Taking the Long View

A publicity shot from the archives (taken at a time when dinosaurs still roamed the earth) of yours-truly with the very first Clearwater Chair.
It’s an exciting time to be an Australian woodworker. Shared workshops are popping up all over the place, new Designer/Makers are on the scene and there is a genuine feeling of renewal within the craft. Woodwork is no longer seen as just an old bloke’s hobby and the public has a renewed appreciation for good design and fine work.

I was lucky enough to ride the tail-end of the last craft revival (during the 80’s and 90’s), when making things was being re-discovered and the public appreciated woodwork. I then lived through the craft “doldrums” from about 2008 to about 2015, when making things by hand fell wildly out of fashion. We saw many of the professional wood schools close, the funding for Craft Australia dried up, and many high schools basically crippled their woodworking programs by de-commissioning equipment and changing the rules. Despite all these headwinds, we are in the midst of a new craft revival, with everything from craft cheese to hand-made knives on offer. I think we have Youtube to thank.

Of course, all the Hipsters think they invented good design and fine woodwork and good luck to them.

I’m delighted that so many younger people are looking to make their living from craft work again. It seems like only yesterday that I was an apprentice. Of course, the current generation are going about it in a very different way to my generation, because times have changed so dramatically.

The biggest difference between my generation and the current crop of new makers is the willingness to share workspaces and work collegially. I confess I find the idea of a shared workshop to be a bit of an anathema. I’ve always thought that a maker’s workshop is a tool that evolves with that maker. When I look around the Dunstone Design workshop, I see the history of our evolution as a company and of my evolution as a designer/maker. That said, I spent about 4 years in what could be described as a shared workshop in my early years. We all need somewhere to start.

I also see how employing and training makers has shaped what Dunstone Design is about. I hope that the new generation embraces employing others, as that is a two-way street. Each craftsman’s passage though this workshop has left their mark on what we do and how we do it. There is “corporate knowledge” here that is special to me on an emotional and professional level. I have taken on young craftspeople, trained them to be makers and watched them grow both personally and professionally. I’ve seen some of them marry, I’ve seen others start their own businesses and I’ve shared their satisfaction as their reputations within the industry have grown.

My concern now is the rushed training. Woodwork is test cricket, not a one-day match. There are more and more intense short-courses on offer. Are we trying to turn woodwork in to a spectacle? Woodwork takes time and focus. Even very fast makers take a long time to do good work. It is nothing for a complex cabinet to take 100 hours or more of skilled labour. Resolving a design for production is a marathon, not a sprint. There is a place for short courses, but they need to be focused and achievable.

My reaction to the pressure to “speed things up”  is to offer our 2-week Design & Development Masterclass. Two weeks is still short, but it’s just enough time to change the experience from an adrenaline rush to a more considered pedagogical structure. There is time to reflect and process at night. There is a weekend in the middle to draw, think and, yes, revive.  Adam Rogers and I are thinking long and hard about how to make the most of the time available. How do we condense all those years of wins and losses, experience and mileage, in to a form that can help students? How do we spend enough time with students to really fire up their creativity and hone their skills?

Sketches of the Mae Bench by American designer/maker Adam Rogers.

Woodwork is a long-form game. Design is a lifetime of ideas.  I hope you can join us for the Design & Development Masterclass.