Peter Lloyd

The Old School House



December 2007

December 2007

A while back I remember saying that maybe I should tell a typical day. So this morning, because recently I’ve been wondering where all the time goes I thought I’d write up a day in the life of a box maker.

At about quarter past seven I’m into the office with a pot of tea set the computer running and get the workshop fire lit, though for mid December it’s pretty mild still. See to the nights emails – i.e. Dump most of them in the computer bin. I check the junk folder just in case something legitimate shows up in there and dump all the ads from dubious sounding chemists and girls in Russia during the course of which the pot of tea is finished.

Suddenly three quarters of an hour have passed – still, the desk, both physical and electronic, is clear which always gives me a great feeling.

Into the workshop. By now it’s just about light outside.

Drill some holes in two strap hinges and then get the bench clear of tools before I start up the arbortech which I’ve been using a lot recently. The shavings from an arbortech can rapidly bury tools. I’ve just bought the ‘professional’ version of the arbortech. I’m not sure that it’s that much better than the original but my old blade has been sharpened rather a lot so maybe it was time to retire it.

I do like sycamore. It seems to cut so satisfyingly. Although maybe that’s just in contrast to the burr oak and burr elm I’ve been working with recently.

Written on the side of this box I came across moisture reading dated 2004! It was 12% then and it still is now so I guess it’s fine to use.

It’s now quarter past nine and I’ve just wasted twenty minutes looking at an email and website for commission a I was wondering whether it would be worth joining such an organisation. Certainly at the moment – probably not because I’m getting as much work as I can handle from my web site but there’s always the fear of it drying up. Actually the time looking at the site wasn’t wasted at all because I really enjoyed leafing through a couple of dozen pics of Fred Bayer’s work. Fantastic sculptural furniture with a sense of humour!

Back to the bench. Classic FM is on the radio and every time they play a carol I wonder how on earth I’m going to get five boxes finished. They’re all well under way but two of them have a lot of trays and I haven’t even started those yet.

A final check on the rotating of the two hinges then glue in the pivots.

Now’s a good time for breakfast – to give that glue time to go off.

Breakfast is at my desk – quick check for emails. The worst emails are those which for one reason or another I’m not sure about. They tend to stay in the inbox while I think about them and somehow they create a dam behind which others gather and very quickly I’ve got a screen full of unanswered mail all because of one that I couldn’t make a quick decision on.

Looking at the shelves of boxes here in the office it’s occurred to me that there’s a box that I’ve just got back from a gallery that I haven’t put up onto my site yet – so it’s a quick trip into cyber space to put some text in there to say that it’s here and available.

Then the phone goes and it’s Andy Crawford wanting to talk cutters and machines and routers and things. It’s good to talk to someone else who’s in the same situation – boxes to finish before the 25th that is.

It’s 1100 – back to the bench. Working down the grits of sandpaper on the box lid and hinges of the sycamore chest. All pieces are separate at the moment – I’ll assemble everything once it’s been oiled and waxed. 1230 now and I'm back in the office – phone again – my son this time to wish me a happy birthday for yesterday……… while I’m in the office the postman has been so I’ll see if he’s bought anything exciting. A swatch of fabric from Soho Silks including a nice powder blue that would be a bit of a new one for me.( I normally go for dark and rich colours); a letter containing a bounced-back email. – I thought I’d fixed that problem! Why do some emails bounce back and using the same address others get through? - someone who had been given one of my boxes a year or so ago and now wants one for each of his grand daughters to keep their jewellery as they grow up. And a bill from Barclays merchant services – one o the expenses of being able to accept credit cards is that I have to pay nearly 3%to Barclaycard! I object to that – big time! I feel they (the banks) win every which way. Which is why I ask for a debit card now – at least then it’s fixed charge of 40p per transaction. Although they recently wrote to me telling me that I didn’t seem to be paying them much each month so they are going to charge me a minimum amount – whether I used them or not. I think that’s pernicious. How would it be if the grocery store decided to charge me whether or not I bought anything! – rant over. (I’m glad I got it off my chest though). It’s 1245 and I must get back to work.

I’ve just taken some pics of what I’m up to in the workshop and when this gets onto my site I’ll put one of those up too– you’re getting the full works here.

