Fine furniture maker, furniture making training courses, bespoke furniture, cabinetmaking training

Student Testimonials

Tim Chadsey

(40 Week Furnituremaking Course)


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After 25 years in professional photography, I was in a position to start again with a new occupation which would be true to this ideal, and felt that cabinetmaking would involve and satisfy all my creative and practical talents.

As I couldn’t be away from home for extended periods, I chose Jonathan’s furnituremaking course because I could drive there daily. I am very glad that I did! From the first telephone conversation I knew this was a man I could get along with and when we met I was convinced that I could learn from him.

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Not that he is a teacher in the conventional sense; there are few fixed lessons and often a general discussion beginning in the tea break will transform into 45 minute investigation of some aspect of woodwork or design. Indeed, because he takes only a few students at a time, teaching and learning is much more responsive. Once the basics have been absorbed you get on with a series of projects and work at your own speed, while at the same time learning about design, running a business, dealing with clients and most important of all the wood itself and what can and can’t be done with it.

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Prospective students looking at the details of the course may wonder whether it’s possible to cram all that learning into less than a year but, trust me, it can be done. I had no prior craft skills at all and indeed had never held a plane properly in my life. After ten and a half months I had made furniture I will always be proud of, got a job with a highly respected cabinet maker (who remarked that I had been very well taught), and have since set up my own workshop.

I also have to say that there is also a lot of laughter and life in the workshop. There are many frustrations in learning a new skill, but if it can be done with enjoyment in beautiful surroundings, then it’s a great and fulfilling experience.

Tim Chadsey, 2007
(See Tim’s website, and album of his time in the workshop.)

 
 

Charlie

(4 Week Intermediate Course)


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I just want to say a big thank you for a truly fantastic four weeks. The basic skills I had before the course were developed ten-fold, and I really feel I have an excellent foundation to start making beautiful things.

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I have done various short courses in the past, but I found your course to be different. Your passion for teaching really shines through, and your attention to detail I found to be brilliantly infectious too!

Thank you so much for your time and patience with me.

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Charlie, London, 2012
(See the album of Charlie’s piece under construction.)

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Nick Bagley

40 Week Furnituremaking Course


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I embarked on Jonathan’s furniture and cabinet making course after deciding to take a career-break in 2009 from a construction industry battered by recession. Having worked as a consultant engineer for nine years in London, I swapped my city lifestyle for T-shirts, jeans and an apron, and headed to the rural idyll of Oxfordshire to see if I could learn to make beautiful bespoke furniture, something I had always wanted to do. I was not disappointed.

What I gained from Jonathan’s course is hard to describe in a few paragraphs. I learnt so much that to condense it down would not do it justice. The first couple of months will always stay with me, not just because of the excitement of embarking on something so different from my normal working life, or for the beautiful workshop surroundings in which I was learning, but for Jonathan’s hands-on tuition of the very fundamentals of craftsmanship, use of tools and knowledge of the material with which I would spend the rest of my 40 weeks.

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The basics – which seemed so hard to perfect in the beginning – soon became second nature under Jonathan’s steady guidance and would provide a solid foundation on which to create a beautifully made piece of furniture for my portfolio.

I didn’t just learn how to make fine furniture. Jonathan’s teaching, although not based on a rigid structure, fully imparts the skills needed to understand furniture design as well as the making, and he also shares with you his hard-won experience on how to successfully start and develop a craft-based small business.

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Although I’m not yet in a position to embark on a full-time career as a designer-maker, Jonathan has provided me with the fundamental skills that will stand me in good stead – when I eventually leave the city, put away my Blackberry and laptop, pick up my cherished tools and start a new life as a bespoke furniture maker producing beautiful furniture for future clients.

If you are looking to embark on a journey similar to mine, you’ll be well placed to you start where I did.

Nicholas Bagley, London, 2010
(See the album of Nick’s time in the workshop.)

 
 
 

Graham Rayner

(8 Week Advanced Course)


What I wanted to achieve from doing the course:

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I have been working with wood for as long as I can remember. I am a qualified mechanical & production engineer and also have project management experience. About five years ago I ‘went back to the tools’ and started my own carpentry business. To start off I took what ever work I could find, but I quickly realised that what I enjoy most are the jobs that require the most skill. I learned quickly, aided by reading widely around all aspects of wood working.

