What’s in a name?

Welcome back to my blog. I mentioned last time that I liked Arts and Crafts furniture. There are many fine examples of furniture in this style but I particularly admire the work of Kevin Rodel.  His Cerridwen Bookcase shown here http://bit.ly/WZmIYu incorporates a design influenced by Mackintosh and works wonderfully well.  It makes me want to run into the workshop and start making my own version!

What’s in a name?
Invariably at work or even as a part of a pastime or hobby you learn and use terms that are associated with that subject.  For example, in woodwork we refer to F-clamps and G-clamps because of their shape – you wouldn’t think that these clamps are designed to hold F’s or G’s together – would you?.  So when I bought a planer / thicknesser some years ago I was happy to explain its function to my wife when she asked me what it did.  “The planer part of the machine planes wood so that it is smooth and flat on one face.  The thicknesser trims the opposite face so that it too is smooth and flat but also parallel with the planed face”.  A clear explanation I thought.  My wife looked puzzled though.  “So the thicknesser thins the wood?”.  “Er, yes”.  I could see what was coming.  “So why isn’t it called a thinner?”  She still laughs at me today whenever I talk about using the machine.

Banana Wood
You probably all know what I’m talking about.  It was some years ago when I had my first real experience of wood warping as it came off my table saw.  I was making a grandmother clock out of walnut and had some beautiful pieces of wood to use.  So it was with some surprise and disappointment that when cutting strips with a small cross-section for the door frame from the main body of wood they came off with a substantial bend in them.

Example of banana wood!

Example of banana wood!

Luckily I had my riving knife in place so there was less chance of kick-back but the wood was useless and I had to resort to another plank of wood for my framing.  All due to the internal stresses in the wood being released – unfortunately, quite often those stresses transfer to the woodworker which is confirmed when the air around the woodworker is filled with expletives.  The woodworker achieves a release of these stresses by throwing the useless pieces of wood into a roaring fire!

It’s been a busy time in the workshop over the last few weeks as the build-up to Christmas increased.  But with the last posting day behind us the pressure has reduced and I have time for other things – like this blog. So whatever you are doing over the holiday period let me wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas.



Using your loaf!

Hi everyone, I hope you are well!

I’ve come to realise that the woodworking skills we learn in the workshop can be transferred to other duties to great effect.  The trained eye for measurements, the steady hand and stance necessary for sawing closely to a line and the even breathing whilst performing these woodworking skills all come into use outside the workshop.  For example, in the kitchen.  My family love the taste of freshly baked, but uncut, loaves of bread and with a baker less than a mile away there are not many days of the week when we don’t have to cut a slice or two of bread for a sandwich.  But this is where the above mentioned woodworking skills shines through. Whereas my wife’s and daughter’s attempts at cutting bread generally leaves the end of a loaf looking like the white cliffs of Dover after a particularly bad case of erosion, my finely honed woodworking skills help me to produce even slices and an end which any loaf would be proud of!  Sad, maybe but it just wouldn’t be possible not to cut straight when the rest of my time is spent doing just that!

rectangular bread board

Lost in space
Regular visitors to our website will know that we produce a number of small wooden items for sale.  Whilst they may be small, a lot of effort is put into each item as every customer expects to receive a quality product.  So it’s very disappointing when an item I’ve spent many hours creating gets lost in the post to the customer.  This has happened a couple of times to us although we were lucky the first time around as the Post Office returned the undelivered item to us.  The second and more recent occurrence concerned a particularly unique piece of work.  The customer reported the item as not received a few days after the item had been dispatched.  We recommended waiting a few more days and checking with the Post Office but all to no avail.  And so I had to produce another item and send it by recorded delivery which would provide some form of guarantee of delivery.  Unfortunately, the cost of using this service each and every time would be prohibitive and generally I have no complaints with the Post Office who otherwise provide a great service.  I just hope these losses are few and far between.

