Back in the old days

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Established Member
19 Sep 2011
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Nr. Swansea
Many of us sit at the scroll saw for hours at a time and as we are cutting away the mind can sometimes wander onto a variety of subjects. The other day I had a pile of wooden blanks on the bench with patterns on waiting to be cut, several hours work. I was thinking about people who use the scroll saw to earn a living and my thoughts wandered to when I first moved to Wales from Kent many years ago.

Just down the road from me was an industrial estate and occupying several units was a firm that made everything with scroll saws. I know that I visited the company many times but for the life of me I cannot remember what these visits were for. It could have been in an advisory capacity. I was fascinated with many aspects of the company, the layout, methods of production, variety of products made etc.

As you walked into the main production part there must have been at least 20 Hegner scroll saws in two rows of ten, back to back, all fully occupied by ladies churning out stuff at a rapid rate. I remember they had what appeared to be a huge wooden beer barrel that was held horizontal in a steel frame that slowly revolved. There was a small trap door in the middle of the barrel and what they used this for was sanding off the sharp edges. There were hundreds of small pieces of abrasive inside the barrel along with hundred of wooden items. When the barrel was emptied the finish was amazing and very uniform.

Starting to one side of the units the first part was storage for the wood and there would be whole trees that were planked up and sticked between layers. There were many pallets filled with wood and many different species of wood. Next to this unit was the preparation area where the wood would be prepared and cut to size. There were industrial sized planer/thicknessers, huge band saws, table saws, morticers and everything else needed along with many staff to operate it all.

In the next unit was the finishing area and I remember seeing a huge vat and overhead cages, the cages would be filled with wooden items and them dipped into the oil and then hung up to drain and dry. They had a display area as well by the main entrance and on display were things like Noah’s arks, pull along toys of every description, several different farm sets, dolls houses and many other items.

Upstairs were the offices and I think there must have been 20 staff up there and looking at the total number of people employed there the wage bill must have been staggering but then they had the business with products going world wide, the cost of blades alone must have been staggering. I have no idea how long the company had been in production before I moved to Wales but a few years later they closed down. Maybe they lost a big contract, I don’t know, my feeling is that goods from China were appearing in the shops and they could no longer be competitive. It was a very sad day when they closed the doors for the last time.

More recently I met a very enterprising couple a few years ago. Each year I attend some of the big events taking place like the national game fair or the Woodfest show and it was at one of these that I met this couple. They had obviously sunk a huge amount of money into their enterprise for they had bought one of the huge catering trailers one often sees at events like the ones I mentioned. Part of this unit was devoted to a workshop area where things like name signs could be made on the spot for customers. Either side of the trailer were huge display areas with hundreds upon hundreds of items on display. The husband and wife team had gone to great lengths to produce a stunning display with much thought going into presentation.

Most of the items on display they designed themselves and I picked up many ideas looking at everything they sold. They also had a workshop at home where the main stock was produced during the winter months. During the summer they just went from one big event to another and I would not be surprised if they did not take at least £2000 each time. They were fully self contained with a living and cooking area in the trailer and a generator quietly running at the back of the trailer.

The couple did very well at the event where I met them and there were always people looking and buying throughout the day. The cost of doing this sort of thing are quite high, most of the big events now have increased their cost considerably and towing that big trailer for hundreds of miles each time will rack the cost up. I know a few wood turners who do the same sort of things but on a much smaller scale. They have a small marquee or large gazebo where they demonstrate their craft and display the things they make, they either have a tent or small caravan with them and they love it all to bits.

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