A story of life, learning, career change and a foray into the unknown – the journey from here to where ever we end up – A Wood Adventure.
It’s with a mixture of nervous excitement and positive thinking that we have embarked on a new phase in our lives. This is not all about me, it’s about us, our new adventure and Chris’ journey, leaving behind the familiar and taking the future into his own hands, starting with a Fine Furniture course at Sturt School for Wood.
Not to forget of course it’s about you too – we will share with you wood, woodworking and life thoughts, tips and anecdotes that just maybe will come in useful or at least provide mild amusement. We invite you to join us on our journey however you prefer – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or right here!
Are there any families, couples or individuals out there looking for a new addition to the family home – something that will last for generations to come?
An item of furniture that is not only a beautiful sculptural piece, but one that offers stylish functionality with a Scandinavian twist that will impress your family, friends and strangers alike (should you choose to let them into your home!).
Well – the search is over – Chris has been hard at work in the workshop and produced four Giuseppe Hall Tables. Giuseppe Hall Tables.
The ‘Giuseppe’ is a hand crafted American Black Walnut (top) and Rock Maple (base) hall table designed and made by Christopher Neal. A table inspired by the designs of Giuseppe Scapinelli – a furniture maker known for his beautifully crafted mid-century modern pieces and unique style incorporating curvy lines and soft shapes. Chris has captured the spirit of Scapinelli while creating a refined and elegant design, which would look and feel at home in any modern home. Crafted in carefully selected timber lovingly shaped by hand (for X hours) this table is a joy to look at. There is a possibility I may be biased but I have the original and I love it! See for yourself how great it looks below…
Where can you get your hands on one?
The Giuseppe is currently available from Sturt Gallery, Mittagong or why not contact us directly on instagram or facebook to find out more.
Gone (for now) are the days of 16 hour workshop stints rallying to get the next furniture project designed, made and ready for presentation, gone are the games of handball at lunchtime. Talk to any one of the Sturt School for Wood Class of 2015 and they will quite openly admit that they had the time of their lives and they miss it. But like most things school couldn’t last forever and its now onwards with the adventure with more to see, do and learn.
For us – what’s been going on… this year has been a busy one so far – moving house (soon to be twice – don’t you love renting!) and one AMAZING holiday which saw my absolutely gorgeous little sister Aimee get married to her wonderful fiancé Brian, some awesome time with friends and family and a Scandinavian adventure for us which I’ll tell you some more about at a later date but suffice to say – Copenhagen is my new favourite thing! And what about a wood adventure I hear you ask? What now…
I’m pleased to announce the adventure continues. Chris is enjoying workshop life with the highly respected Thirston Morris over the last couple of months. Thirston, who’s father was a master craftsman has been a furniture designer maker since 2004 and is accredited by Studio Woodworkers Australia. He has a great range of woodworking experience, offers woodworking classes, owns and operates Allwood Specialty Timbers in Nowra and while he continues to design and make custom furniture in his workshop he also finds time to has participate in exhibitions such as the Kauri Project (Sydney Botanical Gardens), and displays at Bungendore Woodworks Gallery and Sturt Gallery.
Chris had the opportunity to assist Thirston with several projects including making some medal boxes (seen left) before launching head first in to making his first batch of his own hall tables – Giuseppe! Progress can be seen on instagram @awoodadventure.
Chris has also had the great pleasure of working for and with Leon Sadubin based in Gerringong, NSW. Leon has actively participated in the woodworking industry for over 40 years and has had a significant impact on furniture design and making in Australia. He is a master craftsman, teacher and classical music fan, Leon has works included in collections found at the Powerhouse Museum (Sydney), New Parliament House (Canberra) and in many private collections.
Chris is incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from both Thirston and Leon and begin to understand what it takes to run a successful workshop and business producing fine furniture!
Spoon carving – it’s a thing you can try! A really fun thing that apparently many people haven’t really even thought existed, let alone thought about trying.
Since we started a wood adventure I’ve been learning bits and pieces about different types of wood and tools and admiring Chris’ enthusiasm for learning from amazingly skilled designer/makers and over this last year designing and making some of his own beautifully fine furniture. I’ve been quietly intrigued by wood turning and also carving particularly of items used in a culinary setting such as turned bowls and carved spoons. I wasn’t even looking but when I stumbled upon a spoon carving workshop – it felt right!