Christmas is just around the corner
Yes, I’m sorry to raise the issue but in a business like ours we started thinking about Christmas, new product lines and the stock we might need, in September.  So in the “run-up” to the winter holiday season we are all stocked up and ready to go. We are in a better position than we were last year though as I still had my full-time office job and only had the evenings and weekends to complete orders.  Now, of course, all my time is concentrated on woodworking and I love every minute of it!  Roll on Christmas!

christmas bowl




Best Sellers

Last week’s best sellers are up and showing on our web pages today.  Our mini box is always a popular item especially with soon-to-be-married couples who use the box for holding their rings.  It makes you feel good that you are helping someone make their special day that little bit extra special.  That’s why we take great care when producing each and every item.


We’ve had a great summer here in the UK and Eeva and I have enjoyed our holiday in Finland again this year though, if the truth be told, the weather in Finland in July was not that great!  Finland is famed for it’s wood – particularly pine – and it seems as though every inch of available space is used for growing pine trees. So it’s no surprise that there are a lot of woodworkers in Finland producing a host of quality goods. We have a bread cutting board made from pine which still releases the heady aroma of pine whenever we use it.  Reindeer antlers are also in good supply in Finland and so it is not unusual to see the merging of wood and antler to very good effect.  Keep an eye on our website as we will shortly be adding new products, one of which utilises antler.

Banana Wood
You probably all know what I’m talking about.  It was some years ago when I had my first real experience of wood warping as it came off my table saw.  I was making a grandmother clock out of walnut and had some beautiful pieces of wood to use.  So it was with some surprise and disappointment that when cutting strips with a small cross-section for the door frame from the main body of wood they came off with a substantial bend in them.  There wasn’t much I could do with them however other than select another piece of wood and hope for the best!



Have a good week.


Tea at the Ritz

Time has flown by since my last blog so it is time to bring you up-to-date with events in and out of the workshop.

I was kept busy in the week leading up to Father’s Day.  The personalised red and chrome wine bottle stopper seemed to be the favourite choice for a present for dads.  As I mentioned before I like to set up a small paint spray booth outside the workshop but I am at the mercy of the weather.  Although we had some showers during the week they weren’t enough to stop painting so I have been lucky in that respect.

I also made a couple of keepsake boxes with cherry lids.  I have mostly relied upon my table saw to cut mitres on the box sides but have not had a 100% success rate with this method.  I have made numerous jigs in the past to simplify and speed up the process but these have not always been effective.  Knowing how much some people praise the flexibility of their bandsaw I thought I’d try cutting the mitres on my bandsaw and I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised by the results.  I think that, with a few tweaks, this may be the way ahead for me in future.

The demand for product personalisation is still good and our pyrography tools are put to good use.  Sycamore is without doubt the easiest wood material to burn due to its pale colour and almost non-existent grain. But we do personalise a range of other woods some of which are not as easy to burn.  Ash, for example, has lovely colour and tones plus wonderful grain patterns.  But these patterns make the wood very textured with hard and soft areas which react differently to being burned.  Usually these issues can be overcome by burning slowly and with a low temperature so that scorching does not occur.

10Demo-RBburn1I mentioned last time that my wife and I were going to the Ritz (could be the name of a song!) for afternoon tea.  Well, we dressed up in our finest clothes and set forth on public transport arriving at Green Park tube station which is right next door to this prestigious hotel.  The afternoon tea is held in the hotel’s Palm Court and we were shown to our seats along with many other customers.  (This event is so popular that we had to book 3 months in advance!). The surroundings were magnificent as was the choice of teas on the menu.  Unfortunately, neither of us are tea aficionados so we played safe and chose the Ritz Royal English which was lovely.  There were copious supplies of tea, dainty sandwiches and, of course, cream and chocolate cakes.  Delicious!  It was a lovely day out.

Afternoon Tea at the Ritz

Afternoon Tea at the Ritz

Happy woodworking!


Summer in February

I stumbled upon the work of Kevin Rodel recently.  I love his Cerridwen Bookcase which I’ve added below.   The Arts and Crafts style is complimented by the Mackintosh style pattern on the doors.  The use of contrasting materials is stunning.  Check out his other work at www.kevinrodel.com.

