Angus Ross is exhibiting with Craft Scotland
at Gallery 3.3, Saatchi Gallery, London SW3
Thursday 28 February – Sunday 3 March
Angus make things because he finds the process immensely satisfying.
However when making a speculative one off piece for Collect it is special as there is a much more freedom and a looser process than with the commissioned work. Angus calls this “sketching with wood”.
Our workshop and woodland are on the banks of the River Tay and rivers are a great source of inspiration. Historically and psychologically rivers connect rural places to the wider world and they have a unique energy, movement and light. For this bench Angus turned his thoughts to the River Spey – famous across the globe for whisky and salmon fishing.
Over half the distilleries in Scotland are in Speyside in the north east of the country. The river and it’s tributaries provide plentiful water required for whisky (both for the drink and for the cooling required in the process) and the surrounding fertile plains produce the barley. Speyside was also a remote area with easy access to the sea which will have made it attractive to the illicit distillers and smugglers in past centuries.
The Spey is the fastest flowing river in Scotland but is also shallow with a gravel river bed that makes it perfect for wild salmon and it is widely considered to be the best salmon fishing river in the world. The Spey cast is a particular technique used in fly fishing to allow a fly to be cast a long distance onto fast flowing water.
The Spey Bench started with the physical process of steam-bending – literally coaxing and pushing planks of steamed wood over formers to create the desired line. The elements were then traditionally jointed but this process was quite complex due to the angles involved. The form of the bench evokes the flowing river, the angle of the rod and the loops of line formed during fly casting.
Angus is interested in dynamic flowing lines and the interface between a person and a piece of furniture. When nestled on this bench the interface is keenly felt. It is also a lovely place to savour a glass of whisky.
Dr. Mhairi Maxwell, Assistant Curator at V&A Dundee has written a lovely article
Modern Alchemists at Collect 2019
“The makers in the Craft Scotland showcase at Collect 2019 are the alchemists of our time; carving, casting and creating new traditions, ideas of value and material possibilities across all disciplines. This showcase is craft and design at the boundaries and should not be missed!
Drawing on a range of different influences and fusing together very different techniques, all 15 makers represented are working to create striking new forms and materialities which deliberately defy definition, including furniture maker Angus Ross and his super-natural use of folding and steam bending……”
Read the article
Local ash (Fraxinus excelsior) was used for the bench. Angus likes to use ash as it is usually disregarded for fine furniture making – but considered an excellent firewood- hence its name. Ash is considered a plain wood aesthetically but our Scottish wood often includes a deep pinky tone referred to as olive ash. Angus finds ash to be the best wood for steam-bending.
Ash is an important woodland and non-woodland tree with an important ecological niche which is currently threatened by a fungal disease, “ash die back”, causing the loss of many trees. In a week, when the potential catastrophic loss of insects is being considered, it may be worth a moment to pause and reflect on the complexity of tree habitats.
“Ash has a unique position as it creates a nutrient-rich, rapidly degradable litter …which contributes to the high pH of the soil compared to that typical of other UK tree species. Furthermore, the ash canopy has high light penetration. Such ecological functions create ash-specific assemblages of species, both above- and below-ground, thus contributing to, and enhancing, UK biodiversity.
1,058 species are associated with ash trees: (from smallest to largest numerically): birds, mammals, bryophytes (mosses, liverworts and hornworts), fungi, vascular plants, invertebrates and lichens. These species may utilise the ash trees themselves, and/or the surrounding habitat created by ash trees. Out of the 1,058 species, 44 were ‘obligate’ ash-associated species, in that they have only been found on living or dead ash trees. These obligate species include fungi, invertebrates and lichens. Sixty-two further species were highly associated with ash, and include fungi, lichen, bryophyte and invertebrate species. The dependence of at least 106 species on the ash tree and the habitat these trees create, demonstrates the importance of the ash trees’ contribution to UK biodiversity.”
Lawrence, R. & Cheffings, C.M. (Editors) 2014. A summary of the impacts of ash dieback on UK biodiversity, including the potential for long-term monitoring and further research on management scenarios. JNCC Report No.501
What this means is that if we lose all ash trees we will lose 44 species and 62 more will be threatened. Some trees are proving resistant to disease so we are unlikely to lose all ash however they provide a similar niche to elm which was almost been wiped out. Therefore it is easy to see how insects and other species can be dramatically reduced – almost without most people noticing.
Research is in progress to understand tree diseases and how to best support small mixed woodlands and large scale forestry. In general the tree environment is improved by reducing over-crowding – this is what we do in our woodland.
