Celebrating British Woods

Today sees the start of #GrowninBritain week, which raises awareness of the importance of developing a sustainable future for our woodlands and forests. 

#GrowninBritain recently launched a report, which looked at the state of the British timber industry. There were some eye opening stats in there, which clearly demonstrated that we have the potential to utilise our own woodlands and provide sustainable timber supplies.

I found it particularly staggering that out of all the timber consumed by the UK (1/2 million cubic meters annually) only 10% comes from our own managed woodlands. There is the potential to increase this figure to 20%, without impacting on trees currently standing in woodland. Currently the UK imports vast quantities of species, which grow natively in Britain. It seems crazy to me that we have a great natural resource right on our doorstep and yet instead we import, which has an environmental cost as we move timber across sea and road.

British wood

As a small workshop focusing on handmade fine furniture we're not using vast quantities of timber; therefore we are in the lucky position of not needing to worry about extensive supply chains. We are able to source great British woods by working with small, independent timber specialists, who allow us the freedom to rummage through and hand select boards, often specifically for each commission.

british wood at timber yard

Having said that, I believe every maker and workshop, large and small, has a choice to make about the values they hold and the woods they choose to use.  When I established Petrel I set out a few principals on the kind of business I was proud to put my name to. I wanted to create a business that was authentic and responsible, the choice to use only British hardwoods is a foundation of these values.

We have such a wonderfully broad range of timbers available in this country that we should be celebrating. I have worked with a range of our native species, some of which are extraordinary. The quality of our native walnut and oak in particular is second to none in my opinion and I have returned to them time and again in my pieces.

samples of British woods

I am looking forward this #GrowninBritain week to blowing the trumpet for British woods in all their variety, beauty and uniqueness. I hope the campaign increases awareness and use of our fine natural resource; it will be excellent for our own homegrown industries and pave the way for better management of our woodlands.

Petrel furniture sideboard in English brown oak and bog oak

Styling the woven bench: our cosy wishlist

Now that the weather has started to cool down, here at Petrel HQ our thoughts have turned to Autumn and we’re thinking about one of our favourite things, how to be cosy.

Petrel furniture woven bench

Over the summer, we launched our new woven bench; a beautiful and comfortable seat made from English olive ash, with a woven Danish cord seat. The bench is a piece that could work in many places: a hallway or conservatory, at a kitchen table or in a bedroom.

petrel furniture woven bench, waxed cord detail

The woven seat features two lines of coloured waxed cord laced through it, which were chosen by my wife and I. We wanted the combination of the colours in the bench to evoke the British countryside, with the soft golden tones representing the changing colours of the late summer landscape.

With the shifting of the seasons we’re coveting cosiness, so here is our wish list for styling the bench for ultimate snugness, featuring great British craft makers we love:

 

1.     A blanket for keeping our knees (and hard working furniture makers hands) warm from Ardalanish.

2.     We think the colours in this lovely cushion from St Jude's fabrics work perfectly with the yellow and green cord in the bench.

3.     When doesn’t a cup of tea help? We’d love to sit down with a brew in one of Leach potteries cups. 

 

What do you think of our suggestions? How would you style our woven bench?

The wonder of oak - part 1

 

At Petrel HQ, we are busy making for the upcoming Celebration of Craftsmanship and Design furniture show at the end of August, where we'll be exhibiting three pieces. We're really excited about showing our work there and looking forward to meeting people, who'll be able to see and get their hands on our work (a great thing to be able to do with furniture.)

We're passionate about the wonder and diversity of British woods at Petrel and one of the pieces we'll be exhibiting celebrates a wood often associated with the British Isles; the mighty oak.

Our design will pay tribute to oak in a variety of forms, including 4000-year old bog oak from the Fens and brown oak.

Brown oak is formed as a result of a beefsteak fungus growing on the tree, which reacts with the tannin in the tree and changes the colour of the wood, making it a glorious darker and richer brown, occasionally with dramatic streaks.

In preparation for making this piece, we bought an entire tree - a first for Petrel! This is a big outlay for a small workshop, but exciting too as it means we can get amazing quality, consistent colour and interesting details, which will feature throughout the finished piece. We searched long and hard to find the best possible brown oak available and were super lucky to get a superb quality specimen, from a great timber yard only an hour away from the workshop. 

These are our lovely boards (or boules as they are known when you buy the whole log) 

We hand picked this tree, as we loved the consistent deep hazel brown colour and small decorative knots (called pip - a cute name hey! But they can be a pain to deal with,  but give great character to the finished piece.)

The joy of hand picking your timber, is not only so you can get the details you're looking for, but so you also know the provenance of the timber. We believe wood is a precious resource and we take responsibility for crafting our work in woods that we can account for.

Buying from small, independent specialists, enables you to learn the backstory of the wood you buy. As I mentioned, this piece will also use incredibly valuable bog oak. 

I sourced a few boards from a renowned maker, whose dedication to getting the finest bog oak available, sees him travelling to remote fields in the Fens to unearth and assess massive prehistoric logs, to then arrange transport, cutting and conditioning. He has even built a series of custom dehumidifiers, to bring this incredible oak to a stable condition fit for fine furniture.

This process, from getting the oak out of the ground, to becoming ready for use, takes the best part of a year.  After that, once this fine material is on my bench having completed its 4000 year long journey, it is a unique feeling of responsibility. Working with bog oak demands I respect the material, cut economically, design with sensitivity and don't bugger it up!  

Now, hours and hours of careful, focused work will take this oak on to the next part of its story.

There's still plenty to do before we have a finished piece. But when it is completed, I hope our craftsmanship and our chosen design will show off this beautiful British wood and do justice to the formidable oak  tree.

You can follow our progress in finishing this piece on our twitter feed.

 

Come visit Petrel at craft shows this summer

 

We're really excited at Petrel HQ, as this Summer we're going to be exhibiting at a number of craft shows.

We are looking forward to previewing some beautiful new pieces, as well as talking to people and sharing our love for fine, hand crafted furniture.

We'll be at the Celebration of Craftsmanship and Design, 20-29 August.

Thirlestaine Long Gallery
Bath Road
Cheltenham
Gloucestershire
GL53 7LD

There is a  preview day on Friday 19 August which we'll be at, so we hope to meet some of you there.

 

 

 

So here we go....toe poised for dipping

ImageCome on in the waters great....Greetings and welcome to Workingbench a blog for all things handcrafted. This site will focus on the fine furniture and homewares from studios and workshops throughout these fair British Isles. It will bring you inspiration, maker interviews, news and comment on the main issues impacting the arts and craft industry today. Most of all this site will be a celebration of great British design heralding the people and precious skills needed to produce something handmade and truly exceptional. Please join me on this exciting journey