The work of Kevin Rodel

Cerridwen Bookcase – The work of Kevin Rodel

Our busy spell continued this week in the workshop with orders for keepsake boxes, wine bottle stoppers, a smartphone stand and a magazine rack.  I was lucky with the weather all week (well, most of the time) which allowed me to set up my paint spray “booth” outside to paint the tops for the wine bottle stoppers.  The booth (a large cardboard box) did suffer from an unexpected heavy shower on one occasion though.  I was out running at the time and wasn’t able to rescue the box so we both got wet!  I survived but the box didn’t.

It’s true team work at Cairn Wood Design with me making the products and my wife doing the personalisation. It’s an arrangement that works well.  We had a break on Tuesday though and went to see the film premier of “Summer in February” starring, amongst others, Dan Stevens of Downton Abbey fame.  His character in this film was similar to his DA role so we didn’t really see another side of him.  We enjoyed the film and the “evening off”.

Eeva and I are being treated to Afternoon Tea at the Ritz next week so we are very much looking forward to that.  We seem to be gallivanting around lately which is most unusual and it’s harder when we are busy but we couldn’t miss such an opportunity.  We’ll just have to burn the midnight oil to keep up!


Not just woodwork …

Things are pretty busy in the workshop just now probably due to the forthcoming Father’s Day gift giving.  So last week I inconveniently took time out for other activities!  Well, they say that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.  So what did I get up to?  On Wednesday I went for my long run just before lunch.  Ok, so it was only 6 miles but for me this is quite an achievement.  A stay in hospital recently (albeit a short stay) has set me back months in my running build up. But I’m taking a philosophical view and I’m just pleased to be out running again.  Endurance will come in time.  The run took me an hour but with stretching, showering and eating lunch I was away from the workshop for a good couple of hours – at a time when I couldn’t really afford it.

OK so if that wasn’t bad enough on Thursday my wife and I took our two youngest granddaughters to Drusilla’s Park which is near to Alfriston in West Sussex.  Drusilla’s is a children’s zoo and play area and the last time we went there our youngest granddaughter was about 1 year old and was scared by the animals.  This time, a year on, and the little girl loved it.  I must admit that it’s a great place for adults too and we spent a good part of the day there.  It takes about 90 mins to drive there and the same back of course so my time in the shop was practically nil.

Thomas the Tank Engine at Drusilla's

Thomas the Tank Engine at Drusilla’s

I obviously enjoy spending time in the workshop and it’s great when the warmer weather comes so that I can have the door open (no windows in the workshop) as it can feel a bit claustrophobic when the door is closed.  So it’s good to get out and spend some time with the grand kids away from the bench.  I did have to spend time over the weekend though to  ensure that deadlines are met.

Next week I have no outings planned so progress should be on target.  Fingers crossed.



Tea breaks will never be the same

New ideas for products are often staring us in the face.  How many times do we “make do” or repeat the same way of doing things over and over although there is probably a little voice somewhere at the back of our minds saying “Why am I doing this again”? or “I wish someone would invent an easier way to do this”.  It happens all the time I bet.  It was like this for me whenever we had friends or family around for coffee and I volunteered to serve the drinks.  Any more than two mugs of coffee meant more than one trip from the kitchen to the lounge and back again and then there may be another trip for the biscuits.  And it would be just my luck that whilst having my hands full one or more doors would have closed and it would mean putting down a mug to open the door thus increasing the chances of spilling the drinks.  Using a tray was a possibility but again it uses up both hands and on those odd occasions that you are bringing your loved one a cuppa in bed then it’s a bit of a balancing act climbing up the stairs with a tray of drinks.  If only someone would invent more hands to make life easier!


Drinks Carrier

Drinks Carrier by Cairn Wood Design ©

It was this very dilemma that gave me the idea to design a drinks carrier.  This simple device allows one person to carry up to 4 drinks at one time and with one hand.  This means that you can carry the biscuits in the other hand, or open doors and even (the safety guys will like this) hold the handrail while climbing the stairs. Or you could even carry another 4 drinks in the other hand!  Unlike a tray, the carrier helps prevent spillage as one’s body movements are not transferred to the carrier in the same way.  It’s been a great success in our household so much so that there are plenty of volunteers to carry the drinks so I don’t often get the chance to use it!  I’m not complaining.  Now, whatever happened to those biscuits?