Naturally as my parents were visiting from the UK the week it was on I floated the idea of all going and they (with blind trust) said sure sounds fun! Little did they know it involved axes and was actually two days – a little more than some casual whittling!
Our carving workshop was a few weeks ago now and our spoons are currently drying. It was amazing! We learnt every wood wrangling step from log to spoon! Having previously not trusted myself with sharp knives when chopping vegetables it was a step up using an axe for the first time but under the watchful eye of the Spoonsmith Jeff Donne we all took our branches and logs and found their inner spoon!
As you can see from the photos – we used not only axes but draw knives, spoon hooks, short and long knives and a Twca Can. You can also see why I say log… I had big ideas and my sights set on a big spoon of the serving variety – in retrospect there’s a really really slim chance I went a little too big but hey, it depends on how you look at it (i.e. from what distance) and how hungry the people are you’re serving?! I love my spoon nevertheless and it will be forever my first hand carved wooden spoon. There’s some up-skilling and refining to do and certainly some practice to be had but watch this space – this may be my first but is certainly not my last spoon!
Special mention to my mum and dad (who carved two!) who did an outstanding job with their spoons as you can see from our family of spoons above.
My review… I have asked for an axe for Christmas, have a spoon knife on order and am eyeing up various branches with a serious intent to find their inner spoon!
While school is not over for a couple of weeks, Saturday 21st November not only saw the opening of ‘Transformation’, the Sturt School for Wood class of 2015’s exhibition, it was also a very special occasion – celebrating the hard work and marking the great achievement and graduation of the class of 2015 – 12 students in total. The event included many well worded thanks and speeches from inspirational individuals, well-known in fine furniture circles, including Rodney Hayward, David Upfill-Brown and Phoebe Everill.
Even though I can count on my fingers the amount of times I have met the class of 2015 I feel like I know each and every one of them – you have played a very big and special part in our lives this year (and beyond I hope), and its an absolute privilege and a pleasure. Congratulations all of you! I know it has been a journey for each and every one of you with twists and turns, ups and downs, with munts and marvels a plenty!
The graduation exhibition is aptly named Transformation celebrating the students unwavering dedication to learning the necessary skills and techniques, and their personal commitment to delivering inspirational designs, technical precision and hard-work to transform their raw materials into art. The very delivery of such a fine exhibition also marks their own personal journeys and growth as individuals, artists and skilled craftspeople. You should all be very proud of yourselves and your own transformations. Every one of you will have got something different from the year and I hope it has given you as much as it has given us – a new sense of self and purpose, new friends and a new direction.
Although I thought starting this course would be the beginning, and the year the adventure for us – its clear now, that the fine furniture course at Sturt School for Wood is indeed the beginning, but the year is just the start of an ongoing adventure for us.
As those of you who know us you will know I am the proudest proud thing ever – not just because Chris was awarded the Studio Woodworkers, Australia Emerging Professional Award (which is awesome and amazing) in addition to his certificate (which is also fantastic) but because of how hard he has worked so far and the exceedingly fine furniture he has produced already and its only the beginning.
The exhibition of works by the graduating students from Sturt School for Wood 2015 is still on at Sturt Gallery, Mittagong, NSW and runs to the 5th December. Get on down there and do some Christmas shopping!
Life has a habit of getting in the way of many things if you let it – sometimes you don’t even realise its happening and before you even know it you don’t even remember when you last spoke to some of your closest friends and family (let alone write a blog post :(). If any of you are reading this – you know who you are and it doesn’t mean we love you or think of you any less – we’re just flat out. There is no real valid excuse other than life has got in the way, we realise its happened so not sure what the next step is… is acknowledging the problem a step towards recovery in this case?
Being time poor and the never ending quest for a work-life balance are topics of fierce debate – I see it all around me – we are constantly online – incessantly multitasking – there is no down-time – we are distracted from our own lives by other peoples lives (celebrity, friend, foe or otherwise). The question we all have to STOP and ask is … are these distractions providing inspiration, comfort, knowledge? Do they have and are they adding value in our lives, providing direction or contributing in some way? or are they one big fat time suck leaving us time poor and seeking something else?