1430 now and I’ve had lunch – back at my desk; skimmed a couple of emails, taken a phone call, replied to the email that came by post – I think the machines like to remind us who’s in charge from time to time - and filed away the receipt from Barclaycard - they don’t need actually paying; they just help themselves from my account………

Must get back into the workshop. I was going to say back to work. I don’t think of time spent at the desk as work but I suppose it is.

Suddenly it’s 1730! Where did the afternoon go? Well I did completely sand a large box then at about 1530 I thought I’d nip down to the shop – we’ve got a brilliant co-op/post office in the village here – 2 minutes away and it sells everything! We’d run out of tea and it was a Friday so the local weekly paper was to fetch. It was just getting dark and I started to think about our central heating system which had more or less stopped working. I was sure there was an air lock in the system somewhere. So I needed a hose pipe – which was in the garden and it was better to do it in the daylight. So I bled radiators and let out water all to no avail – then sprung a leak which meant more tightening of nuts and bleeding of systems and then it coughed. And gurgled and spluttered. It sounded like an enormous belch. I’d cleared it! And it started working! Good news indeed. I was sure I’d end up having to call a plumber. Then Thomas rang about setting up a paypal account for me – I’m going to sell the ring boxes directly off the site. And now it’s 1730. But Chris, my wife, is going out tonight straight from work (a Christmas do) so I shall carry on. I’ve got another large pivot hinged box to sand.

1830 and the large box is sanded – on to a desk box that’s been ordered for Christmas but there’s a good programme on radio 4 so I’ll tidy up the workshop while I’m listening to that – no noise of machines. Then it’s 1900 and down to the other end of the house to cook some supper.

2000 – Back to my desk and I think I’ll do some paper work. Somebody rang this evening wanting a box for his wife so I’ll put the card details through and do the other various paperwork associated with that.

Well, that was where it stopped. I scribbled all of that down on sheets of paper on December 7th and nearly a month later I’ve put it onto the computer. Not perhaps a totally typical day but certainly a day… maybe I’ll do another next month.

October 2007

Up to now I've been deleting the 'news on my front or 'home' page and treating this page totally separately. Which seems a bit of a shame as that stuff on the home page is only there for a month (or should only be there for a month) and then it's lost forever....... so from here on in I’m going to put some of it onto this page and maybe expand it a bit.

October’s nearly over and it doesn’t feel like I’ve got any boxes to show for it! Which isn’t to say I haven’t been busy. I just don’t seem to have made any jewellery boxes or ring boxes this month. The first week of October was of course taken up with ‘Origin’. It all happens in a temporary structure in the courtyard of Somerset House in central London. Which is three hundred and something miles and a great deal of traffic away from the sleepy little village of Hallbankgate tucked away in the northeast corner of Cumbria. The two weeks before I went were totally manic; I was convinced I didn’t have enough boxes to take. The event itself was, to be honest a bit boring. I don’t think I’m very good at sitting behind my work looking bright and cheery waiting for someone to speak to me. Then back to the workshop and there’s a mountain of paperwork and emails to wade through. And it’s still there! I’ve spent the last two weeks making new jigs for ring boxes and completely updating the website. I’m going to get to grips with the thingstodo pile today…….

August 2007

Once again it’s been too long since I updated these ramblings. I wonder if I tried to write about the minutiae of day to day box making at would help at all? In other words rather than sit here and try to think what I’ve done over the last three months and how to get it into a few coherent and well rounded sentences I talk about what happened yesterday or what’s on the bench right now. I’ll give it whirl

Must share this quote I came across the other day. It had a certain resonance with the way I make boxes!

“ Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” – Scott Adams

Yesterday was on of those frustrating days when nothing much seems to get underway until after lunch. I started early enough. In fact I was in the workshop by 0830 so I can’t blame a desk full of paperwork. I first had to reset the spindle moulder (or shaper – I’m not sure what it should be called since I got a new one). One that was done I needed to figure out the best way to cut the rebate I wanted, then switch on – and it blew its fuse. It’s something that does happen from time to time. The machine is right on the limit of a 13amp fuse. So I found which fuse it was and replaced it. And then other blew. And then a third somewhere else down the line. I’d been meaning to get this machine permanently plugged in for a while but with Carlisle a 24 mile round trip away I’d kept putting it off until I needed to do something else in town. Clearly though I had to do something. So I found the various 16amp plugs and sockets I needed on the computer (how did we find anything before Google?), ordered them and put the lids that needed rebating to one side which was a shame because they were nearly finished. Which meant a sort of a line was drawn so the workshop had to be cleaned up. But it was breakfast time already – about 1030 – which meant back to the desk and while I was there I thought I’d try to get a gas man to come and connect up our new hob in the kitchen. Which took nearly an hour. Are plumbers impossible to get hold of the world over I wonder? Is it an immutable law of nature? Back to the workshop and by the time the place was vacuumed, the tools away and a new box on the bench it was lunchtime. Where does the day go? Can I do any better today? We shall see.

