Frequently Asked Questions
the finer details
Some questions come up more often than others, and we’ve tried to address these here. Of course, we are happy to talk about any of these points with you directly, as well as answer your specific questions.
Practice and repetition are crucial to gaining and keeping skills in any domain, not least the creative one as it is so under-expressed in modern society. Our coursework redresses this through our artistic and technical drawing classes as well as our design classes. The courses at Rowden give students a language they can use to articulate their creative expression. We encourage a new way of looking at form in design. A good maker needs good eyes, the ability to see a true curve, to spot a detail in the drawing that is not working or is uncomfortable.
Rowden teaches you visual awareness, looking, using your eyes more acutely. This awareness will help you observe and perceive, to see more. Practice through daily sketching is vital for a store of visual reference material to draw from as a designer. The practical skills you are gaining with your hands in the workshop are synergistic to the creative skills we teach in the art studio.
One of the most repeated concerns for a student joining Rowden is their lack of creative ‘talent’ or knowledge. Most believe they cannot draw or that they will struggle to express themselves visually. With a little time, practice and our guidance we’ve seen that this has seldom been true.
Our workshop is in the wilds of rural North Devon. It’s a fantastic place to live; one of the very few areas of unspoiled countryside left in the British Isles. Rowden Atelier is at Rowden Farm, approximately 2 miles north of the village of Shebbear. We overlook rolling green hills beyond the farm, and it is an inspiring place to live and work.
On occasion, it can also be wet and windy. You will need some form of transport as we are “out in the sticks” here. Torrington, Holsworthy, Bude and Bideford are all small market towns nearby. The nearest village shop is in Shebbear which is about a 5-minute drive. Our contact page shows a map of our location.
The workshop is open 8:30 am till 5 pm five days a week. In reality, we are open earlier and shut much later, with students able to access their benches during evenings and weekends. Extracurricular time at the bench is by no means necessary to conclude a course. Still, the facility is here for those that want more hours at their workbench. We are open year-round, less two weeks over Christmas and the course mirrors our open times. In our experience working to academic terms with breaks is less effective. Students are only with us for a year – they must have as much continuity as possible, to fully embed what we are conveying at Rowden.
The course is predominantly practical. It is generally at the bench 1:1, or within your intake of no more than six individuals. Over a year, students will work with each tutor, and all are available throughout the working day as questions arise. The only time we steer away from this 1:1 / small group model is in our daily lecture.
Every day at 10:30 we all come together for our daily lecture, that we colloquially term the ‘Dimbleby’. It is a critical part of our coursework. It gives students a chance to interrogate some of the more specialist aspects of cabinetmaking. Flattening burrs, sharpening saws, french marquetry, timber properties or project pricing – our Dimbleby’s are wide-ranging, specific and exhaustive. Much of what we cover in these lectures is reinforcing teachings at the bench. Still, these are rich sessions, brimming with insight that you will not find anywhere else.
There are usually four full-time intakes a year with 3-6 students in each, fluctuating according to our availability.
Being up close to your material, changing its form with hand tools is vital to being a competent fine woodworker. By planing or chiselling a piece of wood, you gain an understanding of the material and how it behaves. To progress to creating more advanced shapes and forms, a maker has to have this knowledge. Handwork enables a visceral recognition of precise, accurate work. It opens you up to a level of finesse and consideration, that is not possible with machines alone. Hand tools are core to what we do and are part of what marks the difference between a producer and a craftsperson.
It’s a small group of hand tools that cabinetmakers use; chisels, planes, marking out tools. A course at Rowden intends to show you how to use them all to a professional standard from day one. We learn hand skills through doing, and for us, this means doing to a high standard.
Yes, this is the primary focus in the first half of our 12 Month Professional Designer / Maker course, or the whole of the 6 Month Professional Maker course. If with us for the full year, we would still encourage you to take advantage of the design and artistic syllabuses available to you. Understanding these aspects translate into your being a more competent maker. Should you still have no interest in designing your furniture, we do have some ‘Rowden project’ designs that we can provide. These will enable you to further your skills in the latter half of your course.
Absolutely. Every course we teach, assumes the student has no professional knowledge in woodworking. We move at the pace of the individual, so you are in no danger of being out of your depth or left behind.
Many come transitioning away from another career, but each of these students has been able to bring a unique perspective to the work, and utilise skills from their prior, non woodworking experiences.
Coming to Rowden with no experience just means no bad habits to unlearn, no preconceptions about the right or wrong way and a blank page on which to draw out your own creative vision as a furniture maker.
A range of options have worked well for our students. These can apply whether you are here for a short course or full-time study at Rowden. Students are responsible for their accommodation arrangements, but as a guide:
On-site accommodation – £200 p/month: We do have some basic facilities for full-time students to live on-site, including in a campervan with hookup. On-site living includes access to a shared kitchen, showers, washing and a host of other facilities. It is a very cost-effective way of living whilst with us for a course.
Local holiday lets – £350-600 p/month: Some spaces have provided a holiday let for our students, but for a more extended period than you might be able to find online. These have been very good for Rowden students and those we recommend, know us well.
