With the results of AWR’s Boxmaker 2014 competition soon to be announced in the June issue we asked competition judge Evan Dunstone for insight into how his rulings were made.
Whenever I’m invited to judge a woodworking competition, my first thought goes to the original brief; what are the woodworkers being challenged to make? In this case, the competition brief was extremely broad; the ‘box’ just required the potential to contain ‘something’ and had to have a lid of some sort, and have been made within 12 months up to April 3, 2014.
With such a broad brief, what was I looking for as a judge? Clearly a high order of craftsmanship must be present. In this context, I was mostly focusing on clarity of intent. I wanted to see that every move was deliberate and every detail intentional. I wanted to see tight joints, even mitres, crisp detailing, deliberate grain composition. If an element was carved, then the carving had to show control and purpose.
Then the box had to be technically correct. This is usually in the context of timber movement, but can also relate to the orientation of joinery and other elements of a technical nature. What I can’t tolerate in a box (or any piece of woodwork, really) is a construction that does not allow for timber movement.
Particularly with a box, scale and proportion is fundamental. Such intimate work must possess a corresponding finesse. A box must have just the right poise. I am looking for a box that is in proportion to its size and function.
With design, I am looking for surprise, but not shock. I wanted to see a box that has been re-thought from the ground up. Such a box is rarely wildly radical, but rather a studied re-examination of what a box might be. Often this re-examination is inspired by the nature of the object being contained. I was well pleased to see boxes that respond to the intended contents from an aesthetic and practical perspective.
Although finish can be considered a facet of craftsmanship, it is so often neglected that I tend to treat it as a separate discipline or category. I am constantly perplexed to see makers lavish time and skill on their pieces, only to rush finishing. ‘Back in the old days’ finishing was a separate skill and trade and the saying went that ‘a finisher was born, not trained’. In my workshop, every maker is primarily responsible for their own finishing. This is also the case in many of the other high end workshops, such as Boucher and Co. Let’s just say that I am very responsive to a beautiful finish.
The glaring difficulty with a competition judged on photographic submission is that the camera can tell a thousand lies. Good work shot badly is as deceiving as bad work shot well. And the obvious problem with a box it that one’s personal interaction with it, how it feels, how it works, is normally fundamental to the experience. A photograph won’t tell you if the internal sections are too loose, or if the lid is sticky, or if the finger pull feels awkward.
And finally, when all the technical aspects had been ticked, I had to like the box. I could pretend that my assessment was purely objective, but that simply was not the case. What I really wanted was a strong personal response to the box. Sometimes one feels this initial response, but is subsequently let down by some ill-considered detail or making error. A winning entry was one that maintained the initial ‘wow’ through the layers of examination.
Australian Wood Review thanks Evan Dunstone for judging Boxmaker 2014. See here for more information about Evan and his work as a furniture designer/maker.
The June issue of AWR will feature Boxmaker 2014 winning and selected entries.
Australian Wood Review thanks Boxmaker 2014 competition sponsors for their generous support in providing a prize pool of over $5000 of top quality machinery and hand tools.