Modern forestry with mixed species and mixed age of trees is more likely to increase resilience than our traditional monoculture forestry in the UK.
Recently we had a lovely photoshoot at the magnificent Balnakeilly, a recently restored Georgian mansion and 2000 acre estate above Pitlochry. Thank you photographer Susie Lowe.
The original house house was owned by the Stewart-Wilson family for almost 500 hundred years until the death of Colonel Ralf Stewart-Wilson the 11th laird in 2016. It has recently been restored by Danish property investor Dan Svenningsen and managed by Sophie McGown who led the interior design introducing a mix of contemporary, colourful Scottish and Nordic elements to original artefacts.
It is huge views, lovely grounds and is a wonderful place for big gatherings. It is now available to hire.
Our woodland is mostly oak with beech at the eastern edge and alder to the west. Our woodland is privately owned by a group of ten and we gather for work days. Beech trees create a dense litter of beech nut husks which are very effective at suppressing any under-storey. One of our tasks is to prevent the beech becoming so dense it covers paths or encroaches into the oak wood (as it will end up dominating it). We achieve this by pulling up beech saplings using a hand winch. This is surprisingly hard work. The large tree to the right of Angus is being used as an anchor and the winch extends to the left and is attached to small beech trees. As the winch is tightened it pulls the beech out by the roots. Work days always involve heading to our shed or campfire for a cup of tea.
Evolution of Tradition Exhibition 2-5 October
Angus was invited by The Furniture Makers Company, a City of London livery company to exhibit furniture at a new exhibition at the Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour. This was their first selling exhibition of “exceptional furniture by British designers and makers” and the enormous atria of the Design Centre with it’s prestigious luxury interior design brands was a memorable location.
On 3rd October Angus gave a well attended talk about his steam bending practise explaining how he combines ancient steam bending, traditional woodwork and digital design and cutting to create his contemporary curvy furniture.
We were delighted to see our Forth Bench image used for the brochure!
Our Resilience Bench (used for our blog cover photo) has a beautiful steam-bent ash top rail.
As Angus is a great admirer of designer Thomas Heatherwick’s design through model making approach, and we were delighted to see him receive an Honorary Bespoke Guildmark for the ‘Friction Table”. Angus also met Thomas at No 10 earlier this year!
First and foremost Angus sees himself as a designer so it has been truly wonderful to be part of the new V&A Dundee, the first design museum in Scotland, which opened this weekend. We are absolutely thrilled to have our Unstable Stool feature in the Scottish Design Gallery.
This is our response to the museum after the opening evenings. At the heart of the building is a warm, welcoming, womb-like cavern and although huge it feels unexpectedly intimate and truly “a living room for Dundee” as conceived by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. Off this public core are the galleries, various nooks and crannies, teaching spaces and a dining room with long views over the bridges of Dundee and across the Firth of Tay to Fife.
Unlike many contemporary public buildings, the outside is not brought in with expanses of glass, but rather the interior is protected from the broad estuary landscape which will be welcome on a winter’s day in this East Coast Scottish city. But there is also a lightness to the building, and it appears to be floating in the water complimenting the RSS Discovery moored alongside.
Our relationship with the V&A Dundee started when Angus was invited to exhibit in the “Northern Lights” exhibition in the V&A (the Victoria and Albert Museum in London) during the 2016 London Design Festival. That celebration of contemporary Scottish design foreshadowed the opening of V&A Dundee. By September 2016 the exterior building was almost complete.
You can see a short film commissioned to accompany the Northern Lights exhibition here .
At that time we were explicitly invited into the warm and friendly V&A Dundee “family” and have felt the relationship like a gentle breeze in our back ever since. We have had the privilege of meeting Kengo Kuma and some of the remarkable people who had a dream, ten years ago, to have an international design museum on the waterfront of Dundee. They have had the tenacity to see that dream become reality.
Angus is a Design Champion for V&A Dundee.
Back in 2016 we were fortunate to hear Kengo Kuma share his past projects and thoughts on his new designs. He talked about: the importance of scale; maintaining a relationship with the landscape; humility; using local materials; transparency; social responsibility; wood; exquisite craftsmanship and simple uncluttered lines. All of this resonated well with us. He wanted the building to be a “living room for Dundee” welcoming everyone not just those used to visiting museums. Kuma speaks poetically and explained that he took inspiration from an image of Scottish cliff with striking horizontal layers, where he could see the “long relationship between the land and the sea”. This starting point was developed with the (typically Japanese) doorway through the building and the soaring boat like forms.
