This interview, with Bo Peep, is from April 2016
1. What is your “inspiration story” — where did your interest in woodworking all begin?
My interest in woodworking began about a year into me volunteering at my local country park. I had gone primarily to be part of a nature conservation club and to help out with the farm livestock there; little did I know that this would later direct me to farming and setting up my own business. Back then I was an immature teenager, who didn’t really fit in anywhere and had no real direction so one of the park rangers took me under his wing. He showed me my first billhook and taught me to sharpen it. For anyone that knows me I’m a right chatterbox once I get going but I think to the relief of everyone in the office they had found something that kept me quiet! I worked on a couple of billhooks for John helping to restore them to their former glory and not long after that I had my first crack at hedge laying. I loved the feel of the tools I was using, the knowledge that I’d helped make them sharp enough to do such an important job and being able to be part of transforming an unruly hedge into something useful. While we were hedge laying another of the rangers took time out to teach me how to work on my aim with a small axe, it’s safe to say from this point on I was hooked. Dave and John took the time to teach me how these tools worked and how to use them and they never stopped encouraging or pushing me. A friend I made during this time showed me different techniques and used to ramble on about different styles of hedge laying (he is a professional after all!) later came to be another big inspiration. For my 21st birthday Dave gave me my first billhook and a year or two later offered to help teach me how to use a set of carving chisels I had rescued from the bin. I was definitely one of the lads and my time on the farm and out hedge laying holds some of my fondest memories. I’m still working on the wood carving and I’m learning as I go as far as the woodworking is concerned, but thanks to the encouragement and support from Dave, John and Adam I think it’s safe to say I will definitely keep going and never give up!
2. Who is your woodworking mentor and why?
My woodworking mentor is a friend I made when I was about 18. He is a professional carpenter and joiner along with another bunch of other fancy things in his repertoire. When we first met I used to watch him building fences and make myself useful by passing the odd thing that was out of reach. I don’t think he realised it but I was paying more attention to what he was doing with his hands and the techniques he was using to do something as simple as swinging a hammer than to what he was actually saying. I used to go home and practice on scrap bits of wood or bits and pieces that needed fixing in the back garden; again this is something no one really knew about. I’m a mixture of a visual and kinaesthetic learner so I find it really useful to physically see something done and then have a go myself. As time went by I started asking questions and he used to help me with the hedge laying and sharpening billhooks. I guess the reason why he became my mentor was that he could explain things to me in a way that makes me understand what I need to do and point-blank refuses to give up on me. John and Dave were both excellent teachers but they have both since moved on and I don’t really see them anymore. My dad has epilepsy so he can’t do too much in one go and I needed someone who could answer my unending list of questions.
3. Power or hand tools? … and why
I mainly use hand tools as I am just starting out, they are what I know and am comfortable with and I can’t afford any fancy powered tools right now. I like the feel of my work when I’ve gone over it with hand tools and I like the fact that a hand tool is like an extension of my hand. Everything I have has either been found, donated or on the odd occasion bought with christmas or birthday money. I prefer the tools that were made years back and were built to last with names like Brades and Elwell. My Preston spoke shave is a little gem that was given to me by a friend clearing out her late husband’s workshop. I’m sure as I progress power tools will find their place in the work that I do but for now at least I think I’ll be sticking with the hand tools.
4. What is your dream project and when do you think you will tackle the challenge?
My dream project is to make miniature 3D carvings for decorative purposes or jewellery. I’m hoping that once I’ve got enough experience and the right tools I’ll be able to do this although I’m not sure when that will be. I’m in the process of setting up a business so at the moment I don’t have much time to practice my carving skills.
5. What is the greatest gift that this craft gives you?
The greatest gift that this craft gives me is the freedom to express myself and not have to worry about what people think. I might have to put up with a lot of stick for it and keep being laughed at for it but I get a great pleasure out of transforming an old bit of wood into something useful. I also find that it relieves stress and has brought me closer to my dad. As I mentioned before he has epilepsy and woodwork is something we can do together or he can watch me and bring me cups of tea. So it doesn’t just give me a release it helps my dad too.
6. What are your “words of wisdom” that you want to pass on to others, especially to beginners?
My “words of wisdom” would be to keep going no matter what sets you back and to make the most out of anything that you’ve got. My set of carving chisels were rescued out of the bin and most of the wood I currently have to work with is just scrap bits here and there. Try not to worry too much about things going wrong, sometimes it’s a lesson you need to learn, and to just take the bull by the horns and go for it. I find that YouTube videos help with a lot of the things I do and no matter how silly or simple the question you have seems go ahead and ask it anyway. I have bombarded various people with an unending amount of these questions but when I got the answers it helped me immensely.