Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Desk.

When we stumbled across a pile of magnificent pieces of reclaimed timber sitting in our friend's yard, we were in our nice new studio but still working on a clumsy collection of two desks and a kitchen table, pushed together for length and stability. Their origins were a mix of noble and shameful - a simple pine construction, the first desk I ever bought for £50 in Hinckley Salerooms in the early 90s; an inherited (from Brown grandma) 50s foldable kitchen table with impressive heritage and sturdy build; and a table of Ikean origin saved from the tip when we moved out of the temporary flat we'd lived in during the building work. Ugly and cheap, it did the job, but we continued to speak about the day when we were in a position to 'build something bespoke'.

The old desk, bearing its scars:

That day had seemed a long way off till we found this wood unexpectedly. 3 inches thick, and rescued from a floor from our local reclaim yard, it was perfect for said new 'sturdy thing'. We spent ages choosing five bits - some for legs, some for the top - and we took our friend Sue Tranter, a cabinet maker, to see if she would take on the task.


The task wasn't one to be undertaken lightly. At around 6 metres in length, this desk needed to combine the lengths of all three desks combined and run from one end of the studio to the other - more of a workbench, if you like. We didn't want legs in the middle, so that our movements up and down it would no longer involve banged knees and swearing. The weight would be immense, and therefore the weeks of designing, planning and consulting were necessary; there were some brain-clenching issues to work out. Here's the drawing Sue produced using Google Sketch-up:

The pieces would need attaching to each other and therefore needed drilling through. Sue recruited Andy Langley of Art Fabrications to handle the large-scale drilling at his workshop. Below is Andy at work and the enormous shiny bolts which were to connect the giant slabs via a 16mm threaded bar. This is two pieces clamped together.

The wood required a great deal of prepping before it could be brought to the studio and placed on the floor where it would acclimatise to the atmosphere before construction. Check out Mrs Hanseldaar to the left, who is responsible for the best Dal recipe ever, a popular working lunch at 71.

Check the juicy grain:

Here's one of the pieces being carried in by Sue. The boys are helping. Estimated weight...we dread to think, but the total table weighs in at around a quarter of a ton.

The weight determined the majority of the design, resulting in a heavy steel band running the length of the desk to take the support role normally played by its absent legs. Inspired by the text on the steel girders elsewhere in the studio, the metalwork was emblazoned with the words 'Designed and manufactured for Factoryroad by Susan Tranter and Andy Artfabs' and the all-important 'British Made'. I drew it on paper to actual size, pieced it together and handed it to Andy, whose right-hand-man Rob welded it on by hand letter-by-letter. It was a time-consuming and intricate job, but like the rest of Andy's team, Rob is a patient, understanding fella.

The desk stood quietly under cover for two Factoryroad Gallery shows while it was underway, but once erected (and that sounds very casual, said in the full knowledge that it took many weeks of sawing, sanding, routing, shaping, measuring, planing and sweating, along with some heroic lifting and turning) Sue could finally turn her slightly-obsessive hand to the job of finishing. Here are the two solid waxes used for filling some of the smaller splits and knots - looking remarkably like milk and plain chocolate:

The wood once stained and waxed revealed some incredible knottage with deep layers of colour and shape. This desk has aliens, animals and faces, as well as open knots and an oscillating grain, all enhanced by Sue's many layers of patiently-applied finishes and sanding.

Sue at work:

The desk now sits under my keyboard as if it has always been there, solid and warm, and it's as if the months of being studio-less and covered in sawdust have vapourised. It is a thing of immense beauty, with the brute strength of Mariusz Pudizanowksi, a genetic blend that could only have been achieved by combining Sue's braveness and obsessive eye for detail, with Andy's problem-solving and experience with handling things of ludicrous mass. And of course Leigh, whose idea it was to create the long-limbed beast in the first place.

Completion of the desk was celebrated with chips at Wales' Chippy, Nuneaton:

The desk in use:

...and the old desk, which has been brought back inside and given a new purpose. We thank it for its long uncomplaining service!

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