To coincide with the museum opening a new book has been published The History of Scottish Design book (edited by Philip Long, Director of V&A Dundee and Joanna Norman of Victoria and Albert Museum and Curator of Scottish Design gallery) by Thames and Hudson and the V&A. With the inclusion of a wonderful piece about Angus by Tara Wainwright and a prominent image of our Forth Bench the gentle breeze of support felt like an uplifting wave.
If you plan to visit the museum arrive by train if possible as the station is literally across the road from the museum. There are hotels on the doorstep and it’s a very short walk into the city centre. To find out more visit the V&A Dundee website.
When we made our ash Unstable Stool for the Scottish Design gallery we made a Special Edition (engraved and numbered) of eight. These have sold out but the Unstable Stool can be ordered and we make it in oak or ash.
Our furniture is always designed by Angus Ross however we made an exception recently when we were commissioned by the Willow Tearooms Trust to make all the tables and chairs for one tearoom in the newly restored original Willow Tearoom on Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow. This building has international importance as the first building where Charles Rennie Mackintosh (along with his wife Margaret Macdonald ) designed all of the exterior and interior including furniture, lighting, tableware and gesso panels. The Willow Tearooms Trust have overseen the meticulous restoration of the building back to it’s condition at opening in 1903. It will fully re-open as “Mackintosh at the Willlow” along with a new visitors centre next door in September. There will be various booked events and limited opening through the summer.
We specialise in steam bending and this allowed us to invisibly strengthen the Ladderback chairs. Of the original 125 only a handful survive as the back rails were cut from solid wood, this way of making the curved shape is vulnerable to breaking. (Cheaper reproductions of ladder back chairs have straight back rails.) We cut the rails from solid and then steam-bent the rails to create the curve. Steam-bending means working with the grain, keeping the wood fibres intact, and manually pushing the intact fibres to slide over each other, when boiling hot and malleable, and therefore to take up the curved shape. Once dry this is a very strong component.
Images below show Steven working on the 3250 mortice and tenon joints on the chair backs (125 chairs x 13 ladder back rails x 2 sides) The ladder back tenons were hand trimmed with a Japanese saw.
Usually when making chairs with a drop-in seat, the chair would be made first and the drop-in seat made to fit second. In this heritage project the seats were to made like the originals with hand twisted rush – a very labour intensive process taking a day per seat. Therefore the seat bases were made first and sent out to a rush specialist (Tony Handley) and to two local artisans (Istvan and Karla) so that they had sufficient time to make 125.
Mike then made the chair fronts. All of these chairs had to be millimetre perfect to fit the rush seat bases.
26th – 27th May
Our workshop in Aberfeldy, Perthshire will be open 10 – 5 both days.
To join the afternoon tours of the woodland please BOOK IN ADVANCE HERE.
Old Castle Wood is a privately owned beautiful mixed woodland near Aberfeldy. In late spring it has a wonderful under-storey of bluebells and wild flowers. Angus and Lorna Ross are part of a group of ten owners and for the past twelve years the woodland has been lightly managed to: improve access for the public; thin over crowded oak trees by selective felling; and control invasive and non-native plants and trees.
For more information and to join the woodland tours please BOOK IN ADVANCE HERE.
Tours start at our workshop at 2pm and will finish around 4pm.
The workshop will be open 10 – 5 Saturday and Sunday. There are examples of our furniture in the showroom and the cabinet shop will be open and you can speak to our furniture makers.
Many pieces of furniture and functional art on this website made from oak sourced from Old Castle Wood.
To read more about why we fell trees see an earlier blog post here.
For directions to our workshop please visit our contact page.
We use the native oak species Quercus robur for our garden furniture and exterior public art. It is the only UK native tree species that provides truly durable timber for exterior use. Quercus robur is the same oak used for centuries for ship building and seen in the half timbered houses which have survived since Tudor times.
Our garden benches are designed to have bare unfinished wood which will naturally weather, initially it darkens then lightens to silvery grey. This requires no maintenance apart from an annual removal of debris with a brush and therefore much easier and more attractive than less durable woods protected by varnish which requires annual over-coating and maintenance.
Cairngorm Bench is a new design incorporating our signature loops of sustainable native oak. As the loops are made from single lengths of air dried oak the wood fibres are intact making it much more resistant to weather than jointed sections of wood. This bench can be located year round in an outside sheltered porch and moved into the garden in the summer. If benches are likely to be exposed to salt spray or freeze thaw in the winter we can provide covers to provide some extra protection.
The process for bending the components by steam can be seen in our film
We source our oak for garden benches from our own woodland or small timber yards in Scotland. This oak is certified with the Scottish Working Woods label which guarantees that the timber is local, ethical and sustainable. The bespoke under-structure of the Cairngorm Bench is in stainless steel.
