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Working In Wood - A Green Oak Pergola

The seeds for Williams and Marsh began when Bryn Williams, Richard Marsh and Kester Hoefkens met while studying furniture design at Rycotewood College, Oxford. It was soon after graduation that Bryn and Richard formed their company whose aim was to provide a personal design and make service in the Cambridgeshire area. Due to their success Kester has now joined the team to help expand the business. The furniture produced is hand made, using the best in traditional and contemporary materials with time taken to hand pick timber for grain and figure. Traditional British craftsmanship is combined wih the techniques and processes of contemporary design.

Finished green oak octagonal Pergola in pride of place. Until recently Williams and Marsh specialised solely in indoor furniture, however a recent commission has set them on a path that now also includes unique outdoor furniture. Late in 2007 Williams and Marsh were contacted by landscape gardener Johnny Winter, who was looking for a unique wooden pergola to surround a circular paved area for a recently completed project. The brief was for an octagonal oak pergola with joinery to match that of a new barn at the front of the house.

Bryn and Richard are used to making indoor fine furniture, and found the challenge of this comparatively large scale construction an enjoyable change. The design consisted of eight uprights, each having three braces for the circular frame and roof, making a total of 41 pieces and they had to take into consideration the problems and advantages associated with using green oak. The term 'green oak' does not refer to its colour but the fact that the timber is freshly cut or wet as it has not been air or kiln dried and this means it can be prone to moving, twisting, shrinking and splitting which could cause problems with jointing the individual pieces together. Green oak is also a lot heavier than dried oak due to the amount of water that is held by the wood. One key advantage is that it doesn't need any applications of treatment or finish as it has a natural protection against decay and rot.

Shaping the ends of beams by hand.The timber supplier was able to 'rough' cut the wood to just over the finished size required leaving Bryn and Richard to plane the sides smooth but even so the volume of wood (and its weight) was still something of a surpise when it arrived! After a lot of hard work and lifting, all the timber was machined to its finished dimensions and they were ready to start cutting the joints and shaping the beams. With timber this long and heavy it can be difficult to accurately machine the joints so occasionally they were hand cut for example the end details for the ring and roof section were shaped by hand.Traditional mortise and tennon joints with pegs were used to draw the tennons tight and secure.

Preparing the holes for the uprights.On a sunny, cold December morning the day of site construction arrived. As this was the first large outdoor project for Richard and Bryn they enlisted two friends to help with the lifting and building: Tom, a fellow cabinet maker, and Nath, a builder, whose tools for moving such heavy weights came in very useful. The order of construction was vital otherwise the beams would not slot home. Each section was erected like an arch, then each neighbouring section followed until the octagon was complete. The central hub was then held up using an acro-prop (usually used to support girders in buildings) whilst the roof beams were put in place, then the whole roof was lowered into its final position. With only finishing touches such as trimming the pegs, cleaning any mud off the uprights and patio paving and re-dressing the surrounding gravel left to complete it had been a very successful build.

Williams and Marsh had proved that their knowledge of wood could be used in what was to them, a new environment, and the end result would be something very beautiful that would be a lasting statement of their craftsmanship. (Following on from this project they have since completed three outdoor seats for Sustrans, a sustainable transport chairty that is developing a national cycle network).

© Sharon Brown 2nd April March 2008

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