Marc requires all students to make a box or small cabinet for their first project. A box is the ideal first piece as it showcases all the skills you’ve learnt so far. The ‘downside’ of course is that being such a small item, any small errors or mistakes will be impossible to hide!
After much sketching and pondering, I decided to make a pen box that was aimed and designed specifically for MontBlanc pens. I took inspiration from their incredible craftsmanship and design and wanted my box to be as precious and beautiful as their writing instruments.
The timber I chose is not only incredibly rare but is native to this country and is completely black in colour. Hamish Low is the country’s expert when it comes to Bog Oak. Not only is he a very talented furniture maker, but he has been perfecting the technique of kiln drying fenland oak for over 25 years. I met him on his farm during the summer of 2014. Marc had taken a group of students to watch the annual bog oak planking. Each summer Hamish hires a mobile saw milling team and they set about cutting up enormous hunks of Oak that have been dug out of low lying fenland areas of the eastern seaboard of the UK.
During the initial design phase, my brief was to create drama and excitement about the piece. I wanted to use precious metals, design a unique opening mechanism oh and even include a secret compartment! This box was going to be a perfect companion for any secret agent.
Having bought some beautiful rippled bog oak from Hamish, I contrasted this with rippled sycamore for the internal components. Sterling silver was my choice of precious metal as the box needed to look magnificent and masculine. Although Newhaven is a very busy industrial port, it does have a flourishing creative sector full of artists and craftsman. I was put in touch with Mike Shorer, an extremely talented jeweller based very close to the workshop. Mike was commissioned to produce the silver work for the box. He worked to a very precise brief producing exquisite components that add luxury and decadence to the box.
Bog oak is extremely dense and quite a challenge to work with. I wanted the box to look monolithic and have the appearance of being hewn from a single piece. The six box components are mitred on all 24 sides. The initial cuts were made on the table saw, but all required shooting by hand, quite tricky considering the size of some of the smaller items. All of my training was put to good use, I learnt huge amounts on this project, not least patience and determination! I needed to be very organised. The schedule of works was followed closely, rubber was machined for the collets, the silver was machined, hallmarked and fitted, the secret compartment created and the single piece of sycamore planed to achieve a piston fit. I had a lot of fun along the way, the six weeks allocated for the making sounds a lot, but in reality it was quite a challenge.
The MontBlanc Pen Box PB01 was professionally photographed and received high praise. It has been written about in a woodworking journal and will be on exhibition later this year. From humble beginnings this 5300 year old piece of oak was resurrected from the fens and crafted into a thing of beauty. Tall dark and handsome indeed.