 

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My objective now is to ultimately leave the carpentry work and to concentrate on cabinet and furniture making. However, there were key areas where I could not gather all of the information I needed by reading alone, these included: purchasing, drying and storing hardwoods, design, making skills, finishing, and marketing. I could not afford to take a year out, and since I already had a good degree of experience of working with wood and other materials, I didn’t feel I needed a highly structured course which assumes that the student is starting with no knowledge what ever. I came to you therefore firstly because you were able to provide intensive one-to-one tuition, and secondly because you were willing to look at what I already knew and move on quickly in areas where I already have appropriate experience.

Design:

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I was impressed with your assessment of the two pieces of furniture I had made in advance of the course; I went away from our first meeting already able to more effectively criticise the work I was doing and to improve upon it. Your approach to design I feel is excellent and exactly what I needed. You were able to be objective when it comes to function, materials selection etc. and yet also be able to be creative in looking at line, proportion, texture etc. While I am a skilled draftsman, I learned much about how to apply those skills to creating much more artistic work which will ‘sell’ a piece, as well as describe it technically. I believe your guidance was excellent with regard to the selection of a ‘student’ piece, incorporating: work in solid wood, veneered work, frame and panel construction, door and drawer fitting, and the creation of curved pieces in solid wood.

Purchasing Materials:

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I wish I had added an extra day to go with you to one of your local wood suppliers to purchase the timber. I believe there is much I could have learned by that process. However, as a result of purchasing some less than perfect material [from a yard local to me], I learned a number of techniques for overcoming or avoiding problems, which I would not have encountered during the making process if my materials had been perfect. I also benefited enormously from the range of information you were able to provide on specialist suppliers for both tools and materials.

Making:

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The range of making skills I have learned is huge, sometimes building on the knowledge and experience I already had, but often learning skills which were entirely new to me. Of particular use were your analytical approach to planning the work, and the use of jigs both in the making process and for tool preparation. The tuition I received on the use of both hand-tools and machinery was very good.

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While many of my own hand and machine tools were not up to the high standard of the tools available in your workshop, I have learned many skills that have enabled me to use the tools I do have more effectively, both on fine work and on the carpentry and joinery work which forms the core of my current work load. I found the finishing process particularly helpful. This is one of the areas where no amount of reading can replace the skill and experience of a good tutor.

Marketing:

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For me this is perhaps the most difficult area to grasp. Our lunch-time conversations were invaluable in helping me to understand how the fine furniture thing ticks, how and where makers market their products and the various merits of each. I still struggle with how to make the leap from carpenter and joiner to fine furniture maker. At present I intend to continue to make pieces for myself and to take any opportunities that might arise as I visit customers, for other more interesting work. I have already begun to promote the idea that I also make furniture, and I am sure that this approach will help my work to migrate slowly in the right direction. Once I have a small body of suitable work I will produce a good quality web site, but I still don’t know about exhibitions.

What could be done better:

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Really very little. There were a number of times when I might have benefited from having product information in advance of the course, so a list of tools etc to purchase would perhaps be a good idea. I think the only other real problems were created by my feeling exhausted and under pressure due to the time constraint on the course. With hindsight, another week would have been about right for what I set out to achieve (* See note below)

The end result:

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I think a key part of my achievement on your course has been due to your ability to provide appropriate criticism. You were able (and not afraid) to point out areas where my skills and/or execution were lacking, and to provide appropriate guidance to improve in these areas. I have walked away with a wonderful drinks cabinet of which I am very proud. Before the course I could not have designed or made a piece which came close to this standard. More importantly, I have a whole range of new and improved skills which would not only enable me to recreate the piece I have made, but also to apply those skills to other pieces in the future. I also have a good understanding of what a ‘good’ piece of fine furniture is, I can now be critical of my own working practices and products so that I can continue to improve in the future.

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I would be pleased to provide a recommendation to any other prospective students you may have.

Graham Rayner, 2008

(See the album of Graham’s time in the workshop.)

 

(* Note: Graham should have done at least six weeks, but family commitments and his own customers’ pressure meant that he had to aim for an end-result in five week, which he achieved excellently. However this put unsustainable stress on both of us and eight weeks would be a more appropriate timescale for a cabinet-project course for an advanced student. Re tool-lists, I normally prefer students not to purchase equipment prior to starting, as there are specific reasons for using different tools which I like to advise on in detail on the first day of any course, and I try to avoid students making expensive purchases for the wrong items in advance.)

 
 
 

Mary Marsh

(40 Week Furnituremaking Course)


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It is hard to measure and explain just how much you learn on Jonathan’s furniture-making course. By the time you are even half way through it, so much has become second nature that you simply cannot remember how much you didn’t know before.

