Woodworks Learn – unpacked

Woodworks Learn – unpacked

Woodworks Learn equips you with woodworking skills whatever your project or purpose. It takes place in our well-equipped and friendly workspace in Lee Green.  Our approach is learner centred – learn new skills or develop existing ones. No previous experience necessary.

In this post I want to unpack what this looks like in practice and why this approach? The learn programme aims to open up new possibilities and is really flexible so you can tailor it to what you want.

Learner centred

Woodworks General Classes are learner centred. The invitation is to come into our maker space and make something you want to make at the pace and speed you want to make it. Each session has the same format – five places, the space and the tutor. Learn the skills you want and need for that project at the stage you need it – no formal hierarchical curriculum here.  The joy of woodwork is that the material itself is so flexible and beautiful that everyone can produce something that has purpose and looks great. As you learn a technique or a machine you can absorb that into your repertoire. There’s no expectation, pressure or formal qualification. Working in a group setting you may be asked by another maker for advice on something. Every now and again we pull people together for a hive mind session on a design question or problem. It’s being part of the maker community: we give, we receive – we are always learning. If you want to try something new we are happy to give it a go.

Health and safety

Yes of course! The induction covers health and safety and it absolutely runs through everything we do. There are plenty of sharp tools here and they need to be used properly – as in the average kitchen.  What about wellbeing as part of this? We aim for a calm purposeful atmosphere – above all relaxed. We want a warm and friendly atmosphere- at the start of each session people are introduced if they haven’t already met. We always stop for coffee / tea mid session. Why?  A three hour session is a lot. Most of us lose concentration over that period, a break enables us to step back and gather for a chat and a check in. Jokingly, we talk about putting the world to rights and then resuming. Actually more than that I see a wide cross section of people meeting and having those meandering conversations that may take in films, local history and events, sport, woodwork, travel, work etc. You make well when you are settled, valued and feel safe.

Making fundamentals

‘If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men [and women] to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea’ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

We start with an idea of what you want to make. We don’t do ship building here in Lee Green. But we can begin to identify what we like and develop our own aesthetic. Design is key here, and it doesn’t have to be complicated. Many of us in this area live in houses where space is at a premium, so ‘compact and fits well’ is important. Large statement pieces are a luxury. This is where form and function come in.

Form follows function – that has been misunderstood. Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union. Frank Lloyd Wright

So we can combine functionality with beauty! What do you actually want the function to be? We identify what the purpose is: for eample a stool for occasional sitting on; a bedside table for a light, a book and some tissues; a mirror to admire ourselves in / to bring extra light into an area / to be a statement piece. We then consider form – we choose the wood and materials, shapes, colour and finish that will please and delight. The Shaker tradition is a rich inspirational tradition of woodwork (think of the film Witness with Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis)

‘Don’t make something unless it is both necessary and useful; but if it is both necessary and useful, don’t hesitate to make it beautiful.’  Shaker wisdom.

Developing designs

I often google images of a particular piece or style and gather pictures. Sometimes I take makers over the road to the Sue Ryder charity shop to look at furniture to get more ideas. Other times people explore the wood rack and look at the wide variety of wood we have in stock here – some base their designs on a successful search alone.  From this my preference is to develop designs with paper and pencil sketches; sometimes simple wood mock ups of a shape help to get a sense of proportion. 3D drawing programmes can be also very helpful – I’m just not there yet! However we get there we need to settle on a design which is achievable, and this is where the tutor can be very helpful.


Before starting you make you need an accurate enough drawing and cut list and a good idea of how you are going to finish the project(!) It is so frustrating to get midway through a project and then spot a basic mistake that takes you back almost to the start. Sometimes these mistakes are unavoidable. Indeed one of the mantras that does the round is that the mark of a good maker is how well you are able to deal with mistakes and the unexpected. There are techniques for minimizing mistakes which we will explore as you go along. (Have you met Rod, the carpenter’s friend yet?).  We use a mixture of traditional techniques with more recent technology and equipment.

Here we need to find your own pace, some people need to develop confidence in their own abilities and become bolder – others become a bit more measured in their approach. We often find that designs change along the way, sometimes that is because you realise there is a better way – other times it’s a mistake that forces the change. No matter, we are on the path.  I should add that the responsibility for the project rests with you the learner. The tutor is playing the role of facilitator, yes of course offering advice, stepping in if there is anything that looks dangerous or unwise, but fundamentally this is all about enabling you the maker.


I love this bit. Here we take the structure we have made, and here we are able to make the piece come alive. Wood responds so well to finishing. For simplicity we tend to use Rubio Monocoat, it’s a relatively new product. I first came across it at Williams and Cleal furniture school and they were so enthusiastic we tested it here and it is brilliant – great finish, quick and environmentally a good product. You can walk away with your project surprisingly quickly.   That said there are so many other ways of finishing things we can look at that.


I am ambitious for developing the Woodworks making community. I am always keen to develop the classes into new directions. Already we have run workshops in Afghan Chip carving and Jali Latticework. We have had conversations about running workshops that celebrate Ghanaian  woodwork and in particular Iroko, a sacred wood. You may have ideas which you would like to explore – get in touch! This is about space, creativity and opportunity.

Hugh Ridsdill-Smith