Three days with Andrew Crawford

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New member
23 May 2010
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Michigan, USA
For the aspiring cellist to spend three days with Yo-Yo Ma would be something special, certainly. For an aspiring box maker to spend three days one-on-one with Andrew Crawford is similar. Earlier this month, I had the pleasure to visit Andrew’s shop in Shropshire, and had such a great experience others might like to hear about it.

Andrew builds what I consider “traditional” boxes. I confess to a clear preference for boxes that look like boxes. Many types of containers fall into the category of “boxes” these days, and I in no way wish to demean the more eclectic and sculpturally oriented creations, some of which are truly remarkable in their elaborate eccentricity. But, it is the traditional, finely crafted box that I personally find compelling. Crawford certainly makes some of the finest boxes being created today.

As I live in the states, my wife and I boarded a flight in Grand Rapids Michigan, finally disembarking the train in Church Stretton the following afternoon. No delays, no volcano ash problems. But UK residents will find the travel much shorter and easier.

If you’re not familiar with Andrew Crawford’s stunning boxes, check out his website at and click on slideshow for some good photos of his boxes, his shop, and the surrounding area. The site is really well done and it’s easy to spend a long time gazing. He has begun offering a variety of courses from novice to advanced. In my case, I had built several of his designs from his books. Hence, I had a long list of very specific questions and interests best addressed in a one on one session. He addressed them all clearly and openly, making my time with him a great value.

Andrew is a truly charming fellow and a skilled teacher who generously shares his vast command of box making methods, tips, and processes with clarity and enthusiasm. Gluing a few pieces of wood together into a container with a contrasting lid and finger joints is not all that difficult. A perfectly acceptable, workmanlike box. Creating a fine box of the caliber Andrew creates is something else altogether. And, he is willing to show you how he does it.

As I had only loosely defined this one-on-one session, we began by talking ...discussing goals for the visit, interests, questions, and just getting to know each other. Andrew covered, in detail, general construction, veneering tips veneer selection, and how he obtains his perfect book-matches. Yes, there are some tricks. We began early on finishing, and each day continuing the steps he uses to accomplish his flawless french-polish finishes. And I do mean flawless.

I was also curious how he built and adjusted the intricate drawers and interiors in his more elaborate boxes. He walked me through how he goes about it, including his really neat hidden spring drawer mechanisms and fitted pigskin suede lining. We spent time on inlay and decoration - how to do it so it looks as if it all grew together on the same tree. This is fun, but time consuming and finicky work. A single small box can easily involve forty or more fine inlayed lines and edges. If they’re not perfect the flaws really stand out. But, with a disc sander, a simple jig, and a methodical approach, perfect line inlays are very attainable.

We visited the curved shapes that are a hallmark of Andrew’s work and how to make proper forms for construction. As you can imagine, veneering curved sides or lids requires a closely fitted form and a means of pressing the veneer evenly. With a bit of instruction, and a modest investment a whole new world of curved precision woodwork becomes possible.

Amidst all the “showing and doing” we talked about design, and planning of each project. Design is a personal and somewhat ethereal thing, but a poorly designed box, even when perfectly executed, can still be a sad and awkward thing. He won’t make you a world class designer in a couple days, but you do quickly pick up on the principles, values, and approaches he applies in creating his masterpieces. Then the sky is the limit as you apply similar methods in building your own masterpieces.

Andrew is an unusually creative builder of jigs and fixtures for his specialized small scale work. The fixtures are important, and he goes to some length to demonstrate how small scale precision woodworking is different from general woodworking. He regularly works to a few thousandths of an inch tolerance. He showed me how his fixtures work, discussed the importance of using abrasive techniques to achieve extreme precision. I guarantee anyone’s box making will benefit immensely. I thought mine were pretty good, though now the bar has now gone up considerably. I do now know how to go about getting there.

By the way, while I was having a great time with Andrew at the shop (a really neat nineteenth century stone farm building and generally fun place to work) my wife was happily off walking the many trails around Church Stretton, enjoying the charming village and generally having a really good time of her own. (Believe me, I would have known if she wasn’t.) Our accommodations at Mynd House B&B were outstanding, from the great room, sumptuous breakfasts, and genuinely proficient and friendly owners Dave and Sue.

If you’re interested but can’t get to his shop, look for his detailed book “Fine Decorative Boxes”. Mine is marked up and dog-eared from use. He’s working on a new book for early next year.

From Shropshire we moved on to London for a few days, but the high point was clearly the time in the workshop, spent with a very engaging fellow who is quite possibly the best in the world at what he does. For me, that’s pretty special.

So, if you’re getting the urge, my advice is to do it. Your skills are guaranteed to improve. And, as for me, perhaps one of these days I’ll build a box that even makes Andrew smile with approval. I’d like that.


Having been on one of Andrew's two day courses last weekend I can heartily agree with you. His passion for the work is incredible, his accuracy is tremendous, but at the same time he makes you believe that you too can achieve the same level of work.

(Waiting for the kids to go to bed so that I can go out and polish and fit the hinges to the box we made... )