Meet the Maker: Clachan Wood
Stuart Clachan runs Clachan Wood from a collection of unheated sheds on the west coast of Scotland. He uses native Scottish timber that might otherwise end up as firewood to create beautiful bespoke pieces of handmade furniture. Left-over pieces of wood don’t go to waste either – they are turned into smaller but still characterful hand-crafted pieces for the home. We caught up with Stuart to find out more about the slow process of making furniture by hand and why it can take years for a tree to become a piece of Clachan Wood…
Can you introduce yourself and describe what you do?
Hello, I am Stuart Clachan. I’m a designer and maker of bespoke wooden products and I’m based in South Ayrshire in Scotland. Throughout my work I aim to make the best use of the material available, allowing the grain and texture of the wood to be shown to its best advantage. I primarily design and make bespoke furniture to order, however, I’ve a started to make a number of ‘off the shelf’ pieces that are available to buy through Folksy as well as a number of wooden gifts that complement the furniture making process. This allows me to use as much of the timber as possible and also creates unique gifts that would be hard to find elsewhere. In the last few years my wife has joined me and is taking on this area of the business, including managing the Folksy shop.
After working as an engineer for a decade, I decided to make the leap and re-train in furniture making.
Have you always been a maker?
No, I originally trained as a mechanical engineer and worked in this field for over 10 years.
What inspired you to start working with wood?
I’ve always been interested in woodwork and making things. After working as an engineer for a decade, I decided to make the leap and re-train in furniture making. In 2009 I attended the Chippendale School of Furniture for nine months and then set up my own business on the west coast of Scotland.
I buy trees direct from nearby estates – although native timber is much harder to process and can take a number of years before it can be used, the long-term benefits of using local timber far outweigh the negatives
Can you tell us a bit about how you source your materials? Is your timber locally sourced?
My aim is to keep everything as local as possible, so I buy trees direct from nearby estates and collaborate with other local businesses when I can. There is such a wealth of native timber in our immediate area but people don’t always appreciate it, and a large proportion ends up as firewood. Although it’s much harder to process and can take a number of years before it can be used, the long-term benefits of using local timber far outweigh the negatives.
Sourcing timber locally allows me to have more control over the end-to-end process, from choosing which trees to buy to deciding which planks to use each project. When ordering from a timber supplier you don’t know always the quality of wood you’re going to get because you don’t have a chance to see the wood before it’s delivered. By having a supply of wood at my workshop it means I can select the best pieces. Customers can also visit to choose the wood they would like included in their furniture, and that’s especially useful when making a piece that has natural edges.
How does a tree become a piece of Clachan Wood furniture? Can you talk us through the process?
Every few years or so I buy a mixed load of hardwood trees – generally around 10-12 trees which get delivered to the workshop. I hire someone with a mobile sawmill to come and convert the round trees into planks of varying thickness. The planks are then stacked under cover for a few years if air drying or placed in the kiln if they require faster drying (this can still take about three months). Fast forward a few years and a customer will come to me with a specific project. I discuss the design with them and they may pay a visit to look at the various types of wood in stock. I will then present them with a final design, agree on their specification and a deposit is taken to secure the commission.
Next I’ll gather the planks of wood (usually from the bottom of a large stack!) and cut to dimensions close to the size of the various components. These pieces of timber are then machined to flat boards and placed in a warm and dry enclosure in the workshop for further drying, which will generally cause movement and shrinkage. A few weeks later the wood is removed from the enclosure and machined to the final dimensions ready to make the piece of furniture. From here on components are cut to size, routed, joints cut, shaped and sanded. A finish is applied and the components are glued up either into sub-assemblies or the complete item, depending on access to the customer’s property. The item is then delivered or sent via a courier. As it takes about a month to prepare timber, I usually do the first machining process as soon as possible from receipt of the deposit. I generally work on several pieces at that time, so when each project is finished, the wood is ready for the next one.
Generally my furniture ideas are borne out of a need, whether that is a customer’s or my own. Although it sounds like a cliché I do sometimes see a piece of wood and think it would be ideal for something
How do your ideas for new products develop?
Generally my furniture ideas are borne out of a need, whether that is a customer’s or my own. Although it sounds like a cliché I do sometimes see a piece of wood and think it would be ideal for something. If at all possible I aim for balance in my work, even when using natural edge boards. With my engineering background I tend to draw bigger projects in CAD initially. This allows me to create accurate measurements and work through potential problems before starting to machine and cut the wood. During the making process however, I often make adjustments as I go if it doesn’t look quite right in real life.
The smaller gift ideas develop based on the timber available and knowing what has sold well in the past, although that tends to change. It’s not easy to predict what will sell.
I’ve a started to make a number of ‘off the shelf’ pieces that are available to buy through Folksy. This allows me to use as much of the timber as possible and also creates unique gifts that would be hard to find elsewhere.
Who are your design heroes?
Alan Peters – he created interesting, well-crafted furniture.
George Nakashima – his use of timber in its natural form is amazing.
Tim Stead – he pioneered the revival of using locally sourced Scottish timber to create furniture and art where he made the most of wood that would often be classed as firewood.
The best thing about being creative for a living is seeing your ideas become reality… it’s the ability to go into the workshop and turn nothing into something
What’s the most interesting commission you’ve had so far?
We recently made a home bar for a customer that involved several different styles, including a woven whisky barrel front. The customer wanted a rustic finish but it still had to be refined enough to fit in with the rest of the room.
We made a bespoke home bar for a customer that involved several different styles, including a woven whisky barrel front.
Can you describe your workshop?
My workshop is on a farm on the west coast of Scotland near Turnberry. There is a wonderful view of the Firth of Clyde over to Ailsa Craig and the Isle of Arran. I started off with one workshop in a shed that used to store seed potatoes but I’ve now expanded into another three sheds. In the two main workshops I have a number of pieces of large machinery for planing, cutting, shaping and sanding wood. The other two smaller workshops are used for kiln drying wood and finishing items of furniture before it’s delivered to the customer. A few years ago we invested in a CNC router that allows us to take on work of a different nature and gives us another string to our bow. I’ve added some insulation to the main workshop but it’s still pretty draughty and can be very cold in the winter. Heaters and a wood burning stove take the chill off the air, but it rarely gets above 10 degrees, even in the height of summer.
My workshop is on a farm on the west coast of Scotland near Turnberry. There is a wonderful view of the Firth of Clyde over to Ailsa Craig and the Isle of Arran.
Name three tools you couldn’t live without…
A thicknesser planer is a must have in this business. It’s the machine that turns rough boards into nice smooth and flat boards ready for further work. It’s basically the workhorse of any woodworking workshop. Then nice sharp chisels and a cordless drill.
What’s the best thing about being creative for a living?
The best thing is seeing your ideas become reality. There’s nothing more satisfying than having someone buy a piece that you have made and love it as much as you do. It’s the ability to go into the workshop and turn nothing into something.
What would you say to someone thinking about selling their work?
It’s not easy selling your own work – it can be hit and miss at times, but if you keep on trying eventually items begin to sell and you surprise yourself at how much you’ve sold. Never assume the item you have spent days/months/weeks slaving over will be snapped up immediately. Quite often it’s the simplest things that sell quickly.
What does craft mean to you?
Craft means items that are well made by someone who cares about the product they are making.