July 2007

“See you in a month” was how I ended in February. It’s now July….. oh well, nobody’s perfect. I know that’s always my excuse but it’s true!

So what’s been happening in the world of boxes in the last few months. Well, just to bring you up to date with the three boxes I mentioned previously. Two of them are now made and delivered and the third is cut up and ready to go. The only slight snag is that there are now four more commissioned boxes that are pestering for my attention.

In February I had a student working here for a week. I think I’m fairly protective of my space. I like being in my workshop alone. I talk back to the radio, I talk to myself and that’s the way I like it even though I sometimes grumble that it gets a bit lonely. Isn’t everybody a paradox? However I got an email from an American student who was studying in Sweden and she wanted to come and make boxes for a week. Well even if it was a total disaster it was only a week so I said yes. And it was a success! Her skills and experience were fairly limited so I decided we’d spend the week concentrating on one type of box. We had a pretty intense week starting at eight in the morning and not finishing most days until after ten but we did take an afternoon off to go paragliding and we even managed to fit in a trip to Hadrians wall.

January 2007

I think that January is a month that can be divided into three halves – well, you know what I mean.

Right at the beginning of the month – in fact I think it was in that dead time between Christmas and new year, I started work on a ring box. For years now I’ve had it in my head to develop a little box. But because people, not unreasonably, expect something smaller to be cheaper, it had to be something I could make reasonably quickly. It couldn’t be a smaller version of a box that I normally make because with the same number of joints it would take the same amount of time. Over the years I’ve made probably over a dozen different prototypes but I wasn’t happy with any of them. They just didn’t have that special quality that I was looking for. I’ve got a shelf full of them. Then around the middle of last year I was asked to make a ring box and the whole small box thing surfaced again. I made the customer her ring box and she was delighted with it but it wasn’t very repeatable. This time I was determined to come up with a design that both looked ‘special’ and was makeable1 Which was how I spent the first half of January 2007. I’m still not quite there but I’m a lot closer and this box definitely won’t end up on the failed prototype shelf.

The next half of January was spent in classic New Year mode. In other words I was sorting out and tidying up. That wasn’t my plan for the middle of January at all but somebody wanted a box in ash and I didn’t have any ash. So I trundled off to get some. The only trouble is that once I’m at the timber yard wandering around all that wood I’m like a child in a sweet shop. I want it all. So naturally I bought too much ash. I also bought some sycamore which I’d need for my ring boxes and I bought too much of that as well. And I couldn’t resist bringing back some walnut that looked interesting. So it was all piled into my long suffering and abused Volvo and hauled back to the workshop. But where on earth could I put it all? It couldn’t stay on the floor so somehow space on the shelves had to be made. So I spent the next week in a total muddle (I hate a muddled workshop) trying to squeeze the proverbial quart into a pint space. Which I did – eventually. Mostly by sawing wood up into box sized bits and carefully labelling and stacking them.

The last half of the month was spent finishing a group of boxes that were on the bench, and had been since before Christmas, so as to completely clear the decks.

Now, finally I must start work on three commissioned boxes that I’ve been putting off for over a year now. I’m not even really sure why I’ve been putting them off – apart from the fact that other boxes come along that are more urgent – but I think it’s more than the squeaky wheel getting oiled; I think there’s something on each of these boxes that I’m a bit frightened of. One of them for example has to have hidden catches, or secret catches. Another is an unusually large box and the third is from HMS Victory oak which is not the easiest wood to make into a box by a huge margin. In fact it’s a pig! But I’ve accepted the commission so I’ve got to get on with it!

Well its February 3rd today so if I upload this now I guess I’ll have done pretty well….But it’s always like that at the start of the year. However the sun is shining and it’s going to be one of those rare winter days that are clear, sunny, light winds and hopefully not too cold. So I’m off to the Lake District to do some paragliding. See you in a month!