I thought these questions I asked John might be interesting as well as helpful and especially to any young and aspiring woodworkers around the world. I learned many years ago that when any young person captures a vision for his and her life, a unique mechanism engages and all the synapses somehow begin to form coordinates by which he and she can map out a course to achieve life as crafting artisan.
Some things have yet to happen for John, and to me he seems so well equipped for his age because he really gave himself to his work. We already miss him here in North Wales, but watching all the parts of his life past, present and future will I know prove rewarding.
How long have you known PS?
I’ve known Paul since 2007.
How did you get to know him?
My dad became quite close friends with him, and since both my dad and I love working with our hands, the opportunity arose for us to learn from Paul how to make a workbench.
How did you get an apprenticeship with Paul?
It was only in 2011, once I had finished school and didn’t know what next step I would take that I decided to accept Paul’s offer he had made some time back for me to learn the trade from him.
The duration of my apprenticeship was just under two years, which I completed in two ten month long stages.
What did you learn the most from your time in the apprenticeship?
I believe that out of everything I leaned during my apprenticeship, one of the most important things is to have a clear vision of what I want to do with my craft and why I’m doing it. Though there are some crucial elements in furniture making, including the sharpness of the tools and the precision required to achieve the desired level of craftsmanship, I realised that if I don’t know the reason to why I’m doing it, and if I have no clear direction to follow, then there’s not much point pursuing it as a career.
What work do you want to do in the future?
I’ve always liked teaching. Only when the person has a passion for learning of course, so in the future I would really like to teach woodworking. I don’t quite know exactly what specifically, what audience or even to what purpose, but there’s a lot for me to do for now, so I’ll be thinking all these things through this year and we shall see later on where I take my craft.
How do envisage your life unfolding as a craftsman?
I know that what I have to do now without a doubt is to put all my skills into practice, and over the course of the next few months, focus on designing and making various pieces of furniture to gain confidence and experience. I will also be trying out some of the different types of wood I can get hold of fairly locally, and find out a bit more about the materials available and also the styles of furniture common to this area.
What will you see as important now that you have skills?
Having learnt so many different skills and techniques, I will be spending more time concentrating on the designing aspect, which I’ve not really paid too much attention to. I feel like now is a good opportunity to experiment with different styles, and designs; you make a piece and then you want to change an aspect of it, make it in a different wood, try out different finishes…So this next stage will be a time to think, make, observe, push myself and not conform myself to ‘make a piece, sell a piece’. Even though I may have to do that to be able to continue in this challenge of a route I chose, which I don’t think ever ends.
There’s a significant advantage for me in Argentina, and that is that people pay a lot more attention to the quality of furniture in general, more so than I’ve noticed in the UK at least. People really do consider the durability of a piece of furniture. Therefore there’s a higher percentage of the population willing to pay more for a quality product, which works to my advantage. And in that sense, I think it’s very reasonable to plan on making a living from making and selling furniture, knowing of course that I will have to use some machine methods for most of the stock preparation, but practically the rest I’ll be using exclusively hand tools methods. Another thing I understood this year is that if I really want to make it as a furniture maker, I have to be willing to work many more hours and for less money. And I suppose that’s true of anyone who wants to work for themselves. But it’s so different to working for someone else that it’s not a burden, but a joy, so long as you love doing what you do.
What are your plans for the first year of your return?
For now I think the best way to start is to set myself short term targets so that by the end of 2015 I’ll have a good variety of pieces made and finished, both to acquire the practice and to have a portfolio of my work to start promoting my furniture.
Are there many woodworkers and furniture makers where you will be living?
I know, there are a lot of people doing general carpentry in the area, using nothing but machines, and those making furniture have also taken mass manufacturing methods. There are very few who know how to use hand tools, and obviously there is nowhere near the amount of quality hand tools like there is in the UK. So far I haven’t seen or heard of anyone making fine furniture, using traditional methods.