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

Mollie Makes - - Contents - Words: HELEN MARTIN Pho­to­graphs: JESSE WILD

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.

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