Traditional lettings – £300 – £1000 p/month+: This is how the majority of students will arrange accommodation when with us for a full-time course. Prices vary depending on what you need, whether you are coming with a family or partner, or the facilities you want nearby. We can help with the towns and villages that might best suit your specific situation.
Please contact us for more information and advice on accommodation or see our accommodation page for more details.
We close for two weeks over Christmas to ensure a break for all. The workshop is open all year except this Christmas holiday. Continuity is essential to embed the vast amount of information available in this course, and most want to maximise the year. You are welcome to take any breaks you need to, but they are at your discretion.
The atelier is a medieval concept. It was usually the studio or workshop of a successful master craftsman. There would be assistants working on projects and also ‘journeymen’ (essentially an assistant travelling from studio to studio), learning particular techniques. In an age without industry or communication-based technologies, the atelier was a valuable way of spreading knowledge. There would also be apprentices or fee-paying students. Everyone in an atelier was learning at different levels from different people, and it was a hive of information.
An education at Rowden enables you to explore techniques under tuition from our team of tutors and master craftspeople. We also encourage the collective woodworking mind in several ways. Prominently we stage the entry dates so that there will be three or four students ahead a few months of you and in time, the same behind you. This isn’t part of the formal schooling, but students naturally share knowledge, debate and ask questions of each other. Articulating processes and skills increase the retention of knowledge and reinforce understanding. It also inspires confidence. When a new student is impressed by your dovetails and asked about how you approached your first, you should realise how far you have come in such a short time. You will see how capable a woodworker you are becoming.
Around 30% of our intake join from overseas. We welcome students from all over the world and will do what we can to help you with the logistics of coming to Rowden. If you need one, you are responsible for arranging any visas for your course with us.
Not all students coming to Rowden are here with a view to immediate self-employment. Some are looking to go into the industry, maybe to hone their skills further in a commercial setting. They take advantage of our well-established reputation and the courses at Rowden have opened doors to some of the top cabinetmaking workshops in the country.
Potential employers come to us looking for suitable students leaving our courses and where pertinent, we will put them in touch. Much is down to individual temperament, skill and attitude as is true of any industry, but in 2021, 100% of students that set out to go into employment after their course, is now working professionally as a maker.
Unfortunately, there is little direct support for craftsmanship in the UK. If you have some experience with wood, QEST may be prepared to provide funding towards your tuition at Rowden. QEST is a trust supporting excellence in British Craftsmanship and well-aligned with our work. Please visit their site for more information or get in touch with us to discuss.
We are quite pragmatic in our approach at Rowden and measure our success in makers making, not likes and followers. We encourage focus and attention to detail in our workshop. Social media has its place, but seldom does social media correlate with those ideals. We update our social channels from time to time, but we are more focused on teaching, rather than telling others that’s what we are doing.
Whilst it may sometimes be useful for makers, social media does little to support students and really promotes the institution.
At Rowden, we look to provide an environment for deep work and long term effort. We want to concentrate on honing specialist, challenging skills, so thats our primary interest – entirely supporting those who come through our atelier.
We provide all the tools, timbers and finishes you need to conclude our weekend, one week and one-month courses. We also provide tools, timbers and finishes for the full hand tool training in our six and twelve-month courses.
From around 8-10 weeks at Rowden, projects start to become increasingly bespoke. At this point, you will need to start accruing your tools as you begin to understand what feels right in your hand as well as start making choices about your own timber.
You may already have some tools, but we have a recommended tool list for students starting with us. It communicates what is necessary and what is not. Please do not get bogged down as a collector of tools; your tool kit should be as large as it needs to be and as small as possible.
It would be best if you bought any new tools whilst at Rowden rather than before your course. Our students have access to discounts with some of the biggest retailers in the country. Decisions on brand specifics will also be more straightforward. Not only will you be able to ask our advice, but also get hands-on use with examples to aid your decision. These tools could be with you for life, so it bears some patience in the buying process.
Allow a budget of £2-3000 to cover all your tools, materials, timber and hardware. A bit less is possible, but you might be making compromises, a bit more and of course, you’ll have more choice.
In the vast majority, no. Unlike many institutions, Rowden maintains a full stock of abrasives, fixings, adhesives and finishes for you to use reasonably during your course. You might need a particular finish, fixing or similar ancillary item that goes beyond our stocks. In those cases, you will need to source and arrange your own. Even then we can help with our experience and the discounts that are available to our students. We also have a bank of more specialised power tools. These are available for your use with full training.
Yes. Some students start taking commissions during their course and focus the second half of their year on furniture for real clients. Whether you have a chance to make to commission or not while here, you will explore how to interpret a brief during your course, including mock scenarios. If these practice briefs give you ideas for the furniture that you would like to make, we’re happy to guide you in this process.
If you need to cancel or amend course dates, please let us know as soon as possible. We will do our best to offer an alternative date, but places are generally booked up months in advance. Course booking deposits are non-refundable.
Cancellations made less than four weeks before the course commencement date incur a liability for payment of the full fee.
In the event of circumstances beyond our control, we reserve the right to cancel courses or amend start dates.
Please contact us with any questions not answered in this FAQ, via our contact form below.
A DIFFERENT QUESTION?
Every student coming to Rowden does so with a unique set of circumstances. Please get in touch if you have any questions we’ve not answered here, and we’ll do our best to help.