A light hearted look at life and woodworking (and other interesting observations…)


Hello and welcome to my first blog for Cairn Wood Design.  I am Andy Williamson and together with my wife Eeva (that’s us in the photo) we launched our on-line company Cairn Wood Design in April 2012.  What prompted this sudden change of occupation you may ask (I was previously a training manager in the marine industry)?  Let’s just say that an opportunity arose with my old employ that I couldn’t refuse and it gave me the chance to throw all my energies into my passion for WOODWORKING.  I can almost hear the screams of despair (or is it laughter) from some of you readers who either may have attempted this leap of faith themselves or have heard about the warnings that it ain’t easy to make a living from your hobby.

eeva and andrew

Yep, I’ve heard all those warnings too but equally you won’t make a success of a business if you are not PASSIONATE about what you are doing.  I’ve read a lot about starting a business and I would suggest, if you considering this route, that you do your research too.  Try this article from The Design Trust (www.thedesigntrust.co.uk) “Why ‘turning your passion into a profit’ isn’t necessarily a good thing” and if you are still enthusiastic after reading then go for it.

One of the first things anyone starting a business needs to do (you will learn) is write a Business Plan.  OK, that shouldn’t be so difficult – I know what I’m going to make.  So, let’s see.  Step 1 – think up a good company name.  Mmmh, that will be easy, I’ll do that later.  Step 2 – Write down your mission statement.  Eh?  Yeah, yeah that will come later.  Step 3 – How much money will you make in the first year? Who will your clients be? How many products will you sell? How will you market yourself?  Aaaarghh!  I thought I was going to be a worker of wood when in fact I need to be a worker of miracles!  After much more reading and head scratching I ended up with a business plan, a headache and a bald patch!

Out in the workshop peace and calm settles around me as I sit on a stool clutching a cup of coffee and taking deep breaths.  My eyes rest on a notice pinned to the workshop door.  “A man’s house is his castle, but his workshop is his sanctuary” – how true.  This is where I can forget about the administration of the business and get to grips with the manufacturing.  Actually, my wife looks after the administration side much better than I would and she leaves the manufacturing to me so the partnership works well.  I am planning new products for Cairn Wood Design and since venturing into self employment I look at things differently now.  I wonder whether a product made from plastic or metal can be transformed if made from wood or if the design of something can be improved?  It’s a challenge I enjoy very much as I know there is a solution somewhere – I just need to work it out.  My sketch-pad sheets look more like doodles but believe me there might be a gem of an idea there somewhere!

I have made several pieces of furniture over the years and I have a particular liking for the simple lines and construction details of Arts and Crafts furniture.  But I’m not a slave to it and there are other styles out there that can equally appeal.  I greatly admire those woodworkers / cabinet makers who demonstrate real skill (whatever the style) and there are lots out there.  For example I am forever amazed at the marquetry work of Silas Kopf.  You can see an example of his works at www.silaskopf.com.  The more woodwork I do the more I appreciate the craftsmanship of such work.  Let me know who or what inspires you.

I’m also on the look out for interesting examples of furniture and other woodworking media through Pinterest – see an example below.  There is no set theme – there are just a bunch of photographs of whatever takes my fancy and you can see what these are by following this link http://www.pinterest.com/4ndyw/creative-woodwork.   There’s not much on the board yet but keep checking back to see what’s new.  Perhaps you can let me know what you like – or don’t like as the case may be!

salvaged birch branches

That’s all from me for now.  Let me know your experiences of starting a new business or what captivates your interest in the woodworking world.  My next blog will come out in about a month so until then keep chipping away!


P.S. While perusing an American woodwork magazine I came upon an advert for Laguna machinery which made me smile.  I’m sure they won’t mind me quoting their ad here.

“The fire glistened in the background.  She lay with her head in Ben’s lap, her blue eyes filled with love, love, love.  He looked happy, content and in love.

His eyes were glistening, his mouth smiling, and his mind was in the garage.  Now he had his dream shop, complete with award winning bandsaw, state-of-the-art table saw and cyclone dust collector from Laguna.

They both sighed with bliss” :-)