Meet the Maker
WOODWORKER AND TV PRESENTER EJ OSBORNE OF HATCHET + BEAR ON HIS PATH TO THE WOODLAND AND THE HOLISTIC NATURE OF HIS CRAFT
Inside the Hatchet + Bear workshop
EJ Osborne is lying on the floor of his stone-built workshop, covered in sawdust. He’s working on joining the frame together for the co ee table of the bakery he’s fitting out entirely with his furniture. “It’s epic,” he enthuses. “I can’t wait to see each piece working together, to see people sitting on stools that I’ve made, at a table I’ve built.” Located in the middle of fields and farmland in Frome, Somerset, EJ’s woodworking studio, Hatchet + Bear, makes furniture, utensils and objects using local wood and traditional tools and techniques. EJ also presents BBC craft and upcycling television show Money for Nothing, leads woodworking courses and has written a book called Spoon Carving.
We visited EJ at his peaceful workshop – “apart from the occasional bustle of excited cows being herded past” – to talk mindful making, and the relaxing pleasure of connecting with craft.
When did you first begin working with wood? I started working more intently with wood about six years ago, specifically freshly cut green British native hardwoods such as birch, elm and English walnut. It was at this point I felt an instant connection with wood as a material. Harvesting fresh wood involves being in direct contact with a tree and inevitably closer to nature. Have you always been interested in heritage crafts? I’ve always loved trees, and studied Arboriculture with the Royal Forestry Society years ago, but I discovered I didn’t want to manage trees, I wanted to pursue design. So, I studied Product and Furniture Design at university. That taught me about what kind of designer I didn’t want to be, and I left knowing that I wanted to make things with my hands, so enrolled on an upholstery
course. Upholstery taught me I really liked stripping chairs back to their wooden frames and not re-upholstering them – the wooden frame was the best bit! Then I moved from London to Somerset, where I was suddenly surrounded by woodland. That’s when it all started to fall into place. What about the making process do you particularly enjoy? Everything! I like the excitement of a new idea and then realising that idea through to a final product. I also like all the slow jobs using hand tools. These are physical tasks that require concentration and skill, such as peeling and shaving slivers and curls of wood with a sharp knife or plane. Once underway the task becomes mindful, minutes merge into hours as my mind and body become one. I find it to be very relaxing; it has healing powers and is the antidote to an otherwise fast-paced and hectic world. Where do you go when you’re carving? I don’t know where I go, but I eventually come back and when I do, I feel great. Maybe it’s the reverse and I actually become more present than I’ve been, then return to a state of being not so present when I finish carving. On your woodworking courses, do you find people have a moment when they relax into it? They all do! I think it’s about letting go. It takes a while to unwind and to adjust to being surrounded by 100% woodland. It has a high oxygen content so your body is adapting hard, especially if you’ve arrived from a city. Then there’s the melting away of the self expectation, as I like to call it. Most people arrive with a clear view of what they think they want: a perfect wooden spoon. At some point they begin to enjoy the process more than the forecasted eventuality, and become completely absorbed in shaving wood. They’re still aiming for a spoon but the focus has shifted and they’re in a mindful and present state of merry messmaking. Wonderful. Do you always know what a piece of wood could be made into? Sometimes I
know instantly, but sometimes that piece of wood’ll hang about in the workshop for years. Then one day I’ll suddenly know what it was meant to become. I have o cuts of wood I can’t bear to part with. How do you source your wood? I used to collect it from the woodlands when I started out. I’d often be out walking the dog and come across fallen or storm-torn branches from big trees. As my business grew, it became impossible to source enough wood this way, so these days I work with a supplier who brings me wood from local tree surgeons and foresters. You only release a limited number of products to sell – what do you prefer about small batch creating? Small batch keeps it manageable for me. Even if a shop
“Woodworking has healing powers and is the antidote to a fastpaced and hectic world.”
orders a large number, I still work to the number 10. This is how I started out and this is the number that works for me. It’s good to take the time to look at 10 finished things, appreciate them, and consider what you might do di erently on the next 10. How important is the Instagram community for you? Instagram was and continues to be instrumental in the running of Hatchet + Bear. I didn’t know it would be in the beginning, I just liked taking photos of what I was making and how I was doing it. Turns out, the platform went o like a rocket, and being an early adopter meant I gathered a tribe of likeminded creatives to hang out online with, many of whom are customers. Working in TV has added a new audience into the mix, which is great. All are welcome! What has the experience of TV presenting taught you? Being a presenter is great. I have a very short window of opportunity in every moment to convey something useful. I find it both challenging and enjoyable to be concise and poignant. I also learnt that I enjoy working as part of a team. You know, after being a work hermit for years. And writing your book on spoon carving? Writing a book was something that was never on my agenda. I didn’t even know I could write until I started – I just said yes. I wrote some headings and took it a chapter at a time. I think the best thing writing a book taught me was to just do it. I surprised myself. One, because I really enjoyed it and two, it wasn’t as daunting as I always thought it looked. You start where you are, at the beginning, with a blank page. Then, you immerse yourself in it and become it. Suddenly you find yourself typing the final sentence wondering what you’ll do with yourself now it’s finished. What would you say to someone wondering about starting a new craft, or going in a new direction? Don’t wonder, just do it! If it turns out that you don’t like it, you’ll be one step closer to knowing what you do like, because you can start again as many times as you want.
“At some point a person begins to enjoy the process more than the forecasted eventuality.”
Visit www.hatchetandbear.co.uk for more on EJ’s makes, courses and presenting. He also shares updates from the wood workshop on Instagram @hatchetandbear.
Once underway, the task of woodworking becomes mindful for EJ – mind and body become one.
01 EJ enjoys using hand tools and the slow physical tasks that demand concentration.
02 Hatchet + Bear make furniture, utensils and everyday objects.
01 EJ’s currently making all of the furniture for a local cafe and is looking forward to seeing his pieces all together.
02 Spoon Carving, EJ’s book, shows how you can shape a simple utensil with three basic tools; an axe and two knives.