Last year I wrote a review here on LJ about my visit with Andrew Crawford in England. Andrew has made some of the finest boxes ever produced, and has turned some of his efforts to sharing his knowledge and methods with others. My three days with him last year were so productive and helpful that I decided to spend some more time with him this spring at his shop in Shropshire.
Andrew’s shop is located in a nineteenth century converted barn on the historic Acton Scott farms site (sort of like Colonial Williamsburg) in the heart of Shropshire. It’s instructive to spend some time in a shop devoted exclusively to making boxes.
If you aspire to making fine boxes, time with Andrew is simply the best way to elevate your work to a new level. He is perhaps best known for his complex curved shapes, elaborate inlays and flawless craftsmanship. He shared so much information last visit that I feared that there would be little to discuss on a second visit, but the time seemed to go all too quickly as the discussion was so engaging and enjoyable.
The pic below is one of Andrew’s recent creations. Many more examples of his work are shown on his website (shown later) and are well worth exploring. While he does make some solid wood boxes, his finest work is generally veneered and inlayed.
Now, does that make your pulse speed up, or what?
Like many LumberJocks I’m just an amateur woodworker, building things that interest me for my own use or gifts …or just to see if I can. Retirement now offers more time to spend in my little shop. May as well aim for the best, regardless whether you ever get there. This is supposed to be fun, after all.
On this trip I was interested in talking about the more detailed and technical aspects of box making such as the fitting of complex inlays and curved shapes and corners. The boxes I am currently working on involved shaped fronts, and these pose unique problems with the boxwood edging and the line inlays, not to mention the process of veneering all the odd shapes and pieces. I was also interested in specialized interior construction such as drawers and invisible mechanisms to lock them. Old boxes often contained secret compartments, and Andrew was more than willing to discuss various ways of including these features in a relatively small box.
If you’ve read his books you have a good idea of the range of his knowledge and methods, but in person you quickly learn that the books provide only a small fraction of his knowledge. Perhaps the single most important aspect of building truly fine boxes is what Andrew refers to as “working in small scale.” And indeed, specialized methods and fixtures are required to get those perfect joints and features one sees in his work. It’s not impossible for any reasonably talented woodworker to do the same, but he has worked out procedures and jigs that really help.
We talked a bit about the box makers old nemesis: hinges. Anyone who has made many boxes has certainly spent a good deal of time cursing hinges and the installation thereof. I certainly have (and so has Andrew). The BCSpecialties hinges are nice, but the non-quadrant version requires rebating for the square pivots or else they will splinter the back of the box. Brusso makes a well machined hinge, but their quadrants are a bit heavy looking for my taste, and require an expensive router jig to install them properly. And the large quadrant hinges cost about the same as the SmartHinge.
Andrew recently decided to offer his SmartHinge to other box makers and the hinge is everything he claims it is. They are precisely machined in Australia and they function flawlessly. They are also the easiest to install perfectly, and are beautiful as fine jewelry.
They are not cheap, but for a fine box, they are well worth it. I plan to use them exclusively in the future.
Andrew accomplishes many critical steps with a disc sander, and he proudly showed me his latest purchase of a 24” (thats right 24”) dual side disc sander. This beast was awaiting the installation of three phase power, but was impressive just sitting there! He has long used smaller 8” and 12” disc sanders for many joinery and inlay operations. I now do the same.
A while back I posted my “Man Box” project, and as the recipient of this box was in London, I was able to take it with me for Andrew to have a look. One is always apprehensive about showing one’s work to someone like Andrew, and I’m no different, but the Man Box came through reasonably well; Andrew felt my lines were a bit heavy, the top tray a bit too shallow, and of course SmartHInges would have been an improvement. But otherwise he rather liked it. We talked a good deal about the shaped front approach and various ways of approaching construction.
I have a couple more shaped front boxes to finish up and post before beginning something new. The next one is pictured below in unfinished form, but will be completed in the next couple weeks, and I will post the finished product.
Certainly, this kind of work is not to everyone’s taste, but if any of you are interested in making fine boxes, and contemplating a similar trip I would strongly encourage you to go ahead. Andrew offers more information on his web site at www.fine-boxes.com and in the “Courses” section he also provides info on accommodations and the wonderful local area. We stayed at Mynd House (B&B) in Little Stretton again this year and found the hospitality of Fran and Maurice to be exceptional. For those not interested in the trip, Andrew’s website alone is good for many hours viewing of dazzling and inspirational box work.
I have no doubt but what the impact of Andrew’s influence on my work has been nothing short of enormous. It would have taken me years, if ever, to figure out what Andrew showed me in a few days.
Cheers. I’ll lift a pint to all the other box makers out there!
-- "Everybody makes mistakes. A craftsman always fixes them." (Monty Kennedy, "The Checkering and Carving of Gunstocks", 1952)