Tucked away on an apple orchard in the ancient Stannary town of Ashburton, lies the workshop of woodworker Ambrose Vevers.
Just a stone's throw away from the Dartmoor National Park, the land he works on is the very same land he grew up on. It is also the land that provides him with the material he works with. It really feels good to know exactly where each piece of wood was grown, Ambrose says, even though the process takes a really long time".
To be exact, it takes a whole year for just one inch of timber to dry, before it will be ready for Ambrose to work with. The tree I felled last month will be ready in about two years' time, Ambrose laughs. He is intrinsically, and in many ways, sentimentally connected to his material, and only needs a couple of storm-blown trees a year to keep him nicely stocked up.
Although he grew up surrounded by woodland, it was only when Ambrose challenged himself with making a chair that he decided to pursue woodwork. He took a degree in 3D Design at Falmouth University, equipping himself with pragmatic skills in carpentry, whilst grappling with the challenges of environmental design. Some of his most invaluable skills were passed on to him informally, from a friendly retired carpenter. He was the one who encouraged me to keep on making, using traditional hand skills, Ambrose explains. He made mallets and a shavehorse for me, and he has given me some very lovely, old tools to work with.
Predominantly using local ash, cherry, oak and walnut, Ambrose works into each piece patiently by hand. To create his stools, he uses traditional furniture making techniques such as steam bending and spokeshaving, and the surfaces of some of his pieces are lightly scorched using the Japanese Shou Sugi Ban technique.
Ambrose's donated shavehorse now lives in his timber-framed barn, which he uses for large scale projects and for teaching furniture making workshops. The barn is off grid, and the solar panels help to power the machinery, Ambrose says. It limits the methods we use. It is these limitations that characterise each traditional yet contemporary piece by Ambrose with a modest and rich quality, unique to the handmade.
It's quite clear that Ambrose is a countryside person through and through, reserving visits to the city for research and special appointments. Working days are broken up with walks through the woods, coppicing and replanting trees where he can. His orchard is currently dotted with spring crocuses, and his father's bee hives are kept just a short distance from his workshop. He manages the woodland around him sustainably, making sure areas don't become overcrowded, and rescuing 60-year-old wind felled trees where he can to use for his own furniture projects.
Being his favourite wood to work with, Ambrose speaks about a recent outbreak of ash dieback with a heavy heart. The disease will affect 90% of ash trees across Devon and the UK, leaving most of that percentage destined for firewood. As a costly result, the British landscape will change forever, and will threaten many of the many woodland species that depend on ash trees for their habitats.
Each time Ambrose uses ash for his furniture, in a small act of support and hope, he is locking up carbon for many lifespans. I take being kind to the environment very seriously, Ambrose says. I can only hope that each time I create something, I am adding a certain value to each piece of wood, and not taking away.
Workshop imagery by Sasha Hitchcock. Words by Daisy Gray.
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