Chris is in NO WAY distracted right now. His focus has never been clearer and his mission never more demanding. Chris is at school, heading towards 12 hours a day, six days a week at the moment beavering away on his chair project (actually 2 chairs and a table!!) and I have no doubt the end result is going to be remarkable. Take note all you aspiring woodworkers and furniture makers out there … if you are going to learn fine furniture making, let it be known there can be no half measures – not if you are really going to do justice to the ‘fine’ and quite literally make a new future for yourself.
Chris is giving his all to every project, not letting his current knowledge or skills hinder the design of the piece in question, challenging himself to learn and practice the trickiest of skills, techniques and methods. If there’s one way to learn – its by doing it and giving it your all. I think we thought, when we embarked on our new adventure it was going to be a challenge and we were right – but perhaps not in the way we expected. I think the lack of time for things other than work or school with both of us doing long days and travelling two hours plus per day is perhaps the biggest challenge. We haven’t yet nailed the coastie lifestyle but its certainly on the list of things to do and what we are doing now is enjoying a rare opportunity to change the course of our lives so believe me when I say watch this space – great things are coming. Becoming a designer/maker of bespoke wooden furniture that will last generations doesn’t happen over night you know!
PS We’ll catch up with you all soon. We appreciate all your support – thank you!
Its been a while folks – sorry! There was a small matter of some postgrad studies to get out the way which I am happy to report are now all done and dusted. Phew!
What did you miss…
Term 2 at Sturt School for Wood! Luckily if you have been following us on Instagram or Facebook you wont have missed out! If you have not been following then I can’t imagine how you have coped for all this time! I am proud to report that we now have four completed pieces of fine wooden furniture and plenty more in progress.
A BEAUtiful hall table, designed and made by the one and only Christopher Neal!! It’s not only wonderfully proportioned, beautifully finished and finely sculpted, its truly a work of art and I honestly couldn’t be prouder. Someone asked Chris whether he was going to sell it… Chris mentioned it was my birthday and he would probably give it to me – it was advised that if that was the plan – he best marry me to avoid me running off with the table!! I am pleased to report, that after over 16 glorious years I have now got what I wanted and am off! Hilarious!
We also have a gratifyingly functional but gloriously sculpted sofa or side table – designed to fit snugly over any part of the sofa so that it can be used for drinks, nibbles, a laptop or anything you so choose.
Is it a stool or is it a table…
We are now midway through Term 3 and can’t believe its going so fast. We are right in the thick of the batch project – two of the four stools or tables – depending on your needs desire – have been completed and which you may have seen on Instagram. Sights are firmly now set on the up and coming cabinet project. Watch this instagram shaped space.
Chris completed his essay and presentation on the life and works of Hans J Wegner last week which had been looming for some time. Not one for public speaking (who is?) or particularly wordy (unlike me) it had been a rather unattractive prospect even since signing up but we can consider it an awesome JOB DONE!
PS In case you were wondering the timberbits pub quiz team is taking a more relaxed approach to attending the weekly pub quiz with their rank wavering probably less than their commitment. I am not sure I ever got to report the winning of a $50 drinks voucher but this has been their result to beat and I am delighted to report they have never come last… did I just say that? If ever there was a way to tempt fate!
As we know from last weeks ‘a design opportunity’ in woodwork like many other arts there is some room for variation in the process of making. Even the most elaborately laid out designs and plans are not immune to human error. While chanting the mantra ‘measure twice, cut once’ there is always a possibility that the thought of lunch distracted you and you’re off to the races. It’s almost impossible to undo a cut too short or a slip of the chisel which makes the fine handmade wood furniture available even more impressive and at times outstanding.
Although there is a world of talented individuals and collectives both current and past to explore there have been a few that have stood out so far in all the researching. We will be telling you about some of our favourites and exploring some of what we consider to be their most inspirational work right here!
First up… Hans Wegner – a world famous Danish born furniture designer. I just found out the 2nd April would have been his 101st birthday so it seems even more appropriate to appreciate his work now and his considerable contribution to what is now considered the ‘Danish Modern’ design movement of the 1950’s and 60’s. His career defining ‘The Round One’ chair came to be known as ‘The Chair’ but this was just one of many masterful works, all of which can be considered inspirational. Of the 500+ chairs Wegner developed over his lifetime, at least a 100 have been put into production, some of which are still being produced today by the family run Danish company PP Møbler (His primary workshop from the ’60’s until the end of his career) and Carl Hansen and Son (Wegner’s primary workshop in the ’50’s). ‘The Chair’ was featured on the cover of an American magazine ‘Interiors’ and hailed ‘the most beautiful chair in the world’.
