Interactive Storytelling Chair

I was approached by Callum Egan of Napier University, Edinburgh, to design and make an interactive storytelling chair. It was also to be part memorial for Calum’s late colleague Professor David Benyon who had shared the vision for the chair. It was to be used outdoors for classes in Napier’s Lions’ Gate Interactive Permaculture Gardens. After discussing ideas we decided on the chair having decoration to represent both circuit board technology and elements from nature.

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I used stainless steel rods, recycled copper nails, recycled brass and copper pipe to form a circuit board pattern. This gradually morphed into a plant like layout. I polished all the copper and brass before fitting the shapes to the back. I left the metal bare so the pieces would change colour over time due to verdigris. The larger leaves were made from reclaimed teak wood which originally came from lecture theatres at Edinburgh University’s Appleton Tower. These were then laser etched with the commemoration and motto “Hasten Slowly”.

I made the chair itself from locally sourced oak and some reclaimed oak from the door to a Victorian walled garden. I was replacing the door as part of another project. The wood had a lovely grey weathered appearance and looked ancient, which had been part of the initial brief. I gave the completed throne several coats of teak oil to waterproof it. This finish can be reapplied easily without having to sand the wood.

I hollowed out two sections of burr wood so there was space to fit Bluetooth speakers inside. These were then fitted to the chair back. The burrs are removable so the speaker batteries can be recharged. The burrs were located about head height when seated. Perfect for the interactive storytelling chair to speak to the person sitting on it! Ideas and talks on sustainability and permaculture can now be delivered by the chair itself or from a seated lecturer or guest speaker.

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Hammermans Chair

Just as the Covid Lockdown happened, I started work on this oak chair commission from the Selkirk Incorporation of Hammermen.

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The Incorporation was established in 1681. Historically most guilds had chairs carved with their emblems and decoration on the back. The Hammermen no longer had one in their possession.

A guild member saw a chair on the BBC Antique Roadshow programme. It had the Selkirk Hammermen emblems and date of Incorporation carved into it and it looked original. The owners who were in Northern Ireland said the chair had been in the family for generations. It was not for sale..

The Hammermen commission me to make a new oak chair.

The dimensions and details were worked out from studying still images from the TV programme and from this single photo, which I think came from the owners. I also looked at contemporary examples on line and from museums.

I drew out a full scale plan for the carved details. The Hammermen approved the plan and then I started the carving work.

I kept the design as close to the original as possible, but with the modern Hammerman emblem of the arm and hammer replacing the single hammer. I also raised the seat height to a more comfortable and usable level. We decided the chair was to be made from locally sourced oak. I choose a single quarter sawn panel of oak for the back. All the carving was done by hand.

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I assembled the chair with mortice and tenon joints, with no nails or screws used in the frame construction. The finish was several coats of Danish oil then a topcoat of clear satin lacquer to keep it maintenance free.

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I handed over the completed chair in time for the Selkirk Incorporation of Hammermens opening of their new hall in August 2021.

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Hammermans Chair in the new hall

Bespoke Gate Post Caps

These two bespoke gate post caps were designed to fit on the driveway gateposts of a customer last year. He is an author and a bee keeper, hence the carved motifs. They are  hand carved from locally sourced wood and each made from a single piece of oak.

You can see more newel caps here and I can make them to your design and dimensions.

The client was very specific about the species of bee that he wanted me to carve on the book. It had to be apis melliferaI had to do some research before carving, so I could get the shape of the body correct. Oddly enough, at the time of carving we discovered a small colony of miner bees in the garden, which led us to try and see how many different types of bee we could spot. 

Luckily for my gate post caps project the design for the green man carving was easier. I did look at a few different styles though, and gave the client a sketch of each. The scale of the book limited the detail I could carve, so the green man had to be relatively simple. Sometime I would like to carve a much bigger and more detailed green man, with more leaves.

Celtic Knotwork Carving

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This Celtic knotwork carving was made from a single piece of oak. The base, or plinth, is also a solid block of oak, which gives it great stability.  It  was hand carved for a customer in Ohio, USA, who had visited Scotland and wanted a sculpture to go in his garden as a reminder of his travels.

He liked the design of another Celtic knotwork carving that I had made, but wanted a larger version. This is the larger version. The original design  had been  exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy, in Edinburgh. It was also made from a single piece of wood, this time reclaimed Scots pine. The plinth was a very heavy block of granite, also reclaimed.

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Celtic Knotwork Column

The knotwork carving process

I started off by drawing the pattern on a prepared board of oak. I had to adjust the design a few times to get the best fit. When I was happy with the layout I cut away the outside of the knotwork with the bandsaw. I then shaped it carefully near to the drawn lines. After that I took away the waste wood leaving the rough shape.

The next stage was the fun part for me. I chipped and carved closer to the lines and tried to make the wood flow like a ribbon. You have to follow the grain of the oak and cut “downhill”. At this point I also used cabinet scrapers and sandpaper to get the finish I wanted. This can hurt the fingers a bit. Finally, when the pattern looks right and feels smooth, it is time for the oil finish. I gave it several coats of teak oil.

Lastly, when the knotwork was done, I made a plywood case with foam protection. This was a snug fit. I then shipped it to its new home in Ohio.