Our Furniture Maker Mike Storey and the Collectors Chair features in The Times today (Scottish Edition).
“Angus Ross, an established woodworker with a studio based in Perthshire, has shown clients globally that Scottish wood is inherently durable. His material comes from an ancient woodland that he co-owns, and is ethically managed, on the banks of the River Tay. Wood in Ross’s cabinets and credenza is bent and folded using traditional steaming techniques what is acknowledged as a kind of timber sorcery. He has also been appointed as a mentor for the Crafts Council, a body that promotes makers across the UK.”
The Global Love Affair with Scottish Wood
Gabriella Bennett, The Times, Friday March 30th 2018
We are thrilled to currently be a featured Maker on the Craft Scotland Craft Directory https://www.craftscotland.org/craftdirectory
During March they are featuring seven makers who are working towards a more sustainable practice and we are doing an instagram takeover on 21st March.
This features our workshop. craft and steam-bending.
We have also recently joined the Green Crafts Initiative (GCI), a joint project between Craft Scotland and Creative Carbon Scotland.
It may seem counter – intuitive but one of the best ways of improving a native woodland is to fell some trees. Our woodland, which we manage as part of a group, is a beautiful mixed native woodland of 50 acres. It has a great number of veteran oak trees, planted over a hundred years ago, which were initially coppiced for tannin used by the leather industry. Our woodland, called Old Castle Wood was largely neglected since WW1 (after the dramatic demise of men working on the land) combined with a move to chemical processing in the leather industry. These veteran oak trees are now very over-crowded.
Selective felling brings light and into the woodland, helping the remaining trees to thrive. Selective felling as part of a sustainable forestry management plan bring life into a woodland; it results in greater bio-diversity of plants, fungi, insects, birds, bats and other creatures.
Perhaps surprisingly we are not selecting the “best” trees to fell but planning to create the best possible timber in the future. Angus now knows the lengths and widths of timber he can typically use in his furniture making practice and the decision about which few trees are felled each year is made with an extremely knowledgeable forester in our group – Rick Worrell. Felling starts with a good look at the trees.
Images by www.ciaramenzies.com
Most of the timber from our woodland is the native oak ‘Quercus robur’. All the timber will be used by Angus for fine furniture making or by the group for firewood. The timber is milled by Angus and Rick and can be assessed at the time as whether good for steam-bending (if long straight grain) or best to be kiln-dried (interesting characterful grain pattern). We do all the processes from standing tree to finished fine furniture and our designs make best use of this precious timber.
This micro scale selective felling is very different from ‘clear fell’ which occurs on an industrial scale. This is the norm in many countries out-with the UK and will be the method for all mass production of “oak” furniture. This will be the subject of another blog post. However please do note that if ‘solid oak’ furniture is cheap and the source of timber has not been clearly stated it will be clear fell timber, not our native oak species Quercus robur, and being manufactured in the Far East whatever the branding may suggest.
For a little more see
We are licensees of Scottish Working Woods label – http://www.scottishworkingwoods.org.uk
which guarantees that wood is local, ethical and sustainable and members of the Association of Scottish Sawmillers
We had a lovely few days in London at the inspirational COLLECT. This is my third post about COLLECT but as it is the most prestigious event in the British Craft calendar I wanted another chance to talk about it. Here are a few of our highlights of the fair.
Rainforest (above) was-a beautiful immersive installation by Valeria Nascimento comprising thousands of white porcelain pieces http://www.valerianascimento.com
Our favourite gallery was Katie Jones presenting exquisite contemporary Japanese applied arts including: indigo dyed hemp wall hangings by Shihoko Fukumoto; mokume-gane vessels of folded and beaten precious metals by Ryuhei Sako and intricate knotted slinky like bamboo structures by Chikuunsia IV Tanabe. katiejonesjapan.com
We also love Steffen Dam’s extraordinary glass specimen collections presented by Joanna Bird Contemporary Collections joannabird.com
In Aberfeldy we were on the northern edge of the severe weather brought by the Beast From The East. The amount of snow was typical for March but the quality of the snow was very different. Our weather usually comes with the prevailing wind from the West. Normally the snow has soft wet flakes, large enough to see the crystalline structure of each flake, which can be felt on eyelashes. The weather feels raw. This snow from the East was fine like icing sugar and blown in to distinctive drifting patterns whether against an individual stalk of grass or trees or whipped into stringy candy floss mounds. The weather felt bitter.