I had the advantage (although it didn’t always feel like that!) of being four months behind the other students so I could see what I was going to have to do next. This meant that for the seven months that our courses overlapped I was looking at their benches and cabinets and thinking that there was no way that I would ever be able to do what they seemed to be doing with ease. But to my astonishment, four months later, I had achieved just the same as they had.

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Professional furniture makers seeing both the pieces I made and the drawings and designs I produced during my course have asked if the work of my follow students was of an equally high standard. This is obviously good for my ego, but it is also a great compliment to Jonathan and his training that I am able to say quite truthfully that ‘yes, all the work produced by his ex-students is as good or better than mine’.

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I still have much to learn but I feel confident that I have received a really good grounding in the basics of both making and designing fine furniture and I would not hesitate to recommend Jonathan’s course to any aspiring furniture maker.

Mary Marsh, 2007
(See Mary’s website, and album of her time in the workshop.)

 
 
 

 

Russ Hogg

(40 Week Furnituremaking Course)


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I chose Jonathan’s training because I liked his work very much, felt he was someone I could work with, and because I was able to commute easily each day from my home in Reading. I had a background in design, in the virtual world of graphics and websites, and was looking for a way to work with my hands and design for the very real/3d world of wood and furniture.

I found my year (almost) at The Yew Tree workshop to be one of the most rewarding and enjoyable of my life. Besides anything else, the location is a truly beautiful place to go to each day. I had no previous woodworking experience (except at school), and the culture shock couldn’t have been greater coming as I did from a commercial/retail world. I found I quickly became at ease with the tools and daily routines – even the larger machines and saws, which at first daunted me, became second nature by the end of the course. It’s fair to say I was no natural, and my first attempt at the dovetails for the fine wooden box project is best forgotten. However, in picking up the pieces and working through this, I learned some very valuable lessons about craftsmanship.

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Jonathan has a unique, refreshingly direct style, and at times it was no walk in the park. Precision and accuracy are everything, for good reason, and it takes concentration and patience to gets to grips with this. I liked the balance of activities which make up the days – informal discussions, ‘micro-lessons’ for the whole group when a student reaches an important part of their particular project, and lots of time to get on by yourself and make your own decisions. Mistakes, painful as they were in the correction, often proved to be an effective way of learning for me.

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I developed a challenging design for my final cabinet piece, and with Jonathan’s guidance was able to bring it about. Towards the end, working mostly on my own, I really did feel confident in my knowledge/abilities. If I had my time again, one thing I would do differently is choose one or two smaller final project pieces to work on, with a variety of challenges, rather than one large cabinet.

As I write this, I am in the final stages of setting up my own workshop at home (something I never thought I would have the confidence to do) and have some commissions already on the books! Time will tell, but I have no illusions that it will take a long time to build up a sustainable business, and am quite prepared to be doing some (web design) work on the side to make ends meet at least for now.

I’m so glad to have spent my year with Jonathan and the guys on my course. It taught me more than just furniture making – I learnt a lot about myself, and made some very good friends! Parting words? If you’re even half interested in making the step, pick up the phone, and pay Jonathan a visit!

Russ Hogg, Reading, 2013
(See Russ’s website, and the album of his time in the workshop.)
 
 
 

Tony Bramwell

40 Week Furnituremaking Course


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The two great strengths of Jonathan’s course, and the very reason I chose it, are its project-based structure and Jonathan’s insistence on precision and thorough planning in every aspect of making and design.

Once through the first phase of fettling planes and tuning hand-tools (weeks that I found initially exhausting after decades of desk-bound jobs until my recent retirement) we soon moved onto the actual making, first a pair of working trestles then an intricate box with dovetailed and mitred joinery, and I was surprised at how quickly I found myself able to work to such accuracy. I then prepared scale drawings for my own cabinetmaker’s workbench complete with dovetailed sliding tail-vice, and I now get great satisfaction from working at a heavy-duty multifunctional platform of my own construction.

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I am currently in the final stages of the course, working on my own designed pieces. I’ve almost completed a wall-hung display cabinet in cherry, and have now roughed out the walnut for an elegant hall table with two dovetailed drawers and a lacewood veneered top.

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This will be a significant output for a forty-week course, which I know will set me firmly on the path to becoming a designer & maker of fine furniture in my own workshop.

Tony Bramwell, Warrington, 2013
(See the album of Tony’s time in the workshop.)