Meet the Maker: Hardwood Gifts
Tell us what you do.
We make high-quality wooden gifts using carefully-selected hardwood timber. All products can be inlaid or engraved with initials or a personal message, making them ideal for special occasions such as weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, retirements and corporate events.
What’s your background?
I was brought up in Brampton in Cumbria. My father was the local doctor but he also had a passionate interest in woodwork and ran a small cabinet making business during the 1980s, employing an old school, highly-skilled cabinet maker called Bill McKie. I learnt a lot about wood and woodworking techniques from Bill and my dad.
Where do you find inspiration?
I’m constantly on the lookout for new product ideas. For example, I recently noticed a lovely old coat rail with chunky square pegs at the Lord Crewe Arms in Blanchland. I photographed it and made some notes, and will come up with my own version in due course.
Where do you source your materials?
Materials come from far and wide. We have a good stock of old broken furniture which is a magnificent source of top-quality walnut, rosewood, oak and mahogany. We also have good stocks of local yew, cherry and ash. For other woods we use several excellent local suppliers including Hexham Hardwoods and G&S Timber in Cumbria.
We planted 10,000 mixed hardwood trees at Haytongate in 2013. Creating a new wood and seeing the trees battling the elements, surviving, thriving and slowly but surely expanding has been very rewarding. It’s unlikely we will use wood from the planting in the near future, however it seems right to be creating new wood that more than replaces the wood that we are using.
Tell us about your typical day.
Every day is different but it usually involves getting up ridiculously early to get a few hours in the workshop without interruption before spending the morning in the office, and then hopefully back in the workshop in the afternoon. Somewhere in between I find time to walk our two labradors, Maggie and Inca, often for a mile or two along Hadrian’s Wall, which runs right through Haytongate. I get frustrated when office work prevents me progressing projects in the workshop.
What’s your favourite thing about what you do?
I enjoy coming up with new product ideas and prototypes and then working out the best way of batch producing them, and then of course I enjoy it when people love the products enough to actually buy them!
What’s the most challenging part?
Finding time to develop new ideas rather than manically working to meet the latest deadline
Favourite piece of your own work?
My favourite piece is a very specialist product that was initially made as a one-off commission for a friend who wanted to give it to his son. It is a ‘peg selector’ that is used by people who organise shoots or fishing beats, where guests are allocated a number by picking one of the pegs. They are made from beautifully grained walnut and African blackwood with little oak pegs, each engraved with a number and with a little magnet inset in the base. People clearly loved them as there can’t be many people who need them, but by word of mouth alone we have sold lots of them.
Where can we see and buy your work?
Sales are mainly made online via our website www.hardwoodgifts.co.uk, and we also exhibit at a few fairs and shows. Visitors are welcome to come and see us in Lanercost, but it’s best to contact us first to check we are available.
How do you relax?
I enjoy walking, golf and landscape painting. My painting is a lot better than my golf! I paint using mixed media of acrylic paint and pastels. I use Unison Pastels which are one of Northumberland’s special secrets. They are handmade at Thorneyburn up the North Tyne valley, and are adored by artists worldwide.
Any plans for the future?
I want to expand the product range so that customers will have a really good choice, and I’d like to build up to doing about a dozen shows and fairs a year. Also I’d like to learn how to promote our range using social media. Up to now I’ve relied in my daughter Vicky to show our wares on Facebook and Instagram, but she is now running her own business as an illustrator and rarely gets time to help her old dad.