Friday 6 July 2018
The Southern Fellowship of Woodworkers is, so far as I can ascertain, only one of two such groups of predominantly amateur furniture makers in the country. Its membership includes Surrey, Hampshire, the Isle of Wight, Sussex and Berkshire. The other federation operates in Kent.
So what entices makers out of their cosy workshops and garages to travel miles to meet their fellows on a regular basis? I was invited to tea and some wickedly buttery biscuits in the well-appointed garage-with-a-room-on-top workshop of Colin Waters, the chairman of the Southern Fellowship, where I met its founder member Peter Guyett, secretary Roger Hardwick, and four other stalwarts of this 51-strong membership.
Sitting on an assortment of chairs in a double garage which serves as timber and materials store as well as home to a collection of mountain, road and racing bicycles ridden by Colin and his son, I began to see the attraction of belonging to a fellowship of like-minded people. It is the opportunity to poke around other workshops, ask questions about their work practices, why they choose particular machines, how they cut their joints, how they finish their work. It is the chance to discover that you are not the only one with particular problems and, moreover, to find out that several of your fellows have their own solutions. It is the opportunity to look at what others are making and how they are doing it. In short, it is about not feeling that all work has to be in isolation.
The SFW began in 1992 in response to an attempt by a magazine to set up a countrywide fellowship. What evolved was a programme that encompasses monthly visits to places like professional workshops and timber yards during the summer and monthly meetings at the Mytchett Centre in Surrey during the winter, when woodworking experts give well-attended talks.
Recent visits have included trips to see the workshops of Mark Ripley, Hugo Eglestone, Richard Linford and the Barnsley Workshop while talks have been given by makers with an interesting tale to tell, like Luke Griffiths, 22, who won a Medallion of Excellence at the recent WorldSkills international competition, works at Cimitree and teaches at Chichester College.
Peter explained that members talk to the winter meetings about aspects of woodworking and pieces they have made.
Professional members include David Barron, and most of the amateurs are retired.
Peter did not think there was any other significant group other than the Kent group. The Kent group was about teaching whereas theirs was about exchanging views on how members do things, learning from pro makers by visits and talks by major makers and designers.
At its peak the fellowship had 65 members, numbering among them even some female makers – currently it is an all-male membership – and they would like to attract new members, hopefully some women too.
Peter said they were going to try to do a couple of shows a year to recruit people, and a better website was being created.
Membership is Â£10 a year and four newsletters go out a year, some to members as far-flung as the Orkneys and Devon who moved away but like to remain in contact.
With the tea drunk we eagerly moved upstairs to the real business of the morning, to inspect the workshop and see what Colin was making.
Colin and his workshop
Colin Waters largely made his workshop himself, getting steel beams put in to support the upstairs room over the double garage. Light pours in from all four sides, it is fully insulated and kept warm in winter by a single oil heater. There is an air compressor under the stairs with a line which feeds upstairs, and extraction courtesy of the Axminster ADE2200 in the floor space and five blast gates connected to the compressor.
He made a router table to a Norm Adams design and has a Scheppach 260mm planer-thicknesser and tablesaw, a Hammer N4400 bandsaw and a VicMarc lathe.
Lying on the tablesaw were a book about chairs and how to make them, plus drawings, to enable him to copy and adapt from a Mark Ripley design run in Furniture and Cabinet Making magazine.
When I asked the group if they preferred to make from their own designs or to be inspired by the work of others I received a mixed response.
Colin said he usually worked from his own designs but in this instance had not made chairs before so was glad to have some guidance. Others were split between working from their own designs and preferring to copy the work of others.
He was making the chairs as a wedding present for his son, from a mix of English white and ripple ash with brown oak splines, and members bombarded him with questions about his own technique and comparisons with their own work.
To find out more about the SFW go to www.sfwoodworkers.co.uk