Pictish Carvings

 Pictish carvings have always interested me…

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Crescent and V-rod

Pictish carvings have always interested me, so earlier this year I carved some Pictish symbols in the style of  pre-Christian Class 1 stone carvings. The designs of the carvings were simply hand carved, or incised into the wood, in this case Wych Elm, with an oak base. The stones themselves usually have pairs of symbols together, and Class 1 stones are possibly re-used earlier standing stones.

I carved each symbol onto individual pieces of wood, rather than have them in pairs, which was quite common.  I would like to explore the different styles of these carvings further. The later stones  included borders, patterns and figures, as well as the symbols.

The mystery of the Picts

Although the meanings of the carvings are unknown, they are one of the earliest symbols of a cultural identity found uniquely in Scotland.

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Carved stone at Aberlemno, showing three symbols

Pictavia near Brechin and the Groam Museum in Rosemarkie are two great places to see original Pictish carvings and designs.

Of coarse, stones can still be seen at their original locations, like Aberlemno in Angus. Here, there are symbol stones and a Christian cross with symbols and a battle scene.

I think they are great places to visit and see these unique Pictish carved symbols.

Bannockburn Commemoration Carving

2014 is the 800th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, a significant event in Scottish history, which inspired my carving

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Statue of Robert the Bruce, at Bannockburn

I was interested to find out if any of my ancestors had played a part in the battle, or the Wars of Independence in general. I started some simple research into my surname, Fyffe, which I already knew to be a part of Clan MacDuff.

In medieval times the head of Clan MacDuff was also the Earl of Fife. He was of ancient Celtic lineage with noble rights and duties, one of which was the honour of crowning the King of Scotland.

Duncan (III) MacDuff, the 11th Earl of Fife, was one of William Wallaces four leaders at the Battle of Falkirk in 1298. He was killed in the battle.

Duncan (IV) , the 12th Earl of Fife, was still a minor in 1314 and a prisoner under the tutelage of Edward I of England. Therefore he took no part in the Battle of Bannockburn. His two brothers , however, fought on. His sister, Isabella, crowned Robert the Bruce King of Scotland.

In November 1314 the English released Duncan (IV) . He immediately affirmed his allegiance to King Robert the Bruce.  In 1320 Duncan (IV) was first in the list of signatories of the Declaration of Arbroath.  I also discovered that the shield of Clan MacDuff and the Earl of Fife was a red lion rampant, on a gold background, similar to the ‘Scottish Royal Standard’ but without the red lined border.

A personal commemoration – a carving

A plan was beginning to form in my mind as to how I could make  a personal commemoration of the Battle of Bannockburn.MacDuff, Bannockburn anniversary, oak, carved, ancestry, Lion Rampant, Scotland, 1314, shield, clan, Earls of Fife,

By chance we were driving from Perth to Dunfermline via Oakley, on the Balgonar road into Saline. I  visited Scottish Wood for materials for a project I was working on.  It was a clear sunny day. From the hill road we could see Stirling and the Wallace Monument in the distance.  I thought of the Men of Fife making their way to battle and remembered my plan.

MacDuff Shield in progress, oak,hand carved,

MacDuff Shield in progress

At the timber yard I bought some oak boards for various carving projects. The oak came from the surrounding area in Fife. Nearby was  the ruin of MacDuff Castle, burned down by Edward I in 1306.

I decided my carving was to be the shield of Clan MacDuff and the old Earls of Fife.  How perfect for it to be carved from oak sourced near to MacDuff Castle, in Fife, by a modern member of Clan MacDuff.  I hope the ancestors smile and look kindly on my efforts. They fought and died for Independence. We only have to vote for it.

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MacDuff Shield, in full colour.

A Cricket Ball

 A recent Commission

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Laburnum Cricket Ball

A recent commission was a cricket ball and base, both decorative.  It involved both wood turning and carving. Turning for the shape of the ball and the base, and carving the detail on the ball – 6 rows of stitching!  It is a copy of a 1937 match ball. This one is turned from Laburnum although Oak or a fruitwood would also work well.  It was made for a private client but I have put the image into the Trophies Gallery as it could be an excellent trophy or award for a cricket team or individual player.

Replacement Spindles

New Spindles in Victorian style

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Spindles, reclaimed pitch-pine

I hand turned these replacement spindles in reclaimed pitch pine to match an original Victorian pattern for a clients house extension.  The spindles are a good example of the type of architectural woodturning I often get asked to do. Once I have  finished turning them I parcel them up and send them out. The client can then complete another stage in their building  project.

I used very well seasoned pitch pine which was a perfect match for the original wood. The pine was reclaimed from 200 year old beams salvaged from a demolished mill in the Scottish Border town of Hawick. The client gave me an original spindle  to use as the template. Once I turned the spindles I gave them a thin coat of lacquer to seal them. It won’t take long before the colour blends nicely with the original staircase in the clients house.

I can also make replacement spindles like this in Scots pine, oak, Douglas fir, mahogany or another timber to suit the client.

See more examples in Newel Posts

Spindles can come in many different styles, from plain square shaped ones to ornate rope twist shapes. You can finish them with oil, lacquer or wax. All protect the wood.