a month for a one-two bedroom apartment this would not be too far out; a family house say £400.
Our workshop is situated in the wilds of rural North Devon. It's a fantastic place to live; one of very few areas of unspoiled countryside left in the British Isles. Our workshops are located in converted barns at the rear of Rowden Farm, approximately 2 miles north of the village of Shebbear. We overlook rolling green hills beyond the farmyard, there are fields in front, leading down to a small lake. It can be an inspiring place to live and work. It can also be wet and windy but almost never very cold. You will need some form of transport as we are "out in the sticks" here. Torrington, Holsworthy, Hatherleigh, and Bideford are all small market towns nearby. The nearest village shop is in Shebbear which is about a 10 minute drive.
If you are ill for more than two months then we can rearrange your course dates. If you miss time through illnesses of less than two months this would be time out of your course. Your work will be going at your own pace so you should be able to pick up where you left off and we can support you in this; due to the Atelier system we work by it's not as if the class will have moved ahead of you.
The workshop is "officially" open 9am till 6pm five days a week. In reality we are open earlier and shut much later and students are have access at weekends. This is important as you will be wanting to get at your bench and practice your emerging hand skills every day for as long as possible. We offer this as unsupervised use of the workshop, however, there are some conditions. There is no access to the machine shop and the use of power tools is strictly limited. We expect you to do the nice stuff, to clean up, replace the milk you use from the kitchen and lock up as if it were your own workshop. Unlike other schools that operate on short terms, or semesters, we are making furniture and teaching fifty weeks of the year. Compare that to a school open for only three ten week terms! You need this continuity at a time when you are just starting to get the hang of hand skills, you need to be here all year doing stuff at the weekends and in the evenings, in order to get the best out of your time here.
You take breaks when you need them. We do close for 2 weeks over Christmas. The workshop is open all year except the Christmas holiday.
I currently have a very skilled craftsman, Daren Millman, and he provides supervision in my absence and is responsible for most of the technical tuition. I also have Duncan Roberts, a local maker, who will be working with you in the first few weeks of your course. However staff are free to come and go and I cannot guarantee to always have such capable assistance. Daren tends now to deal with teaching the techniques of wood preparation and joinery. Each student will be assigned to one of us, but can go to either one of us for information. Our aim is to go around the studio every morning to see that everyone knows what is in front of them and how to go about it. In this way we aim to start a small group of students doing the same things but pretty soon they are working at their own pace and needing individual attention.
This is Senior Craftsman Daren Millman - Apprentice trained cabinet maker with nineteen years experience and one of the best makers, and one of the best teachers, I know. Daren is amazing, he is one of those quiet, calm people that never gets flustered and always seems to have an answer to your problem. Daren Millman is the senior cabinetmaker at Rowden workshops. As such he is responsible for much of the woodworking technical teaching and the new development work within the workshop. If you have a joint that will not fit or a drawing to detail, go see Daren.
This is Duncan Roberts - a Rowden trained furniture maker with a workshop in Devon. Duncan is perfect at helping you get those first few projects dead right with high quality, rigorous, examination of your work.
This is Ed Wild - a Rowden trained Furniture maker with a workshop in Devon. If you thought Duncan was tough then don't ask Ed what he thinks of your work. A very patient, but demanding, teacher with great results.
Mid morning, or mid afternoon, again not every day, but most days we have a brief demonstration or lecture on a specific subject. This takes place during the "Tea break" so as not to take you away from your bench work for too long. This is a key part of our teaching method, you are learning hand skills and will be able, after a year, to do work to an extremely high standard but only if you have the opportunity to focus and use those skills again and again until they are "ingrained." They call it 'muscle memory'. Take people out of this activity for too long to teach them as a group and they get crabby and inattentive so our "Dimblebies" are short, specific and exhaustive. This can be something like "sharpening a scraper" or "flattening burr veneers". If there is a subject that a few of you want addressed in this way we can respond. Daren will cover technical areas that he is particularly expert in, I tend to talk about design issues and the arty bits though I do also teach technical issues, as I keep reminding students I do make furniture occasionally. One of the subjects I try to cover here is setting up a workshop, marketing, costing, and running a business. I use my own career of over 30 years making furniture as a starting point to help you see a way ahead, describing some of the successes and monumental failures so that may help you avoid my mistakes.
