Gitcombe. A project by Carpenter Oak

Carpenter Oak

It’s tea-break time and a steady stream of slightly dusty men file into the kitchen at Carpenter Oak’s Devon Yard in Cornworthy. They sit and chat at the handmade benches, while enjoying a snack and a hot drink. On the walls behind them are complex drawings of some of the amazing timber-framed houses, extensions, commercial properties, conversions and cabins they have helped craft over the years.

Since 1987, Carpenter Oak has been pushing architectural boundaries with award-winning modern designs and cutting-edge timber engineering. At its heart is an ancient craft. The carpenters work with handheld tools (which they don’t like to share) stored on individual wooden trolleys.

There is no heavy machinery in the workshops. Instead, the huge timber beams rest on old workbenches and are turned using giant wooden spanners. Yard dogs Ted, Basil, Bumble and Dylan rest by wood burners, which are fuelled by timber offcuts and sawdust. This is a friendly, old-school set-up where the staff work together to produce the kind of timber-framed structures that make you want to weep with joy.

I spoke to five carpenters about what their job means to them.

Paul Slemmings joined more than 20 years ago, starting out ‘in tools’ before working his way up to senior frame designer. His work is more computer-based today but he still thinks like a carpenter. “You’re always looking at the design thinking how you will start it,” says Paul. “It’s really good to design something you would be happy to go into a workshop to make yourself.”

Paul worked as an aerospace engineer, then as a teacher, before becoming interested in carpentry after he took part in a voluntary course near Bristol in 1996. “I tried it and got on really well,” he says.

Since joining Carpenter Oak, Paul has been involved in some high-profile projects, including designing and building a new roof structure for the 800-year-old Carrickfergus Castle in Northern Ireland. The frame was made in the Devon yard before being put up on site in County Antrim last summer. “The majority of what we do is domestic and not usually seen by the general public,” says Paul, adding that he really likes working on projects he knows are going to be seen by lots of people. “Those are the ones I get a warm feeling about.”

Chris Amey is a carpenter and team leader. He joined the firm seven years ago after shifting his life focus. “I’d finished a sonic arts degree in London – it wasn’t very vocational,” Chris says, smiling. “I was unemployed and rethinking what I wanted to do with my life.” Buildings had always interested Chris, thanks to his architect grandfather. He enrolled on a carpentry course and liked it straight away. Chris worked in Kent and London (including on the Cutty Sark), then headed to Devon to run a B&B, before eventually landing a job at Carpenter Oak.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Chris says. “Wood has a lot of character. I like working with the tools and teaching people. And I really like a complicated sum! There’s a lot of geometry to do and you have to figure out the finer details.” His career highlights have included putting together two arch brace trusses at the 11th-century Church House Inn in Rattery, and creating trusses for an old barn on the Port Eliot Estate in Cornwall.

Senior carpenter Jean-Baptiste Rouvelin trained in France and arrived at Carpenter Oak to begin a one-year contract. That was 15 years ago. “I just rocked up and I’m still here enjoying the job,” he says. “I like the challenge. You start with a pile of wood and finish with a house. It’s good when you’re on site and you see it go up – you can breathe really well after that!” Jean has worked on everything from an elaborate swimming pool structure in Russia, to a “funky geometric roof” on a house in Scotland. “You’ve got to be self-motivated to do this job,” says Jean.

Matt Qiriaqi was working for a general building company when he saw a Carpenter Oak frame go up on site. “I thought that’s proper carpentry,” he says. “I didn’t like the idea of using modern carpentry machines. There’s quite a lot of metalwork involved these days; metal nailed onto bits of wood. That just wasn’t inspiring to me.”

Seeing the oak frame up close made Matt realise he wanted to master the craft. He joined Carpenter Oak nine years ago and has worked on several projects. “It’s really helped me to grow as a person,” says Matt. “It can be mentally and physically draining. But it’s so rewarding.”

Matt says being on both sides of the frame – both as part of a construction firm on site and as a member of the Carpenter Oak team – gives him a clear overview of a project. “Seeing that frame go up and knowing you’re part of the team is great,” says Matt, acknowledging the work other tradesmen have to do after that point. “That shouldn’t be underestimated,” he says. “A lot of skill goes into making it all look good.”

Dunstan Hodder thought he wanted to work in music or media but soon realised he wanted to do “a proper old craft”. “It was important to me to keep an old skill alive and be able to pass these skills on,” he says, explaining why he decided to become a carpenter. Dunstan joined Carpenter Oak in 2014. He says it’s a team effort. “Nothing happens in isolation. You do a lot of planning with support from the designers before working with the wood itself.”

