Art & Design Tuesday, November 1st Words by: Mark Bowen, pictures by: Mark Bowen. Illustration: Lauren Rogers, Freepik.com

The Herefordshire Carpenter

Art & Design Tuesday, November 1st

The Herefordshire Carpenter

The workplace need not be a place of wall-to-wall misery; your days spent watching the clock, quietly plotting to overthrow your colleagues . Some people really, really love their jobs. For this series - part of Herefordshire Live's #BusinessWeek - we've tracked down some of these elusive creatures to ask how, and why, they can't get enough of the day job.

Joe Thomas runs his own carpentry business in Lingen, deep in the north Herefordshire countryside, a few short miles from Wales. He works out of a workshop built for him by his father in the family garden in idyllic isolated surroundings.

Joe Thomas, Herefordshire carpenter.

I like the problem solving. You have to make what you build fit into a specific environment, and everyday that's different. You solve a problem once and you may never come across that problem again. That slow building of skills over the years then allows you to tackle a variety of problems with ease.

I like the materials. The sheer pleasure of pushing through a piece of timber and the smell it gives off, and the resistance and the noise.

I source things locally. I might go and get a wind blown tree from the wood that is half a mile away and bring it down here and you will get a porch out of it and a table. That whole process from taking something that was growing to the finished product, that potentially can be in someone’s family for generations, there is a great deal of satisfaction in it.

Making doors and windows is my bread and butter. But the fun and the passion comes from the unusual and something you can put a bit of your own character to, be that a one off porch made from timber that you find lying around or a piece of furniture - something that is your concept from beginning to end for no other reason than you want to make it.

There's a story behind the giant anglepoise lamp which I showed at h.Art. I had some Velux window winders; lovely brass things I pulled out of a skip. I kept them because they are quite expensive things to buy but they are a lovely bit of engineering as well. I always thought when I get my own place I will get them fitted and there was never any prospect of me building my own place or so it seemed. Eventually I just had this idea of what else could I use them for, if I can’t use them for their original purpose what else can I do with them. One day I was looking at my own anglepoise lamp on my desk and I thought actually you could articulate those joints with a telescopic winder. Then in a farm sale I found this big beat-up aluminium heat shade and I thought that looks about the right size. From there it’s take your diameter of your shade and scale directly off the old anglepoise lamp and that is the size it turned out at. The great thing about it is this isn’t done for a client, it’s just done because it was an idea in my head and I wanted it to be out of my head. The individual problems with it were brilliant. They were fun to play with so you have got a wooden universal ball joint in a laminated shell which had its own problems - after a year of being in a conservatory, in a really hot environment, the ball had shrunk to the point where the grip no longer gripped it, no matter how tight you turned that screw it wouldn’t grip it. After a little while of thinking about that I woke up one morning and had this idea of a washer that actually applies pressure directly to the ball. It’s little problems like that that make my job fun.

You’ve got to throw away your level when you're working on old, eccentric properties. Everything is done by eye, squares, levels, any sort of set geometry is irrelevant. It needs to fit in organically, it needs to look soft like it has always been there. I think that is probably a skill that a lot of modern day carpenters don’t have because they are not required to work with it on a day-to-day basis. I think it requires a little artistic flair. There’s pleasure in that, who wants to be cutting the same 90 degree metres the whole time?

A piece of furniture is kind of an expression of yourself. You are not necessarily inhibited by shape, you do start from scratch. Occasionally someone will ask you to make something that fits in to a specific style they have in their house but quite often I make a piece of furniture and I see if someone wants to buy it. Doing things like that produces the best results I find because it allows freedom of thought, freedom of expression and for you to exercise your skills to the best of your ability and not be inhibited by trying to imagine what somebody else has in their head. 

Nothing in furniture happens quickly. A week is the bare minimum, that's my experience of it anyway. A lot of people these days look at something and they don't see the labour and the skill involved in it, they just see something and think I could get something similar at IKEA for a quarter of the price but it's not the same. 

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