You are right, it is largely one to one teaching, we aim to have been around all of you and discussed with each one of you what it is that is in front of you for the day. Maybe that will do it but chances are some questions will arise later in the day. In the mornings Daren, Duncan, Ed, and David, are "fair game" and available. In the afternoon we are also fair game but we may be making a piece of furniture, all we ask is that you consider "is this a question that won't keep till tea break?" if it won't keep then OK ask the question. We say this because we are craftsmen and need to make to stay craftsmen to keep firmly in touch with what we are teaching.
There are usually four "intakes" a year with between twelve and fourteen students in total, but that figure can fluctuate somewhat as people come and go. We often have former students staying on and some of them cannot seem to find the door. There are occasional short woodworking courses that are taken by Ed Wild or, for our restoration courses, David Battle, if they are not available, for whatever reason, Duncan sometimes gets involved in those as well, but not as a planned scheduled event.
I have often said this is not a college, this is an "Atelier." The atelier, which is just a European term for workshop or studio, is a medieval concept. A studio was usually that of a successful artist or master craftsman. There would be assistants working there on projects for clients of the studio. There would be "Journeymen" also working and learning that particular studios techniques for they may have been trained in another workshop and, as the name suggests, were gathering a broad range of skills by traveling to different workshops and spending time in each one. In earlier times this was a valuable way of spreading knowledge. There would also be apprentices or fee paying students. Everyone in an atelier is learning at different levels from different people. For example in this workshop we stage the entry dates so that there will be two or three people starting with you but there will also be three or four students only three or so months ahead of you, and another three just ahead of them. In this way Daren, Duncan, Ed, and myself, are not the only source of knowledge in the workshop though we will usually be your first port of call. For example someone a few weeks ahead of you who has just mastered how to sharpen a plane can benefit themselves by sharing this new knowledge with you. This is because having to verbalize and demonstrate a newly acquired skill reinforces their own understanding and we encourage this as a part of the learning process. We select students who we feel will best grow to be part of the supportive network within the workshop. This is a place for grown ups. We don't have a set of course modules that we push you through. As a student I would have hated that, as a teacher I think it is a sloppy way of sharing knowledge. Apart from the first few months, when we show you a range of basic techniques and use a few projects to teach them, you can use your time to make whatever you choose. Speed should not be an issue, make at your own pace but do everything to workshop standard, a standard of Excellence, start with simple things, get them right, then move on to more complex constructions.
Because by planing or chiseling a piece of wood with a hand tool you actually come to understand the material you are working. This is the real core of what we do. It's a small group of hand tools that cabinetmakers use; chisels, planes, marking out tools. We show you how to use them well. By the end of the year you should be pretty good at making to a professional standard. That does not mean that you are fully trained. You will be slow, speed will only come with repetition during the coming year or two. Training a good maker takes about that long. You can, however, earn a small salary in a commercial workshop as an "improver", someone who is slow and does not mess up. So far we have a good record of getting students places in top class workshops. These hand skills are only learnable by doing, and doing to a high standard. Now is not a time to be sloppy, you make a mistake step back and re do it. This way you build confidence in your own making ability, gaining the confidence to go quicker is an accumulative process first do it well then do it quicker then do it fast.
One of the things that I have been working on recently is to develop a programme that will take you, during the year, through some of the major issues of running a creative workshop. I cannot teach you to fly if you don't have feathers, and design is a little bit like that. Many want to do it but few are indeed strong, or able, enough to become professional designers. But those of us that are less "gifted" can still benefit from this. A good maker needs good eyes, the ability to see a true curve, to spot a detail in the drawing that is not working or uncomfortable. This kind of maker becomes an asset to a creative workshop for he or she can collaborate more effectively with a designer in developing a new product. We will teach you visual awareness, looking, using your eyes more acutely. This will help you to see better, to observe and perceive, to literally see more. Do this, practice a little every day, and by the end of the year you will have a store of visual reference material upon which to draw as a designer. This "Arty stuff" may or may not interest you. Woodwork may be the big issue and this only a sub plot, that's OK, nothing is written in stone here. You choose at what pace you go and how you use your time. (however, personally, I do think there is no better use of your time than sitting and drawing in our weekly art class). The skills you are gaining with your hands in the workshop are synergistic to the skills in the drawing studio.
