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Guide to... woodwork

Why do a course in woodwork?


To be on this page in the first place, you probably already have quite an interest in wood. You might even have a major passion for the stuff. Do the words lathes, dowels, adze auger, gimlet, brace & bit  etc. get your pulse racing and fire your imagination? You may already have a passion and extensive skills and, if so, you will know there is always more to learn, more to explore. Perhaps you want to learn the basics of wood carving or tackle the rudiments of wood turning on the lathe. Look no further! Soon you could be breathing in the deeply satisfying smells of a creative wood workshop.


Many of us love to create something beautiful to enhance your home. Woodwork as part of the school curriculum has sadly declined in recent decades, resulting in a decrease in the skill level of ‘the man in the street’. As many experienced woodworkers will tell you, twenty or thirty years ago practical knowledge of basic woodwork was commonplace. Nowadays, it is safer for woodwork tutors to assume fairly limited experience. This may change however! A marked resurgence in crafts has been apparent in recent years and there is every reason to encourage Britain’s youth (and more senior citizens) to enjoy the practice of woodwork. 


For an interesting and creative way to make a living, careers in woodwork can be tremendously satisfying - not to mention useful. Woodwork offers some excellent opportunities, if one is patient and motivated enough to become good at it. is here to provide you with a comprehensive and thorough guide to wood working courses throughout the UK. So whether you’ve a yen to make your own Windsor chair, turn a gorgeous fruit bowl, carve a rocking horse head or become the next Thomas Chippendale (link his name to the section on him), we’ll find a course that will show you how.


Soon, you’ll be spending time in the workshop of a master craftsman or woman, smelling that lovely woody smell and creating something unique.

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A (very) brief history of woodwork


Wood has been used to enhance the life of humans since the beginning of our history as a species. It seems that for as long as Man has been using wood for practical purposes, we have also been pre-occupied with creativity and ornamentation. So, even pre-historic and rudimentary tools contain evidence of Mans’ intrinsic desire to create something both useful and decorative. This combination of art and functionality is the essence of Craft.


The oldest wooden implement found in the British Isles was a wooden hunting spear, discovered in Clacton-On-Sea and dating back 450,000 years. 


Woodwork was highly valued by both the ancient Egyptians, who invented the art of veneering and varnishing, and the ancient Chinese, who became famous for intricate  nailless and glue-less joinery. Both civilisations used woodwork to craft wooden coffins, wooden boats, wooden furniture and wooden utensils. Maori woodcarving is celebrated for its intricate symbols of the gods. Their carved human faces, known as Korurus, are symbols of ancestors who will protect the home. The Phoenicians built the great Soloman’s Temple using aromatic Cedars of Lebanon for the highly decorated panels - even in those days the artisan craftsman was highly respected for his knowledge and skill. Woodcarving is mentioned in the ancient Indian sacred texts - the Vedas- written from 1500Bc to 800BC where they were used in religious and philosophical symbolism. 


Wood craft was one of the earliest of skills in building boats and houses. Woodwork has been practised since the earliest civilisations and communities. Wood is intrinsic in religion (think of the Cross - a sacred symbol recognised across the world); sport, building and decoration. 


Interesting woody facts

As there are hundreds of types of tree, so there are hundreds of types of wood, but they can be roughly grouped into three main categories:  hardwoods, softwoods, and man-made woods. 

Hardwoods come from mainly deciduous trees (those which drop their leaves once a year). More accurately, hardwood comes from trees which are classified as ‘angiosperm’ (those which produce a covered seed, such as the acorn on an oak tree). Examples of hardwoods include mahogany, teak, walnut, ash, elm, poplar and birch. 

Softwoods come from coniferous, evergreen trees (those which have needles), so it follows that there are hundreds more hardwood varieties than softwoods. Examples of softwoods include pines, spruces, juniper, cedars, firs, larches, douglas-firs, hemlocks, cypresses, redwoods, and yews. When faced with unknown timber, as a rule of thumb if you can easily mark the wood with your fingernail, it is probably a softwood. 

Man-made or manufactured woods, such as plywood, MDF and laminate, are manufactured by binding together particles of wood and adhesive. The advantages of man made woods include versatility, stability and strength. Man-made woods are often easier to work with and significantly more efficient. 

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Some things you may not know about wood...


  1. You can tell the age of a tree or log by the presence of growth rings, which are wider in youth and grow narrower as the tree ages
  2. Although generally speaking Hardwoods are ‘harder’ than softwoods, there is actually a large variation in the wood hardness across hardwoods and softwoods. Wood from the Yew tree, for example, is classified as a softwood yet is harder than oak, walnut and ash, all of which are hardwoods. Poplar, a hardwood, is fast growing and typically softer than pine.
  3. Heartwood is the central part of a tree trunk, and often noticeable for its darker colour. It is actually dead material which has formed to become stronger and more resistant to decay than the sapwood (the rest of the trunk) which forms the ‘live’ part of the tree.
  4. A mature leafy tree can produce as much oxygen in a season as 10 people breath in in a year. (Arbor Day Foundation)
  5. In the year 2005, with the help of NASA satellite imagery, it was estimated that there were approximately 400 billion 246 million trees on earth. That works out at approximately 61 per person. (Thank you to Johny W Morlan for his research).
  6. The world's tallest living standing tree is a softwood Coast Redwood [sequoia sempervirens] named Hyperion, in Redwood National Park in California. Last measured in October 2006, it was approximately 379 feet tall, 80 feet higher than the Statue of Liberty. (as above)
  7. The world's largest forest is situated in northern Russia and is coniferous. It amounts to 25% of the Earth’s trees, covering a total of 2.7 billion acres.
  8. The only wood species able to hold liquid is oak, which is why it is used to make barrels for aging wine, whisky and sherry.
  9. Trees are the longest living organisms on earth.
  10. Human carelessness accounts for around 90% of forest fires. However, forest fires can be the most efficient way for a forest to rid itself of dead or dying plant matter and serve an important ecological purpose in encouraging regrowth, as the decomposed organic matter enriches the soil.
  11. The Oak is the quintessential British wood, being a sacred tree for the Celts, the National Trust’s logo, the image on the back of a 1987 pound coin and the tree which famously sheltered a young King Charles II from Oliver Cromwell’s army. Oak is by far the most common deciduous tree here, accounting for 16% of the nation’s woodland.