Wegner, a master carpenter first and a designer second, not only made beautiful chairs but also crafted the bare essentials into complete comfort. The perfect mix of design aesthetics, practicality and ergonomics is something to aspire to (both in chair and furniture making) and why Hans J. Wegner is our first pick. Below are some of our favourite chairs – all of which are still in production and available from his original workshops.
A chair is to have no backside, it should be beautiful from all angles
– Hans J. Wegner
Have you ever had that sinking feeling when you suddenly realise something isn’t quite right.
Despite the fierce dedication to the job at hand, whatever that may be – a task at work, an odd job around the house or perhaps the creation of a masterpiece (the case in this instance), despite maintaining a tunnel vision type focus, and repeated checking, double checking and triple checking that what you are doing is correct before going ahead and committing, whether that might involve saving/ fixing/ drilling/ cutting/ or sticking something… sometimes something goes awry!
Often once the brief denial/ figuring out something’s wrong phase passes then the speed at which sickening realisation sets in is astonishing. This is often followed by anger, despair, frustration and an outburst depending on who and where you are.
WELL – Have we got news for you, feel sick no more, do away with the negative roller coaster of emotion following your making what could be seen as a minor to significant error (munting things up is apparently the technical term). You have in front of you my friends A DESIGN OPPORTUNITY!
This week Chris had his first ‘design opportunity’.
‘Yes – Some holes were made where they were not supposed to be…. Measured thrice from the end of the shelf and the base, the holes were dominoed in successfully, only for it to be revealed the base was the wrong way round and therefore it transpires that it was actually measured from the wrong end! So rather than the initially planned one divider… two dividers it is! This gives a small ‘cubby hole’ in the middle, but I kinda like it now!’ (@ChrisINeal)
As they say – there’s more than one way to skin a cat (I don’t need to say no cats were harmed in the making of this tool cabinet (so far) do I?) and the key is not to panic. There were a couple of solutions that were explored such as have the whole thing lean over and calling it modern art!
Valuable lesson learnt … who can’t use this approach on a daily basis (easier said than done perhaps) but it’s all about how you look at things and maybe whatever’s happened is an opportunity to follow a different path I mean really… what tool cabinet is complete without the perfect sized shelf for a whiskey tumbler!!
I am one for embracing a good saying or phrase. They can be used a surprising amount if you know enough of them. They can be humorous, appropriate or inappropriate, they can go hidiously wrong if you don’t remember them quite right and are very often inherited. This may or may not be where they start to vary! One of my most used is ‘worse things happen at sea, like a crab biting your toe’ and it’s often prefixed with a ‘you know what they say’. Good on ‘they’ for making up some great sayings!
A few other family favourites
it’s about as useful as a chocolate fireguard (or teapot – take your pick)
it’s as rare as rocking horse ” (insert chosen word for ‘excrement’)
it’s a bit grey over wilf’s mums
if the cap fits… wear it.
I used ‘its blowing a hooley’ just yesterday and Chris who had previously thought he has heard me use every saying under the sun replied ‘a what?’ It’s a thing… It’s on Wikipedia! Apparently just because I say it doesn’t make it a saying but if it’s on Wikipedia … It must be true right?!
It turns out that there’s a couple of pretty handy wood related sayings out there too but these offer more than a general or humorous observation… They are wise words and ones we have come across so far are…
Measure twice, cut once
You can cut something too long a thousand times but too short, only once.
I don’t profess to be an expert in French polishing or even that good at it! But I do love shellac and when I get it right I think it looks awesome! With that disclaimer out the way my lesson learnt is that when using shellac less is more! Thinning down pre made polish 50/50 with more metho (shellac polish is just shellac flakes dissolved into metho (1:4) doing this makes it so much easier to apply and so much more forgiving when, if like me you inevitably stuff it up!!
Interested in learning more tips and tricks? Read more…
I know, I know – you’ve waited this long just to get the pub quiz update – the TimberBits came sixth place last week. Again! I have been asked to clarify this is not last! It’s out of at least 10 to 15 teams!