The workshop cannot arrange insurance for your property, or your person, as you may have a fair quantity of tools and value in the work in progress. I would suggest that you make your own arrangements to insure this risk.
As we have so few places on the woodworking courses and those we have are booked, sometimes way ahead, a place is secured for you by a non returnable deposit of £3000 sterling. The first six months course fee of £11,000 sterling is payable on the first day of the course. We must stress that course fees must be paid at the start of the course without exception. The second six month fee is £4000 due on the first day of the second six months. The payment of these invoices on time, and in full, is condition of the continuance of the course. Students from outside the United Kingdom will need to make arrangements to have funds transferred to our account in a timely manner, six weeks before the start of any course. I am sorry to be complicated, but it has become the only way I can deal with people who change their minds without considering the expense that I may incur as a consequence. For those of you booking more than twelve months ahead I will invoice you for the deposit in two stages £1500 on booking a place, and £1500 twelve months before the course starts.
Your deposit of £3000 is non returnable in any circumstance. Once the course has started we need a one month notice period for cancellation. In exceptional circumstances we do reserve the right to ask a student to leave with immediate effect.
For those of you hoping to make furniture for me in the second six months I need to have discussed this option with you and agreed to your joining us on those terms. This is an option only occasionally offered in exceptional conditions. It is my way of putting back in to a craft that has given me so much. In this case I will invoice you for a £3000 non returnable deposit followed by £11,000 on the first day of your course. We must stress that course fees must be paid at the start of the course without exception. I must say this option is only available in special circumstances and only to UK residents.
Allow about £1,000 for a basic set of tools. You can spend a further £1200 on power tools and additional hand tools but you don't need them right at the start and can borrow tools from us. Don't go spending too much getting tools until you get here, unless you find a bargain. You can borrow and try out my tools and maybe other students tools and see which ones you like and can afford. Allow a budget of £1000 to cover all your materials, timber and hardware in the first six months. What you make after the first few projects has to be decided between ourselves so it is a little difficult to advise on a budget, especially for months six to twelve but a further £1000 should be adequate.
Yes you can make furniture for real clients on the course with our staff supervising your work at every stage and many students see this as a way of helping to cover course fees. James, one of my recent students, sold a design for an £8000 serving table but don't expect to do so well. As for mock clients; I think this is a great way of going through the professional process of taking a brief, developing designs, presenting them to the client, and finally getting the job, all before you cut up a bit of walnut. It doesn't matter that it's all being done for Mummy, or rich Uncle Fred, what matters is the doing of the process. Next time when you do it with a real client, it will be more familiar.
If you are a long way from the UK it may be impossible to visit before we both need to make a decision as to whether this is the most suitable course for you. This can demand an extended correspondence by e-mail and a number of expensive phone calls but we both need to be as sure as we can be that this step is best both for you and for this workshop.
I take only a few students each year, they will usually go on to develop successful careers and be a credit to me and this workshop. The standards set in this workshop are very high, I need to create a group of people who are each determined to succeed in their own way. This is not about age, qualifications or prior experience. This is about talent, motivation, determination, and drive. Also I need a bunch of people who will get along and be supportive of one another. This is of paramount importance to me, a challenging, happy, and creative, workplace is what we have and is what we must always have.
If you are interested, get in touch either by e-mail or by phone. I am usually taking confirmatory deposits from students to secure places in a years time but we do occasionally have cancellations due to unforeseen personal circumstances. As we have four starting dates in a year it's usually possible to offer you a starting date to suit your circumstances.
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