Like his colleagues, Dunstan says there is one clear defining moment in this job. “It’s so satisfying when that frame goes up,” he says. “You see the fruits of your labour immediately.” Dunstan has been involved with high-profile projects, such as Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucestershire, as well as Carrickfergus Castle. Asked whether he does much carpentry at home. He laughs and says: “I haven’t had the chance to make any cupboards recently, if that’s what you mean.”

www.carpenteroak.com

Paul Slemmings. Carpenter Oak, Devon
Chris Amey. Carpenter Oak, Devon
Jean-Baptiste Rouverin. Carpenter Oak, Devon
Matt Qiriaqi. Carpenter Oak, Devon
Dunstan Hodder.  Carpenter Oak, Devon

Carpenter Oak

It’s tea-break time and a steady stream of slightly dusty men file into the kitchen at Carpenter Oak’s Devon Yard in Cornworthy. They sit and chat at the handmade benches, while enjoying a snack and a hot drink. On the walls behind them are complex drawings of some of the amazing timber-framed houses, extensions, commercial properties, conversions and cabins they have helped craft over the years.

Since 1987, Carpenter Oak has been pushing architectural boundaries with award-winning modern designs and cutting-edge timber engineering. At its heart is an ancient craft. The carpenters work with handheld tools (which they don’t like to share) stored on individual wooden trolleys.

There is no heavy machinery in the workshops. Instead, the huge timber beams rest on old workbenches and are turned using giant wooden spanners. Yard dogs Ted, Basil, Bumble and Dylan rest by wood burners, which are fuelled by timber offcuts and sawdust. This is a friendly, old-school set-up where the staff work together to produce the kind of timber-framed structures that make you want to weep with joy.

I spoke to five carpenters about what their job means to them.

Paul Slemmings joined more than 20 years ago, starting out ‘in tools’ before working his way up to senior frame designer. His work is more computer-based today but he still thinks like a carpenter. “You’re always looking at the design thinking how you will start it,” says Paul. “It’s really good to design something you would be happy to go into a workshop to make yourself.”

Paul worked as an aerospace engineer, then as a teacher, before becoming interested in carpentry after he took part in a voluntary course near Bristol in 1996. “I tried it and got on really well,” he says.

Since joining Carpenter Oak, Paul has been involved in some high-profile projects, including designing and building a new roof structure for the 800-year-old Carrickfergus Castle in Northern Ireland. The frame was made in the Devon yard before being put up on site in County Antrim last summer. “The majority of what we do is domestic and not usually seen by the general public,” says Paul, adding that he really likes working on projects he knows are going to be seen by lots of people. “Those are the ones I get a warm feeling about.”

Chris Amey is a carpenter and team leader. He joined the firm seven years ago after shifting his life focus. “I’d finished a sonic arts degree in London – it wasn’t very vocational,” Chris says, smiling. “I was unemployed and rethinking what I wanted to do with my life.” Buildings had always interested Chris, thanks to his architect grandfather. He enrolled on a carpentry course and liked it straight away. Chris worked in Kent and London (including on the Cutty Sark), then headed to Devon to run a B&B, before eventually landing a job at Carpenter Oak.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Chris says. “Wood has a lot of character. I like working with the tools and teaching people. And I really like a complicated sum! There’s a lot of geometry to do and you have to figure out the finer details.” His career highlights have included putting together two arch brace trusses at the 11th-century Church House Inn in Rattery, and creating trusses for an old barn on the Port Eliot Estate in Cornwall.

Senior carpenter Jean-Baptiste Rouvelin trained in France and arrived at Carpenter Oak to begin a one-year contract. That was 15 years ago. “I just rocked up and I’m still here enjoying the job,” he says. “I like the challenge. You start with a pile of wood and finish with a house. It’s good when you’re on site and you see it go up – you can breathe really well after that!” Jean has worked on everything from an elaborate swimming pool structure in Russia, to a “funky geometric roof” on a house in Scotland. “You’ve got to be self-motivated to do this job,” says Jean.

Matt Qiriaqi was working for a general building company when he saw a Carpenter Oak frame go up on site. “I thought that’s proper carpentry,” he says. “I didn’t like the idea of using modern carpentry machines. There’s quite a lot of metalwork involved these days; metal nailed onto bits of wood. That just wasn’t inspiring to me.”

Seeing the oak frame up close made Matt realise he wanted to master the craft. He joined Carpenter Oak nine years ago and has worked on several projects. “It’s really helped me to grow as a person,” says Matt. “It can be mentally and physically draining. But it’s so rewarding.”

Matt says being on both sides of the frame – both as part of a construction firm on site and as a member of the Carpenter Oak team – gives him a clear overview of a project. “Seeing that frame go up and knowing you’re part of the team is great,” says Matt, acknowledging the work other tradesmen have to do after that point. “That shouldn’t be underestimated,” he says. “A lot of skill goes into making it all look good.”

Dunstan Hodder thought he wanted to work in music or media but soon realised he wanted to do “a proper old craft”. “It was important to me to keep an old skill alive and be able to pass these skills on,” he says, explaining why he decided to become a carpenter. Dunstan joined Carpenter Oak in 2014. He says it’s a team effort. “Nothing happens in isolation. You do a lot of planning with support from the designers before working with the wood itself.”

Like his colleagues, Dunstan says there is one clear defining moment in this job. “It’s so satisfying when that frame goes up,” he says. “You see the fruits of your labour immediately.” Dunstan has been involved with high-profile projects, such as Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucestershire, as well as Carrickfergus Castle. Asked whether he does much carpentry at home. He laughs and says: “I haven’t had the chance to make any cupboards recently, if that’s what you mean.”

www.carpenteroak.com