Handmade: Britains Best Woodworker on Channel4

Handmade: Dolls House

Episode 2

Skills Challenge: Impossible Dovetail
Big Build: Dolls House

Waving goodbye to Chantal so soon after meeting her was a potent reminder that we weren’t just there to mess about making stuff…

It’s safe to say that I really didn’t enjoy the first set of challenges. Having put so much pressure on myself to succeed, and having to rely so much on the superb technicians for their help in getting to know all of the machinery; not to mention having to produce fine quality work under intense scrutiny from the cameras, in an unfamiliar environment, far from home, surrounded by strangers; I had allowed the situation to get the better of me.

I love makings things: I always have. The joy of creation is something I have relished since I was a child, and something I have pursued throughout my life, and, while for most of my career I sat behind a drawing board, my spare time was always taken up with a project of some sort – from renovating houses to building wooden automata kits with my son. So this week, when we got to make Doll’s Houses, together with three items of furniture, I was back on much more familiar territory, and resolved to worry less about what was going on on the periphery, and just get on with enjoying the making process.

The skills challenge, however, meant doing actual proper woodwork joints, and although I started off ok, there was something that didn’t quite fit properly, and I struggled to work out which bit needed adjusting. Each time I thought I’d worked it out, I shaved off a bit more wood, and each time I did it, it was in the wrong place… By the time I finally got the two parts to slide together, you could see daylight through the joint in all sorts of places where you shouldn’t have been able to. Still – at least I finished it! On telling Helen of my difficulties later on, she said, “It’s really simple : you mark out the joint accurately, cut to the line, and hey presto – it works!”. Could it really be that easy?

The Doll’s House, on the other hand, went together more smoothly than I had expected, and adding minute joints to the table was a cunning ploy to delight Helen. No-one was surprised that I’d decided to make a castle – apparently that’s exactly the sort of thing a posh person would do! As it happens, when I was about 7 or 8, my Dad disappeared into his shed about a month before my birthday, and we all listened in anticipation to the banging, hammering and copious amounts of swearing we could hear through the walls. When my birthday finally arrived, it transpired he’d made me a castle and filled it with toy knights. It was made from hardboard, covered with printed stone paper and featured a working drawbridge and portcullis, and was one of the best presents ever! It totally captured my imagination, and fostered in me an enduring love of castles, both ruined and intact, and was probably one of the first and most significant influences on my desire to learn about architecture and interiors.

I could have guessed that Alex, being a modernist, wasn’t going to favour the design, but he and Helen both surprised me by liking it – and not just for the teeny tiny joints on the table.

‘Teeny tiny joints’ - Who knew this phrase would prove to be the subject of such mirth…

Mistis dolls house design