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Box making with Andrew Crawford in England

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Blog entry by RogerBean posted 05-18-2011 08:31 PM 3436 reads 4 times favorited 13 comments Add to Favorites Watch

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!

Roger

-- "Everybody makes mistakes. A craftsman always fixes them." (Monty Kennedy, "The Checkering and Carving of Gunstocks", 1952)



13 comments so far

View CharlieM1958's profile

CharlieM1958

15706 posts in 2906 days


#1 posted 05-18-2011 08:51 PM

Thanks, Roger.

Perhaps when I retire I can devote the time necessary to bring my skills somewhere even in the same universe with the likes of you and Andrew.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View majeagle1's profile

majeagle1

1418 posts in 2184 days


#2 posted 05-18-2011 09:20 PM

You beat me to it Charlie…... Thanks for the post and the trip to England!
This is one trip that I really would like to make in person…. just to meet and experience Andrew Crawford would be pure thrill. One of these days I hope…............. maybe I’ll hit the lotto!! LOL

Keep up the good work and again, like Charlie said, I would love to be even somewhat close to having the skills and talent both you and Andrew have. Again, One of these days….... I’ll keep on trying!

-- Gene, Majestic Eagle Woodworks, http://majesticeagleww.etsy.com/, http://www.flickr.com/photos/majesticeagle/

View larryw's profile

larryw

298 posts in 1349 days


#3 posted 05-19-2011 03:35 AM

Thanks Roger, for a novice box maker such as myself this info and work is inspirational.

-- "everything is beautiful, but not everyone sees it" ~confucius-551-449 b.c.~

View a1Jim's profile (online now)

a1Jim

112308 posts in 2264 days


#4 posted 05-19-2011 06:11 AM

The ultimate in box making .

-- http://artisticwoodstudio.com Custom furniture

View Maveric777's profile

Maveric777

2691 posts in 1764 days


#5 posted 05-19-2011 02:26 PM

Awesome look into your incredible trip Roger. Half way through reading I could help but close my eyes and day dream about making the trip to meet him myself. Ohhh I can just imagine what kind of experience that was.

Think I will take your advice and snag his book (seems like that will the closest I will get to hearing what he has to say any time soon…lol).

Thanks for the cool blog Roger. I really enjoyed the read… And short daydream…lol

-- Dan ~ Texarkana, Tx.

View Randy63's profile

Randy63

232 posts in 1579 days


#6 posted 05-19-2011 06:30 PM

Having a repeat visit with Andrew again this year must have been outstanding. Having a year to digest what you had picked up from him last year then being able to discuss lingering questions and techniques this year must have been quite satisfying. I can only imagine he was quite thrilled with the work you’re doing as well. Great to see some of Andrew’s shop, setups, and equipment.

-- Randy, Oakdale, Ca.

View Billp's profile

Billp

784 posts in 2887 days


#7 posted 05-19-2011 06:37 PM

Roger glad you made it back to England and share time with Andrew. Im sure your work will be elivated to a whole new level and I look forward to your future creations. Billp.

-- Billp

View RogerBean's profile

RogerBean

1180 posts in 1641 days


#8 posted 05-20-2011 12:35 AM

Thanks to everyone for looking in and for the kind comments. Guess I need to get to work and produce something worthwhile. I’m very enamored of these “shaped front” boxes; ones that look as if they could have been produced around 1800 or so. I hope others have the opportunity to share some time with Andrew. We box makers like to keep pushing our limits, and the experience in Shropshire certainly broadens one’s horizons. Thanks to all for the encouragement.
Roger

-- "Everybody makes mistakes. A craftsman always fixes them." (Monty Kennedy, "The Checkering and Carving of Gunstocks", 1952)

View reggiek's profile

reggiek

2240 posts in 1957 days


#9 posted 05-20-2011 02:08 AM

Wow….I make boxes to practice and improve my skills in different types of joinery….boxes are great practice and learning tools for me….

I really enjoyed this post though as to see such an extraordinary level of craft….it is just amazing….Those boxes are stunning….spectacular….I run out of sufficient adjectives to describe them….I envy your chance to learn from such a master craftsman….what an opportunity – and thank you for sharing a part of it with us.

-- Woodworking.....My small slice of heaven!

View tomd's profile

tomd

1770 posts in 2458 days


#10 posted 05-20-2011 05:16 AM

Have a nice trip Roger and give us the scoop when you get back.

-- Tom D

View grizzman's profile

grizzman

7095 posts in 1991 days


#11 posted 01-05-2012 01:21 AM

well i certainly believe that your work here is amazing, and im glad to have learned about andrews work as well, i doubt i ever make such a fine box as you have done, but after looking at your work i am inspired to make sure the boxes i do make are as well made as possible, i wish i could come to where you are roger and learn some thing from you, but probably not in any future plan, you have inspired me to try harder and i will….thank you for you effort to help me…grizz…....bob

-- GRIZZMAN ...[''''']

View NBeener's profile

NBeener

4806 posts in 1861 days


#12 posted 01-05-2012 01:44 AM

Holy cow !!!

I have enough difficulty popping up, and taping knocked-down corrugated moving boxes, so … WOW !

I’m envious of the trip, and just pretty well flabbergasted (for Andy: gobsmacked) by the artistry and talent evident in those projects.

Enjoy your trip. Soak it ALL in, and … thanks for sharing !

-- -- Neil

View Johnnyblot's profile

Johnnyblot

318 posts in 964 days


#13 posted 03-26-2012 07:43 PM

Hi Roger
I’m so pleased I’ve found a fellow student of Andrew’s. It is very difficult to convey to other people just how talented people like Andrew really are. I spent a wonderful weekend, Saturday and Sunday at his workshop in beautiful Shropshire. Suffice to say I used to spend hours trawling through his website, before and after my visit. Seeing your photo’s of his workshop have brought it all back- Bless you!
It was after a weekend with Andrew that ignited my passion still further for woodworking, leading onto a 12 week course with David Charlesworth, in Hartland, North Devon.
David and Andrew have been great mentors. They make it all seem so easy when the mysteries are stripped away.
Your box-making skills are a credit to yourself and to Andrew, so wonderful to see. I take my hat off to you Sir and raise a pint of fine ale to your health!
Cheers,
John.

-- Gossamer shavings just floating around the back yard….-Bandit

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