"I've been bashing away with wood ever since I could reach a bench" says box maker Peter Lloyd. But it wasn't until he was in his late 30s, some 12 years ago that he began making boxes professionally. Before that he'd had all sorts of careers - from air traffic control at Heathrow to teaching craft and design in Botswana.
In the small workshop at the end of his garden in Cumbria Peter transforms beautiful hand picked wood into unique contemporary boxes that, unusually have no metal parts – even the hinges are wooden. His commissions vary from luxurious silk-lined jewellery cases to practical compartmentalised seed boxes.
Peter uses English hardwood almost exclusively and travels hundreds of miles in his never ending hunt for unusual wood. He talks enthusiastically about past "gems", including rusty red burr elm with green streaks, ripple sycamore and deep peat-black bog oak.
Because the boxes don't need great structural strength, Peter often uses the knarled and irregular pieces of wood that most woodworkers reject. He is fascinated by the woods history and is full of anecdotes: he's used wood from Hever Castle in Kent, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, yew from the Pilgrims Way footpath and has even discovered shrapnel and lead shot buried deep beneath the bark.
"Making boxes is a bit like making bread" says Peter, "only it stretches over about six years rather than six hours". An important part of the process is drying the wood and Peter leaves his outside for two to three years, brings it into his workshop for several more years and lets it rest for several weeks between each stage of construction. "There are two times when wood looks beautiful" claims Peter. "The first is when a newly felled tree is fed into a saw mill and a slab falls off showing the grain, swirling and colour. The second is when you start sanding the wood. But, during the intervening years it's grey and boring".
He almost always makes a box out of a single piece of wood, carefully incorporating the idiosyncrasies of the grain into the design. "The wood more or less tells me what sort of box it wants to become" smiles Peter. Once it's dry he planes the wood, marks out the design, then cuts and assembles it using either dovetail joints or pegged tenons. Next he sands the wood to a fine finish and gives it several coats of Danish oil, followed by a final polish with beeswax to seal and protect the surface.
Peter keeps a record of all his boxes (he's currently working on number 652) and who buys them. "I sometimes get postcards from them" he laughs. "I know it sounds silly but many of their owners let me know that their box is fine and that they still love it."