Meet… Matt Estlea
Matt works part-time at Axminster’s Basingstoke store and is a prolific maker. He studies at Rycotewood Furniture Centre in Oxford and is currently in the second year of the foundation degree Furniture: Design & Make. He’s been there for a total of 4 years and previously studied levels 1, 2 and 3 of City & Guilds in Furniture Making.
What do you specialise in making?
I specialise in making bespoke furniture such as cabinets, tables and chairs. Sometimes I like to branch out into other crafts such as model-making, bookbinding, luthiery and – my personal favourite – box making. It’s nice to break up the deadlines with a quick and easy project occasionally to keep your sanity in check. Although, I have about five assignments at my heels at the moment so no box making for me!
What part of the making process do you most enjoy and why?
It depends entirely on the project. Sometimes, I get totally engrossed in the designing stage that I forget that I actually have to start making it in a couple of weeks time! A good example of this is my most recent project ‘Scriptylia’ which is a chair made from ash with khaki green leather upholstery. I started off using Arabic scripture as inspiration for the piece and, before I knew it, I had 20-30 A3 pages of design development in a matter of days.
On the flip side, a couple of months ago I woke up in the middle of the night with an amazing idea of an ellipse shaped cabinet with two opposing semi circular doors, hinged on the curved edges. Not an easy task apparently! I scribbled it on a piece of paper and have only just had the chance to potentially make it reality. When this happens, I struggle to get into the design development of the piece as I just want to get my hands dirty and make it!
Do you prefer using machines or hand tools? Which ones are your favourite?
I like to use a mixture of both in my work. I’ve dimensioned a few boards with hand tools and although I enjoyed it, it’s safe to say that a planer thicknesser is a life saver! Conversely, I’ve used a router jig to cut dovetails and, while I can see it definitely has its merits in terms of speed and usability, it takes the fun out of it for me.
I use machines in instances where it would be far too laborious to do the task by hand, or when I need absolute precision. The power tool I am most enjoying using at the moment is the Festool OF1400 Router. I’ve only just got to grips with how versatile this tool is as my work in the past hasn’t called for it to be used. Now with the elliptical cabinet I’m designing, I’m finding a new use for it at almost every stage.
With hand tools, I use a mixture of Veritas and Lie-Nielsen. I prefer using Lie Nielsen bench planes and chisels as I find them more user- friendly and they fit my hand better. However, I prefer using Veritas joinery and specialist planes such as the shoulder plane, router plane and shooting plane. In my opinion, some of the mechanisms and features on these far surpass the Stanley and Record patterns that Lie- Nielsen use on theirs. It’s a bit annoying when it comes to organising my tool chest though, as nothing looks uniform.
Can you remember the first piece you made? What was it and have you still got it?
Excluding the awful clocks and acrylic ice scrapers we made in the first few years of secondary school, the first proper piece I made was an iPod docking station made from sapele and maple veneered plywood with dyed black stringing. I made it for my final GCSE Resistant Materials piece in year 11, aged 16, although it was more of a concept as I never designed it to be wired together. Consequently, it sits on top of my wardrobe completely redundant, taking up space, yet too meaningful to throw away!
What and/or who does/has inspired you?
This follows on from the previous question quite nicely. The person who got me into woodwork was my Resistant Materials teacher Gary O’Shea who is a bespoke box maker outside of teaching. It sounds clichéd but his work and attitude are still a massive inspiration to me five years later and probably the reason behind my interest in box making. The defining point for me was when he brought one of his boxes into class and I saw a piston fit tray descend into the box on a cushion of air. It was absolutely mesmerising!
Other makers and designers that inspire me are Robert Ingham, Joseph Walsh, John Makepeace, Matthew Burt, Richard Williams and James Ryan. All of whom have very recognisable design styles which is something I hope to achieve in the coming years.
What is the best advice you have ever been given and by who?
‘Clamp the work in the vice while chiselling! Don’t hold it in your hands!’ was the advice given to me by my City & Guilds tutor shortly before I stabbed myself in the hand.
But, in all seriousness, the best advice given to me was again by Gary O’Shea, my GCSE Resistant Materials teacher. I was approaching the end of secondary school and was planning to take a more academic route in further education. Astronomy, History, Maths and Electronics were my choices if I remember correctly. Not necessarily subjects I was interested in, just something to naturally progress onto! However, two months before I was due to start, I found out about City & Guilds Furniture Making at Rycotewood and I thought I’d ask for Gary’s opinion on it before enrolling. His reply was simply:
‘Matt, you’ll never make millions, but you’ll never have to work a day in your life.’
That was all I needed to persuade me, and to this day is the best advice I have been given. Rather than settle on something I was disinterested in, but convenient. It set me on a path where I can be creative, make a name for myself, and enjoy every moment of the process!
What advice would you give to anyone starting out and/or wanting to get started in furniture making/woodwork?
The advice I would give to someone starting out in woodworking is to get yourself on a 2-5 day crash course. They can be costly, but you learn an incredible amount from not only the teacher, but the students surrounding you. I hear great feedback from people who take short courses at various furniture schools. Or, with individual tutors such as Andrew Crawford, David Barron, Peter Sefton and David Charlesworth to name a few; and come out with amazing results too. This type of course will increase your skill dramatically but will also teach you safe practices. As a beginner, you don’t want to be using woodworking tools whether that’s machines, power tools and even hand tools without a proper understanding of what can go wrong. Don’t take the risk.
If you can’t get yourself on a course, YouTube is a great place to learn. Although again, I personally take safety advice on YouTube with a pinch of salt because some people are just asking for something to go wrong!
In my experience, the woodworking community whether that’s furniture makers, woodturners, carvers etc. is incredibly generous with information and always welcoming to those who are interested in starting out. Get yourself a beginners set of tools and get stuck in because once the basic skill is grounded, you’ll be hooked!
To find out more about Matt & his work visit these links:
Watch Matt’s video – ‘Making Cognition’