Our new Quercus Pods lighting vessels are on their way to COLLECT at London’s Saatchi Gallery, 22 – 25 February 2018.
“Collect brings together 40 galleries from four continents for a celebration of making, extraordinary in both scale and scope. Museum-quality works and installations from hundreds of the most talented makers in the UK, USA, South Korea, Japan, France, Norway, Italy, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden will offer visitors and collectors a multidisciplinary overview of the people, processes, materials and ideas defining international craft in 2018.”
For more information and tickets please visit
Angus will be speaking at COLLECT TALKS: featuring “leading voices from the worlds of craft, design, fashion, architecture and art and aims to inspire visitors and encourage debate.
TRADITIONS REIMAGINED. A panel of international makers and gallerists delve into how traditions from across the globe influence and enrich their practices. British Council’s Programme Manager for Design, Gian Luca Amadei is in discussion with gallerists, makers and curators, Bev Gibson, Piet Stockmans, Peter Ting and Angus Ross.Talks Space, second floor, 23 February 2018, 16:00 – 17:00
See the full programme of talks here.”
The Quercus Pods can be seen at
Scotland: Craft & Design : a collection of exquisitely crafted statement pieces from Scottish-based makers. Ground Floor, Gallery 3:4 on the right.
Craft Scotland https://www.craftscotland.org/about/projects/collect-2018/makers
Angus is making three new Quercus Pods for COLLECT. These vessels with lighting are made in Scottish oak (Quercus robur) and combine two signature techniques previously shown by Angus at Collect. Steam-bending as seen in the Forth Bench and building a curved cabinet with slats and beads of solid wood as seen in the Whisky Collectors Cabinet. This time both these techniques are combined with computer aided design added to the mix.
The oval Whisky Collectors Cabinet was constructed by slicing solid wood into narrow slats and connecting them with a bead slat (like tongue and groove) which allows the wood to expand and contract. Cabinets are usually constructed from a stable substrate such as ply which can be veneered (a thin layer of wood glued on top). Angus prefers to work in solid wood and is always pushing against the boundaries of traditional wood work practise. Creating an oval cabinet in solid wood was one test. In the Forth Bench the challenge was to steam bending a spiral from a single length of wood and then fixing it into position using hand turned spindles. It was challenging to glue this up and required lot’s of head scratching, manipulating the components on the bench and building up in stages.
The Quercus Pods are constructed from bead and slat lengths of wood which have been steam-bent into curved shapes and which are then gradually built together to form a vessel. The vessels is a bit like an orange where a sphere is made from a number of curved segments. The computer aided design (CAD) makes it possible to work out the shape of each segment to be cut from flat planes of wood, and assists with the moulds for steam-bending and drying jigs.
We were fortunate that brilliant photographer James Millar has been back in Aberfeldy to capture these images of work on the Quercus Pods. A couple of years ago James spent a month in and around Aberfeldy and some of his landscapes were gathered into a book called A Winter Journey: Aberfeldy, Glen Lyon and Perthshire in photographs. This limited book is currently available from James’s website at a Special Price – see here.
Lovely article by our friends at Homes and Interiors Scotland magazine about the craft makers going to COLLECT with Craft Scotland in February. COLLECT is the premier British craft event organised by the Crafts Council (UK). Selected galleries from across the globe present museum quality craft.
read the article link
Angus has previously exhibited at Collect,
in 2015 with Contemporary Applied Arts Gallery London when he showcased the Whisky Collectors Cabinet and the Forth Bench. COLLECT is a fantastic opportunity for makers to show new innovative, speculative work to the world’s most discerning craft collectors, curators and commentators.
images of both
22 – 25 February 2018
We are particularly looking forward to seeing;
Sarah Myerscough Gallery who specialises in wood and they will be showing John Makepeace, Gareth Neal and David Gates.
Japanpage/Craftmeet who will be presenting traditional Japanese crafts including exquisite lacquerwork by “National Living Treasure” artist Toshiaki Tateno
Ting Ying Gallery who present traditional and contemporary Blanc de Chine porcelain, being made in Dehua, Fujian Province, China, where it has been made since the Ming Dynasty. Some of the makers are fourth generation Blanc de Chine sculptors.
Ting-Ying was established in 2016 by ceramic designer Peter Ting and writer Ying Jian.
Craftscotland are showcasing makers across wide range of disciplines including glass, jewellery, textiles, ceramics, silversmithing, wood and furniture. Angus will be presenting some lighting vessels combining two craft techniques. The bead and slat detail found in the Whisky Collectors Cabinet (shown below) is developed with steam-bending and computer aided design to create gorgeous curvaceous vessels.